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Newsline - August 9, 2000




MOSCOW ROCKED BY NEW EXPLOSION...

A blast occurred in the Pushkinskaya metro station in downtown Moscow on 8 August, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 90 others, Reuters reported on 9 August. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the blast was caused by a bomb that appears to have been homemade. The device exploded during rush hour just after 6 pm. An hour later FSB personnel defused another explosive device found close to the scene of the explosion. An FSB official in charge of the Moscow department told Interfax that the bombing was most probably a terrorist act. The FSB then announced the detention of two suspects "of Caucasian origin," ITAR-TASS reported. One was said to be Chechen and the other an Avar from Daghestan, Turan reported. "Segodnya" said that the office of Prosecutor-General launched a criminal investigation on charges of terrorism less than 90 minutes after the bomb exploded. JAC

...FOLLOWING ALMOST A YEAR OF QUIET...

The bombing on 8 August is the only latest in a series of blasts affecting residents in Russia's capital. Last September, Moscow was hit by two separate bombings at residential apartment buildings in which more than 100 people were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 September 1999). Soon after, the city of Volgadonsk in Rostov Oblast also experienced what was labeled a terrorist attack when an apartment building exploded killing some 17 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 1999).This year, two soldiers were killed in Volgograd by a bomb explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2000). In both Moscow and Volgograd, persons of Caucasian descent faced special scrutiny amidst calls by some residents and local leaders to expel all Caucasians living in their areas illegally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2000). JAC

...AS MOSCOW MAYOR PINS BLAME FOR BLAST ON CHECHNYA

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told NTV on 8 August that he believes that there is "an obvious Chechen connection" to the explosion. He added that "the testimony from several witnesses who were able to answer questions in the hospital shows that it was 100 percent Chechnya." Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii also blamed Chechens, addressing a gathering in Moscow and calling for severe punishment of terrorists in the North Caucasus. As of 8 August, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo was more circumspect, saying only that he does not exclude a "Chechen link." "Segodnya" reported on 9 August that one unidentified member of the intelligence services said that one theory is that the explosion was the act of leftist radicals. JAC

MUFTI URGES OPEN-ENDED INVESTIGATION

Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, told ITAR- TASS on 9 August that all possible causes of the Moscow explosion should be explored. He said it was a mistake to link it to the "Chechen trace only." And he suggested that "When making an assessment of this crime, politicians and public figures should be very cautions so as not to sparkle nationalist feud." To do otherwise, he said, "might trigger an ethnic feud between citizens of Russia, which is inadmissible." PG

CHECHENS AGAIN TARGET INTERIOR MINISTRY VEHICLES

Two Russian police were killed and four injured on 8 August when their armored personnel carrier was blown up by a remote-controlled bomb near the village of Samashki, Russian agencies reported. Also on 8 August, spokesmen for the pro-Moscow interim Chechen administration said a man has been detained in connection with an apparent plan to kill interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Interfax reported. A bomb containing nine kilos of TNT was discovered on a road leading to Kadyrov's home on the night of 6 August. A second man has been detained on suspicion of helping to plan the 30 May car bomb attack on Grozny Mayor Supyan Mokhchaev, ITAR- TASS reported. LF

KADYROV DENIES TALKS UNDERWAY WITH MASKHADOV

Speaking to journalists in Gudermes on 8 August, Kadyrov denied that he is mediating talks between Moscow and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. Viktor Kazantsev, President Putin's representative to the federal district of South Russia, had said in late July that such talks are underway on the conditions for Maskhadov's surrender. Maskhadov's representative in Moscow, Mairbek Vachagaev, denied that report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 2 August 2000). LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SAID TO HAVE PUBLICLY EXECUTED SUBORDINATES

Arbi Baraev, the Chechen field commander believed responsible for numerous abductions and for the decapitation in 1998 of four foreign telephone engineers, on 8 August publicly executed three Chechen subordinates in eastern Chechnya, Interfax reported. Baraev had accused the men of stealing money from his home. LF

JOINT STATEMENT WARNS OF NEW AUTHORITARIANISM

In a statement entitled "Russia at the Crossroads" and carried by Interfax, businessman Boriz Berezovsky, author Vasilii Aksyonov, theater director Yurii Lyubimov, Academic Aleksandr Yakovlev, as well as many others warned that President Vladimir Putin's approach threatens to wipe out the democratic gains of the last decade and reintroduce an authoritarian regime, dpa reported on 8 August. "The conflict between the authoritarian instinct of any authorities and the democratic hopes of society can lead either to the dismantling of the main achievements of the recent past or to the paralysis of power," the statement said. It authors called for the establishment of a new social and political movement to protect democracy. PG

ST. PETERSBURG TO SERVE AS NEW CAPITAL OF UNION

The secretary of state of the Union of Belarus and Russia, Pavel Borodin, and St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev announced on 8 August that within two to three years, St. Petersburg will serve as the base for the new parliament of the Union of Russia and Belarus, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. According to Borodin, construction of a new center for the legislators will be undertaken by the U.S. firm Cushman & Wakefield. He added that he has already directed the president to draft the appropriate decree authorizing its construction. "The only thing remaining is a political decision about the creation of a single government of Russia and Belarus," Borodin said. JAC

RUSSIAN OIL EXPORT EARNINGS RISE WITH PRICES

Russia exported only 2.4 percent more crude oil during the first half of 2000 than it did in the same period in 1999, but its earnings rose more than 130 percent between the two periods because of price rises, Interfax reported. Germany, Poland, and Italy were Russia's largest customers for crude oil, the agency said. PG/JAC

MOSCOW PROPOSES INTERNATIONAL RESCUE AGENCY

Russia's Emergencies Ministry is proposing the establishment of an international rescue agency to speed relief operations resulting from disasters of all kinds, Reuters reported. Aleksandr Moskalets, an aide to Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, said that such an agency could increase Russian earnings. He added that Shoigu has already had preliminary discussions about this possibility with Switzerland, the U.S., France, Germany, and Israel. PG

ARAFAT TO MEET PUTIN, EXPECTS 'NEW INITIATIVES'

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafar will meet with Russian President Putin on 11 August after meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov the day before, Palestinian diplomats told Reuters in Moscow on 8 August. He is also expected to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Palestinian ambassador Khari al-Oridi told the Russian agency that he expects that Moscow will announce "new initiatives" to advance the Middle East peace process. PG

FINANCE OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIAN ASSETS CAN'T BE FROZEN FOR NOGA CLAIMS

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin told Interfax on 8 August that recent French court decisions mean that "Russian property on French territory" cannot be seized to satisfy a Stockholm court's judgment in favor of the Swiss company Noga. PG

EXERCISE 'DEFENDS' AGAINST ATTACK FROM WEST

A joint Russian- Belarusian fleet and anti-aircraft exercise is intended to "repel aerial attacks from the Western direction," "Vremya novosti" reported on 8 August. Virtually the entire Baltic Fleet is taking part in the exercises, as is the joint Russian-Belarusian antiaircraft group. PG

TATAR OPPOSITION DRAFTS LEGISLATION REAFFIRMING INDEPENDENCE

The moderate nationalist All-Tatar Public Center on 8 August submitted to President Mintimer Shaimiev and parliament speaker Farit Mukhametshin a draft law "On reviving the independence of Tatarstan and establishing equal treaty-based relations with the Russian Federation and other independent states," "Izvestiya" and RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The legislation was drafted in response to the 27 June ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court that the use in the constitutions of federation subjects of the term "sovereignty" is incompatible with the sovereignty of the Russian Federation and proposes declaring that ruling invalid on the territory of Tatarstan. The draft law also proposes reviving Tatarstan's state independence, and formally appeals to the parliaments of other Volga-Ural republics to form a confederation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2000). LF

TWO DEATHS FOLLOW TORRENTIAL RAINS IN FAR EAST

Two people have died so far in floods in Primorskii Krai in Russia's Far East, Interfax reported on 8 August. The Krai administration estimates the damage to the local economy caused by the flood--which was followed by a typhoon--at over 500 million rubles ($18 million). It was previously reported that the region has experienced 3 months worth of rain in the past several days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). JAC

PUTIN: POLLSTERS' DREAM OR YELTSIN'S EXTRAVAGANT FANTASY?

President Boris Yeltsin named the current president, Vladimir Putin, as his prime minister on 9 August 1999. In its issue on 9 August 2000, "Kommersant-Daily" carried excerpts from Moscow newspapers about the appointment soon after Putin's nomination. "Moskovskii novosti" declared that day that "Tsar" Yeltsin had officially dubbed his predecessor. It continued that "the possibility that Putin will be elected president is one of Yeltsin's most extravagant political fantasies." The next day, "Izvestiya" noted that "you cannot call Putin a charismatic leader" and predicted that his path to the presidency will face many difficulties. "Kommersant- Daily" declared that according to its sources in the Kremlin, Putin will become the personification of the "iron hand, which sociological research suggests that the Russian electorate is longing for." The daily continued that in order to accomplish this Putin will need to organize a number of arrests of those engaged in criminal pursuits and political extremism. JAC




GEORGIAN OFFICIALS SAY TALKS UNDER WAY WITH ABDUCTORS OF RED CROSS WORKERS

An unnamed Georgian Interior Ministry official told Caucasus Press in Tbilisi late on 8 August that the Georgian authorities are conducting talks with the persons who abducted three Red Cross workers in the Pankisi gorge on 4 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 August 2000). Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili had told journalists earlier that day that the three had been kidnapped, but are still alive. Vakha Ibrahimov, who heads the Chechen Information center in Tbilisi, told Caucasus Press on 7 August that he knows the identity of the kidnappers, but did not disclose it. On 9 August, Caucasus Press reported that the kidnapping has precipitated a confrontation between the Chechen minority in the Pankisi gorge and the Chechen refugees. One group reportedly holds the three officials and is demanding a ransom for their release while the other faction wants them to be freed unconditionally. LF

TENSIONS RISE IN GEORGIAN PROVINCES

Some 2,500 irate recently dismissed former employees of the Chiatura Manganese Combine on 7 August attacked a Georgian parliament deputy who tried to dissuade them from protesting their dismissal, "Dilis gazeti" reported the following day. After two unsuccessful attempts to privatize the enterprise, a Czech company, Saga Print, acquired a 75 percent stake in the plant last August and restarted production but failed to pay off an estimated $5 million in salaries arrears to the plant's staff. Meanwhile, popular discontent is increasing among the residents of the Black Sea port of Poti at the Georgian government's decision that all proceeds from plans to privatize the port will be channeled to the central budget, according to "Rezonansi" on 9 August. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT AGAIN WARNS TAX EVADERS

In remarks broadcast on state-run Khabar TV on 8 August, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev again warned major foreign investors to strive for the maximum honesty and openness in tax matters, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2000. Nazarbaev mentioned Chevron, the oil-producer Mangistaumunaigaz (which is largely Indonesian- owned), the western companies developing the Karachaganak gas condensate deposit, and the Eurasian Bank group. Reuters notes that some western companies export Kazakh-made goods to their own off-shore subsidiaries at reduced prices to avoid paying taxes. LF

NEW GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS IN KAZAKHSTAN

President Nazarbaev on 7 August named as minister of labor and social security a former head of his administration, Alikhan Baimenov, who has headed the state-run agency for government and administrative appointments since its creation one year ago, Interfax reported. The agency has succeeded in creating a laudable degree of openness and fairness in filling vacant positions, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 August. Baimenov replaces Nikolai Radostovtsev, and Karim Masimov, chairman of the board of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, was named transport and communications minister, succeeding Serik Burkitbaev. Burkitbaev has been appointed presidential advisor with responsibility for the Internet and communications technology, RFE/RL's Astana bureau reported on 9 August. Nazarbaev's decree did not cite any reasons for what Premier Qasymzhomart Toqaev subsequently described as "a normal rotation" of personnel. LF

ANOTHER POLITICAL PARTY REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice on 7 August registered the Patriots' Party, headed by former Customs Committee chairman and failed presidential challenger Ghani Qasymov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999). Qasymov claims membership of his party is growing daily, but declined to cite a specific figure. LF

SECOND SUSPECT ARRESTED IN ISRAELI DIPLOMAT'S MURDER IN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyz police have detained a 19-year-old Russian student in connection with the murder last week of Israeli diplomat Brosh Elzar and his Kyrgyz landlady, Interfax reported on 8 August. A suspect who was arrested last week testified that he and an accomplice had planned to rob the apartment in question and did not expect to find it occupied, according to AP. LF

UZBEK SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS INVADERS FROM TAJIKISTAN SURROUNDED...

Uzbek Security Council Secretary Mirakbar Rakhmankulov told journalists in Tashkent on 8 August that "steps have been taken to blockade" the estimated 100 fighters of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that Uzbek authorities say entered the country from neighboring Tajikistan in recent days, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000). "The operation to wipe them out has been carefully planned...using all possible means at our army's disposal," he added. He denied that the Islamists have seized control of the strategic mountain pass of Kamchik that links Tashkent with the Ferghana Valley. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov claimed that the Islamists are receiving support and assistance from unnamed members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). He said that Uzbek and Tajik forces are cooperating to neutralize the invaders. Other Uzbek officials have admitted military losses during clashes with the Islamists. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher urged the Uzbek authorities to observe "the maximum restraint" in their actions against the Islamists in order to keep casualties to a minimum, Reuters reported. LF

...AS TAJIKISTAN DENIES THEY CROSSED ITS TERRITORY

Meanwhile, Tajik officials continue to deny that the Islamists entered Uzbekistan from Tajik territory, Russian agencies reported. The first deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Committee for Border Protection, Major-General Safarali Saifullaev, told Interfax on 8 August that no groups of fighters could have crossed the Tajik-Uzbek border unobserved. He further denied that any such groups had been seen crossing the Afghan-Tajik border. One of the leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yuldash, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 8 August that his men have been on Uzbek territory for a long time. He denied that they receive help from the UTO. Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told a press briefing in Dushanbe on 9 August that Tajikistan has no interest in destabilizing the situation either on its own territory or in neighboring districts of Uzbekistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN UNFAZED, KYRGYZSTAN BRACES FOR POSSIBLE INCURSION

Interfax on 8 August quoted unnamed sources within Kyrgyzstan's power ministries as saying that all police and army troops in southern Kyrgyz frontier posts along the Kyrgyz-Tajik and Kyrgyz-Uzbek borders have been placed on alert. Special battalions are being brought from northern Kyrgyzstan to the south. In Almaty, a spokesman for Kazakhstan's National Security Committee declined to comment on the reported incursion into Uzbekistan, while a border- guard service official told Interfax that the Kazakh-Uzbek border "is quite closed" and that further measures to strengthen it are not needed. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry on 8 August similarly said on 8 August that the incursion "is of a local nature," adding that reports on how the invaders entered Uzbekistan are "very contradictory." LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES FREEZE TRADE UNION BANK ACCOUNT

The State Committee for Financial Investigations has frozen the bank account of the administration of Belarus's Trade Union Federation (FTUB), leaving some 120 FTUB employees without their July salaries, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 8 August. FTUB administration head Anatol Sadouski told RFE/RL that the committee's move is "groundless." President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's administration last month accused "some trade union leaders" of provoking international economic sanctions against Belarus through international complaints about violations of workers' rights in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). JM

COMMITTEE EMERGES IN BELARUS TO PROMOTE PAN-SLAVISM

Syarhey Kastsyan, a member of Belarus's Chamber of Representatives, told Belapan on 8 August that the newly created Slavic Committee will promote a political and economic union of Slavic nations. Kastsyan, who chairs the committee, added that his organization unites those who want Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia to form one state. In his opinion, the committee is the successor of the All-Russian Slavic Committee that existed in the USSR from 1937-1953. As soon as the committee is registered by the Justice Ministry, it plans to take part in preparing the Eighth Pan-Slavic Congress, which is scheduled to open in either Minsk or Moscow on 2 April 2001, the Day of Belarusian-Russian Unity. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS UKRTELEKOM PRIVATIZATION BILL

Leonid Kuchma on 8 August signed the long-debated bill on the privatization of Ukraine's telecommunications giant Ukrtelekom, Interfax reported. The parliament approved the bill last month. The bill calls for the government to keep a controlling 50 percent plus one share stake and auction off at least 25 percent of the company's shares. The State Property Fund estimates that the budget may obtain $548 million from Ukrtelekom's privatization. Ukrtelekom's gross revenue in 1998 was 2.4 billion hryvni ($440 million at the current exchange rate). JM

WORLD BANK PROJECTS IN UKRAINE MAY AMOUNT TO $1.9 BILLION

Dusan Vujovic, head of the World Bank's mission in Ukraine, has said the total portfolio of projects developed under the bank's new strategy for Ukraine may amount to $1.9 billion over three years, Interfax reported on 7 August. Vujovic noted that the bank's key program in Ukraine may be a three- year loan of some $750 million, provided that Kyiv continues its reformist course and resumes cooperation with the IMF. According to Vujovic, the loan is intended to support the government in implementing reforms and fulfilling its program, which was approved by the parliament in April. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT DUMPS PAPER SESSIONS

The session of the Estonian cabinet on 8 August was the first session using a new computerized system that replaces all paper documents. For each cabinet member, a computer terminal replaced stacks of papers usually present at each session. The project also plans to allow ministers abroad to take part in cabinet meetings via video-conferencing equipment by next year. The government's chancellery said that savings from photocopying documents alone should total 3 million kroons ($173,000) annually, BNS reported. This was also the first government session in the new facilities several blocks from Toompea Castle, the former home of the parliament. Among the laws approved included one regulating genetic research, which is necessary for an ambitious gene-mapping project, as well as earmarking 200,000 kroons for "Euro-skeptic" groups to promote debate on EU membership. MH

PROSECUTOR ASKS LATVIAN PARLIAMENT TO LIFT DEPUTY'S IMMUNITY

Latvian Prosecutor-General Janis Maizitis on 8 August asked the parliament to revoke the parliamentary immunity of deputy Janis Adamsons for defamation, BNS reported. Maizitis's office said that it believes Adamsons deliberately disseminated offensive and defamatory information on several high-ranking officials in the so-called "pedophilia scandal." On 17 February in parliament, Adamsons accused then-Premier Andris Skele, ex-Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, and head of the State Revenues Department Andrejs Sonciks of involvement in the scandal. Prosecutors cleared all three men recently of involvement in the scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2000). Adamsons maintains that the statements were accurate. The parliament will examine the topic on 4 September, LETA added. The charges could bring Adamsons up to eight years in jail if charged and convicted. MH

CENTRISTS RUNNING AWAY WITH PRE-VOTE POLLS IN LITHUANIA

According to a new poll by the polling agency Baltijos Tyrimai, the centrist coalition of four parties has solid public support two months before the general elections, BNS reported on 8 August. The center-left New Alliance (Social Liberals), headed by former presidential candidate Arturas Paulauskas, topped the poll with 16.5 percent, more than double any challengers. Together with coalition partners Liberal Union (6.9 percent) and Center Union (5.6 percent), the coalition--which also includes the marginal Modern Christian Democrats--holds 29 percent support. A leftist coalition, including the Labor Democrats (6.8 percent) and Social Democrats (4.2 percent), holds 12.3 percent. The ruling Conservatives are at 3.6 percent, under the minimum threshold for party-allocated seats. The leftist coalition also proposed a "political civility" pact for the campaign, but none of its large challengers have signed onto it. MH

POLAND'S UPPER HOUSE APPROVES MASS PRIVATIZATION BILL

The Senat on 8 August voted by 51 to 34 to approve the so-called enfranchisement bill, which stipulates that every adult Pole receive a share of state assets. In particular, citizens are to be given stakes in funds managing state property, shares of proceeds from future sales of state companies, and ownership rights to state-owned apartments. The mass privatization plan is opposed by the liberal Freedom Union and many lawmakers from the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance. The opponents say the bill will negatively impact public finances, adding that it is a populist move by the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action before the presidential elections this fall and parliamentary elections next year. The bill is now to return to the lower house for clearing and subsequently needs approval by the president, who has suggested he may veto it. JM

POLAND TO REPRESENT NATO IN UKRAINE

The Foreign Ministry announced on 8 August that Poland will become the coordinator of NATO activities in Ukraine as of September, PAP reported. The ministry noted that it is the first time Poland has been given the role running a NATO embassy in a foreign country. The basic functions of such an assignment is to promote NATO and disseminate information on the pact in the host country, to help establish contacts between NATO representatives and institutions of the host country, and to stage conferences on Euro-Atlantic security. JM

POLAND'S ROMA LEADER GOES ON TRIAL FOR DEFRAUDING HOLOCAUST FUND MONEY

Roman Kwiatkowski, head of the Association of Roma in Poland, went on trial along with two of his aides in Krakow on 8 August for defrauding money from a Swiss fund for Holocaust survivors, dpa reported. Prosecutors accuse the defendants of distributing only 1,500 zlotys ($348) each instead of the 1,500 Swiss francs ($882) approved by the fund to some 50 Roma in southern Poland in 1998. The defendants and the fund claim that the payments were made correctly. Polish Radio reported that the defendants refused to testify after receiving orders from a Gypsy king to keep silent. The king reportedly does not want outsiders to meddle in Romany affairs and intends to sort out the case on his own. JM

CZECH MINISTER DRAFTS BILL ON PLEBISCITES

Pavel Rychetsky, deputy premier in charge of legislation, has drafted a bill that would make possible the holding of referendums on important internal and foreign policy issues, the daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 9 August. Rychetsky told the daily that the bill stipulates that the parliament would be able to annul the results of a referendum by a three-fifths' majority of its members. He also said that under the proposed legislation it would not be possible to immediately shut down the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, but "if citizens were to decide against using nuclear power, it would mean gradually phasing Temelin out." On 26 July the cabinet voted to oppose bills on plebiscites drafted by members of the parliament, as well as a bill specifically drafted for a referendum on Temelin. MS

UN EXPERT SAYS CZECH ROMA FACE 'MINI-APARTHEID'

Marc Bossuyt, rapporteur of the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, says the "segregation" of the Romany community in the Czech Republic amounts to "a mini- apartheid." Speaking in Geneva at the start of the committee's review of the Czech Republic's record on racial discrimination, Bossuyt said Roma continue to face high unemployment and physical threats. The measures undertaken by the government to combat discrimination against the Roma have so far proved to be "insufficient and ineffective." The Czech Republic's representative in Geneva, Miroslav Somol, said the cabinet continues to focus on combating racially motivated crimes, particularly against Roma, the RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS

CZECH CULTURE MINISTER SOOTHES WORRIES OVER JEWISH CEMETERY

Responding to an appeal by 67 European parliament members, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal on 8 August said the norms guiding the position of the government on the dispute over the medieval Jewish cemetery in Prague are "comparable to those applied in the EU," CTK reported. Dostal said that almost the entire site of the former cemetery has been declared a national monument, which prohibits digging and ensures the preservation of tombstones. "The only exception is the site where the Ceska pojistovna [insurance company] is building now." He says the construction site has been declared a "significant archeological finding" and the company acts within those limitations and has adjusted construction plans accordingly. The site, he says, underwent many changes since the cemetery ceased to be used in 1487. Dostal emphasizes that this cemetery must not be confused with the famous Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY HANDS PETITION FOR REFERENDUM

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 8 August handed President Rudolf Schuster in Austria a petition in support for calling a referendum on early elections, CTK reported. The petition is supported by nearly 700,000 signatures, almost twice the legal requirement. The president has 30 days to examine the demand and if he finds it in line with the law, he must call a plebiscite within 90 days. To be valid, at least 50 percent of registered voters must participate in the referendum. Opinion polls indicate that only 20-30 percent are likely to do so. HZDS chairman Vladimir Meciar said that if the parliament refuses to "obey voters" and call early elections after a plebiscite has approved them, the HZDS will "organize rallies of democratic protest." Meciar said he does not intend to become premier again if the HZDS wins the early elections. MS

SLOVAK OFFICIAL CRITICIZES U.S. REPORT

Deputy Defense Minister Josef Pivarci, in an interview with RFE/RL's Slovak service on 7 August, criticized a U.S. military report, saying it lacks clarity in its recommendations for the air force. The "Garret Report" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June and 4 August 2000) says Slovakia should postpone air force modernization by 10 years. Pivarci said he has personally been asked by NATO officials to present a plan for reducing Slovak dependency on Russian deliveries of spare parts. To do so, the government decided to buy subsonic fighters. A tender was to be launched in the fall, with British Aerospace and the Czech Aero Vodochody being the main candidates for the contract. Both companies are ready to grant "off-set offers" that would ease the financial burden and create jobs. The recommendations of the report, Pivarci said, overlook this aspect and are "superficial." MS

STALEMATE IN HUNGARIAN OIL INVESTIGATION

Despite repeated calls from the parliamentary committee investigating alleged political links to illicit oil deals in recent years, Laszlo Pallag, the committee's chairman, is still unwilling to present documents in his possession as evidence, Hungarian media report on 9 August. Meanwhile, the parliament's National Security Committee expressed concern that the key witness in the case, Laszlo Nogradi, has not responded to calls to report to the committee. The Socialist Party (MSZP) submitted a petition to speaker Ader Janos to call an extraordinary parliamentary session to discuss the affair. MSZP chairman Laszlo Kovacs said that "leaving such claims and accusations unchallenged could destabilize the country and damage its image abroad."




WESTERN CAPTIVES PLEAD 'NOT GUILTY' BEFORE YUGOSLAV MILITARY COURT

Two British experts serving with an OSCE police training mission in Kosova and two Canadian contractors pleaded not guilty at a military court session in Belgrade on 9 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2000). They face possible terrorism charges, which could bring each man up to 15 years in prison. British and Canadian diplomats attended the session but refused to comment, AP reported. The diplomats were accompanied by two Yugoslav lawyers, whom they hired in addition to the state- appointed attorney Vojislav Zecevic. Zecevic said he welcomes the assistance. The diplomats hope to meet with the four captives, who have not yet had direct contact with their respective embassies, Reuters reported. Meanwhile in The Hague, Dutch acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Eveline Herfkens said that the Belgrade authorities have yet to allow Dutch diplomats access to four Dutch citizens, whom the Yugoslavs took prisoner shortly before capturing the Britons and Canadians. PM

KOSOVA COURT ACQUITS SERBIAN FAMILY IN SLAYING

A mainly Albanian court in Gjilan ruled on 8 August that there is not sufficient evidence to convict three men from the Momcilovic family of killing an ethnic Albanian outside their home in July 1999. Boban Momcilovic thanked NATO peacekeepers for bringing to light evidence suggesting that a U.S. soldier might have been responsible for the fatal shot, which was fired when an angry Albanian crowd appeared outside the Momcilovic's home, AP reported. PM

UN WARNS OF 'POISONING' FROM SERBIAN-RUN SMELTER IN KOSOVA

A UN spokesman in Mitrovica said on 8 August that a Serbian-run lead smelter is sending five times what the WHO considers a "very dangerous amount" of lead into the air from the Trepca mining complex. The spokesman noted that "the smelter plant is operating without proper environmental and health controls. The fumes are not going up the chimney, which has a converter, and instead they are pumping raw residues over Zvecan and Mitrovica," Reuters reported. PM

EXPLOSION DESTROYS SERB-OWNED RESTAURANT IN PRESEVO AREA

A strong explosion ripped through a Serbian-owned restaurant in Bujanovac in the early hours of 8 August, AP reported. The blast occurred when unknown persons threw an unspecified explosive device down the "Dva Lava" restaurant's chimney. The Serbian authorities have blamed a recent rash of violent incidents in the area on militant ethnic Albanian infiltrators from Kosova. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE PLEDGES TO WORK WITH WEST

Vojislav Kostunica, who is the Yugoslav presidential candidate of the united opposition, told Reuters on 8 August that he will work together with Western countries if he is elected in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000). He also said that "it is necessary" for the opposition to take part in the ballot even if it will not be free or fair, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere in Belgrade, the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic blamed the united opposition for splitting the vote against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic by not supporting his candidate for the presidency. The following day, a Democratic Party spokesman appealed to Draskovic to back Kostunica, Reuters reported. PM

CROATIAN CIGARETTE COMPANY DENIES MILOSEVIC LINK

The cigarette company in Rovinj has denied charges made by the daily "Jutarnji list" on 3 August that it produces cigarettes for a smuggling enterprise run by Marko Milosevic, the son of the Yugoslav president, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2000). PM

REFUGEE RETURNS UP IN BOSNIA

During the first six months of 2000, some 19,751 persons returned to their homes in Bosnia- Herzegovina in areas under the control of an ethnic group that is not their own. The UNHCR added in a statement in Sarajevo that this figure is up 150 percent over the corresponding period in 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 8 August. The following day, "Dnevni avaz" reported that Malaysia has pledged $425,000 to enable some 113 Muslim and Serbian families to return to their homes in the Neum and Sekovici areas. The daily also quoted Minister Omer Vatric of the Sarajevo canton as saying that the government evicts squatters from some 250 flats each month so that the original owners can return. Observers note that such squatters are usually Muslims from rural areas in eastern Bosnia or western Herzegovina. PM

HISTORICAL BOSNIAN MOSQUE TO BE REBUILT?

The Islamic Community, which is the principal Muslim religious organization in Bosnia, said in a statement in Sarajevo on 8 August that it is determined to rebuild the 16th-century Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka even without the permission of the Bosnian Serb authorities, Reuters reported. Serbian paramilitaries dynamited the UNESCO-listed structure in 1993. The area surrounding the mosque was bulldozed in 1996. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER TURNING DOWN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY OFFER?

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu will officially announce on 9 August his decision on running for president, and, according to media reports, Isarescu has decided to turn down the offer. On 8 August the premier and National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) chairman Ion Diaconescu had a five-hour talk in Neptun, the Black Sea resort where Isarescu is vacationing, and the encounter is most likely to have focused on the candidacy, Romanian Radio reported. Union of Rightist Forces co-chairman Adrian Iorgulescu said that if Isarescu turns down the offer to be the newly-established Democratic Convention of Romania 2000's (CDR) presidential candidate, the CDR has "another possible candidate from within its on ranks, as well as two prospective candidates from outside the CDR." MS

FORMER ROMANIAN OFFICIAL CHARGED IN MONEY-LAUNDERING AFFAIR

Mihai Unghianu, deputy governmental secretary general in the cabinet headed by Nicolae Vacaroiu in 1992-1996, has been officially charged with complicity in the Adrian Costea money-laundering affair, Mediafax reported. The agency said that at Unghianu's orders, the Bancorex state bank had guaranteed $5 million to cover the costs of producing and distributing an album intended to promote Romania's image abroad and transferred $1,524, 600 to a French publishing house headed by Costea. The publishing house delivered only 4,200 albums whose costs were $235,200. Bancorex was closed down by the government in July 1999, being merged into the Romanian Commercial Bank, after having issued over the years $1.2 billion in non-performing loans. The Prosecutor- General's Office is investigating the circumstances of that bank's performance. MS

PRIVATE HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY APPLIES FOR ROMANIAN PERMISSION

Levente Suket, who represents the Harghita County Cultural Center, on 8 August told Mediafax that the Education Ministry has now received an application for permission to open a private university with tuition in Hungarian. The university is funded by the Hungarian government and Suket said he expects the ministry to issue a "provisional permit" for the functioning of the new institution. The ministerial Academic Accreditation Council is to later examine whether the private university fulfills conditions for being issued a permanent permission, Suket said. He also said that the private Partium University headed by Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes is to be integrated within the new institution. MS

ANTHRAX EPIDEMIC SPREADS IN ROMANIA

The Agriculture Ministry on 8 August said new outbreaks of anthrax were reported in several counties, after the epidemic killed two men and dozens of animals in the Danube delta region last month. The ministry said infected cattle were discovered in western, northern, and eastern Romania, Reuters reported. It said the epidemic had been caused by this year's severe drought and the failure of farmers to vaccinate cattle. MS

MOLDOVA, TURKEY TO FOSTER MILITARY TIES

Visiting Turkish Defense Minster Sabahattin Cakmakoglu and Moldovan Minister of Industry and Trade Ion Lesan on 8 August signed an agreement on collaboration in the munitions industry, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The agreement also stipulates that the sides will set up a joint committee that will establish priorities for military collaboration between them. Infotag reports that Ankara is showing an interest in cooperation with the Moldovan military industry, most of which is now idle. Moldovan Defense Minister Boris Gamurari, who attended the signing ceremony, said that during his two- day talks with Cakmakoglu it was agreed to hold joint military exercises with the possible participation of Ukraine and Romania. Cakmakoglu was also received by Premier Dumitru Braghis. MS

U.S. ENVOY MEETS MOLDOVAN PREMIER

William Taylor, U.S. special ambassador in charge of coordination of aid to CIS states, met on 8 August with Braghis and Deputy Premier Lidia Gutu, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Braghis thanked the U.S. administration for the technical and financial aid extended to Moldova, emphasizing that the U.S. is providing some 55 percent of the total aid Moldova receives from abroad. Braghis said Chisinau would welcome an increase of financial aid in 2001, to be used to promote economic growth. Guta urged Taylor to speed up deliveries of agricultural produce aid, taking into consideration the effects of this year's drought. Taylor emphasized the necessity of governmental "transparency" and "responsibility" in order to improve the efficiency of the extended aid. MS




WILL RUSSIA SUCCEED IN THE BATTLE AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM?


By Paul Goble



Russian President Vladimir Putin's pledge to fight anti- Semitism and improve economic conditions have contributed to "a noticeable decrease" in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Russia over the last year, according to a report issued this week by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

But, this U.S.-based watchdog organization warns, the difficulties Putin faces in rooting out entrenched anti- Semitic groups in the regions, his own reliance on the security services and the possibility that the Russian economic growth may slow could trigger a new upsurge in anti- Semitism.

The danger of a new wave of anti-Semitism could grow, the UCSJ said, if post-Soviet threats like the alliance between neo-Nazi and Cossack paramilitary groups combine with Soviet-type challenges like increased dominance by the security organs and the suppression of freedom of the press.

According to this group, which has been monitoring anti- Semitism in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet states for more than a generation and which currently is conducting research on anti-Semitic incidents in all of Russia's regions, this link-up has already taken place in some places and appears to be gaining ground in others, including in Moscow itself.

Perhaps the worst example is Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, who, the report notes, has publicly accused Jews of conspiring to destroy Russia and even of "inventing" homosexuality to promote that end. In May, he said that Zionists were working together with the United States to "zombify" the Russian population and to incite ethnic conflicts on Russian territory.

But if this threat exists, the UCSJ argues, so too are some reasons for optimism. First of all, Putin's own commitment to oppose anti-Semitism and his efforts to rebuild the law enforcement agencies have significantly reduced the number of anti-Semitic incidents registered in the last years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency. Putin has even ordered the arrest of some extremists, something the report said would have been "unthinkable" under Yeltsin.

Moreover, Putin's own political agenda of recentralizing power and authority in Moscow appears to be directed against the leaders of the country's regions, some of which are headed by openly extremist and anti-Semitic governors. Thus Putin has his own political reasons for moving against such groups.

And finally, the dramatic increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Russia in 1998-99 compared to the early and mid-1990s has attracted growing attention from governments and human rights organizations in the West, some of whom had viewed the collapse of communism by itself as the solution to the historical problem of anti-Semitism in Russia and her neighbors.

One example of this was the attention these governments and groups gave to the recent arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky, an oligarch who happens to be Jewish. If some were willing to accept Moscow's argument that his arrest arose from his business activities, many speculated that he had been singled out because of his religious background.

The impact on Russia of this renewed Western concern is uncertain. On the one hand, Putin and his government are unlikely to want to offend countries from which Moscow still hopes to extract assistance and cooperation. But on the other hand, Western statements on this issue could trigger the very thing they are designed to oppose: an upsurge of nationalistic rhetoric and action which could further threaten Jews in the Russian Federation.

Indeed, the mixed Russian reaction to U.S. Vice President Al Gore's selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate highlights some of the problems ahead, with many Moscow papers focusing on Lieberman's Jewish background and one, the "Vedomosti" business daily, going so far as to suggest on 8 August that "if Gore wins the election, Russia will have a very uncomfortable opponent."

For all these reasons, the UCSJ says, the West will have to keep channels of communication open with Moscow to ensure that its voice is heard on the importance of combatting anti- Semitism but do so in a way that does not further inflame the situation.

That challenge, the report concludes, makes the next 12 months "a crucial time" for determining the future of Russian Jewry--and indeed, of Russian democracy as a whole.


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