|Tuesday, 24 November 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 52, 99-03-17
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 52, 17 March 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PROPOSES NEW REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONSpeaking on 15 March at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Vartan Oskanian said that the absence of an all-encompassing regional organization for the Caucasus contributes to destabilization in the region, an RFE/RL correspondent in the British capital reported. Oskanian said such an organization should bring together Russia, Iran, Turkey, the South Caucasus, and the Central Asia states and serve as a forum for the discussion of problems and consensus-building. In Yerevan, presidential press secretary Vahe Gabrielian on 16 March hailed Iran's recent offer to mediate in the Karabakh conflict but made it clear that Armenia gives priority to the ongoing OSCE mediation effort, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PARLIAMENT ON COLLISION COURSE OVER ENERGY PRICESPresidential press secretary Gabrielian said on 16 March that President Robert Kocharian will veto a parliament bill to reduce electricity tariffs if lawmakers pass it in the second and final reading, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputies voted in favor of the bill in the first reading the previous day, after Kocharian had met with representatives of the Yerkrapah parliamentary group, the largest in the legislature, to try to persuade them to prevent passage of the bill. Gabrielian failed to specify what steps Kocharian will take if the parliament overrides his veto, which it can do by a simple majority. AFP on 16 March quoted an Armenian government spokesman as repeating opposition to the parliament's proposal to reduce energy tariffs, which, the spokesman said, would worsen the economic situation and lead to a fall in tax revenues and foreign investment. LF
 TRANSCAUCASUS PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMEN MEETMeeting in Strasbourg on 15 March under the aegis of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Khosrov Harutiunian, Murtuz Alesqerov, and Zurab Zhania adopted a declaration affirming their support for inter- parliamentary dialogue as a means of promoting regional cooperation and understanding, Noyan Tapan reported. "Rezonansi" on 15 March quoted Georgian parliamentary speaker Zhvania as saying that the acceptance of Armenia and Azerbaijan into full membership of the Council of Europe is contingent on a solution to the Karabakh conflict, according to Turan. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLITICIANS ASSESS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION ON KARABAKHThe opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party issued a statement on 16 March saying that the 11 March European Parliament resolution endorsing the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict is "unfair," Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). The statement attributed the adoption of the resolution to unspecified "unilateral concessions" on the part of the Azerbaijani leadership. State Foreign Policy Adviser Vafa Guluzade dismissed the resolution as "declarative," noting that it failed to specify precisely which of the Minsk Group's various peace proposals it supports. Also on 16 March, first deputy parliamentary speaker Arif Ragimzade turned down a request by Azerbaijan Popular Front Party First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov to schedule a debate on the resolution, saying he has not had a chance to read it. LF
 AZERBAIJANI SOCCER TEAM PRECIPITATES CHILL IN RELATIONS WITH TURKEYThe Turkish Foreign Ministry has informed Azerbaijani Ambassador Mehmet Nevrozoglu of Ankara's displeasure at the decision to locate a training camp for the Azerbaijani national soccer team in the Greek sector of Cyprus, according to "Hurriyet" on 14 March. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev summoned the team back to Baku, where the Youth and Sports Ministry termed the incident "a disappointing mistake," according to Interfax. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN PLEDGE TO RESOLVE CASPIAN DISPUTEIn a telephone conversation on 16 March, Presidents Aliev and Saparmurat Niyazov agreed to instruct the working groups charged with finding a compromise agreement to the two countries' dispute over ownership of Caspian oil fields to expedite the drafting of the appropriate documents for signing next month, Russian agencies reported. Those documents will specify the precise location of the dividing line between the two countries' respective sectors of the Caspian and clarify ownership of the Chirag and Azeri fields, to which both countries lay claim. A decision on the median line delineating the two countries' sectors of the sea is a precondition for construction of the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER SAYS ECONOMIC SITUATION 'NOT SIMPLE'Nurlan Balgimbayev, addressing an expanded session of the government on 16 March, said the economic situation in the country is "not simple," noting that industrial output in the country fell 5 percent in the first two months of 1999, Interfax reported. Balgimbayev said oil refining at the Atyrau and Pavlodar plants decreased owing to a shortage of raw materials. He also identified tax collection as a problem: in 1998 only 89.3 percent of taxes were collected, and on the basis of figures for early 1999, it is estimated that the figure will drop to 78.9 percent for this year. The premier added that in a survey of 38 major industrial enterprises put "under management of foreign and domestic investors," only one in four improved its economic and financial performance last year. BP
 KAZAKHSTAN'S FORMER PREMIER CRITICIZES TENGIZ OIL DEALAkezhan Kazhegeldin has called the deal between the U.S. oil company Chevron and Kazakhstan "ill-conceived and unprofitable," according to the weekly "XXI Vek," cited by Interfax on 15 March. Kazhegeldin said when the contract was signed in 1993, Chevron agreed to pay a $420 million bonus but not until the TengizChevrOil joint venture began producing 12 million tons of oil annually. Kazhegeldin said it will be a long time before this quota is reached. He noted that in 1996, when he was prime minister, he sold off 25 percent of Kazakhstan's stake in the Tengiz project to another U.S. oil company, Mobil, for $1.1 billion, which was transferred to Kazakhstan's foreign account immediately. BP
 ANOTHER 30 SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBING ARRESTED IN KAZAKHSTANKazakhstan's police say they have apprehended 30 more ethnic Uzbeks in Taldy Kurgan and Almaty who are believed to be members of a group called Uzbekistan Islam Haraketi, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported on 17 March. Police say all the detainees have Kyrgyz passports. Moreover, some of the group escaped to Turkey, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates before police could arrest them. BP
 UZBEKISTAN RESUMES GAS SHIPMENTS TO KYRGYZSTANAn official at the state company Kyrgyzgaz told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek on 16 March that Uzbekistan is again sending supplies of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan greatly reduced supplies of gas on 12 March creating shortages of energy areas in northern Kyrgyzstan, including the capital, Bishkek. BP
 UZBEK, TURKISH PRESIDENTS ATTEND OPENING OF SAMARKAND CAR PLANT...Islam Karimov and Suleyman Demirel attended the opening ceremonies of the joint-venture automotive plant Samkochavto in Samarkand on 16 March, Interfax reported. The plant will produce 5,000 vehicles annually. Turkey's Koc Holding company built the $65 million plant and is co-owner. It is the second automotive assembly plant to open in Uzbekistan. The UzDaewooAvto plant in Andijan began operating in 1996 and has an annual capacity of 200, 000 vehicles. BP
 ...WHILE DEMIREL SAYS UZBEK OPPOSITION LEADER NOT TO RETURN TO TURKEYAt the Samkochavto opening ceremony, Demirel said Uzbek anti-government forces will not find refuge in Turkey, AP reported. "Islam Karimov's enemies are my enemies," Demirel stressed. According to RFE/RL correspondents in Samarkand, Demirel said Mohammed Solih, whom Uzbek authorities have named as an organizer of the February bombings in Tashkent, is not in Turkey and will not be allowed to return there. Solih has resided in Turkey from time to time since fleeing Uzbekistan in 1993. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 PENTAGON SAYS SERBIA 'BRACING FOR WAR'Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said in Washington on 16 March that Belgrade is "bracing for war" in Kosova. He noted that up to 18,000 Yugoslav troops are in the province and that as many as 21,000 are in Serbia proper near the border with Kosova. Bacon pointed out that the army has moved seven of its modern T-72 battle tanks into Kosova. On 15 March, the Defense Ministry extended the term of service for army conscripts by one month. PM
 SERBIAN PRESIDENT CHARGES MEDIATORS WITH 'FRAUD'Milan Milutinovic criticized international mediators at the Paris conference on Kosova for rejecting Serbian proposals to change the Rambouillet plan for a political settlement for the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). Milutinovic said that the mediators "would like to have just a fraud" rather than discuss the Serbian proposals. An unnamed European diplomat told AFP that "the Serbs are backtracking and opening up new issues. These are delaying tactics." The mediators--U.S. envoy Chris Hill, the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch, and Russia's Boris Mayorskii- -say that they will accept minor "technical" changes to the plan but will not renegotiate it. PM
 SERBIA ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR NEGOTIATORThe Yugoslav authorities sent an arrest warrant for chief Kosovar negotiator Hashim Thaci to Interpol officials in France, Tanjug reported on 16 March. Belgrade has charged Thaci, who is a leader of the Kosova Liberation Army, with terrorism and murder. PM
 RELIGIOUS LEADERS FROM KOSOVA MEETU.S. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who heads the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, urged Islamic, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders from Kosova to "find a way to end the bloodshed." Schneier, who is a Vienna-born survivor of the Holocaust, said to a group of religious leaders from Kosova and Austrian dignitaries in the Austrian capital on 16 March that "peace has to be promoted from the top down, but it grows and it is nurtured from the bottom up." Schneier told the BBC that he recognizes that the conflict in Kosova is not religious in nature, but he stressed that religious leaders can influence their followers' attitudes toward questions of war and peace. He noted that this is the first time that the leaders of the three communities have met face-to-face. The conference will end on 18 March, "Die Presse" reported. PM
 ALBANIA POLITICIANS WELCOME KOSOVARS' DECISION TO SIGN AGREEMENTAlbanian opposition leader Sali Berisha issued a statement in Tirana on 16 March calling the Kosovars' decision to sign the Rambouillet accord a "great turning point in the history of all Albanians" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). He added that if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does not sign the agreement, he will have to face "the entire potential of NATO because he has caused many great tragedies in the Balkans." Socialist Party Secretary Gramoz Ruci told a press conference that "with the signing of the agreement, the future of Kosova is not in the hands of [the Kosovars but in those of the international community. The Kosovars] have done their job." Presidential adviser Prec Zogaj stressed that "the ball is now in the Serbs' camp." Parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi expressed hope that "the agreement [will] also contribute to the relaxation of tensions in Albania," dpa reported. FS
 ALBANIA REPORTS NEW BORDER INCIDENTSYugoslav soldiers shot and injured an Albanian shepherd about 60 meters inside Albanian territory on 16 March, Albanian Television reported. The broadcast added that the situation in the area is still tense. Army and police forces remain on high alert along the border with Kosova. In a separate incident, a group of Yugoslav soldiers entered about 50 meters inside Albanian territory in the same area and then withdrew, dpa reported. FS
 U.S. CRITICISES ALBANIAN LAW ENFORCEMENT AS 'LACKING'The annual U.S. State Department human rights report on Albania, released in Tirana on 16 March, said that in 1998 "the gains in human rights were largely offset by the government's stubbornly passive approach to basic law enforcement." The study stressed that "in too many instances crime, corruption and vigilantism undermined the government's efforts to restore civil order," adding that members of the police and the judiciary are often involved in corruption. The report noted that the opposition Democratic Party is frequently justified in complaining about police harassment of its members, Reuters reported. FS
 BOSNIAN CROAT OFFICIAL FIGHTS FOR LIFEJozo Leutar, who is the Bosnian federation's deputy interior minister, remains in critical condition after brain surgery on 16 March following a car bomb explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic described the attack on the ethnic Croat leader as "terrorist." Jacques Klein, who is a deputy for the international community's Carlos Westendorp, said it is "too early" to determine the likely motive for the bombing. Klein stressed that Leutar is known as a tough opponent of organized crime, which flourishes in both parts of post-war Bosnia. But Ante Jelavic, who is the main political leader of the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Mostar that the "highest political leaders among Bosnian Muslim people" were behind other recent attacks on Croats. He added that the bombing of Leutar's car indicates that the Croats are not welcome in the Muslim-led federation or its capital. PM
 BOSNIAN SERBS PROTEST BRCKO DECISIONSome 5,000 Serbs in Banja Luka and 3,000 in Brcko staged a peaceful demonstration on 16 March to protest the decision by Robert Farrand, who is the international community's administrator for Brcko, to remove the strategic town from Serbian control and make it a "neutral district" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999), Reuters reported. Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen, whom the international community's Carlos Westendorp recently fired but who refuses to step down, told protesters in Banja Luka that "there is no justification for removing Brcko from the Republika Srpska and there is no justification in replacing legitimate, elected officials." "Oslobodjenje" of 17 March quoted Biljana Plavsic, who is Poplasen's predecessor, as saying that the decision on Brcko will play into the hands of Bosnian Serb hard-liners. PM
 ROMANIAN SENATE MAKES IT EASIER TO LIFT PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITYThe Senate on 16 March voted by 81 to two to change regulations on lifting the parliamentary immunity of its members, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A "simple majority" of half of the house's members plus one, instead of the "special" two-thirds majority stipulated until now, can lift a senator's immunity. The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) boycotted the vote in protest against the fact that the move came before the pending vote on lifting PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor's immunity. Once in force, the new regulations will enable the coalition majority to lift Tudor's immunity without the support of the opposition. The PRM also announced it will boycott the Senate's debates "indefinitely." MS
 MOLDOVAN PARTIES BRACE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONSParliamentary chairman and For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMPD) leader Dumitru Diacov on 17 March announced that the PMPD and three extraparliamentary formations have formed the Moldovan Centrist Alliance (ACM) ahead of the 23 May local elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The PMPD, the Party of Progressive Forces, the New Force Party, and the wing of the Moldovan Social Democratic Party led by Gheorghe Sima (which was recently denied registration by the Justice Ministry) will run on joint lists in that ballot. On 11 March, the Party of Moldovan Communists reached an agreement with the Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAM) and the Socialist Party to run in the elections on joint lists. The PDAM was the major parliamentary formation from 1993-1997 but failed to gain representation in the legislature in the last election. MS
 BULGARIAN PREMIER URGES KOSOVA SETTLEMENTIvan Kostov on 16 March told the Bulgarian parliament that the Kosova crisis affects Bulgaria's national security because of the immediate vicinity of the region, BTA reported. Kostov said Sofia will support the dispatch of an international mission of peacekeepers to Kosova if all sides involved are agreed to such a mission. Bulgaria is ready to participate in such a mission under NATO command, he noted. Preliminary talks on offering "logistic support" for the transit of NATO personnel across Bulgarian territory took place on 11-12 March, Kostov said, adding that if Belgrade continues to object to a NATO peace-keeping mission and if NATO is forced to mount an operation without Yugoslav consent, the government will use the mandate approved by the parliament in October 1998 to allow NATO air forces to use Bulgarian airspace. MS
 BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GERMANY"We expect that the upcoming NATO summit in Washington will identify Bulgaria as one of the serious candidates for membership" in a second wave of integration, "whenever that will be," Nadezhda Mihailova told journalists in Bonn on 17 March. Her host, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Germany supports Bulgaria's NATO candidacy as well as its bid for EU membership, BTA and dpa reported. Fischer praised Bulgaria's contribution to finding a solution to the Kosova conflict. MS
[C] END NOTE
 APATHY SETTING IN AMONG ESTONIANS?by Mel Huang
Lost among the coverage of the 7 March Estonian parliamentary elections was the surprisingly low number of people who voted. While some commentators sounded alarm bells over the turnout, which was officially put at 57.43 per cent, the press focused on seat distribution and coalition- building. Why was turnout more than 10 percent down on the 1995 elections? Did voter apathy set in for Estonia's third general election since the restoration of independence?
There are several reasons why turnout was significantly lower than four years ago: confusion over the complex electoral system; the similarities of the political parties' platforms; disenchantment after the long and lackluster campaign; and even the beautiful spring-like weather on polling day. But the main reason was doubtless the dominant theme of the campaigns pursued by the large parties: namely, Savisaar or no Savisaar.
The controversial leader of the populist center-left Center Party, former Prime Minister Edgar Savisaar, has polarized Estonian politics more than any other single personality. With regard to both policy and political behavior, Savisaar has earned the strong adoration or intense vilification of a significant segment of the population. In the 1999 election campaign, it appears that the other segment of the population may have been put off by this polarization and decided not to cast a vote.
The Center Party was essentially the only main political force to advocate significant policy changes. In the name of social justice, it proposed scrapping the much-vaunted flat- tax system and introducing a progressive tax. And in contrast to all the other main political parties, including the closely aligned Country People's Party, it advocated the relaxation of citizenship rules. These two issues put Savisaar in sharp opposition to all other parties, especially the strong center-right United Opposition, composed of the Fatherland Union, the joint list of the Moderates/People's Party, and the Reform Party. While the parliament voted to outlaw election alliances last fall, the signing of a cooperation agreement among these forces on 31 December 1998 consolidated the opposition against Savisaar's Center Party.
When President Lennart Meri issued his warning against electing "authoritarian" politicians in his Independence Day speech last month, most commentators immediately pointed an accusing finger at Edgar Savisaar. The United Opposition took advantage of the press obsession over the presidential warning by launching further attacks on the trustworthiness of the Center Party leader. In a scathing commentary, former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves of the People's Party strongly criticized Savisaar directly, attacking his "Big Brother" persona.
To his credit, Savisaar did not seek retribution by slamming the personalities competing in the elections. There had been fears of a possible mud-slinging campaign, not least because Savisaar is thought to be party to secrets about many of the country's top politicians. In 1995, he was forced to resign as interior minister because of his links to illegal phone-tapping and the recording of conversations between prominent politicians. But by focusing on party policies, Savisaar managed to deflect some of the attacks on his personality.
In the end, Savisaar gained a larger-than-expected plurality of seats, 28. As support for him was consistently high throughout the country's 11 electoral districts, Savisaar's proposals for a progressive tax system and softer citizenship policies clearly found resonance among a large chunk of the electorate. The United Opposition also won a larger number of votes than expected, gaining a combined total of 53 seats. As a result of its cooperation agreement and anti-Savisaar campaign, the alliance commands a majority of seats and is most likely to form the new government.
But as the prospective new government enjoys its victory, it should not lose sight of the fact that less than 27 percent of the total electorate voted for the coalition parties and that many did so just to keep Savisaar out of office. It should also bear in mind that nearly 43 percent of the total electorate did not vote at all. With local elections due later this year, the winners of the 7 March parliamentary elections should work fast and hard to establish some credibility within the country's political environment. Otherwise, turnout in the fall local elections could be even lower.
The author is a contributor to RFE/RL based in Tallinn.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty