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Newsline - February 8, 2000




FSB CLAIMS BABITSKII IS ALIVE

Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev told Interfax on 7 February that missing RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii is alive but that he does not know his whereabouts. Patrushev did not elaborate. A spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's office said the same day that on the basis of new information, that office is summoning Babitskii for questioning and will issue a warrant for his arrest if he does not appear voluntarily. In an interview published on 7 February in the Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia," Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov again said the Chechen side has no knowledge of Babitskii. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 7 February in Moscow that he does not know who gave the orders for Babitskii's release, adding that it could not have taken place without the consent of the Prosecutor-General's Office, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry told Interfax on 4 February that the army was not involved either in Babitskii's detention or in his alleged handover to unidentified men. LF

MASKHADOV VOWS TO RETAKE GROZNY

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 6 February, Maskhadov said that Russian claims that the Chechens incurred massive casualties during last week's withdrawal from Grozny are untrue. He said the city has no strategic value, and his forces will retake it at some unspecified point in the future. Maskhadov also rejected as "lies and politics" Russian media reports that hundreds of mercenaries, including many from Muslim countries, are fighting on the Chechen side. He estimated the Chechens' current military strength in the field at some 10,000. But Maskhadov conceded that by comparison with the 1994-1996 war, casualties on both sides are far heavier. He estimated that 1,500-2,000 Chechens and 7,000-8,000 Russians have been killed. Russian military officials said on 4 February that 882 Russian servicemen have been killed in Chechnya since October. LF

FIGHTING CONTINUES IN SOUTHERN CHECHNYA

Federal forces and Chechen fighters who withdrew from the capital battled for the third consecutive day in the villages of Shaami-Yurt and Katyr-Yurt southeast of Grozny on 8 February, AP reported, quoting Russian military officials. Reuters, citing a Chechen Website, reported that fierce fighting is also continuing near the village of Duba-Yurt, which controls the entrance to the Argun gorge. Russian officials claimed that the Chechens have suffered losses of 300-450 men in recent days. LF

PUTIN'S COMPETITORS RACE TO COLLECT SIGNATURES...

More than 500,000 signatures supporting the candidacy of acting President Vladimir Putin were submitted to the Central Election Commission on 7 February. Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 8 February that he expects Putin to be officially registered on 12 February. According to Russian Public Television, Putin's initiative group is the third to submit signatures for its candidate. Signatures have also been submitted for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin. Interfax-Eurasia reported the same day that 1.3 million signatures have been gathered in support of Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev's candidacy, while by the end of last week supporters of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii had gathered only 400,000 signatures of the 500,000 needed, "Vremya MN" reported on 4 February. However, Yabloko is still expected to meet the 13 February deadline. Supporters of Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii have gathered 600,000 signatures, according to "Vremya MN." JAC

...AS COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER BECOMES FIRST REGISTERED CANDIDATE

The Central Election Commission on 8 February announced that it has officially registered Communist Party leader Zyuganov as a presidential candidate following verification of the signatures submitted in support of his candidacy. According to the documents submitted to the commission, Zyuganov has two apartments, including one in the city of Kemerovo, and earned 495,443 rubles ($17,227) in 1998-1999. He also reported having two bank accounts, one with 16,539 rubles in Sberbank and the other with 2,058 rubles in Kuzbasssotsbank, according to ITAR-TASS. Zyuganov's wife, Nadezhda, reportedly has a bank account containing 14,947 rubles. JAC

PUTIN: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY?

"Novoe vremya" reported in its February issue (no. 5) that acting President Putin remains a mystery for both Russian and foreign political analysts. It argues that Putin is best understood not in terms of his professional biography since he was a "nobody" in the KGB. Rather, Putin's intellectual framework is closest to former Soviet leader Yurii Andropov. The publication cites the striking similarity between an article by Andropov in the journal "Kommunist" near the "beginning of his rule" and Putin's more recent explanation of the "credo proposed to Russia by the pro-Kremlin movement Unity." Andropov's article appealed for the Soviet people "to try to look around and try to understand where we are," while Putin suggested that Unity's basic aim is to achieve Russia's "national revival." JAC

DUMA MINORITY GROUPS REACH AGREEMENT ON SOME LEGISLATIVE GOALS

The factions of Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and Yabloko submitted to the State Duma on 7 February a joint package of draft laws. Included in the package are bills abolishing deputies' immunity from criminal prosecution, providing alternative military service, simplifying the tax system, and lowering taxes. Speaking to reporters, Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko noted that "rumors of our death [as a coalition] were greatly exaggerated." The three factions also said that they are prepared to support START II ratification. SPS deputy faction leader Viktor Pokhmelkin told reporters on 7 February that while SPS had accepted the chairmanship of the Legislation Committee, SPS and its allies, Yabloko and the OVR, continue to refuse to accept any of the deputy speaker posts. JAC

...BUT CONTINUE TO DIFFER ON LAND CODE

Pokhmelkin added that the three groups could not forge a common agreement on the Land Code, but the SPS has submitted its own version of the law. He said that the SPS's draft takes into consideration the experience of some regions, such as the Republic of Tatarstan and Samara and Perm Oblasts, that have introduced their own land laws. OVR's deputy faction head Valerii Grebennikov said that some members of his faction will vote against the land law. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta" reported in its 3-6 February issue that contrary to widespread expectations, new Duma deputy Boris Berezovskii continues to attend every Duma session. JAC

MOSCOW ON HEIGHTENED SECURITY ALERT

An explosion in an apartment building in Khabarovsk on 8 February had left 12 people dead, including two children, as of late morning Moscow time, Interfax reported. The Federal Security Service directorate in the krai has set up a group to investigate the possible causes of the explosion. The two main theories are a gas leak or terrorism; officials at the Emergencies Ministry are favoring the former explanation, according to the agency. Meanwhile, AP reported on 7 February that Moscow police were put on extended duty from 4-6 February because of reports that "Chechen-linked terrorists were planning attacks." JAC

RUSSIAN TANKER FREE TO LEAVE AFTER OFFLOADING OIL

An Omani Foreign Ministry official has announced that the Russian tanker seized last week in the Persian Gulf will be free to leave once it has offloaded its cargo. According to the U.S., the vessel was transporting Iraqi oil in violation of a UN embargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). It was handed over to the Omani authorities on 7 February. The same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Moscow will "actively cooperate with the international community in questions concerning possible violations of the oil embargo." At the same time, it noted that it will continue to investigate last week's incident. Meanwhile, the owners of the Russian vessel--Sovfrakht and Transneft-Volga-- have said they plan to sue for damages. JC

MORE REPORTS OF DEFENSE MINISTER'S DISMISSAL SURFACE

"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 8 February that acting President Putin accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev last week and proposed General Andrei Nikolaev, the new chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee, as his replacement. According to the newspaper, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the decree appointing Nikolaev will signed in a few days. However, Interfax the previous day cited an unidentified source within the Kremlin as saying neither event had occurred. On 4 February, "Kommersant- Daily," referring to a report of same events by the Military News Agency reported, said that according to its anonymous sources, rumors of Sergeev's resignation are premature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). JAC

NEW ROUND OF LONDON CLUB TALKS THIS WEEK

Russia's debt negotiators will meet with London Club creditors in Frankfurt on 10-11 February, Interfax reported on 7 February, citing a press release from the Finance Ministry, Vneshekonombank, and Deutsche Bank. According to the agency, Russian government and its creditors continue to disagree over the amount of Soviet-era debt that will be written off as well as the length of the grace period during which only interest will be redeemed. Russia would like 40 percent of its debt written off with a grace period of seven or eight years, while the creditors are reportedly proposing only 35 percent and a shorter grace period. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov predicted last month that negotiations with the club will finish by March 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000). JAC

CENTRAL BANK OFFERS ANOTHER ESTIMATE OF CAPITAL FLIGHT

Central Bank Deputy Chairman Viktor Melnikov said that almost $15 billion was taken out of Russia in 1999, "Trud" reported on 8 February. Melnikov's figures are higher than those given by his boss last month: Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said on 27 January that illegal capital flight from Russia amounted to $1 billion a month during 1999. The Washington-based Institute for International Finance has predicted that capital flight from Russia will likely total $20 billion in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 February, First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kasyanov said that a partial solution to Russia's problem with capital flight "lies in strengthening control over tax and contract enforcement in foreign trade." JAC

LACK OF FUNDS CONTINUES TO DELAY CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION

Following a meeting with acting President Putin on 7 February, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told journalists that Russia has fallen behind schedule in destroying its arsenal of chemical weapons owing to insufficient funds. Under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia ratified in 1997, the federation is to destroy some 20 percent of its stockpile by April 2002, but Klebanov suggested that it may be unable to keep to this deadline. Last fall, Moscow revealed that it has only 10 percent of the estimated $110 million necessary to convert its chemical weapons plants to civilian use (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). JC

MOSCOW OUTLINES FAR EAST POLICY

Ahead of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's visit to Japan, which is scheduled to begin on 10 February, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin outlined the three main goals of Russian foreign policy vis-a-vis the Far East, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. First, Moscow seeks "maximum participation in [international] security structures" to help ensure "stability and predictability" in that region. Second, it aims for the security of its borders and the introduction of long-term confidence-building measures. And third, it wants to establish political and economic relations with all countries of the region that would help promote the development of Russia's Far East. With regard to the latter goal, Karasin pointed to the realization of projects in the energy, transport, and high-technology sectors. JC

SUSPECTS IN NORTH CAUCASUS KILLINGS APPREHENDED

Russian security forces in Chechnya have arrested a gang suspected of having murdered Viktor Polyanichko, head of the Temporary Administration in North Ossetia, in August 1993, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Daily Report," 2 August 1993 at http://www.friends- partners.org/friends/news/omri/index.htmlopt-tables-mac- english-). At the time, Polyanichko's killers were tentatively identified as ethnic Ingush. The same gang is believed to have opened fire in April 1998 on a motorcade carrying senior Russian military officers near the administrative border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia, killing five of those officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 April 1998). LF




ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS WANT FINAL SAY ON KARABAKH PEACE AGREEMENT

Meeting last weekend, the board of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war warned that they will not accept any settlement of the Karabakh conflict that entails the return to Azerbaijani jurisdiction of occupied Azerbaijani territories bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 February. "We will not allow anybody to decide on the fate of Armenia and Artsakh without asking Yerkrapah's and the people's opinion," union chairman Manvel Grigorian said. Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, who attended the meeting, said, "Rest assured that on this issue my views can't be different from yours. I can't accept a decision that you wouldn't like, especially on the question of [occupied] lands." Deputy parliamentary speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL on 7 February that the Miasnutiun parliament majority faction, which is dominated by Yerkrapah's political wing, the Republican Party of Armenia, agrees with Yerkrapah that a future peace deal must be put to public debate. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY HQ ATTACKED

Some 100 men armed with clubs attacked the Baku headquarters of the opposition Musavat party and its newspaper, "Yeni Musavat," on 7 February, breaking down doors and smashing windows, Turan and Reuters reported. The attackers seized or damaged the equipment of cameramen and photographers who arrived at the scene. Police summoned to the building failed to intervene. The vandals, who came from a village in the exclave of Nakhichevan, were protesting the publication in "Yeni Musavat" of materials about official corruption in the exclave. The author of those articles, Elbey Hasanli, has been arrested, according to Russian agencies. Musavat issued a statement later on 7 February calling for his release. Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar blamed Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev for the incident, saying that the Azerbaijani authorities had known in advance that it was planned but failed to prevent it. LF

AZERBAIJAN SETS DATE FOR NEXT TURKIC SUMMIT

The sixth summit of Turcophone states will take place in Baku on 8 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. Azerbaijan's President Aliyev has ordered the creation of a special state commission, which he will chair, to prepare for that meeting. The summit was originally scheduled for June 1999 but was postponed to allow Aliyev time to recuperate from heart bypass surgery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 1999). LF

HOSTAGE EXCHANGE IN GEORGIA IN JEOPARDY

Having handed over to the Abkhaz authorities the bodies of two Abkhaz customs officials killed in a shootout in western Georgia last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000), Georgia is now refusing to release another two Abkhaz taken prisoner in that incident until three Georgians held hostage in Abkhazia are freed, Caucasus Press reported on 8 February, citing the Georgia-based Abkhaz Security Ministry in exile. The three Georgians were taken prisoner during the fighting in Abkhazia's Gali raion in May 1998, and the relatives of one of them subsequently seized two Abkhaz whom they intended to trade for his release. Under the agreement signed in Sukhum on 3 February, the governments of Georgia and Abkhazia agreed on the release of all prisoners and hostages held by both sides, but the Abkhaz authorities subsequently claimed that some of the Georgians in question are convicted war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 February 2000). LF

WORKERS' MOVEMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN CALLS FOR GENERAL STRIKE

Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 7 February, Kazakhstan Workers' Movement leader Madel Ismailov called for a nationwide protest action on 29 February to demand the annulment of the 1995 presidential decree stipulating the preconditions for holding mass gatherings. Ismailov argued that the requirement that organizers of mass gatherings first obtain permission from local authorities to hold such meetings constitutes a violation of the constitutionally- guaranteed right to convene unarmed peaceful demonstrations. LF

SLAVS IN KAZAKHSTAN ADVOCATE ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Meeting on 6 February in Almaty, representatives of the LAD movement, Kazakhstan's Cossacks, and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan adopted an open letter to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev advocating that Kazakhstan join the Russia-Belarus Union, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. They asked Nazarbaev to call a nationwide referendum on the issue. And they also appealed to public organizations asking them to collect signatures in support of their initiative. An article published on 26 January in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that while the Russia-Belarus Union state cannot restore the level of political and economic unity that characterized the USSR, the Eurasian Union, first proposed by Nazarbaev in 1994, could do so. The CIS, the Russia-Belarus Union, and the CIS Customs Union could ultimately merge to create such a Eurasian Union, the newspaper suggested. LF

'ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS' DETAINED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry said on 7 February that nine members of the radical Islamist Khizbut Tahrir Movement were detained over the past week in southern Kyrgyzstan and several more in neighboring Jalalabad oblast, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Interfax put the total number of arrests at 13. The detainees were distributing leaflets critical of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov and calling for "changing the constitutional order" in the states of Central Asia, Interfax and RFE/RL reported. LF

U.S. WATCHDOG CRITICIZES KYRGYZ ELECTION PREPARATIONS

In a 10-page report released on 4 February, a mission from the National Democratic Institute warns that recent actions by all three branches of power in Kyrgyzstan suggest that the 20 February parliamentary elections are unlikely to be free, fair, and democratic, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Specifically, the report notes the Justice Ministry's refusal, upheld in court, to register four popular parties to contest the poll and law suits brought against two deputies of the present parliament who are running for re-election. The report also notes that existing problems could be resolved before the elections if the Kyrgyz government observes the constitution, the spirit of the new election law, and international norms and standards. LF

NEW POLITICAL PARTY FOUNDED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Some 40 people participated in the founding congress on 5 February of a new political party named Erk, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The head of the party's organizing committee, Adyl Kasymov, described its political orientation as "center-rightist." He said one of its primary objectives will be to assist young people who are seeking to acquire plots of land to build their own homes. Homeless young people in Bishkek staged several demonstrations last year to demand that the city authorities allow them to build homes on waste ground on the city outskirts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June and 10 August 1999). LF

TEACHERS IN KYRGYZSTAN STILL OWED 1998 SALARIES

Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture has admitted that the country's teachers are owed some 62 million soms (about $1.3 million) in salary arrears for 1999, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 6 February. Some teachers have still not received their salaries for 1998. LF

TWO POLICE SHOT DEAD AT ELECTION RALLY IN TAJIKISTAN

Bodyguards of Islamic Renaissance Party Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri shot and fatally wounded two Tajik police officials at an election rally in the northern town of Mastchoh on 6 February, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Nuri told journalists the following day that the police had opened fire when the bodyguards resisted their efforts to disarm them, while the Tajik Interior Ministry claimed that the bodyguards fired first. Interfax quoted Nuri as saying he is "satisfied" with the current social and political situation in the country. He predicted that his party will poll 30-35 percent of the vote in the 27 February elections to the lower chamber of the new parliament. LF

MORE EXPLOSIONS IN DUSHANBE

Three small bombs exploded in quick succession in central Dushanbe on the evening of 7 February, causing minor damage to buildings but no injuries. Investigators have detained one suspect, according to Interfax. LF

PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF TAJIK CENSUS RELEASED

The population of Tajikistan currently stands at 6,105,300, which exceeds the count at the last census in 1989 by 1 million but is less than the 6.3 million the authorities had estimated, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February, quoting State Statistical Agency Director Khabib Gaibullaev. The preliminary figure suggests that despite the outmigration of some 437,000 people (mostly ethnic Russians) in the period between the two censuses, Tajikistan has the world's highest rate of population growth. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Tajik SSR had the highest birthrate of any Soviet republic. The exodus of ethnic Russians is the primary reason why Dushanbe's population has decreased by some 60,000 and now totals 536,000, Gaibullaev said. He added that almost 20 percent of all homes in the capital are currently standing empty. LF

TURKMENISTAN POSTPONES SIGNING OF PSA WITH SHELL

Shell and the Turkmen government have postponed indefinitely the signing of a production-sharing agreement on extracting gas from three deposits in eastern Turkmenistan, Interfax reported on 7 February, quoting an unnamed Turkmen government official. The signing of that document had originally scheduled been for 20 February. The official added that talks between the two sides on the terms of the agreement will continue. The gas in question is earmarked for export via the proposed Trans-Caspian pipeline. LF




BELARUSIAN VENDORS TO HALT STRIKE?

Valery Levaneuski, leader of the Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 7 February that the nationwide strike currently being staged by outdoor-market vendors may be halted "in a few days" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2000). Levaneuski noted that the strike has not been a failure, but he admitted that the union has lost an "information battle" with the authorities which, he said, "consistently and deliberately misinformed" the protesters by pledging to meet their demands if they resumed work. Meanwhile, Belarusian Television reported that the authorities have admitted "for the first time" that tax inspectors, police, and market administrators have resorted to unauthorized "inspections" and "punitive sanctions" vis-a- vis outdoor-market vendors. JM

UKRAINIAN MAJORITY LAWMAKERS SEIZE SESSION HALL...

Shortly after 7 a.m. local time on 8 February, some 100 majority legislators, backed by security officers, broke into the parliamentary hall and occupied the places of the speaker and his deputies as well as the rostrum, Reuters reported, quoting Progressive Socialist Party Chairwoman Natalya Vitrenko, who has been on hunger strike in the parliament for one week. Following scuffles, the center-rightist deputies secured key places in the hall and prepared to wait for a parliamentary session scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. "We knew that more leftists would come to the parliament at about eight o'clock, so we had to act quickly. Otherwise there would have been a much bigger fight. Now we will hold our session," lawmaker Taras Stetskiv from the Popular Democratic Party caucus told the agency. JM

...OPENS SESSION AMID TUMULT

Majority speaker Ivan Plyusch's appearance in the parliamentary hall met with applause from center-rightist lawmakers and hissing and shouting from their leftist counterparts, Interfax reported. After 257 center- rightist deputies had registered in the hall, Plyusch opened the session, not paying attention to the tumult from among the leftist caucuses. Vitrenko's party colleagues used a loudspeaker to shout down the debate, while some rightist lawmakers were reported to be standing next to the presidium "in order to prevent chaos near the rostrum." JM

UKRAINIAN MAJORITY SPEAKER NOT TO YIELD CHAIR FOR COMPROMISE

One day earlier, on 7 February, Plyusch, the speaker elected by the parliamentary majority, said that he does not intend to give up the speaker's chair in exchange for a compromise with the leftist majority, Interfax and the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Oleksandr Zinchenko, leader of the Social Democratic Party caucus, said the majority will hold a session in the parliamentary building on 8 February unless the minority "resorts to special measures." And Oleksandr Yemets from the Reforms-Congress noted that the majority does not intend to submit its former resolutions to a repeat vote by the entire house. Yemets added that the majority also does not agree to the minority's proposal that the 8 February session be opened by a "neutral" deputy. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS STOP DELIVERING COAL TO DEBTORS

Some 120 coal mines in Ukraine on 7 February stopped delivering coal to consumers, including power plants, that have not paid for earlier supplies, Interfax reported. The protest action, which was organized by the Trade Union of Coal Mining Industry Workers, will last for three days. The miners are demanding higher subsidies to the coal industry in 2000 and the payment of wage arrears. JM

ISRAEL 'TOO BUSY' TO SEND INVESTIGATOR TO LATVIAN WAR CRIMES CONFERENCE

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has voiced surprise and disappointment over Israel's decision not to send investigators to a Latvian-sponsored conference on war crimes, BNS reported on 7 February. The president urged Israel to designate a representative to the 16-17 February meeting. Australia has not responded yet to the invitation, but all other invitees--the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Germany--have accepted. Head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, said he could represent Israel, along with a diplomatic representative, at the conference, but he noted that he has not received an invitation. MH

SOLIDARITY DENIES HAVING RECEIVED MONEY FROM KOHL'S CDU

Jacek Merkel, a former Solidarity activist, has denied that Solidarity received money from former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the 1980s, Polish Radio reported on 7 February. Merkel was responding to a report in the 7 February "Zycie Warszawy" claiming that Kohl transferred money to Solidarity through banks in Luxembourg and was aided by the West German intelligence service. According to "Zycie Warszawy," Kohl made this revelation in an interview with German Television. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER PLEDGES TO FIGHT U.S. FOOD FIRM

Andrzej Lepper, leader of the Self-Defense farmers' union, pledged on 7 February to provide Poland's local authorities, environmental agencies, and state institutions with a video cassette showing how much environmental devastation the SmithField Foods Inc. has caused in the U.S., PAP reported. According to Lepper, the U.S. company, which has the largest herd of pigs in the world, plans to dominate the Polish market. Lepper warned that SmithField Food's investments in Poland will cause irreparable damage to the environment. He said he has imported 3,000 copies of the video. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY 'DISTURBED' BY AUSTRIAN GOVERNMENT'S PROGRAM

The Czech Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 7 February saying it is "disturbed" by some points in the new Austrian government's program concerning EU enlargement and dealing with the country's Nazi past, CTK reported. The ministry said the program includes "many conditions" that were added to an earlier statement declaring support for EU enlargement. It also notes that the government's program and a document drafted by President Thomas Klestil and signed by the coalition members before the cabinet was set up "are not identical." The Klestil-drafted document spoke of recognizing Austrian responsibility for its Nazi past, but the program speaks of a "corresponding and just solution" to the problem of expelled Sudeten Germans. The Czech Foreign Ministry commented that it is "inadmissible" not to distinguish between "the tens of millions of victims of Nazi aggression in Europe" and the "retaliation, even if excessive," against the Sudeten Germans in 1945. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL PRAISES CZECH NATO CONTRIBUTION

Visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said on 7 February that the Czech Republic has become a "valued new NATO member" that has demonstrated its adherence to NATO values through its "support to end ethnic cleaning in Kosova, its contribution to SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosova," and its support for the Serbian opposition in Yugoslavia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT LEAVES HOSPITAL

President Vaclav Havel has been released from the hospital, where he received treatment for influenza, AP reported on 7 February. This was the seventh time since December 1996, when a third of his lung was removed following the discovery of a malignant tumor, that Havel had to be hospitalized. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel plans to reduce his duties and focus only on "priorities." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT BEGINS ISRAELI VISIT

President Rudolf Schuster, paying the first-ever visit to Israel by a Slovak head of state, told Israeli President Ezer Weitzman on 7 February that Slovakia would like to have Ambassador Nathan Meron as Israel's ambassador to Bratislava, CTK reported. Israel withdrew Meron from Vienna to protest the participation of the far-rightist Freedom Party in the Austrian coalition. Weitzman replied that this was "not a bad idea," adding that parties and individuals that advocate "fascist ideas" must be strongly rejected. The Israeli president welcomed Schuster's recent statement at a Stockholm conference on the Holocaust, in which Schuster dissociated himself from the Nazi Slovak puppet state of 1939-1945. Meanwhile, CTK reported the same day that Slovak National Party Chairwoman Anna Malinkova has congratulated Haider and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, saying she is confident that the new government will "strengthen the Slovak-Austrian partnership." MS

HUNGARY PLANS TO SUE ROMANIA OVER CYANIDE SPILL

Romanian Ambassador to Hungary Petru Cordos was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on 7 February and told that Hungary intends to seek compensation for the leakage of cyanide into the Szamos and Tisza Rivers. Large quantities of cyanide from a Romanian mine leaked into the Szamos River last week, and Hungary's second-largest river, the Tisza, was subsequently polluted, too. The 120,000 residents of Hungary's southeastern town of Szolnok have been instructed to stock up on bottled water since the source of their water supplies is the Tisza River. A Romanian Environment Ministry official said earlier that a bilateral environmental protection agreement obliges the two countries to exchange information and aid but not to provide compensation. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION ATTACKS AUSTRIA POLICY

Istvan Szent- Ivanyi, Free Democrat chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told the parliament on 7 February that the formation of the new Austrian cabinet was greeted with "unprecedented grumbling and fear" in the EU and that it is regrettable that Prime Minister Viktor Orban "did not share those concerns, but only expressed his surprise." In other news, Jeno Fonay, president of the Federation of Political Prisoners in Hungary, has sent a letter of congratulations to Austria's Joerg Haider for "implementing democracy soberly and thoughtfully," Hungarian media report. MSZ




YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER SHOT DEAD

An unknown gunman shot Pavle Bulatovic and wounded two other people as they were having dinner in the restaurant of a Belgrade stadium on 7 February. The minister, who had occupied that post since 1993, died of his wounds shortly afterward in a military hospital. The government then went into an emergency session and issued a statement in which it praised Bulatovic and his work as defense minister. The government condemned the assassination as a "terrorist act" and pledged "full support to the relevant state organs in their uncompromising struggle against terrorism." Bulatovic was a member of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party (SNP), which supports Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The minister was a close ally of federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who is also of an SNP member. The two men were not related. PM

SPECULATION ABOUNDS ON BULATOVIC MURDER

The assassination of Bulatovic came just three weeks after the gangland-style slaying of another Milosevic supporter, namely warlord Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January 2000). Bulatovic, however, was not a prominent leader but rather "an apparatchik," the BBC's Serbian Service commented. His death therefore has at best a "symbolic significance" from a political perspective. Some speculation centers on possible links between his death and growing tensions between Milosevic and the reformist leaders in Montenegro. Other observers note that Bulatovic's dinner partners were businessmen and suggest that his death may have been linked to Belgrade's murky world in which business, politics, and the underworld meet. One Montenegrin commentator told London's "The Guardian" that a "country in which the defense minister was killed like that in a restaurant is a real banana republic." PM

MESIC WINS CROATIAN PRESIDENCY

Stipe Mesic of the governing coalition of four small parties defeated Drazen Budisa of the larger two-party coalition in the run-off election on 7 February. Mesic took some 56 percent of the votes, while Budisa gained some 43 percent. Budisa conceded defeat soon after the first returns became public. The dapper and outspoken Mesic pledged to be "the president of all citizens of the Republic of Croatia" and to speed up his country's integration into the EU and NATO. He told reporters: "I would sum up our problem in three words: employment, employment, and employment," Reuters reported. Observers note that his election comes as a deep disappointment to ethnic Croatian hard-liners in Herzegovina, whose generous subsidies he has pledged to cut off or reduce. Mesic was a prominent politician in the last years of the former Yugoslavia but has since played a relatively minor role in Croatian politics. He is married to a woman of Serbian-Ukrainian background, whose family was killed by the pro-Axis regime during World War II. PM

GRANIC SEEKS TO 'TRANSFORM' DEFEATED CROATIAN PARTY

Mate Granic, a former Croatian foreign minister who was defeated in the first round of the presidential elections, told "Vjesnik" of 8 February that he does not intend to found a Christian-democratic party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2000). He added that "the era of the classic Christian- democratic parties has passed." Granic argued that his main goal is to "radically transform" the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which governed from 1990 to 2000, into a "modern, European democratic party of the center." PM

KEY CROATIAN UNDERWORLD FIGURE ARRESTED

The Zagreb office of Interpol said in a statement on 7 February that German police arrested Zoran Petrovic Ivica, who is regarded as a major figure in the Croatian underworld. He is wanted in Zagreb for several crimes, including murder. PM

MORE BOSNIAN ELECTRICITY FOR MONTENEGRO

Edhem Bicakcic, who is prime minister of the mainly Muslim and Croatian Bosnian federation, signed an agreement in Herceg Novi with Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic. According to the text, Bosnia will continue to supply electric power to Montenegro until the end of 2000. Observers note that the reform-minded government in Podgorica has developed good relations with Sarajevo since President Milo Djukanovic took office in early 1998. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT STARTS BRITISH VISIT

Emil Constantinescu is to be received at Buckingham Palace on 8 February and will also conduct talks with British Premier Tony Blair, Romanian radio reported. The previous day, Constantinescu met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Robin Cook, Defense Secretary Geoff Horn, and International Development Secretary Clare Short to discuss his country's bid for integration into European and Atlantic structures and ways of boosting British investments in Romania. Constantinescu told a Royal Institute of International Affairs forum that Romania backs the U.K. and the German approach that the EU must be a "Europe of nations" in which each country must be able to safeguard its own identity. MS

ROMANIA, BULGARIA, REACH COMPROMISE ON DANUBE BRIDGE

At a meeting in Brussels attended by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, Bulgaria and Romania on 7 February agreed to settle their long-standing dispute about the construction of a second bridge over the River Danube, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Romanian Transportation Minister Traian Basescu said after the meeting that his country will not participate in financing the project because it needs to direct all EU investments toward building its own infrastructure, but he noted that Romania may agree to use some funds for the construction of roads leading to the bridge. Bulgaria is to finance the construction alone, possibly securing funding from the Balkan Stability Pact and other sources. The two countries' premiers are to decide by 20 March where the bridge is to be located. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CONSOLIDATE TARACLIA VICTORY

Three out of the four mayors elected in the 6 February local election runoffs in the Taraclia district are members of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), while the fourth is an independent. The local elections have thus produced a total of six mayors from the PCM, two from the Democratic Agrarian Party, and two independents, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

BULGARIA URGES AUSTRIA NOT TO BLOCK EU BID

In a letter to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel made available to Reuters on 7 February, Foreign Minster Nadezhda Mihailova urged Schuessel "to be the guarantor that your government will not obstruct EU enlargement to the east." Mihailova also asked him to ensure that the rights of thousands of Bulgarians living in Austria are not violated and that Austria will not reject Bulgaria's efforts to have the country taken off the list of states whose citizens are restricted by the Schengen accords in traveling within the EU. MS




THE VIKINGS MAKE A COMEBACK?


By Mel Huang

The acquisition by Nordic banking giant MeritaNordbanken of French bank Societe Generale's operations in Latvia and Lithuania in early January is the latest of several examples pointing to the economic monopoly that the rich Nordic states are securing over their less affluent Baltic neighbors. Since the restoration of independence more than eight years ago, the Nordic countries--especially Sweden and Finland--have come to play a major role in the economies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. However, concern is growing among local observers that this perceived Nordic dominance in the Baltics has scared off other foreign investors.

Among the economic sectors, the Nordic role in the Baltics is perhaps most visible in banking. MeritaNordbanken's recent acquisition of Societe Generale branches comes after several years of Nordic banks' acquisitions in the Baltics. Sweden's ForeningsSparbanken (Swedbank) took over the largest banking establishment in the Baltics, Hansapank, in 1998. Not to be outdone, Sweden's Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) took controlling stakes in large banks in each of the three Baltic states: Uhispank in Estonia, Unibanka in Latvia, and Vilniaus Bankas in Lithuania. The Baltic presence of the two Swedish banks expanded through several acquisitions and mergers.

Several upcoming events in 2000 could allow Nordic banks to consolidate their hold over the Baltic banking sector. Lithuania is set to sell off stakes in its two remaining large state-owned banks, Zemes Ukio Bankas (Agricultural Bank) and market leader Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank). Latvia's banking market is poised for further consolidation, while the Estonian Central Bank has hinted it is willing to sell its large stake in the country's third-largest bank, Optiva Pank.

In many other sectors, Nordic companies already have almost complete control, especially in public utilities. The three fixed-line telephone operators in the Baltics are controlled by their Nordic counterparts in Finland and Sweden. Energy companies such as Sweden's state-owned Vattenfall continue to express interest in the Baltic region. Vattenfall already owns several local heating and electric distributors and has been frantically purchasing all free- floating shares in Lithuania's power utility Lietuvos Energija on the Vilnius Bourse.

However, the impact is strongest in Estonia, the country closest to both Finland and Sweden. Most of Estonia's larger companies have either a Finnish or Swedish owner or strategic investor. One of Estonia's most successful companies, the seatbelt maker Norma, was taken over by a Swedish company in late 1999. Estonia's main meatpacking company, Rakvere Lihakombinaat, is Finnish-owned, while the textiles giant Kreenholm in Narva was sold to the Swedes many years ago.

So far this year there have already been two major acquisitions. Skanska, one of the largest construction companies in the world, purchased Estonia's EMV and immediately announced that it wants to move the stock off the Tallinn Bourse in order to assume 100 percent ownership. Also, a majority stake in Estonia's leading distillery Liviko was purchased by Finnish alcohol monopoly Remedia, which already owns the Estonian distillery Ofelia. The concern that the majority of Estonia's most successful companies will soon be foreign-owned increased when Finnish dairy company Valio recently announced its interest in acquiring Estonia's biggest dairy conglomerate, United Dairies.

Despite some large investments by other European and North American businesses, the perceived dominance of Nordic companies in the Baltics serves to dampen the interest of firms from elsewhere. U.S. and Canadian companies have made inroads in the energy sector of all three Baltic countries but seem less interested in other sectors. German companies have slowly increased their investment in the region, most notably in the gas sector. Other European countries have been less active, either because of a lack of interest or the perception that the Baltics are the Nordic countries' backyard.

The acquisition of Societe Generale's operations in the Baltics helps to strengthen such a perception. Latvia's Commercial Banking Association President Teodors Tverijons noted that "the expansion of the Scandinavian banks [into the Baltics] is growing because there are a lot more Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian companies here than French companies." And, pointing to a Catch-22 situation, he added that it makes "no sense" for a French bank to open a branch in Latvia if there are no French companies there.


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