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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 211, Part I, 29 October 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 211, Part I, 29 October 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 * VERBAL BATTLE BETWEEN OVR, KREMLIN HEATS UP * RUSSIA CONTINUES BOMBING GROZNY * ARMENIAN PREMIER, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER GUNNED DOWN End Note: VIOLENCE AND RECRIMINATIONS OVERSHADOW GEORGIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA VERBAL BATTLE BETWEEN OVR, KREMLIN HEATS UP... The leaders of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance on 28 October published an open letter appealing to Russian President Boris Yeltsin to break out of his political isolation and curb the efforts of his staff who "openly interfere with the State Duma electoral campaign" as well as abuse their office and "exert unprecedented pressure on the electoral process." The letter, which was signed by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, also accused Yeltsin's staff of putting "pressure on both private and government mass media outlets." OVR's leaders urged Yeltsin to meet with the mass media as well as public and political organizations in order to hear "unbiased opinions." First Deputy Chief of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov responded that the OVR leaders are simply nervous about their low popularity ratings, according to Interfax. JAC ...AS LUZHKOV SAYS HE BELIEVES BEREZOVSKII WANTED HIM DEAD. On 27 October, Mayor Luzhkov told reporters that he finds credible former deputy presidential security chief Aleksandr Korzhakov's claim that four years ago media magnate Boris Berezovskii repeatedly asked Korzhakov to kill Luzhkov as well as Media Most head Vladimir Gusinskii and singer/Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon. Korzhakov, who is himself running for re-election to the State Duma, said that he decided finally to reveal what had happened in 1995 when he heard of Berezovskii's plans to seek a Duma seat. Berezovskii responded to Korzhakov's claims saying "I cannot respond to such gibberish in earnest," Interfax reported. "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 27 October, without reference to any sources, that the Kremlin's new campaign strategy is to entice the leadership of the Communist Party and Yabloko into a non-aggression pact by offering them access to main television channels and promising to withhold compromising materials against top leaders. JAC RUSSIA CONTINUES BOMBING GROZNY. Russian warplanes continued their intensive bombing of Grozny from 27-29 October. The town of Achkhoi-Martan to the southwest was also targeted. Suspected Chechen positions near the towns of Bamut, Dolinskii, Pervomaiskoe, Samashki, Novy Saharoi, Goryacheistochinskoe, Ishkhoi-Yurt, Galaity, Meskety, Alleroi, and Bunin-aul were subjected to heavy artillery fire. Fierce ground fighting was reported for control of a strategic hill on the northern outskirts of Grozny on 28 October. In Moscow, Russian First Deputy Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Valerii Manilov told journalists on 28 October that federal forces have no intention of storming either Grozny or Gudermes (which, like the Chechen capital, is blockaded from the west, north, and east) as long as large concentrations of Chechen fighters remain in those towns, Reuters reported. Interfax quoted a spokesman for the Russian military as saying that the federal forces intend to allow the Chechen gunmen to retreat south from Grozny and will pursue them into the mountains. LF CHECHEN OFFICIALS ASSESS DAMAGE. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who is an artillery specialist, told journalists in Grozny on 26 October that the explosion at Grozny's central market on 21 October was caused by "a tactical missile with a cluster bomb warhead that cannot be used against targets in populated areas even in conditions of war between large states," Interfax reported the following day. Maskhadov said that missile had been aimed at his presidential palace. Deputy Prime Minister Apti Bisultanov said on 28 October that a total of 223 people were killed and 327 wounded in the rocket attacks on the city two days earlier. In subsequent rocket attacks on Grozny on 27-28 October, the homes of field commanders Shamil Basaev and Arbi Baraev and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (who is currently in the United Arab Emirates) were destroyed. LF MASKHADOV APPEALS TO POPE. President Maskhadov on 28 October appealed to Pope John Paul II to intervene to protect the Chechen people from genocide, Interfax reported. Maskhadov said he decided to do so only after becoming convinced that "the Islamic world remains indifferent to the tragedy of the Chechen people." LF SERGEEV SAYS RUSSIAN MILITARY IN NORTH CAUCASUS TO STAY. Inspecting Russian federal troops deployed along the north bank of the Terek River on 28 October, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said "we have come here to stay for good," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile Basaev told AP in Grozny the same day that he has created a special battalion of suicide fighters to carry out acts of sabotage in retaliation for the Grozny market place bombing. LF TALBOTT URGES MOSCOW TO USE 'POLITICAL LEVERS' IN CHECHEN CONFLICT... Following his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 29 October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told journalists that while the U.S. understands that Russia has the "right and duty" to protect the state and its citizens from the "threat of extremism and terrorism," it nonetheless hopes that Moscow will "turn to political levers as soon as possible" to resolve the Chechen conflict. The two men also discussed mediating a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and Talbott noted after their talks that the 27 October murder of Armenian Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and other top officials may "cast a pall" over attempts to resolve that dispute, Reuters reported. According to Talbott, he and Ivanov did not touch upon arms control issues. JC ...WHILE RUSSIA TELLS U.S. CHECHNYA IS INTERNAL MATTER. Responding to remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Russian actions in Chechnya, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared on 27 October that "everything that concerns the North Caucasus is Russia's internal matter," according to RIA Novosti. Putin added that Russia "respects the opinion of its Western partners." Unidentified government sources told Interfax the same day that Putin is likely to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton in early November in Oslo. JAC IVANOV WANTS FRANCE TO HELP SAFEGUARD ABM TREATY. Addressing the French Senate on 27 October, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Moscow expects "Russian-French cooperation," in particular between [the countries'] parliaments," to counter the unwillingness among some U.S. political forces to "move toward disarmament," Interfax reported the next day. If the U.S. deploys a national anti-ballistic missile system, he said, the result will be the "de facto phasing out of the nuclear disarmament process." Arms control also featured on the agenda of Ivanov's talks with his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, on 28 October, as did the upcoming OSCE summit in Istanbul, according to ITAR-TASS. JC MUSLIM GROUP BARRED FROM ELECTIONS. The Central Election Commission on 27 October barred the Muslim movement Nur from participating in upcoming State Duma elections because it failed to pay its election deposit on time, ITAR-TASS reported. Nur President Maksut Sadikov told AP that the commission has stretched the rules for some candidates and parties, allowing them to register despite some irregularities in their paperwork. He added that "this is the only Muslim movement that could have done something, particularly with regard to the problems of the North Caucasus." "Segodnya" reported on 27 October that former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov forgot to list one- third of his annual income on his declaration for the commission. He explained the error as absentmindedness. After an investigation, the commission allowed his name to remain on the list of the Union of Rightist Forces, according to the daily. JAC A NEW GROUP FOR THE OLD DUMA. The State Duma on 27 October registered a new deputies' group called the People's Deputies, which has 43 members, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier that day, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters that he does not believe there is any point in setting up a new group. The head of the new group is Nikolai Ryzhkov, head of the People's Power faction. Other members are Aleksandr Vengerovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and Yelena Panina (People's Power). According to some analysts, the group is linked with the interregional movement Unity and represents an attempt to establish a bloc in the Duma parallel to the one that exists unofficially in the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 October 1999). On 29 October, Unity head Sergei Shoigu said that Unity would like to establish a pro-government bloc in the next Duma. Shoigu, who is also emergencies minister, noted that this cabinet is the most professional one in years. JAC MOSCOW REJECTS U.S. REAL ESTATE DEAL. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 October nixed an offer by the U.S. government to write off World War II lend-lease debts in exchange for title to five real estate properties in Moscow, including the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Spaso House (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 1999). According to the Foreign Ministry, such a swap would conflict with Article 16 of the State Property Privatization Law, which prohibits the transfer of property rights to state property as a way to reduce foreign debts, Interfax reported. "Segodnya" reported on 27 October that even if Moscow were willing to accept the U.S.'s terms and transfer Spaso House to U.S. ownership, then the Russian government might respond by increasing the tax on the property so drastically that Moscow's original offer of $890,000 a year in rent would seem attractive. JAC WILL GAZPROM PAY FOR THE WAR? "Segodnya" reported on 27 October that Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has announced that in both October and November Gazprom must pay the treasury 2 billion rubles ($70 million) over and above what is stipulated in an earlier agreement between the government and the company. The newspaper speculates that Unified Energy Systems will also be asked to make increased payments to the federal treasury. The daily also reported that Pochinok recently estimated that the conflict in Chechnya could result in 20-30 billion rubles in additional expenses. In an interview with "Trud" on 26 October, Pochinok said the Chechen war will put tax reform efforts on hold since it will be necessary for the government to find an additional 18 billion rubles. Earlier reports have suggested that the government will try to increase budget revenues by increasing oil export duties. JAC REVISED BUDGET REAPS MORE CRITICISM... Duma deputies will consider the draft 2000 budget in its second reading on 5 November, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 October. The previous day, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a political analyst who is now advising OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov, told reporters that the 2000 budget "was the subject of a most unprincipled deal between the government and the Communists." He continued, "We assess the price of the collusion at 21 billion rubles" ($810 million at today's exchange rate). JAC ...AS HIGHER REVENUE PLEDGE SEEN TO EXIST MOSTLY IN WORDS. "Kommersant-Daily," on the other hand, noted that while "the government promised an additional 20.1 billion rubles" it added only "5.7 billion rubles to the budget on paper." Under the draft approved by deputies on 26 October, revenues are set at 797.2 billion rubles, compared with 791.3 billion rubles in the draft approved by the conciliatory commission. Former First Deputy Finance Minister Oleg Vyugin told Interfax that 797.2 billion rubles in revenue cannot be collected unless inflation runs at about 30 percent or more. The current draft assumes annual inflation of 18 percent. JAC PUTIN PRAISES MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Speaking in Khabarovsk on 27 October, Prime Minister Putin called for the Russian economy not to retain its transitional status forever. He noted that the assets of all Russia's banks and financial companies are "less than the assets of any financial institution on the list of the world's top 100," Interfax reported. He added that Russia is "squeezed out of the world's science-intensive production markets, excluding the market in arms and military hardware." However, he said the government feels that the potential of the country's military-industrial complex remains very high and "in many ways, the country is maintaining its quite competitive position." JAC ARE TWO PRESIDENTS BETTER THAN ONE? "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 October that a court in Leningrad Oblast has ruled that Dmitrii Savelev be reinstated as head of the large pipeline company Transneft. Savelev had been dismissed by the Russian government from his post in a manner that some sources, including Savelev, believed was illegal. According to the daily, Savelev's attempt to return to his old office was frustrated by aides of the man who was appointed to replace him, Semen Vainshtok. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told reporters the same day that there have been no court rulings to reinstall Savelev at Transneft. However, a Transneft representative told Interfax that the company plans to appeal the Leningrad court's decision. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PREMIER, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER GUNNED DOWN. Five gunmen shot dead Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian and his two deputies, a government minister, and two parliamentary deputies in the parliament's main chamber on 27 October. A third parliamentary deputy died of a heart attack, and six were seriously injured. The gunmen initially claimed they were staging a coup but later said they wanted only to protest the country's economic collapse, for which they held Sargsian responsible. They allowed journalists to leave the parliament but held deputies and government ministers hostage overnight. The gunmen surrendered in the late morning of 28 October after talks with government leaders, including President Robert Kocharian, who assured them a free trial, and after a statement detailing their grievances was read on state television (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2. No. 43, 28 October 1999). LF ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSUMES PREMIER'S DUTIES. President Kocharian on 29 October temporarily took over the duties of prime minister, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported quoting a presidential spokeswoman. The previous day, he declared three days' national mourning, which will culminate in the funeral of the murdered officials on 31 October. He will name a new premier next week, after the parliament elects its new speaker and deputy speakers. Meeting with Kocharian on 28 October, the leaders of all parliamentary parties and factions pledged their support for him. Also on 28 October, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian issued a statement calling on all Armenians to "unite around the president and meet the challenge to our statehood with solidarity and dignity," Noyan Tapan reported. LF ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF PROSECUTOR, POWER MINISTERS. In an emotional statement released on 28 October, the Armenian Defense Ministry, which Vazgen Sargsian had headed from mid-1995 until June of this year, called for the resignation of the interior and national security ministers and the prosecutor-general. It blamed the two former for failing to ensure adequate security at the parliament building. Carrying assault rifles, the five gunmen had reportedly entered that building through an entrance reserved for journalists. It also castigated all three men for failing to solve the murders of two prominent Defense Ministry officials. Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian tendered his resignation the same day, but Kocharian has not yet accepted it. LF OPPOSITION PARTY DISOWNS LEADER OF GUNMEN. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun issued a statement on 27 October saying that Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen, had been expelled from the party for "misconduct" in 1992 within a year of joining it. Over the last six months, Hunanian, who is 34 and a former journalist, had openly spoken about "the need to bring the government down by force and destroy its leaders," "Novoe vremya" reported on 28 October. LF NEW ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS ELECTED. Convening in Echmiadzin on 27 October, delegates to the National Ecclesiastical Assembly elected Garegin Nersisian, Archbishop of Ararat, as the 132rd Catholicos of All Armenians. Nersisian received 263 votes in the second, secret ballot, compared with 176 for Archbishop Nerses Pozapalian. Nersisian, who is 48, was born in a village near Echmiadzin and entered the seminary there in 1965. He has studied theology in Vienna, Bonn, and the Russian Orthodox Church Academy in Azgorsk, from which he graduated in 1979. LF U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE IN ARMENIA. Shortly before Sargsian was shot dead on 27 October, Strobe Talbott had met with the prime minister as well as with President Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian for four hours to discuss the Karabakh peace process and related measures to establish peace and stability in the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian stressed his commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, noting that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should be a full party to the negotiating process. LF AZERBAIJAN SEEKS TO DEPORT CHECHEN REFUGEES. The Azerbaijani authorities on 27 October deported 20 Chechen refugees who had arrived in Baku on a flight from Tbilisi earlier that day, Caucasus Press reported. On arriving by bus at the frontier with Georgia, the refugees refused to leave Azerbaijani territory and the next day declared a hunger strike. A spokesman for Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry said that the country cannot accept more refugees as it already has "more than 1 million" internally displaced persons as a result of the war in Karabakh. LF LANDMINE DISCOVERED IN GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS HQ. The Georgian Border Guards' Tbilisi headquarters were evacuated on 27 October after an anti-personnel landmine was discovered in the building, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Border Guards commander Valerii Chkheidze. The last contingent of Russian border guards stationed in Georgia had vacated the building earlier that day. Chkheidze told Caucasus Press that the contingent will be detained at the Georgian-Russian border in order to clarify the incident. LF GEORGIA DENIES HARBORING CHECHEN GUNMEN. Georgia's National Security Ministry on 28 October denied that Chechen gunmen have crossed the frontier into Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, ITAR- TASS reported. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi the previous day, former Defense Minister and independent parliamentary candidate Tengiz Kitovani said a band of 450 armed Chechens is encamped in the Pankisi gorge in that raion. LF ANOTHER RUSSIAN ROCKET EXPLODES OVER KAZAKHSTAN. A Proton rocket exploded shortly after blastoff from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 27 October, the second such explosion within four months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1999). No injuries were reported from falling debris, some of which has been located. As was the case in July, the Kazakh authorities have again suspended launches of Proton rockets from Baikonur pending an investigation into the cause of the blast. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry has sent a formal protest note to Moscow in connection with the incident, which Kazakhstan's Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev discussed in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 28 October, according to Interfax. LF KAZAKH OPPOSITION FORMS NEW UMBRELLA GROUP. Meeting in Almaty on 27 October under police surveillance, some 300 representatives of 13 opposition movements and parties adopted a resolution on the formation of a new Democratic People's Party, RFE/RL correspondents in the former capital reported. Participants also adopted a second resolution criticizing procedural violations during the recent parliamentary elections and terming the poll illegal and invalid, Interfax reported. They appealed to the international community not to recognize the validity of the poll and demanded new elections next year. Addressing the gathering, Orleu (Progress) Party chairman Seydakhmet Quttyqadam called for the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In a written statement read to the meeting, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin affirmed that the Kazakh authorities "stole victory from democratic forces before the eyes of the Kazakh people and the international community," Reuters reported. LF TAJIK SUPREME COURT REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S APPEAL. Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 27 October rejected an appeal by Economics Minister Davlat Usmon to annul his registration as a candidate for the 6 November presidential election, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Supreme Court last week overruled the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register Usmon, but the latter protested that the court decision is illegal as he had submitted only some 82,000 signatures in his support, rather than the legal minimum of 145,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999). Usmon's 5-year-old nephew was kidnapped in Dushanbe on 27 October but found unharmed on the city outskirts the following day, according to Interfax. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER APPEALS FOR HELP TO ENSURE POLL IS DEMOCRATIC. United Tajik Opposition and Islamic Renaissance Party leader Said Abdullo Nuri has written to OSCE chairman in office Knut Vollebaek and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to enlist their organizations' help in organizing "democratic and fair" presidential elections, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Nuri charged that the current strained political climate is "not contributing to peace and national accord." He added that the UTO will not resume its participation in the Commission for National Reconciliation until its demand for an emergency session of the parliament is met. In a 28 October press release, Human Rights Watch termed the upcoming presidential poll "a farce" in the light of government restrictions on potential candidates and on the activities of political parties, the media, and freedom of association. LF ISLAMISTS AGAIN VOW TO MAKE UZBEKISTAN AN ISLAMIC STATE. During a press conference conducted by telephone on 27 October, Zubair ibn Abdurrakhim, who is chairman of the board of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said the movement aims to focus world attention on the persecution of "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in Uzbekistan and ultimately to oust the current Uzbek leadership and establish an Islamic state, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. He said the seizure by the movement's guerrillas of hostages in Kyrgyzstan was in retaliation for the Kyrgyz government's expulsion of 250 Uzbek oppositionists to Uzbekistan. Speaking in Dushanbe the following day, United Tajik Opposition leader Nuri argued against the forced deportation from eastern Tajikistan of Uzbek Islamists who had failed to comply with the Tajik government's 27 October deadline to leave the country voluntarily, according to ITAR-TASS. LF END NOTE VIOLENCE AND RECRIMINATIONS OVERSHADOW GEORGIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN by Liz Fuller In the runup to Georgia's 31 October parliamentary elections, policy issues have been virtually eclipsed by recriminations and complaints. Leaders of the most influential political parties have accused one another of malpractice. Hundreds of would-be candidates have complained over the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register them. And there has been widespread concern about election- related violence. As in the 1992 and 1995 elections, several dozen parties and blocs are on the ballot sheet. And as in previous polls, parties with very similar priorities and programs have mostly chosen to run individually, rather than join forces. For example, there are several parties or blocs representing Communists and Stalinists, and three whose declared principal aim is to revive the moribund industrial sector. At the same time, the electoral alliances that have emerged tend to unite parties with diverging, in some cases even conflicting policies or orientations. Two blocs are considered to have the greatest chance of achieving the minimum 7 percent of the vote needed to win seats under the proportional system (150 seats in the parliament are to be allocated under this system, while the remaining 85 are to be contested in single-mandate constituencies). The first comprises the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), which forms the largest faction in the outgoing parliament, and the recently created Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia, headed by the chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili. The second is the Union for the Revival of Georgia, headed by Aslan Abashidze, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Adjar Autonomous Republic. That bloc unites four parties: Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival, which is the second-largest faction in the outgoing parliament; the Socialist Party; the Union of Traditionalists, which in 1990 formed part of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia's Round Table--Free Georgia coalition; 21st Century, which includes supporters of the late president; and a nameless group of supporters of former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili. The only other groups that, according to observers, are likely to win seats under the party-list system are the right-wing National Democratic Alliance--Third Way; the Labor Party, which scored a significant success in the November 1998 local elections; and Industry Will Save Georgia, which is headed by beer magnate Gogi Topadze. The SMK's 1995 election victory was due to then parliamentary chairman Eduard Shevardnadze's success in stabilizing the domestic political situation after three years of chaos, collapse, civil war, and economic decline and thereby laying the foundation for a modest economic upswing. But despite millions of dollars in credits from international financial organizations, that upswing was not sustained, nor did Shevardnadze succeed in making good on his 1995 election promise to create 1 million new jobs. Popular disillusion with the SMK contributed to the unanticipated strong showing of Shalva Natelashvili's Labor Party in the November 1998 local elections. Observers disagree as to how much of a threat Abashidze's alliance poses to the SMK. Adzharia may appear relatively calm, stable, and prosperous compared with the rest of Georgia, but that stability is maintained by suppressing dissent. And many analysts believe that Adjaria's economic success is at least partly due to its misappropriation of millions of lari in taxes that should have paid to the central government in Tbilisi. In addition, Abashidze is widely regarded both in Georgia and abroad as a stalking-horse for Moscow, which still maintains a military base in Adzharia. An early October poll put support for the Union of Citizens of Georgia at 27 percent and for the Union for Revival at 17.8 percent. But an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 22 October put Abashidze's support countrywide at 46 percent, compared with only 22 percent for Shevardnadze's party. Such predictions, together with Shevardnadze's recent description of the election campaign as "a struggle for power," have served to fuel the widespread popular perception that the SMK will resort to underhand means, including falsification of the vote, to ensure an election victory. Other developments have similarly contributed to apprehension that the poll will be less than free and fair. Buses transporting Abashidze's supporters to a planned rally in Tbilisi were intercepted by police in Khashuri, in western Georgia, and forbidden to proceed for several days. Natelashvili has claimed that power supplies have been cut in some rural areas when Labor and other opposition candidates appeared on state television. Several opposition and independent candidates have been attacked and injured. And the Central Electoral Commission refused to register a total of 476 candidates on the grounds that their applications contained errors. As of 25 October, the commission was still unable to say precisely how many candidates would contend the poll. The rising tensions have been exacerbated by the realization that the parliamentary poll is, in effect, also a "qualifier" for next April's presidential elections. Both Shevardnadze and Abashidze have already announced their intention to run in that ballot. If the SMK defeats Abashidze's bloc by only a narrow margin, tensions will likely rise even more over the next six months, and other candidates may be tempted to participate in the hope not so much of winning but of being rewarded for backing one or the other candidate in an anticipated runoff. If, however, Abashidze's bloc fares worse than most observers currently predict, then either Patiashvili, Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, or Traditionalists' chairman Akaki Asatiani may decide to challenge Abashidze as the bloc's presidential candidate. 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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