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Newsline - August 15, 2000




BAD WEATHER HAMPERS OPERATION TO RESCUE SUBMARINE CREW...

High waves and strong northwest winds were hampering efforts to rescue the crew of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, which is stranded on the bed of the Barents Sea some 180 kilometers northeast of the port of Murmansk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000), navy press spokesman Igor Dygalo told Interfax on 15 August. Rescue operations to free the more than 100 people reported aboard the vessel continued throughout the night of 14-15 August, with some 15 Russian vessels reported to be taking part in the efforts. Reuters quoted an unidentified navy spokesman as saying that through tapping coded messages on the hull of the submarine, rescuers had determined that none of the crew is dead, but he added that it remains unknown whether there are any casualties. Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov was quoted by Interfax on 15 August as saying that it is extremely difficult at the current time to predict the fate of the crew. JC

...WHILE CAUSE OF ACCIDENT REMAINS UNCLEAR...

Kuroedov also commented that it is too soon to draw conclusions about the possible cause of the accident. The previous day, ITAR-TASS had quoted a "source in the Northern Fleet command" as saying the most likely reason for the sinking of the submarine was a "collision with a foreign submarine" or an "unidentified floating object." Later, however, the news agency quoted an official from a defense firm taking part in the rescue operation as saying that preliminary investigations using deep-water apparatus "do not confirm the theory of a collision with an unidentified object." The same source said he does not exclude the possibility that damage to the bow was caused by an explosion in that section. The U.S., for its part, has ruled out the possibility of a collision with another vessel, noting that no other submarine has been found near the scene of the accident. And CNN quoted Pentagon officials as saying that a U.S. submarine monitoring the exercises in which the "Kursk" was participating reported an explosion in the area on 12 August. According to Russian reports, the accident took place one day later, on 13 August. JC

...AND NORWAY CHECKS FOR LEAKS

The head of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, Per Strand, told Norwegian radio on 14 August that his organization has detected no sign of radiation leaks from the "Kursk" following what he described as "fairly intensive" air and sea tests, Reuters reported. The Norwegian Defense Ministry, however, said that a Norwegian research vessel will remain in the accident area, although it did not specify what it would be doing there. According to Russian media reports, the submarine was carrying no nuclear weapons and its two nuclear reactors have been shut down. Meanwhile, Russia has declined offers from the U.S. and other Western countries to assist in the rescue operation. JC

TSAR NICHOLAS CANONIZED

The Russian Orthodox Church's Council of Bishops voted unanimously on 14 August to canonize Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Aleksandra, Crown Prince Aleksei, and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatyana, Maria, and Anastasia. According to the council's decision, "the last Russian Orthodox monarch and his family tried to carry out the commandments of the Gospels in their lives" and "underwent their incarceration with gentleness, patience, and humbleness," Interfax reported. It had been reported earlier that the tsar would be canonized for how he faced his fate rather than how he ruled Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2000). According to "The Moscow Times" on 12 August, the bishops are also expected to discussed two important documents--the Church's "first-ever" social doctrine and a concept for its relations with non-Orthodox Churches. JAC

MORE DETAILS EMERGE FROM SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING

More information about the 11 August Security Council meeting has been leaked to the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 August 2000). According to Interfax on 14 August, the Security Council took at least four decisions: to give priority to improving the army's and navy's combat structure and combat potential; to revise the size of combat personnel and increase the number of permanently ready military units and formations; to redistribute financial flows within the Defense Ministry to the detriment of the Strategic Rocket Forces and to the benefit of conventional forces; and to transfer the Strategic Rocket Forces to the air force within two years. On 12 August, Air Force Commander Anatolii Kornukov, who was present at the Security Council meeting, confirmed that the Strategic Rocket Forces would be transferred to his command within two years. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL INSISTS KIM JONG-IL WAS SERIOUS ABOUT MISSILE PROPOSAL

An unidentified Russian official told Interfax on 15 August that he is surprised by South Korean and Western media reports quoting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as saying he was not serious when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country might stop developing rockets for peaceful space research if it received assistance in launching its satellites (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000). The official was a member of the Russian delegation that accompanied Putin on his visit to the North Korean capital last month. "When Russian President Putin's partner at the talks in Pyongyang told his so-called joke, he had a most serious expression on his face. Moreover, it could be called impenetrable," the official said. Arguing that Russian side has made much progress vis-a-vis the issue of the North Korean missile program, the official urged "all interested parties to return to the subject again and consider it thoroughly," adding that this is "no subject for joking." JC

PUTIN, MUBARAK DISCUSS MID-EAST PEACE PROCESS

President Putin telephoned with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, on 14 August to discuss the Mid-East Peace Process and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's recent visit to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000), Interfax reported, quoting presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov. Putin and Mubarak also discussed bilateral ties, and the Russian president confirmed his intention to visit Egypt, although no date has been set. JC

BOMB EXPLODES IN GROZNY

A powerful bomb exploded in central Grozny early on 14 August close to the city administration building and the Ministry for Emergency Situations, Interfax reported. No one was injured by the blast. Also on 14 August, the city's mayor, Supyan Mokhchaev, told journalists that his security guards had thwarted an attempt two days earlier to kill him using a video-cassette packed with explosives. LF

CHECHEN ELECTION OFFICIAL SAYS POLL CANNOT BE SABOTAGED BY BRIBES

Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, who is chairman of Chechnya's Central Electoral Commission, said in Moscow on 14 August that the outcome of the 20 August by-election in Chechnya to the State Duma will not be influenced by anticipated attempts by supporters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to bribe local election officials, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian media had claimed that Maskhadov has earmarked $40,000 in counterfeit bills for that purpose. LF

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PRESIDENTIAL RULE IN NORTH OSSETIA

Ruslan Aushev appealed to President Putin on 14 August to impose presidential rule over the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. Aushev claimed that illegal armed groups are preventing the repatriation to North Ossetia of Ingush displaced persons forced to flee their homes during the 1992 fighting. He added that the Ossetian authorities do not take any measures to prevent further reprisals against the republic's Ingush population, who, Aushev said, are deprived of constitutional rights and freedoms and of the opportunity to work. Aushev had made a similar, unsuccessful appeal to then President Boris Yeltsin three years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997). LF

CENTER OFFERS LUZHKOV TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE BUT NO CASH...

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin met again with Yurii Luzhkov on 14 August, after publicly contradicting the Moscow mayor's account of an earlier meeting between the two men, and promised some help with the city's finances. Kudrin told reporters that the federal government will help Moscow officials analyze the city budget's revenues and spending and find monies for repaying debts and compensating for revenues the city will lose from changes expected under the newly adopted second part of the Tax Code. According to "The Moscow Times" on 15 August, Kudrin also promised to transfer a stake of an unspecified size in the Moskvich auto factory to the city. (The federal government owns 59 percent of the company's shares, according to "Kommersant-Daily.) However, Kudrin did not promise the capital money to pay off its foreign debts. Luzhkov had said previously that the federal government had agreed to transfer part of the city of Moscow's foreign debts to the federal government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2000). JAC

...AS LUZHKOV CALLS INTERIOR MINISTRY PROBE 'POLITICAL'

Luzhkov told reporters on 12 August that he considers the report he received earlier from the Interior Ministry detailing official corruption within the Moscow City government to be a "purely political action," the website reported. JAC

WEBSITE FOR ILLEGAL CITY DWELLERS HEATS UP FOLLOWING BLAST

A website devoted to helping Moscow residents wend their way through the city's registration requirements has been averaging 100 hits a day and ranks in the top 30 of Russian Internet sites, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 August. The site, , appeared last year after the apartment bombings in Moscow caused the capital's police to increase its scrutiny of outsiders, particularly those from the Caucasus region. The site provides practical information ranging from how to survive random ID checks to how to buy "black-market" registration. Presidential envoy to the central district, Georgii Poltavchenko, recently hinted that he might challenge the city's registration requirement since the Constitutional Court has already ruled it unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 July 2000). JAC

PUTIN OVERTURNS ANOTHER GOVERNOR'S DECREE

Russian President Putin has signed a decree suspending Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev's resolution regulating licensing procedures for gathering, processing, and selling scrap ferrous and non- ferrous metal, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 August. The Tula resolution of 12 April 2000 contradicts a number of provisions of the Russian Constitution and the Civil Code as well as other federal laws, according to the presidential press service. Last May, Putin suspended decrees of a variety of regional officials that violate federal laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2000). JAC

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION MAINTAINS STEADY GROWTH

Industrial output climbed 10 percent during the first seven months of 2000 compared with the same period last year, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 14 August. Industrial production rose 10.4 percent during the first five months of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2000). According to Interfax, Kasyanov noted that despite this evidence that the economy's strong performance is continuing, certain problem areas still require the government's immediate attention. Specifically, he noted that farms need to be guaranteed sufficient fuel to carry out the harvest and that new legislation on production sharing agreements must be drafted for the fall. In addition, he said, the 2001 draft budget needs to be finalized before it can be sent to the parliament on 26 August. JAC

SUBSISTENCE WAGE SET AT $43 A MONTH

The government established the per capita subsistence wage for the second quarter of 2000 at 1,185 rubles ($43) per month--an increase of 4.2 percent compared with the previous quarter, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 August. This figure is not a wage per se but an accounting measure used to calculate pensions, stipends, and other "social payments." According to the State Statistics Committee, the average monthly wage in the Russian Federation during the first six months of 2000 was $74 a month, while a "minimum" basket of consumer goods cost 34 percent of that figure. JAC

GOVERNMENT ESTABLISHES COUNCIL FOR MINI-OLIGARCHS

The government recently established an Entrepreneurial Council to facilitate "more effective cooperation between the federal government and the business sector," primarily small and medium-sized businesses, "Finansovaya Rossiya" reported in its issue no. 29. Last month, President Putin met with the heads of some of Russia's largest businesses and agreed to establish a permanent mechanism for consultations between businessmen and the state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2000). JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RENOVATED

Armenian parliamentary officials said on 14 August that the process of renovating the parliament building to remove bullet holes and other traces of the 27 October shootings will be completed by the end of this month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A new checkpoint equipped with metal detectors will also be installed. The cost of repairs is estimated at 40 million drams ($76,000). LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER, KARABAKH PRESIDENT DISCUSS PEACE PROCESS

Vartan Oskanian met in Stepanakert on 14 August with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, to assess the Karabakh peace process and how the ongoing efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a solution of the conflict could be boosted, Noyan Tapan reported. The U.S. co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Carey Cavanaugh, was quoted as telling Azerbaijan's Azertadj news agency last week in Washington that the opinion of the population of Karabakh must be taken into consideration during ongoing negotiations. Ghukasian had told Karabakh television on 3 August that the Karabakh leadership should participate in talks on a solution to the conflict, Groong reported, citing Snark. The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliev, are due to meet on the sidelines of the 18-19 August CIS informal summit in Crimea to resume their talks on approaches to resolving the conflict. LF

ARMENIA RELEASES ANOTHER AZERBAIJANI POW

The Armenian authorities have released a 25-year-old Azerbaijani serviceman taken prisoner in 1998 after inadvertently straying onto Armenian territory, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The man was flown to Baku on 14 August, where an Azerbaijani National Security Ministry press spokesman accused Yerevan of reneging on a promise to free two POWs, according to Turan. An Armenian National Security official had told RFE/RL that Armenia still holds another Azerbaijani prisoner. He queried Azerbaijani denials that any Armenian prisoners remain in Azerbaijani jails. LF

BANDITS OPEN FIRE ON GERMAN TOURISTS IN WESTERN GEORGIA

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on 13 August on three minibuses carrying German tourists in the Svaneti region of northwest Georgia, but there were no injuries, Russian agencies reported. A local police spokesman said he believes the gunmen intended to rob the tourists. A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman denied on 14 August that the gunmen had taken some of the tourists hostage but later released them. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ADVOCATES UN SECURITY COUNCIL PERMANENT MEMBERSHIP FOR GERMANY, JAPAN...

Eduard Shevardnadze proposed at a press briefing in Tbilisi on 14 August that the UN Security Council should be enlarged to include Germany and Japan as permanent members, Caucasus Press reported. He argued that "such global problems as starvation and poverty cannot be solved without attracting such financially powerful countries." Germany is one of the largest donors of international aid to Georgia. LF

...CALLS FOR SWIFT END TO WAR IN CHECHNYA

In his traditional Monday radio address on 14 August, Shevardnadze expressed the hope that the conflict in Chechnya will be ended as quickly as possible, Interfax reported. Shevardnadze defended as correct Tbilisi's refusal last October to allow Russian forces to use Georgian territory to launch operations in southern Chechnya. Also on 14 August, the Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing the Russian media of deliberately circulating erroneous reports of the presence in northern Georgia of groups of mercenaries from Afghanistan en route for Chechnya. The statement claimed such reports are part of an attempt to create an image of Georgia as "an enemy," Interfax reported. LF

PLANNED METING OF CASPIAN LITTORAL STATES CANCELLED

At Iran's request, which was supported by Turkmenistan, a planned meeting in Moscow of the five Caspian littoral states has been cancelled, Interfax reported on 14 August quoting unnamed Russian diplomatic sources. Over the past month, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special presidential representative for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuzhnyi has visited Astana, Baku, Ashgabat, and Tehran to solicit support for Russia's proposed phased approach to resolving Caspian- related problems. Kalyuzhnyi had suggested signing a convention on ecological issues and protecting the sea's biological resources before starting negotiations on the division and demarcation of national sectors of the sea. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER CONFIRMS HE WILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov told journalists in Bishkek on 14 August that he will contend the 29 October presidential poll, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kulov added, however, that he doubts the poll will be free and fair. He said he plans to travel to Moscow for unofficial consultations about the elections with unnamed Russian leaders. Kulov was acquitted a week ago following a five-week trial on charges of abusing his official position when he served as national security minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000). Also on 14 August, Kyrgyzstan's National Security Minister Tashtemir Aitbaev told RFE/RL that the prosecutor at the trial has made good on his stated intention to appeal the judge's decision to acquit Kulov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2000). Aitbaev added that the acquittal was unfair and ignored evidence proving Kulov's guilt. LF

KYRGYZ, TAJIK, UZBEK OFFICIALS DISCUSS MEASURES TO COUNTER ISLAMISTS...

Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek government representatives have discussed the possible use of air strikes against the Islamist militants who invaded Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan last week, Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Osmonakun Ibraimov told journalists in Bishkek on 14 August. He said Uzbekistan had offered to make its airforce available for that purpose, but he noted that the three countries have not yet taken a decision on whether to use air strikes, Reuters reported. General Bolot Djanuzakov, who is the Kyrgyz Security Council secretary, said in Bishkek on 15 August that Kyrgyz troops have split the invaders into three groups and driven them back to within 1.5 kilometers of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, ITAR-TASS reported. On 14 August, the news agency quoted an unidentified Kyrgyz Defense Ministry official as saying that another 500-700 gunmen are gathered at the Tajik- Kyrgyz border ready to enter Kyrgyzstan. The same day, General Amirqul Azimov, the secretary of the Tajik Security Council, and other Tajik government officials flew to the northern town of Khudjand, which has been selected as the joint headquarters for forces from all three countries to coordinate measures against the militants. LF

...WHILE MILITANTS' AIMS REMAIN UNCLEAR

Ibraimov also said in Bishkek on 14 August that the invading Islamist forces included foreign mercenaries from Afghanistan, Chechnya and unnamed Arab states as well as members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Ibraimov said the militants' aim is "to destabilize the whole of Central Asia," according to Interfax. But Reuters quoted an Iranian Radio broadcast, monitored by the BBC, as claiming that the militants have demanded that the Uzbek government release all imprisoned IMU members, reopen closed mosques, allow Islamic dress, and introduce Sharia law. Kyrgyz parliamentary deputy Dosbol Nur Uulu, who negotiated with IMU members to secure the release of hostages seized by the IMU in the late summer of 1999, estimated the total membership of the IMU at 6,000-7,000, according to Reuters. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS MEASURES TO DEMOCRATIZE ELECTIONS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in a letter to EU Foreign and Security Policy chief Javier Solana and OSCE Chairwoman Benita Ferrero-Waldner, made proposals to ensure free and fair elections to the Chamber of Representatives this fall, Belarusian Television reported on 14 August, citing the Foreign Ministry press service. Lukashenka reportedly pledged that representatives of the political parties that have nominated their election candidates will be included in the Central Election Commission as non-voting members. He also promised free air time on television for all registered candidates so that they can present their election platforms. "Belarus's leadership has obliged itself not to make conditions worse for the activities of public associations, political parties, and groups, including the opposition ones, [as well as] free trade unions and the independent media," the Foreign Ministry press service said in a statement. JM

ANOTHER MAJOR BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST PLANS TO RUN IN ELECTIONS

Mikalay Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), has registered a citizens' group supporting his possible candidacy in the 15 October ballot from a Minsk constituency, Belapan reported on 14 August. Statkevich told the news agency that he will make a final decision on his candidacy in September. Statkevich's party previously resolved that it will not take part in the elections but said it will not forbid its members from running if they are proposed by groups of citizens. Statkevich commented that he sees his participation in the ballot as a bid to protect himself from persecution by the regime, noting that he was handed down in June a two-year prison term for organizing an unauthorized rally. Former Premier Mikhail Chyhir has given a similar justification for his participation in the 15 October ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000). JM

NEW STATE INFORMATION AGENCY TO APPEAR IN BELARUS?

President Lukashenka on 14 August conferred with government officials about the creation of a new state information agency and ordered them to prepare "all necessary documents" by October to make a final decision on the agency, Belarusian Television reported. "The main condition is that the agency should be absolutely state-run from the viewpoint of disseminating its product...and from the viewpoint of control over [its activities]," Lukashenka said. He added that the new agency will not abolish the current state-owned information agency BelTA. The new agency will be created in cooperation and partnership with Interfax. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER STRESSES NEED FOR SINGLE ORTHODOX CHURCH

Mykola Zhulynskyy said on 14 August that "Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which is today split into three branches, should be one and unified and should consolidate the Ukrainian people," Interfax reported. He added that the Russian Orthodox Church opposes the creation of a single Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Zhulynskyy was commenting on the meeting of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, which condemned the attempts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and some Ukrainian politicians to create a Church independent from Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church considers the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) as the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine and regards the Kyiv Patriarchate followers as "schismatics." JM

UKRAINE'S GDP GROWS BY 5 PERCENT FROM JANUARY TO JULY

The State Statistics Committee reported on 14 August that in the first seven months of this year, Ukraine's GDP increased by 5 percent, compared with the same period last year. The government expects GDP to rise 2 percent this year. Last year's GDP shrank by 0.4 percent. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CONTROVERSIAL POWER PLANT SALE...

Lawmakers held a special session on 14 August to discuss the planned sale of a 49 percent stake in the country's main power plants to the U.S. company NRG Energy. Speaking at the session, Prime Minister Mart Laar stressed the need to publicize the conditions of the deal, including the $70.5 million purchase price for the minority stake as well as employment protection clauses and the mandatory purchase by the power utility Eesti Energia of electricity generated at the plant, ETA reported. Laar stressed that the government gave no guarantees and that NRG will be heavily scrutinized to make sure it meets all the conditions. He added that the deal will benefit workers in the northeastern Ida-Virumaa country. MH

...BUT CLOSES SESSION FOLLOWING LACK OF QUORUM

However, following a recess, the session had to be halted owing to the lack of a quorum. Only 40 parliament members returned after the recess, which had been called to allow deputies to study documents related to the sale, ETA reported Earlier opposition-sponsored attempts to debate the deal had failed for the same reason.. Prime Minister Laar accused the opposition for failing to turn up to hear Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja speak about the deal, BNS added. Meanwhile, 45 members of the opposition registered a no confidence motion against Parnoja, but that motion was not debated because of the lack of a quorum. Laar said it was "absurd" that the no- confidence motion was raised but the opposition chose not to hear Parnoja speak. MH

POLISH PREMIER REPLACES TREASURY MINISTER

Jerzy Buzek on 14 August fired Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz and appointed Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) Senator Andrzej Chronowski to that post. Buzek commented that he dismissed Wasacz because of the "political tension" surrounding the minister. He added that Wasacz agreed to step down "so as not to create problems" for the AWS, AP reported. Both the opposition and some AWS deputies have repeatedly accused Wasacz of not protecting national interests in his privatization policies. Wasacz was to have faced a parliamentary vote of no confidence next month. JM

POLISH EX-PRESIDENT URGES SOLIDARITY LEADER TO DROP PRESIDENTIAL BID

Lech Walesa on 14 August urged Solidarity leader Marian Kwasniewski to quit the presidential race and support him instead. Walesa said Krzaklewski should concentrate on trade union work, adding that he will help Krzaklewski to become president in several years' time. "Today Krzaklewski is contributing to disaster for the whole [Solidarity] camp. He is destroying our achievements and himself. He can't understand, although I'm urging him again, to see what's going on and realize that he has no chance of winning. I don't have many chances either but they are greater than his," Walesa said on Radio Gdansk. The same day, Krzaklewski introduced his election slogan--"Safe future-- Family on its own feet"--and an election song with a chorus urging voters to "Back Krzak! Back Krzak! Super choice, simple track!" according to BBC Monitoring. JM

CZECHS HOST ABILYMPIC GAMES

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the opening ceremony of the Abilympic Games on 14 August that "the Czech Republic is the first European country to host the Abilympic movement, which since the 1970s has been an important means of providing equal opportunity to the disabled," CTK reported. Some 800 disabled people from 33 countries will compete in a variety of disciplines, including web-page design, wood carving, and candy making. PG

CZECHS CONSIDER WEALTH TO HAVE BEEN GAINED BY FRAUD

More than 70 percent of Czechs now believe that the wealthy gained their assets by fraud, according to a poll published in Prague's "Lidove noviny" newspaper on 14 August. This view is held by roughly the same proportion across the entire political spectrum, the newspaper said. PG

VONDRACEK NAMED INTERIM DIRECTOR OF CZECH TV NEWS

Czech public television has named Jiri Vondracek acting director of the station's news department, CTK reported on 14 August. He replaced Jiri Hodac, who resigned on 11 August. PG

SLOVAKIA MUST NOW CONFORM TO OECD RULES

The Czech financial daily "Hospodarske noviny" said on 14 August that now Slovakia has become a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Slovak authorities can no longer ignore rules set by the OECD. PG

SLOVAKIA HOPES TO HELP RESOLVE CYPRUS DISPUTE

Slovak diplomats are preparing a Festival of Mutual Understanding for representatives of the Greek and Turkish communities on Cyprus as part of its continuing effort to promote friendly relations on that Mediterranean island, CTK reported on 14 August. Slovakia's ambassador in Nicosia, Dusan Rozbora, said that "this will be the first joint event of political parties since the division of Cyprus." Slovakia has been involved in trying to promote an agreement since 1993, following the split of the former Czechoslovakia. PG

GERMAN MINISTER PRAISES HUNGARY'S EFFORT TO JOIN EU

Hans Eichel, the German finance minister, said in Budapest on 14 August that Hungary's willingness to adopt EU standards puts it among the leaders of countries aspiring to membership in the union, Reuters reported. "I am very confident about Hungary," he said. PG

HUNGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY DEFENDS ROMA BUDGET

The Justice Ministry said on 14 August that according to its calculations, the cabinet has allocated 7.2 billion ($25 million) forints for Romany development projects in this year's budget. National Gypsy Authority Deputy Chairman Bela Osztojkan said, however, that less than 1 billion forints has been earmarked for that purpose. Commenting on the Romany families from Zamoly who are seeking political asylum in France, Justice Ministry State Secretary Csaba Hende said the government and the National Gypsy Authority have made considerable efforts to help those families. Jozsef Krasznai, a spokesman for the Zamoly group, said Hende "should have spoken out in the past three years when Romany families were repeatedly harassed." MSZ




SHARP SERBIAN REACTION TO UN TAKEOVER OF POLLUTING MINING COMPLEX

Several hundred "angry and confused" mainly Serbian workers gathered outside the Trepca mining complex on 15 August, AP reported. Oliver Ivanovic, who is the leader of the Serbian community in Mitrovica and a critic of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said the previous day that the UN's takeover of Trepca is aimed at ousting pro-Milosevic Serbs from the plant's management, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 August 2000). Novak Bijelic, whom the UN sacked as plant director, said that the "fascist takeover is aimed at destroying the company." State-run Serbian television argued that "the obvious intention [of UN chief administrator Bernard Kouchner] was to destroy Trepca, which has become a symbol of Serbian resistance." Trepca was Kosova's largest single employer until the conflict in 1999. The complex of about 40 mines produces gold, silver, lead, zinc, and cadmium. It uses antiquated technology, and pollution control devices are inadequate or nonexistent. Before Kouchner moved to shut down the complex, it produced some 200 times the level of lead pollution considered safe, Reuters reported. PM

TREPCA: THE START OF REORGANIZATION IN KOSOVA?

William L. Nash, who is the UN's chief administrator in Mitrovica, told London's "The Guardian" of 15 August that the takeover of Trepca is the beginning of a "much broader security operation" aimed at removing Milosevic supporters from key positions in Kosova. Nash added that the UN will "change the structure of [unspecified] local municipal boards in the region over the next few days." He stressed that the UN wants "people who are interested in democracy [in key posts], and those who are not interested in democracy can go elsewhere. They can leave Kosovo in a variety of ways." PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO LAUNCH CAMPAIGN ON 1 SEPTEMBER

Zoran Djindjic, who heads the Democratic Party, said in Belgrade on 14 August that opposition leaders agreed that their campaign for the 24 September local and federal elections will last only three weeks. "We do not want to burden our citizens, who are already exhausted by...long campaigns. We do not have to explain to the people how bad this regime is.... They know who we--the opposition--are, and who the others are," Reuters reported. Djindjic added that the opposition does not have enough money for a longer campaign. Djindjic and other opposition leaders agreed to run candidates in Montenegro, where the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) is boycotting the vote. In Podgorica, the DPS steering committee confirmed the party leadership's earlier decision not to participate in the elections. PM

SERBIAN REGIME TO RUN ON TWO SLATES...

Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said in a statement on 14 August in Belgrade that it will field joint candidates with the United Yugoslav Left (JUL), which is led by Mira Markovic, the wife of Milosevic. JUL is a small party that is primarily the political home of die-hard communists of the older generation. Vojislav Seselj's Radicals, who are the third member of the governing coalition, will run their own candidates. A commentator from the weekly NIN told the BBC's Serbian Service that "it makes no [political] difference" that Seselj is formally running separately from Milosevic and Markovic, because "he is nothing without them." PM

...CONTINUES CASES AGAINST FOREIGN CAPTIVES

A Belgrade military court ended its initial hearing on 14 August in the cases of two British and two Canadian citizens recently arrested in Montenegro on suspicion of "terrorism" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2000). A defense lawyer told Reuters that he expects a ruling by the end of August and that the court will not continue the case. A second defense lawyer added, however, that he believes that the regime's political considerations will determine whether the case is dropped. Meanwhile in Amsterdam, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Dutch diplomats expect to have their first direct contact on 15 August with the four Dutch citizens arrested shortly before the Britons and Canadians. The four Dutch citizens had a court hearing at the weekend but were not represented by a lawyer, Reuters reported. PM

ETHNICALLY MIXED SOCCER REVIVED IN BOSNIA

Secretary-General of the Soccer Association of Bosnia-Herzegovina Munib Usanovic told Reuters on 14 August that he is pleased that the first match between a Croatian and a Muslim team since the 1992-1995 conflict took place "in the best order." The 13 August match in Mostar between the Muslim team Velez and the Croatian Zrinjski was accompanied by only minor violence, which Usanovic said "could happen at any stadium in Europe." He stressed that the general atmosphere among the teams and fans was "fine." PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER GOES FOR A SWIM

In order to draw attention to the blockage of navigation on the River Danube, Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman swam down that river in the company of Slovenian swimmer Martin Strel, AP reported. Although the EU has allocated up to 22 million euros ($20.5 million) to unblock the channel, which became clogged during NATO bombing last year, the river will not be navigable until spring 2001. Roman, who only recently returned from a vacation on the Black Sea and who is expected to run for president in November, said that "it was a much greater pleasure to swim in the Danube than it was to swim in the Black Sea, and I thought the water was pretty clean." PG

ROMANIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY OFFICIAL DISMISSED

At the request of Environment Minister Romica Tomescu, Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu has dismissed the ministry's secretary of state, Anton Vlad, Romanian media reported on 14 August. A National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) member, Vlad has been accused of irregularities at the Forest Department of his home county, Bistrita-Nasaud, as well as "unsatisfactory activities" with regard to the return of farmlands and forests to their former owners. Vlad, who learned of his dismissal from journalists, said the charges are Tomescu's "concoctions" and that the minister wants to blame others for his own inactivity. PNTCD Vice Chairman Vasile Lupu, the initiator of the restitution law, said Vlad was a victim of the "mafia of the forests and left-wing parties." Although the so-called Lupu law was adopted by the parliament in July 1999, only a small portion of the forests has been returned to its rightful owners. ZsM

MOLDOVAN-RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING EXERCISE ENDS

The second Moldova-Russia peacekeeping maneuvers at the Buliboaca military facility have ended, Infotag reported on 14 August. The week-long training exercises involved 34 Russians and approximately 150 Moldovan troops. The first joint maneuvers took place in July 1999. PG

BULGARIAN CABINET ASKS PRESIDENT TO REPLACE INTERIOR MINISTRY CHIEF SECRETARY

The Bulgarian cabinet proposed on 14 August that Petar Stoyanov dismiss the Interior Ministry's chief secretary, General Bozhidar Popov, for his role in "Bug Gate," in which the apartment of Bulgaria's chief prosecutor as well the homes of other government officials were found to be bugged, Bulgarian Radio reported. Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov has already publicly called for Popov to be fired (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2000). The decision to seek Popov's sacking was made at a cabinet meeting at which a report on the eavesdropping scandal was presented. The cabinet suggested that Popov be replaced by Slavko Bosilkov. PB




WILL NEW LEGISLATION EXPEDITE THE MESKHETIANS' RETURN TO GEORGIA?


By Liz Fuller

One of the obligations that Georgia assumed on being admitted in April 1999 as a full member of Council of Europe was to expedite the repatriation to Georgia of the Meskhetians deported by Stalin from southern Georgia to Central Asia and Kazakhstan in November 1944. Within days, between 90,000 and 100,000 Meskhetians, Kurds, and Khemshins (Armenians whose ancestors were converted to Islam) were rounded up and transported in cattle cars to Kazakhstan. Thousands of them died en route or as a result of the harsh conditions in exile.

