|Thursday, 28 January 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 13, 99-01-21
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 13, 21 January 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CONCERNED ABOUT 'POWER STRUGGLE'National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian told a press conference in Yerevan on 20 January that the present Armenian leadership has done nothing to improve the situation in the country and cannot claim the credit for the positive shift in the OSCE's approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukian said that the leadership is composed of "disparate groups" that no single individual controls, and he noted that there is "an obvious clash of interests" between President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Manukian predicted that only nationwide mass protests can prevent the authorities from falsifying the results of the May parliamentary elections. He added that the level of popular discontent is currently higher than before the 1996 presidential elections. Senior officials recently admitted that the 1996 vote was rigged to prevent a runoff between Manukian and incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF
 ARMENIAN BANKS FORM ALTERNATIVE 'ECONOMIC COURT'Representatives of Armenia's leading banks told journalists on 20 January that they have created a "mediation court" that will resolve economic disputes without state participation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The constitution provides for such courts. Armenian Bank Association chairman Bagrat Asatrian, who served as Central Bank chairman from 1994-1998, said the court will deal with disputes between those business entities that would accept its legitimacy in advance. Vahe Stepanian, a former minister of justice, has been named court chairman. He told journalists the official courts of first instance can intervene in the mediation court's affairs only if one of the conflicting sides refuses to recognize the mediation court's verdict. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REFUTES RUMORS OF HEART PROBLEMSHeidar Aliev, speaking to Russian Public Television (NTV) on 20 January, said Turkish media reports that he was suffering from "cardiac insufficiency" are untrue, Reuters reported. One of Aliev's doctors similarly told NTV that Aliev is only suffering from acute bronchitis. "Milliyet" had reported on 20 January that Aliev was diagnosed as suffering from heart disease, characterizing his condition as "serious but not critical." LF
 UKRAINIAN PREMIER IN KAZAKHSTANValeriy Pustovoytenko met with his Kazakh counterpart, Nurlan Balghymbayev, in Astana on 20 January after attending the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, RFE/RL correspondents reported the following day. The two prime ministers signed a joint communique on trade and economic cooperation and discussed bilateral trade prospects, including the possible participation of Kazakh companies in tenders for the privatization of the Lissichansk and Kherson oil refineries and the transportation of Kazakh crude to the West via Ukraine. Possible purchases by Kazakhstan of Ukrainian agricultural machinery were also discussed. Pustovoytenko told journalists after the talks that his country will import up to 5 million tons of oil from Kazakhstan this year, Interfax reported. LF
 KAZHEGELDIN APPLIES TO REGISTER POLITICAL PARTYAkezhan Kazhegeldin, the former prime minister of Kazakhstan who was barred from participating in the 10 January presidential election, has applied to Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice to register his Republican People's Party, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 21 January. The party held its founding congress last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998). LF
 KYRGYZSTAN NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN DEFENDS FREE EXCHANGE RATEAt his first press conference in Bishkek on 20 January, Ulan Sarbanov said that a free exchange rate for the som is the most feasible and efficient policy and that the bank will intervene to support the national currency only in the event of serious fluctuations against the dollar, Interfax reported. The som fell sharply against the dollar in mid-November but later stabilized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 1998). Sarbanov, who is 31 and a graduate of Novosibirsk University, was named deputy finance minister on 18 January and acting National Bank chairman one day later, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN GRAPPLES WITH REFUGEE PROBLEMHelmut Buss, who is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek on 20 January that the country's failure to address the problems of refugees may result in cuts in aid from donor countries, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau noted that there are currently 14,500 registered refugees in Kyrgzystan, most of whom are ethnic Kyrgyz who fled the civil war and Tajikistan and do not wish to return to that country. Buss said 1,150 Tajik refugees returned from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan in 1998. LF
 'DEAR TURKMENBASHI...'Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has received more than 13,000 letters of complaint and protest from the population since he invited residents some six weeks ago to alert him to instances of injustice and bureaucratic indifference, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 January. The majority of complaints were directed at law enforcement agencies, prompting Niyazov to declare an amnesty for more than 3,000 prisoners, some of whom were apparently unjustly convicted. At a conference of regional police and government officials to evaluate the complaints, Niyazov said that most senior officials are neither willing nor able to deal with people's grievances. A new law stipulates procedures for examining such complaints. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 BELGRADE MAY COMPROMISE ON WALKER...Newly appointed Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 20 January that Belgrade may be willing to compromise on the expulsion order for William Walker, the head of the OSCE's verification mission, Reuters reported. Draskovic said the issue could be "solved through compromise" to everyone's satisfaction. Draskovic said it would be better to "present the truth" to Walker than to declare him persona non grata. Serbian Deputy Premier Tomislav Nikolic said Walker's departure "will be delayed" so that he can be given the chance not to be thrown out but to resign. Walker has until 5:00 p.m. local time on 21 January to leave the country or face expulsion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). The OSCE, NATO, and several Western governments have said Walker must stay in Kosova. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev met with Draskovic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in an effort to reverse the expulsion order on Walker (see also Part I). Walker said "I'm hereŠas long as the mission goes on." The chairman of the OSCE, Knut Vollebaek, was expected in Belgrade on 21 January to try to prevent Walker's expulsion. PB
 ...WHILE ARBOUR AGAIN DENIED ENTRYLouise Arbour, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, was again turned back by Yugoslav border guards at the Macedonian border on instructions from Belgrade, AP reported on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1999). Arbour said she will abandon her efforts to enter Kosova and to investigate the deaths of the ethnic Albanians at Recak. Belgrade said it does not recognize Arbour's jurisdiction in Kosova. PB
 FINNISH PATHOLOGIST ASKS SERBS TO WAITForensic expert Helena Ranta asked Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub Jankovic to order a halt to autopsies being performed by Yugoslav officials in Prishtina on the 45 people alleged to have been massacred by Serbian forces, AFP reported on 21 January. Ranta said that X-ray equipment as well as the presence of the full 17-member forensics team is needed before autopsies begin. Yugoslav pathologists as well as unnamed Belarusian officials have begun the autopsies in the presence of some OSCE monitors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). Jankovic told Renta that the autopsies had to begin because there was a lack of storage space for the bodies and because they had been rotting outside for five days. Sandy Blyth, a spokesman for the OSCE verification team, said the autopsies had been sped up, despite Renta's request that they wait for the Finns. PB
 NATO PREPARES FOR STRIKES...NATO increased its preparedness for military strikes in Kosova on 20 January as the alliance's secretary-general, Javier Solana, warned that "if the only language that Milosevic understands is the language of force, he will find force," Reuters reported. NATO said it has increased the air forces' readiness from 96 hours to 48 hours and has repositioned battleships in the Adriatic to better prepare for air strikes. In Copenhagen, Solana said that if "the use of military force or the threat of military force is necessary to bring about a political solution, NATO is prepared to do it." Earlier in London, Solana called on Milosevic to rescind his expulsion order on Walker. PB
 ...AS FIGHTING CONTINUESSporadic mortar and machine-gun fire could be heard in the area around Recak on 21 January as a UN relief agency brought aid to villagers who left their homes after fighting erupted in the area, Reuters reported. Two ethnic Albanians were killed in the most recent fighting, while two others were injured near Vraganica. Fighting was also reported in Shipolje and Kosovska Mitrovica. PB
 BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FEARS REFUGEES FROM KOSOVAJadranko Prlic said in Sarajevo on 20 January that he is concerned that the flare-up in fighting in Kosova will unleash a new wave of refugees, Reuters reported. Prlic said there are already between 10,000 and 20,000 Kosovars in Bosnia. He added that Bosnia backs international efforts to end the crisis. In other news, three Muslims convicted in December for their alleged roles in killing four Serbs in 1996 were transferred from Republika Srpska to a prison in the Muslim-Croatian federation. In exchange, three Bosnian Serbs imprisoned in Zenica were sent to Srpska. The conviction of the Muslims was called a "judicial farce" by the UN representative in Bosnia. PB
 CROATIA, MONTENEGRO OPEN BORDERCroatia and Montenegro agreed on 20 January to open two border crossings that have been closed for seven years, AP reported. The Croatian Foreign Ministry said the action adds to the "normalization of relations and easing of tensions." The agreement will allow both people and goods to pass through the border crossings. PB
 TUDJMAN BLAMES FOREIGNERS, SPIES FOR PROBLEMSCroatian President Franjo Tudjman said during his state of the nation address on 20 January that membership in the EU and NATO remain "a strategic target of our foreign policy," AP reported. But Tudjman said that foreign powers are making accession to the two organizations difficult with their "efforts to alter the political landscape in Croatia and force us into undesirable integrations." Tudjman added that Zagreb needs to upgrade its intelligence services in order to combat the increased number of "spy networks" in the country. He said such networks threaten Croatia's independence. Tudjman also blamed "certain countries" for trying to fix Bosnian elections to the detriment of Bosnian Croats. PB
 NANO RESIGNS AS LEADER OF ALBANIAN SOCIALISTSFormer Premier Fatos Nano resigned on 20 January as the leader of the Socialist Party and said he will launch "an emancipating movement" that will restore hope among his countrymen, AP reported. In a speech to party officials, Nano said his credo will be "no communism, no anti-communism." Nano added that he was resigning because of a lack of support from the party leadership, which, he said, is no longer in touch with ordinary Albanians. Nano, 45, resigned as premier in September after an uprising by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of former President Sali Berisha. PB
 ROMANIAN MINERS TURN DOWN GOVERNMENT OFFERA spokesman for the Jiu Valley miners on 21 January said the miners have rejected the government's offer to send a delegation of government officials headed by Labor and Social Protection Minister Alexandru Athanasiu to negotiate with them. The miners insist on Premier Radu Vasile's presence at the negotiations. The miners' spokesman said they are headed for Costesti, some 120 kilometers north of Bucharest, where large police forces are deployed. On 20 January, some 10,000 miners traveling in buses and cars reached the outskirts of Horezu, near Costesti. President Emil Constantinescu the next day convened an extraordinary session of the parliament to debate the strike., RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 EXTREMIST ROMANIAN SENATOR TO BE SUSPENDED FROM HOUSE DEBATES?The Senate's Judiciary Commission on 20 January recommended that Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, be barred from participating in house debates for 30 days for having incited the miners to continue their strike and for having offended President Constantinescu in a message addressed to the miners on 7 January. The decision is subject to approval by the Senate's Permanent Bureau. MS
 ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST JOURNALISTS' SENTENCESThe Romanian Press Club on 21 January protested the one-year suspended sentences handed down by a Bucharest court to two journalists from Iasi, who were found guilty of libeling a police officer and a local judge. The two were also ordered to pay "moral damages." The Bucharest court commuted the sentences handed down by an Iasi tribunal, whereby the two journalists were to have served their sentences. Meanwhile, on 19 January, Amnesty International protested the decision of a Bistrita-Nasaud court to send back to prison Cornel Sabou, a journalist from Baia Mare who was sentenced in December 1997 to 10 months in prison for libeling a judge. Sabou's sentence was suspended in October 1998 for family reasons, but he requested a continuation of the suspension because he is suffering from tuberculosis. The request was turned down on the grounds that he can get adequate treatment in prison. MS
 MOLDOVA'S ETHNIC BULGARIANS TO HOLD REFERENDUMPreparations for holding a referendum in the Taraclia district on whether to join the newly established Cahul County or opt for administrative independence have been finalized, Infotag reported, quoting the chairman of the local electoral commission. Voting will take place on 24 January. The Central Electoral Commission prohibited the referendum, but the Taraclia authorities and the mostly ethnic Bulgarian residents of the district view the ban as "unjustified". In Sofia, a protest rally took place outside the Moldovan Embassy on 17 January, a spokesman for the Moldovan Foreign Ministry announced on 19 January. The protestors demanded that Taraclia retain its status as a separate administrative unit. Parliamentary Chairman Dumitru Diacov on 20 January deplored the intention to hold the referendum, saying everyone must respect the country's laws, Flux reported. MS
 BULGARIA TO PROSECUTE RFE/RL JOURNALIST?Reporters Sans Frontieres, an independent organizations defending the freedom of the press worldwide, on 19 January released a statement protesting the decision of Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev to open an investigation into Tatiana Vaksberg, a freelancer for RFE/RL's Sofia bureau. She is accused of "insulting state authority" and of offending the "[personal ] honor and dignity" of Tatarchev. In an October 1998 broadcast, Vaksberg suggested that Tatarchev was not doing enough to bring criminals to justice and may himself be prosecuted for failure to perform his duties. MS
 NEW OIL SLICK ON RIVER DANUBEFor the third time within a week, an oil slick has been reported floating downstream on the River Danube, at the mouth of the Timok River, which flows into the Danube along the border with Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 20 January. Bulgarian officials told the news agency that "all measures have been taken to absorb and clean the new slick" before it reaches the Kozloduy nuclear plant. MS
[C] END NOTE
 ELECTION ALLIANCE BAN AND ESTONIAN POLITICSby Jan Cleave
Since last November's ban on election alliances, political parties in Estonia have been pondering how best to prepare for the 7 March general elections. Some have discussed mergers. Others have opted to run on the list of another party, while still others have concluded post-election cooperation agreements. It is unclear, however, whether "more order" will be brought into Estonia's political landscape in the near future. President Lennart Meri expressed the hope for such a development when he promulgated the ban two days after its passage.
