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Newsline - August 24, 2000




PUTIN WON'T ACCEPT TOP BRASS'S RESIGNATION...

Speaking on Russian Television on 23 August, the national day of mourning for the 118 men who died aboard the sunken "Kursk" nuclear submarine, President Vladimir Putin said he has not accepted the resignations of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, naval commander-in-chief Vladimir Kuroedov, and Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov, which, he noted, were tendered in the wake of the tragedy. Those resignations will not be accepted, he said, until the cause of the disaster has been clarified and until it has been established if someone was to blame or if it was "just a tragic accident." The president also said that he himself feels a "full sense of responsibility and sense of guilt for the tragedy." At the same time, he noted that he does not agree with those who claim that if Russia had asked for foreign assistance earlier, "that would have changed the situation." According to the president, the first offers of help from abroad were not made until 15 August and were accepted immediately. Both the U.S. and Britain publicly offered assistance on 14 August, the day the tragedy was reported by the Russian media. JC

...SAYS MILITARY REFORM WILL TAKE TIME...

Putin also addressed the issue of the reform of the armed forces, which, he said, should "match, on the one hand, the needs and, on the other, the possibilities of the state." Those forces, he continued, should be "compact, up-to-date, and well-paid," but he conceded that this will take "some time" to achieve. JC

...HITS BACK AT OLIGARCH-CRITICS

Having suffered a broadside of criticism from many Russian media outlets over his handling of the "Kursk" disaster, Putin took the opportunity to lash out at some of his fiercest critics for seeking to "gain political capital or secure some group interests" through the disaster. "Those who are in the front row of the ["Kursk"] sailors' defenders," he said," have turned out to be the very people who in their time helped ruin the army, the navy, and the state [by misappropriating state funds]." "They should sell their villas on the Mediterranean coast of France or Spain. Only then, they'd have to explain why all this property is registered in false names and front law firms and where they got the money from," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying on Russian Television. As "The Moscow Times" pointed out on 24 August, Boris Berezovskii is reported to spend a lot of time in France, while Vladimir Gusinskii lives with his family in Spain. JC

NATIONWIDE POLL SHOWS PUTIN'S RATING REMAINS HIGH...

An opinion survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM) from 19-21 August--when it was becoming increasingly apparent that none of the "Kursk" crew was still alive--showed President Putin's approval rating at 65 percent, down from its high of 73 percent in late July but slightly up on the 63 percent backing he had at the end of June. Some 1,600 people were surveyed throughout the country. VTsIOM director Yurii Levada was quoted by "The Moscow Times" as saying that among younger and better-educated people, Putin's support stands at 61 percent, "especially in Moscow." Nationwide, the number of people who disapprove of Putin's leadership grew from 17 percent in July to 26 percent in August. JC

...WHILE 37 PERCENT OF RUSSIANS ATTRIBUTE SAILORS' DEATHS TO 'TRAGIC ACCIDENT'

The same VTsIOM poll indicated that 37 percent of Russians believe the sinking of the "Kursk" and the failure to rescue its crew can be attributed to a "tragic accident," according to "Vremya novostei" on 23 August. Twenty-three percent said the disaster can be blamed on the naval command's lack of preparation or inability to cooperate with rescuers, while another 23 percent pointed to technical shortcomings in naval equipment. Twenty-one percent blamed the national leadership's poor control over the situation in the armed forces; 16 percent said the tragedy was the result of mistakes made by the Russian navy command; and 14 percent named "hostile actions by NATO and the U.S." as the cause. The VTsIOM pollsters report a margin of error of four percentage points. JC

OVR THREATENS TO VOTE AGAINST DRAFT BUDGET...

At a press conference in Moscow on 23 August, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction leader Yevgenii Primakov announced that the OVR parliamentary group will vote against next year's budget if that document does not provide for spending on the armed forces to be raised to at least 3 percent of GDP, Russian agencies reported. Primakov said the "Kursk" disaster had highlighted the plight of the military, and he called for spending on the military to be further increased in subsequent budgets. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin had told reporters last week that under the draft 2001 budget submitted to the government, 206.32 billion rubles ($7.4 billion) has been earmarked for national defense. This amounts to 2.66 percent of next year's projected GDP, compared with 2.39 percent in the 2000 budget. JC

...WHILE SELEZNEV, TOO, URGES INCREASED SPENDING ON ARMED FORCES

Writing in the 24 August issue of "Trud," State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev stressed that he does not believe that current funding for the armed forces is sufficient. The "Kursk" disaster, he said, will inevitably have an impact on the 2001 budget, adding that Duma deputies will "work diligently on all military items" in that document. JC

PUTIN TO GO AHEAD WITH TRIPS ABROA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has confirmed that President Putin will visit Japan from 3-5 September, as planned, Russian agencies reported on 23 August. In the wake of the "Kursk" disaster, speculation had arisen that Putin might cancel that trip. Ivanov also said that Putin intends to address the UN General Assembly in New York on 6 September. JC

NORTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO VISIT MOSCOW NEXT MONTH

Paek Nam-sun will meet with his Russian counterpart, Ivanov, in Moscow in the second half of next month, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported, both citing unidentified sources. According to Interfax, the focus of the ministers' talks will be determining a date and agenda for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit to Moscow, which was announced by Ivanov last month following Russian President Putin's trip to Pyongyang (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). JC

MOSCOW SAYS UNMIK 'TOLERATING' ATTACKS AGAINST KOSOVA SERBS

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 23 August condemning as "terrorist acts" the 18 August bombing of a building in Prishtina housing the OSCE mission and both ethnic Albanian and Serbian political parties and an incident the same day in which nine Serbian children were injured when unknown persons threw hand grenades at them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 August 2000). "These outbursts of violence aimed against Serbs who remain in Kosova, as well as against ethnic minorities, take place with the obvious toleration of [UN Mission in Kosovo] administration and KFOR," the statement said. It added that the incidents also show that not even "minimal conditions" exist for the 28 October local elections that it claims were "enforced" by UNMIK head Bernard Kouchner. JC

CHECHEN ELDERS ANNOUNCE PUNISHMENTS FOR AIDING MASKHADOV'S FIGHTERS

Elders in the villages of Shali and Serzhen-Yurt announced on 23 August that penalties, including banishment from those villages, will be imposed on anyone known to provide aid to the fighters of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Russian agencies reported, citing the Russian military press center. That decision, which has not been independently confirmed, was said to have been taken in response to an upsurge in Chechen attacks against both federal forces and local Chechen administrators. LF

EU ALLOCATES MORE HUMANITARIAN AID FOR CHECHNYA

The European Commission announced on 23 August it will earmark additional funds for victims of the war in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. The precise sum was not specified, but the new monies will raise to 20 million euros ($22 million) EU aid to Chechnya for this year. LF

KUDRIN APPOINTED GOVERNOR TO IMF

Putin on 21 August signed a decree appointing Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin governor for Russia to the IMF, Interfax reported two days later, citing unidentified government sources. Kudrin replaces Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko in that post. JC

METALS, CRUDE EXPORTS UP IN FIRST HALF...

Exports of nickel, aluminum, and copper were up by 11.7 percent, 9.2 percent, and 8.1 percent, respectively, in the first six months of 2000, compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 23 August, citing the State Statistics Committee. Iron and steel exports (excluding pig iron, ferroalloys, and scrap) soared by 35.3 percent, according to the news agency. ITAR-TASS reported the same day, also citing the State Statistics Committee, that Russia exported 70.7 million tons of crude oil in the first six months of 2000, a 2.6 percent increase over the same period last year. Revenues from crude exports totaled 11.9 billion rubles (some $429 million) in the first half of this year. JC

...AS FOREIGN TRADE SURPLUS EXCEEDS $32 BILLION

According to the State Statistics Committee, Russia's foreign trade surplus (excluding unofficial shuttle trade) reached $32.5 billion in the first half of this year, Interfax reported on 23 August. Exports totaled $48.4 billion (a year-on-year increase of 52.6 percent), while imports stood at $15.9 billion (up 6.9 percent on the same period last year). JC

SOVIET-ERA MILITARY PROSECUTOR COMMITS SUICIDE

Aleksandr Katusev, who was USSR deputy prosecutor-general in the 1980s and later chief military prosecutor, shot himself in the head during a business trip to Krasnoyarsk Krai on 23 August. Former colleagues told Interfax that personal problems were the cause of the suicide, including the death of his wife and son and many business difficulties. JC




ARMENIAN PREMIER MARKS FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 23 August to mark his first 100 days as prime minister, Andranik Markarian dismissed speculation that President Robert Kocharian may soon replace him in that post with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian also played down suggestions that his Republican Party of Armenia may be left without a majority in the parliament if the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) quits the majority Miasnutiun bloc, which the two parties formed to contest the parliamentary poll in May 1999. But he warned that he may fire more HZhK representatives in the government if that party continues to criticize government policy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 34, 24 August 2000). LF

ARMENIA CELEBRATES 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE DECLARATION

President Kocharian and Prime Minister Markarian both issued statements marking the 10th anniversary on 23 August of the declaration by Armenia's first non-Communist dominated legislature of the country's independence, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian termed the principles outlined in that declaration "a guiding force for both the country's internal processes and its foreign policy," acknowledging that not all the goals outlined in that document have been attained. Markarian said Armenians "have remained loyal" to the principles enshrined in the declaration of independence, adding that there is "no alternative" to independence. ITAR- TASS reported on 23 August that the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, which dominated the parliament elected in 1990, planned to hold a reception to mark the anniversary at which former President Levon Ter-Petrossian (the speaker of the 1990 parliament) would make one of his rare public appearances. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT JEERED AT PREDECESSOR'S FUNERAL...

Tens of thousands of people paid their last respects on 23 August to former President Abulfaz Elchibey, who died of cancer the previous day, Reuters and RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Crowds filed past the coffin as it lay in state at the Academy of Sciences. Mourners began chanting hostile slogans at the appearance of current President Heidar Aliev, who immediately left the building to face jeers from a crowd of an estimated 50,000 outside. Parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov was similarly shouted down when he attempted to speak. LF

...AS HIS SON SET TO ENTER NEW PARLIAMENT

Ilham Aliev's name is the first on the list of candidates from the pro- presidential Yeni Azerbaycan party to contest the 25 seats in the new legislature to be allocated under the proportional system, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 August. Ilham Aliyev was elected one of several deputy chairmen of Yeni Azerbaycan at the party's first congress last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999). The Moscow newspaper predicted that Ilham will be elected parliamentary speaker after the 5 November poll. Under the Azerbaijani Constitution, the parliamentary speaker assumes the duties of the country's president if the latter becomes incapacitated or dies in office. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS PLAN PROTEST MEASURES

Meeting in Baku on 23 August, the heads of 15 Azerbaijani media outlets agreed to hold a three-day "strike" beginning on 24 August, Turan reported. During that period, they will issue a joint newspaper each day whose headlines will call for the release of Rauf Arifoglu, the arrested editor of the opposition Musavat party's newspaper "Yeni Musavat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000) and for an end to pressure on the independent press. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY FEARS IT MAY BE BARRED FROM PARLIAMENTARY POLL

The opposition Musavat Party issued a statement in Baku on 23 August condemning Arifoglu's arrest as government pressure intended to compromise the Musavat party and suppress the non-government media, Turan reported. It called for Arifoglu's immediate release, and it also expressed concern that the authorities may adduce the abortive 18 August attempt by a Musavat Party member to hijack an Azerbaijani Airlines internal flight (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000) as grounds for annulling the party's official registration and barring it from contesting the 5 November parliamentary elections. Musavat was barred from contesting the party list seats in the 1995 parliamentary poll on the grounds that many of the signatures collected in its support were allegedly forged. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT MONETARY EMISSION

Addressing a government session on 23 August that discussed the budget concept for 2001, Eduard Shevardnadze said that regardless of what financial problems Georgia may face, there will be no monetary emission, Caucasus Press reported. He said an emission "would ruin the country." Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Vano Chkhartishvili had warned that some unspecified provisions of the draft budget might necessitate such a step. Shevardnadze also warned that budgetary funding for enterprises that "have no prospects for development" will be stopped. He called for the drafting of a list of such enterprises. LF

THIRD KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FAILS MANDATORY LANGUAGE TEST

The Central Electoral Commission's Linguistic Commission ruled on 23 August to bar former parliamentary deputy Anvar Artykov from contesting the 29 October presidential poll, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The commission said that while Artykov, who is Uzbek, speaks Kyrgyz quite fluently, he cannot write the language. Artykov told RFE/RL he does not consider it worthwhile appealing that ban as "there is no independent judiciary" in Kyrgyzstan. LF

TEMPORARY LULL REPORTED IN KYRGYZ BORDER FIGHTING

Defense Ministry and local administration officials said on 23 August that the situation along the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan "has stabilized," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. But on the morning of 24 August, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters launched a new attack on a Kyrgyz border post in Batken Oblast. Speaking on Uzbek television on 23 August, President Islam Karimov again warned that "the liquidation of the bandits...is a hard task," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). The IMU mounted an attack in or near the city of Andijan in eastern Uzbekistan on the night of 23-24 August, killing one Uzbek servicemen and injuring several. Meanwhile the Turkmen Foreign Ministry informed the Russian ambassador in Ashgabat on 23 August that no IMU fighters have crossed Turkmen territory en route from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST CALLS FOR MEDIATION BETWEEN UZBEK GOVERNMENT, ISLAMIC MILITANTS

Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev issued a statement from his temporary headquarters in Vienna on 22 August arguing that not only military but also political methods should be used to end the ongoing fighting in Central Asia. He called upon the governments of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to embark immediately on negotiations with the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Dyryldaev also appealed to the UN and the OSCE to mediate in such talks. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS BROADCASTING TO REFLECT STATE IDEOLOGY

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 23 August introduced Viktar Chykin, newly appointed chief of the State Broadcasting Company, to journalists and briefed them on what he expects from state broadcasters, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka emphasized the important role of state ideology in radio and television, saying that "ideology is not subject to privatization." "We will never allow oligarchs or other non-state people to enter the [broadcasting] sphere," he added. Lukashenka also promised to transform a local Minsk channel into a second national television channel. Commentators say Lukashenka is paying more attention to the electronic media in view of the upcoming legislative elections. "The main thing [Lukashenka] expects from television is to prevent any dissenting view from slipping in there.... Comrade Chykin will not allow any dissenting view to get through," writer and former television employee Uladzimir Khalip told RFE/RL. JM

MINSK COURT REJECTS APPEAL BY IMPRISONED OPPOSITION DEPUTY

The Minsk City Court on 23 August rejected an appeal by Supreme Soviet Deputy Andrey Klimau and his two business associates to overrule the verdict whereby they were handed down prison sentences, Belapan reported. Klimau, arrested in February 1998, received a six-year sentence in March for embezzlement and forgery. Many Belarusian commentators regard that verdict as politically motivated. Before the controversial 1996 constitutional referendum, Klimau belonged to the most vocal of Lukashenka's critics and signed a motion to impeach him. "I have realized that the authorities want Klimau's physical destruction. He was tortured and beaten in his cell, he was refused...medical care, he was sent to hospital only following the intervention of an international organization, and now [there is] this unjust verdict and the refusal to change it," Klimau's mother told RFE/RL. JM

UKRAINE TO HELP FAMILIES OF 'KURSK' SUBMARINE VICTIMS

The Ukrainian government on 23 August announced it will pay 5,000 hryvni ($919) to the families of each Ukrainian-born sailor who died on board the Russian submarine "Kursk." The same day, Interfax published an official list of the 27 Ukrainian- born sailors who were killed in that disaster. On 22 August, President Leonid Kuchma had set up a special fund to collect money for the families of the "Kursk" victims. And the well- know Ukrainian soccer club Shakhtar Donetsk has pledged to donate $100,000 to the relatives of the "Kursk" victims. JM

CONSECRATION OF KYIV CATHEDRAL SPARKS CONTROVERSY

Some 100 people on 23 August picketed the Ukrayina Palace, where state officials were attending a celebration on the eve of Independence Day, to protest the consecration the next day of the newly rebuilt Assumption Cathedral in Kyiv. Metropolitan Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) was to consecrate the cathedral. Interfax reported that taking part in the picket were representatives of the two wings of Popular Rukh and nationalist parties, as well as supporters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The protesters demanded that the cathedral be consecrated jointly by the heads of Ukraine's three Orthodox Churches. President Leonid Kuchma suggested he will not interfere in the consecration, saying that society will not back those trying to foment a conflict over the cathedral. Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said the state "should have a say" since the cathedral was rebuilt for state funds. JM

UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES FAIL TO IDENTIFY CAUSE OF MASS POISONING

A special government commission has so far failed to find the cause of the poisoning of several hundred people in four villages in Mykolayiv Oblast, Interfax reported on 23 August. A total of 331 people, including 170 children, have been hospitalized since 4 July after being poisoned by contaminated soil. Health officials said nitrates and nitrites in the soil appear to have been the reason for the poisoning, which has resulted in the victims' suffering rashes, drowsiness, loss of appetite, and an impairment of their sight. Some media, however, suggested that the poisoning may have been caused by liquid rocket fuel that has remained in the soil after rocket launches took place in the vicinity of those villages. JM

OSCE COMMISSIONER PRAISES ESTONIAN INTEGRATION...

During his visit to Tallinn on 23 August, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel commended Estonia for its progress toward integrating its minorities, ETA reported. Van der Stoel said that Estonia has made "remarkable progress" since his first visit in 1993, and he praised the government for bringing the country's language law into full compliance with international standards. MH

...BUT 'REPATRIATION' STUDY PROVOKES CONTROVERSY IN ESTONIA

A draft proposal by an Interior Ministry official promoting the repatriation of Russian citizens to Russia has sparked controversy in Estonia, BNS reported on 23 August. The document, drafted by the head of the ministry's department dealing with aliens, Jaak Valge, proposed that those aliens who are ill-adjusted and not integrated into Estonian society could be repatriated using state funding. Population Minister Katrin Saks denounced the proposal as "not a serious document," while Deputy Interior Ministry Chancellor Tiit Sepp confirmed that the proposal is not official ministry policy. Prime Minister Mart Laar similarly noted that the proposal has "nothing in common with the government's policies," "Postimees" added. MH

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL LANGUAGE REGULATIONS

The government on 22 August approved regulations to the language law adopted late last year, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 1999). Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka said the regulations are in line with all international norms and that recommendations from experts were taken into consideration. The controversial 11 regulations, which deal with issues such as language proficiency for professionals and the spelling of transliterated names, have sparked protests by the left-wing parliamentary opposition and ethnic Russian activists. The regulations and law itself go into effect 1 September. The OSCE has said it will refrain from comment until it has examined a certified English translation of the regulations, LETA added. MH

OSCE WILL NOT MONITOR LITHUANIAN ELECTIONS

A visiting OSCE delegation announced that it will not recommend sending monitors to the upcoming October parliamentary elections in Lithuania, BNS reported on 23 August. In its report, the delegation said that "an Election Observation Mission to Lithuania is not justified as public confidence in the elections and institutions as well as conditions for democratic elections are well established." And it noted that the EU ended its monitoring of Lithuanian elections in 1997. MH

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER ARRESTED

Andrzej Lepper, leader of the Self-Defense farmers' trade union and a presidential candidate, was arrested on 24 August for failing to appear in court on charges relating to farmers' protests last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2000). Lepper had told journalists the previous day that he would leave for Belarus to ask President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for political asylum. Lepper said he admires Lukashenka for the latter's "firmness" but added that the Belarusian leader is not his model politician, PAP reported. Lepper is notorious for his populist slogans and anti-EU rhetoric as well as for organizing protest actions, including blockades of roads and customs terminals, which have sometimes resulted in clashes with police. According to an August poll by OBOP, Lepper's presidential bid is backed by 3 percent of voters. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT UNVEILS RE-ELECTION SLOGAN

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 23 August revealed that his re-election campaign slogan is "Home for Everybody--Poland," Polish media reported. Kwasniewski said during a meeting with students in Warsaw that his proven ability "to work for the good of the state beyond political divisions" qualifies him for re-election. He also recalled that during his first term Poland adopted a democratic constitution and was admitted into NATO. According to an August poll by OBOP, Kwasniewski's re-election bid is supported by 64 percent of Poles. JM

POLAND, GERMANY AGREE ON ARMED FORCES EXCHANGE

Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski and German Ambassador to Poland Frank Elbe on 23 August signed an agreement whereby the troops of one country can be temporarily stationed on the other's territory, PAP reported. In accordance with NATO regulations, the document envisages that up to 3,000 soldiers can be sent to the other country's territory for a maximum of 30 days of joint training or humanitarian or rescue operations. JM

AUSTRIA SAYS JOINING EU, ABOLISHING DECREES NOT LINKED

The Austrian Foreign Ministry said on 23 August that EU membership for the Czech Republic and Slovenia will not be conditional upon the abolition of the postwar Benes decrees and similar orders made by Yugoslavia in 1943, CTK reported. In a statement, the ministry said it will continue to seek the abolition of those decrees, which led to the expulsion of millions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It said the decrees "contradict human rights and international law" and that the principle of "collective guilt" inherent in them goes against Western legal norms. The statement comes as a debate on the subject among government officials and Joerg Haider, the former chairman of the ultraright Freedom Party, gets under way (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). PB

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS 'OPERATION LEAD' RECALLS STB TACTICS

Vaclav Havel said in Plzen on 23 August that the "Operation Lead" campaign, designed to discredit Chamber of Deputies deputy chairwoman Petra Buzkova, is reminiscent of methods used by the secret police during the Communist era, CTK reported. Havel said he is not interested in what effect the affair will have on the Social Democrats, but rather "in the fact that it is only the top of a certain iceberg, of things that are happening in the country." PB

SLOVAKIA READY TO JOIN EU IN FIRST WAVE, SAYS OFFICIAL

Pavol Hamzik, Slovakia's deputy premier for European integration, said on 23 August that Slovakia will be ready to enter the EU with the first group of candidates by 2004, CTK reported. Hamzik said that although some countries are aiming to be admitted in 2002 or 2003, those dates are "not quite realistic." Slovakia is currently in the second group of EU aspirants, along with Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, and Malta. In other news, Belgian Defense Minister Andre Flahaut said in Bratislava on 23 August that strong bilateral relations with NATO member countries is a good basis for gaining support in joining the alliance. He pledged Belgian support for Slovakia's application. PB

WILL MURDER LEAD TO NEW FLIGHT OF ROMA FROM SLOVAKIA?

Edmund Mueller, a Romany activist from Kosice, warned on 23 August that the death the previous day of a Romany woman who was beaten in her home could result in more Roma fleeing Slovakia for the West, CTK reported. Mueller, who made his comments on Radio Twist, said Roma are carefully watching the handling of the investigation into the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). Hundreds of Roma from Slovakia have sought asylum in Western countries this year, causing some countries to impose visa requirements on Slovaks. Slovakia's deputy premier for human rights and ethnic minorities, Pal Csaky, said the crime was "deplorable" and that it is imperative that the assailants be found and prosecuted. Milan Koleda, the chief investigator in Zilina, where the crime occurred, said that police thus far have no evidence that the crime was racially motivated. PB

HUNGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS OIL CHARGES UNFOUNDED

Peter Polt told a 23 August special session of the parliament devoted to illegal oil dealings allegedly involving top officials that Zsolt Nogradi's accusations against leading politicians are unfounded. Nogradi has claimed that between 1992 and 1996, high-ranking politicians, police officers, the Socialist Party, and Interior Minister Sandor Pinter (who was head of the police force at that time) had cooperated with criminals in those illegal oil dealings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2000). Polt told the parliament that the Prosecutor-General's Office will order an investigation into those suspected of making false charges, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

ROMANY STUDIES TO BE OFFERED IN HUNGARY

Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni announced on 23 August that beginning in the fall of 2001, students will be able to specialize in Romany studies at the college of Eger, in northeastern Hungary. He said that only 30 percent of Romany children remain at school until they are 14 and that every third Romany school child grows up in a family where both parents are jobless. He noted that school teachers are not sufficiently aware of Romany culture and traditions, and he expressed the hope that the new college subject will improve the current situation. MSZ




YUGOSLAV ARMY SETS UP 'BLOCKADE' IN MONTENEGRO

The Yugoslav army closed all land routes linking the Sandzak town of Pljevlja and the Republika Srpska on 23 August. Montenegrin Television reported the next day that the move did "great damage" to the economy and to the lives of persons dependent on cross-border trade and communications. Many families have branches on both sides of the frontier. One local official said: "This was a particularly base and stupid act, which was thought up in the heads of people who do not wish our people well," Montena-fax reported. He added that, if anything, local people need additional border crossings to carry out farming tasks during the current heat wave. The army did not give a reason for the blockade. Observers note that periodic army road blockades are part of the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between Belgrade and Podgorica. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY DISCIPLINES PILOTS OVER ALLEGED MONTENEGRIN COUP

A military court in Belgrade cashiered three pilots for allegedly plotting to take control of a military airport near Podgorica and hand it over to the Montenegrin authorities, the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported on 23 August. The trial reportedly took place in July. The pilots allegedly denied the charges, claiming that they were punished for their political views sympathetic to the Montenegrin authorities. It is not clear whether the story is accurate, or whether it is a ploy by the Belgrade authorities to sow confusion over the real state of affairs in and around Montenegro. PM

MAJOR DEAL TO MODERNIZE MONTENEGRIN HOTELS

Representatives of the French Akor company signed agreements in Podgorica on 24 August worth some $23 million to modernize six of Montenegro's best hotels on the Budva Riviera. The new management of the hotels will be French, Montenegrin Television reported. Montenegro, like Croatia, has great hopes for the revival of its once highly lucrative tourist industry. Tourism throughout the former Yugoslavia has suffered on account of the conflicts of the past decade. PM

KOSOVAR MODERATES ANNOUNCE DAY OF NON-VIOLENCE

Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova and Father Sava of the Serbian Civic Council agreed in Prishtina on 23 August to declare 9 September a day of protest against violence. Father Sava told Reuters: "We'll try to confirm our strong determination to resist and fight against any form of violence in Kosovo." Christopher Dell, who heads the U.S. diplomatic mission in the province, said: "The violence is not going to end until the people of Kosovo decide that it's time to end it. As the international community, it is extremely difficult for us to get inside of the local society and understand all the currents and all the inter- relationships of what's really in play," he added. The Prishtina meeting was a follow-up to a July gathering in Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2000). Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci, who was present in Washington, did not attend the Prishtina session, reportedly because he was abroad. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR END TO KOSOVA VIOLENCE...

