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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 242, 99-12-15

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. 242, 15 December 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN HOSTAGE-TAKER DIES
  • [02] ARMENIAN RULING COALITION AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENTIAL
  • [03] ...AS SARKISIAN SAYS CRITICISM WAS ORCHESTRATED
  • [04] OSCE MEDIATORS VISIT STEPANAKERT...
  • [05] ...AND BAKU
  • [06] RUSSIA RESUMES GAS SUPPLIES TO GEORGIA
  • [07] KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS CALLS FOR BAIKONUR CLOSURE
  • [08] KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTIES UNDER PRESSURE
  • [09] SIX PARTIES REGISTERED TO CONTEST TAJIK PARLIAMENTARY POLL

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [10] KOSOVA POWER-SHARING GROUP FORMED
  • [11] NATO MINISTERS DISCUSS KOSOVA
  • [12] YUGOSLAV TROOPS ON ALERT AT MONTENEGRIN AIRPORT
  • [13] GREECE DENIES REPORTS OF MILOSEVIC ASYLUM OFFER
  • [14] UN: SERBIAN FOOD SITUATION LIKE NORTH KOREA
  • [15] EU HEATING OIL TRUCKS REACH SERBIAN BORDER
  • [16] PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN OPENS IN CROATIA
  • [17] BUDISA TO BE CROATIAN OPPOSITION'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?
  • [18] CROATIAN NEWS AGENCY HEAD QUITS OVER TUDJMAN SCOOP
  • [19] MACEDONIA, GREECE SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT
  • [20] ROMANIA'S VASILE SAYS HE'LL RETURN TO SENATE...
  • [21] ...PRESIDENT EXPLAINS DECISION...
  • [22] ...WHILE OPPOSITION DEMANDS EARLY ELECTIONS
  • [23] MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS WANT SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS
  • [24] CHISINAU SIGNS GAS SUPPLY ACCORD
  • [25] BULGARIAN PREMIER HOLDING TALKS ON CABINET RESHUFFLE
  • [26] BULGARIA DISMISSES ALLEGATIONS OF ARMS SALES

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [27] ROMANIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN HOSTAGE-TAKER DIES

    Artem Minasian, the 17 year old

    student who briefly took a group of Pedagogical Institute

    students hostage in Yerevan on 9 December, died in hospital

    on 14 December of gunshot wounds received when police

    overpowered him and freed his hostages, Noyan Tapan reported

    (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1999). Two of Minasian's

    associates have been arrested on suspicion of complicity in

    the hostage-taking. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN RULING COALITION AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENTIAL

    REPUBLIC...

    Tigran Torosian, who is deputy chairman of the

    Republican Party, one of the partners in the majority

    Miasnutiun parliamentary bloc, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau

    on 14 December that the party supports the concept of a

    presidential republic, which he said provides for "a stronger

    and more disciplined executive." Commentators had suggested

    that Miasnutiun might seek to take advantage of the ongoing

    process of constitutional reform to abolish the position of

    president. Torosian also denied that the possibilities for

    cooperation between Miasnutiun and President Robert Kocharian

    are exhausted. Earlier this month, leading members of the

    Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh war, of which the

    Republican Party is the political arm, called for Kocharian's

    resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 1999).

    LF

    [03] ...AS SARKISIAN SAYS CRITICISM WAS ORCHESTRATED

    Former

    Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who

    is one of Kocharian's closest associate, told journalists in

    Yerevan on 13 December that he believes the criticism of

    Kocharian voiced at the Yerkrapah congress on 4 December does

    not reflect the opinion of rank and file Yerkrapah members

    but originated with unnamed individuals close to the former

    military commanders, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau

    reported. Sarkisian denied that Kocharian plans to resign. He

    also denied being part of Kocharian's support base, affirming

    that "the president's power base is the constitution." LF

    [04] OSCE MEDIATORS VISIT STEPANAKERT...

    The French, Russian and

    U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group charged with

    mediating a settlement of the Karabakh conflict held talks

    with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh

    Republic in Stepanakert on 12 December, Noyan Tapan reported.

    In a clear allusion to the ongoing series of talks between

    the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the resolution

    adopted at last month's OSCE summit in Istanbul, the

    unrecognized republic's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, warned

    that the conflict cannot be resolved without taking the

    enclave's interests into account. Armenpress on 14 December

    quoted Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian as saying

    that the Minsk Group's new peace proposal would differ only

    slightly from that rejected last year by Azerbaijan and that

    the formula "common state," to which Baku objected, will

    probably be changed the new draft. LF

    [05] ...AND BAKU

    The Minsk Group co-chairmen then traveled to

    Baku where they held talks on 14 December with Azerbaijan's

    President Heidar Aliev, Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, and

    the head of the former Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-

    Karabakh, Nizami Bahmanov. Reuters quoted U.S. co-chair Carey

    Cavanaugh as saying that the objective of the visit was "to

    begin work on a new [draft peace] proposal and to look more

    intensively at the need for economic reconstruction in the

    region." Cavanaugh ruled out a recurrence of the hiatus in

    the OSCE mediation since Azerbaijan rejected the Minsk

    Group's most recent draft peace plan late last year. Aliev

    expressed satisfaction that the co-chairmen are ready to

    draft a new peace plan. Guliev affirmed Azerbaijan's

    willingness to resume peace talks within the Minsk Group

    framework, saying that direct talks between Aliev and

    Kocharian could not substitute for that mediation. LF

    [06] RUSSIA RESUMES GAS SUPPLIES TO GEORGIA

    Georgia's newly

    appointed Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava on 13 December

    reached agreement with the Russian company ITERA on the

    resumption of Russian gas supplies and the rescheduling of

    Georgia's $60 million debt for previous gas deliveries,

    Caucasus Press and Interfax reported the following day (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 1999). Also on 13 December,

    Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze called for a halt to

    press speculation that ITERA has been allowed to buy

    strategic enterprises in Georgia in compensation for

    Georgia's debts to the company. Meanwhile Mikhail

    Saakashvili, who heads the majority Union of Citizens of

    Georgia parliamentary faction, on 10 December challenged

    journalists to produce evidence to substantiate accusations

    that he has dubious business contacts with ITERA. National

    Democratic Party chairwoman Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia

    leveled those accusations against Saakashvili, a Shevardnadze

    protege, last week. LF

    [07] KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS CALLS FOR BAIKONUR CLOSURE

    Speaking at a

    press conference in Almaty on 14 December, Kazakhstan Space

    Agency chairman Meirbek Moldabekov called for an "objective"

    evaluation of the risks inherent in Russia's continued use of

    the Baikonur cosmodrome, ITAR-TASS reported. He rejected

    calls for the facility's immediate closure, but added that

    Russia might decide anyway to abandon it, possibly as soon as

    2005. Moldabekov also said that Russia has already paid $50

    million in rent for the cosmodrome for 1999 and will supply

    goods worth an additional $65 million before the end of the

    year. Also on 14 December, Kazakhstan National Space Agency

    Deputy Chairman Nurlan Utembaev told Reuters that Russia has

    dropped its previous resistance to expanding Kazakhstan's

    role in commercial space launches from Baikonur. He said

    Russia and Kazakhstan will hold talks on that issue next

    month. LF

    [08] KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTIES UNDER PRESSURE

    The Ar-Namys

    party's office in the southern town of Osh was closed down by

    tax police on 13 December, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported

    the following day. The office head Alisher Beishenaliev was

    earlier detained on suspicion of tax evasion. Ar-Namys was

    founded earlier this year and is chaired by former Bishkek

    Mayor Feliks Kulov. On 14 December, a district court in

    Bishkek began hearing an appeal against the Kyrgyz Justice

    Ministry by the El (Bei-Beshara) Party against the ministry's

    recommendation to the Central Electoral Commission to bar the

    party from participating in the 20 February parliamentary

    elections under the party-list system. El (Bei-Beshara)

    decided at a congress in Bishkek on 11 December to nominate

    46 candidates to contest seats in both parliamentary chambers

    in single-mandate constituencies. LF

    [09] SIX PARTIES REGISTERED TO CONTEST TAJIK PARLIAMENTARY POLL

    Six political parties have been registered to participate in

    the 27 February elections to the lower chamber of the

    parliament and in local elections, Asia Plus-Blitz reported

    on 15 December. They are the People's Democratic Party, the

    Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Democratic Party

    (Almaty platform), the Adolatkhoh Party and the Islamic

    Renaissance Party. They may propose both party lists and

    candidates in single-mandate constituencies. The Social

    Democratic Party Adolat Va Tarakkiyot was not registered by

    the Ministry of Justice. Several other opposition parties

    have also been barred from contesting the poll (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 10 December 1999). LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [10] KOSOVA POWER-SHARING GROUP FORMED

    Representatives of the UN

    and local ethnic Albanians signed an agreement in Prishtina

    on 15 December setting up a power-sharing council. The first

    meeting of the Interim Administrative Council is expected

    later the same day, Reuters reported. No Serbs attended the

    signing ceremony, and it is unclear whether they will come to

    the first council meeting. The new body will consist of three

    Albanians--namely, key leaders Hashim Thaci, Rexhep Qosja,

    and Ibrahim Rugova--one Serb, and four members of the UN

    mission to the troubled province (UNMIK). The UN's Bernard

    Kouchner will head the council and have a veto right over its

    decisions. In practice, Kosova has been an international

    protectorate for the past six months following the withdrawal

    of Serbian forces. Its final political status has yet to be

    determined. Many observers argue that it is important to

    introduce self-government as soon as circumstances permit

    lest the local population develop a "culture of dependency"

    on foreigners, as has happened to some extent in Bosnia-

    Herzegovina in recent years. PM

    [11] NATO MINISTERS DISCUSS KOSOVA

    Foreign ministers of the

    Atlantic alliance began a two-day meeting in Brussels on 15

    December, which will be their last such gathering in 1999.

    The crisis in Chechnya tops their agenda, but the ministers

    will also discuss the lessons to be learned from the past six

    months of international administration in Kosova. UNMIK is

    the civilian authority, while NATO's KFOR provides security.

    PM

    [12] YUGOSLAV TROOPS ON ALERT AT MONTENEGRIN AIRPORT

    General

    Spasoje Smiljanic, who is the commander of the Yugoslav air

    force, said on 14 December that Yugoslav army troops at

    Podgorica airport remain on a "heightened state of alert,"

    Belgrade's "Danas" reported. He stressed that the troops

    "will respond adequately and firmly" to any threat. He made

    clear that the military will not tolerate attempts by the

    Montenegrin police to build a helicopter hangar at the

    airport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 1999). PM

    [13] GREECE DENIES REPORTS OF MILOSEVIC ASYLUM OFFER

    Prime

    Minister Kostas Simitis told a press conference in Athens on

    14 December that his government is "not interested" in the

    political future of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic,

    Montenegrin Television reported. Simitis was responding to

    unspecified media reports that Greece has offered the

    indicted war criminal asylum if he gives up power and leaves

    Serbia. PM

    [14] UN: SERBIAN FOOD SITUATION LIKE NORTH KOREA

    Robert Hauser,

    who heads the Belgrade office of the UN's World Food Program,

    said on 14 December that the food supply situation in Serbia

    is comparable to that in North Korea, the BBC reported.

    Hauser said that his agency needs $92.5 million in the year

    2000 to help feed refugees and other needy people. His agency

    currently provides assistance to 321,000 people, but he said

    that the number could rise to 895,000, or 10 percent of the

    population, "Danas" reported. Hauser stressed that the

    situation is "serious and getting worse every day." Since

    1991, Serbia has been flooded with tens of thousands of

    refugees following Milosevic's defeats in Croatia, Bosnia,

    and Kosova. The government provides most of them with little,

    if any, assistance. Most Serbian economic infrastructure is

    antiquated, and the economy is organized along unreformed

    communist lines. PM

    [15] EU HEATING OIL TRUCKS REACH SERBIAN BORDER

    Four trucks

    containing heating oil for Nis and Pirot reached the

    Macedonian border with Serbia on 14 December. It is unclear

    when customs authorities will allow the trucks to proceed

    (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). PM

    [16] PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN OPENS IN CROATIA

    Campaigning

    for the 3 January elections officially began on 14 December.

    Officials of the government election commission said that a

    total of 4,006 candidates have registered on 284 lists.

    Participating are 55 political parties, 15 coalitions, 20

    "independent lists," and 30 candidates representing ethnic

    minorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. On 15

    December, "Jutarnji list" published an opinion poll according

    to which the death of President Franjo Tudjman has had little

    or no effect on the popularity of his Croatian Democratic

    Community (HDZ). The poll gives the opposition a comfortable

    lead in the parliamentary vote. PM

    [17] BUDISA TO BE CROATIAN OPPOSITION'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?

    Social Democratic leader Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 14

    December that he expects that Social Liberal leader Drazen

    Budisa will be the presidential candidate of the opposition

    coalition. Budisa noted that if he runs for that office, he

    will seek to reduce its powers and help transform Croatia

    into a "parliamentary democracy." Public opinion polls

    suggest that Racan is the strongest opposition candidate for

    the presidency. Racan has made it clear, however, that he is

    more interested in the office of prime minister. The

    governing HDZ is widely expected to nominate moderate Foreign

    Minister Mate Granic as its presidential candidate (see

    "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). No date has been set for

    the presidential election. "Vecernji list" published an

    opinion poll on 15 December that suggested Granic will easily

    defeat any opponent. PM

    [18] CROATIAN NEWS AGENCY HEAD QUITS OVER TUDJMAN SCOOP

    Ljubomir

    Antic resigned as head of the state-run Hina news agency on

    14 December to protest what he called the authorities'

    failure to inform the agency promptly of Tudjman's death on

    10 December. In a letter to Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa,

    Hina's chief editor Benjamin Tolic noted that state-run

    television ran the story 40 minutes before the authorities

    informed Hina of Tudjman's death. Antic and Tolic argued that

    Hina's credibility suffered in the process. PM

    [19] MACEDONIA, GREECE SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT

    The defense

    ministers of the two Balkan neighbors signed a military

    cooperation agreement in Skopje on 14 December. Greek

    officials presented their Macedonian counterparts with 10

    armored personnel carriers and five utility vehicles, AP

    reported. Macedonia belongs to NATO's Partnership for Peace

    program. Its fledgling military receives assistance from

    several countries, including Germany and Bulgaria. PM

    [20] ROMANIA'S VASILE SAYS HE'LL RETURN TO SENATE...

    Radu Vasile

    on 14 December said that "in the national interest" he will

    no longer attempt to hold on to the post of prime minister

    but stressed he will not resign from the post. President Emil

    Constantinescu dismissed Vasile from the post on 13 December,

    but the prime minister refuses to leave saying only the

    parliament has the power to dismiss him (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 14 December 1999). Vasile even suggested that he

    would take the issue to the Constitutional Court. But on 15

    December, Vasile's aide Sorin Lepsa announced that Vasile

    will return to the Senate and wait for the parliament to deal

    with the situation. Lepsa also said the embattled politician

    considers his dismissal "unconstitutional" and cannot

    "continue to fight under unconstitutional circumstances."

    Meanwhile, National Peasant Party Christian Democratic

    spokesman Remus Opris on 14 December announced that the party

    leadership has suspended Vasile from leadership positions in

    the party and banned him from running for such offices for

    two years, Romanian Radio reported (see also "End Note"

    below). VG

    [21] ...PRESIDENT EXPLAINS DECISION...

    Presidential spokesman

    Rasvan Popescu on 14 December said the president was

    justified in dismissing Vasile because the government was

    paralyzed after the resignation of the majority of its

    ministers. Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica on 14 December

    also said the decision could be justified constitutionally

    because it would be impossible for the government to function

    after the majority of its ministers resigned, Mediafax

    reported. VG

    [22] ...WHILE OPPOSITION DEMANDS EARLY ELECTIONS

    The chairman of

    the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Ion

    Iliescu, said on 14 December that his party will boycott the

    parliament until the country's government crisis is resolved

    in a "constitutional manner." Iliescu also called for early

    elections. Vasile, meanwhile, has said he supports the idea

    of holding an early ballot. Meanwhile, on 15 December,

    Constantinescu was expected to hold talks with

    representatives of the governing coalition parties as well as

    the opposition on the selection of a new prime minister,

    Reuters reported. The previous day, Constantinescu appointed

    Labor and Social Affairs Minister Alexandru Athanasiu to

    serve as interim prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14

    December 1999). VG

    [23] MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS WANT SIMULTANEOUS ELECTIONS

    The

    Communists are preparing to submit a bill to the parliament

    that would require parliamentary and presidential elections

    to be held simultaneously, BASA-Press reported on 14

    December. Communist member Victor Stepaniuc said the measure

    is necessary to "avoid political crises such as the one

    Moldova is facing now." In other news, President Petru

    Lucinschi on 14 December thanked outgoing Russian Ambassador

    to Moldova Aleksandr Papkin for his efforts to improve

    Russian-Moldovan ties and to resolve the Transdniester

    conflict, BASA-Press reported. Also a special internal

    department of the Interior Ministry is investigating former

    Finance Minister Valeriu Chitan for alleged financial

    malpractice when he was minister in 1994-1995, BASA-Press

    reported on 14 December. Chitan, who is now chairman of the

    Moldovan Association of Banks, described the investigation as

    "political blackmail." VG

    [24] CHISINAU SIGNS GAS SUPPLY ACCORD

    Chisinau Mayor Serafim

    Urecheanu said the city has signed contracts with

    "intermediary firms" to provide gas to the capital if Gazprom

    cuts off supplies, but he declined to reveal the names of

    those firms. Chisinau engineering department head Alexandr

    Ftomovici said the firms can supply the city only if Gazprom

    allows them to use its pipelines. Gazprom has warned Moldova

    that it will cut off gas supplies if it does not pay its

    debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 1999). VG

    [25] BULGARIAN PREMIER HOLDING TALKS ON CABINET RESHUFFLE

    Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 13 December began

    negotiations with the coalition partners of the United

    Democratic Forces on a cabinet reshuffle, according to a 14

    December report in " Demokratsiya" cited by the BBC. The

    paper noted that the prime minister might create a deputy

    prime ministerial position responsible for European

    integration. "Novinar" cited anonymous sources as saying that

    the position might be given to Foreign Minister Nadezhda

    Mikhaylova. Meanwhile, President Petar Stoyanov on 14

    December called for all political parties to cooperate on the

    goal of achieving European integration, AP reported. He said

    the process is likely to take 10 years, during which time the

    government will probably change hands. "It is very important

    that those who take over continue and reaffirm the successes

    of their predecessors," he said. VG

    [26] BULGARIA DISMISSES ALLEGATIONS OF ARMS SALES

    Bulgarian Trade

    Minister Valentin Vasilev on 14 December dismissed

    allegations by Human Rights Watch that the country violated

    its international commitments not to sell weapons to various

    countries, AP reported. The human rights organization said

    Bulgaria sold tanks and other weapons to Uganda and the

    warring states of Ethiopia and Eritrea last year. Deputy

    Trade Minister Hristo Mihailovski said Bulgaria did not sell

    any weapons to Uganda and legally exported weapons to

    Ethiopia and Eritrea until March of last year, when an

    international arms embargo was imposed on the two countries.

    VG


    [C] END NOTE

    [27] ROMANIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS

    By Michael Shafir

    There are times when "how" is clearly more important

    than "why." The political assassination of Romanian communist

    dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on 25 December 1989, following a

    mock trial that made some Stalinist nostalgics sigh as fond

    memories flooded back, was such a case. That event marred for

    ever the "birth certificate" of Romania's new democracy, for

    how can a state based on the rule of law come into being

    through such a mockery of that concept? The trial also

    created a martyr out of a villain, and the political price

    for that unwarranted metamorphosis of the former dictator has

    perhaps not yet been paid in full.

    Radu Vasile is no Ceausescu, of course. There is no

    reason to overdramatize his dismissal as prime minister, but

    his ouster has taken place with such flagrant disregard of

    Romania's constitution that the implications of this might

    secure him a place in history that otherwise might have been

    undeserved.

    The Romanian Constitution does not give the president

    the prerogative to dismiss the prime minister. The president

    appoints the premier after consultations with political

    parties, but the premier is invested by the parliament and

    can be dismissed only by a no confidence vote in the

    legislature The basic document also stipulates that the head

    of state may recall the premier if that person becomes

    "incapacitated." The state of health of the premier, and

    nothing else, is obviously meant by that choice of wording.

    Vasile's dismissal, however, took place by choosing to

    interpret "incapacitated" from a political, rather than a

    medical, perspective. Since it was clear that the premier

    would refuse to tender his resignation willingly--which is

    the other way a prime minister's term can be ended, according

    to the constitution--and since his party, the National

    Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), did not want to

    propose a no confidence motion in its own premier, there

    emerged a cabal whose main architects were PNTCD chairman Ion

    Diaconescu and President Emil Constantinescu. They

    "ingeniously" decided that cabinet ministers would tender

    their resignation and once a majority of them did so, Vasile

    would be deemed "incapacitated" to run his own team.

    The result of that cabal is political chaos. How else

    can a situation be described in which a country has two

    premiers--in this case, Vasile and interim Premier Alexandru

    Athanasiu? After putting up public resistance, Vasile on 14

    December announced he is returning to the Senate bench. But

    he emphasized that he is not resigning. Hence, whoever the

    PNTCD designates as his successor cannot be lawfully invested

    by the parliament.

    Moreover, the outgoing coalition may lack the necessary

    majority to push through its candidate for premier. Before

    making his announcement on 14 December, Vasile said a group

    of his supporters, numbering at least 23 members of

    parliament, has been officially formed. Calling itself the

    Popular Initiative Group, this group is clearly the nucleus

    of a new political formation, since "popular" is the name

    that some Christian Democratic parties in the West assume,

    including the Christian Democratic parliamentary group in the

    European Parliament.

    Until this "how" has been satisfactorily resolved, the

    "why" will count for little or not at all. There were clear

    conflicts both between Vasile and the president and between

    him and the leadership of his party. Vasile resented

    interference by the presidency in government's affairs. That

    was an "open secret," as open as his own undiplomatic, even

    unstatesman-like rebukes of President Constantinescu. He

    treated peremptorily members of his cabinet, who would then

    run to the presidency with complaints.

    More important, and equally undiplomatic, Vasile had

    made public his desire to replace the octogenarian Diaconescu

    as head of the PNTCD and has organized his own "Brasov

    faction" in the party to advance that objective. True, the

    PNTCD is split, and the "gerontocracy problem" (the party is

    ruled by a troika of veterans all in their 80s) is a genuine

    one. But Vasile's manner of handling Diaconescu made it

    easier for his rivals --most of whom belong to the younger

    generation in the party--to plot against him.

    Moreover, 2000 is election year in Romania, and the

    PNTCD has an unenviable record of government performance that

    in itself invites Vasile's ouster in what might be a last-

    minute image-mending bid. And then there is Constantinescu's

    own "image problem": the president has often been reproached

    for being "too weak" but may, however, have chosen the wrong

    way to prove himself "strong" since his cabal against Vasile

    may backfire.

    All these problems were long known. As Diaconescu

    admitted on 14 December, the task of tackling those problems

    had been postponed until after the Helsinki summit to avoid

    presenting an image of political instability. Such an image,

    however, is now being projected, as demonstrated by the IMF's

    announcement the same day that because of the instability in

    Romania, it is postponing taking a decision on whether to

    release the second tranche of a loan approved earlier this

    year. Indeed, if there was one way to prove to the EU that

    Romania is facing not only economic difficulties but also

    political problems, this was doubtless the way to do it.

    15-12-99


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


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