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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 108, Part I, 3 June 1999


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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

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Headlines, Part I

* STEPASHIN OUTLINES PRIORITIES

* DUMA PASSES FIRST BILL IN PACKAGE OF IMF MEASURES

* ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CRITICISM OF PARLIAMENTARY POLL
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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

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               Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc.
                     All rights reserved.
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