|Monday, 20 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 210, 00-10-30
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 4, No. 210, 30 October 2000
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA COMMEMORATES PARLIAMENT SHOOTING ANNIVERSARY...Led by President Robert Kocharian, thousands of Armenians on 27 October visited the graves of the eight senior officials shot dead in the parliament building one year earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Flags were flown at half mast across the country, and a minute of silence was observed at the time the shooting started. In an address, Kocharian said the killing had dealt "a severe blow" to Armenia's international prestige but that chaos was averted and stability eventually restored. LF
 ...AS INVESTIGATOR SAYS HE BELIEVES GUNMEN ACTED ON ORDERSArmenian Military Prosecutor Gagik Djahangirian, who heads the investigation into the 27 October parliament shootings, said on 28 October that he still believes the five gunmen responsible were acting on orders from other persons whose identity he is seeking to establish, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 23 October, Aram Sargsian, whose brother Vazgen was one of those killed, accused Djahangirian of avoiding establishing the truth about the killings, branding him a coward. Sargsian made clear that he believes persons close to President Kocharian are implicated in the shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2000). Djahangirian said on 28 October that both President Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian have been questioned in connection with the shootings. He said that if Aram Sargsian is unhappy with his handling of the investigation, Sargsian should ask that the investigation be transferred to the jurisdiction of Prosecutor- General Boris Nazarian, whom Djahangirian termed Sargsian's "friend." LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SON AGAIN ACCUSES OPPOSITION LEADERSContinuing his election campaign tour of Azerbaijan's regions, Ilham Aliev, who is one of the deputy chairmen of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told voters on Barda and Gyanja on 27 October that in June 1993, then parliament speaker Isa Gambar and opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov had been prepared to bomb Gyanja to quash the insurrection led by Suret Huseinov, Turan reported. Ilham Aliev also accused Democratic Party of Azerbaijan chairman Rasul Guliev of maintaining close ties with the Armenian lobby in the U.S. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT UNSANCTIONED MEETINGPolice in Baku intervened on 28 October to prevent some 40 members of the Civil Unity Party, which supports former President Ayaz Mutalibov, holding a protest demonstration in the city center, ITAR-TASS reported. Several of the would-be demonstrators were beaten and injured, according to Human Rights Watch. The party's leaders had been warned earlier not to go ahead with the planned demonstration, the purpose of which was to protest the refusal of the Azerbaijani authorities to register the party. Police had similarly prevented a protest by Civil Unity Party members two weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). LF
 GEORGIAN POLICE DISPERSE DEMONSTRATION BY FORMER PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERSPolice in Tbilisi used force on 28 October to disperse a demonstration in the city center by some 200 supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, AP and Caucasus Press reported. Participants in the demonstration, which was intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the parliamentary elections won by Gamsakhurdia's Round Table/Free Georgia coalition, called on the present government to resign and for the restoration of Gamsakhurdia's leadership team. LF
 TWO GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS KILLEDTwo Georgian border guards were killed and one wounded by an anti-tank mine in the Assa valley on 27 October after the three inadvertently strayed on to Russian territory, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian contingent had intended to meet with several of their Russian counterparts to discuss the situation on the Georgian-Russian border. Also on 27 October, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Naptvaridze said Tbilisi considers Moscow's proposal that OSCE observers should be deployed along that stretch of the border "perfectly acceptable" but says it will not raise that possibility with the OSCE at present, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). Some 40 OSCE observers have been deployed along the Georgian-Chechen border since early this year. Meanwhile Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 27 October that the 25 Chechen fighters who surrendered to Georgian forces on 21 October and are currently undergoing medical treatment do not qualify for refugee status in Georgia as they have committed unspecified crimes. LF
 LOWER HOUSE OF KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT PASSES LAND LAWAfter a lengthy debate, the lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament voted late on 26 October in favor of draft legislation that permits the private ownership of land, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The law was first debated late last year but shelved after repeated strikes and protest demonstrations. An amended version was reintroduced in June, but debate was postponed for four months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2000). LF
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED...Askar Akaev was re-elected for a further five year term as president of Kyrgyzstan on 29 October, defeating five rival candidates. Central Electoral Commission chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev said on 30 October that preliminary results from all but 30 of 2,085 polling stations indicated that Akaev garnered approximately 74.2 percent of the vote, Reuters reported. Omurbek Tekebaev, deputy speaker of the parliament's upper house, polled 13.89 percent and businessman Almazbek Atembaev 6.04 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 74 percent. LF
