|Wednesday, 22 May 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 187, 98-09-28
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 187, 28 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 POLITICAL CRISIS IN TAJIKISTANMeeting on 25 September, leading representatives of the United Tajik Opposition announced they are suspending their participation in the government and their cooperation with the National Reconciliation Commission pending the arrest of the killers of prominent opposition figure Otakhon Latifi, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Latifi was shot dead leaving his home in Dushanbe on 22 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1998). An opposition statement released on 26 September accused unnamed members of the Tajik government of crimes ranging from murder to drug-trafficking. Also on 26 September, President Imomali Rakhmonov met with opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri in a bid to prevent the peace process from collapsing, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN'S ACCESSION TO WTO POSTPONEDKyrgyzstan's acceptance into membership of the World Trade Organization, which was scheduled to take place at a meeting in Geneva on 24 September, has been postponed until next month, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported citing an unnamed Ministry of Trade official. Kyrgyzstan will still, however, be the first former Soviet republic to join the WTO. "Vremya-MN" on 24 September observed that in joining the WTO Kyrgyzstan is violating one of the fundamental principles of the five-nation CIS Customs Union, of which it is also a member. In Baku, Elcin Nadirov, head of the Ministry of Trade secretariat, said that a decision on Azerbaijan's entry into the WTO will be made in late 1999, Caucasus Press reported on 26 September. LF
 ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS CHALLENGE TO PRESIDENTThe Armenian Constitutional Court on 26 September declined to rule that President Robert Kocharian's failure to convene an emergency parliament session violates the constitution, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Parliamentary deputies had demanded an emergency session in June to debate the sale of the Yerevan cognac factory to France's Pernod-Ricard group for $30 million, arguing that the price was too low. The Armenian Constitution rules that the president must comply with such a request, but it does not specify the time frame within which he must do so. Seventy-one deputies had appealed earlier this month to the Constitutional Court to censure Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 September 1998). But court chairman Gagik Harutunian said on 26 September that "the court has no authority...to resolve constitutional disputes between various branches of government." LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BLAMES AZERBAIJAN FOR PEACE TALKS DEADLOCKAddressing the UN General Assembly on 25 September, Robert Kocharian blamed the deadlock in the Karabakh peace process on Azerbaijan's refusal to engage in direct talks with representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian again called for a settlement to the conflict that would preclude Karabakh's subordination to Baku and provide it with international guarantees of its future status and a land corridor linking the enclave with Armenia. Kocharian also said that Turkey and Azerbaijan constitute a "serious obstacle" to Armenia's integration into the world economy and its participation in regional economic initiatives. In Baku, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov told journalists on 25 September that Armenia is trying to prolong the peace process indefinitely, rather than achieve a settlement, according to Reuters. Armenian presidential foreign policy adviser Aram Sarkisian rejected that charge, accusing Azerbaijan of violating the confidentiality of the peace talks. LF
 AZERBAIJAN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER ARMENIAN-RUSSIAN MANEUVERSAzerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-zade said on 25 September that Russian-Armenian maneuvers that began the previous day "cause on the whole legitimate concern" insofar as they "enhance the military capacity of Armenia, with which Azerbaijan is practically at war," ITAR-TASS reported. Gulu- zade also expressed concern that Russia, which is one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group attempting to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, has become what he termed "a military ally" of Armenia. But Armenian Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian and Lieutenant- General Vladimir Andreev, who headed the Russian contingent participating in the maneuvers, told Interfax on 25 September that such apprehensions are unfounded, given that the exercises do not have "any hidden intent." LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REJECTS TALKS WITH OPPOSITIONMeeting with voters in Baku on 24 September, Heidar Aliev rejected a proposal to postpone the presidential poll scheduled for 11 October, according to RFE/RL correspondents in the Azerbaijani capital. The proposal was signed by 10 leading members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform, including those opposition candidates who have declared their intention to boycott the poll. LF
 GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE VISITS YEREVANVazha Lortkipanidze and his Armenian counterpart, Armen Darpinian, signed several economic agreements on 26 September following two days of talks in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian told journalists that those talks signal the beginning of "a new phase" in bilateral relations. One of the accords calls for the protection of property rights of Georgian and Armenian citizens engaged in business activities in the other country. The two premiers also reached an agreement on dealing with mutual debts between Armenian and Georgian enterprises. But they expressed dissatisfaction with the current volume of bilateral trade, which totaled a mere $16 million in the first eight months of this year. They also underscored the importance of joint participation in regional initiatives such as the TRACECA transport corridor. LF
 DISPLACED PERSONS AGAIN PREVENTED FROM CONVENING CONGRESSThe Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia who were barred by police from holding a congress in the Philharmonic building in Tbilisi on 23 September finally managed to convene that meeting on other premises two days later, Caucasus Press reported on 25 September. But the gathering was halted after 15 minutes when the electricity supply to the building failed. Congress organizer Boris Kakubava again demanded that the displaced persons be permitted to convene in the Philharmonic building, pointing out that they had paid in advance for use of that building. LF
 GEORGIAN COMMUNIST PARTY REFUSED REGISTRATION FOR LOCAL ELECTIONSRetired General Panteleimon Giorgadze, chairman of the United Georgian Communist Party, told Interfax on 25 September that his party has been refused permission to contend the 15 November local elections. He said the Central Electoral Commission informed him that a political party that calls for the reinstatement of the USSR does not have the right to participate in those elections. Giorgadze said he will appeal the commission's ruling in the Constitutional Court. LF
 EPIDEMIC IN EASTERN KAZAKHSTANSome 228 inhabitants of the town of Zyriyanovsk, including 90 children, have been hospitalized with an as yet undiagnosed intestinal infection, RFE/RL correspondents in the region reported on 25 September. Experts from the Kazakh State Committee on Extraordinary Situations and State Sanitary Control Agency are investigating the outbreak. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 COHEN SAYS PLANS FOR AIR STRIKES IN KOSOVA READYU.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen again warned Belgrade on 28 September to pull back Serbian security forces or face air strikes, AP reported. Cohen, speaking in Rome with his Italian counterpart, Beniamino Andreatta, said that NATO has finished its planning for the air strikes. Cohen said "a very strong, credible threat must be made" to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic so that he will pull his forces back, allow humanitarian missions into the area, and "sit down at the bargaining table to peacefully resolve" the Kosova crisis. Cohen and Andreatta said some 50,000 ethnic Albanians risk either starving or freezing to death. German Foreign Minister Volker Ruehe said on 26 September that he disagrees with NATO plans to give Milosevic a couple of weeks before issuing an ultimatum. He said if NATO does not act soon, the world will have "the dead on its conscience." PB
 SERBIAN PREMIER DECLARES 'TERRORIST' THREAT DEFEATED...Mirko Marjanovic told the Serbian parliament on 28 September that "armed terrorist groups have been defeated" and that security forces could begin withdrawing to their barracks, AP reported. Marjanovic said Belgrade has shown that there is "no compromise with those who want to create a new state on Serbia's territory by terror and force." He did not give a timetable for scaling back troops but said the move was in accordance with an agreement Milosevic had signed in Moscow with President Boris Yeltsin in June. A withdrawal of troops is one of NATO's demands to Belgrade for it to avoid air strikes by the alliance. PB
 ...BUT FIGHTING CONTINUESA new Serbian offensive southwest of the Kosova capital of Prishtina began on 26 September, causing several more thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee their villages, Reuters reported. The operation is reportedly directed against members of the Kosova Liberation Army that have regrouped after fleeing recent attacks by Serbian forces in northern and central regions of Kosova. Reports say 11 villages are being targeted in the attack and that Serbian forces are backed by a large contingent of tanks. U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said in Skopje on 26 September that his mediation in the crisis has reached a critical stage and that continued attacks by Serbian security forces are "intolerable." PB
 BALKAN DEFENSE MINISTERS AGREE TO FORM JOINT FORCEThe defense ministers from seven Balkan countries agreed in Skopje on 26 September to form a joint peacekeeping force, AFP reported. Defense ministers from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey signed the agreement. Slovenia said it may join the force, which is to number some 4,000 troops, at a later date. The U.S. also attended the meeting. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the establishment of the joint force is a step toward bringing security and stability to the region. He said it is needed because many people in the Balkans would rather "dig fresh graves than bury old hatreds." PB
 SILAJDZIC ACCUSES BELGRADE OF ETHNIC CLEANSINGHaris Silajdzic, a member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Council of Ministers, said that Yugoslavia is repeating the ethnic cleansing that it committed in Bosnia and Croatia, Reuters reported. Silajdzic, former Bosnian foreign minister, said "everything is being repeated in Kosova." He added that ethnic cleansing is "a project drawn up by intellectuals and carried out by the [Yugoslav army] in Serbia." Silajdzic sharply criticized the international community for not acting to prevent the violence against ethnic Albanians. PB
 FEW SURPRISES AS OSCE FINALLY RELEASES BOSNIAN ELECTION RESULTSThe OSCE released final results from the general elections in Bosnia- Herzegovina on 25 September. As had been leaked by several sources, Serb ultranationalist Nikola Poplasen defeated incumbent Biljana Plavsic for the presidency of the Republika Srpska. Poplasen said there are differences in the way the Dayton agreement can be interpreted but that such differences will be "resolved through discussion." While Western officials were disappointed by Poplasen's win, they were pleased with moderate Serb Zivko Radisic's narrow victory over hard-liner Momcilo Krajisnik for the Serbian seat on the Bosnian presidency. But the moderate Croatian member of the presidency, Kresimir Zubak, lost decisively to hard-line rival Ante Jelavic. The incumbent Muslim member of the presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, was overwhelmingly reelected to his post. Radisic will be the chairman of the three-member presidency. PB
 MODERATES DO BETTER IN PARLIAMENT VOTESOSCE Ambassador Robert Barry said that despite the win of some hard-liners to executive posts, there was "continued erosion" of support for nationalist parties at the parliamentary level, Reuters reported on 26 September. Barry said there had been greater competition between political parties and that nationalist parties did not fare as well as in the last election. The OSCE said it is withholding an announcement on the number of parliamentary seats won by each of the parties in the respective parliamentary bodies until the results are certified by an electoral commission. Izetbegovic said he is satisfied with the results of the elections and noted that his Bosnian Party of Democratic Action and its coalition partners did well at the state and local levels. PB
 SFOR TROOPS ARREST WAR CRIMES SUSPECTThe Stabilization Force (SFOR) peacekeeping forces in Bosnia arrested Stevan Todorovic, an indicted war criminal, and sent him to The Hague on 27 September, Reuters reported. Todorovic was captured in the northern part of Bosnia without incident. He is alleged to have instigated, ordered, and taken part in crimes against civilians while serving as a police chief in Bosanski Samac in 1992. A SFOR spokeswoman denied a report by Todorovic's lawyer that he was taken from Serbian territory. PB
 ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CHANGE, END TO FEUDSRexhep Mejdani issued a plea to Albanian political parties on 25 September, telling parliamentary deputies that it is time to end their fighting, Reuters reported. Mejdani, in a statement read by parliamentary speaker Skendar Gjinushi, proposed various political agreements aimed at ending the public protests led by the opposition Democratic Party. Mejdani also called for a reshuffling of the government and a political agreement to improve law and order and disarm the population. He urged the Democrats to end their parliamentary boycott so that the postcommunist consititution can be finished. PB
 NANO RULES OUT EARLY ELECTIONSAlbanian Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano refused on 26 September to consider calling early elections, Reuters reported. Nano, speaking to top officials in his five-party coalition government, said he will reshuffle the cabinet and indicated that he will add some independents to it. Nano again accused opposition leader Sali Berisha of initiating riots on 12 September in an attempt to topple Nano's government. Also on 26 September, some 3,000 people demonstrated in central Tirana and called for Nano's government to resign. Berisha repeated accusations that Nano is behind the murder of Democratic Party official Azem Hajdari, whose death sparked the riots. On 25 September, the Democrats and several smaller parties that have joined their cause issued a statement denouncing violence and saying the parties will demonstrate peacefully every day until Nano resigns. PB
 CASPIAN OIL CONFERENCE IN BUCHAREST REVEALS DISAGREEMENTSThe U.S. government has taken issue with the Italian Eni oil firm, which supports the construction of an oil pipeline from the Black Sea Port of Constanta to Trieste that would pass through Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported on 27 September. Addressing a conference on transporting Caspian Sea oil to Europe, U.S. Ambassador to Romania James Rosapepe said an alternative route that would by-pass Serbia and pass through Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia has strong "economic and political" potential . Romania is pleading hard to include the Black Sea port of Constanta on the envisaged route. President Emil Constantinescu, addressing the opening session of the conference on 27 September, said the various proposed routes must be viewed as "complementary rather than competitive." MS
 ROMANIA'S ECOLOGISTS MERGEA congress of the Romanian Ecologist Federation (FER) on 26 September approved the merger of the party (which is a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania or CDR) with the Romanian Ecologist Movement (MER). Former MER chairman Octavian Ciobota was elected first deputy chairman of the FER. In other news, President Constantinescu. Prime Minister Radu Vasile and the CDR on 24-25 September said they back the nomination of former King Michael for the Nobel Peace prize. The proposal was first made by a Romanian emigre organization, which says the former monarch deserves the prize for his contribution to shortening World War II by having played a crucial role in Romania's switching of alliances. MS
 MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER THREATENS TO RESIGNIon Sturdza told journalists on 25 September that he might resign owing to differences with his cabinet colleagues over reforms and the budget, Reuters reported. Sturdza, who is also economy minister in charge of reform, said that "different views about reforms have surfaced within the government." He said that ministries have requested funding for the 1999 budget totaling 5.2 billion lei ($1.05 billion), whereas this year's revenues would be half that amount--2.6 billion lei. "If we do not move to an austerity program, we shall find ourselves in financial collapse in the fall," Sturdza said. MS
 IMF APPROVES LOAN TO BULGARIAThe IMF board on 24 September approved an $840 million three-year loan to Bulgaria aimed at supporting market reforms and economic growth, AP reported. The loan will help Bulgaria service its $9 billion foreign debt while simultaneously revamping its social benefit system and closing or selling off inefficient state companies. Finance Minister Muravei Radev said the government expects the loan to be matched by credits from the World Bank, the EU, and the G-24 group, bringing the total amount of loans in the next three years to $1.6 billion. MS
 BULGARIA ANNOUNCES CHANGES IN INTERIOR MINISTRYInterior Minister Bogomil Bonev on 24 September announced the setting up of a commission to draft plans to change the ministry's present system of military ranking to one closer to those used by Western police forces, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Also on 24 September, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told the UN General Assembly that there is a "serious risk" that the conflict in Kosova might spill over to other parts of the region. On 26 September, Mihailova met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss both bilateral relations and international issues, primarily the situation in Kosova, ITAR-TASS reported. MS
[C] END NOTE
 OPPOSITION WINS SLOVAK ELECTIONSby Jolyon Naegele
The defeat of Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's populist-nationalist coalition in parliamentary elections on 25-26 September presents the democratic opposition with its best opportunity since 1990 to turn the political tide and put Slovakia firmly on the road to European integration and NATO membership.
Four opposition parties won a constitutional majority of 93 of the 150 seats in the Slovak parliament. Within hours after preliminary election results were announced on 27 September, the leaders of those parties began roundtable talks on forming a stable coalition government.
Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which took first place, just seven-tenths of a percentage point ahead of the largest opposition party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), is expected to go into opposition with its partner, the Slovak National Party (SNS). Meciar has repeatedly said he will not form a minority government.
The main opposition force, the SDK won 26.33 percent of the vote and 42 parliamentary seats. The post-communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) gained over 14 percent and 23 seats, the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) over 9 percent and 15 seats, and the populist center-left Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) won 8 percent and 13 seats.
Together, the four opposition parties have 93 seats, three more than the three-fifths majority required to amend the constitution.
The man most likely to succeed Meciar as Prime Minister, SDK chairman Mikulas Dzurinda, says the election outcome shows that "Slovakia wants a change, a different orientation, and an end to constant confrontation." Dzurinda is 43 years old, a Christian Democrat, and former transportation minister. He is a close associate of former Prime Minister and ex-dissident Jan Carnogursky.
Dzurinda or whoever eventually becomes prime minister will have the difficult task of stopping Slovakia's economic slide downward and eastward, disentangling the country from its very close economic and defense industry ties with Russia, and re-establishing solid relations with the West. The new government will have to implement measures, some of them likely to be unpopular belt-tightening ones, to enable Slovakia to become a legitimate candidate for EU and NATO membership.
Parliamentary speaker and Meciar associate Ivan Gasparovic has 30 days to call the new parliament into session, after which, he says, the current Meciar government will resign.
The new parliament will have to elect a new president. The four parties have the votes to elect whomever they can agree on among themselves. Slovakia has been without a president since March, when Michal Kovac's five- year term expired. Ever since, Meciar's HZDS repeatedly prevented any candidate from being elected.
The outgoing speaker of parliament, Gasparovic, says the election outcome is a "mirror image" of parliamentary elections in Romania nearly two years ago, which resulted in an end to strong-arm, post-communist rule and the coming to power of the democratic opposition, including the ethnic Hungarian party. HZDS deputy chairman Sergej Kozlik told reporters that the HZDS is a "standard" party and will go into opposition in the event it fails to form a majority government.
In an important signal to the international community, the current opposition leaders agreed in roundtable talks on 27 September that the SMK should be in the government. Anti- Hungarian sentiment has been traditionally strong in Slovak politics, and the nationalist SNS once again played the Hungarian card during the campaign for these elections. The international community has been critical of the Meciar government's treatment of the Hungarian minority, which numbers more than half a million and inhabits a compact area of rural southern Slovakia.
In another important signal, the chairman of the post- communist SDL, Jozef Migas, said his party will do everything to ensure the formation of a functional government that will ensure post-election stability in Slovakia. After years of flirting with the idea of forming a coalition with HZDS, Migas has finally ruled out that idea. In his words, "the government must be functional and majority."
Despite predictions of election tampering, representatives of all parties said the two-day vote took place freely and fairly. International observers, however, were a little more reserved, criticizing the campaign, particularly the government's attempt through last-minute legislation to stave off an opposition victory.
A preliminary report issued by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bratislava on 27 September said that "although an atmosphere of political polarization led to a lack of confidence in the overall process by many Slovak citizens, the election as such was carried out in an apparently correct and acceptable manner."
Voter participation was almost 85 percent. The head of the Council of Europe monitoring delegation, Franciszek Adamczyk of Poland, praised the high turnout, saying it reflects a belief in the fundamental values of democracy. 'The elections do reflect the will of the people," he commented.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty