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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 211, 99-10-29

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 3, No. 211, 29 October 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PREMIER, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER GUNNED DOWN
  • [02] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSUMES PREMIER'S DUTIES
  • [03] ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF
  • [04] OPPOSITION PARTY DISOWNS LEADER OF GUNMEN
  • [05] NEW ARMENIAN CATHOLICOS ELECTED
  • [06] U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE IN ARMENIA
  • [07] AZERBAIJAN SEEKS TO DEPORT CHECHEN REFUGEES
  • [08] LANDMINE DISCOVERED IN GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS HQ
  • [09] GEORGIA DENIES HARBORING CHECHEN GUNMEN
  • [10] ANOTHER RUSSIAN ROCKET EXPLODES OVER KAZAKHSTAN
  • [11] KAZAKH OPPOSITION FORMS NEW UMBRELLA GROUP
  • [12] TAJIK SUPREME COURT REJECTS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S APPEAL
  • [13] TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER APPEALS FOR HELP TO ENSURE POLL IS
  • [14] ISLAMISTS AGAIN VOW TO MAKE UZBEKISTAN AN ISLAMIC STATE

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [15] MACEDONIA TO ELECT A PRESIDENT...
  • [16] ...BUT WHO WILL IT BE?
  • [17] MONTENEGRO ADOPTS LAW ON CITIZENSHIP...
  • [18] ...PREPARES TO INTRODUCE GERMAN MARK
  • [19] DODIK BLASTS BELGRADE OVER CURRENCY CHARGE
  • [20] PETRITSCH INTRODUCES DECREES ON BOSNIAN PROPERTY
  • [21] PARTIES REGISTER FOR BOSNIAN VOTE
  • [22] CROATIAN PRESIDENT IN THE VATICAN
  • [23] META ACCEPTS ALBANIAN PREMIERSHIP
  • [24] CONVOY OF SERBS ATTACKED IN KOSOVA
  • [25] AIR CORRIDOR TO KOSOVA TO REOPEN
  • [26] SERBIAN OPPOSITION AGREES TO STICK TOGETHER
  • [27] MILOSEVIC PRAISES RAMSEY CLARK
  • [28] DEL PONTE WANTS BIG FISH
  • [29] EU TO GIVE ROMANIA LARGE GRANTS
  • [30] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS OPPOSITION LEADER
  • [31] ROMANIAN STUDENTS PROTEST
  • [32] RUSSIAN CONTINGENT IN TRANSDNIESTER DESTROYS ARSENAL
  • [33] BULGARIA, EU TO NEGOTIATE CLOSING KOZLODUY

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [34] VIOLENCE AND RECRIMINATIONS OVERSHADOW GEORGIAN ELECTION

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] 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

    [02] 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

    [03] 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

    [04] 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

    [05] 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

    [06] 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

    [07] 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

    [08] 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

    [09] 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

    [10] 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

    [11] 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

    [12] 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

    [13] 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

    [14] 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


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [15] MACEDONIA TO ELECT A PRESIDENT...

    Voters go to the polls on

    31 October in the first round of voting to elect Macedonia's

    second president since independence in 1991. If, as expected,

    none of the six candidates wins a majority, a second round

    will take place on 14 November. Incumbent Kiro Gligorov is

    not running for re-election. He is the first of the post-

    communist heads of state in the Yugoslav successor states to

    leave office. Moreover, his is the only one of those

    republics to win independence from Belgrade peacefully. Known

    as "the old fox," Gligorov is widely credited with having

    kept his country out of regional conflicts. He also sought to

    establish good relations with neighboring states without,

    however, drawing too close to any of them. In recent months,

    he has been involved in acrimonious public disputes with the

    center-right government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski,

    who has been in office for almost one year. Gligorov is close

    to the opposition Social Democrats, who held power until

    Georgievski and his allies defeated them in a campaign that

    emphasized promoting free markets and ending corruption. PM

    [16] ...BUT WHO WILL IT BE?

    The two leading contenders for the

    presidency are Vasil Tupurkovski of the multi-ethnic

    Democratic Alternative and Boris Trajkovski of Georgievski's

    Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO),

    Reuters reported on 28 October. Both parties belong to the

    governing coalition and were long expected to field a joint

    candidate, namely Tupurkovski. But continuing rivalries

    within the coalition and poor performances by some of

    Tupurkovski's ministers in the cabinet led VMRO to decide to

    go it alone. Both of the main ethnic Albanian parties are

    running a candidate, but their voters are likely to come

    exclusively from the Albanian minority, which represents only

    about one-quarter of the population. Trajkovski, Tupurkovski,

    and the Social Democrats' Tito Petkovski have all sought to

    court the Albanian vote. Most parties agree on the need for

    economic development, European integration, and ethnic

    harmony. PM

    [17] MONTENEGRO ADOPTS LAW ON CITIZENSHIP...

    The parliament in

    Podgorica passed a law on Montenegrin citizenship on 28

    October. The new legislation recognizes a separate

    Montenegrin citizenship distinct from that of Yugoslavia or

    Serbia. Deputies loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan

    Milosevic walked out of the session, saying that the law is

    separatist. Pro-independence Liberals also quit the meeting,

    charging that the legislation does not go far enough to

    restore full independence, AP reported. PM

    [18] ...PREPARES TO INTRODUCE GERMAN MARK

    President Milo

    Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 28 October that Montenegro is

    ready to introduce the German mark as a parallel currency to

    the Yugoslav dinar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 1999).

    He stressed that while Montenegro does not want to

    destabilize Yugoslavia or the region, the government is

    obliged to protect its citizens against growing inflation in

    Serbia. PM

    [19] DODIK BLASTS BELGRADE OVER CURRENCY CHARGE

    Republika Srpska

    caretaker Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told Belgrade's

    "Danas" of 29 October that Yugoslav Information Minister

    Goran Matic is trying to deceive his own people. Matic

    recently charged that with Western backing, the Republika

    Srpska has sought to destabilize the Yugoslav dinar by

    "flooding" Serbia with forged dinar banknotes. Dodik

    commented that people forge only strong currencies, not the

    inflation-plagued dinar. He added that the source of Serbia's

    economic woes is its own regime, whose policies constitute an

    "economic war" against Serbs in both Serbia and Bosnia. PM

    [20] PETRITSCH INTRODUCES DECREES ON BOSNIAN PROPERTY

    The

    international community's Wolfgang Petritsch issued several

    decrees on 28 October enabling Bosnian refugees and displaced

    persons to reclaim their property in either half of the

    republic. He called the decision a "watershed,"

    "Oslobodjenje" reported. Observers note that a major problem

    preventing people from going home is that other people are

    squatting in their flats and houses. Local nationalists often

    back the squatters in their claim to the property in an

    effort to consolidate the results of "ethnic cleansing." PM

    [21] PARTIES REGISTER FOR BOSNIAN VOTE

    Officials of the OSCE,

    which organizes elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in

    Sarajevo on 28 October that 73 parties and 17 independent

    candidates have registered for the local elections slated for

    April 2000, dpa reported. PM

    [22] CROATIAN PRESIDENT IN THE VATICAN

    Franjo Tudjman opened an

    exhibition of Croatian religious art in the Vatican on 28

    October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1999). PM

    [23] META ACCEPTS ALBANIAN PREMIERSHIP

    President Rexhep Meidani

    named Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta to head the new

    government following the recent resignation of Meta's ally

    Pandeli Majko (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 October 1999).

    Meta said that he "will do the impossible to work for a

    better life for Albanian citizens." He noted that he will

    retain Interior Minister Spartak Poci, who has cracked down

    on gangs, particularly in the north. PM

    [24] CONVOY OF SERBS ATTACKED IN KOSOVA

    Some 1,500 ethnic

    Albanians blocked and ransacked a convoy of 155 Serbs in Peja

    on 27 October, injuring at least 18. A Dutch KFOR commander

    said that some of the Serbs would "certainly" have been

    killed if peacekeepers had not intervened. The Serbs were en

    route from their isolated settlement near Rahovec to

    Montenegro. They continued on their way after the incident.

    UN, KFOR, and Serbian officials condemned the attack. Serbian

    spokesmen said in Belgrade that the incident shows that KFOR

    is unable to protect Kosova's Serbian population. PM

    [25] AIR CORRIDOR TO KOSOVA TO REOPEN

    The Macedonian authorities

    on 28 October approved a request by NATO and the EU to reopen

    an air corridor to civilian flights to Kosova (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 15 October 1999). PM

    [26] SERBIAN OPPOSITION AGREES TO STICK TOGETHER

    Representatives

    of 15 opposition parties agreed in Belgrade on 28 October to

    work together "before, during, and after" any future

    elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The single

    largest opposition party, which is Vuk Draskovic's Serbian

    Renewal Movement, did not sign the pact. Elsewhere, Serbian

    Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said that the governing

    parties will also maintain a united front whenever elections

    are held. PM

    [27] MILOSEVIC PRAISES RAMSEY CLARK

    Former U.S. Attorney General

    Ramsey Clark met with Milosevic in Belgrade on 28 October.

    The Serbian leader called his guest "brave, objective, and

    moral" for his opposition to NATO's recent bombing campaign

    against Serbia, AP reported. Very few Westerners have called

    on Milosevic since May, when the Hague-based war crimes

    tribunal indicted him for atrocities committed in Kosova. PM

    [28] DEL PONTE WANTS BIG FISH

    Carla del Ponte, who is the Hague

    tribunal's new chief prosecutor, said in Prishtina on 28

    October that her priority will be to bring top-ranking war

    criminals to justice. These include Milosevic, Bosnian Serb

    leader Radovan Karadzic, and Bosnian Serb General Ratko

    Mladic, she added. She noted that Milosevic may face charges

    in addition to those for which he has already been indicted.

    In The Hague, a court spokesman said that Serbia, Croatia,

    and the Republika Srpska have failed to deliver a total of 35

    indicted war criminals to the tribunal. PM

    [29] EU TO GIVE ROMANIA LARGE GRANTS

    EU commissioner for

    enlargement Guenter Verheugen said in Bucharest on 28

    October that the union will provide Romania with 600

    million euros ($636 million) annually until 2006 to upgrade

    transport, environment, agriculture, and rural development

    programs. Verheugen, who met with President Emil

    Constantinescu and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Ion

    Diaconescu, said the EU wants to see consensus among

    Romanian parties on joining the union, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. The government the same day approved

    Romania's National Development Plan, which is to be

    submitted to the EU by the end of the month. MS

    [30] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS OPPOSITION LEADER

    In a statement

    released on 28 October, Constantinescu said that Party of

    Social Democracy in Romania Deputy Chairman Adrian

    Nastase's recent criticism of the government's decision to

    raise wages for employees of the Defense and Internal

    Affairs Ministries is "demagogic." Nastase had said the

    decision is a "bribe paid ahead of the electoral campaign

    for the use of [police] truncheons." The Defense Ministry

    also criticized Nastase, who responded that he was not

    insulting "those in uniform" but the "demagogy that

    characterizes the discourse of those in power." MS

    [31] ROMANIAN STUDENTS PROTEST

    Thousands of students marched in

    Bucharest and other cities on 27 and 28 November demanding

    higher grants and better living conditions on campus,

    RFE/RL's Romanian service reported. The students said they

    have decided to go on strike for "an unlimited period." MS

    [32] RUSSIAN CONTINGENT IN TRANSDNIESTER DESTROYS ARSENAL

    Russian troops in the Transdniester on 27 October destroyed

    several tons of ammunition that had belonged to the former

    14th army stationed in the separatist region, ITAR-TASS and

    BASA-press reported. General Valerii Yevnevich, who

    commands the Russian contingent in the breakaway region,

    told journalists that the destruction of the ammunition was

    stipulated in an agreement with Tiraspol that had been

    reached "with the assistance of Prime Minister Vladimir

    Putin." ITAR-TASS cited Yevnevich as saying that the

    withdrawal of the remaining arsenal "will take up to six

    years" and require "400 special trains" that will transit

    Ukraine. Romanian Radio reported on 28 October that Putin

    has invited Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov to Moscow

    for talks. MS

    [33] BULGARIA, EU TO NEGOTIATE CLOSING KOZLODUY

    The Bulgarian

    government on 28 October announced it will begin negotiations

    with the EU on a plan to shut down the aging Kozloduy nuclear

    plant, AP reported. The agency said that under the government

    plan, Bulgaria wants to leave the two newer reactors

    functioning until the two older ones have been

    decommissioned. BTA reported the same day that parliamentary

    Energy Committee Chairman Kiril Ermenkov said that the older

    units must not be closed before 2003, while the newer ones

    must operate until 2008-2010. Ermenkov said that the EU

    proposal that the older units be closed in 2001 and the newer

    ones the following year is "unacceptable." MS


    [C] END NOTE

    [34] 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.

    29-10-99


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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