 ...AMID CHARGES OF FRAUD, INTIMIDATIONWhile Akaev told voters in Bishkek on 29 October that the ballot would be fair, campaign helpers for opposition candidates Melis Eshimkanov and Atembaev were detained by police or prevented from monitoring the poll, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A criminal case was opened in Bishkek after international observers discovered 700 ballot papers marked in favor of Akaev in a ballot box when polling began. Election observers from the Coalition of Kyrgyz NGOs were not permitted to monitor the vote, despite a ruling by Imanbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). LF
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER'S APPEAL POSTPONEDBishkek City Court judge Orozbek Chynbaev on 27 October postponed until 7 November the hearing of appeals by seven people sentenced last month to 16- 17 years imprisonment on charges of having planned to assassinate President Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000). Meanwhile some 20 relatives of those seven men continued to picket the regional government building in the southern town of Djalalabad on 27 October for the 12th consecutive day. They insist that the men are innocent. LF
 PRICES SKYROCKET, CURRENCY NOSEDIVES IN TAJIKISTANPresident Imomali Rakhmonov's 26 October announcement of the planned introduction of a new Tajik currency unit, the somoni, immediately triggered panic buying, rising prices, and a steep fall in the value of the ruble, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 27 October. The Tajik ruble declined in value to 3,000 to the U.S. dollar in Khujand and 4,000 to the dollar in Kulyab. One week earlier, the Tajik ruble was trading at 2,050 to the dollar. The Tajik ruble also lost value against the Russian ruble, sliding from 87 to 110 Tajik rubles to 1 Russian ruble. Prices of staples such as flour, sugar, and vegetable oil doubled within hours. A National Bank administrator in Kulyab appeared on local television to appeal to the population not to resort to panic buying. LF
 OSCE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTEROSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel met with Talbak Nazarov in Dushanbe on 28 October to discuss the political situation in Tajikistan, ethnic minorities, and regional security issues, including Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Van der Stoel reportedly gave a positive assessment of the Tajik peace process and noted that the country's success in tackling economic and social problems would contribute to the development of harmonious relations between the country's various ethnic groups. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 RUGOVA CLAIMS VICTORY IN KOSOVAR ELECTIONS...Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova said on 29 October that his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) party won some 60 percent of the votes in the previous day's municipal elections, Reuters reported. OSCE officials have said they will not release preliminary results until 90 percent of the vote has been counted, which is expected to be the case late on 30 October. But an OSCE spokesman did not dispute Rugova's claims. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova was expected to finish second in the ballot. Rugova said the LDK "cultivates tolerance and cooperation with other political groups." The elections were praised by OSCE and EU officials, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. PB
 ...CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCERugova said that the election results have "both a local and national context--which is the independence of Kosova," Reuters reported. He said "I am for straightforward, formal recognition of Kosova, better now when KFOR and [the UN administration] are here." PB
 BELGRADE CALLS ELECTIONS 'INVALID'A statement from the office of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica called the elections in Kosova invalid since the Serbian minority in the province boycotted the vote, AP reported. The transitional government of Serbia called the elections "unacceptable because they are single-ethnic...not based on the laws of the Republic of Serbia and are contrary to the proclaimed goals and responsibilities of the international community." The statement also decried the fact that "not even elementary conditions" existed for the vote. Kosovar Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic told B-92 Radio that the elections are not free: "For free elections you need freedom of movement first, basic safety. Kosovo Serb live in ghettos, in fear of attacks." PB
 YUGOSLAVIA TO PARDON POLITICAL PRISONERSThe Yugoslav government will amnesty all political prisoners and draft dodgers, the state agency Tanjug reported on 29 October. Belgrade University law professor Stevan Lilic said those being held will be released after the federal parliament adopts an amnesty law being prepared by a team of experts under his direction. Besides political prisoners, the authorities will release victims of political repression and those jailed for harming Yugoslavia's reputation, its constitutional order and social system. PB
 EU APPROVES LARGE AID PACKAGE FOR SERBIAThe EU parliament has given its approval to a 200 million euro ($166 million) aid package for Serbia, AP reported on 27 October. EU Budget Commissioner Michaela Schreyer said "the EU is living up to its promises to the new Serbian leadership by providing the necessary funds for emergency aid." She added that the decision was ratified in "record time." Schreyer said "Europe is now ready to help in very concrete ways with support for energy, food, health, schools, and media." The money is also earmarked to help buy fuel so that Serbia can get through the winter without heating shortages. PB
 U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN WELCOMES BELGRADE REQUEST TO JOIN UNRichard Holbrooke said in Sarajevo on 27 October that he welcomes Yugoslav President Kostunica's call that his country be admitted to the UN as an equal successor state to other former Yugoslav republics, Reuters reported. Holbrooke said "this ends or will soon end a long...dispute in the UN that has gone on for eight years. It will also open many other doors for regional cooperation." A UN General Assembly resolution adopted in September 1992 said Belgrade could not "continue automatically the membership of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the United Nations" and urged it to apply for new membership, as the former Yugoslav states have done. The French Foreign Ministry also praised the announcement by Belgrade. PB
 BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEES SPEEDY RESUMPTION OF RELATIONS WITH BELGRADEJadranko Prlic said on 28 October in Bologna that he foresees the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia by the end of the year, Reuters reported. Prlic said "talks can start as soon as a new government in Belgrade is established. Bosnia is not laying down any conditions." Prlic met with Yugoslav President Kostunica on 22 October in Sarajevo. A new Yugoslav cabinet is not expected to be formed in Belgrade until next week. PB
 BOSNIAN CROATS PUSHING FOR 'INDEPENDENCE?'A majority of Bosnian-Croat political parties called on 28 October for a referendum on the rights of ethnic Croats in Bosnia to be held during general elections on 11 November, AFP reported. In the referendum, Croats will vote on a rights declaration issued in the central Bosnian town of Novi Travnik by the main nationalist Croatia Democratic Community (HDZ) and six other parties. That document was issued in the presence of Bosnian Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljic. A "Croatian People's Convention" was also founded on 28 October. HDZ leader Ante Jelavic was elected its president and said the convention should "act as the permanent and highest political institution of Croatian people" in Bosnia. The actions follow protests by the HDZ against changes in electoral rules that the HDZ says will diminsh its leading position in Bosnian-Croat politics. PB
 CROATIA WANTS TO MOVE QUICKLY ON BETTER EU RELATIONSCroatian President Stipe Mesic said in Berlin on 27 October that Zagreb wants to swiftly improve relations with the EU, dpa reported. Mesic said that "naturally there are expectations" and that Croatia is hoping that Brussels will announce that talks on granting Zagreb associate status with the EU will be made at the 24 November Balkans summit in the Croatian capital. Mesic made his comments at the end of a two-day visit to Germany. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called on 26 October for more foreign investment in Croatia. The president of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse, hailed Mesic the following day as "a representative of the new democratic developments" in Croatia. PB
 TAIWAN, MACEDONIA SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENTThe Taiwanese Defense Ministry said that Skopje and Taipei will sign a defense accord on 30 October in the Taiwanese capital, AFP reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman said the agreement will be signed during a visit to Taipei by Macedonian Defense Minister Liuben Paunoski. Macedonia and the Vatican have both recognized Taiwan instead of China. PB
 EU URGES ROMANIA TO ACCELERATE PRIVATIZATION PROCESSFokion Fotiadis, the EU representative in Romania, has urged Bucharest to speed up the privatization of money-losing firms, AP reported on 28 October. "Privatization is very urgent in Romania because there are many companies which swallow huge resources without producing anything in exchange," he said. PG
 HOMBACH SEEKS TO SPEED UP EU-ROMANIAN PROGRAMSWhile in Bucharest for a Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe meeting, special coordinator Bodo Hombach on 27 October met with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, Mediafax reported. Constantinescu hailed the first steps in increasing cooperation in the region and presented the advantages of transporting oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Romania. Hombach promised to speed up common development programs between the EU and countries in southeast Europe. ZsM
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES RUSSIAN DEBT RESTRUCTURINGLawmakers on 27 October ratified the agreement restructuring Chisinau's debts to the Russian Federation over 15 years, Infotag reported. Moldova currently owes $122 million to Russia, including $30 million that is owed by the separatist Transdniester region. Some deputies argued that the Transdniester should repay its portion of the debt on its own. PG
 MOLDOVA'S CIS MEMBERSHIP NO OBSTACLE TO EU INTEGRATIONIvan Borislavlevich, the European Commission representative in Chisinau, said Moldova's membership in the CIS is not in itself an obstacle to Moldovan membership in the EU, AP FLUX reported on 28 October. At the same time, he said that a communist president in Moldova would put the EU "on guard" but would not end dialogue between the EU and Moldova. Meanwhile, Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Leanca told BASA press the same day that there has been little progress over the last two years in talks between Moldova and the EU. PG
 TRANSDNIESTER TO GET NEW RUBLES IN 2001Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniester, issued a decree on 27 October calling for the introduction of new rubles there in the year 2001, AP FLUX reported. Old rubles will be exchanged for new ones at the rate of 1 million to one. Meanwhile, the "Tara" newspaper reported on 27 October that the Tiraspol government now views former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's plan for settling the Transdniester dispute favorably. PG
 BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS SOFIA WINNING ANTI-CORRUPTION FIGHTIvan Kostov told the Bulgarian parliament on 27 October that there have been fewer cases of official misconduct and bribe-taking in 2000 than in 1999 and that a larger number of such cases have been solved, BTA reported. In other comments, Kostov complained that the EU is treating Bulgaria unfairly, lumping it together with other countries that have not done as well as it has, AP reported. But European Commission officials noted that Bulgaria has made enormous progress and said that visa restrictions against Bulgarians must be lifted, BTA reported. PG
 BULGARIA'S MUSLIMS ELECT NEW MUFTIBulgarian Muslims on 28 October elected Selim Mjumjun Mehmedov, 37, as their new chief mufti, Reuters reported. Until now, Mehmedov had been a Muslim official in Plovdiv. Meanwhile, a former chief mufti, Fikri Hasan, has won his case against the Bulgarian government in the European Court of Human Rights, BTA reported on 27 October. The court held that the Bulgarian authorities violated his rights. PG
[C] END NOTE
 LOTTERY AFFAIR HIGHLIGHTS INCOMPLETE CZECH MEDIA INDEPENDENCEBy Tony Wesolowsky
Betting fever is growing in the Czech Republic. And one of the chief companies cashing in on the fever is Sazka (which means "bet" or "wager" in Czech).
Sazka operates the only nationwide daily lottery and airs many commercials on Czech public television. Five months ago, a public television reporter uncovered some questionable business practices at the company, along with numerous instances of what he said was heavy-handed lobbying by Czech politicians. The charges were aired earlier this month, but only after a week's delay to allow Ales Husak, Sazka's president, to immediately rebut the report, which he claimed was one-sided.
The director of Czech Television, Dusan Chmelicek, denied Husak had personally lobbied him to hold up the airing of the program. He says the reason the program was delayed was because it was one-sided.
Miroslav Mares, the chairman of the Council of Czech Television, which oversees the country's two public television stations, told RFE/RL that the whole episode is "strange." The more than 90 million crowns ($2.2 million) Sazka spends annually on advertising on Czech public television may have influenced Chmelicek's actions, he commented. And he noted that his council will investigate libel allegations made by Sazka.
Czech Culture Minister Pavel Dostal, whose ministry oversees television legislation, said in an interview with RFE/RL that the Sazka affair demonstrates the power of commercial interests in the media: "What happened shows that advertisers have influence on public broadcasting, in this case television. In my opinion, this is very dangerous, more dangerous than the influence of politicians [on the media]. Because if a politician did something similar, journalists would create a scandal [that is, investigate]. Advertisers not only advertise in public broadcasting but advertise in those media that employ journalists who, in this case, cannot create a scandal because their publisher would also lose an advertiser."
The Sazka controversy comes at a difficult time not only for low-budgeted Czech national television, but for the country's journalists in general. One reason is that Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman regularly castigates those journalists for what he calls their lack of professionalism. One of the Social Democrat leader's fiercest barbs came a few weeks ago, when he said in the daily "Pravo" that "journalists claim they are the watchdogs of democracy. But they are not the pit bulls of Czech society, just degenerate mongrels, searching only for sensations."
In addition, one Czech journalist is facing eight years in prison for a report aired on a commercial television station that the government says compromised state security. Earlier this year, Tomas Smrcek reported that six years ago Jiri Ruzek, the head of the country's state security service, had "hired" a friend to protect him from prosecution on a drunk-driving charge. In his report, Smrcek held up a paper showing the man had indeed been hired by Ruzek. The Czech government says that by doing so, Smrcek revealed a classified document and thereby broke the law.
In another incident a few months ago, two journalists for the daily "Mlada Fronta Dnes" were formally charged by the government for refusing to reveal the sources of their report on what was called "Operation Lead." The operation was allegedly a smear campaign meant to discredit a Social Democratic Party leader, Petra Buzkova.
Under a new media law passed by the Czech parliament early this year, reporters are obliged to reveal a source for a story if the source is a wanted criminal or someone suspected of wrongdoing. In the "Operation Lead" affair, the two journalists refused to reveal their source. The controversy reached as high a level as that of President Vaclav Havel, who granted the two journalists clemency.
But the reporters say they will continue to challenge the law in court. One of them, Jiri Kubik, told RFE/RL that they intend to continue the fight for the right to protect a source--a bedrock principle of journalism in the West.
Other elements of the new Czech media law have been a source of controversy since it took effect last February. The law's so-called "right- to-response" clause forces media outlets to grant time or space to any side felt to be slighted in media reports. A U.S. journalism professor, James Brodell, has warned that many editors will back down from taking on powerful interests for fear of the law's repercussions.
But some of Czech journalists' troubles may be of their own making. Earlier this month, for example, a former director of the Czech utility CEZ testified in court that he had paid a journalist to write favorable stories about nuclear energy. CEZ owns the controversial new Czech nuclear power plant at Temelin.
The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty