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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 86, Part I, 4 May 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 86, Part I, 4 May 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 * NO BREAKTHROUGH IN CHERNOMYRDIN-CLINTON TALKS * GERASHCHENKO SAYS RUSSIA'S CREDITORS STALLING ON LONG-TERM RESTRUCTURING * FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DETAINED xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA NO BREAKTHROUGH IN CHERNOMYRDIN-CLINTON TALKS. Russian envoy for Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin handed U.S. President Bill Clinton in Washington on 3 May a letter from President Boris Yeltsin containing proposals for resolving the Kosova crisis, Interfax reported. After meeting with Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Chernomyrdin told AFP that the negotiations were "very complicated." Clinton earlier expressed readiness to discuss the composition of an international peace force. He said that "we would be willing to have a bombing pause" but added that "we would need acceptance of the basic principles and at least the beginning of withdrawal of Serbian forces." An unnamed senior U.S. official told AFP that "the Russians have some further ideas which we will continue to discuss with them," but he predicted that "I expect these discussions will continue over some days and weeks." FS ROBERTSON SAYS MILOSEVIC IGNORES CHERNOMYRDIN. British Defense Secretary George Robertson said in London on 4 May that "while Mr. Chernomyrdin continues with his diplomacy-- and it's very commendable that he should [continue] trying-- there's nobody really listening to him in Belgrade," Reuters reported. Robertson stressed that NATO wants Russia, Ukraine, and other countries to be involved in a peace-keeping force. The previous day in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said in an address to the nation that he sees "no reason to change strategy." He added that "Milosevic's political will remains the same. ...NATO must, therefore, pursue its mission." Chernomyrdin is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 4 May in New York. FS IS THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY STABILIZING? Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants told ITAR-TASS on 4 May that according to the results of the first quarter of 1999, the Russian economy is showing signs of stabilizing. The news agency quoted him as saying that industrial production in March was 1.4 percent higher than the previous year and that there was flat movement in GDP, whereas a decline had been expected. Earlier, the State Statistics Committee had reported on 28 April that industrial output was down 2 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, while agricultural output had slipped 5.4 percent and the volume of retail trade 15.8 percent, Interfax reported. Overall output in the five key branches of the Russian economy shrank 3.7 percent. The committee also reported that industrial production in March had declined, rather than increased, by 1.4 percent. JAC GERASHCHENKO SAYS RUSSIA'S CREDITORS STALLING ON LONG-TERM RESTRUCTURING... Russian Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told reporters on 3 May that although the agreement recently reached with the IMF has given a green light to talks with the London and Paris Clubs, the creditors are willing to defer payments for 1999 and 2000 but are refusing to talk about subsequent years. Gerashchenko concluded, "This shows that they wish to keep us on a short leash." JAC ...AS GKO PLAN FINALLY CONCLUDED. Gerashchenko added that most foreign banks have finally agreed to the government's plan for swapping the defaulted short-term treasury bonds that they hold. The Finance Ministry announced on 30 April that Russian investors exchanged 95.6 percent of the bonds they held for new government securities, while foreign investors swapped 88.5 percent of their bonds, Interfax reported. Under the government's scheme, foreign investors are offered 10 percent in cash, 20 percent in special investment bonds, and 70 percent in new ruble-denominated long-term government bonds for their old bonds, Oleg Larichev, manager of Troika Dialog, told the RFE/RL Russian Service's program "Delo i Dengi." Foreign investors will have the right to buy shares in six "blue chip" Russian companies: UES, Mosenergo, Irkutskenergo, Rostelekom, LUKoil, and Norilsk Nickel, according to Larichev. JAC RUSSIA, GERMANY SIGN ANTI-CRIME AGREEMENT. Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and his German counterpart, Otto Schily, signed an anti-crime agreement in Moscow on 3 May. The accord provides for closer cooperation between law enforcement bodies from the two countries, AFP reported. Stepashin said that over the next three months, Russian and German officials will jointly investigate "the methods used by criminals to channel money out of Russia to Germany and elsewhere, including operations through offshore zones." Schily is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 4 May to discuss other areas of Russian-German cooperation, a government spokeswoman told ITAR-TASS. Stepashin announced that Yeltsin plans to visit Germany in June at the time of the scheduled G-8 summit in Cologne. It will be his first visit abroad since February, when the ailing president attended the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein against his doctors' advice. FS STEPASHIN CLARIFIES NEW DUTIES. In an interview with NTV on 2 May, summarized by Interfax the following day, Stepashin attributed his surprise appointment as first deputy prime minister to the need to strengthen control over the regions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 1999). Central to this process, he said, will be the Interior Ministry, which he will continue to head. Stepashin also noted the need to prevent "criminal elements" from coming to power in regional elections. He expressed concern at violence in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, where a presidential runoff is scheduled for 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). Stepashin said he has written to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov advocating the resumption of cooperation between the Chechen and Russian Interior Ministries. An agreement on cooperation was reached earlier this year but torpedoed by the 5 March abduction in Grozny of senior Interior Ministry official Gennadii Shpigun. Stepashin said talks are under way with Shpigun's kidnappers, who have demanded a ransom for his release. LF IS LUKASHENKA READY TO BE NUMBER TWO? Vladimir Putin, Security Council secretary and Federal Security Service head, told Russian Television on 2 May that in a Russian-Belarusian state, Russia's president would lead while the president of Belarus would serve as vice president. Putin added that while the leaders of both countries want to unify, they are reluctant to yield some of their state's sovereignty. "Everything depends on the readiness of the unifying countries to pass over to the new country and its institutions a certain part of their sovereign rights and powers," he said. After a recent meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted that he has brought to Moscow an ambitious, radical plan for unification between his country and Russia, but he now "understands that Russia is not ready" yet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1999). JAC RECENTLY SACKED CABINET OFFICIAL TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR. Vadim Gustov, who was dismissed from his post as first deputy prime minister on 27 April, will run for governor of Leningrad Oblast in elections scheduled for 19 September, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 30 April. According to the daily, Gustov said "I said that I was ready to resign in order to run for governor of Leningrad Oblast and the prime minister agreed." Seven candidates have already announced their intention to run, including acting Governor Valerii Serdyukov, former St. Petersburg police chief Anatolii Ponidelko, and Fedor Shkrudnev, former presidential envoy to the oblast. Gustov's chances of victory are considered good by local analysts. Leonid Kesselman, political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology, told the daily that "Gustov is uncompromised in the eyes of the public and most of the regional bureaucracy supports him." JAC TOP DUMA OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH BRIBERY. The Prosecutor- General's Office has charged Vladimir Trofimov, chief of staff for the State Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, with bribe-taking, Interfax reported on 30 April. Trofimov was arrested by Federal Security Service officials on suspicion of accepting a $5,000 bribe, "Segodnya" reported on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999). JAC SPRING BRINGS NEW PATIENTS FOR LOCAL HOSPITALS. Although the season for hunting wild mushrooms has only just started in Stavropol Krai, eight cases of poisoning have already been reported after ingestion of some local fungi, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 May. Officials at the krai's Ministry of Health blame the illnesses on violations of the unwritten rule of any mushroom hunt: "If you don't know what it is, don't put it in your basket." JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DETAINED. Vano Siradeghian was taken into custody at Yerevan airport on 3 May on returning from a three-month stay abroad, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He had left Armenia on 29 January, three days after parliamentary deputies rejected a demand by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to strip him of his parliamentary immunity so that he could be questioned over allegations that while serving as interior minister from 1992-1996 he ordered several murders. In a second vote on 17 February, deputies acceded to Hovsepian's request. Siradeghian was re-elected chairman of the board of the former majority Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) at its congress in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1999) and has been nominated by that party as a candidate in the 30 May parliamentary elections. As such, he can be arrested only with the consent of two-thirds of the 13 members of the Central Electoral Commission. LF AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT TELEPHONES WITH TURKISH COUNTERPART. Heidar Aliev, who is recuperating from heart bypass surgery in the U.S., held a brief telephone conversation on 2 May with Suleyman Demirel, who wished him a speedy recovery, Turan reported the following day. A presidential press spokesman described Aliev's condition as "good." LF JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN. Masahiko Komura held talks in Baku on 2-3 May with his Azerbaijani counterpart Tofik Zulfugarov and with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. The Japanese side agreed to extend a 18.3 billion yen (some $160 million) loan toward the ongoing modernization of a key hydroelectric power station on the Apsheron Peninsula and 1 billion yen to renovate the country's road network. Agreement was also reached on the opening of a Japanese embassy in Baku next year. A Japanese spokesman said Tokyo may offer to finance some sections of the TRACECA Asia-Europe transport corridor and is interested in expanding its participation in Azerbaijan's oil and gas sector. LF AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL HINTS AT FURTHER EXPANSION OF GUUAM. Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy advisor Vafa Guluzade told Turan on 3 May that Poland and Romania are interested in joining the Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova alignment in the near future. He added that GUUAM is expected to intensify its activities and hold meetings with the heads of state of countries that have expressed an interest in membership. Talks are under way on the optimum location for the organization's headquarters and the formation of its Secretariat, Guluzade added. In related news, a delegation from the Romanian Defense Ministry and military-industrial complex visited Georgia last week to discuss areas of future cooperation, Caucasus Press reported. LF GEORGIAN STUDENTS PROTEST PLANNED U.S. EXHIBITS. Several dozen Georgian students and members of the clergy are continuing a hunger strike at several locations in Tbilisi to protest plans to send priceless antique manuscripts and Church treasures on a tour of four U.S. cities this fall, Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. AP had quoted one of the protest participants as predicting that the valuables would be clandestinely sold to private collectors and replaced with fakes. LF KAZAKH JOURNALISTS CRITICIZE DRAFT LAW ON MASS MEDIA. Meeting in Almaty on 3 May to mark International Media Day, journalists subjected Kazakhstan's new draft law on mass media to harsh criticism, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. They charged that unless unspecified drastic amendments are made to that draft, freedom of speech and the press in Kazakhstan will be restricted. It is not known who prepared the draft law, which was published in the press last week but has not been distributed to parliamentary deputies for discussion. LF KYRGYZ, UZBEK TRAIN TRANSIT RESUMES THROUGH KAZAKH TERRITORY. The heads of Kazakhstan's and Uzbekistan's national railroad companies have reached an agreement on the resumption of rail traffic from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan across Kazakh territory, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 4 May. Kazakhstan had halted rail freight shipments from Kyrgyzstan in mid-April and from Uzbekistan one week later because of unpaid transit debts amounting to $3.8 million and $8 million, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 1999). Those debts will now be repaid by 31 May. LF KYRGYZSTAN'S INDUSTRY UNABLE TO REPAY DOMESTIC, FOREIGN LOANS. Kyrgzystan's industrial sector owes the government some 403 million soms (about $11 million) in domestic loans and an additional 4.367 billion soms (about $125 million) made available in foreign credits, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 3 May quoting government sources. Two-thirds of the 105 enterprises that received foreign loans during the period 1992-1998 are now on the verge of bankruptcy. LF TAJIK COMMANDER RELEASES ANOTHER HOSTAGE. Mansur Muakalov, whose fighters seized six Tajik police officers on the night of 27-28 April to demand the release of five of their associates under investigation for murder, handed over a fourth hostage late on 2 May, AP reported from Dushanbe the following day. Talks are continuing on the release of the two remaining captive policemen. LF 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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