Following Nikita Khrushchev's legendary denunciation of Stalin's crimes at the CPSU's 20th congress in 1956, most of the other ethnic groups deported during World War II, including the Crimean Tatars and the Chechens and Ingush, were exonerated and allowed to return home. The Meskhetians, for reasons that remain unclear, were not, and they began lobbying the Soviet authorities for permission to do so.

That process, inevitably, acquired political dimensions. Scholars and the Meskhetians alike dispute that group's origins: some consider themselves Georgians whose forebears converted to Islam when the Samtskhe-Djavakheti region of Georgia constituted part of the Ottoman Empire. Others believe they are ethnic Turks. Accordingly, the Meskhetians split into two camps. One, named Khsna ("Salvation"), united those Meskhetians who consider themselves Georgians; the other, named Vatan ("Homeland"), represents those who identified themselves as Turks.

In the mid-1980s, despite protests from some members of the Georgian intelligentsia, an initiative was launched to bring Meskhetians back to Georgia, but only a few hundred succeeded in taking advantage of that opportunity, and they were hounded out of the republic a few years later by supporters of ultranationalist President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

The clashes in the summer of 1989 in Uzbekistan's Ferghana valley between Meskhetians and local Uzbeks culminated in the evacuation of nearly all of the 90,000 Meskhetians of that region. In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in 1998, Professor Khadji-Murat Ibragimbeyli, one of the co-chairmen of the Russian Muslim organization "Nur," estimated that as of 1 January 1998, there were still 15,000 Meskhetians in Uzbekistan, some 30,000 in Kyrgyzstan, 90,000 in Kazakhstan, 70,000 in Azerbaijan, and 90,000 in the Russian Federation.

Of the last-named group, some 13,500 are compactly settled in two districts of Krasnodar Krai. There they are regarded with enmity and suspicion by both the local Cossack population and the regional authorities, which refuse to grant them the right of permanent residency but encourage those who wish to do so to emigrate to Turkey.

In March 1999, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze issued a decree setting up a government commission charged with preparing by 1 October 2000 a legal framework for the voluntary return over 12 years of those Meskhetians who wish to settle permanently in Georgia. That commission has already drafted legislation that characterizes the Meskhetians as victims of political repression, rehabilitates them, and affirms their right to Georgian citizenship.

But the repatriation process, which is to be funded entirely by international organizations, may nonetheless prove problematic. According to Georgian Repatriation Service head Guram Mamulia, the Georgian authorities do not have up- to-date, accurate estimates of the number of Meskhetians who want to return to Georgia. The only data available are from 1989. At that time, Mamulia said, 10,594 heads of households had filed applications to resettle in Georgia, but it is not clear how many of those still desire to do so. He predicted that only a very few Meskhetians will go to Georgia over the next two to three years because the economic situation there is so bad.

Asked where the returning Meskhetians will live, Mamulia said that like all other citizens of Georgia, they are free to choose their place of residence. That response suggests that the Georgian government will not make any special effort to help the Meskhetians return to the villages in southern Georgia from which they (or their parents or grandparents) were originally deported.

One of the requirements set down by the Council of Europe is that the process of integrating the returning Meskhetians into Georgian society should proceed in tandem with that of repatriation. Mamulia noted that without exception, all those Meskhetians who have returned to Georgia have adopted Georgian last names and sent their children to Georgian-language schools. Mamulia said that he does not anticipate problems in integrating the returning Meskhetians into Georgian society but admitted that the success of that process will depend on the Georgian authorities. In that context, he admitted that the main danger is indifference, insensitivity, or inefficiency on the part of bureaucrats, who, for example, may fail to provide Georgian language instruction or to assist those Meskhetians who wish to change their last names,

Whether the new draft legislation will indeed pave the way for the Meskhetians' return is, however, questionable. Writing last year on the anniversary of the deportation, one Meskhetian suggested that while paying lip-service to the need for repatriation, the Georgian authorities are in fact doing little to encourage it. The author of another article has suggested that the Georgian leadership would be committing collective political suicide if it allowed the Meskhetians to return to Georgia en masse before it negotiated a solution to the Abkhaz conflict that would allow displaced Georgians to return to Abkhazia. Mamulia's admission that repatriation could prove "a destabilizing factor" could be interpreted as corroborating that hypothesis.


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