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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 55, Part I, 19 March 1999


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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

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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
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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

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