|Monday, 17 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 33, 98-02-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 33, 18 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 WHICH 'ZVIADISTS' TRIED TO KILL GEORGIAN PRESIDENT?Speaking on Georgian television on 16 February, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze disclosed that most of those who took part in the 9 February attempt to kill Eduard Shevardnadze are former members of the battalion headed by Loti Kobalia, ITAR-TASS reported. Kobalia served in 1992-1993 as head of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's private army and led Gamsakhurdia's failed attempt in August 1993 to return to power by force. Kobalia was sentenced to death in Tbilisi in November 1996 on charges of treason and banditry. Gamsakhurdia's widow, Manana Archvadze- Gamsakhurdia, told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 February that Kobalia is a "traitor" and that she has no contact with him. She further denied that her late husband's supporters played any part in the attempt to kill Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, two other suspects have been arrested in connection with the 9 February attack, Caucasus Press reported on 18 February. LF
 KOCHARYAN MEETS WITH DASHNAKS FROM ABROADArmenian Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan on 17 February met with a sizable Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) delegation from abroad, the Yerevan News Agency and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharyan underscored the importance to Yerevan of the Armenian Diaspora and promised that in future ARFD members will be allowed unrestricted travel to Armenia. He also advocated introducing dual citizenship, currently barred by the constitution, for Armenians living abroad. LF
 OSCE MONITORS SHOT AT IN KARABAKHA Karabakh Armenian officer was wounded on 17 February when Azerbaijani units opened machine-gun fire on a car in which cease-fire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were traveling. The incident took place in the eastern Karabakh district of Martuni, Noyan Tapan reported, quoting the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic. LF
 "NO CHANGES" IMMINENT IN AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN POLICYIn an interview with Turan on 17 February, Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade denied that his country's foreign policy will change following the dismissal by President Heidar Aliev of Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov. Gulu-Zade also denied that he himself is likely to be named as Hasanov's successor. According to the news agency, Hasanov has written to Aliev acknowledging he made a "mistake" in using Turkish credits to finance construction of the Europa Hotel and casino complex. Hasanov denied that partial control of the complex was granted to Turkey's Imperial Group in payment of massive gambling debts incurred by Aliev's son Ilham. The former minister pleaded with the president to show "magnanimity." LF
 STRIKING KAZAKH MINERS DISRUPT RAIL TRAFFICSeveral hundred workers from the Janatas Phosphorous Plant in Jambyl Oblast blocked the railroad station in the town of Taraz on 17 February, halting rail traffic between Shymkent and Almaty, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Some 3,000 employees of the Janatas plant launched a strike four months ago to protest wage arrears from 1996 and 1997. The police prevented other strikers from storming the Jambyl Oblast administration building, while oblast leaders failed to persuade the strikers to call off their protest. The strikers continue to demand to meet with Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbaev. A meeting with the premier was scheduled for 13 February, but Balgimbaev failed to show up. LF
 BELGIAN COMPANY BLAMES KAZAKH GOVERNMENT OVER GAS SHORTAGESA representative of the Belgian utilities company Tractebel has disclaimed responsibility for the current gas shortages in southern Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 17 February, Tractebel Vice President Ludo Candries said Prime Minister Balgimbaev precipitated the shortages by preventing the transfer of a key gas storage facility to Tractebel's subsidiary, Intergas. Candries also accused Kazakh officials of harassment and of threatening to close down Tractebel's Almaty office, according to ITAR- TASS. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 CROATIAN UNIONS DEFY GOVERNMENTBoris Kunst, the president of the United Labor Unions of Croatia, has said his group will hold a rally in Zagreb on 20 February to protest deteriorating social conditions. Several other unions and 11 political parties have endorsed the demonstration, which organizers expect will draw at least 50,000 participants, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital on 17 February . The government the previous day had banned the rally for what the authorities called security reasons. In his latest remarks, Kunst said that security is not a valid reason to ban a demonstration in peace time. Meanwhile, a government spokesman charged that some unions have rejected a call by Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa for talks and that this refusal "reveals the real intentions" of the unions. PM
 VUKOVAR EX-COMMANDER WINS SETTLEMENTThe Croatian Defense Ministry on 16 February awarded $60,000 in damages to former Lieutenant-Colonel Mile Dedakovic, better known by his nom-de-guerre of Jastreb. The out-of-court settlement ends three years of litigation. After the fall of Vukovar in November 1991, the authorities accused Jastreb of deserting his post, collaborating with the Yugoslav army, and embezzlement. He was subsequently so badly beaten in a military prison that he is now an invalid. The authorities later dropped all charges against him. Jastreb, for his part, has repeatedly charged President Franjo Tudjman with refusing to send reinforcements to Vukovar and deliberately abandoning the town to the Serbs after a three-month siege. Many other former Croatian military personnel and civilians sympathize with Jastreb's views. PM
