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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 221, 00-11-14

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. 4, No. 221, 14 November 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] NEW FINANCE MINISTER APPOINTED IN ARMENIA
  • [02] ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS ASSESS KARABAKH TALKS
  • [03] AZERBAIJAN RELEASES FURTHER ELECTION RESULTS
  • [04] IRAN REOPENS CONSULATE IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVE
  • [05] AZERBAIJAN ON BRINK OF ENERGY CRISIS?
  • [06] RUSSIAN STATE DUMA DELEGATION VISITS GEORGIA
  • [07] THREE MORE GEORGIAN PRISONERS ESCAPE VIA TUNNEL
  • [08] GEORGIAN REGIONAL PROSECUTOR RESIGNS TO PROTEST GUERRILLA LEADER'S RELEASE
  • [09] KAZAKHSTAN READY TO FULFILL TASHKENT DEFENSE COMMITMENTS
  • [10] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT
  • [11] TURKMENISTAN TO INCREASE GAS SALES TO RUSSIA
  • [12] TURKMEN COTTON CROP BELOW TARGET
  • [13] PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR DEATH SENTENCES IN UZBEK TERRORISM TRIAL

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [14] NATIONALIST PARTIES TAKE EARLY LEAD IN BOSNIAN ELECTIONS
  • [15] TRIBUNAL PROSECUTOR EXPECTS MILOSEVIC ARREST
  • [16] YUGOSLAVIA RECEIVES PLEDGES OF AID, INVESTMENT
  • [17] SERBIAN COURT FINDS 'SPIDER GROUP' NOT GUILTY OF MURDER
  • [18] YUGOSLAV GENERAL SAYS SITUATION NEAR KOSOVA WORSENING
  • [19] CROATIA WANTS SERBIAN WAR CRIMINALS TRIED...
  • [20] ...AND APOLOGY FROM BELGRADE
  • [21] AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES ALBANIA TO FIGHT AGAINST TRAFFICKING
  • [22] OSCE SPOKESMAN IN ALBANIA RECEIVES DEATH THREATS
  • [23] OPINION POLL IN ROMANIA CONFIRMS PDSR, ILIESCU STILL LEADING
  • [24] ...WHILE INTELLECTUALS PLEAD FOR SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FROM COALITION
  • [25] ROMANIAN BANK BESET WITH PROBLEMS
  • [26] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WANTS EARLY GENERAL ELECTIONS
  • [27] INFLATION IN MOLDOVA ALMOST 17 PERCENT THIS YEAR
  • [28] BULGARIA TO PROFIT FROM POWER EXPORTS
  • [29] BULGARIA OPPOSES EARLY CLOSURE OF NUCLEAR REACTORS

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [30] WHO OR WHAT'S BEHIND THE VARTANIAN PHENOMENON?

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] NEW FINANCE MINISTER APPOINTED IN ARMENIA

    President Robert Kocharian on 11 November named parliamentary Budget Committee Chairman Vartan Khachatrian as finance and economy minister to replace Levon Barkhudarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said on 13 November that Barkhudarian resigned voluntarily, but an unnamed Finance and Economy Ministry source told RFE/RL that Barkhudarian was fired by Markarian and Kocharian. On 9 November the latter had warned ministers responsible for mounting wage and pensions arrears that they could be fired if the situation does not improve by the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2000). LF

    [02] ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS ASSESS KARABAKH TALKS

    Speaking in Strasbourg on 11 November, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said that neither mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group nor the periodic talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan has yielded progress toward a solution of the Karabakh conflict, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Guliev said that visits by the Minsk Group co-chairmen over the past two years have been "a mere formality," as those officials prefer to leave it to the two presidents to propose a solution. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, denied that the peace process is deadlocked and said that the meetings between the two presidents have laid a firm foundation for further progress, according to Snark as cited by Groong on 13 November. While Guliev had said bilateral economic cooperation is contingent on a solution to the conflict, Oskanian advocated embarking on such cooperation immediately without preconditions in order to "create a more favorable atmosphere in the region." LF

    [03] AZERBAIJAN RELEASES FURTHER ELECTION RESULTS

    Another two Azerbaijani political parties have surmounted the 6 percent minimum to secure representation in the new legislature under the proportional system, AP reported on 13 November, quoting Central Electoral Commission official Gusein Pashaev. Pashaev said that the Communist Party of Azerbaijan polled 6.7 percent and the Civil Solidarity Party 6.3 percent. Those two parties thus win two seats each and thereby join the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (which won 62.5 per cent of the vote and 17 of the party-list seats) and the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (10.8 percent of the vote and four seats) in the parliament. LF

    [04] IRAN REOPENS CONSULATE IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVE

    Iran has reopened its consulate in Nakhichevan, AFP reported on 13 November. The consulate was closed last week after a group of Azerbaijanis attempted to force their way into the building to protest the continued detention of an Azerbaijani woman in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000). LF

    [05] AZERBAIJAN ON BRINK OF ENERGY CRISIS?

    Supplies of natural gas to Azerbaijan are being held up because the Russian State Customs Committee has not yet granted permission for the gas to transit Russian territory en route from Central Asia, Interfax reported on 13 November, citing the press service of the gas export corporation ITERA. ITERA had concluded an agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR to provide 217 million cubic meters of gas during the last two months of this year to fuel heating and power plants in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). Turan on 3 November quoted an unnamed Azerbaijani energy sector official as saying the country's reserves of heating oil are virtually depleted and that this summer's drought has left water levels so low that the amount of hydro-electric power generated has fallen by 20 percent. The source said that unless Azerbaijan begins receiving natural gas via Russia by mid-November, it will have to cut power supplies by the end of the month. LF

    [06] RUSSIAN STATE DUMA DELEGATION VISITS GEORGIA

    A Russian State Duma delegation headed by Duma Deputy Chairman Vladimir Lukin held talks in Tbilisi on 13 November with Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Agreeing that the present state of bilateral relations is unsatisfactory, the three officials pledged to seek to improve that situation. Lukin also assured his Georgian interlocutors that Russia will comply with its undertaking to close its military bases in Georgia, but he added that how this would be done in the case of the disputed Gudauta base remains to be decided. Lukin also told Menagharishvili that he personally opposes the planned introduction of a visa regime between the two countries beginning next month. In his traditional Monday radio interview, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze similarly said on 13 November that he does not believe that either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov supports that initiative, Interfax reported. In fact, it was Putin who first proposed that initiative one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1999). LF

    [07] THREE MORE GEORGIAN PRISONERS ESCAPE VIA TUNNEL

    Three convicts escaped from a prison in Rustavi on 13 November through a tunnel dug several years earlier and then partly blocked, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Justice Minister Mihail Saakashvili, who was appointed to that post after a similar jail break in early October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 5 October 2000), termed the escape "sabotage" and blamed the prison director, who, he said, has been implicated in bribery and torturing prison inmates. LF

    [08] GEORGIAN REGIONAL PROSECUTOR RESIGNS TO PROTEST GUERRILLA LEADER'S RELEASE

    Zugdidi City Prosecutor Roland Akhalaya submitted his resignation on 9 November to protest the release from detention of Dato Shengelia, leader of the Forest Brothers guerrilla movement, Caucasus Press reported. Shengelia, who is believed to be involved in smuggling, had been detained in mid- September for assaulting a local official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September and 9 November 2000). Akhalaya said that Shengelia's release demonstrates that it is pointless to try to combat corruption in Georgia. In June 2000 Akhalaya had accused Deputy Prosecutor General Tamaz Kogua of corruption, but a commission set up by the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate that accusation failed to produce any substantiating evidence. LF

    [09] KAZAKHSTAN READY TO FULFILL TASHKENT DEFENSE COMMITMENTS

    Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Sat Toqpaqbaev said in Almaty on 13 November that if asked to do so, Kazakhstan will provide military aid to fellow Central Asian states within the parameters of the Tashkent agreement, Interfax reported. He added that it will be decided on a case-by-case basis whether Kazakhstan sends troops or merely provide military equipment. On 9 November, Kazakhstan's parliament had authorized President Nursultan Nazarbaev to send Kazakh troops to fight abroad in compliance with the country's international commitments. Also on 13 November, Kazakhstan's Air Force Commander Mukhtar Altynbaev said that Kazakhstan's air bases will be relocated to reduce the present concentration on a possible threat from the east and strengthen defense capacity in the south of the country, Interfax reported. Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a government session in Astana on 13 November that the government will continue to support enterprises that produce equipment for the country's defense industry, and he noted the importance of cooperation with Russia's military-industrial complex. LF

    [10] KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT

    Addressing a joint session of the two chambers of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 14 November, President Askar Akaev pledged to concentrate during his new presidential term on improving the country's economy and social conditions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev said he has instructed the prosecutor-general to deliver within two weeks a report into widespread allegations of fraud during the 29 October presidential poll. Akaev also said he takes "very seriously" the U.S. House of Representatives 1 November resolution criticizing the Central Asia states' failure to meet commitments to democratization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2000). Akaev said he has invited U.S. congressmen to visit Kyrgyzstan to assess the situation there. He also pledged to extend for one year the moratorium on capital punishment and to establish the post of national ombudsman. LF

    [11] TURKMENISTAN TO INCREASE GAS SALES TO RUSSIA

    Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced on 12 November that his country has reached agreement with Russia's Gazprom to sell 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Russia in 2001, according to the "Wall Street Journal" on 14 November. The price Russia will pay was not disclosed. Turkmenistan has already signed an agreement to supply Ukraine with 30 billion cubic meters of gas next year. According to a Turkmen government press release summarized by Interfax on 13 November, Ashgabat has begun talks with international consulting firms on selling Azerbaijan's, Kazakhstan's, and Ukraine's accumulated debts for gas supplies. Alternatively, Ashgabat may appeal the non-payment of those debts in an international court. Azerbaijan currently owes $59 million for gas supplied in 1993-1994, while Kazakhstan owes $57.9 for gas and electricity supplies in 1994. LF

    [12] TURKMEN COTTON CROP BELOW TARGET

    Speaking on national television on 12 November, President Niyazov castigated regional governors and government officials for a 20 percent shortfall in this year's cotton harvest, Reuters reported. The total yield this year was 1.03 million tons, 20 percent short of last year's figure of 1.3 million tons. Niyazov said that weather conditions were not to blame for the disappointing harvest. He warned that "everyone will be held responsible." LF

    [13] PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR DEATH SENTENCES IN UZBEK TERRORISM TRIAL

    Deputy Prosecutor-General Erkin Kudratov on 13 November asked the country's Supreme Court to hand down the death sentence to 10 out of 12 men on trial on charges of terrorism, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. The 10 include two leading members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and exiled Erk Party leader Mukhammed Solih, who are accused of perpetrating the February 1999 car bombings in Tashkent, in which 16 people were killed. All three are being tried in absentia. Kudratov demanded 20- year sentences for the remaining two defendants, both of whom were present in the dock. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [14] NATIONALIST PARTIES TAKE EARLY LEAD IN BOSNIAN ELECTIONS

    The main Croatian, Serbian, and Muslim nationalist parties are in the lead after the first official results of the 11 November general elections, Reuters reported. The OSCE said that with roughly some 33 percent of the votes counted, the Croatian Democratic Community was ahead in the Muslim- Croatian Federation, the Muslim Party for Democratic Action second, and the multiethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) third. SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija said, however, that the "nationalist parties will not have an absolute majority in the state parliament." In Republika Srpska, the Serbian Democratic Party is winning the vote and its presidential candidate, Mirko Sarovic, is leading the pro-Western Bosnian Serb premier, Milorad Dodik, by some 20 percentage points. The results were viewed as disappointing by Western officials, who had urged voters to turn away from the nationalist parties. James Lyon of the International Crisis Group said: "After five years and five billion dollars we've achieved nothing. We're back at the start." He predicted that international officials in Bosnia- Herzegovina will use administrative measures to control the nationalist parties and stifle their politicians. PB

    [15] TRIBUNAL PROSECUTOR EXPECTS MILOSEVIC ARREST

    The UN war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said on 12 November that she believes former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be arrested and charged with war crimes in the near future, Reuters reported, citing an interview in the Swiss daily "SonntagsBlick." Del Ponte said "Milosevic will be arrested soon." She added that with the setting up of a war crimes office in Belgrade, "the days of Milosevic and other war criminals are numbered." The tribunal is "here for justice and we want to prove we can contribute to peace," she added. PB

    [16] YUGOSLAVIA RECEIVES PLEDGES OF AID, INVESTMENT

    Promising aid and investment, politicians, businessmen, and international officials arrived in Belgrade on 13 November to take part in a two-day meeting of the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, Reuters reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that "humanitarian aid must be concrete and have a human face." Bodo Hombach, the stability pact's coordinator, said he will fight against "bureaucracy and slowness" to get the aid to Belgrade as soon as possible. The meeting coincides with the arrival of Greek Finance Minister Yannos Papandoniou and executives from some 50 U.S. businesses. PB

    [17] SERBIAN COURT FINDS 'SPIDER GROUP' NOT GUILTY OF MURDER

    A Belgrade court on 13 November acquitted five Yugoslavs of murdering two ethnic Albanians and of spying for France, Reuters reported. The five, accused of being members of the so-called Spider Group, were found not guilty owing to a lack of evidence. However, they were found guilty of extortion and illegal weapons' possession and sentenced to a year in jail, although they were released immediately since they have already served more than one year in prison. They were part of a much-publicized arrest last November in which they were accused of being "enemies of the state" who had collaborated with French authorities to threaten the state of Yugoslavia. PB

    [18] YUGOSLAV GENERAL SAYS SITUATION NEAR KOSOVA WORSENING

    Lieutenant-General Vladimir Lazarevic said on 13 November in Belgrade that the security situation in the south of Serbia, near the border with Kosova, has worsened due to increased attacks by ethnic Albanians in the area, AP reported. Lazarevic, the commander of Yugoslav troops in southern Serbia, said five people have been killed and many injured in 30 "armed terrorist incidents" allegedly carried out by ethnic Albanians. He said "the terrorists have been planting anti-tank mines and other explosive devices on the roads." PB

    [19] CROATIA WANTS SERBIAN WAR CRIMINALS TRIED...

    Croatian President Stipe Mesic said on 13 November that a normalization of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade can take place only after Serbian war criminals are brought to justice, dpa reported. Mesic said that the war of succession fought between Yugoslavia and Croatia "was unnecessary and irrational, but it included victims and crimes, and crimes must be answered for. Individualizing guilt will enable [us to put] an end to collective guilt." Mesic added that it "would be best if the domestic judiciary would make efforts to try [persons accused of] war crimes. However, if that is not done, the [war crimes tribunal at The Hague] is the only one to help [in that process]." PB

    [20] ...AND APOLOGY FROM BELGRADE

    Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said on 13 November in Zagreb that he expects Yugoslav leaders attending an EU Balkan Summit in the Croatian capital next week to make a clean break from the policies of former President Milosevic, Reuters reported. Picula said that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic "has already taken a stand toward the Yugoslav army's aggression against Croatia and accepted the responsibility of his own people for this act." Picula added that it "would not be unprecendented if the new Yugoslav president took a similar line." The 24 November summit will bring together representatives of the 15 EU countries, along with leaders from Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, and Albania. PB

    [21] AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES ALBANIA TO FIGHT AGAINST TRAFFICKING

    Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the Austrian foreign minister and current head of the OSCE, called on Tirana to step up its fight against trafficking, particularly human trafficking, dpa reported. Ferrero-Waldner said "the government of Albania should continue to be committed to develop a national strategy on enforcement and interdiction as well as on prevention and protection of the victims." Albania is being increasing used as a transit route by international criminal groups for prostitutes, drugs, and illegal immigrants. Ferrero-Waldner, in Tirana for a conference on human trafficking, met with President Rexhep Meidani, Premier Ilir Meta, and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. PB

    [22] OSCE SPOKESMAN IN ALBANIA RECEIVES DEATH THREATS

    Giovanni Porta, the OSCE spokesman in Albania, has left the country after having his life threatened, Reuters reported on 13 November. A spokesperson for the OSCE said Porta received the threats over the phone during and after local elections held on 1 October. Porta was accused by the opposition Democratic Party of being biased towards the government and that the elections had been manipulated. PB

    [23] OPINION POLL IN ROMANIA CONFIRMS PDSR, ILIESCU STILL LEADING

    An opinion poll conducted early this month shows former President Ion Iliescu and his Party of Social Democracy in Romania's (PDSR) still in the lead two weeks before the 26 November presidential and parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Iliescu is backed by 48 percent of respondents, while the PDSR is favored by 52 percent. National Liberal Party (PNL) candidate Theodor Stolojan would receive some 14 percent support, while Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor saw his backing increase to 14 percent. Support for independent candidate and current Premier Mugur Isarescu has fallen to below10 percent, while other candidates would receive less than 6 percent each. The PNL and PRM would each receive some 13 percent of the votes, while the coalition's junior partner, the Romanian Democratic Convention 2000, would fail to surpass the 8 percent threshold for alliances. ZsM

    [24] ...WHILE INTELLECTUALS PLEAD FOR SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FROM COALITION

    Some 100 Romanian intellectuals published an open letter on 13 November calling on presidential candidates from the ruling coalition parties to agree on a single "strong" candidate able to defeat Iliescu, Romanian media reported. In order to facilitate support for a single candidate for the runoff, the intellectuals asked Isarescu, Stolojan, Democratic Party chairman Petre Roman, and Democratic Federation of Hungarians Senator Gyorgy Frunda to stop making accusations. The signatories are worried that there is a risk of returning to a single-party system and that damage will be done to Romania's EU and NATO accession bids if one party wins the elections with a large majority. According to the BBC's Romanian Service, all the candidates have refused to step down in favor of a joint candidate. ZsM

    [25] ROMANIAN BANK BESET WITH PROBLEMS

    Depositors on 10 November made a run on the Turkish-Romanian Bank (BTR) after rumors that the bank has liquidity problems, Romanian media reported. On 13 November the bank, in which the Turkish Bayindir group is a majority stakeholder, resumed limited withdrawals to clients. Premier Mugur Isarescu on 10 November telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Bulent Ecevit, to discuss the matter, stating that the BTR has problems receiving funds from deposits in foreign banks. Bucharest-based "Ziarul Financiar" reported on 13 November that the bank's problems may stem from difficulties experienced by Bayindir in Turkey. However, Bayindir issued a statement in Istanbul saying that the BTR is "on its feet" and the management is "in talks" with both the Romanian and Turkish governments on ways to stop panic among account-holders. ZsM

    [26] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WANTS EARLY GENERAL ELECTIONS

    Petru Lucinschi called on the parliament on 13 November to announce early general elections and dissolve itself, AP Flux reported on 13 November, quoting presidential spokesman Anatol Golea. Lucinschi's statement comes ahead of presidential elections scheduled for the parliament on 1 December. The parliament earlier this year voted to amend the constitution and transform Moldova into a parliamentary republic where deputies elect the country's president. Lucinschi has announced he will not stand for re- election. ET

    [27] INFLATION IN MOLDOVA ALMOST 17 PERCENT THIS YEAR

    The inflation rate in Moldova during the first 10 months of the year was 16.7 percent, AP Flux reported on 13 November, citing the Moldovan statistics department. Inflation was 1.1 percent lower compared with the same period last year. In October, inflation was 1 percent, down 0.4 percent compared with September. ET

    [28] BULGARIA TO PROFIT FROM POWER EXPORTS

    Premier Ivan Kostov said on 13 November that Bulgaria expects to receive more than $105 million in electricity exports in 2000, Reuters reported. State National Electricity Company Director Danail Tafrov said exports are expected to total six billion kilowatt hours, mainly going to Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Officials said profits will go towards modernizing its power plants. PB

    [29] BULGARIA OPPOSES EARLY CLOSURE OF NUCLEAR REACTORS

    Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov said after a cabinet meeting on 13 November that two reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant may not be closed until after the date the EU is pushing for, dpa reported. Kostov said that "positions differ" between Brussels and Sofia. The EU Commission had requested that blocks three and four at Kozloduy be shut down by 2006, while Kostov is talking about 2010. The EU was to provide a $210 million loan to Sofia to help it modernize the plant, but Kozloduy plant director Anton Ivanov said the EU has yet to make any disbursements of such a loan. Some observers see the government's talk of delaying the closing of Kozloduy as leverage against the EU in Sofia's bid to have visa restrictions against Bulgarians lifted by Brussels. PB

    [C] END NOTE

    [30] WHO OR WHAT'S BEHIND THE VARTANIAN PHENOMENON?

    By Liz Fuller

    On 30 October, Armenian business magnate and chairman of the 21st Century Association Arkadii Vartanian was arrested at his home in Yerevan, hours after organizing a demonstration by 10,000 people, some of whom then staged an unsanctioned march to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. Vartanian, who has Russian citizenship, was remanded in custody for 10 days of administrative arrest. He has since been charged with calling for the violent overthrow of the Armenian leadership, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment.

