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Newsline - March 1, 2000




CHECHEN LEADERS ESCAPE CAPTURE

Russian spokesmen on 29 February said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and prominent field commanders were not among the 150 Chechens killed in the final assault on Shatoi. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii also said that field commander Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, one of Maskhadov's closest allies, whose presumed death had been reported early last month, is still alive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). ITAR-TASS reported that Maskhadov is believed to be in the village of Kharsenoi, 8-10 kilometers west of Shatoi. In Moscow, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said after briefing acting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the capture of Shatoi that his ministry will "soon" take over control of operations in Chechnya from the Defense Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

MILITARY PROSECUTOR DENIES FILM FOOTAGE PROVES ATROCITIES

Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Yurii Demin said on 29 February that video footage of the burial in mass graves of dead Chechen men does not constitute evidence of war crimes, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 February 2000). He said that conclusion was reached on the basis of an examination both of the video itself and of the location where it was filmed. Demin claimed that the dead men were Chechen fighters killed during hostilities near the town of Urus Martan on 1-3 February and that the fact that one of the bodies was missing an ear was probably due to a fragmentation wound. He added that the dead men's feet were tied with wire for convenience when transporting the bodies. LF

KOSHMAN REJECTS OSCE MEDIATION IN CHECHNYA

Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government's representative in Chechnya, told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 29 February that he sees "no sense" in that organization's repeated offer to mediate talks between the Russian and Chechen leaderships, Interfax reported. Russian leaders have consistently rejected such OSCE mediation offers, saying that Chechnya is Russia's internal problem. But Koshman added that Moscow would welcome a swift resumption of the activities of the OSCE assistance group in Chechnya, which was evacuated to Moscow for security reasons last year. He told the council that the use of force in Chechnya does not violate Russia's OSCE commitments or international law, and he appealed to the international community to adopt what he termed "a balanced approach" to Chechnya. Koshman added that allowing Chechnya to become independent would ultimately lead to the disintegration of the Russian state. LF

PUTIN TRIES TO DISTANCE HIMSELF PUBLICLY FROM BEREZOVSKII?

One of acting President Putin's top economic advisers, German Gref, called on 29 February for the creation of another national airline to compete with Aeroflot. Gref is head of the Center for Strategic Studies, which has been tasked with drafting Putin's economic program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). According to "The Moscow Times" the next day, Gref is proposing that the Russian government play a larger role in helping consolidate the domestic airline industry and the most likely way of doing this is by merging smaller airlines in which the government holds a significant stake. Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Nikolai Petrov told the daily that Gref's suggestion may be politically motivated: "This is a purely political measure to demonstrate that the government and acting president are independent of financial interests." Business magnate Boris Berezovskii is a major shareholder in Aeroflot (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 September 1999). JAC

BANKING OLIGARCH CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING PUBLIC MORALITY...

In an article published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 February, Alfa Bank President Petr Aven suggested that Russia's expectations of acting President Putin are currently so high that it is almost inevitable that they will soon be quashed: "The more popular the leader promising wonders, the more he will be hated when the miracle does not happen." Instead of pinning all hopes on Putin, Aven advocated that Russia attempt "a transformation of public morality" since the country is plagued by a lack of business ethics. And he added that bribe-taking and tax evasion are considered almost acceptable behavior. Aven is a former minister for international economic relations. JAC

...AS HIS ORGANIZATION ALLEGED TO HAVE EXTENSIVE LOBBYING INFLUENCE

Last week, "Novaya gazeta" published an extensive article detailing how the Alfa Group has systematically infiltrated the Kremlin, State Duma, and regional administrations by placing key personnel in these structures and providing "financing" when needed. According to the weekly, Alfa has four former employees in top positions in the Kremlin: Sergei Zverev, public relations specialist, Vadim Boiko, adviser to the presidential chief of staff, Aleksandr Abramov, deputy chief of staff in charge of relations with regions, and Andrei Popov, head of the presidential administration's department for domestic policy. The newspaper also alleges that Alfa engineered the formation of the People's Deputy group in the Duma, which is made up primarily of candidates elected from single-mandate districts. The group also reportedly provided cash to guarantee the election of Aleksandr Shokhin as head of the Committee for Credit Organizations and Financial Markets. JAC

THREE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN DANGER OF LOSING REGISTRATION

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 29 February that the office of Moscow's prosecutor-general has launched criminal proceedings in four cases of suspected forgery of signatures lists. The lists were submitted in support of presidential candidates Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Moscow businessman Umar Dzhabrailov, former deputy head of the presidential administration Yevgenii Savostoyanov, and Tishkino director Ismail Tagi-zade. Tagi-zade sought but did not receive registration as a candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2000). Veshnyakov stated that if the charges are proven, then the candidates' registration will be revoked and they will be unable to participate in the 26 March presidential elections. JAC

MATVIENKO SAYS SHE MAY RUN FOR ST. PETE GOVERNOR

As speculation continues over whether former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin will participate in the May gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko has announced she may run in that ballot, Russian Television reported on 29 February. Rumors that Matvkienko is the Kremlin's favorite for the post of St. Petersburg governor began circulating when she accompanied acting President Putin on a trip to the city early this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000). "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, commented on 1 March that Matvienko's announcement suggests Putin has decided not to support Stepashin, with whom he has met twice in recent days. Stepashin denied after those meetings that they had discussed the St. Petersburg ballot, saying that his final decision on whether to run would partly depend on the Kremlin's position (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 1 March 2000). JC

RUSSIA READY TO RESUME NATO TIES IMMEDIATELY

Meeting with his German counterpart, Rudolf Scharping, in Moscow on 29 February, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that Russia is ready to resume relations with NATO at expert level immediately, Russian agencies reported. Sergeev proposed that the first topics to come under discussion should be Russia's new military doctrine and NATO's "strategic concept." The same day in Geneva, U.S. and Russian arms control resumed talks that, according to Reuters, will focus on U.S. plans to deploy a limited national defense system. Those plans would require amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty--a move to which Russia remains opposed. JC

MOSCOW, BEIJING REMAIN COMMITTED TO 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP'

Foreign Ministers Igor Ivanov and Tang Jiaxuan stressed after their meeting in Moscow on 29 February that Russia and China remain committed to building a strategic partnership. Tang noted that China supports Moscow's campaign in Chechnya, which he described as Russia's internal affair, while Ivanov confirmed Moscow's support for China's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. The Russian foreign minister, however, did not comment directly on Beijing's recent policy statement that it might attack Taiwan if the island continues to put off negotiations on reunification. In an apparent allusion to the U.S., he noted that "we are against any third-party interference...especially by means of extending one's military presence in the region." JC

BONY FIGURE SEEKS DAMAGES FOR RUINED REPUTATION

Former Bank of New York Vice President Natasha Gurfinkel Kagalovskaya filed suit in a Moscow court last week against her former employer. Kagalovskaya is seeking $270 million in damages. Genri Reznik, one of Kagalovskaya's lawyers, said on 29 February that the Bank of New York has multi-million dollar assets in Russia that could be seized if the suit is settled in Kagalovskaya's favor. Kagalovskaya told reporters the same day that she was persecuted by top bank official in part because she is Russian and that she hopes "to find justice in a Russian court." Kagaloskaya's lawyers said that they also plan to file libel suits in U.S. and British courts in the near future. JAC

SKURATOV'S WINGS CLIPPED AGAIN

Suspended Prosecutor-General and presidential candidate Yurii Skuratov revealed that the Prosecutor-General's Office has confiscated his passport, "Vremya MN" reported on 29 February. Skuratov said that the loss of his passport will scuttle his plans to meet with U.S. Congressman Curt Weldon (Republican) and other U.S. legislators in Washington next week to discuss corruption in Russia and the U.S. Skuratov also had to shelve plans for two earlier trips to Switzerland because of problems with his passport and visa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999). JAC

PORTFOLIO INVESTMENT PLUNGES

The State Statistics Committee reported on 1 March that portfolio investment sank by more than five times in 1999, compared with the previous year, to total $31 million. Total foreign investment sank 18.8 percent to $9.560 billion, while direct foreign investment rose 26.7 percent to total $4.260 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). JAC

RUSSIA TO BEGIN WORK ON NUCLEAR PLANT IN INDIA NEXT YEAR

Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov announced in Moscow on 29 February that Russia will begin work on a nuclear power plant at Kudankulam in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu in 2001, dpa reported. An agreement on Russia's involvement in the project was signed in summer 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 1998), some 10 years after the Soviet Union and India had concluded the original accord. The German news agency reported that the facility is expected to cost some $2 billion. JC

RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER DISCUSSES ARMS, GAS IN ANKARA

Visiting Turkey on 28-29 February, Ilya Klebanov held talks in Ankara with Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, Russian agencies reported. Klebanov told journalists after those talks that agreement had been reached on establishing a military cooperation commission that will implement joint projects, including the development and sale of arms to third countries. Both sides also pledged their commitment to the Blue Stream project to build a pipeline under the Black Sea to export Russian natural gas to Turkey. Klebanov delivered to Demirel a letter from acting Russian President Putin, who expressed support for the peaceful resolution of the Karabakh and other conflicts in the Caucasus and for Demirel's proposed South Caucasus peace and stability pact (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). LF




ANOTHER ARREST IN CONNECTION WITH ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS

Armenian Interior Ministry official Armen Harutiunian was arrested late on 28 February on suspicion of having failed to inform his superiors that the killings of a number of senior parliamentary and government figures were being plotted, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 February, quoting a spokesman for the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office. Fifteen people have been detained to date in connection with the 27 October shootings, including the five gunmen who committed the killings. LF

COMMUNISTS THREATEN TO PULL OUT OF NEW ARMENIAN CABINET

Senior Armenian Communist Party member Frunze Kharatian warned on 29 February that his party will recall its newly appointed cabinet minister, Leonid Hakobian, if the new government rejects the party's demands for a state monopoly on the import of gasoline and grain, Armenpress reported. Observers believe that gasoline imports are controlled by a cartel of some seven or eight individuals close to the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT CONFIRMS CHECHENS ARE BEING TREATED IN BAKU

On his return to Baku on 28 February following a visit to the U.S., Heidar Aliyev told journalists that a 24 February Russian Foreign Ministry statement that wounded Chechens are undergoing hospital treatment in Baku is correct, Turan reported on 29 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). But Aliyev stressed that those Chechens are civilians, not fighters, and that during his last visit to Moscow he had informed acting Russian President Vladimir Putin of their presence in the Azerbaijani capital. Aliyev said that it would be "inhuman" to deny the injured Chechens medical care. LF

RUSSIA AGAIN ACCUSES GEORGIA OF HARBORING CHECHEN MILITANTS

Colonel General Yevgenii Bolkhovitin, who commands the North Caucasus detachment of the Russian Border Guard Force, charged on 29 February that an unspecified number of Chechen militants are hiding in the Chechen-populated areas of Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, which borders on Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian National Security Ministry spokesman Gela Suladze told Caucasus Press later the same day that he cannot confirm Bolkhovitin's allegations and what his sources are. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CONSULTS WITH HEAD OF TURKMEN GAS PIPELINE CONSORTIUM...

In Tbilisi on 29 February, Eduard Shevardnadze met with Edward G. Smith, head of the U.S. consortium PSG, which is negotiating with the Turkmen government to build the planned Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze assured Smith that Georgia will not create obstacles to implementation of the project, and he expressed the hope that disagreements between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over the use of the planned pipeline will not prevent the project going ahead. Azerbaijan wants the use of 50 percent of the planned pipeline's throughput capacity of 16 billion cubic meters per year, while Ashgabat is prepared to allow Azerbaijan to transport only 5 billion cubic meters. LF

...AS TURKMENISTAN ACCUSES U.S., AZERBAIJAN

Speaking in Ashgabat on 29 February, Turkmenistan's Oil and Gas Minister Reidjepbai Orazov said that Azerbaijan's demand to use 50 percent of the planned pipeline's throughput capacity constitutes a violation of the Declaration of Intent signed last November by the governments of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1999). Azerbaijan's claim is supported by the U.S. Orazov said that by adding what he termed "a political dimension" to the pipeline negotiations, Azerbaijan and Georgia risk thwarting the entire project and thus losing out on transit tariffs. He added that Ashgabat had suggested that Baku and Tbilisi use those tariffs to repay their respective debts to Turkmenistan for supplies of natural gas for domestic consumption. The combined debts of the two countries since 1995 amount to some $400 million. LF

TWELVE CANDIDATES QUALIFY FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL...

Twelve of the 16 people whose applications to contest the 9 April Georgian presidential election have been approved by the Central Electoral Commission met the 29 February deadline to submit at least 50,000 signatures supporting their candidacy, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. They are incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, parliamentary deputy Djumber Patiashvili, Mdzleveli Political Association member Avtandil Djoglidze, Progressive Party Chairman Vazha Zhgenti, National Ideology Party Chairman Zurab Gagnidze, former Finance Minister Guram Absandze, David Aghmashenebeli Party chairman Roin Liparteliani, independent candidate Tengiz Asanidze, Unity of Georgian Nationalists leader Gia Mamaladze, Georgian Corporation of Lawyers chairman Kartlos Gharibashvili, and Independent Association of the Unemployed representative Gela Gelashvili. Ushangi Dondzhashvili, acting head of the St. Ilia the Righteous Society Gia Chkhikvadze, and Georgian Communist Party Central Committee chairman Ivane Tsiklauri failed to collect the required number of signatures. LF.

...AS GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE ANNOUNCES BOYCOTT

National Independence Party of Georgia Irakli Tsereteli told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 February that 14 of the 25 opposition parties aligned in the recently formed Georgian Center for Democracy and Freedom will do their best to prevent the holding of the presidential poll, Caucasus Press reported. Those parties include the Labor Party, the United Republican Party, and the Greens. Tamara Chkheidze of the Ilia Chavchavadze Society told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on 9 February that the center hoped to pressure the Georgian leadership to postpone the presidential poll until November, five years after the previous poll, as stipulated by the constitution. That delay, Chkheidze said, is needed in order to revise the election law to create more or less equal conditions for all candidates and to conduct a population census that would serve as the basis for new voter lists and thus help to prevent widespread falsification of the vote. LF

GEORGIAN COURT REJECTS PLEA TO BAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

A Tbilisi district court on 29 February rejected an appeal by Georgian parliamentary deputy Guram Sharadze to revoke the legal registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Caucasus Press reported. Sharadze had argued that the sect is anti-national and directed against the Orthodox Church. A group of experts appointed by the court rejected that argument. Sharadze said on 29 February that he will appeal the court ruling, adding that the legal registration of religious sects in Georgia is impossible, given that no law on religion exists. LF

RUSSIA WANTS KAZAKHSTAN TO EXTRADITE ALLEGED SEPARATISTS

Russia's Minister for CIS Affairs Leonid Drachevskii has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to make a formal request to Kazakhstan to hand over an unspecified number of the 12 Russian citizens arrested last year for planning to declare an independent Russian Altai Republic on the territory of eastern Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 29 February. A spokesman for Kazakhstan's National Security Committee said in December that the men would not be handed over to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November and 6 December 1999). LF

SOME OPPOSITION PARTIES IN KAZAKHSTAN ADVOCATE JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION...

Representatives of the Communist Party, the Union of Cossacks, and the LAD movement, which represents Kazakhstan's Slav population, told journalists in Moscow on 29 February that they want the Kazakhstan authorities to hold a referendum on whether the country should accede to the Russia-Belarus Union, Interfax reported. Some 250 members of those parties had convened a rally in Astana on 6 February at which they adopted an appeal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev to hold a referendum on that question. Nazarbaev later said that Kazakhstan will not join the union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2000). On 18 February, Prosecutor-General Yurii Khitrin issued a statement condemning the proposal that Kazakhstan should join the Russia-Belarus Union as illegal and unconstitutional. LF

...WHILE WORKERS' MOVEMENT REJECTS IT

Also on 29 February, Otegen Qabaziev, head of the Almaty branch of the Workers' Movement, told journalists in the former capital that his movement supports the idea of restoring the USSR, but not at the present time and in the manner that Russia and Belarus have chosen, RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent reported. Qabaziev criticized Kazakhstan's Slav community for what he termed excessive haste in seeking to join the Russia-Belarus Union. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSES LEADERSHIP OF VIOLATING ELECTION PROTOCOL

In a statement issued in Dushanbe on 29 February, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) accused the Tajik leadership of violating the protocol signed in November 1999 by President Imomali Rakhmonov and IRP leader Said Abdullo Nuri on the conduct of the parliamentary elections, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The statement enumerated procedural violations during the 27 February elections to the lower house of the new parliament, which it said create obstacles to the ongoing democratization process. LF

PRELIMINARY TAJIK ELECTION RESULTS DISCLOSED

Central Electoral Commission Chairman Mirzoali Boltuev said on 1 March that three of the six political parties that contested the poll had surmounted the 5 percent minimum need to gain representation in the parliament, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. With votes from all but two constituencies counted, the People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan received 64.5 percent, the Communist Party 20.6 percent, and the Islamic Renaissance Party 7.48 percent. The Democratic Party polled 3.52 percent, the Adolatkhoh Party 1.35 percent, and the Socialist Party 1.24 percent. Voter turnout was 92.2 percent. A second round of voting will take place in 13 of the 41 single-mandate districts in which no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. LF




EUROPE'S 'PARLIAMENTARY TROIKA' TO SEEK POLITICAL AGREEMENT IN BELARUS...

The European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the OSCE have decided to combine their efforts to encourage talks between the authorities and the opposition in Belarus and send a "parliamentary troika" to Minsk on 2 March. The troika will include Jan Wiersma (EP), Wolfgang Berendt (PACE), and Adrian Severin (OSCE). The troika's declared goal is to "encourage all sides involved in political discussions to reach agreement on new electoral legislation, on the role and functions of the future parliament which will emerge from [this fall's] elections, and on the position of the media." The troika will hold bilateral meetings with opposition parties, NGOs, and government officials. It also hopes to meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM

...WHILE BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WANTS TALKS WITHOUT 'DIKTAT'

The Consultative Council of Belarusian Opposition Parties on 29 February said their dialogue with the authorities should not be based on "ultimatum-like conditions and diktat," Belapan reported. Simultaneously, the council expressed its readiness to hold talks with the authorities "within the format agreed upon in 1999 [and] with OSCE mediation." The council was responding to Lukashenka's proposal last week to hold a "broad political dialogue" without OSCE mediation. The council suspects that the proposal's real goal is to marginalize the opposition, if not to eliminate it from the dialogue process. JM

NEW PRO-MAJORITY CAUCUS EMERGES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT

A new parliamentary caucus called "Solidarnist" (Solidarity) emerged on 29 February, Interfax reported. The group is composed of six deputies from the Social Democratic Party (United), five from the Peasant Party, and three each from the Fatherland, Independence, and Popular Democratic Party caucuses. Solidarnist leader Petro Poroshenko declared that his caucus will join the Coordinating Council of the parliamentary majority. Oleksandr Volkov from the majority's Revival of Regions caucus commented that Solidarnist is a "good political move" intended to attract to the majority "as many leftist deputies as possible." The Peasant Party and Hromada Party caucuses, like that of the Progressive Socialist Party, have been dissolved because they did not have the required minimum number of deputies (14). JM

NATO HOLDS WORKING SESSION IN KYIV

In the alliance's first working session in a partner country, NATO ambassadors from 19 member states and NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson met in Kyiv on 1 March. The gathering is also the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission to be held in the Ukrainian capital, following 15 sessions in Brussels. "We have a unique opportunity to contribute to Euroatlantic stability," Robertson told the meeting, which he described as "historic" and being held in "recognition of special partnership between NATO and Ukraine," according to Reuters. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, who read a letter from President Leonid Kuchma to the meeting, said "Ukraine is ready to further deepen its relations with the alliance." JM

NEW LIST OF KGB COLLABORATORS IN ESTONIA

Estonian security officials have published a list of 23 KGB collaborators, ETA reported on 29 February. Among the names is Vladimir Iljachevich, the publisher of the Russian-language weekly "Russkii Telegraf," who worked as an agent for the KGB from 1983-1989. lljachevich is a member of the board of the Russian Writers' Association and was an adviser to the Russian faction in the previous Estonian parliament. The new list was published under the terms of a law requiring the Estonian security agency to reveal the names of all KGB collaborators who failed to voluntarily register with the Estonian authorities by 1 April 1996. The first list was published in January 1997. AB

HEARING OPENS INTO CONTROVERSIAL LATVIAN LAWMAKER'S ALLEGED KGB TIES

The long-delayed hearing into Janis Adamsons's alleged KGB ties opened in the Riga City Zemgale District Court on 29 February, according to BNS and LETA. Adamsons, a Social Democrat who has been the driving force behind several parliamentary investigations into scandals such as the current "pedophilia case" and last year's disappearance of 3 million lats ($5.1 million) from the budget of the electric utility Latvenergo, was an officer in the Soviet Border Guards before Latvia regained independence in 1991. If the court decides that his service with the Border Guards-- operationally controlled by the KGB--make him subject to Latvia's restrictions against former KGB officers holding elected office, Adamsons may be stripped of his parliamentary mandate. The court will announce its verdict on 3 March. MJZ

LATVIA ENDS 1999 WITH ZERO GDP GROWTH

The Latvian daily "Dienas Bizness" reported on 29 February that the IMF is lowering its estimate for GDP growth in Latvia last year to zero, even without the final data for the last quarter of that year. The IMF representative, Adalbert Knoble told the newspaper that the Latvian economy had been developing very rapidly before the August 1998 crisis in Russia and could again reach a 5-6 percent growth rate over the next two to three years. Knoble said that the IMF's forecast for 2000 will remain 4 percent for GDP. He added that Latvia's main problem is the current account deficit, which remains high and may exceed 1999 estimates. AB

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS RADICALISM IS GROWING

BNS reported that Valdas Adamkus, speaking to journalists on 29 February, warned that on the eve of local elections the state is in a difficult financial and economic situation, which "drives some people into despair," exacerbating political struggles and creating social conditions that "promote radicalism and populism." Adamkus underscored the importance of the forthcoming local and national elections and said that the current year provides Lithuania with a possibility of political renewal. AB

POLISH INTELLECTUALS URGE RIGHT WING TO BACK ONE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

A group of 25 intellectuals, including Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Czeslaw Milosz, has urged Poland's right-wing parties to support Andrzej Olechowski, former foreign minister and finance minister, as their joint candidate in this year's presidential elections, Polish media reported on 28 February. In a letter addressed to Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, Freedom Union leader Leszek Balcerowicz, and former President Lech Walesa, the intellectuals say Olechowski stands the best chance of any right-wing politician to defeat incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Krzaklewski commented the next day that Olechowski is not a good candidate because he does not belong to "the Solidarity camp" and has acknowledged ties to communist-era "economic espionage" operations. JM

CZECH COMMUNISTS PREVENT DEBATE OF BILL BANNING EXPORTS TO IRAN

Deputies from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia on 29 February prevented the bill prohibiting exports to Iran from being debated in the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. They made use of the procedure whereby 20 deputies or more can veto addenda to the house agenda. The bill was to be debated under the government-proposed " "state of legislative emergency." The government responded by asking Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus to extend the "state of legislative emergency," which is due to expire on 3 March. Klaus has not yet responded to that request. MS

FORMER CZECH FINANCE MINISTER RELEASED FROM DETENTION

Former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda and his associate, Barbora Snopkova, were released from detention of 29 February, after a court overruled a lower court's decision to detain them pending trial, CTK reported. Svoboda and Snopkova were taken into custody in November 1999 on charges of "damaging creditors' interests." They are suspected of having embezzled some 6.5 million crowns ($178,000) in connection with the bankruptcy of a baby- carriage company that they managed before Svoboda served as minister in 1998-1999. MS

HAVEL DENIES DISREGARDING CONSTITUTION

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said on 29 February that President Vaclav Havel is demanding an apology from several deputies from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) who have accused him of disregarding the constitution. Ivan Langer and Jan Zahradil (ODS), together with Jitka Kupkova and Zdenek Jicinski (CSSD), wrote to the Impulse 99 civic association that the two parties' initiative to change the constitution was prompted by the fact that Havel "has tried to set up a government according to his own preferences, rather than the will of the voters." MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS ODS WILL BACK BUDGET BILL

Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists on 29 February that his minority CSSD government can count on the support of the opposition ODS to pass the 2000 budget and that he will announce the planned government reshuffle as soon as the bill is passed, CTK reported. Zeman said he has received assurances from ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus to support the bill. MS

SLOVAKIA, EU AGREE ON ECONOMIC PRIORITIES

EU and Slovak officials on 29 February agreed on a joint assessment of Slovakia's economic priorities as part of the country's efforts to join the union, dpa reported from Brussels. European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes said after talks with Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos that the sides agreed to "tackle macroeconomic and structural problems" in order to help the country "achieve strong and sustainable growth." Macroeconomic stabilization is to be achieved through reducing the current account deficit. To achieve this target, a reduction in domestic debt, accompanied by "prudent monetary policy," is "essential," the sides agreed. Also identified as key priorities are the reform of the banking sector, the tax and social security system, and price deregulation. MS

SLOVAKIA TO START PROSECUTING TISO ADHERENTS?

The Prosecutor-General Office is considering whether to start proceedings against the Zilina mayoralty in connection with its decision to unveil a plaque honoring Fascist puppet- state leader Jozef Tiso, CTK reported on 29 February, citing Slovak state television. The mayoralty may be charged with spreading fascist propaganda. MS

RIFT EMERGES IN HUNGARIAN COALITION OVER MEDIA BOARD APPOINTMENTS

The parliament on 29 February failed to appoint a media board for the Hungaria Television Public Foundation, which oversees Duna TV. Two deputies representing the Independent Smallholders' Party abstained from voting, and deputies representing the Hungarian Democratic Forum did not participate in the ballot, Hungarian media reported. Forum chairwoman Ibolya David told "Nepszabadsag" that "the time has come for consensus politics" to replace confrontation and that she supports a Free Democratic Party proposal to hold further talks on nominees to media boards. Earlier, the parliament approved an incomplete National Radio and Television Board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). MS




U.S. WARNS BELGRADE OVER MONTENEGRIN-ALBANIAN BORDER...

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on 29 February that "the United States is concerned by the Yugoslav Army setting up a checkpoint last weekend and again today near the border crossing on Montenegro's border with Albania. We are watching the situation closely and remain in close contact with the Montenegrin authorities.... We call on Belgrade to dismantle the Yugoslav Army checkpoint and to join the Montenegrin and Albania governments in efforts to build peace and prosperity in Southeast Europe," an RFE/RL correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 February 2000). The spokesman also praised the Montenegrin authorities "for their show of restraint and their efforts to prevent the situation from escalating." PM

...WHILE THAT FRONTIER IS RE-OPENED

On 29 February, Yugoslav Army troops manned two checkpoints just inside the Montenegrin-Albanian frontier at Bozaj, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica. The soldiers wrote down the license plate numbers of vehicles crossing the frontier but made no attempt to halt traffic. The border post is staffed by Montenegrin police. Some 50 vehicles and 300 people pass through the recently reopened crossing daily, Reuters reported. The Yugoslav Army does not recognize the Montenegrin-Albanian agreement to reopen the crossing, which has been closed to all but local traffic since 1997. Elsewhere, "Vesti" reported on 1 March that the atmosphere at Bozaj is "peaceful" but that the Montenegrin authorities are concerned about the army's "increased military activity" at several places in the mountainous republic. PM

RUSSIAN PARATROOPER WOUNDED IN KOSOVA...

In Moscow on 1 March, a Defense Ministry spokesman told ITAR-TASS that unknown persons shot and wounded a Russian paratrooper in Skenderaj while he was on duty. Doctors operated on him and described his condition as "medium grave." French KFOR spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Chanliau told Reuters: "We know nothing of the identity of the assailant nor the motive." Chanliau noted that the soldier was shot in an area that Russian troops do not usually patrol. Peacekeepers are investigating the shooting. This is the second time since the beginning of the year that a Russian peacekeeper has been shot, the Russian news agency added. Skenderaj is a stronghold of the former Kosova Liberation Army. PM

...AS IS UN EMPLOYEE IN BUJANOVAC

A UN spokesman said in New York on 29 February that unidentified men stopped a clearly marked UN vehicle near Bujanovac in southwestern Serbia and shot Marcel Grogan in the leg. He then underwent successful surgery at the U.S. Camp Bondsteel in nearby Kosova. Grogan is Irish and an employee of the UN's humanitarian affairs office in Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 February 2000). PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS ABOUT SOUTHWESTERN SERBIA

Vladan Batic of the opposition Alliance for Change said in Belgrade on 29 February that "violence has escalated again" in the Presevo-Bujanovac-Medvedja region, Reuters reported. He stressed that "it is high time that the international community put an end to Albanian terrorism and protect innocent victims instead of making threats against the Yugoslav Army." In Presevo, ethnic Albanian Mayor Riza Halimi described local inter-ethnic relations as good. He blamed the Serbian paramilitary police for causing a series of incidents in December. PM

U.S. TROOPS TO STAY IN OWN SECTOR?

Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon said in Washington on 29 February that General Henry Shelton, who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants U.S. troops in Kosova to concentrate on their assignments in the U.S. sector. Bacon stressed that U.S. peacekeepers should not take part in "out-of-sector" missions on a regular basis, AP reported. His remarks come in the wake of recent U.S. participation in a French-led search for illegal weapons in Mitrovica. Also in Washington, NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark defended U.S. participation in missions in all five sectors of Kosova. He said that the sectors are not "zones of occupation as in post-World War II Berlin. These are just tactical boundary areas that we'd have in any military operation." PM

WORKERS RALLY IN SKOPJE

Some 15,000 workers took part in a trade-union rally on 29 February to protest the economic policies of the center-right government, the World Bank, and the IMF. Union leader Zivko Tolevski demanded that the government not close down loss-making large communist-era companies. He also condemned Western sanctions against Serbia. PM

FRANCE TO TAKE STEPS AGAINST KARADZIC?

French President Jacques Chirac said in The Hague on 29 February: "I want to stress France's determination to [provide] support in the arrests...notably of those who represent ethnic cleansing in its worst aspects, that is to say [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic," Reuters reported. His remarks come in apparent reply to remarks by former war crimes tribunal Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour and others to the effect that indicted war criminals roam freely in the French sector of Bosnia. Meanwhile in New York, the UN's Jacques Klein said that "Karadzic is still as far as I know from sources wandering around the eastern part of [Bosnia]." He also suggested that there is perhaps a lack of "national will, political will that is," to arrest him and send him to The Hague, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. PM

U.S. OPENS BUSINESS OFFICE IN CROATIA

The U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation opened an office in Zagreb on 29 February to assist U.S. businesses in investing in Croatia. PM

HDZ OFFICIAL QUITS TO WORK FOR MESIC

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, who is a prominent politician in the moderate wing of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), resigned her post as party deputy vice president on 29 February. Her move comes in response to criticism from some party officials of her decision to work as an aide to President Stipe Mesic. She is the most prominent former aide to the late President Franjo Tudjman whom Mesic has asked to stay on. PM

SERBIAN REFUGEES READY TO GO HOME

Veljko Dzakula, who heads Croatia's Serbian Democratic Forum, said in Zagreb on 29 February that some 16,500 Serbs want to go back to their homes in Croatia. He noted that some Croatian officials have discouraged the refugees from returning. He said that this is the case especially in the Knin, Gracac, and Pakrac regions. PM

CROATIAN SECRET SERVICE AGENT ARRESTED

Police in Zagreb arrested an unidentified agent of the Croatian Intelligence Service on 29 February. He was in possession of 18 kilograms of explosives. Croatia's new government has pledged to uncover links between the intelligence services and the criminal underworld. PM

ROMANIAN ELECTIONS GENERATE CONSPIRACY THEORIES

In an open letter to President Emil Constantinescu, Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) Chairman Ion Iliescu has demanded that the president respond to an "anonymous letter" that Iliescu claims to have received. The 29 February letter outlines alleged plans by the presidential office to obstruct Iliescu's candidacy for a third term as president; those plans supposedly range from character assassination to actual assassination, the latter to be achieved either by shooting Iliescu or infecting him with a virus that causes heart failure, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Responding to the allegations, presidential spokesman Razvan Popescu said the PDSR has "made a habit" of attributing "false documents" to Constantinescu that are becoming "more and more puerile." "If now Mr. Iliescu is launching scenarios of bacterial assassination, one wonders what will he do when the electoral campaign really begins," Popescu commented. MS

ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY APPEALS TO COALITION PARTNERS

The Democratic Party leadership on 29 February appealed to its partners in the ruling coalition to help "overcome the political impasse" created by Victor Babiuc's resignation from the party and "make it possible" for the premier to appoint a new defense minister to replace Babiuc as soon as possible. In an apparent attempt to avoid the apology that the National Liberal Party (PNL) has demanded from Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Traian Basescu for having said the PNL "stole the Senate chairmanship" from his party, the Democrats said they regret if "some formulations" used by their representatives "affected the public image of the PNL." PNL Chairman Mircea Ionescu- Quintus responded that he will meet with his party's leadership to discuss the Democrats' appeal, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT BUREAU CRITICIZES PRESIDENT LUCINSCHI

The Standing Bureau of Moldova's parliament said on 29 February that President Petru Lucinschi is attempting to "discredit and destabilize" the legislature, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Responding to Lucinschi's 25 February statement that "a few parliamentarians have usurped power," the bureau said the parliament is a forum that represents different political forces and whose decisions are "collective by their very nature." The bureau said it is "significant" that the president's statement came shortly after the parliamentary bureau changed its line-up--a move that "caused Lucinschi's discontent." MS

BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OUTLAWS MACEDONIAN PARTY

The Constitutional Court on 29 February ruled by a vote of nine to three to outlaw OMO-Ilinden-PIRIN, a party that advocates autonomy for the Pirin region and regards the region's inhabitants as of Macedonian, rather than Bulgarian, nationality, BTA reported. The party's full name is United Macedonian Organization-Ilinden-Party of Economic Development and Integration of the Population (the last part was chosen to produce the acronym PIRIN). It was set up in February 1998 and registered following a Sofia tribunal ruling one year later. The party won three seats on municipal councils in last year's local elections. The decision to register the party was appealed by 61 deputies from various political formations. MS




PUTIN'S UNITY PARTY REACHES FOR POWER


By Sophie Lambroschini

At a constituent congress of more than 1,000 delegates in Moscow on 27 February, Unity leaders said the movement should become a powerful, national party that could rival the country's only successfully organized national party--the Communists.

They also said Unity should play a role similar to that of the Rally for the Republic party, which was Charles de Gaulle's chief political support during his transformation of France into a presidential republic in the 1950s.

Similarly, acting President Vladimir Putin sees the future of Unity, created as a pro-Putin movement not long before the December 1999 State Duma elections, as a party supporting his leadership. Unity fared well in last December, gaining some 23 percent of the vote to come in a very close second to the Communists. Its success apparently encouraged the Kremlin to have yet another go at an enterprise that has so far failed in independent Russia--the construction of a political party directly backing the executive.

In his address to the congress, Putin named the Communist Party as a good example of the kind of organization Unity should become. "There are a lot of untapped [political] forces among the people and the state institutes," he said. "It's wrong to wait for the situation to change by itself. We have to create conditions where several national parties function with ideas based on a modern model. You can think what you like about communist ideology, you can criticize or support it. But you cannot not admit that there already is such a party. I hope that Unity will become a real representative of a powerful political force."

Putin admitted that previous attempts at creating a party of power were failures. He said that was because earlier, such parties had counted on the state's administrative resources instead of seeking popular support: "We have already made attempts to create parties strongly supporting those in power. But their success depended mainly on the presence of their representatives in the executive. As a result, the parties of power became parties of civil servants."

Two previous "parties of power"--former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Choice and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia--enjoyed some success in parliamentary elections and served to dilute the anti-Kremlin opposition in the parliament. But once their legislative duties were over, the popularity of both parties waned.

For the moment, Unity's delegates seem to differ little from the Our Home Is Russia bureaucrats. Almost half of Unity's delegates hold office in either government or legislative structures at the federal or local levels. They are links in the political web the movement is weaving across Russia. Today, Unity boasts members in 88 regions--only one fewer than the Communists, who are represented in all 89 regions.

Unity's 27 February congress was conducted in a familiar atmosphere of sober speeches, unanimous votes, and solemn pledges to defend Russia's interests. Despite promising political and spiritual renewal, the movement's leaders appeared to have a hard time shedding their Soviet-era habits.

The first throwback to tradition was the venue for the congress--the Kremlin State Palace, where Communist Party congresses took place until 1991. A long drop-cloth bore Unity's symbol, a Russian brown bear, and the list of regions where Unity is already established.

There were, however, subtle differences: while Soviet rhetoric called the Communist Party the "party of the people," Unity has given itself a more staid moniker: "party of the citizens."

In a recent analysis, political scientist Andrei Piontkovskii said that the similarities between Unity and the Communists are understandable. He said Russia's entire political and business elite is made up of the people who formed the Soviet political class.

Piontkovskii also noted that Unity members are virtually interchangeable with Communist Party members, having the same background, social status, political instincts, and even physical appearance. He pointed out that the new party of power has adopted some classic Communist ideas, notably the consolidation of society around common enemies: namely, "traitors," the West, and the Chechens

The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.


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