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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 50, Part II, 12 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 50, Part II, 12 March 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 NATO MARKS 50TH YEAR Special reports from NATO's London conference as well as coverage of the ceremony inducting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the military alliance are available online: http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/madrid-nato/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAID TO HAVE BEEN TORTURED IN JAIL * CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, POLAND TO BECOME NATO MEMBERS * RUSSIA'S IVANOV SIDES WITH BELGRADE ON NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA End Note: UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAID TO HAVE BEEN TORTURED IN JAIL. Viktar Hanchar, head of the opposition Central Electoral Commission, was released on 11 March after 10 days in prison, during which he kept up a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). His wife told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that her husband was tortured while in custody. She added that there is blood in his urine and he "can barely speak." On the sixth day of his hunger strike, Hanchar was tied up by jail authorities and forced to take 400 grams of glucose. When he was released, Hanchar was thrown out of a car into snow some 2 kilometers from where he lives and had to return home on foot. The authorities have charged him with "usurping official duties," an offense that can carry two years in prison or a penal labor colony. JM BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT AFFIRMS READINESS FOR 'DIALOGUE' WITH OPPOSITION. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that the Belarusian government "is ready for a dialogue with the opposition and interested international organizations," Belarusian Television reported on 11 March. The statement came as a response to an OSCE appeal to seek dialogue and abstain from confrontation in Belarus. The Foreign Ministry added that the dialogue should be continued on the basis of the "existing constitution," which stipulates that presidential elections in Belarus are to be held in 2001. The Belarusian opposition does not recognize that constitution, adopted in the 1996 controversial referendum, and has scheduled presidential elections for 16 May, in accordance with the constitution promulgated in 1994. JM LUKASHENKA FIRES MAHILEU OBLAST GOVERNOR. "You are not a governor from this moment, good bye, you are free to go," Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Alyaksandr Kulichkou in a televised government meeting on 11 March. "We have nothing to talk about, you have betrayed my trust, you have disgraced me in my native Mahileu Oblast," Lukashenka added. The president has accused Kulichkou of tolerating economic offenses in his region. JM POLL SHOWS 39 PERCENT 'CRYSTALLIZED' SUPPORT FOR LUKASHENKA. A poll taken in January and February by the Novak Sociological Laboratory shows President Lukashenka has 39 percent backing, while support for any of his political opponents does not exceed 3 percent. At the same time, 78 percent of respondents said that the economic situation worsened in January, compared with the previous month. Novak director Andrey Vardamatski commented that Belarus has a "crystallized electorate that will vote for Lukashenka as a person regardless of whatever takes place in the economy." JM UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES ELECTRICITY, GAS RATES. The National Commission for Electricity Regulation on 10 March ordered that beginning 1 April the prices of electricity and gas be increased by 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Trade Union Federation has said some 70 percent of the country's population will not be able to pay the new rates on a regular basis. Deputy Economy Minister Viktor Kalnyk predicted on 11 March that tariffs for utility payments--including rent, heat, and water supplies--will be increased by 25-30 percent. JM ESTONIAN RIGHT-WING ALLIANCE TO NAME CABINET WITHIN WEEK. The Reform Party, the Fatherland Union, and the Moderates have begun official talks on forming a new government, ETA and BNS reported on 11 March. A spokesman for the Moderates said after the talks that the three parties hope to reach agreement on the distribution of portfolios next week. With regard to the possible inclusion of the Coalition Party in the alliance, the spokesman said that the three parties are agreed that their current parliamentary majority of 53 members is "too risky." The Coalition Party won seven seats in the 7 March elections. JC LOSSES OF ESTONIAN BANKING SECTOR EXCEEDED $43 MILLION LAST YEAR. The total losses of the Estonian banking sector last year, excluding those banks that were closed down, exceeded 600 million kroons (some $43 million), ETA reported on 11 March, citing data released by Hansapank. Uhispank suffered the biggest loss, 383.4 million kroons (compared with a 211 million kroons profit in 1997) owing to the crisis on world financial markets and the collapse of the Russian economy. Optiva Pank, created as a result of the merger of Eesti Forekspank and Eesti Investeerimispank, registered unaudited losses totaling 255.9 million kroons, mainly owing to bad short- and long-term securities investments. JC LATVIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS ALLOWING NON-CITIZENS TO FORM POLITICIAL PARTIES. Lawmakers on 11 March voted down a proposal by the For Human Rights in a United Latvia parliamentary group that would have allowed non-citizens who are permanent residents of the country to form political parties. The same day, Russian Foreign Minister Vladimir Rakhmanin positively evaluated the Latvian government's initiative to put the issue of the integration of society to a public debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 1999). "We hope that the Latvian government will implement in practice its readiness to launch a broad debate and will take into full consideration the opinions of all ethnic minorities residing in Latvia as well as basic pan-European standards," BNS quoted him as saying. JC CZECH REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, POLAND TO BECOME NATO MEMBERS... The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will hand U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright their countries' "protocols of accession" to NATO on 12 March. The joining ceremony will take place at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Once Albright accepts the protocols, the three countries are immediately considered official NATO members. Their air defense systems will be included into that of the alliance. Originally, it had been planned that the three would join NATO at the April summit in Washington celebrating the 50 anniversary of the alliance. But according to the U.S. State Department, all three countries pressed to join NATO before that summit in order to participate in it as full members. JM ...HAIL NATO ENTRY AS HISTORIC EVENT. "We will make sure that freedom and democracy become common values of all members of the community that is called NATO," Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said in a nationwide address on Polish Television on 11 March. "I think we can now say that in the next years and decades Hungary will enjoy a level of security it has never enjoyed before," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said before leaving to attend the ceremony in Independence. And Czech President Vaclav Havel on 12 March hailed the entry of his country into NATO as one of the most important moments in Czech history. JM CZECH PREMIER FAVORS TEMELIN COMPLETION. Milos Zeman told journalists on 11 March that while he favors completing the construction of the controversial Temelin nuclear plant, the government as a whole will decide on the matter later this month. He noted that his vote in the cabinet "weighs the same as that of any other of its members." Zeman said a report recently submitted by a government commission on the completion of the plant does not present the cabinet with a recommendation "one way or the other" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999). MS FORMER SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER COMPLAINS OF POLICE BIAS. Gustav Krajci, who is under investigation for his role in hindering the 1997 referendum on accession to NATO and direct presidential elections, told journalists on 11 March that the police investigator examining his case is "biased," CTK reported. He also contested the investigation's legality on the grounds that the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the validity of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's decision to annul the amnesty granted to those involved in hindering the referendum by his predecessor, Vladimir Meciar. Former Slovak Counter- Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa complained that two policemen tried to seize his personal notebook in the parliament building, which he called a "clear case of power abuse." The parliament is to decide whether to strip Lexa of his immunity for his alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son. MS ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER IN HUNGARY, CZECH REPUBLIC. Massimo D'Alema told journalists in Budapest on 11 March that Italy is not preparing to tighten visa requirements for Hungarians. He said problems that resulted from changes to the Schengen agreement have been dealt with, and Hungarians will be able to enter Italy with their identity cards only once those cards conform with EU standards. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said both Rome and Budapest agree that NATO must maintain its "open- door" policy. Italy sees Slovenia and Romania as new member candidates, while Hungary argues in favor of Slovakia's admission. Also on 11 March, D'Alema and Czech Premier Milos Zeman discussed in Prague how to boost Italian investments in the Czech Republic as well as cooperation in fighting organized crime, corruption, and economic crime. MSZ/MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE RUSSIA'S IVANOV SIDES WITH BELGRADE ON NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 11 March that any international military force in Kosova should first be approved by Belgrade, dpa reported. Ivanov, who was in Tirana for talks with government officials, made it clear that Moscow sees the political and military portions of the Rambouillet peace agreement as separate issues--as does Belgrade. "The political document should be signed," he said. "But the way the implementation of the agreement will be enforced is another problem." Ivanov met with Premier Pandeli Majko and his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, as well as with President Rexhep Mejdani before leaving for Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PB UCK SEEMS AGREEABLE TO SIGNING ACCORD. The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) gave equivocal support to the Rambouillet peace agreement on 12 March, AP reported. In a statement released after a meeting of top UCK officials--including political leader Hashim Thaqi--in the Drenica region of Kosova, the UCK said the plan "was not the solution that we would want the most.Ö But it does not close all doors to future roads." The statement went on to say that "the future of Kosova depends mostly on the [ethnic] Albanians themselves and their cooperation with the international community." Thaqi reportedly urged "all political forces" to accept the plan. The previous day, Kosovar journalist Veton Surroi, who was also a member of the Albanian side at Rambouillet, said "if we don't sign the agreement we will be isolated from the world and our future will resemble [that of] the Kurdish people." Kosova Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova stressed his support for the peace plan, saying "we'll go to Paris to sign because there is no more time to negotiate." PB NATO SUPREME COMMANDER WARNS OF 'DEVASTATING STRIKES.' U.S. General Wesley Clark said on 12 March in London that NATO has a "vast air armada" ready to make a "devastating series of strikes" against Serbian targets, Reuters reported. Clark, who later flew to France for talks with government officials, said Yugoslav President Milosevic will not be allowed to "smash the civilian populace and their villages in Kosova." He said the NATO strikes will begin if Belgrade continues to block the peace accord. PB UN REFUGEE AGENCY SAYS SOME 4,000 KOSOVARS MISSING. The UNHCR said on 12 March that up to 4,000 ethnic Albanians are unaccounted for after fleeing fighting near their villages in southern Kosova, Reuters reported. UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini said between 800 and 1,000 people from each of the villages of Ivaja, Straza, Ljoc, and Pustenik have fled but have not arrived in nearby towns. She said abandoned camp sites have been found, adding that she believes that the people are hiding in the forests from Serbian forces. Macedonian Radio reported on 11 March that 1,200 Kosovars fled to Macedonia in the past two days. The UN high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, said in Washington that 30,000 people have been displaced in Kosova since the end of the Rambouillet peace talks. Meanwhile, fighting between Serbian security forces and the UCK erupted in southwestern Kosova after a respite of several months. Fierce fighting continued north of the capital, Prishtina, and in the south. PB POPLASEN THREATENS VIOLENCE IF ATTEMPT IS MADE TO REMOVE HIM. The sacked president of Republika Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, vowed on 11 March to stay in office and threatened violence against Western officials if they press on with efforts to remove him, AP reported. Poplasen said, "We are ready with a different kind of defense if democratic principles are not applied.Ö [It] will include other arguments: sticks, stones, arms, and tanks." U.S. Balkan envoy Robert Gelbard said "unfortunately we have a very sad history with terrorists like Mr. Poplasen." Gelbard said Poplasen would be held "personally responsible" for any attacks on U.S. citizens. Simon Haselock, the spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the high representative for Bosnia, said "we consider [Poplasen] to be taking a little extra time to clear his desk, which is why he is still in office." Both Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik and Zivko Radisic, the Bosnian Serb chairman of Bosnia's presidency, condemned Poplasen's statements. PB CROATIA TO RESTORE MEMORIAL AT CONCENTRATION CAMP. The Croatian government has said it will restore a memorial at Jasenovac, the country's infamous concentration camp where tens of thousands of people were killed during World War II, AP reported on 10 March. Premier Zlatko Matesa said during a visit to the site that the decision was "a policy of reconciliation." He said the events that took place at Jasenovac can "never be allowed to be repeated." The memorial was destroyed and the museum there looted by Serbs fleeing a Croat offensive in 1995. Jasenovac was one of 20 concentration camps run by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime during World War II. PB ALBANIAN CENTRAL BANK TO TIGHTEN BANK REQUIREMENTS. The Central Bank said on 11 March that it will increase supervision over financial institutions in an effort to prevent a repeat of the fraudulent pyramid schemes that led the country into chaos in 1997, Reuters reported. The bank said that it will seek new legislation regulating financial operators and that the minimum starting capital for banks will be increased from $5 million to $7 million. Pension and investment funds will also be required to have larger starting capital. PB BALKAN 'TROIKA' AGREE ON FREE TRADE ZONE. The presidents of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, meeting in Sinaia on 11 March, agreed that their countries will set up a free trade zone by 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. In a joint declaration released on 12 March, Emil Constantinescu, Petar Stoyanov and Suleyman Demirel called on Serbs and Albanians to stop fighting and reach a settlement. They said they support ending the conflict through an agreement, noting that NATO's enlargement to southeastern Europe could contribute to stability in the region. On 11 March, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, after meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, told journalists that an inter-Balkan conference on Kosova should be convened in Bucharest or Skopje before the next round of Kosova peace talks begins on 15 March in France. Romanian Radio on 12 March quoted Plesu as saying that Belgrade has "reservations" about a Bucharest conference. MS ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON NATO TO CONTINUE EXPANSION. In a resolution passed ahead of the NATO April Washington summit, the two chambers of the Romanian parliament on 11 March called on their parliamentary colleagues from NATO countries to support the continued enlargement of NATO. In other news, the Romanian government and France's Renault have signed a preliminary agreement for the sale of the Dacia car maker to the French company, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 11 March. MS MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN VOTES CONFIDENCE IN STURDZA CABINET. The parliament on 12 March voted confidence in Ion Sturdza's cabinet, but the 52 majority was obtained through the absentee ballot of deputy Ilie Ilascu, who is imprisoned in Tiraspol, Romanian Radio reported. Observers say this may lead to a challenge over the legality of the vote in the Constitutional Court. The nine deputies representing the Christian Democratic Popular Front again boycotted the vote, their demand for four ministers having been rejected in the negotiations the previous day within the Alliance for Democracy and Reform parliamentary majority. MS BULGARIAN PRESIDENT QUALIFIES KOSTOV'S REMARKS. Petar Stoyanov on 11 March said that one "must not conclude from the [1 March] interview of Premier Ivan Kostov that Bulgaria is reconsidering its strategy for integration into the EU or that poverty in Bulgaria is caused by a lack of sympathy from the rich West," Reuters reported. Stoyanov added that responsibility for Bulgaria's poverty rests with "the Communist Party, which brought us to this plight." Reuters said the statement is a move to ease tensions between Sofia and the EU sparked by Kostov's sharp criticism of the union in an interview with the agency at the beginning of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). MS BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO MEMBERSHIP. Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told a NATO-sponsored seminar in Borovets on 11 March that her country deserves NATO membership because of its cooperation with the alliance over Kosova and its need for protection against threats posed by the conflict in that region, Reuters reported. Mihailova said the Kosova conflict threatens to spill over to other parts of the region. She added that Bulgaria also faces an influx of refugees and increased organized crime and arms trafficking. MS END NOTE UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES By Lily Hyde Ukraine's non-government media have suffered a series of recent setbacks that have further reduced the dwindling number of independent media outlets in the country. Late last month, the trouble-plagued opposition daily "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication after it ran out of money. Another opposition newspaper, "Polityka," announced that the state printing press was refusing to publish it, despite a court ruling in the newspaper's favor. And the state broadcasting company temporarily silenced a private TV channel, while another private TV channel claims it is being harassed and intimidated. These four cases are the latest chapters in a saga of political and financial problems encountered by independent media in Ukraine. 'KIEVSKIE VEDOMOSTI': According to Dmytro Chekalkin, president of the broadcasting arm of the Kievskie Vedomosti media company, the newspaper does not have the financial resources to continue publishing. The newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief, Irina Titova, said staff wages have not been paid for the last four months of publication and working conditions have become intolerable, as staff have access only to three phone lines, four computers, and no news wire service or Internet access. "Kievskie Vedomosti" has been dogged by previous misfortunes, most of which it claims were due to political persecution for its oppositionist editorial content. Chekalkin said a general decline in advertising and unfair competition were major factors in the newspaper's demise. Other Ukrainian newspapers, he noted, are subsidized by companies close to the presidential administration and the current government and sell for only 5 or 6 kopecks (less than 2 U.S. cents) per issue. Titova said the editorial staff decided to suspend publication in an attempt to attract attention to the newspaper's plight. She said the newspaper wants its shareholders to pay attention to its problems. The newspaper's major shareholders are the Ukrainian companies Dendi, Dovira, Ukrrichflot, and Pryvatbank. 'POLITYKA': The same week that "Kievskie Vedomosti" stopped publishing, "Polityka" announced that the printing house Pressa Ukrainy was refusing to resume printing the Kyiv-based weekly. Last November, the state printing house received a Pechersk district court order banning it from printing "Polityka." A Kyiv city court decision early last month reversed that ruling. Editor-in-chief Oleh Lyashko said the newspaper has paid Pressa Ukrainy an advance of 28,000 hryvna (about $7,200) and provided it with 25 tons of paper. Lyashko said repeated letters and visits failed to extract any explanation from Pressa Ukrainy: "From February 8 we have all legal right to put out the newspaper, but unfortunately to date the newspaper hasn't been issued [by Pressa Ukrainy]. Why? Because Pressa Ukrainy, with which we have worked for three years, now refuses to renew the contract with the newspaper for 1999 and has given absolutely no explanation for that refusal." While Lyashko believes the presidential administration is behind the move, an unnamed Pressa Ukrainy spokesman said the company's decision was motivated by the newspaper's financial unreliability. Last year, the spokesman said "Polityka" twice broke its contract by stopping publication. In the meantime,. "Polityka" is due to restart publication this week under a new agreement reached with another publishing house. NART: On the same day that "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication, the private TV channel National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NART) was taken off the air because--its owners claim--of its independent political stance. Volodymyr Tsendrovskyy, president of the Ukrainian TV Union and a founder of NART, predicted that this will be only the first in a chain of private channels to be taken off the air. He called it a "rehearsal for political censorship and economic dictatorship in the Ukrainian TV market." Tsendrovskyy admitted that NART owes 160,000 hryvna (about 41,000 dollars) to the Ukrainian Radio and Television Broadcasting concern, the state company that controls Ukraine's airwaves. But he argued that the figure is insignificant compared with the debts of many other broadcasting companies, such as the state-run Television and radio channels, which he said owe the state broadcasters 62 million hryvna. NART resumed broadcasting on 23 February after reaching an agreement on paying off its debt. But NART officials still maintain they are victims of political harassment since no other broadcasters owing debts have been taken off the air, even temporarily. STB: The private television network STB issued a statement last week to President Leonid Kuchma, saying its executives have been attacked or threatened and requesting the government to increase protection. An STB official said in the most recent incident, armed attackers broke into the Kyiv apartment of STB's commercial director and forced the man and his pregnant wife to the floor at gunpoint. In searching the apartment, the gunmen ignored money and valuables, apparently looking for documents. Several days earlier, the station official said, an STB cameraman was robbed of his camera and cassettes by unidentified attackers. The official says harassment intensified after the network broadcast investigative reports about illegal deals in Ukraine's lucrative industries that allegedly involve powerful business groups close to the government. The author is Kyiv-based contributor to RFE/RL. 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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