    Vartanian's Yerevan rally was the culmination of a series of such meetings throughout Armenia since late summer to demand the resignation of the Armenian leadership, which Vartanian has accused of being incapable of resolving the country's social and economic problems. Other left-wing political figures, including Union of Socialist Forces leader Ashot Manucharian and National Unity Party chairman Artashes Geghamian, have similarly sought to mobilize the "protest" vote to exert pressure on the present leadership but have proved less successful in doing so than Vartanian. Some observers have suggested that the latter has paid participants in his demonstrations; certainly many of those who gathered in Yerevan on 30 October were bussed into the capital from the provinces.

    On several occasions before the 30 October Yerevan demonstration, Vartanian had publicly declared his intention to mobilize up to 70,000 people on that day and pressure the present Armenian leadership to resign. If that attempt failed, he said, he would try to persuade the parliament to begin impeachment proceedings against President Kocharian. Vartanian made no secret of the fact that he believes he could govern the country and resolve social and economic problems more efficiently than the present leadership. But he also made clear that "we are not resorting to revolution and terror."

    The Armenian authorities, however, clearly preferred not to take chances. When the rally participants marched on the presidential palace on 30 October, they found police with water cannons waiting for them. According to one Western journalist, the majority of the rally participants were pensioners, and in the course of the three-hour rally that proceeded the march, security forces would have had ample opportunity to determine that the number of participants was way below the 70,000 Vartanian had hoped for. It thus seems implausible to claim that the march posed a genuine security threat.

    True, the water cannons were not used, and the demonstrators eventually dispersed without violence. But later that night, police broke down the doors of Vartanian's Yerevan home and took both him and his lawyer Karo Karapetian into custody. At least 21 other people were subsequently detained in connection with the day's events.

    Opinions vary as to whether Vartanian was acting within the confines of the law and why the Armenian leadership overreacted. Several minor left- wing political parties (including Manucharian's Union of Socialist Forces), the Armenian Helsinki Committee, and the Union of Millionaires of Armenia condemned Vartanian's arrest as illegal and political persecution.

    But the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun, which supports the president, and a parliament deputy from the pro-government Orinats yerkir (Law-Based Country) faction both made the point that while Vartanian may have voiced anger and resentment shared by much of the population, he had no right to try to channel those emotions into an apparent bid to overthrow the president and seize power himself. Even parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian admitted on 4 November that the demonstrations convened by Vartanian and others suggest that the present leadership has lost touch with the population at large.

    Most press comment assessed the authorities' retaliation against Vartanian as both incommensurate and counter-productive, arguing that his arrest may bestow on him martyr status.

    In an interview aired on Armenian National Television on 2 November, Kocharian expressed understanding for the frustrations of the long- suffering and increasingly alienated population. "I do understand that when salaries, benefits, pensions are not paid on time and when there are no jobs, a considerable part of the population...is unhappy," Kocharian said. He urged his audience to "be patient just a little longer and everything will be all right." Kocharian assured them that Armenia is on the threshold of "very serious economic growth," which will translate into a marked improvement in living standards no later than April-May 2001. He predicted the creation of 40,000 new jobs as a result of investment by the World Bank and by U.S. billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation in infrastructure projects.

    Referring to Vartanian, Kocharian suggested that he may have been acting on behalf of unspecified "forces that do not want to see a stable, developed and economically strong Armenia that is able to pursue an independent foreign policy." Predictably, given that Vartanian is a Russian citizen and has boasted of his connections with influential political and economic figures in Russia, local observers interpreted Kocharian's remark as an allusion to Russia. Equally predictably, Russian Ambassador Anatolii Dryukov has denied that any Russian political faction or state structure is backing Vartanian.

    Such disclaimers are unlikely to convince many people, given Moscow's perceived ongoing efforts to effect a rapprochement with Azerbaijan. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Baku later this month and Georgia some time in December. It is therefore conceivable that the Armenian authorities' apparent over-reaction to Vartanian's activities were meant not as a warning to him or other opposition Armenian politicians but rather as a message to Moscow not to meddle in Armenian domestic politics.

    14-11-00


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


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