As was the case in neighboring Latvia before last fall's general elections, more than a dozen parties are represented in Estonia's legislature. A number of those parties entered the parliament in an election alliance (because alone they would have failed to pass the 5 percent threshold to parliamentary representation) but subsequently pursued their own political goals. The ruling coalition, for example, having come to power in 1995 as an election alliance composed of the Coalition Party and the Country People's Union, set up four separate caucuses, which at times have bitterly opposed one another. Not only has the large number of small and medium- sized parties represented in the parliament frequently encumbered that body's work; it has also contributed to halting the consolidation of the country's political forces.
Proponents of prohibiting election alliances argued that the bill would help promote such consolidation by forcing smaller parties to merge with larger ones. Not surprisingly, the ban was spearheaded by the leftist Center Party, which, together with the rightist Reform Party, was leading in opinion polls and was expected to benefit from such a prohibition. It was also no surprise that the Rural Union opposed the bill while the Pensioners and Families Party and most Coalition Party members chose not to vote, since those three parties had been planning to renew their election alliance. The fourth member of the ruling coalition, the Country People's Party, voted in favor of the bill, thereby finally distancing itself from its coalition partners.
Almost immediately after the vote, the efficacy of the election alliance ban was called into question when the Coalition Party announced that the Rural Union and the Pensioners and Families Party would run on its list in the upcoming election. According to a survey conducted last month by the Saar Polling Institute, neither the Coalition Party nor the Rural Union would pass the 5 percent threshold; but under current house rules, each party would be able to form its own caucus if it had at least six parliamentary deputies who had run on one list. The announcement prompted a flurry of criticism in the Estonian press that the ban had been "half- finished" and that joint lists should also have been prohibited to prevent parties with less than 5 percent support from wangling their way into the parliament.
In early December, the Center Party submitted a bill to the parliament that would establish the principle of "one list, one caucus" and thereby eliminate what it called the "danger of the disintegration of pseudo- election alliances." Under the draft law, persons elected to the parliament on one election list would be entitled to set up only one caucus. If that principle were to be enforced before the March ballot, only half dozen or so parties are likely to be represented in the new parliament.
According to last month's Saar poll, voter support for the five front- runners is distributed more or less evenly. The Center and Reform Parties remain ahead with 10.7 percent and 10.1 percent backing, respectively. They are closely followed by the centrist Moderates (9.9 percent), the right- wing Fatherland Union (9.7 percent), and the left-of-center Country People's Party (9.5 percent). The only other parties that would pass the 5 percent threshold are the rightist People's Party (6.2 percent), which has opted to run on the Moderates' list, and the Pensioners and Families' Party (5.6 percent). The ruling Coalition Party received just 4.8 percent backing. (Two Russian-speaking parties, the United People's Party and the Russian Unity Party, intend to run on a joint list with the ex-communist Social Democratic Labor Party, but their combined vote is currently below 5 percent.)
Recently, two loose blocs have been forged on the basis of post-election cooperation agreements. On the last day of 1998, the Reform Party, the Moderates, the Fatherland Union, and the People's Party signed such an agreement. Two weeks later, the Center Party and the Country People's Party concluded a non- binding "cooperation memorandum" aimed at paving the way for the formation of a ruling coalition. According to the December Saar poll, the combined vote for the center-right bloc is 36 percent and for the leftist one 20 percent.
There are doubts, however, as to whether either of those blocs would be able to form a cohesive ruling coalition. The four parties belonging to the center-right bloc have worked together in the parliament as the United Opposition since fall 1997, but ideological differences exist within that grouping, particularly in the economic and social spheres. The Center Party and the Country People's Party have similar economic goals but, with only 20 percent backing, would be forced to seek other political forces with which to form a ruling coalition. Center Party leader and former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar has refused to name any candidates for such cooperation, commenting only that "Estonian politics have become pragmatic to such an extent that one is ready to work closely with everyone with whom an agreement can be reached on the principles of a political program."
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty