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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 105, Part II, 31 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 105, Part II, 31 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 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 * STAMPEDE IN MINSK METRO PASSAGEWAY KILLS 54 * SCHUSTER WINS SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFF * THACI SAYS AIR STRIKES PROTECT KOSOVARS End Note: THE CARDINAL AND THE PRESIDENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE STAMPEDE IN MINSK METRO PASSAGEWAY KILLS 54. At least 54 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede in an underground passageway to the Nyamiha metro station in Minsk on 30 May. The tragedy occurred after a crowd of young people had rushed from a nearby beer festival into the passage to avoid heavy rain. "The weather worsened sharply...and the crowd, some of whom were under the influence of alcohol, rushed to find cover," AP quoted Interior Minister Yuryy Sivakou as saying. JM BELARUSIAN AGRICULTURAL MANAGER SENTENCED TO TWO YEARS. Vasil Staravoytau, former head of the Rassvet collective farm in Mahilyou Oblast, was sentenced on 29 May to two years hard labor and confiscation of property. It took 11 hours for a judge to read the verdict, which found the 74-year-old Staravoytau guilty of seven counts of embezzlement, attempted smuggling, abuse of power, bribery, and illegal weapons possession. Staravoytau, a World War II veteran, received some of the Soviet Union's highest honors, including three Orders of Lenin and two Hero of Socialist Labor awards. Before his arrest in 1997, Staravoytau became embroiled in a public dispute with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had also headed a collective farm in the Mahilyou region during the Soviet era. Some independent newspapers have speculated that by indicting Staravoytau, Lukashenka took revenge on his more successful rival in farming. JM UKRAINIAN SPEAKER JOINS PRESIDENTIAL RACE. Supreme Council Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko announced on 29 May, after his Agrarian Party formally nominated him as its presidential candidate, that he will run in the 31 October presidential elections. Tkachenko is widely believed to pose the biggest challenge from the left of the political spectrum to incumbent President Leonid Kuchma. The previous day, ITAR-TASS reported that the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission has so far registered 17 candidates in the 1999 presidential elections. JM ROMANIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES WARM WELCOME IN CHERNIVTSI. Emil Constantinescu on 28 May visited Chernivtsi, capital of the Bukovyna region, which is home to some 460,000 ethnic Romanians. Thousands of people waving Romanian flags came out to greet Constantinescu, the first Romanian head of state to visit the area in 60 years. "Relations between Romania and Ukraine, as well as those between our ethnic groups can be an example for the world," Reuters quoted Constantinescu as saying. Constantinescu and Kuchma inaugurated a Romanian consulate in Chernivtsi. Later this year, Ukraine plans to open a multicultural university in Chernivtsi, which will offer tuition also in Romanian. JM BALTIC ASSEMBLY CONVENES IN VILNIUS. Meetings of the parliamentary Baltic Assembly and inter-governmental Baltic Council of Ministers took place in Vilnius from 28-30 May. The assembly passed five resolutions: on the restoration of pre-occupation embassy buildings in France and Italy, cooperation in the energy sector, further promotion of the Via Baltica transport link, the protection of cultural monuments, and the assembly's 1999 budget, totaling $33,000, according to BNS. Lithuania also turned the chairmanship of the parliamentary body over to Latvia. The Baltic Council of Ministers also discussed further regional cooperation at several levels. MH ESTONIAN PARTY MERGER APPROVED. The People's Party on 30 May voted to merge with the Moderates, according to "Postimees." During the March general elections, the two parties ran on one list under the name of the Moderates. The center-left Moderates had approved the merger last week. However, some members of the right-wing People's Party have announced they will split away, arguing that the merger has changed the political direction of the party. One rebel member said that most of the departed members will likely join up with the rightist Pro Patria Union--also a member of the three-party ruling coalition. People's Party chairman Toomas Hendrik Ilves commented that in every merger, it is "inevitable" that some will be dissatisfied. MH LATVIAN PORK TARIFF ANGERS NEIGHBORS. The Latvian parliament's decision to implement a 70 percent tariff on imported pork and pork products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999) has drawn heavy criticism from Estonian and Lithuanian officials. On 28 May, the Estonian government lodged an official protest, as did the Lithuanian government. Lithuanian government officials also called for the convening of the committee on the Baltic Free Trade Agreement, saying retaliatory action may be taken, according to BNS. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said the tariffs do not violate the Baltic Free Trade agreement nor Latvia's obligations as a World Trade Organization member: "If we are wrong and the WTO proves it, we will repay both Lithuanian and Estonian exporters," BNS quoted him as saying. MH OIL FLOWS TO LITHUANIA'S MAZEIKIAI AGAIN. Crude oil deliveries from Russia to Lithuania's Mazeikiai Oil Refinery resumed on 27 May, according to ELTA. However, officials from the refinery are not sure when production will restart. The official said that the crude reserves must be filled first and there must first be some guarantee from Russia that supplies will continue. A lack of crude from Russia forced the oil refinery to shut down on last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). MH POLISH FARMERS END PROTEST, SIGN DEAL ON GRAIN SUPPLIES. Polish farmers on 29 May ended their road blockades and signed an agreement with the government on minimum prices paid by the state for grain. The government agreed to buy wheat for 510 zlotys ($128) per 1 ton in August, 520 zlotys in September, and 560 zlotys in October. The minimum prices for 1 ton of rye were set at 360 zlotys, 375 zlotys, and 390 zlotys, respectively. "Subsidizing grain production is a provisional measure for approximately two years. It does not make the farmers partners on the market but [only] opponents on the street," the 31 May "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted an agricultural expert as saying. Radical farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper said he is not satisfied with the deal, and he chastised "95 percent" of farmers for not participating in road blockades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). JM CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER. A 29 May conference of the centrist Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL) elected Jan Kasal, until now party deputy chairman, as KDU-CSL leader, CTK reported. He replaces Josef Lux, who quit politics last year after falling ill with leukemia. Kasal was backed by 181 delegates, while his rival for the position, Cyril Svoboda, obtained 121 votes and was later elected KDU-CSL first deputy chairman. After his election, Kasal said he would like to meet with the leaders of other parties but did not expect such talks to result "in the creation of a new coalition." He was indirectly responding to Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus's address to the KDU-CSL conference, in which Klaus said the Christian Democrats must adopt "a clear position" on cooperation between the two parties. MS HAVEL RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL. Czech President Vaclav Havel on 28 May left the Prague military hospital. Doctors consider that he has "overcome the worst" of a new bout of bronchitis. Presidential spokesman Martin Krafl said Havel, who was hospitalized on 20 May, is likely to resume his official duties on 7 June. MS SCHUSTER WINS SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFF. Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster has defeated former Premier Vladimir Meciar in the 29 May presidential run-off. Official results released the next day showed Schuster, the candidate of the ruling four-party coalition, received 57.2 percent of the vote, compared with Meciar's 42.8 percent. Turnout was 75.45 percent. Schuster told journalists he intends to work for "the reconciliation of all Slovaks," adding that he does not "want to be the servant of the [ruling] coalition, just because I belonged to it," TASR and CTK reported. He also said his first official visit as president will be to the Czech Republic. Meciar sent Schuster a telegram expressing confidence that the new president will carry out his duties "to the benefit of Slovakia and all its citizens." On 29 May, he had said he will not withdraw from politics if defeated. MS HUNGARY-BASED U.S. PLANES JOIN NATO ACTION IN YUGOSLAVIA. Two dozen U.S. Marine F-18 jet fighters that were deployed in Hungary last week flew their first missions over Yugoslavia on 28 May, dpa reported, citing a Marine Corps spokesman at the Taszar airbase in southern Hungary. Also on 28 May, the cabinet approved the deployment of 18 A-10 planes at Taszar. Defense Ministry spokesman Lajos Erdelyi told MTI that three A- 10s, which are designed to attack tanks and other armor, are already at the base, while the remainder are due to arrive over the next days. MTI reported that there are currently 16 KC-135 Stratotanker mid-air refueling planes stationed at Budapest airport and 24 F-18 fighters at Taszar, in addition to the three A-10s. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE THACI SAYS AIR STRIKES PROTECT KOSOVARS... Hashim Thaci, leader of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and prime minister of the UCK-backed provisional government, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 31 May that NATO should intensify its air strikes. He added that NATO's bombing campaign has prevented Serbian forces from carrying out even worse massacres and abuses than has been the case. He noted that morale among Serbian troops in the province is low. Thaci argued that only military pressure will prompt Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to make concessions. He said that he is pleased with the level of cooperation between the UCK and provisional government, on the one hand, and NATO, on the other. Thaci stressed that he is willing to compromise with Ibrahim Rugova of the moderate Democratic League of Kosova in order to promote Kosovar unity. He added, however, that the Kosovars are already united on most key issues and that the differences between the UCK and Rugova have been "overestimated in Western capitals." PM ...AS DOES UCK COMMANDER. Thaci also told the 31 May "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that his troops are carrying out an offensive in southwestern Kosova near the Albanian border. He added that the UCK has become much more professional since General Agim Ceku took over its command recently. Ceku is a former Yugoslav army officer who later became a general in the Croatian army. Ceku told RFE/RL on 30 May that NATO air strikes have reduced the ability of Serbian forces to "carry out their war against civilians" in Kosova. Ceku noted that the morale of Serbian forces is low and that reservists have recently deserted their units in large numbers. PM GERMANY, FRANCE URGE NEW G-8 SUMMIT. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac issued a statement in Paris on 29 May saying that the foreign ministers of the G-8 countries should meet again and review recent diplomatic developments in Belgrade. Tanjug reported over the weekend that Milosevic has accepted "the general principles" laid down by the G-8 nations as a basis for bringing peace to Kosova (see Part I). The statement added that "France and Germany consider it necessary to examine whether the content of [Milosevic's] declaration can lead to a political solution on the basis of our principles." NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said during a visit to Rome that he favors the proposed meeting. Chirac told Reuters in Paris the following day that Milosevic "does not have any [room for maneuver]." FS KUCAN LAUDS NATO ACTIONS. Slovenian President Milan Kucan told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 30 May that NATO policies in the Balkans are aimed at restoring "normal life" in Kosova and at establishing respect for "human rights as a fundamental principle of the new world order." He added that he does not believe that NATO will end its air strikes until it achieves its objectives. Kucan said he is opposed to the idea of partitioning Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 1999). He noted that Ljubljana is willing to host a major international conference on the future of the Balkans. PM CLARK: SERBIAN FORCES FACING 'CERTAIN DEFEAT.' General Wesley Clark, who is NATO's chief commander in Europe, told "Le Figaro" of 31 May that "the Serbian forces have been reduced [by NATO bombings] to a state where they must remain hidden by day. They only take up positions at night or in bad weather," he added. Clark argued that desertions and discontent are on the rise and that some units have revolted against their commanders. He concluded that the bombing "has transformed the Serbian forces, which previously were well equipped, efficient, and formidable, into a mosaic of individuals less capable of carrying out [the army's] cruel mission.... The [Yugoslav] army is in decline and knows it is losing" (see also Part I). PM UN REPORT CALLS ON SERBIAN FORCES TO LEAVE KOSOVA. Mary Robinson, who is the UN's chief official for human rights issues, said in a report on 31 May that the Yugoslav government should "withdraw immediately and unconditionally all the army and [police] units from [Kosova], as well as federal police and paramilitary forces who are responsible for gross violations of human rights in the region." She added that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's recent indictment of Milosevic was a "major step" toward ending "impunity" in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). Robinson noted that "a number of [ethnic Albanian] refugees interviewed by [her] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights witnessed or confirmed accounts of summary executions, while others reported having seen mass graves." She also criticized NATO's use of cluster bombs in its air strikes against Serbian targets and its destruction of civilian sites, including schools and hospitals. PM NATO: CIVILIAN CASUALTIES INEVITABLE. An unnamed official of the Atlantic alliance told Reuters in Brussels on 31 May that "you can only fine-tune a bombing campaign so far. At point of impact, even the smartest bomb is unable to distinguish between soldiers and civilians. The Serbs have moved many of their military assets into built-up areas where they are co- located with civilians.... We are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Regrettably, they are inevitable as we increase the tempo of the air campaign." He made his remarks hours after Serbian media reported that 11 people died when NATO aircraft attacked a sanatorium in Surdulica. The previous day, nine people were killed when NATO bombed a bridge in Varvarin. Shortly after that attack, a NATO spokesman in Brussels said the bridge was "a major line of communication and a legitimate military target." PM AUSTRALIA CALLS ON MILOSEVIC TO RELEASE AID WORKERS. A military court in Belgrade sentenced Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, who are Australian employees of CARE, to 12 and four years in prison, respectively, for "collecting and passing on secret information," Reuters reported on 30 May. Their Yugoslav colleague Branko Jelen received a six-year jail term. The next day, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Parliament: "We would like the government of President Milosevic, and President Milosevic himself, to treat these two aid workers with at least the humanity that the aid workers have been treating the people of Yugoslavia with." Downer also called Yugoslav Ambassador to Australia Dragan Dragojlovic to Parliament House to lodge a protest against the jailings. Dragojlovic told reporters that he hopes the men can be released but stressed that they must first be proven innocent in court. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that he will work quietly through diplomatic channels to obtain the men's release. PM UNHCR WORRIED ABOUT REFUGEES. Spokesmen for the UNHCR and several other aid agencies said in Skopje on 29 May that only about 1,200 Kosovars arrived in Macedonia the previous day, Reuters reported. The UNHCR's Ron Redmond added that the aid workers "are very concerned because we know that thousands, probably tens of thousands, [of Kosovars] want to come out. Their physical condition is deteriorating by the day. They are not getting any food, they are not getting any medical attention" in Kosova. Another aid worker noted: "It's ironic, but we hope to see more refugees come across because at least that way we know that they are safe and we can help them." PM YUGOSLAV TROOPS DETAIN SFOR PEACEKEEPERS. An unspecified number of Yugoslav soldiers entered Bosnia near Rudo on the border with Serbia, took six NATO peacekeepers with them back into Serbia, and detained the SFOR men for about eight hours before releasing them, AP reported from Sarajevo on 28 May. A NATO spokesman said that some of the men had been mistreated. He added that "the Yugoslav violation of Bosnian sovereignty is a breach of the Dayton Peace Agreement." PM MORE DETAINEES FROM SMREKONICA ARRIVE IN ALBANIA. An additional 400 Kosovar men released by Serbian forces from the prison in Smrekonica arrived in Kukes on 29 and 30 May, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). About 2,000 men have been freed from detention there over the past eight days. All of them told similar stories of torture and showed signs of malnutrition. FS ALBANIAN ARMY LAUNCHES MANEUVERS NEAR MORINA. In maneuvers on 28 May, Albanian soldiers fired hundreds of artillery shells and rockets at targets near Morina, in Albania, close to the Kosovar border. The exercises involved tanks, howitzers, and 1,200 ground troops. Unnamed Western military sources told AP that NATO tried unsuccessfully to stop the exercise, fearing a Serbian military response in an area packed with almost 100,000 refugees. NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said in Brussels, however, that Albania "has the right to take any steps which it deems necessary to defend itself." On 30 May, Serbian forces fired several mortar rounds into Albania near Morina. Serbian snipers took up positions in the hills overlooking the border crossing. Over the weekend, Yugoslav army troops and UCK forces fought for control over three small villages near Tropoja, in Kosova. FS GREEK POLICE TO CRACK DOWN ON ILLEGAL ALBANIANS AFTER HIJACKING. An unnamed high ranking Greek police official told Reuters on 30 May that Greek authorities will "greatly intensify...the checks on refugees...throughout the country" after an illegal Albanian immigrant hijacked a bus and took nine hostages in Thessaloniki on 28 May. The 25 year-old armed ex-convict then forced the driver to take the bus across the border into Albania. The incident ended on 29 May when Albanian special police ambushed the vehicle in central Albania, killing the hijacker and a Greek hostage. Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis described the storming of the bus as "very foolish behavior on the part of the Albanian police which showed indifference about human lives." FS ROMANIAN PARTIES MERGE. The National Council of the Romanian National Party (PNR) on 29 May approved the party's merger with the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD). PLD chairman Nicolae Cerveni will become PNR deputy chairman as of 31 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. According to "Adevarul" on 31 May, Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu and Victor Roman Constantinescu, one of the leaders of the Party of Romanian Unity Alliance (PAUR), signed a protocol in Cluj on 29 May that envisages the merger of the PAUR (a splinter party of the Party of Romanian National Unity) and the PDSR. The former leader of the PAUR is Gheorghe Funar, who went on to join the Greater Romania Party. MS DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA TO BACK PRESIDENT CONSTANTINESCU. The National Council of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) announced on 28 May that the CDR will back incumbent President Emil Constantinescu in the 2000 presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council postponed taking a decision on the National Liberal Party's demand that CDR political formations be allowed to run separately in local elections. CDR chairman Ion Diaconescu said his National Peasant Party Christian Democratic believes that the issue cannot be resolved before the parliament decides whether to change the system of parliamentary and local elections and amend the law on political parties. The liberals are also demanding that the CDR chairmanship be rotated and that they be given a veto-right on decisions binding for the CDR. MS ROMANIA'S NATIONAL BANK SAYS 'MOST BANKS' VIABLE. "Out of 36 Romanian banks, 29 are economically viable," according to a 28 May statement released by Romania's National Bank after a three-day meeting of its board. The statement says the banks encountering difficulties as a result of bad loans are Agricultural Bank, Albina Bank, Bancorex, Bankcoop, Columna, Credit Bank, and Dacia Felix. On 25 May, the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal declared Albina Bank bankrupt. The state fund guaranteeing deposits said on 28 May that each depositor with the bank may withdraw up to 35.3 million lei (some $2,260) from that bank. Last week, thousands gathered outside Bankcoop branches, fearing its collapse. MS MOLDOVAN CURRENCY LOSES VALUE AGAIN. The leu has dropped against the U.S. dollar again, Infotag and Flux reported on 28 May. The National Bank on 26 May fixed the exchange rate at 11.28 lei, while that figure fell to 11.40 on 28 May. Some exchange offices charged as much as 12.86 per $. Flux also reported that on 28 May the price of bread increased by 21 percent on average, mainly owing to the hike in the price of flour. MS BULGARIAN MINISTER TOTS UP LOSSES FROM WAR IN YUGOSLAVIA. Trade and Tourism Minister Valentin Vasiliev told the parliament on 28 May that the direct losses caused to Bulgaria's economy as a result of the military operations in neighboring Yugoslavia so far amount to 115 billion leva (some $62 million). Lost profits as a result of the war total some 10 billion leva, he added, according to BTA, as cited by the BBC. He added that all losses are the result of canceled foreign trade deals. MS END NOTE THE CARDINAL AND THE PRESIDENT by Paul Goble President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government has announced that foreign priests will no longer be allowed to come to Belarus now that the Minsk authorities have allowed the Roman Catholic Church there to open a seminary. But Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, the archbishop of Minsk, told the Keston News Service recently that this decision, the latest example of Lukashenka's efforts to restrict religious activities, will make it extremely difficult for his Church to recover anytime soon from the depredations of Soviet times during which more than 90 percent of parish churches were destroyed or confiscated. Swiatek, 84, is amply qualified to speak on this subject. Despite being accused of murder, sentenced to death, and spending a decade in Soviet camps, the cardinal remained true to his faith and in 1991 became the first Catholic bishop in Belarus in almost half a century. Much of the Church's rebirth so far springs from the 130 Polish priests who arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cardinal Swiatek said. Without additional pastoral assistance from abroad, he suggested, the Church faces a difficult future, especially since the new seminary can prepare only 25 candidates for the priesthood annually. Lukashenka's actions against what he and some others see as "foreign" faiths mirror Russian religious legislation in its form, content, and consequences. Speaking on 21 May to a panel that advises Russian President Boris Yeltsin on human rights issues, State Duma member Valerii Borshchev said that the 1997 Russian law on freedom of conscience and religious associations violates the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Moscow is a signatory. Borshchev said that the creation of a special privileged position for what that legislation calls "traditional" religions at the expense of all others violates fundamental principles of human rights. And he warned against what he said is the increasingly widespread view that Russian Orthodox Christianity should serve as the ideology of the post-communist Russian State. Other speakers at the gathering, including Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest and former prisoner of conscience, echoed Borshchev's arguments. But despite their criticism, a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate defended the legislation. Vsevolod Chaplin, himself an Orthodox priest, argued that the law does not in fact discriminate against any faith. He suggested that all the problems others were pointing to arise from the misapplication of the law by arbitrary local and regional officials. Chaplin's statement reflects the official line of both the Patriarchate and the Russian government. But it may not convince anyone, especially in the light of both the Belarusian actions and a recent statement by the senior Russian Justice Ministry officials responsible for registering religious congregations in the Russian Federation itself. Speaking to a representative of the Keston News Service recently, Aleksandr Kudryavtsev argued that registration is proceeding "normally" and that there is "still plenty of time" for all groups to register. He noted that the Russian Orthodox Church has managed to register almost 8,000 of its parishes. Other Churches may not be so fortunate, however. If they fail to meet the 31 December deadline, Kudryavtsev said, they "wouldn't be immediately liquidated" but would face liquidation "by legal processes." Human rights activists think that local officials may move more precipitously, especially since Kudryavtsev has said that "we don't need unpleasant publicity connected with such cases." These attacks on religious activity, however, do not appear likely to rein in the efforts of the faithful in either country to continue their work. Nataliya Bronitskaya, a representative of the Union of Evangelical Churches in Russia, recently said that she and her co-religionists "have established our right to faith through suffering. Everyone knows this. Just let them try to question our rights again." And Belarusian Cardinal Swiatek replied to Lukashenka with the confidence that comes from a longer- term view: "The Church in Belarus," he said, "is led by the Holy Spirit. 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