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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 28, Part II, 10 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 28, Part II, 10 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 * UKRAINE DEVALUES CURRENCY * U.S. SAYS SERBS RISK NATO AIR STRIKES * ROMANIAN MINERS THREATEN NEW STRIKE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINE DEVALUES CURRENCY. Ukraine announced a new trading band for the hryvna on 9 February, effectively devaluing the beleaguered currency, dpa reported. The new trading corridor is 3.4 hryvni to 4.6 hryvni to the dollar, down from 2.5 to 3.5 announced in September. The government has kept the hryvna at an artificial rate of 3.43 hryvni to the dollar since November, although it has been trading on the black market at 4 hryvni to the dollar. Deputy Economy Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said the government will have to maintain the currency corridor in order to ensure stability for investors and domestic producers. National Bank chairman Viktor Yushenko said he hopes to maintain the exchange rate in the middle of the band. PB UKRAINIAN BANKS ANGRY AT GOVERNMENT. Some 80 Ukrainian banks have accused the government of delaying payments on treasury bills without consulting bank officials. The Finance Ministry announced last week that it will not redeem government bonds due to mature this month until between May and September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The banks, struggling to stay in business since the Russian economic crisis, said they will appeal to the Association of Ukrainian Banks and seek to have the government's decision overturned in court. PB CRIMEAN TATARS TO APPEAL FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP. The National Movement of Crimean Tatars said on 9 February in Simferopol that they have begun collecting signatures for an appeal on their plight to the UN and the Council of Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. A regional meeting of Crimean Tatar leaders passed a resolution stating that Kyiv "cannot and will not carry the burden of restoring [the] lawful rights of the Crimean Tatars, cannot and will not provide for equal rights of all people residing in Crimea, and keeps pursuing a policy of genocide and ethnocide against [the Crimean Tatars]." Crimean Tatar leader Vasvi Abduraimov said some 80,000 Tatars in Crimea are unable to receive Ukrainian citizenship and that unemployment is as high as 50 percent among them. PB LUKASHENKA BLAMES MISMANAGEMENT FOR ECONOMIC WOES. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 9 February in Minsk that "mismanagement" was one of the main reasons for the country's economic decline in 1998, Belapan reported. Speaking at a conference of senior central and local government officials, Lukashenka said Belarus has all the conditions for a productive economic year in 1999. He also outlined the country's economic priorities as closing the trade deficit, halting spiraling inflation, maintaining economic growth, and reducing the number of unprofitable companies. The same day, two employees at the Minsk Tractor Factory went on a hunger strike to demand a wage increase and to seek to force management to adhere to the collective bargaining agreement. PB ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO LANGUAGE LAW. Lawmakers on 9 February passed in the third and final reading amendments to the state language law and tax law requiring those working in the services sector to be proficient in the Estonian language. The vote was 35 to six with one abstention. At the end of last year, President Lennart Meri had signed amendments to the election law imposing language requirements on members of the parliament and local governments. Moscow and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel have both criticized such amendments. JC PREMIER OPPOSES SOCIAL DEMOCRATS' BID FOR BIGGER ROLE IN RIGA CITY COUNCIL. Vilis Kristopans, speaking to journalists in Riga on 9 February, said that the Social Democrats cannot build on their cooperation agreement with the prime minister to boost their influence in the Riga City Council, BNS reported. "The Riga City Council is not a lower chamber of parliament," he commented. His remarks came after the Social Democrats faction in the city council handed over a request to Riga Mayor Andris Berzins to give key council posts to the Social Democrats. Earlier, Kristopans had refused to include in his cooperation agreement with the Social Democrats a clause providing for their increased role in the Riga City Council. JC LILEIKIS CASE POSTPONED, PENDING EVIDENCE FROM U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT. A Vilnius judge on 9 February announced he is suspending the trial of suspected World War II criminal Aleksandras Lileikis and will ask the U.S. Justice Department to provide evidence that the 91- year-old defendant is feigning sickness to avoid appearing in court. A Lithuanian team of doctors ruled that Lileikis is too sick to stand trial, but the head of the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations says he has strong evidence that Lileikis is faking. Also on 9 February, the same judge suspended the trial of Kazys Gimzauskas, Lileikis's deputy during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, on the grounds that the defendant is deemed by local doctors to be too sick to appear in court. The judge said the trial will resume if the defendant's health improves, but he did not set a date. JC FORMER KGB AGENTS SEEKING TO KEEP POSITIONS IN LITHUANIA. Head of the State Security Department Mecys Laurinkus told the parliament on 9 February that 74 former KGB agents have so far applied to be allowed to retain their posts, following the enactment of the controversial lustration law on 1 January, ELTA reported. Under that law, former KGB agents are barred for 10 years from holding government office and working in various private-sector jobs. Also on 9 February, the Constitutional Court began its deliberations on whether the legislation conforms with the basic law. JC POLAND TO PRIVATIZE ARMS INDUSTRY. The government on 9 February approved a two-year plan to privatize the country's defense industry, Reuters reported. Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff said "the state of our arms industry is tragic," noting that it was "created to serve the Warsaw Pact and now must serve our armed forces and NATO." Under the program, foreign companies that want to sell military equipment to Poland will have to invest in Polish defense companies. Steinhoff said the government will sell 22 of Poland's 34 defense firms. Deputy Economy Minister Dariusz Klimek said investor interest is "tremendous," despite the industry's debt of some 2 billion zlotys ($570 million). PB EU INVESTIGATING POLAND'S COAL EXPORTS. The Polish Economy Ministry said on 9 February that the EU is investigating allegations that Poland is dumping subsidized coal exports on foreign markets, AP reported. It said that an EU official is in Poland for this purpose and that Weglokoks, the country's largest coal exporter, is one company being checked. Britain recently asked Poland to reduce its subsidized coal exports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1999). Poland plans to reduce coal production from 137 million tons to 110 million tons by 2002. In other news, Pierre Moscovici, the French European affairs minister, said in Warsaw on 9 February that the EU's failure to reform its finances at the EU summit in March would not automatically delay enlargement of the union, Reuters reported. PB HAVEL'S POPULARITY DROPPING. A public opinion poll released on 9 February by Sofres-Factum confirms trends suggesting a drop in the popularity of President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. An absolute majority (61 percent) said Havel is doing a worse job than two years ago, when he began to have health problems, while only 1 percent said the opposite. Nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said Havel should resign. A poll conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research in January showed Havel's popularity has dropped from 70-80 percent in the early and mid-1990s to 46 percent. Reacting to the polls, Havel said on 9 February that he follows them "with some interest" but has "not drawn any conclusions." MS HAVEL MEETS WITH CAUCUS LEADERS. After meeting separately with the heads of parliamentary groups, Havel on 9 February told journalists that he plans to organize a meeting of parliamentary party leaders, excluding the Communist leader, to discuss ways of solving the country's current economic and political problems. The meeting has been tentatively scheduled for early March. Havel said he is not seeking to interfere in politics and is only offering the presidential palace's "neutral grounds" as a venue for seeking "consensus and communication," CTK reported. He said all invited formations have confirmed their participation, with the exception of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus said earlier he has doubts about the purpose of the meeting. MS SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ARMY LAGS BEHIND NEIGHBORS. Pavol Kanis on 9 February said the Slovak army is "considerably lagging behind" the armies of neighboring countries and will undergo a "fundamental reorganization" to prepare it for admission to NATO in 2001, CTK reported. Kanis said the army has three years to "make up for the time wasted" by the government of Vladimir Meciar. In related news, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe signed a memorandum of understanding with the Slovak government, providing for unescorted access to the Malacky airfield near Bratislava and to an adjoining weapons range for training purposes, AP reported. About 200 U.S. military will train at the base five or six times a year, but U.S. planes will not be kept there on a permanent basis. Jozef Pivarci, state secretary in the Defense Ministry, said the agreement "clearly confirms [Slovakia's] political orientation." MS HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATO MEMBERSHIP. With 330 votes in favor, 13 against, and one abstention, the parliament on 9 February approved Hungary's joining NATO and ratified the North Atlantic Treaty, Hungarian media reported. Only the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party cast "no" votes, saying that Hungary should follow the goal of neutrality espoused by the 1956 revolution. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi is expected to present the accession documents to the U.S. government next month. MSZ HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTERS SEEK TO IMPROVE RELATIONS. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told his visiting Romanian counterpart, Radu Vasile, on 9 February that it is in Hungary's interest that Romania join NATO and the EU. The two premiers agreed "in principle" that a Hungarian-German university should be set up in Romania, but Vasile did not specify when this might happen. He tried to dispel Hungarian concerns that a planned Budapest-Bucharest highway would circumvent Transylvania, saying that the two major cities of Cluj and Targu Mures would "somehow be linked to the system." Vasile and Orban agreed to promote the opening of a Hungarian consulate in Miercurea-Ciuc and Hungarian and Romanian cultural centers in Cluj and Budapest. They also agreed that after joining the Schengen agreement, Hungary should try to avoid introducing visa requirements for Romanians. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE U.S. SAYS SERBS RISK NATO AIR STRIKES. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 9 February that NATO will launch air strikes against Serbia if the Kosovars agree to a settlement at the Rambouillet talks but the Serbs balk over the stationing NATO peacekeepers in Kosova. "The Serbs will be subject to air strikes. And so they would be making a big mistake to hold up this agreement over the question of allowing forces in," Rubin stressed. Earlier that day, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic said in Belgrade that his government would agree to foreign troop deployment in Kosova "under no conditions." In Rambouillet, AP reported that "despite claims of progress [by international mediators, unnamed] sources close to the delegations said that the two sides have not agreed upon a single word of the peace plan." PM UCK WANTS FORMAL CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT. The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) said in a statement in Prishtina on 10 February that it demands independence "through a clear and indisputable formulation with fixed dates and according to a clearly set-down procedure." The previous day, Albin Kurti, who is the spokesman for UCK political representative Adem Demaci, noted: "You cannot have a political process on one side and at the same time massacres and terror on the other. If these negotiations continue without a cease-fire, they cannot lead to a peace agreement. The Serbian regime has not respected any international agreements it signed in the past. Unfortunately, the international community has not adequately punished Serb behavior in the past." Observers noted that the Serbian negotiators are unlikely to agree to signing a cease-fire because it would mean accepting the UCK as a legitimate negotiating partner. Belgrade's position is that the guerrillas are "terrorists" and that one cannot negotiate with such individuals. PM ALBRIGHT REASSURES DJUKANOVIC. Rubin told reporters on 9 February that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telephoned Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "to thank him for his government's continued support for our efforts to resolve" the Kosova dispute. Albright also praised Montenegro's "constructive role" throughout the crisis. Rubin added that "the Secretary took this opportunity to assure President Djukanovic that Montenegro's concerns will be kept in mind" at Rambouillet. She also told Djukanovic, as she recently told Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, that the international community's focusing on Kosova "does not mean president Milosevic has a free hand to cause problems elsewhere" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). PM ALBANIA'S MAJKO WARNS OF "COLLECTIVE SELF-DEFENSE." Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told journalists in Tirana on 9 February that "if we have a continuation of the massacre in Kosova..., all Albanians in the Balkans--in Albania, in Macedonia, in Kosova [and] Montenegro--have the right to collective self-defense." He did not elaborate. Majko noted that the Albanian government will make available its military facilities to NATO troops for any peace-keeping mission in Kosova, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. He nonetheless stressed that "Rambouillet [is only] one step in a [longer] process" leading to a peaceful solution of the Kosova crisis. Observers noted that Majko and other members of the Socialist-led government usually avoid formulations that suggest possible joint political or military action by all Albanians in the Balkans. FS GLIGOROV FEARS REGIONAL INSTABILITY. Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, in Paris on 9 February that the failure of the Rambouillet talks would likely lead to renewed fighting in spring "with all the consequences one can imagine for stability in the Balkans." Chirac replied that France "will not allow" any threat to the stability of southeastern Europe, dpa reported. He called Macedonia "an element of stability" in the region. PM MACEDONIA REGRETS CHINA'S DECISION TO BREAK TIES. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Skopje on 9 February that the Macedonian government hopes China will reconsider its decision announced earlier that day to sever ties with Skopje because of the latter's recognition of Taiwan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 February 1999). The Macedonian spokesman added that China "does not seem to understand" that Skopje opened ties to Taipei "purely on economic grounds." It is unclear whether China will continue to fund the construction of the Kozjak dam and hydroelectric project, for which Beijing has granted $85 million, Reuters reported. PM SALAJ SAYS PASALIC SEEKS TO CONTROL HINA. Branko Salaj, who recently resigned as head of the state-run Croatian news agency Hina, told a press conference in Zagreb on 8 February that President Franjo Tudjman's chief aide, Ivic Pasalic, carries out the most political interference into Hina's work, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Pasalic denied the charge. Elsewhere, police arrested Marko Marcinko, who is the former director of the failed Glumina Banka, and six of his associates on charges of corruption and fraud. PM BELGRADE WANTS TO TRY SAKIC. The Yugoslav Justice Ministry said in a statement on 8 February that it will seek the extradition of Dinko and Nada Sakic from Croatia in conjunction with atrocities they allegedly committed against Serbs, Jews, Roma, and opposition Croats during World War II. Nada Sakic was extradited to Croatia in November from Argentina, where she and her husband Dinko have lived since the end of World War II. A Zagreb court dismissed charges against her last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). Her lawyer said she wants $3,000 compensation for the three months she was imprisoned, "Vecernji list" wrote on 10 February. Her husband still faces trial for war crimes in Croatia, to which Argentina extradited him in June. PM MUSLIMS DRAGGING FEET ON MIXED POLICE FORCES? Richard Monk, who heads the UN-sponsored International Police Task Force in Bosnia, said in New York that efforts to form ethnically mixed police forces have been "surprisingly successful" in some Bosnian Serb areas, AP reported. He added, however, that the Sarajevo authorities often lack the "political will" to form such units. PM MODERATE SERBS FIRM ON DODIK. The international community's Carlos Westendorp said in Banja Luka that Petar Djokic has turned down Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen's nomination of him as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Westendorp added that moderate Serb leaders Biljana Plavsic, Milorad Dodik, and Zivko Radisic have insisted to him that Poplasen keep Dodik as prime minister, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. Dodik recently returned from a trip to Washington, where President Bill Clinton assured him of U.S. support, "Danas" reported on 9 February. PM ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT TO BURN SPEED BOATS. A special working group recommended to Prime Minister Majko on 9 February that smugglers' speed-boats seized by police be burned, "Koha Jone" reported. To date, the government has auctioned off the boats, but it has since found out that the mafia has bought back most of them. The working group directly coordinates police operations against smuggling across the Straits of Otranto. It includes officials from the Defense Ministry, which will soon provide navy support for the police and Coast Guard. The government created the working group following the kidnapping of Vlora's police chief by smugglers in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). FS ROMANIAN MINERS THREATEN NEW STRIKE. Miron Cozma, leader of the Jiu Valley miners' union, who last month staged a violent march on Bucharest, has threatened to launch a new strike next week to protest the local state-owned mining company's failure to renew collective labor contracts that expire at the end of this month, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 9 February. The company's manager responded that negotiations on a new contract cannot begin until the parliament approves the 1999 budget. MS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SUBMITS LAW ON BROADENING GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY. Petru Lucinschi on 9 February submitted to the parliament a draft law that would considerably broaden the powers of the cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The draft is to be debated under emergency procedures once the legislature passes a confidence vote in Serafim Urecheanu's cabinet. The draft grants the government powers to rule by decree for two years, including introducing legislation on the budget, privatization, taxation, social insurance, and social protection. Under its provisions, the parliament must debate within 72 hours laws submitted by the cabinet, otherwise those laws are to be considered as having been approved. Although the draft requires consultations with parliamentary groups before a new cabinet is formed, it stipulates that the government is to be set up "solely on the criteria of expertise and unity of outlooks of its members." MS RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO SOFIA ON BILATERAL TIES. Leonid Kerestedzhiyants told Bulgarian diplomats and officials on 9 February that his country is eager to improve ties with Bulgaria but that some Russian companies encounter difficulties in participating in Sofia's privatization drive, Reuters reported. He said Russia is not seeking special privileges but noted that there have been cases where Moscow had no access to privatization tenders. Kerestedzhiyants also said Moscow's decision to lower import taxes on some Bulgarian goods, announced last week, will improve the large imbalance in bilateral trade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). MS 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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