|Wednesday, 22 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 45, 99-03-05
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 45, 5 March 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 DASHNAKS WANT ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TO GUARANTEE FAIR ELECTIONS...Senior members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (HHD), which supports President Robert Kocharian, told journalists in Yerevan on 4 March that the country's present leadership, and Kocharian personally, should ensure that the May 30 parliamentary elections are free and fair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. HHD leader Vahan Hovannisian stressed that the new parliament "must be legitimate" and its members elected on the basis of their ideological views. The HHD shares many opposition parties' reservations about the new election law and will continue to lobby for amendments to it, according to Rouben Hakopian, the HHD's only deputy in the parliament. The HHD has held talks with the Republican Party and the Communist Party on cooperating to prevent election fraud and will also discuss that issue with the National Democratic Union. (AZhM). LF
 ...WHICH MANUKIAN BELIEVES ARE UNLIKELY"Yerkir" on 3 March quoted AZhM chairman Vazgen Manukian as expressing doubt that the upcoming parliamentary poll will be democratic. Manukian recalled Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian's recent statement that "absolutely free and fair elections are impossible in a small country like Armenia." But Albert Bazeyan, deputy parliament speaker and chairman of the Yerkrapah majority parliamentary group, said that group is "ready to cooperate with all political forces in the matter of ensuring free and fair elections and help leaders of other parties to be elected in different electoral districts," Noyan Tapan reported on 4 March. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CREATES COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE PRIVATIZATION SCANDALPresident Kocharian has formed a presidential commission to look into allegations that the creation of the ArmenTel telecommunications company in the early 1990s and the firm's subsequent privatization were characterized by large-scale corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 4 March, citing the presidential press service. Leading opposition parties had unsuccessfully attempted last month to create an analogous parliamentary commission. Some opposition leaders have alleged that senior Armenian government officials had accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from ArmenTel's former U.S. shareholder, US Trans World Telecom (TWT). TWT had a 49 percent share in ArmenTel until December 1997, when Greece's OTE paid $142 million for 90 percent of its stock. ArmenTel's current Greek owner has so far refrained from commenting on the corruption accusations against its predecessors. OTE has been the target of much criticism in Amenia since last December, when it announced a drastic increase in telephone charges. LF
 AZERBAIJAN TO PARTICIPATE IN KOSOVA PEACEKEEPING FORCEThe Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 4 March saying that it informed NATO on 26 February of its willingness to send a contingent to serve as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosova, Interfax and Turan reported. Azerbaijani presidential adviser for foreign policy Vafa Guluzade had told ITAR-TASS two days earlier that Azerbaijan accepted NATO's invitation to participate in the operation. The 30-man Azerbaijani platoon will be attached to a Turkish battalion, and Ankara will cover all its expenses. Azerbaijan already has eight observers serving with the OSCE observer force in Kosova. LF
 CORRECTION:"RFE/RL Newsline" on 3 March cited Noyan Tapan as reporting that the military attache at the Russian embassy in Yerevan had admitted that Azerbaijani claims that a Russian fighter aircraft had violated Azerbaijani airspace on 25 February could be true. Noyan Tapan on 4 March retracted that information as inaccurate.
 SUSPECT IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BID DEPORTED TO GEORGIAValerii Gabelia, former prefect of Georgia's Marneuli Raion, was flown to Tbilisi from Moscow on 4 March, Caucasus Press reported the following day, citing "Dilis gazeti." A supporter of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Gabelia had been detained by Moscow police last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 10 February 1999). The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office has accused Gabelia of helping organize the failed attempt to assassinate President Shevardnadze in February 1998. LF
 GEORGIA, TURKEY TO INTENSIFY DEFENSE COOPERATIONRepresentatives of the Turkish armed forces general staff and the Georgian Defense Ministry signed a protocol in Tbilisi on 4 March whereby Turkey will provide additional financial and technical aid to the Georgian armed forces over five years, Interfax and Turan reported. Last year, Ankara allocated $5.5 million to the Georgian armed forces. Turkey will also continue training Georgian military officers in Turkey. LF
 AFGHAN NEGOTIATIONS SET FOR 10 MARCH IN ASHGABATThe UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, announced in Islamabad on 4 March that representatives from the Taliban and the Northern Alliance will meet in Ashgabat on 10 March for talks, AFP and Pakistani newspaper "The News" reported. Brahimi credited Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov with helping to bring both sides to the negotiating table (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). Brahimi said the negotiations offered "the last chance" for the two factions to reach a settlement, but he cautioned against "too much optimism" because of the "rigid" attitudes of both sides. BP
 OPPOSITION LEADER IMPLICATED IN TASHKENT BOMBINGSThe chairman of Uzbekistan's banned opposition party Erk has been named as a suspect in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent, Uzbek Television reported on 1 March. Mohammed Solih, who ran against incumbent President Islam Karimov in the 1991 presidential election, was called a "traitor to his motherland" and was accused of bringing "young men" to Chechnya via Turkey to receive training in sabotage. The television station also linked Solih with former Chechen acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, calling the two "friends." Interfax on 4 March cited an article in Uzbekistan's daily newspaper "Pravda Vostoka" as reporting that Solih also has connections with "Takhir Yuldash, a Wahhabi." The article claimed Yuldash "wanders around Peshawar, Istanbul, Chechnya, Kabul, and Karaganda" and that "we know what these secret meetings are aimed at. It's naive to believe that Yuldash has no hand in the attack on the president. Yuldash shamelessly says he will need Solih after seizing power." BP
 IMF INCREASES LOANS TO KYRGYZSTANThe IMF on 4 March announced it will augment planned loans to Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The fund said it will provide $12 million in addition to an already approved three-year loan, bringing the loan to a total of $100 million. Kyrgyzstan will receive immediately a $26 million tranche, as well as the extra $12 million. The IMF said the increase is necessary owing to the "external shock" of Russia's financial crisis. The IMF predicted that Kyrgyz economic growth for 1999 will be 3 percent, up on last year's 2 percent growth but well short of the 10 percent registered in 1997. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 DOLE REFUSED VISA BY BELGRADE, MEETS KOSOVARS IN SKOPJEFormer U.S. Senator Robert Dole met with Kosovar Albanians in Skopje on 5 March after having been denied a visa to enter Kosova, dpa reported. It was not known with whom Dole met. Before departing for the Balkans, Dole had said he will ask the "Albanian leadership to put people first--without thought to their own position, power, or personal gain." Dole was asked to make the trip on behalf of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He first visited Kosova in 1990 and is thought to have good relations with Kosovar Albanian leaders. PB
 YUGOSLAV FORCES TIGHTEN GRIP ON KOSOVA...The Yugoslav government said on 4 March that it is strengthening its presence on Kosova's borders to stop "infiltration" into the province, Reuters reported. Troops have been deployed near a major border crossing with Macedonia--in violation of the October cease-fire agreement--and armored vehicles were reported heading toward the Albanian border late on 4 March. PB
 ...AS ALBANIA SENDS TROOPS TO DEFEND ITS BORDERThe Albanian army said on 4 March that it has sent reinforcements to two villages near its border with Kosova that were fired on by Serbian forces from Yugoslav territory, Reuters reported, citing ATA. A police spokesman said Serbian forces fired numerous shots at Albanian territory and that houses were struck in the village of Letaj. Tirana said the Pogaj border post was also fired upon the previous day. No injuries were reported. An army division from Kukes (about 250 kilometers northeast of Tirana) was sent to the area of the reported incursions. PB
 SERBIAN JUDGE ORDERS ARREST OF UCK LEADERSerbian Judge Danica Marinkovic on 5 March ordered the immediate arrest of Hashim Thaqi, who the previous day was named the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) new political leader, Reuters reported, citing the independent B-92 radio station. Thaqi, known as "Commander Snake," was a member of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team at Rambouillet. He replaced Adem Demaci after the latter resigned earlier this week and was also named as premier-designate in Kosova's provisional government. He did not return to Kosova after the peace talks in France, and his whereabouts are unknown. Marinkovic said the 29-year-old Thaqi has been tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison. PB
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT URGES KOSOVAR ALBANIANS TO SIGN ACCORDAlbanian lawmakers called on ethnic Albanian negotiators to sign a three- year autonomy deal for Kosova when the peace talks reopen in France on 15 March, Reuters reported on 4 March. The legislature unanimously approved a resolution backing the interim autonomy deal and said that the accord will "pave the way [to the independence] that has been sought so much over the centuries." It added that NATO peace-keepers are an "essential element which would guarantee this agreement." PB
 TEN PEOPLE KILLED IN ALBANIAN SHOOTOUTTen people were killed in a shootout between police and an armed gang in the southern Albanian town of Berat on 4 March, Reuters reported. Three policemen were among those killed. Southern Albania was the scene of the worst violence when the country plunged into chaos in 1997. PB
 HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR BOSNIA THREATENS TO SACK POPLASENCarlos Westendorp warned Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen on 4 March that he might be dismissed, Reuters reported. Westendorp sent a letter to Poplasen accusing him of obstructing implementation of the Dayton peace accords and of refusing to recognize the results of last year's parliamentary elections. Westendorp said he has the power to dismiss Poplasen and will not hesitate to make use of it. Poplasen is in a power struggle with Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 1999). PB
 SERBS, MUSLIMS TO JOINTLY RULE SREBRENICABosnian Muslim and Serbian political parties agreed on 5 March to form a joint government in Srebrencia, Reuters reported. The OSCE said the agreement, which it mediated, is an important and courageous step toward reconciliation. Thousands of Muslim men and boys who had gathered in Srebrenica--declared a UN safe haven during the Bosnian war--were massacred outside the town in 1995 by Serbian forces that had overrun Dutch peacekeepers. PB
 CROATIA SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT FLAWEDThe Croatian government on 4 March refuted a critical U.S. human rights report on the country, calling it "incorrect" and "factually unbalanced," HINA reported. Croatian Deputy Premier Ljerka Mintas-Hodak said "all positive steps the Croatian authorities have taken have been overlooked." She added that the government is drafting a report refuting the charges that it will hand to the U.S. ambassador in Croatia. The report was critical, among other things, of Zagreb's failure to reintegrate displaced Serbs and of restrictions against the independent media. PB
 ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER SENTENCED AGAINA court in Pitesti on 4 March sentenced miners' leader Miron Cozma to two- and-a -half years in prison for vandalism and assault during a riot in a Petrosani restaurant in 1996 and to five months for hitting a journalist in 1994. The sentences are in addition to the 18 years imprisonment that Cozma received last month for his role in the 1991 Bucharest rampage by the Jiu valley miners, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 HUNGARIAN ETHNIC LEADERS PROTEST ROMANIAN DECISION ON TELEVISED PROGRAMSThe parliamentary groups of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in the two chambers of the parliament have appealed to the houses' commissions on culture and mass media to re-examine a decision of the National Audiovisual Council earlier this month to make Romanian-language subtitling obligatory for programs in the languages of the national minorities. UDMR chairman Bela Marko said his party may appeal the decision in court. Arpad Marton, deputy leader of the UDMR group in the Chamber of Deputies, said the decision contravenes constitutional provisions and international treaties. Marko also said the UDMR will demand that the government speed up the establishment of the Petofi-Schiller "multicultural" university in Cluj. MS
 STURDZA SAYS IMF VISIT DELAY HAS SERIOUS CONSEQUENCESPremier Ion Sturdza on 4 March said the delay over confirming his cabinet has resulted in the "severing" of relations with the IMF, the World Bank, and other international institutions that intended to provide financial help, AFP reported. On 7 March, the Constitutional Court is to decide on the validity of Sturdza's confirmation as premier by the parliament. Sturdza noted that Moldova urgently needs the help of these institutions because of the precarious state of its economy. An IMF delegation has postponed its scheduled visit owing to the ongoing government crisis, thus delaying the release of a tranche of $190 million stand-by loan agreed on earlier this year. A World Bank delegation planning to discuss financial aid to Moldova also postponed a visit scheduled for earlier this week. MS
 KOSTOV WANTS TO FOLLOW POLISH MODELBulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who is on an official visit to Warsaw, told journalists on 4 March that since the collapse of communism Bulgarian governments have had done little to promote reform, but he noted that there is still "enough time" to follow the so-called "shock therapy" model of Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Kostov also said that a Bulgarian parliamentary delegation will soon meet with Serbian and Kosova representatives to seek to persuade them to reach a compromise before talks resume on 15 March. MS
[C] END NOTE
 ESTONIANS VOTE IN THIRD PARLIAMENTARY POLL SINCE INDEPENDENCEBy Mart Linnart and Villu Kand
Estonians go to the polls on 7 March for the third time since the country regained its independence in 1991. They will elect the 101 members of the unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu. According to recent polls, the main contest is between the liberal, market-oriented Reform Party and the left-leaning Center Party.
Since neither party is likely to win enough seats to form a government by itself, the main question is which one will have enough support in the parliament to establish a ruling coalition. Led by former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, the Center Party has signed a cooperation agreement with the largest rural party, the Country People's Party, whose head is the highly popular Arnold Ruutel, the last Soviet-era leader. An opinion poll conducted by the Emor polling agency showed that in mid-February, the Center Party had the backing of 17 percent of the electorate, up 2 percent from the previous poll. The Country Peopleís Party placed third, with 10 percent.
The pro-business Reform Party, which polled about 15 percent support, has signed a cooperation pact with the centrist Moderates (9 percent support) and the rightist Pro Patria Union (8 percent), the winner of the first general elections after Estonia regained independence. The Pro Patria government headed by Mart Laar, some of whose members were Moderates, has been credited with launching the reform process in Estonia. When Laar was forced to resign in fall 1994, Moderates' leader Andres Tarand headed the government until the next scheduled elections in March 1995. Former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilvesís People's Party will run on a joint list with the Moderates. Recently, the two parties announced their merger after the elections. All these parties are agreed that Estonia needs to continue to pursue market-oriented reforms and EU membership- -both of which were top priorities of all previous governments. They have also sharply criticized the current coalition government, led by the Coalition Party, for indecisiveness and corruption. According to the Emor poll, support for the Coalition Party has fallen below the 5 percent threshold required to win seats in the parliament.
Above all, the Center Party and Country Peopleís Party seem to appeal most to those who feel they have been left behind by the reforms or who worry that Estonia is turning into a class-based society. Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar, whose political career almost came to an end several years ago over a major scandal, has become very popular once again. He promises to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and to introduce a progressive income tax system to replace the current 26 percent flat rate.
The liberal Reform Party, for its part, argues that Estonia needs less taxation, rather than more, and proposes abolishing corporate tax altogether. The party argues that this would help create more jobs. In addition, it has made an ambitious promise to double within four years the average monthly wage to 9,000 kroons ($630) from the current 4,400 kroons. Both Siim Kallas, the former central bank chairman and current head of the Reform Party, and Pro Patria Union leader Mart Laar are committed to the laissez-faire principle. But now that Estonia's economic growth seems secure, Laar would prefer more emphasis to be put on social policy.
Recently the Centrists' support has grown mainly on account of its backing among non-Estonian voters. There are three parties in Estonia that represent the country's large ethnic Russian community, and they all demand an improved status for the Russian language and less stringent citizenship requirements. The leaders of these parties, however, have been unable overcome their differences; they will compete in the elections on two lists and may fail gain to any seats in the parliament. But if they do gain parliamentary representation, they are most likely to support the Center Party, which has the most liberal citizenship policy of all parties in Estonia.
The Center Party may well need the support both of the Russian parties and of the Rural Union and the Pensioners and Families League, which are running on the list of the Coalition Party: the latest polls suggest that of the two main blocs, the center-right one led by the Reform Party will win the most seats in the parliament. But regardless of the outcome of the vote, observers say there will be no radical changes in the pillars of Estonia's economic policy. As independent Baltic strategist James Oates recently told Reuters: "Most investors in the Estonian market have a relaxed view of the political situation and are going to be satisfied with almost all the likely options available."
Mart Linnart writes for the Estonian daily "Postimees." Villu Kand is director of RFE/RL's Estonian Service.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty