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Newsline - February 28, 2000




BABITSKII DETAINED IN DAGHESTAN

As of 25 February, missing RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii has been held by local law enforcement officials in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan. He has been charged with possession of a forged passport. Russian Television on 26 February showed film footage in which Babitskii said he was constrained to use a fake passport because he had no other documentation. He did not elaborate. Babitskii told his wife by telephone on 25 February that he is physically in good shape, but he did not explain how he arrived in Daghestan, AP reported. He also confirmed that he had consented to a proposal by Chechen field commader Turpal-AIi Atgeriev that he should be exchanged for Russian servicemen. That proposal was relayed to Babitskii by a Russian official on 31 January, at which time Babitskii was being held at the Chernokozovo detention center. But Babitskii told RFE/RL North Caucasus correspondent Oleg Kusov, who was detained with him in Makhachkala but released on 26 February, that he had refused to take part in the exchange when he saw that he was about to be handed over to unknown masked men. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CLAIM MASS GRAVE VIDEO A FALSIFICATION...

Spokesmen for the Russian Interior and Defense Ministries and Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov on 25 February unanimously condemned as a falsification the video footage shot by Germany's N24 TV station of what were alleged to be the bodies of Chechen civilians being thrown into a mass grave. Mironov told Interfax that he believes the footage was prepared by Chechen fighters. Russian Chief Military Prosecutor Yurii Demin has taken charge of the investigation into the circumstances under which the film was made, according to Interfax. Frank Hoefling, the German TV cameraman who shot the film, said on 25 February that the Russian soldiers engaged in the burial did not object to him filming it. He gave the number of bodies as 15 in one grave and 25-30 in a second, and he confirmed that ears had been severed from some of the bodies, Reuters reported. LF

...WHILE WEST CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION

U.S. President Bill Clinton on 25 February termed reports of atrocities in Chechnya "very troubling" and called on Moscow to allow international agencies to investigate those reports, Reuters reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer likewise called for "an immediate and thorough" investigation and for those responsible for the killings to be held accountable. In Brussels, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten issued a statement on 25 February expressing "shock" and calling for an investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Russian troops. EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana also demanded an independent investigation, after which, he said, the EU will consider "what might be an appropriate response." In Moscow, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles told Interfax on 25 February that he has asked the Russian government to conduct an investigation into the burial shown on the German TV videotape. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG IMPLICATES RUSSIAN GENERALS IN WAR CRIMES

Human Rights Watch Researcher Peter Boukaert said on 25 February that evidence is mounting that "very serious war crimes" are being committed in Chechnya, sometimes at the insistence of Russian military commanders, Reuters reported. On 26 February, the human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights released the findings of a survey conducted among 326 Chechen displaced persons in Ingushetia, almost half of whom said they had witnessed the killings by Russian soldiers of Chechen civilians, AP reported. LF

PUTIN CALLS FOR STRICT MONITORING OF CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION

Addressing the Russian Security Council on 25 February, acting President Vladimir Putin said that within 10-14 days the government must draft measures to preclude the embezzlement of funds allocated from the federal budget for reconstruction in Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. Both Putin and Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov said that in recent years Chechnya's original administrative agencies had been destroyed and replaced by structures that were illegal. For that reason, Ivanov told journalists, the Security Council decided to create a temporary administration in Chechnya that "will in many ways take upon itself the functions of the federal center." Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government representative in Chechnya, said that administration will be "a three-way structure," but he did not elaborate, Interfax reported. LF

DUMA EXTENDS AMNESTY FOR CHECHEN FIGHTERS

The State Duma voted on 25 February by a majority of 319 votes to extend until 15 May the amnesty for Chechen fighters who lay down their arms, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 24 February 2000). Duma Security Committee Chairman Aleksandr Gurov (Unity) said that the amnesty is clearly effective, while Human Rights Commissioner Mironov told ITAR-TASS that he backs both it and any other measures that prevent excessive loss of life. But Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) condemned the extension as "a stab in the back" for the Russian military, Interfax reported. LF

UNITY TO REVEAL PROGRAM AFTER ELECTION...

The pro-Kremlin movement Unity held its founding congress in Moscow on 27 February. According to Interfax, Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov said that 1,135 delegates from 88 regions in Russia attended. Gryzlov said the movement's key task is to support cabinet policy and the candidacy of acting President Putin in presidential elections. In a speech to delegates, Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi said Unity needs to create a "state ideology" and "to clearly, sharply define what we would like to create." Commenting on that speech, Unity leader Sergei Shoigu said Unity's program will be discussed within some three months, after the second stage of its congress. Gryzlov was elected first deputy chairman of the movement's political council. State Duma deputies Sergei Popov and Nikolai Loktionov were elected deputy chairmen, while the post of chairman was left vacant. Representatives from Kurgan and Kaliningrad Oblasts will also occupy seats on the council. JAC

...AS PUTIN CALLS FOR MULTI-PARTY SYSTEM...

Addressing the congress on 27 February, acting President Putin said he hopes that Unity "will become truly representative, a strong and solid political force able to exert real influence on the fate of the country and its regions." Putin also called for the creation of an effective multi-party system in Russia. According to Interfax, he said the existence of some 200 political parties in Russia does not appear to be either a plus or a minus in the political life of the country, adding that "a workable system is one with two, three, or four parties." JAC

...AND ALL RUSSIA FOUNDER FLOATS POSSIBLE MERGER

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told Interfax on 27 February that he is not ruling out the possibility that All Russia will merge with Unity. Yakovlev was one of the founding members of All Russia, which formed an alliance with Fatherland to compete against Unity in the December 1999 State Duma elections. He added that he will discuss the idea with fellow All Russia founders Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov. Rakhimov said on 22 February that Putin will win next month's ballot and that Putin's main task is to create the conditions enabling him to win in one round rather than two. JAC

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ELECTION BAN ON ZHIRINOVSKII

The Supreme Court on 25 February rejected Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii's appeal against the Central Election Commission's decision to deny him registration in the presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). Zhirinovskii said he will appeal the decision at the court's appeals collegium. Analysts in Moscow believe that Zhirinovskii's absence from the presidential elections will increase the number of votes cast for acting President Putin. JAC

ASK PUTIN

Acting President Putin on 25 February launched his own website, , in support of his candidacy for the presidency, the website reported. Putin's site contains information under the following headings: News, Biography, Speeches, Problems, Status, Program, and Headquarters. Under the Program heading, visitors can find a reprint of Putin's open letter to voters that was published in "Izvestiya" on the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2000). Under "problems" (zadachi), visitors can ask Putin questions, the answers to which will be published on a weekly basis. JAC

RUSSIA PROTESTS TO POLAND OVER POZNAN DEMONSTRATION...

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has canceled a trip to Poland scheduled for 3 March in the wake of a pro-Chechen rally in which demonstrators hoisted the Chechen flag at the Russian Consulate in Poznan and drew a swastika on the building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). Interfax on 25 February quoted Ivanov as saying that he will soon recall the Russian ambassador to Poland. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo has sent a message to his Polish counterpart, Marek Biernacki, urging him to find and punish those who took part in the incident. And the State Duma has issued a statement protesting the "act of vandalism against state symbols of the Russian Federation" and laying the blame on the "inertness" of Polish law enforcement agencies, ITAR- TASS reported on 25 February. JC

...AS RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS STRIKE BACK AT POLISH REPRESENTATIONS

Meanwhile on 26 February, a group of people "dressed as Cossacks" gathered outside the Polish Embassy in Moscow to protest the incident at the Russian Consulate in Poznan, Interfax reported. The protesters threw eggs at the embassy building. The same day, a small group of protesters hurled eggs and bottles filled with paint at the Polish Consulate in St. Petersburg. The protesters were detained, and an investigation has been launched, according to the news agency. JC

MOSCOW SLAMS U.S. FOR 'PSEUDO-IMPERIAL APPROACH' OVER IRAN...

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov on 25 February criticized a bill passed by the U.S. Senate the previous day that provides for economic sanctions against foreign countries or individuals who transfer nuclear weapons or technology to Iran. Noting that the draft law "also affects Russia," Ivanov said it could "complicate even further" U.S.-Russian ties. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing U.S. lawmakers of seeking to exert pressure on foreign countries on a "clearly invented pretext," remarking that "such a pseudo-imperial approach is impermissible," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified source at the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry as saying that Russia will continue participating in the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran because that project "has nothing to do with the proliferation of nuclear technology." JC

...SAYS U.S. RADAR IN NORWAY THREATENS RUSSIANS NATIONAL SECURITY

Russian Defense Ministry officials have said that U.S. radar installations in Norway constitute a threat to Russian national security, dpa reported on 25 February, citing ITAR-TASS. Those comments come on the heels of an article in "Segodnya" quoting a U.S. scientist as raising questions about a U.S. radar stationed since last summer in the Norwegian town of Vardo, some 65 kilometers from the Russian border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). The Russian Defense Ministry officials argued that the main purpose of that site is to warn against missile launches, adding that Norway's decision to put its territory at the disposal of a "foreign intelligence service" violates the principle of good-neighborly relations and is a departure from the policy of promoting regional security. JC

ANTI-MONOPOLY MINISTERS ADDRESSES DEVELOPMENTS IN ALUMINUM SECTOR

In an interview with "Vremya MN" on 25 February, Anti-Monopoly Minister Ilya Yuzhanov said his ministry is investigating the recent sale of sizeable stakes in the Bratsk and Krasnoyarsk aluminum smelters, the Novokuznetsk Aluminum plant, and the Achinsk Alumina Plant to identity the buyers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). He suggested that it is likely that a "'smokescreen' of paperwork" has been created by offshore companies and dummy corporations in order to make it difficult to determine who exactly participated in the deal. The ministry earlier said that by 7 March, it would make a decision about whether the deal violates Russian anti-monopoly regulations. JAC

HIGHER PRICES FEARED

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 February that the Finance Ministry will soon submit to the Duma a draft of a special part of the Tax Code. The deputy head of the tax policy department at the Finance Ministry, Natalya Komova, told reporters on 25 February that in 2002 the government plans to raise by 20 percent excise duties on oil, gasoline, and alcoholic beverages. The daily concluded that despite the government's desire to keep inflation low, higher excise duties for energy suppliers will likely mean a 35-40 percent increase in the price of basic goods. It also reported that some manufacturers believe that the government will bring forward the date for introducing higher duties as soon as it runs into any problems with the budget. JAC

CENTRAL BANK BOWING TO KREMLIN PRESSURE?

The Central Bank of Russia announced on 25 February that is it ready to return Promstroibank's license to operate, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 February. However, the daily pointed out that under the existing law on the Central Bank, it is not possible to return the license of a bank that is effectively bankrupt. Earlier, acting President Putin called on the Central Bank to stop bankruptcy proceedings against Promstroibank and hand over consideration of the bank's fate to the Agency for Restructuring Credit Organizations (ARKO) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest in "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

YABLOKO OBJECTS TO MILITARY TRAINING IN SCHOOLS

Yabloko appealed to acting President Putin on 25 February to postpone implementing a decision on compulsory basic military training in schools, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 26 February. Putin signed a decree at the end of December reintroducing military training in schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). According to the newspaper, Yabloko points out that the compulsory preparation of citizens for military service violates the federal law on education, which makes military training an optional subject. The party also suggested that implementing the decree might prove difficult owing to a lack of financing and personnel. JAC




RUSSIA TO CONTINUE GUARDING ARMENIA'S SOUTHERN BORDERS

Visiting Yerevan on 25-26 February, Russian Federal Border Service Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii said Russia will continue to help Armenia guard its frontiers with Turkey and Iran, as Armenia is not yet capable of doing so on its own, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Totskii said there is no need to revise the 1992 treaty whereby the two countries jointly provide for security on Armenia's borders. But he added that equipment for doing so is becoming obsolete and will need to be replaced over the next few years. Both Totskii and his Armenian counterpart, General Levon Stepanian, stressed that cooperation in guarding Armenia's frontiers testifies to the "strategic partnership" between Moscow and Yerevan. Totskii also met with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Aram Sargsian. LF

ARMENIAN COURTS UPHOLD FURTHER DETENTION OF PARLIAMENT SHOOTING SUSPECTS

Two Armenian courts on 25 February rejected claims by the lawyers of two prominent suspects in the 27 October parliament shootings that the charges against the two men were fabricated, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two men are presidential aide Aleksan Harutiunian and Armenian State Television Deputy Director Harutiun Harutiunian (no relation to Aleksan). Aleksan Harutiunian's lawyer argued last week that the investigation into his client's alleged incitement of the gunmen to commit the killings should be transferred from the military prosecutor to Armenia's Prosecutor-General's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). But a senior prosecutor told RFE/RL that "there are sufficient grounds" to prosecute both men. LF

AZERBAIJAN REJECTS RUSSIAN CLAIMS OF AID TO CHECHENS

Presidential administration foreign relations division head Novruz Mamedov said on 25 February that a statement issued the previous day by the Russian Foreign Ministry claiming that wounded Chechen fighters are being treated in Baku hospitals is "untrue," Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2000). Novruzov noted that in the past Moscow has never called into question the legal status of the Chechen representation in Baku. Former Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade, for his part, told Turan on 25 February that he cannot confirm or deny the presence of wounded Chechen fighters in Baku, but he noted that even if the Russian reports are true, Azerbaijan "has no moral right to refuse to treat injured and sick people." LF

AZERBAIJAN FINALLY MAKES PUBLIC DECEMBER POLL RESULTS

At a session of Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission on 25 February, chairman Djafar Veliev finally presented the results of the municipal elections held on 12 December, Turan reported. Veliev said that 40.6 percent of the total 35,616 registered candidates represented political parties, while the remainder were independent. Voter participation was 52.6 percent. The ruling Yeni Azerbaycan won 8,305 seats on local councils, the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front 754, and the opposition Musavat party 618. Other political parties won a total of 512 seats. Spokesmen for both the Popular Front and Musavat, however, rejected Veliev's figures as falsified. Musavat's Arif Hadjiev said that 1,200 of his party's candidates were issued certificates by local election commissions confirming their election. Repeat polls have been scheduled for 26 March in 222 districts where the vote was deemed invalid or the results annulled. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST BEATEN BY POLICE

Zabil Mugabil ogly, a journalist for the Azerbaijani daily newspaper "525- gazeti," was beaten by police in Baku on 25 February while trying to photograph some 50 people picketing the Russian Embassy to protest Russia's military activities in Chechnya, Turan reported. Police also used violence to disperse the protesters but made no arrests. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH DPS FROM ABKHAZIA

Meeting with ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia and representatives of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, Eduard Shevardnadze said in Tbilisi on 25 February that Georgia "has won the information war" by succeeding in securing the support of the international community for Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze urged the displaced persons to bring up their children in the belief that "Abkhazia is ours and we will return to live there" in peace with "our brothers the Abkhaz." LF

KAZAKHSTAN PLEDGES TO PROTECT FOREIGN INVESTORS

Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told journalists in Almaty on 25 February after meeting with a group of U.S. financiers that Kazakhstan will defend the interests of foreign investors and insist that all legislation concerning that sphere is strictly observed, Interfax reported. He warned against shifts in government policy vis-a-vis foreign investors. Toqaev also pledged a crackdown on corruption, which has proven a major deterrent to foreign investment. He added that by 2003 Kazakhstan intends to become self-sufficient with regard to oil and gas production. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CHARGED WITH PLANNING TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT

Topchubek Turgunaliev, who is a former chairman of the opposition Erkin Kyrgyzstan party and former rector of Bishkek State University, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 24 February that the authorities have opened a criminal case against him in connection with an alleged failed plot to kill President Askar Akaev. TurgunAliyev said those charges are based on the testimony of a man variously known as Stamkulov and Yuldashev, who told the Kyrgyz National Security Ministry in April 1999 that an attempt on Akaev's life was being prepared. But Stamkulov also said during a face-to-face confrontation with TurgunAliyev that he had no knowledge of the latter's involvement in the alleged plot. TurgunAliyev received an 18-month suspended sentence in April 1996 for insulting Akaev and a four-year sentence for embezzlement and forgery in February 1997. He was released in November 1997 after protests on his behalf by international human rights organizations. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION CHARGES VIOLATIONS IN PARLIAMENTARY POLL

Representatives of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and Democratic and Communist Parties said on 28 February that the previous day's elections to the lower house of a new bicameral parliament were "totally falsified, neither free nor democratic," Reuters reported. IRP spokesman Makhmadali Khaitov said that the violations were worse than during the November 1999 presidential elections. Speaking on 27 February, IRP leader Said Abdullo Nuri had characterized the parliamentary election campaign as a decisive step toward democracy. A total of 324 candidates from six political parties were contesting 63 mandates, of which 41 were in single-mandate constituencies and the remaining 22 are to be allocated under the proportional system. Voter participation was estimated at 87.6 percent of the country's 2.87 million electorate, according to Asia Plus-Blitz. LF

TURKMEN OPPOSITION LEADER SENTENCED, ALONG WITH SON

A Turkmen district court on 25 February sentenced Nurberdy Nurmamedov, leader of the unregistered Agzybirlik opposition movement, to five years in prison on charges of hooliganism and intent to commit murder, RFE/RL's Ashgabat correspondent reported. Nurmamedov's son Murad was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of hooliganism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 17 January 2000). Foreign diplomats were barred from the court proceedings. Nurmamedov was arrested in early January, shortly after he had said that the amendment to the country's constitution allowing an individual to serve more than two consecutive presidential terms is "undemocratic and unconstitutional." LF




U.S. SAYS BELARUSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD HAS WORSENED

In its annual report on respect for human rights worldwide, the U.S. State Department noted that Belarus's record in this area worsened last year, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 25 February. The report noted that the Belarusian government limits the rights of citizens to bring about democratic change and that well-known politicians have disappeared inexplicably. It also said that the number of arrests increased in 1999, while police continue to beat political opponents and detainees and restrictions on the freedom of the press continue. VG

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTS SIGNS LAND SALE DECREE

Ayaksandr Lukashenka on 25 February signed a degree allowing the transfer of land to legal entities, including companies partly or entirely owned by foreigners, Belapan reported. The decree states the president decides on the sale of land to legal entities. In other news, the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus on 26 February announced that it will participate in this fall's parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. The same day, the United Civic Party announced that it will decide whether to participate in the elections at a meeting later on this year. VG

HUNGARIAN PREMIER VISITS UKRAINE

Viktor Orban on 25 February assured his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, that Hungary will not impose visas on Ukrainians until it enters the EU. Both premiers stressed the importance of improving bilateral economic ties. Yushchenko said Hungary is "Ukraine's main partner in Eastern Europe." VG

UKRAINIAN PREMIER DENIES RUSSIAN CLAIMS

Yushchenko on 25 February said that Ukraine has not agreed to hand over leading enterprises to Russia in payment of gas debts, Interfax reported. Yushchenko also rejected Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's claim that he has presented a list of enterprises Russia would be willing to accept as debt payment. VG

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SAYS REFERENDUM UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Ivan Plyushch said on 25 February that the 16 April referendum on no confidence in the parliament does not comply with the constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the country is not ready for new elections. A group of 108 lawmakers have asked the Constitutional Court to examine President Leonid Kuchma's decree on the referendum. VG

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT TRIES TO BREAK DEADLOCK OVER RESTITUTION

The parliamentary leadership has convened a meeting of representatives of all factions on 29 February, ETA reported on 25 February. The meeting has been called to resolve the deadlock over the return of property to emigres. Last week, lawmakers failed to take action on any of the 19 bills on its agenda owing to the opposition's obstruction tactics. Led by the Center Party, the opposition charges that the Justice Ministry is attempting to retroactively legalize the restitution of property to some 200 individuals who emigrated to Germany in 1941. The opposition claims that these individuals have no right to the property because they were compensated for their losses by the German government. AB

DESECRATORS OF JEWISH GHETTO CHARGED IN LATVIA

BNS reported on 26 February that two residents of the eastern city of Daugavpils, Dmitry Korsakov and Edvart Kizla, have been charged with the desecration of the cemetery in the city's Jewish ghetto. If convicted, the defendants face an eight- year jail term or a fine of up to 150 minimum monthly wages. At present, the minimum monthly wage in Latvia is 50 lats ($84.32). In November 1999, the Jewish ghetto was smeared with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. AB

HALF OF LITHUANIAN MUNICIPALITIES LACK BUDGETS

ELTA reported on 25 February that 27 of Lithuania's 46 municipalities still lack approved budgets for 2000. Local councils are objecting to planned cuts in municipal services. Despite these cuts, the Association of Local Authorities (LSA) anticipates a shortfall of 200 million litas ($50 million) in local revenues; that shortfall would need to be made up by central government subsidies. However, the failure of local governments to approve their austerity budgets prevents the central government from allocating those subsidies. AB

POLISH MINISTER DISMISSED OVER ALLEGATION...

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek on 25 February dismissed Sports Minister Jacek Debski following the latter's comment that a top Solidarity functionary is searching for compromising materials on President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish media reported. In an interview with "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 25 February, Debski said a top official of the governing Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) asked him to find compromising evidence on Kwasniewski, who served as sports minister in the 1980s. Debski said he was told that if he did not cooperate, compromising materials would be found on him. Buzek demanded that Debski explain his comments by 3:00 p.m. on 25 February, otherwise he would be dismissed. Debski's term in office was to have ended, in any case, at midnight on that day, because the Sports Ministry is being reorganized. VG

...WHILE KWASNIEWSKI DEMANDS CLARIFICATION

Kwasniewski on 25 February asked Buzek to clarify the situation surrounding Debski's allegations, which he said he finds "deeply disturbing," PAP reported. The acting head of the president's office, Ryszard Kalisz, on 25 February said on Polish Radio 1 that if Debski's allegations are true, they constitute an "assault against the essence of democracy in the Polish Republic." AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski on 25 February said Debski should have told either him or the AWS presidium about the matter before going to the media. Meanwhile, the former head of the prime minister's office, Wieslaw Walendziak, said on 25 February that Debski himself had said he could find compromising materials on Kwasniewski when he first took the job as sports minister, PAP reported. He added that Buzek was "hostile" to such suggestions. The current head of the the prime minister's office said Buzek knew nothing of Debski's statements to the media. VG

EU TO QUADRUPLE ASSISTANCE TO POLAND

European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen confirmed on 25 February that the EU will quadruple its aid for the Polish reform process to 1 billion euros ($990 million), Polish media reported. Verheugen, who was in Warsaw for a two-day visit, said there is "some concern" among EU member-states that Poland is moving too slowly with some reforms. However, he added that his talks with Polish officials have confirmed that the government is committed to meeting EU standards as quickly as possible. VG

POLAND ASKS RUSSIA TO ENSURE BETTER SECURITY FOR EMBASSY

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said on 26 February that Poland will ask Russia to ensure better security for Poland's diplomatic missions in Russia, Reuters reported. His comments came after groups of demonstrators threw eggs and bottles at Polish missions in Moscow and St. Petersburg on 26 February (see Part I). Dobrowolski said the reaction of the Russian police to the incident was "inadequate." Meanwhile, on 25 February, Polish police said they have launched an investigation into five officers who have been accused of not intervening when demonstrators attacked the Russian consulate in Poznan. The next day, police arrested a cameraman who had paid a youth to scale the wall of the consulate building. VG

CZECH GOVERNMENT SUBMITS BILL ON BANNING EXPORTS TO IRAN

The government on 25 February submitted to the Chamber of Deputies a bill aimed at preventing the ZVVZ Mielevsko company from exporting air conditioning equipment to Iran that would be used in the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant, CTK reported. It is expected that the bill will be debated this week under a "state of legislative emergency" declared at the government's request. The bill stipulates a fine of 20 million crowns ($563,000) for any company violating its provisions. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT ACCUSES RUSSIA OF GENOCIDE IN CHECHNYA

Vaclav Havel said on Czech Radio on 26 February that Russia's military operations in Chechnya can "without any hesitation" be described as the "killing off of a nation." He said the war has "nothing to do with the "fight against terrorism," and he urged the EU "take a firm stand against Russia". MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER

Karel Kuehnl has been elected chairman of the Freedom Union, CTK and AP reported on 27 February. He replaces Jan Ruml, who resigned in December 1999. Kuehnl received 193 votes, compared with 87 for Vladimir Mlynar, who was later elected first deputy chairman. MS

EXTREMIST CZECH LEADER DETAINED IN PRAGUE

Police have arrested Vladimir Skoupy, leader of the extreme right National Alliance, and charged him with disseminating fascist propaganda, CTK reported on 25 February. Skoupy participated in an anti-communist demonstration organized by the National Alliance and the far-right Patriotic Front outside Communist Party headquarters. The demonstration had been banned by the police. Earlier this month, Skoupy was charged with wearing Nazi symbols at a demonstration in Prague, and last year he was charged with the "defamation of a race" after denying in a speech that the Holocaust took place. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said last week that his ministry is considering outlawing the National Alliance for repeatedly breaking the law. MS

GERMAN COURT DROPS PROCEEDINGS AGAINST FORMER SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S SON

A court in Munich last week dropped proceedings against former President Michal Kovac's son for "lack of sufficient evidence," CTK reported on 26 February, quoting the former president. Michal Kovac Jr. was accused in 1994 of conspiring to defraud the Slovak Technopol company of $2.3 million. Kovac Sr. said the decision amounts to the "full rehabilitation" of his son. MS

AUSTRIA ASSURES HUNGARY OF SUPPORTING EU EXPANSION

Visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner told her Hungarian counterpart, Janos Martonyi, on 25 February that Austria remains committed to EU expansion and considers Hungary a leading candidate among countries seeking accession. She noted that 55-60 percent of Austrians support Hungary's EU accession. Martonyi said Hungary has concerns and fears related to Austria's Freedom Party that "go beyond the issue of enlargement," but he added that Budapest's position differs from that of EU members. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FAR RIGHT TO GET RADIO FREQUENCY

The National Radio and Television Board's four-year mandate is nearing a close amid a scandal over its decision to grant a regional radio frequency to a company co-owned by Lorant Schuster, a member of the Budapest City Council of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), Hungarian media reported on 28 February. Opposition Free Democrat Chairman Balint Magyar objected that neither the BBC, RFI, or Deutsche Welle can obtain a frequency in Hungary but MIEP politicians can launch radio stations. MIEP agreed to support bids favored by the governing parties in return for support for the MIEP bid. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio that Hungary is "the only country that is not accused by anybody of having a threat from the far right." MSZ




YUGOSLAV ARMY STEPPING UP COMBAT READINESS IN MONTENEGRO?

Deputy speaker of the parliament Predrag Popovic said in Podgorica on 27 February that the Yugoslav army has recently increased its strength in manpower and weapons--including heavy artillery--at Tuzi, near the Bozaj border crossing with Albania, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He stressed that Belgrade may at some point use force to "solve" its problems with Podgorica. The reinforcement of the border units is aimed at "discouraging" the Montenegrin authorities from further improving relations with Albania, dpa added on 28 February. AP reported that Yugoslav troops have closed the road linking Bozaj with Hani i Hotit in Albania. Reuters, however, said the road is open and quoted an army statement as denying that the military has increased their activities in the area. Elsewhere, riot control specialists have been sent from Serbia to take command of military police units in Niksic, Berane, Pljevlja, and Bijelo Polje, dpa noted. PM

MONTENEGRO'S BURZAN CALLS FOR EXPLANATION OF ATROCITY

Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said in Podgorica on 27 February that an investigation into the disappearance of 20 Muslims from the Belgrade-Bar train in Strpci is long overdue. In remarks on the seventh anniversary of the incident, he called for a thorough investigation and for the punishment of those responsible for the presumed death of the Muslim passengers. Elsewhere, representatives of Sandzak Muslim political parties demanded that the guilty persons be brought to justice and that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal play an unspecified role in the investigations and trial. Finally, President Slobodan Franovic of the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee said that the Strpci incident was a planned crime in keeping with Belgrade's policy of violence against ethnic Muslims. PM

VOJVODINA PARTY WANTS FEDERAL SERBIA

Nenad Canak, who heads Vojvodina's League of Social Democrats, said in Vienna on 27 February that in Serbia "a revolution will begin in the bread lines," an allusion to the widespread poverty in that country. The previous day in Subotica, delegates from Canak's party approved a document entitled "Vojvodina--a Republic." The text calls for a reorganization of Serbia into a federation of six "units": Vojvodina, Belgrade, Sumadija, Southeastern Serbia, Sandzak, and Kosova. Canak told the gathering that decentralization and democratization of Serbia is necessary to prevent the country from eventually disintegrating into several independent states, "Danas" reported. PM

DJINDJIC RE-ELECTED PARTY CHIEF

Delegates to a congress of the Democratic Party in Belgrade on 27 February re-elected Zoran Djindjic chairman. He staved off a challenge from his deputy, Slobodan Vuksanovic, by 605 votes to 485. Vuksanovic had previously criticized Djindjic's manner of running the party as authoritarian. After the vote, the two men called for party unity. PM

SERBIA PROMOTES TIES TO NORTH KOREA

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic arrived in Pyongyang on 26 February on a visit aimed at promoting political, economic, and cultural ties. The trip is an attempt by the Belgrade authorities to show that Serbia is not completely isolated, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

INCIDENTS ON EVE OF UCK ANNIVERSARY

Ceremonies are slated to take place in Kosova's Skenderaj region on 28 February to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in 1996. The previous day in Gjilan, unknown persons shot dead Josif Vasic, a local Serbian politician. On Serbian territory on the Gjilan-Bujanovac road, unknown assailants killed a Serbian police major and wounded three policemen, Belgrade's official Tanjug news agency reported. Police officials said the attackers entered Serbia from Kosova. There is no independent verification of the story. In Mitrovica on 28 February, a mine blew up a Serbian bus on a busy road, KFOR spokesmen told Reuters. There were no casualties. PM

NATO AMBASSADORS FAIL TO AGREE ON TROOP INCREASE

Meeting in Brussels on 25 February, the Atlantic alliance's governing body failed to reach an agreement on increasing NATO troop strength in Kosova in the wake of a series of violent incidents in the divided city of Mitrovica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2000). NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said: "Mitrovica is a potential flash point; it flared up but we dealt with the unrest quickly and decisively." PM

MACEDONIAN POLICE SEIZE ARMS, DRUGS BOUND FOR KOSOVA

In Skopje and Bitola on 25 and 26 February, Macedonian police confiscated 145 crates of automatic weapons and handguns, 2 tons of ammunition, 90 kilograms of narcotics, and other unspecified illegal goods bound for Kosova, AP reported. Western Macedonia was known as a center for drugs and arms smuggling even during the 1980s. PM

MESIC TO VISIT BOSNIA

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 26 February that he will pay an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the second half of March. His itinerary will include the Republika Srpska's capital of Banja Luka as well as cities in the Muslim and Croatian federation. PM

BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES TRIAL BEGINS

In The Hague on 28 February, the trial opened of four Bosnian Serbs for atrocities committed at the Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje concentration camps near Prijedor in 1992. Commander Miroslav Kvocka, his deputies Milojica Kos and Mlado Radic, and alleged torturer Zoran Zigic are charged in connection with the rape, torture, and deaths of many Muslim and Croatian inmates. Films and photographs of emaciated prisoners at the camps attracted international attention in the summer of 1992. PM

STRIFE CONTINUES AMONG BOSNIAN SERB SOCIALISTS

On 27 February in Banja Luka, the steering committee of the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS) called on all local party organizations to comply with the committee's decision to leave the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). The committee added that all parliamentary deputies hold their posts at the discretion of the party, which has the right to unseat any legislator who does not adhere to party policies, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Several legislators and local party organizations have balked at the party's decision to withdraw from the coalition, "Vesti" reported on 26 February. The SPRS is the Bosnian branch of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's party. The decision to leave the coalition is widely seen as an attempt by Milosevic to undermine the governing coalition or possibly even the Dayton peace settlement. PM

WHO SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO WHOM IN ROMANIA?

The Democratic Party on 27 February announced it is nominating former Environment Minister Florin Frunzaverde for the defense portfolio. The National Liberal Party (PNL), however, has said it will not agree to the dismissal of Victor Babiuc as defense minister as long as Transportation Minister Traian Basescu does not "properly" apologize to President Emil Constantinescu for having accused him of being behind Babiuc's resignation from the Democratic Party. The PNL says the apology must be made through the proper channels and not "on a TV talk-show", as was the case when Basescu apologized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2000). Meanwhile, the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania and Greater Romania Party are demanding that Constantinescu formally apologize for his 25 February comment that the two parties are filled with members of the former Securitate who "set the agenda" of Romanian politics. MS

ROMANIAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCES OF 'REVOLUTION GENERALS'

The Supreme Court on 25 February upheld the 15- year prison sentence that a lower court handed down to Generals Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac last July for their role in suppressing the anti-communist uprising in Timisoara, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stanculescu and Chitac, along with the Defense Ministry, were ordered to pay 36 billion lei ($1.9 million) in damages to the families of the 72 people killed and the 253 wounded during the uprising. Babiuc and Chief of Staff General Mircea Chelaru have protested that ruling. MS

MOLDOVA ASKS GAZPROM TO RESUME SUPPLIES

The Moldovan government on 26 February asked the Russian Gazprom company to resume supplies of natural gas, saying that by 1 March it will pay its $10 million debt for deliveries since the beginning of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. President Petru Lucinschi told the Russian agency that Moldova will be able to make regular payments only in the fall, once it has finished privatizing its energy sector. Earlier this month, the Spanish company Union Fenosa purchased Moldova's central power grid for $25 million. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER VOW TO FIGHT CORRUPTION

President Petar Stoyanov, addressing a conference of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 26 February, warned that fighting corruption within the party's ranks is "the only way to regain [the public's] confidence and win the elections" scheduled for 2001, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said the SDS must "stop being a springboard for making careers and securing economic advantages." He pledged to "uproot everything [that is] rotten in the SDS" and to "free the SDS's top ranks of discredited politicians." MS

BULGARIAN OFFICIALS FLY TO LIBYA

Justice Minister Teodosii Simeonov, Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev, and Deputy Health Minister Galin Kamenov left for Libya on 25 February to assist the six Bulgarians who are facing the death sentence under charges of having willfully injected children with the HIV virus, BTA reported. On 27 February, Filichev and Kamenov met with the six, but the latter were allowed only to sign a document requesting that a Libyan lawyer represent them in court when the trial resumes on 28 February. MS




WHAT ARE 'FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS?'


By Sarah Martin

For several years, Hrair Balian has been an election observer in former Soviet countries that are new to democracy. Today, he heads the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. In that capacity, he is in charge of sending observation missions to monitor elections throughout the 54-state OSCE region. His office produces reports on the elections' procedures and outcome--in other words, it seeks to determine how free and fair those elections are.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Balian defined the terms "free" and "fair": "Freedom relates to the freedom of a voter to make a choice on a ballot without any undue pressure from any source. The fairness relates to conditions under which the candidates, political parties are able to compete in an electoral campaign."

But freedom and fairness are only two of seven elements the OSCE examines when it assesses the democratic nature of an election. The organization also evaluates the universality of the vote--that is, who is deemed eligible to cast a ballot and who is not--the transparency of the electoral process, the secrecy of the ballot, and the government's accountability to the electorate.

Balian says any one of these individual elements can be, and often are, violated. "One of the most common violations-- where we are devoting a lot of attention and resources now-- is the transparency of an election," he comments. "You can conduct a perfect election on election day. You can give your voters all of the chances they deserve to make a free choice of candidates, parties, etc. And if the process falls apart during the tabulation of the results arriving from the polling stations, then that becomes seriously problematic."

Balian's office sends both long- and short-term observers to watch the entire election cycle. Ahead of the vote, they look at the registration of voters and candidates and the way the media covers the campaign. On election day, they watch the voting, ballot-counting, and declaration of results. And finally, observers monitor the installment in office of the winners.

OSCE monitors observe at least 10 percent of the polling stations in a given country. That means it may send 400 observers to a large country, such as Russia, but only 100 to Croatia.

Balian says the OSCE does not monitor all the countries that have questionable electoral practices. It simply does not have the resources to do that. Instead, the organization looks for countries where it may be able to have a positive impact.

Most recently, these have been the countries that once made up the Soviet Union--states moving from a one-party system to multi-party pluralism, which pose a particular kind of problem, according to Balian: "In many of the transitional countries..., (residents) have experienced for the first time in the history of their country any level of democratic election. So, for the first time they are confronted with the possibility of making a choice and their choice counting."

Tajikistan is a case in point. This weekend, Tajiks voted in parliamentary elections for the first time since 1991. The elections are part of a peace accord ending a bloody civil war. Marie Struthers of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring group, has been working in Tajikistan on and off since 1997, when the accord was signed. She told RFE/RL that one of the most difficult obstacles on the road to democracy is voter education:

"People have not seen candidates express diverging views--although the views are not so diverging in Tajikistan - via the press. And they are not used to having one platform compared or contrasted against another. I mean, I speak to people every day in the streets, in the stores, and I ask them: 'Who will you vote for?' 'What party will you vote for?' And they say: 'We don't really understand the difference between the parties...and we don't know many of the people presenting themselves because they haven't been exposed to us."

Struthers says the transition to free and fair elections in a country like Tajikistan is a slow process. But she has no doubt about the importance of implementing a democratic system. She says that people have to be given the right to exercise their right to choice in a free manner. In her words: "They should be able to say, 'I vote for this person' in an unrestricted manner--without intimidation, without pressure and without reprisal." The author is an intern with RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs Division.


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