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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 108, Part I, 3 June 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 108, Part I, 3 June 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 * STEPASHIN OUTLINES PRIORITIES * DUMA PASSES FIRST BILL IN PACKAGE OF IMF MEASURES * ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF PARLIAMENTARY POLL xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA STEPASHIN OUTLINES PRIORITIES. Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, speaking during a visit to Tula on 2 June, said he will present his cabinet to the media and the country on 4 June. At that time, he added, he will "speak very specifically about the distribution of power among the members of the cabinet." Stepashin said he intends to personally supervise the work of the finance and so-called "power ministries" as well as relations between Moscow and the regions. The prime minister said increasing tax collection and preventing capital flight will be two key priorities of his government. JB DUMA PASSES FIRST BILL IN PACKAGE OF IMF MEASURES... Prime Minister Stepashin praised State Duma legislators on 3 June for passing in its first reading a bill on restructuring credit organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Legislators had approved the measure on 2 June. The bill is part of a legislative package that the government says must be passed if Moscow is to continue receiving IMF credits. JB ...AS OBSERVERS AGREE ON IMPORTANCE OF NEW AGREEMENT WITH FUND. Commentator Otto Latsis, writing in "Novye Izvestiya" on 2 June, pointed out that "Russia is still teetering on the verge of a financial abyss" and that the country has been living in a state of technical default for months. Latsis said this is precisely why a new agreement with the IMF is so crucial: "Its failure or success will determine whether we will be able to solve the problem of foreign debt for years to come or whether the avalanche of payments will bury us here and now." JB OIL COMPANIES REPORTEDLY PAYING THEIR TAXES. Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has said all Russian oil companies have paid their taxes for the months of April and May, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. He added that all oil companies have concluded agreements with the ministry pledging to pay all back taxes by November or December of this year in "real money" (as opposed to through barter deals). JB CENTRAL BANK TO PUSH FOR MORE MERGERS. Central Bank governor Viktor Gerashchenko has said he intends to encourage Russian banks to undertake further mergers in order to consolidate the sector and ensure that financial institutions become more sound, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Gerashchenko, addressing the Eighth International Banking Congress in St. Petersburg, said that in the past two years, the number of banks in Russia has shrunk from 2,500 to 1,500, as the government has revoked 1,000 licenses. But he added that almost all of the 18 leading banks in Russia are encountering problems due to lack of capital. Gerashchenko criticized bank managers and legislators for torpedoing a draft law on guaranteeing citizens' bank deposits. He said the banks have refused to pay into a special fund to back the deposits. JB MILITARY ADVISERS SLAM CHERNOMYRDIN. NTV reported on 2 June that unspecified military aides to Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russia's special envoy to Yugoslavia, denounced the Kosova peace plan on the grounds that it gives too much say to NATO, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see Part II). According to the television station, the advisers "have voiced their categorical opposition to the agreements" reached in Bonn. They criticized Chernomyrdin for agreeing to NATO's stopping its bombing campaign only after the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova has been verified and to NATO's playing a leading role in the peace-keeping force. Chernomyrdin's adviser Valentin Sergeev "categorically" denied the NTV report, according to Interfax. He added that "I do not know who can benefit from spreading these rumors at such a crucial moment in the negotiations." FS IVANOV MEETS WITH JIANG IN BEIJING. At his meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing on 2 June, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov delivered a verbal message from Russian President Yeltsin stressing that "the latest world developments testify to the correctness of...promoting our relations of strategic partnership," Russian agencies reported. Ivanov traveled to Beijing mainly to prepare for another informal summit between Yeltsin and Jiang. Following talks with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, earlier the same day, Ivanov announced that the second "summit without neckties" will take place in late October or early November in Beijing. The first such meeting took place in Moscow last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"24 November 1998). Leaving Beijing on 3 June, Ivanov hailed the results of his visit, saying that Russia and China have confirmed "a common approach" to practically all international issues, including Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. JC COURT EXAMINES LEGALITY OF TRANSFERRING PRESIDENTIAL POWERS. At the request of the Duma, the Constitutional Court began examining the basic law to determine under what conditions the Russian president can be stripped of his mandate, especially in case of ill health, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. The Duma asked the court more than a year ago to clarify under which circumstances the president, if incapacitated, can or must relinquish his powers to the prime minister and whether this automatically triggers new elections. JB CONFERENCE DISCUSSES ABOLISHING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT... A conference on the abolition of the death penalty in Russia opened in Moscow on 3 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Anatolii Pristavkin, head of the presidential Commission for Pardons, says the main purpose of the conference is to inform the public what is being done in drawing up a law on the abolition of the death penalty. Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov, Minister of Justice Pavel Krasheninnikov, and Daniel Tarschys, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, are among those expected to attend the conference. JB ...AS YELTSIN SIGNS DECREE COMMUTING ALL DEATH SENTENCES. Also on 3 June, President Yeltsin signed a decree commuting the death sentence for all convicts on death row. Yeltsin had been planning to take the action for some time and is pushing the State Duma to abolish the death penalty altogether. Capital punishment remains on the books in Russia, and courts regularly hand down death sentences, although no one has been executed since 1996. The Kremlin says Yeltsin issued the decree after the presidential Commission for Pardons reviewed the cases of more than 700 convicts on death row and recommended that they be given either life sentences or 25- year prison terms. Yeltsin had already commuted more than half of all death sentences in Russia prior to today's announcement. Russia promised to scrap the death penalty when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996. JB TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF PARLIAMENTARY POLL. Noyan Tapan on 2 June quoted presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian as saying that Robert Kocharian does not accept the conclusions contained in a preliminary statement on the 30 May parliamentary elections issued by the National Democratic Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 1999). That assessment said that "once again Armenia has failed to meet international standards and commitments." Gabrielian said Kocharian believes that the exclusion of voters' names from voter registers resulted from the abolition of additional registers, as required by the new election law in an attempt to preclude fraud. Meeting on 2 June with representatives of the OSCE Election Observation Mission, Kocharian pledged a "thorough" investigation into the reported irregularities, adding that if local district administrators are found responsible they will be severely punished, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF GEORGIA UNABLE TO PAY MEMBERSHIP DUES TO INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. Georgia's unpaid membership fees to international organizations amounted to $30 million as of 1 January 1998, Caucasus Press reported on 3 June, citing "Rezonansi." Fees for last year totaled $10 million, plus $2 million for the first quarter of 1999. The state budget allocates only $1 million, which does not cover the combined membership dues for the UN, the Council of Europe, the CIS, UNESCO, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and the World Trade Organization. The newspaper said the IMF has recommended that the Georgian Foreign Ministry draw up a list of organizations in which the country will terminate its membership, but the ministry is reluctant to do so. LF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SAYS CONTINUED FOREIGN INVESTMENT VITAL. Speaking at a news conference in Almaty following a session of the Foreign Investors Council of Kazakhstan on 2 June, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that this year Kazakhstan plans to maintain the 1998 level of $1.2 billion in direct foreign investment and $2.1 billion in domestic investment, Interfax reported. He added that foreign investment is "an important component in establishing democracy." Addressing foreign investors earlier, Nazarbaev had assured leaders of foreign companies engaged in Kazakhstan that he is ready to meet with them personally in an attempt to resolve any difficulties they encounter, especially with bureaucratic hurdles or requests for bribes, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF U.S. OIL COMPANY WANTS TO EXPORT KAZAKH OIL VIA GEORGIA. Meeting in Tbilisi on 31 May with Georgian State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze, senior Texaco representatives expressed the wish to use the Baku-Supsa export pipeline to transport crude the company extracts in Kazakhstan, Turan reported. The Texaco representatives said they have already discussed that option with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, which operates the pipeline. The oil would presumably be transported across the Caspian by tanker to Baku. LF KAZAKHSTAN REPORTS PROGESS TOWARD ASIAN OSCE. Meeting in Almaty, experts from 16 states have agreed on a draft declaration of principles for a Eurasian security system to be named the Conference on Inter-Action and Confidence- Building in Asia, Interfax reported on 2 June, citing Kazakh government sources. The foreign ministers of the countries in question, which Interfax did not identify, are expected to sign the declaration in September. The idea of a Eurasian security body was first proposed by President Nazarbaev in March 1994. LF PENSIONERS STAGE PROTEST DEMO IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL. Between 1,500-2,000 people, mostly pensioners, picketed the government building in Bishkek on 2 June to protest deteriorating living conditions and demand that pensions be increased and paid on time, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It was the second such protest in one week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 1999). A similar demonstration by some 15 people protesting the recent 30 percent rise in bread prices took place in Jalal-Abad the same day. Also on 2 June, the government press service announced that all outstanding wages for May will be paid by 20 June and that some 277 million soms ($6 million) in social benefits arrears for 1998 will be paid after receipt of a new $20 million loan from the Asian Development Bank. LF TAJIK PRESIDENT INVITES OPPOSITION LEADER FOR DIRECT TALKS. Imomali Rakhmonov has issued a statement calling on United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri to meet with him to discuss the opposition's demands, Interfax reported on 2 June. Rakhmonov said the tensions between the government and opposition "pose a real threat" to stability, and he expressed the hope that "reason will prevail and the Commission for National Reconciliation will continue its work." The UTO suspended its participation in the work of that commission last week to protest the government's failure to comply with provisions of the 1997 peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 1999). LF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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