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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 55, Part I, 19 March 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 55, Part I, 19 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 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 * BLAST IN VLADIKAVKAZ LEAVES AT LEAST 42 DEAD * U.S. SENATE ACTION LABELLED UNPLEASANT SURPRISE * FRENCH GOVERNMENT TO OPPOSE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE BILL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BLAST IN VLADIKAVKAZ LEAVES AT LEAST 42 DEAD. An explosion at the central market in the North Ossetian city of Vladikavkaz on 19 March has left at least 42 people dead and 70 injured, Russian agencies reported. The blast occurred at 11:30 a.m. local time, when the market was crowded with people. According to initial reports, the force of the explosion was equivalent to 5 kilograms of TNT. President Boris Yeltsin has sent Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to the city and ordered Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov to launch an investigation. BP U.S. SENATE ACTION LABELLED UNPLEASANT SURPRISE... Responding to the U.S. Senate's approval of a bill on the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 18 March calling the legislation a "serious threat to the whole process of nuclear arms reduction as well as strategic stability, for the sake of which decades of international agreements were negotiated." The statement added that "although Washington stresses that a decision on the system will not be made before 2000, the very direction of the Senate's actions cripple" existing agreements in this area. In an interview with NBC television, Prime Minister Primakov called the passage of the bill "an unpleasant surprise," while Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev told Interfax that "the [U.S.] Senate's decision must be analyzed, but I have not lost hope." JAC ...AS U.S. CONGRESSMEN FAIL TO PERSUADE DUMA. Reporting on a visit by U.S. Congressmen to convince the State Duma that the new defense system would not be intended for use against Russia, military analyst Pavel Felgengauer noted in "Segodnya" on 17 March that the Congressmen's talks with the Duma were not successful. According to Felgengauer, Representative Curt Weldon, who led the delegation, asked Russia to cooperate in developing the new system, but Weldon, who "will decide how much money will be allotted to various countries for research and design projects," refused to disclose how much would be allotted to Russia's military industrial complex "if Moscow agrees with the U.S. 'amendments' to the ABM treaty." Felgengauer also reported that the U.S. once signed a $100 million contract for a S- 300V anti-aircraft system but winded up taking only the radar and regulation system for $30 million, reneging on the rest of the agreement. JAC SKURATOV'S STATUS ON STAND-BY. President Yeltsin will not make any decision on whether to ask for Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov's resignation until the Security Council has completed its probe of Skuratov and the blackmail effort against him, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 March, citing "Kremlin officials." "Komsomolskaya Pravda" reported the same day that the Office of the Prosecutor-General has instigated legal proceedings against Russian Television for broadcasting the film of a man who looked very similar to Skuratov frolicking with two young women. However, "Vesti" director Boris Nepomnyashchii believes that the station is protected under the law on the media, which allows the broadcast of secretly made materials. Media analysts told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that it is most unlikely that the tape was aired without the Kremlin's knowledge or even permission. JAC BORDYUZHA'S BACK, BUT FOR HOW LONG? ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March that later the same day, Nikolai Bordyuzha, head of presidential administration, will chair a meeting of the subcommission of the Security Council tasked with investigating Prosecutor-General Skuratov. The agency had reported the previous day that on 19 March Bordyuzha would check out of the hospital where he was recovering from heart problems. Bordyuzha returns to face a flurry of speculation in Russian newspapers that he will soon be dismissed for his role in the Skuratov affair. According to several press accounts, Bordyuzha allegedly showed Skuratov the now famous videotape immediately before Skuratov decided to resign. "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 18 March that although the idea to pressure Skuratov to resign was implemented with the approval of former presidential administration head Valentin Yumashev and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, Bordyuzha would likely take the heat of Yeltsin's anger for the humiliating vote in the Federation Council. JAC RUSSIA ADMITS IMF MONEY NOT YET IN THE BAG. Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov told reporters on 18 March that "talks with the IMF are preceding with difficulty and we cannot say that the money is in our pocket." Zadornov pointed out that "a lot of optimistic statements have been made lately" about the IMF's readiness to provide financial assistance to Russia, although he did say that "positions were getting closer." Prime Minister Primakov will meet with IMF mission members on 19 March and is scheduled to hold talks with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus on 24 March in Washington. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who recently met with fund officials in the U.S. capital, said that talks with the fund and World Bank might have made greater progress if First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov had not participated. JAC RUSSIA WARNS CSFB. Finance Minister Zadornov told reporters on 18 March that the decision of Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) to set up its own fund for bad short-term debt of the Russian government is fostering "unrealistic" hopes among foreign holders of defaulted Treasury bonds Zadornov said that Russia "did not hold and does not intend to hold any talks with the Nikitskii Fund or CSFB about changing terms of exchange." According to Zadornov, two-thirds of the Treasury bills have already been exchanged, including 35 percent by non-residents. Duma deputy and former Economics Minister Aleksandr Shokhin told a workshop on debt the same day that Russia's total foreign debt payments may exceed 85 percent of GDP, Interfax reported. According to "Vremya MN" the previous day, over the next 12 years, Russia must pay back $180 billion, which is nine times the current budget. JAC IS ORTHODOX CHURCH PROMOTING RELIGION IN SCHOOLS? In an interview with Mayak Radio on 18 March, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II said that the Russian Orthodox Church is working on having the history of Orthodox culture included in school programs. He added that introducing religious classes in schools "is a thing of the future as it is difficult to do in this secular state." He noted that the Russian Orthodox Church is currently conducting talks with the Education Ministry on this issue. "Izvestiya" reported on 10 March that with the blessing of the archbishop of Volgograd and Kamyshin, a new course, "The Rudiments of Orthodox Culture," is being introduced in schools throughout Vologda Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 March 1999). The course is aimed at teaching the younger generation Christian values as well as acquainting them with Russia's historical legacy and the deeds of outstanding representatives of Russian Orthodoxy. JAC MILITARY ACADEMIES FACING DRAMATIC REDUCTION. Seventeen military educational establishments will be abolished beginning 1 April, and of the 101 in the country at the end of 1998, no more than 50 will remain in the long term, according to Lieutenant-General Anatolii Sidorenko, head of the Defense Ministry's Military Education Directorate, "Segodnya" reported on 16 March. The reductions are supposed to result in a savings of at least 500 million rubles ($21 million), the daily reported. Sidorenko noted earlier that financial savings are not the only factor behind the cuts, pointing to the "noticeable decrease in the professional and moral level of graduates from military educational establishments." "Segodnya" reported on 2 March that competition to get into some military educational establishments is very low, with some institutions accepting every applicant in order to fill their vacancies. JAC DUMA SLAMS AZERBAIJAN FOR COURTING U.S. BASES. Duma members voted on 18 March to adopt a statement denouncing the possibility of the U.S. deploying military bases in Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 281 to one with one abstention. The statement raps "certain political circles in Azerbaijan" for wanting to "review the geopolitical balance of forces in the Transcaucasus and turn it into a zone of contest between outside forces." The same day, the Duma adopted in the first reading a bill prohibiting persons with criminal convictions for grave offenses from running for legislative bodies and another preventing air traffic controllers from striking. Despite concern expressed by some individual deputies that the latter law would violate the constitutional right to strike, only the Yabloko faction voted against it. JAC SVERDLOVSK LEGISLATORS RECOMMENDS CABINET RESHUFFLE. Angered by a report on wage arrears by Sverdlovsk Oblast Finance Minister Vladimir Chervyakov, members of the oblast legislative assembly have accused the government of Governor Eduard Rossel of executing its duties poorly and trying to misinform the people and their elected representatives, according to "EWI Russian Regional Report" on 18 March. Chervyakov reported that teachers and doctors are receiving their current salaries on time while they are slowly being reimbursed for past wages. Local legislators had a different take on the situation, noticing that the salary backlog remains as high as 871 million rubles ($37 million). According to the report, legislators are not likely to push to dismiss the whole government, since the governor might propose that legislators help him pick a new cabinet and thus share in responsibility for government policies. JAC SIBERIAN EX-MAYOR NABBED FOR BRIBERY. The former mayor of the city of Belovo in Kemerovo Oblast, Yevgenii Parshukov, has been arrested on bribery charges, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March, citing New Siberian Television. According to the television company, Parshukov is suspected of accepting a bribe in the form of an exemption for a repayment of a 62,000 ruble loan ($2,600). Parshukov is also charged with misusing 700,000 rubles in federal funds that had been intended for creating new jobs for coal miners but were instead transferred to a city transportation enterprise. Parshukov resigned from the post of mayor two months ago for unannounced reasons at the request of Governor Aman Tuleev. New mayoral elections for the city will be held 18 April, according to the agency. JAC CHECHEN, RUSSIAN LEADERS TO MEET? Both Chechen and Russian leaders suggested on 18 March that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Primakov may meet in the near future, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen sources suggested that the meeting could occur within the next two days. Russian officials stressed that a meeting now "is an extreme necessity." The meeting, if it takes place, will be in Moscow; an earlier gathering took place in Vladikavkaz. PG FEW RUSSIANS CONSIDER CHECHNYA PART OF RUSSIA... Only one- third of Russians consider Chechnya part of the Russian Federation, according to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation released on 18 March and reported by AP. That figure is down 50 percent from two years ago and down 67 percent from during the Chechen war. PG ...BUT MOSCOW SAYS GROZNY MUST END INDEPENDENCE TALK. Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov said on 18 March that Moscow should help to rebuild Chechnya's economy but that Chechens must end talk about independence, ITAR-TASS reported. PG DAGESTAN DEMONSTRATORS BLOCK MAJOR HIGHWAY. Demonstrators continued on 18 March to block the Caucasus Federal Highway, 80 kilometers south of Makhachkala, ITAR-TASS reported. The protest was sparked by the failure of the republic's election commission to register one of the candidates for the People's Assembly of Dagestan. The second round of the elections are to take place on 21 March. PG TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUGGESTS NEW ZEALAND MODEL FOR KARABAKH. Following a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Vartan Oskanian said on 18 March in London that New Zealand's relationship with some small islands off its coast could serve as a model for resolving the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's London correspondent reported. Oskanian said that the Niue islands are neither independent nor autonomous vis-a-vis New Zealand but instead exist within a common state. The OSCE Minsk Group has proposed a "common state" approach as a way to break the current deadlock between Yerevan and Baku. PG DEMIRCHIAN CONFIRMS MEETING WITH KOCHARIAN. Soviet-era Armenian leader Karen Demirchian on 18 March confirmed that he recently met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Demirchian said that the meeting took place "within the framework of the president's ongoing consultations with political parties," but he refused to give any details. In another move with possible implications for the upcoming elections, two small opposition parties--the 21st Century Party of former national security chief David Shahnazarian and the Liberal Democratic Party of Vigen Khachatrian--announced that they will boycott the poll. PG FRENCH GOVERNMENT TO OPPOSE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE BILL. The French government on 18 March warned its parliament that a motion to condemn the 1915 killing of Armenians in eastern Anatolia could significantly harm relations between Paris and Ankara. The bill was approved by the National Assembly in May 1998. The Senate is now considering whether to put the bill on its agenda. PG GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN DISCUSS ENHANCED MILITARY COOPERATION. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with visiting Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev on 18 March to explore ways in which the two countries can expand their program of military cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. The two also discussed the war on crime, terrorism, and other subversive activities in the Caucasus region. PG GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT TO PRESS FOR RUSSIAN PULL-OUT. Revaz Adamia, the chairman of the Georgian parliament's military and security committee, told Reuters on 18 March that the country's legislature will seek to force President Eduard Shevardnadze into demanding that Russian forces withdraw from Georgia and Russian bases there close. Adamia said that Moscow was using the bases to destabilize the situation as well as feeding an illegal arms trade. "It is time now to become harder with Russia. Either they should fulfill their obligations or get out," Adamia concluded. PG GEORGIA, RUSSIA MEET TO DISCUSS ABKHAZIA. Georgian State Minister Vazha Lordkipanidze, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevsky, and Russian Interior Ministry special envoy Lev Mironov met to discuss the return of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia and a resolution of the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. PG UN SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN MEETS WITH TURKMEN PRESIDENT... The UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 19 March to extend a message of thanks from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for hosting the recent round of Afghan peace talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 1999), ITAR-TASS reported. Brahimi leaves for Kandahar on 20 March to meet with officials from the Taliban. BP ...FOLLOWING TALKS IN TAJIK CAPITAL. The previous day, Brahimi was in Dushanbe to meet with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss progress in the Afghan peace talks, ITAR-TASS reported. Brahimi also met with Ahmed Shah Masoud, the defense minister of the Northern Alliance, which opposes the Taliban. Masoud agreed that "war cannot solve Afghanistan's problems," stressing that the Ashgabat talks were "useful and important as a first step." Masoud added that he expects the exchange of 20 prisoners, which forms part of the Ashgabat agreement, will take place around the Nawruz holiday, on 21 March. BP KAZAKHSTAN, UKRAINE HAND OVER SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS. Seven suspects in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent have been extradited from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 18 March. According to reports, all detainees are ethnic Uzbeks, although some are citizens of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, and were found to be in possession of Wahhabi literature. Another four Uzbeks caught in Ukraine and suspected of involvement in the bombings will be extradited to Uzbekistan, Interfax quotes Ukrainian Minister Yuri Kravchenko as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999). BP TURKMENISTAN DETAINS, DEPORTS JOURNALIST. The Information Center on Human Rights in Central Asia released statements on 18- 19 March saying that Nikolai Mitrokhin, a reporter for the Russian newspaper "Panorama," was detained and then deported by the Turkmen authorities to Uzbekistan. According to the statement, Mitrokhin was in the Turkmen city of Charjoi on 16 March, when he crossed into Uzbekistan and was detained by Uzbek authorities. Turkmen special service agents "attempted to forcibly bring him to Turkmenistan." However, Uzbekistan, "in violation of the norms of international rights," handed Mitrokhin over to the Turkmen authorities. Once back in Charjoi, Mitrokhin telephoned "Panorama" to say he was under "administrative arrest." Around midnight, he was deported to Uzbekistan, where he spent the night at the home of the head of Bukhara's National Security Committee chief. Mitrokhin is the author of several articles critical of the Turkmen government. BP KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CRITICIZES JUDICIAL SYSTEM. At the 17 March session of the Supreme Judicial Council during which Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Igor Rogov head of the council (see RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999), the president also criticized the work of the courts, , Interfax reported. Nazarbayev said citizens are writing letters to "the president, the government, and the local authorities" to ask for help in resolving their legal problems. "I have been working all these years so that citizens can bring their cases to court," Nazarbayev continued. "If Kazakh citizens do not turn to the courts for settling their legal disputes," legal reform will become redundant, he argued. Prosecutor- General Yuri Khitrin pointed out that so far this year, two judges have been arrested, while last year five were arrested and five dismissed. BP KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION CRITICIZES ELECTORAL LEGISLATION. The chairman of Kazakhstan's Peoples' Republican Party, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin, and 15 other "prominent Kazakh citizens" have sent an appeal to the country's parliament criticizing a presidential Decree on elections, Interfax reported on 18 March. The signatories claimed that current electoral legislation "favors manipulation of the electoral process contrary to the interests of the republic's people." They also noted that there are "inconsistencies between constitutional provisions that make the electoral system less democratic and deprive the people of Kazakhstan of the right to express their will." The appeal urges parliamentary deputies to pass new legislation to make the upcoming elections to the parliament and local government "truly democratic." 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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