 TEN THOUSAND AT ETHNIC ALBANIAN'S FUNERAL IN KOSOVOSome 10,000 people attended the burial on 17 February near Glogovac of an ethnic Albanian electrician whom Albanian spokesmen say was killed by police two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). Meanwhile in Klina, police officials told BETA that the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army attacked a police station on the Klina-Srbica road the previous night. Spokesmen for an ethnic Albanian human rights group confirmed there had been gunfire in the area and that police reinforcements arrived soon afterward. PM
 MEIDANI CALLS FOR UN ROLE IN KOSOVOAlbanian President Rexhep Meidani said in Tirana on 17 February that the situation in Kosovo has become "very dangerous" and that it is imperative to prevent an outbreak of violence. He called on unspecified "European institutions" to increase diplomatic activity in the area and for the UN to set up a mission in Pristina, BETA reported. PM
 SFOR ISSUES NEW ORDERS TO BOSNIAN ARMIESA spokesman for SFOR said in Sarajevo on 17 February that the federal and Bosnian Serb armies will have to reduce their respective arms depots by one- quarter in the near future to enable peacekeepers to monitor the weapons more effectively. He also pointed out that the two armies' military vehicles must display the new joint license plates by 1 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. Meanwhile, Hanns Schumacher, a deputy to the international community's Carlos Westendorp, criticized federal officials for charging citizens up to more than 10 times the official price for the new license plates. PM
 WARNING STRIKE IN BOSNIASome 65,000 workers in the metallurgy industry staged a one-hour warning strike in several towns in the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation on 17 February. The workers demand that the federal government honor an agreement it reached with the unions at the end of last year. PM
 BOSNIAN CARDINAL BACKS ECUMENISMCardinal Vinko Puljic told a meeting of the Bosnian Bishops' conference in Mostar on 17 February that the Roman Catholic Church should "strengthen the spirit of ecumenism" in its relations with both the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community. Puljic, who is the first cardinal in Bosnian history, also called for a concordat between Bosnia and the Vatican to regulate questions involving the return of Church property confiscated by the communists, building new religious buildings, and carrying out pastoral work. He also urged that all refugees be able to return to their former homes and enjoy full political, religious, and cultural freedom. Many Bosnian Croatian refugees come from centuries-old communities in central Bosnia now under Muslim or Serbian control. PM
 MACEDONIA RECEIVES WORLD BANK LOANThe World Bank announced in Washington on 17 February that it will loan Macedonia $35 million to modernize six power plants. Those facilities produce 91 percent of the country's electricity. PM
 NEW ELECTION LAW FOR MONTENEGRORepresentatives of all political parties have expressed satisfaction with the election law that the parliament passed on 17 February, BETA reported. The legislature will have 78 members who are elected by proportional representation from among all parties receiving more than 3 percent of all ballots cast. The entire country will be treated as one election district. Five seats are reserved for members of the ethnic Albanian minority. PM
 MONTENEGRIN BORDER GUARDS SHOOT ALBANIANSMontenegrin border guards shot and killed a 22-year-old Albanian on 17 February. The victim was on his way to work in the Montenegrin town of Tuzi when the guards fired at him from a patrol boat, "Koha Jone" reported. Four days earlier, two Albanians were injured when Montenegrin border police opened fire at them in the same area. FS
 ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS DETAINED PENDING TRIALA Tirana court on 17 February sent 11 supporters of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari to pre-trial detention of between six to 15 days, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. Three others remain under house arrest. All 14 people were allegedly involved in a recent armed incident with police at a road block in Milot (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 16 February 1998). They are charged with illegal possession of arms and interfering with the work of the police. A police spokesman said that machine guns and other weapons have been found in cars belong to Hajdari's supporters and near the scene of the incident, "Koha Jone" reported. Meanwhile, Hajdari, who claims the police wanted to kill him, has offered to relinquish his parliamentary immunity to facilitate an investigation into his role in the incident. FS
 BOMB ATTACK IN SHKODERA bomb went off outside the Socialist Party headquarters in the northern city of Shkoder on 17 February, "Shekulli" reported. The bomb caused heavy damage, but nobody was injured. The previous day, two bombs destroyed a Socialist Party branch in the south (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1998). And in Tirana on 17 February, police found a bomb inside the parliament building after receiving an anonymous telephone call. FS
 ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQIn an interview with RFE/RL on 17 February, Constantin Dudu Ionescu said Romania has "at no point" considered sending combat troops to take part in possible military operations against Iraq. Ionescu said the Romanian army is "among the best prepared" for integration into NATO forces but "at this stage" is "not yet ready" for participation in operations such as those conducted in the Gulf in 1991. The same day, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said the decision of Victor Ciorbea's cabinet demonstrated its "courage and leadership" MS
 ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER CONSIDERS RESIGNATIONDaniel Daianu told a meeting of the National Liberal Party caucus on 17 February that he is considering resigning as finance minister. Daianu said the country's ongoing political crisis makes it impossible to take the necessary decisions to promote economic reforms, adding that the 1998 budget has to be "changed every day" to meet new demands. He warned against the danger of the country's "Bulgarization" and said Romania is probably heading toward early elections. He also said he would not agree to be an "accomplice" in "complicating even further the country's economic situation and negotiations with the IMF," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 COMPROMISE OVER PARAMEDICS' DEMANDS IN OFFINGThe leader of the Sanitas trade union federation said on 17 February that members of his union are willing to "compromise" over its demands by agreeing to a wage hike of 75 percent, instead of 100 percent. Negotiations with the government resumed on 17 February, and several proposals are being considered to find budget funds to finance the strikers' demands. The paramedics have been on a general strike since 12 February. Also under consideration is a special levy imposed on hospitalized smokers and alcohol consumers as a means to increase funds for the rapidly deteriorating health system, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 MOLDOVAN, TRANSDNIESTER LEADERS FAIL TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCESPresident Petru Lucinschi and Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, meeting in Tiraspol on 17 February, failed to bridge their main political difference but reached agreement on how to resolve outstanding economic questions, Infotag reported. Lucinschi said Moldova cannot meet Tiraspol's demand that it be treated as an independent state, while Smirnov pointed to the Transdniester constitution, which, he noted, defines the region as such. Smirnov added that Tiraspol is "ready to take into consideration international practice" but only if the two sides conduct negotiations as "fully equal partners." He said the term "unified state," included in the 8 May memorandum, is interpreted in Tiraspol as meaning "two states that have decided to build one unified country." MS
 GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY APPROVES REFERENDUMThe Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region has approved holding a referendum on a "basic law" for the region, the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported on 17 February. The plebiscite will take place at the same time as the Moldovan parliamentary elections on 22 March. Both Moldovan parliamentary chairman Dumitru Motpan and regional leader (Bashkir) Georgi Tabunshchik had asked the assembly to postpone the decision on the referendum, but the deputies argued that the costs of conducting a separate plebiscite would be much higher. MS
[C] END NOTE
 YELTSIN WARNS OF CABINET RESHUFFLEby Stephanie Baker
Russian President Boris Yeltsin has warned that there will be a cabinet shakeup if ministers fail to solve the economic problems facing the country.
In his annual speech to a joint session of the parliament on 17 February, Yeltsin called for the adoption of a realistic budget and the passage of tax reform to ensure substantial economic growth this year. "If the government is not capable of resolving these strategic tasks, we will have a new government," he said.
The Russian president patted himself and his cabinet on the back for bringing down inflation, stabilizing the ruble, and reversing the decline of the economy last year. But he said "this is no longer enough. We need a steady and qualitative economic growth. We need a growth supported by a mighty influx of investments."
Yeltsin called on legislators to amend the 1998 budget to ensure that it contains realistic revenue and spending parameters. The amendments were due to be submitted later that day to the State Duma, the lower house of the parliament. The Duma is expected to pass the budget in a fourth and final reading soon.
Also on 17 February, Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov warned that Yeltsin could veto the budget bill unless the Duma passed the amendments. It is unclear what specific changes the government is proposing, but First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the amendments are intended to tighten budget policy and increase revenues in response to the world market volatility. He remarked that "if the country pursues an irresponsible financial policy at a time of financial crisis, if the budget is not realistic, it is a terrible threat to its economy."
The Asian financial crisis has shaken the Russian economy, pushing up interest rates and making it far more expensive for companies to raise funds on international markets. At the same time, investors have been demanding that the government cut spending to prevent its budget deficit from expanding. In his address, Yeltsin acted to meet some of those concerns, ordering the government to draw up a program by May to slash government spending. "It is time to learn to do what any housewife knows how to do--spend money economically, rationally and live according to one's means," he commented.
At the top of the government's agenda this year is tax reform, considered essential if Russia's messy public finances are to be cleaned up and tax evasion eradicated. The government submitted a revised tax code to the Duma earlier this month, after a similar proposal was rejected by deputies last year. Yeltsin urged the Duma to pass the much anticipated tax bill, saying it is the precondition for economic growth and "cannot be delayed any longer."
The government has made much of a 40 percent increase in tax revenues in January, compared with the same period last year. But analysts say the increase is due to a one-off tax payment by gas giant Gazprom.
Yeltsin's push for tax reform coincided with the arrival of International Monetary Fund head Michel Camdessus in Moscow on 17 February. He is to discuss the fund's $10 billion loan to Russia. The IMF has repeatedly suspended loan payments due to chronically low tax revenues. Yeltsin, for his part, has said he wants the current IMF loan to be Russia's last.
Among other initiatives, Yeltsin ordered the Economics Ministry to draw up an industrial policy program by June that would help domestic producers compete with foreign companies.
Reaction to Yeltsin's speech was muted. The markets generally shrugged off the speech, despite Yeltsin's call for driving full-speed ahead with reforms. Some observers remarked that Yeltsin's proposals were reminiscent of past promises that were not kept.
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty