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Newsline - August 2, 2000




PUTIN'S POPULARITY RISES AGAIN

Some 73 percent of Russians approved President Vladimir Putin's performance in July, according to a poll reported by Reuters on 1 August. That is an increase of 12 percent from his standing in June and only 4 percent lower than his highest-ever approval rating, in April. Another poll found that 46 percent of Russians trust him. PG

TALKS ON SALE OF MEDIA-MOST BEGIN?

Embattled media mogul Vladimir Gusinskii may sell his Media-MOST company to Gazprom as part of a deal to have charges against him dropped, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 August. Robert Coalson, a National Press Institute analyst in Russia, told AP that the Russian state is using Gazprom to advance its interests "so that it looks more palatable than owning [the holding] directly, as in Soviet times." But Gusinskii has denied that such talks are talking place. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that talks have begun on the sale of shares in the Russian Public Television network, owned by Boris Berezovskii, to the state. Unlike Gusinskii, Berezovskii has acknowledged talks are taking place. PG

DUMA DRAFTING LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES

The State Duma is preparing a law on political parties for consideration this fall, ITAR-TASS reported 1 August. The draft reportedly is being prepared by deputies from Unity and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation working together with the Central Electoral Commission. According to ITAR-TASS's unnamed source, "there is actually no need for numerous parties, which become noticeable only during electoral campaigns." PG

DUMA TO CONSIDER CREATION OF STATE COUNCIL

Anatolii Lukyanov, the chairman of the Duma's State Development Committee, told ITAR-TASS on 1 August that his committee is likely to consider proposals for the creation of a State Council later this fall. He said that President Putin's approval of the idea reflects "an obvious manifestation of the president's concern for the unity of the country." Lukyanov said that he believes the State Council should be an "expanded version" of the existing Russian Security Council and be headed by the president. PG

WILL PUTIN NAME A CIVILIAN DEFENSE MINISTER?

Some Russia media and observers predict that President Putin plans to name a civilian to replace Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who recently became embroiled in a public row with chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin over the future of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Two names, in particular, have been suggested as the most likely candidates for the defense portfolio: Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, whom Putin reportedly knows from his St. Petersburg days, and State Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) Andrei Kokoshin, a former deputy minister of defense and Security Council secretary. Reuters on 1 August quoted military analysts Vladimir Kosarev and Vadim Solovev as predicting that Putin would fire both Sergeev and Kvashnin. Solovev argued that since Putin has been building his own team from among his allies in the former KGB and his St. Petersburg acquaintances, it is likely that "one of his team [would] head such a powerful sector as the armed forces." JC

ARAFAT MAY VISIT MOSCOW

Unidentified sources at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax on 1 August that the possibility of a visit to Moscow by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is currently being discussed but no date has been fixed. Earlier the same day, the Palestinian diplomatic mission in the Russian capital had said that Arafat would travel to Russia next week, but the Russian Foreign Ministry had declined to comment on that statement. Arafat is currently touring European and Arab states to seek support for his demand that East Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state. Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. JC

PUTIN EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR KOREAN PEACE EFFORTS

President Putin telephoned his South Korean counterpart, Kim Dae-jung, on 1 August to express his support for the growing dialogue between Pyongyang and Seoul, Interfax reported. Putin was quoted as telling Kim that a G-8 resolution adopted at Okinawa last month is aimed at boosting the "normal development" of the North-South Korean peace process and that the group's activities, including those of Russia, will seek to achieve this goal. JC

RUSSIA, ITALY SEEK TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES

Russia and Italy have signed a declaration aimed at boosting economic and trade ties as well as bilateral investments. AP quoted Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini as saying in Moscow on 1 August, following a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, that "there is no connection between the situation in Chechnya and the activities of Italian businesses in Russia." Dini welcomed recent reforms introduced by Putin's government and said the declaration signals the start of the "operational phase" of Russian-Italian relations. JC

KALYUZHNYI DISCUSSES CASPIAN STATUS IN TEHRAN

Former Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who is currently deputy foreign minister and President Putin's envoy for Caspian affairs, returned on 1 August from a two-day trip to Tehran. During talks with Foreign Minister Kamil Kharrazi and Petroleum Minister Bijar Namdar-Zanganeh, Kalyuzhnii failed to win support for Russia's proposal to divide the Caspian Sea bed into national sectors while allowing shared use of its surface and water resources. Kazakhstan supports that approach to dividing the sea. Iran, however, continues to argue that both the sea bed and the waters should be divided into national sectors, with each of the five littoral states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) receiving a 20 percent share. Kalyuzhnyi invited Tehran to send a representative to a 20 August meeting in Moscow that will discuss the sea's legal status. He said arriving at a definition of that status has been delayed by "the unwanted meddling of third parties," according to Interfax. LF

INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT OBJJECTS TO PROPOSED REMERGER WITH CHECHNYA

Ruslan Aushev has rejected the suggestion by Sergei Shakhrai, a former adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, that the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya again be merged into a single federation subject, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 August. Aushev termed that proposal "a provocation." The Russian Supreme Soviet created the Republic of Ingushetia in June 1992 after the three Ingush-populated raions of the former Chechen- Ingush ASSR rejected the republican parliament's unilateral November 1991 declaration of the republic's independence from the Russian Federation. LF

YASTRZHEMBSKII SAYS MASKHADOV 'AFRAID' TO BEGIN PEACE TALKS

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 1 August that he believes Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has lost control over the situation within Chechnya and over his militant field commanders. He added that he thinks Maskhadov is reluctant to embark on peace talks for fear of alienating them. That statement is at odds with last week's claim by Russian presidential representative in the South Russia district, Viktor Kazantsev, that talks are under way with Maskhadov through the mediation of interim Chechen administration head Akhmed- hadji Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2000). Yastrzhembskii has said for several months that Moscow is prepared to begin talks with the Chechen president only on the conditions under which he will surrender. LF

SECURITY INCREASED IN GUDERMES

Russian forces completely sealed off the town of Gudermes on 1 August, barring both motor traffic and pedestrians from entering the town, AFP and Interfax reported. The precautions were ordered in anticipation of Chechen attacks on several towns, including Grozny and Gudermes, in early August to mark the first anniversary of field commander Shamil Basaev's ill-fated incursion into Daghestan. On 31 July, Russian troops in Grozny found and defused six powerful bombs, four of them located some 250 meters from a police checkpoint. LF

MOSCOW OBJECTS TO OSCE FOCUS ON DEMOCRACY

In a statement released on the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that "attempts to turn the OSCE exclusively into an instrument of democratization of individual states will only bring it to a stalemate," ITAR-TASS reported on 1 August. Such efforts, the ministry said, deflect from the Helsinki principles and "may eventually lead to the organization's degradation." Moscow, it continued, favors a balanced approach, one that will give "equal attention to all the changes and security aspects: military-political, economic, and humanitarian." Meanwhile, Yelena Bonner, the widow of Andrei Sakharov and a leading Russian human rights activist, said that the Helsinki accords were more beneficial to the Soviet Union than to the West, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA HAS BUDGET SURPLUS FOR SEVENTH CONSECUTIVE MONTH

Russian officials said on 1 August that Russia posted another budget surplus in July, the seventh month in a row that the government has been in the black. The Finance Ministry said that the surplus in July amounted to 17.8 billion rubles ($640 million). That figure represents 3.4 percent of GDP, well above both the average of 1.6 percent for the first half of the year and on target to reach the planned budget surplus figure of 3 percent for the year. PG

PENSIONS, RAIL TARIFFS RISE

Pensions rose by 125 rubles to 900 rubles a month ($32) on 1 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The increase is the third this year and means the living standards of 18 million people have improved. The same day, the anti-trust ministry raised rates for domestic rail freight by 18.5 percent, according to the news agency. PG

WORLD BANK CALLS FOR MONOPOLY REFORMS

Michael Carter, the World Bank's director for Russia, told Interfax on 1 August that the bank wants Moscow to carry out reform in four sectors of the economy now under the control of natural monopolies: power, gas, telecommunications, and rail transport. But Carter warned against changing the form of ownership of these monopolies before regulatory mechanisms are in place. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS MOSCOW CAN GET CAPITAL BACK

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin told "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 1 August that Moscow can recover most of the capital illegally exported abroad. Noting that the U.S. is prepared to cooperate with Russia on this, Stepashin said his agency is setting up several new subdivisions to help find and return such monies. PG

NEWSPAPER SAYS REAL INTEREST RATES TO FALL TO ZERO

"Kommersant-Daily" on 1 August reported that Russia's Sberbank has cut deposit interest rates to a level below the rate of inflation and predicted that the same thing will soon happen with regard to credits for industrial enterprises. When that occurs, the newspaper says, "the real interest rate here will be close to zero. All that points to the fact that very soon, an investment boom will start in Russia." And that in turn, the newspaper concludes, "will result either in an unbridled increase in production or the nationalization of Russian industry. There is no third way left for the state." "Kommersant-Daily" is controlled by Berezovskii. PG

ALFA BANK PRESIDENT URGES CUTTING RUBLE RATE

Petr Aven told Interfax on 1 August that the gradual lowering of the ruble's exchange rate against the dollar would be good for the Russian economy. PG

EES CUTS OFF POWER TO DEBTORS IN KHABAROVSKII KRAI

Khabarovskenergo, a subdivision of United Energy Systems (EES), has cut off energy supplies to some 360 debtor enterprises either totally or partly, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 August. Some firms will be forced to make advance payments or obtain letters of credit to get the power turned back on. PG

RUSSIA PLANS TO BOOST ALUMINUM EXPORTS

Russian firms plan to increase aluminum production by 3 percent in 2000 and by 33 percent by 2010, Interfax reported on 1 August. Much of the increased output will be exported, with Moscow selling as much as 5 million tons of aluminum and aluminum products. PG

VLADIVOSTOK JOURNALIST FREED

Irina Greneva, the editor of Vladivostok's "Arsenevskie vesti," was released from jail on 1 August after serving five days for publishing transcripts of telephone conversations held by Primore Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. During her incarceration, she went on a hunger strike. She told NTV that "this period of confinement will in no way affect the newspaper's activity," stressing that her newspaper "will continue to publish everything that it believes needs to be published." PG

INVESTIGATORS SAY BABITSKII'S LAWYERS DELAYING CASE

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry's investigation committee said on 1 August that his agency believes that defense lawyers for RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii are dragging their feet, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax reported the same day that the investigator involved has signed an order limiting the time available to the accused and his counsel to familiarize themselves with the case. Babitskii, who was detained in Chechnya earlier this year, is charged with violating Russian passport regulations. PG

PROSECUTOR APPROVES FORMER MINISTER'S INDICTMENT

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General has approved the indictment of former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev for bribery, Interfax reported on 1 August. Also charged in the case are a former aide to Kovalev and the head of the Public Foundation for the Protection of Civil Rights. PG

SWISS SEEK DOCUMENTS ON MABETEX

The Swiss Prosecutor- General's Office has made an official request to its Russian counterpart for documents related to links between the Mabetex and Mercata trading companies, which are registered in Switzerland, and the Kremlin property management department, Interfax reported on 1 August. PG




ARMENIA REGISTERS IMPRESSIVE GROWTH IN INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

Industrial output in Armenia increased by 22 percent during the first six months of 2000 compared with the same period for 1999, Noyan Tapan reported on 2 August. Exports of such products rose by 21 percent, or 4 billion drams ($7.3 million), compared with last year. First Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Ashot Shahnazarian told Armenian State Television that the number of people currently employed in the industrial sector has risen by 8,000 since last year to 34,000. He noted the importance of the reactivation of mining, smelting, and chemical sector plants, including the giant Nairit chemical plant, which is now operating at a profit. LF

FELLOW FACTION MEMBERS CRITICIZE ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER

Stepan Minasian, a spokesman for the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 1 August that the party's leadership has issued a statement "strongly condemning" HZhK member and parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian for his absence from the country during last week's vote on the government's proposals for privatizing four energy distribution networks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 31 July 2000). The HZhK opposed that bill. Khachatrian, who is currently on vacation at a Black Sea resort, has been repeatedly criticized for extensive foreign travel since his election as speaker late last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 14, 7 April 2000). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ATTEND CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSON SESSION...

The six opposition representatives on the 18- strong Azerbaijan Central Electoral Commission attended a session of that body on 1 August for the first time, having abandoned the boycott they declared last month to demand amendments to the election legislation, Turan reported. The session was devoted to the financing of the election campaign. Also on 1 August, the Democratic Path party signed the statement issued by some 18 opposition parties on 27 July demanding that the Azerbaijan authorities create conditions for ensuring that the 5 November parliamentary poll is free and fair. The Democratic Path party also issued a press release condemning the restrictions on election participation of parties that were not formally registered six months before the announcement of the poll date. They termed those restrictions a violation of Azerbaijan's commitments to the Council of Europe. LF

...PROTESTS NAKHICHEVAN ELECTION LAW

The Nakhichevan branches of the Azerbaijan Popular Front, Musavat, the Democratic and Azerbaijan National Independence parties, and the Society of Nagorno-Karabakh War Invalids have issued a statement criticizing the 29 July session of the parliament of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, Turan reported on 1 August. At that session, which opposition representatives and independent journalists were barred from attending, deputies adopted election legislation according to which all 45 seats in Nakhichevan's new legislature will be allocated under the majoritarian system. The opposition parties demanded that an unspecified number of mandates be allocated under the proportional system. The ballot is scheduled to be held on 5 November at the same time as elections to the national parliament. Parliamentary officials say the law conforms with international norms. LF

RUSSIA BEGINS WITHDRAWING MILITARY HARDWARE FROM GEORGIA

Lieutenant General Vladimir Andreev, who is commander of the Russian army grouping in the Transcaucasus, told Interfax on 1 August that the first trainload of military equipment to be withdrawn from the Russian base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, will depart for the Black Sea port of Batumi on 5 August. From there, it will be transported by sea to Russia. According to a joint statement by the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries, Moscow has formally notified the OSCE that the withdrawal has begun. The statement expressed the hope that the Georgian authorities will honor their commitments to ensure the safe and unimpeded transportation of that equipment. LF

GEORGIAN INSURGENTS FORESWEAR NEW DESTABILIZATION ATTEMPTS

The followers of slain Georgian insurgent leader Colonel Akaki Eliava will not embark on any actions for the time being to destabilize the political situation in Georgia, "Rezonansi" on 2 August quoted Eliava's second-in-command, Rezo Asmava, as saying. Asmava predicted that popular discontent at the Georgian government's inability to pay wages and pensions will increase spontaneously and that eventually "the rotten apple will fall by itself." LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN

At a congress in Bishkek on 29 July, the opposition People's Party elected Melis Eshimkanov as its chairman and proposed him as a candidate for the 29 October presidential poll, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Eshimkanov replaces Daniyar Usenov, who had held the post of party chairman since last December. Eshimkanov has already collected 120,000 signatures in his support or more than twice the 50,000 needed to register for the ballot. Meanwhile on 1 August, the Vox Populi Center in Bishkek published the findings of a recent opinion poll in which 68 percent of a total 8,400 respondents expressed confidence in incumbent President Askar Akaev. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ECONOMY SHOWS SIGNS OF RECOVERY

National Statistical Board Director Zarylbek Kudaba announced last week that Kyrgyzstan's GDP grew by 7.4 percent during the first six months of 2000 compared with the corresponding period last year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Industrial output rose by 3.3 percent and agricultural production by 10.9 percent. Inflation during the first half of the year was 7.1 percent, and the average monthly wage is 1,029 soms (about $22). Kudabaev said that unemployment currently stands at 3.2 percent, but the Ministry of Trade and Social Affairs last week estimated that the real unemployment figure is 200,000 (of a total population of 4.8 million), rather than the 72,000 who are officially registered as out of work LF

UZBEKISTAN RAISES SALARIES, GASOLINE PRICES

Government employees' salaries have been increased by an average of 50 percent as of 1 August, Interfax reported. The minimum state sector wage is now 2,450 sums (about $80). Pensions, benefits and student allowances have also been raised. At the same time, the government increased the price of gasoline by 28 percent and fares for public transportation in Tashkent by 60 percent. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION UNITY FALTERS BEFORE ELECTIONS?

Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Electoral Commission, announced on 1 August that the authorities have already set up 110 local electoral commissions ahead of the 15 October elections to the 110-strong Chamber of Representatives. Yarmoshyna added that the local commissions, which consist of 1,400 people, include 59 representatives of the Belarusian Communist Party and 29 representatives of the Liberal Democratic Party. Both parties claim to be in opposition to the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Belarusian opposition grouped in the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces had earlier declared it would boycott this fall's ballot, which it has called a "farce." Meanwhile, another opposition party, the Social Democratic National Assembly of Mikalay Statkevich, has said it will not prohibit its members from running in the ballot if they are fielded by groups of citizens or working collectives. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS 'CONGRESS OF SOVIETS'

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 August signed a decree to convene a "congress of soviets" on 29 September, Belarusian Television reported. The forum, which is expected to be attended by some 2,500 people, will include 1,500 deputies from local legislative power bodies, or soviets. According to the television station, the congress will discuss the enhancement of the role of soviets in society, economic problems, and the "further democratization" of the country. JM

UKRAINE TO REPAY GAS DEBT WITH PIPELINES, BOMBERS?

Premier Viktor Yushchenko said on 1 August that Kyiv is considering repaying its gas debt to Moscow by putting part of Ukraine's gas pipeline network at Russia's disposal, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that the property conceded to Russia in debt repayment would remain in Ukrainian ownership and "under Ukrainian management." Yushchenko confirmed previous reports that Kyiv is also considering giving Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers to Russia to help pay its gas debt. JM

NRG DEAL IN ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT'S HANDS

The fate of the deal to sell a minority stake in Estonia's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy is in the hands of the Estonian government as NRG has agreed to all conditions, ETA reported. This was confirmed after a 1 August meeting between Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja and NRG's European division president, Ron Will. Government officials and the power utility Eesti Energia's managing board will meet on 11 August to discuss the planned sale. MH

LATVIAN EX-MINISTERS CLEARED OF PEDOPHILIA CHARGES

Three officials have been cleared of involvement in a pedophilia scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). On 1 August, prosecutors announced that the case against ex-Prime Minister Andris Skele has been closed as no evidence of any crime was discovered during the investigation. Similar cases against former Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs and head of the taxation department, Andrejs Sonciks, were closed the previous day, BNS reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office released a statement saying that the allegations against the three were "invented and do not correspond to the truth." A slander case remains open against parliamentary deputy Janis Adamsons, who made the accusations against the three. MH

LITHUANIAN SPY SEEKS SWEDISH ASYLUM?

Computer specialist Pavel Ilyin, whom Russia accused earlier this year of spying for Lithuania, has asked Sweden for political asylum, BNS cited "Respublika" as reporting. Ilyin, a Lithuanian citizen, reportedly traveled to Sweden last week and is now housed in a refugee center near Malmo. "Respublika" reported that Ilyin is claiming violation of human rights in Lithuania following the spy scandal earlier this summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). Arvydas Pocius, deputy director of the Lithuanian State Security Department, commented that Ilyin is "out of his mind." MH

HALF OF LITHUANIANS APPROVE LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS

A poll by the Vilmorus polling agency suggests that 51.8 percent of Lithuanians support the sale of land to foreigners, ELTA reported on 1 August. Some 36.6 percent opposed such sales. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents feel that legalizing land sales to foreigners would promote foreign investment, while 61.3 percent said it would create more rural jobs. Almost 61 percent said that a ban on the sale of agricultural land to foreigners is useless. MH

PROSECUTORS APPOINTED TO POLAND'S WAR, COMMUNIST CRIME INVESTIGATION BODY

Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski has appointed 15 prosecutors to work in the investigative department of the National Remembrance Institute, Polish Television reported on 1 August. The institute was created last year to grant public access to communist-era secret files as well as to investigate Nazi and communist atrocities against the Polish nation. "It will be necessary to undertake complicated decisions, decisions that will arouse opposition, but decisions that are necessary from the viewpoint of the most elementary human justice," Kaczynski said. According to the station, the prosecutors face a task of conducting some 600 investigations and reviewing some 800 death sentences. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT SETS DATE FOR ELECTIONS TO SENATE

President Vaclav Havel on 1 August announced that elections for one- third of the seats in the Senate and for the newly established regional assemblies will be held on 12 November, CTK and AP reported. Havel said his appeal to the Constitutional Court against the amendment to the electoral law will not affect the date of the elections. The runoff in the Senate ballot is to be held one week later (one-third of the Senate's members are elected every two years for six-year terms). The 14 new regional assemblies are elected under a proportional system, but elections to the Prague regional assembly will not be held until 2002. Havel said the setting up of the assemblies is "a vital step toward EU membership and decentralization." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT LEAVES CLINIC FOR SANATORIUM

Rudolf Schuster left the University Clinic in Innsbruck, Austria, on 1 August and was taken to a nearby sanatorium in Igls, where he will be under the supervision of the same team of doctors, CTK and AP reported. A presidential spokesman said Schuster will remain in the sanatorium for about two weeks. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER HAILS OECD ADMISSION...

Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 1 August that his country's admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is "confirmation that Slovakia is becoming part of the world of freedom and wealth," CTK reported. "We are getting over the heritage of the Cold War and we are becoming part of the free world. [And] we are not only heading for the West but also becoming part of the West," Dzurinda commented. He also said he hopes OECD membership will help increase Slovakia's attractiveness for foreign investors. MS

...DEFENDS INVESTIGATORS OF FORMER SIS CHIEF

Dzurinda also said that in a state based on the rule of the law, it is "impossible to tie someone to a chair." The premier was responding to criticism of officials in charge of the investigation of former Slovak Intelligence Chief Ivan Lexa, who is believed to have escaped abroad. Such criticism has been heard from among the coalition's ranks and from the media. Dzurinda said that investigators have done "a perfectly professional job" within the limits of the legal system and that Lexa's escape proves "he and his accomplices have dirty hands." "In today's world, it is impossible to get lost and sooner or later Lexa will be brought to justice," he predicted. MS

MORE HUNGARIAN ROMA TO SEEK FRENCH ASYLUM?

Jozsef Krasznai, spokesman for the Romany families from the village of Zamoly who recently applied for asylum in France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2000), has returned to Hungary and is conducting talks with about a dozen other Romany families seeking to emigrate, the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Krasznai said that some 300 Hungarian Roma are ready to emigrate and that he himself intends to sell his house and join them. MS

HUNGARIAN MINISTER TO SUE OIL DEALS WHISTLE-BLOWER

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry on 1 August said Interior Minister Sandor Pinter will sue Zsolt Nogradi, the main witness in the case of alleged illicit oil deals. Pinter's name has been mentioned by Nogradi in connection with those deals. Earlier, other politicians mentioned by Nogradi said they are taking legal action against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2000). MS




ALBRIGHT'S APPEAL TO YUGOSLAV OPPOSITION WITHOUT EFFECT?

Leaders of the Serbian opposition and the Montenegrin governing coalition are slated to meet in Podgorica on 2 August. The previous day, Miodrag Vukovic, who is a senior adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, said that the talks with the Serbs will be a "pure formality" and have "no influence on our previously publicly stated positions" to boycott the 24 September federal elections, Montena-fax news agency reported. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appealed to Djukanovic in Rome to reconsider his boycott (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2000). The Montenegrin leadership has said the legislation on the basis of which the ballot will be held is "illegal." Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement also plans to boycott the federal elections. PM

HOLLAND DENIES SERBIAN CHARGES ON 'ASSASSINS'

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Amsterdam on 1 August that his government denies conducting any "military operation" against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2000). Paul Risley, who is a spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told Reuters by telephone that the Belgrade regime's charges are "fiction and nothing more." In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker mocked both the charge and Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic, who made it. "In the past we've seen that so-called Information Minister Goran Matic is notoriously inventive in some of his so-called information. His allegations appear to be quite ridiculous," an RFE/RL correspondent quoted him as saying. PM

KOSOVA'S MEDIA TO SEEK NEW HOME

The OSCE said in a statement in Prishtina on 1 August that the UN Fire Marshall's Office wants to close the tower block that houses the offices of many newspapers and radio stations. The statement called the Media House a "major safety hazard that could lead to loss of life or injury due to fire or electrocution," Reuters reported. It added that "the OSCE will do its utmost to help the media tenants of the tower block find alternative accommodation in Prishtina." Like many structures in Kosova and Serbia, the building has become unsafe because of years of neglect. PM

SECOND CROATIAN AUTO KINGPIN ARRESTED

Police have arrested Ante Jurjevic for misappropriating some $3 million in funds belonging to his company, "Vecernji list" reported on 2 August. The arrest of the FIAT dealer comes just two weeks after the arrest of Pavao Zubak on charges of tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2000). PM

CROATIAN OFFICIALS STILL TAKE DIM VIEW OF YUGOSLAV MUSICIANS

The Croatian Music Union and the Ministry of Culture have prevented well-known Montenegrin rock singer Rambo Amadeus and a Serbian hip-hop group from performing in Croatia, "Novi List" reported on 2 August. The regime of the late President Franjo Tudjman often put up bureaucratic hurdles to prevent Yugoslav musicians from performing in Croatia, forcing fans to travel to Slovenia to hear Bajaga and other popular stars. PM

CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY UNDERGOING PURGE?

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Jerusalem on 1 August that his government is replacing some 35 ambassadors or consuls in the near future, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that some of the diplomats' terms have expired but that others are being sacked because "their views do not correspond to the new foreign policy of the Croatian government." He did not elaborate. PM

CROATIA, ISRAEL TO LAUNCH MILITARY COOPERATION?

Israel will no longer require visas for Croatian citizens, "Vecernji list" reported on 2 August. Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy signed agreements in Jerusalem on trade and on economic cooperation the previous day. Granic also visited a plant belonging to an aviation company that is interested in a $110 million package to modernize 26 aging Croatian MiG-21 aircraft. The Croatian authorities have not yet decided whether to modernize the MiGs or to buy more costly new NATO aircraft. The Zagreb authorities first discussed under Tudjman the possibility of modernizing the MiGs. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER APPEALS TO CROATIA TO SCRAP VISAS

Ilir Meta said in Zagreb that Albania and Croatia should end mutual visa requirements, "Vecernji list" reported on 2 August. He stressed that lifting visa regulations would greatly facilitate trade and tourism. Observers note that there are many thousands of Croatian citizens of Kosovar Albanian origin. PM

GREEK TROOPS BEGIN WITHDRAWAL FROM ALBANIA

The first of 827 Greek soldiers left Albania on 1 August in an operation expected to last two to three weeks, AP reported. The Greeks first arrived in 1997 to help restore order after widespread unrest broke out in the spring of that year. Some 87 Greek military personnel will remain in Albania under a training program. PM

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE ARREST MAN FOR ATTACK ON SFOR

Police in Banja Luka said in a statement on 2 August that they have arrested Vukasin Nikolic from Zvornik "under suspicion of having shot with a bazooka on 25 July at a house in which SFOR personnel were living," AP reported. The statement added that Nikolic confessed to the crime. A second suspect remains at large. PM

PETRITSCH'S OFFICE BLASTS NEW BOSNIAN SUCCESSION LAW

A spokesman for the international community's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 1 August that a law recently passed by the federal parliament on presidential succession is "manipulative and undemocratic." The spokesman added that the law is probably unconstitutional because it allows the election to the presidency of an individual who was not first elected to the parliament, Reuters reported. Petritsch's main problem with the law is that it allows the present legislature to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Muslim presidency member Alija Izetbegovic. Petritsch wants the new parliament to be elected in November to pick the successor. PM

FIRE THREATENS FUTURE OF BOSNIAN MUSLIM WEEKLY

A fire in the Iranian Cultural Center in central Sarajevo has caused severe damage to the nearby offices of the Muslim weekly "Ljiljan," "Oslobodjenje" reported on 2 August. Some 100,000 copies of the "Ljiljan" were destroyed by the fire. There was extensive water damage to the weekly's computers. The editors appealed for help from citizens, businesses, political organizations, and other media centers. "Ljiljan" urgently needs money, computers, and a new home, the editors added. PM

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS SAY CDR IS 'DEAD'

National Liberal Party Deputy Chairman Crin Antonescu said on 1 August that the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) is "unfortunately dead," and he blamed the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) for its demise. Antonescu said the PNTCD had "dreaded the loss of its hegemony in the CDR" and consequently sought to replace the PNL in the CDR with parties that it could dominate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In turn, the PNTCD Steering National Bureau decided at its 1 August meeting to replace the former CDR protocol with one that includes the Union of Democratic Forces (UFD), as a representative of the CDR's "liberal component," and the two ecologist parties. The bureau urged Premier Mugur Isarescu to announce his candidacy for the presidency in the near future. MS

NEW CDR IN 'BIRTH THROES'

PNTCD First Deputy Chairman Ioan Muresan said after a meeting with the leaders of the UFD, the National Christian Democratic Alliance (ANCD), the Ecologist Party (PER), and the Ecology Federation (FER) that the only way to forge a new alliance is to have PER and FER merge and the ANCD "absorbed" by the PNTCD. But ANCD leader Victor Ciorbea said his party has not given him a mandate to negotiate the ANCD's re-unification with the PNTCD and that he is empowered to discuss only an alliance with that party. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN 'SUGGESTS' LUCINSCHI RESIGN

Dumitru Diacov, speaking on Moldovan television on 31 July, said the president should be elected by the parliament on 17 November, the day on which presidential elections took place in 1996. Diacov suggested that President Petru Lucinschi resign before the end of his mandate on 15 January 2001, thus making it possible for the new president to assume office earlier. He said he hopes Lucinschi does not intend "to head an opposition force against the parliament" during the remainder of his term in office. He also said that he hopes the president will withdraw his proposal for a referendum on enlarging the presidential powers, which legislators must debate by 13 January 2001. In addition, Diacov hinted that the parliament will review the procedure under which the head of state can dissolve the legislature if lawmakers twice fail to elect a new president. MS

BULGARIAN LAWMAKERS TO DISCUSS BUGGING SCANDAL

The parliament will convene in special emergency session on 3 August to debate the case of the listening devices discovered in the apartments of Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev and a deputy of the Socialist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2000). Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov told journalists on 1 August that three officers working for his ministry's Technical Information Service (SOTI) have been detained on suspicion that they failed to remove the devices from the flat into which Filichev moved at the end of 1999. Yordanov said the devices were planted there by SOTI in 1993-1994, during the construction of the building, and had never been used. The building largely accommodates foreign diplomats. Yordanov said that at the time the devices were planted, there was no law regulating the use of such equipment. The relevant law was not passed until 1997. MS




ACQUITTED RUSSIAN ENVIRONMENTALIST MAY FACE RETRIAL


By Sophie Lambroschini

Lawyers for Alexander Nikitin say the prosecutor- general's refusal to accept the acquittal of the retired Navy captain and environmentalist means that the Russian authorities want to suppress information on potential environmental disasters.

After five years of investigation and 13 court decisions, Nikitin was acquitted of spying charges. That acquittal was upheld by the Supreme Court. But now he risks a retrial if the Prosecutor-General's Office gets its way. An appeal to overturn the acquittal was filed by the Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Kekhlerov and was scheduled to be considered by the Supreme Court on 2 August. But the day of the scheduled hearing, the Supreme Court Presidium postponed considering the appeal until 13 September, arguing that one of the judges had not had time to study the "Nikitin case." Yurii Schmidt, Nikitin's lawyer, commented that this move was aimed at "letting the case drag on" for another few months.

After Nikitin went public about the environmental hazards of Russia's decrepit nuclear vessels and leaky nuclear storage sites, authorities hit him with charges of spying. The case made him Russia's most famous environmentalist and aroused suspicions that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was pressuring the prosecution. Nikitin was one of the first people in post-Soviet Russia to be named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

The news of this last appeal reached Nikitin in the U.S., where he was to receive an environmental award and testify before a Congressional panel about environmental threats in Russia. He immediately returned to Russia to await the court's decision.

In asking for a reversal of the December acquittal, Deputy Prosecutor-General Kekhlerov argues that the case had been handled with many violations of Nikitin's rights.

Schmidt argues that the prosecutor's logic is inconsistent. Schmidt said on 1 August that for years, the defense filed complaint after complaint about violations of Nikitin's rights, only to have them all rejected by the Prosecutor-General's Office. But now the same prosecutor is admitting violations took place in order to use them as a pretext for reopening the case. "In 40 years of legal practice, I've never seen worse cynicism, worse abuse of the constitution and of human rights--for the prosecution to justify the overturning of an acquittal with the very violations it committed," Schmidt said.

What has become known as the Nikitin case has lasted almost five years. In October 1995, Russia's security service raided the Murmansk office of the Norwegian-based environmental association Bellona and confiscated all documents, including a report about to be published on the ecological hazards of the Northern Fleet nuclear submarines. The FSB arrested Nikitin, who had helped research the reports, saying he had divulged state secrets. Indicted on eight sets of espionage charges, Nikitin spent 10 months in jail.

The defense maintained Nikitin's innocence, arguing that all the information came from open and public sources and did not fall under any law on state secrets.

The proceedings dragged on, as the state came up with new laws on state secrets and tried to apply them retroactively to the case. The defense, meanwhile, complained of harassment by the FSB. Nikitin's family members said they were being constantly followed and their home searched in their absence.

After Nikitin was finally acquitted by a Saint Petersburg court last December, the Prosecutor-General's Office appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. That court rejected the appeal and enforced the acquittal, formally closing the case.

Nikitin told RFE/RL on 1 August that he suspects the FSB is behind the actions taken by the prosecution against him and other environmentalists. "The FSB has a certain strategy or conception that has been stated several times by FSB officials, including by former FSB director Nikolai Kovalev," he noted. "They claim that secret services, foreign secret services, are using environmentalist organizations as a cover for spying. That's why everything that happens with ecological associations--probes by the Prosecutor-General's Office, persecutions of certain people, persecutions of some organizations, and so on--in principle...all fits into this strategy."

Last week, Nikitin also criticized the recent dissolution of the government's official ecological watchdog, the State Committee on the Environment. Nikitin said doing away with the agency will make it difficult to assess the risks posed by industrial or mining ventures.

Aleksei Simonov, the head of the private Glasnost Defense Fund, which defends freedom of expression, says Nikitin's case is not an isolated one but part of a pattern of suppressing information on environmental degradation. He adds that environmentalists have become a prime target of the FSB. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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