Ilir Meta said in Washington on 23 August that violence in Kosova serves only the interests of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who wants to destabilize the province. Speaking at a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he warned unnamed "Albanian elements" to refrain from violence. "The Albanian government condemns these actions of violence. The best that Albanians can do for themselves in Kosova is to stay away from repeating the same acts that Serbs did against them in the past and they are continuing to commit in the present," AP reported. Albright praised Meta, saying: "We see Prime Minister Meta leading his country into the future, while Slobodan Milosevic drags his further into the past." PM

...WHILE ALBRIGHT URGES SERBS TO VOTE

Albright also told the news conference in Washington on 23 August: "The United States does not believe that next month's Serb elections will be fair, but we do believe that even under Milosevic's rule the opposition can do well and emerge as a movement bringing democracy to all of Yugoslavia. So we encourage the people of Serbia to take advantage of even this flawed opportunity because we look forward to welcoming a democratic Yugoslavia as a full participant in the new Europe," Reuters reported. Observers note that her previous efforts aimed at encouraging the Serbian opposition to unite behind a single candidate and the Montenegrin leadership to take part in the vote did not meet with success. PM

FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER HAILS TAKEOVER OF KOSOVA MINING COMPLEX

Alain Richard toured the Trepca mining complex on 23 August, saying that the UN and NATO did the right thing by recently taking over the enterprise and shutting down its smelter, which was the cause of serious levels of lead pollution in the area. "It was even more disgusting and more worrying in terms of working conditions and the safety of the people there than I could have imagined," Reuters quoted Richard as saying. He added that he is optimistic about the future of the complex, which many observers consider a socialist-era white elephant: "It will take several months to make the plant safe and to put it in order. But it appears economically viable--there are not many lead and zinc plants in Europe," he concluded. PM

NATO ARRESTS FORMER KOSOVAR GUERRILLAS

A NATO spokesman said in Prishtina on 24 August that peacekeepers the previous day arrested 10 men as part of a gang dealing in smuggling, extortion, and murder, Reuters reported. Most of the men are former fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army, he said, adding that "all the men were arrested for illegal possession of weapons and [ammunition] and [for] criminal association." The gang was active in the south near the Macedonian border, where the arrests took place. PM

TWO PEACEKEEPERS INJURED IN KOSOVA GRENADE ATTACK

Unidentified persons injured two KFOR soldiers from the United Arab Emirates in a grenade attack near Vushtrri on 24 August, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). PM

SERBIAN POLICE HARASS HUNGARIAN TELEVISION CREW

On 23 August, police in Milosevic's home town of Pozarevac confiscated film from a three-member Hungarian television crew and detained the journalists for several hours before releasing them. The film was of material "with no political content," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DROUGHT RAVAGES SLOVENIAN ARGRICULTURE

The drought and heat wave that have affected much of southeastern Europe this summer have caused some $115 million worth of damage to Slovenian agriculture, "Delo" reported on 24 August. Less than 10 percent of the population is employed in agriculture, which the government nonetheless protects and heavily subsidizes for a variety of social, economic, and ecological reasons. In other news, "Dnevnik" reported on 24 August that the Slovenian inflation rate this summer is 6.7 percent, compared to just 5 percent in the summer of 1999. PM

FIRES SWEEP CROATIA

Croatian fire fighters are currently battling 11 major fires in rural areas, "Vecernji list" reported on 24 August. The Knin and Drnis areas in the south are particularly affected. PM

CROATIAN SHIPPING LINE TO EXPAND

Representatives of Jadrolinija said in Rijeka on 23 August that they have reached a major ship construction agreement with representatives of four shipyards. Jadrolinija will commission the construction of 10 passenger ships over the next two to three years, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

IMF MISSION VISITING ROMANIA

An IMF mission arrived in Romania on 24 August to review a $540 million standby loan, Reuters reported. The IMF representative in Bucharest, Stephane Cosse, said the mission will undertake a second review of the standby agreement signed in 1999 and extended this spring to February 2001. He added that after the review, the IMF board will consider disbursing a $113 million tranche. The mission will also examine Romania's economic performance, particularly with regard to prices and inflation. ZsM

LEADING MEMBERS OF ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY LEAVE

Romanian Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes and seven other high- ranking National Liberal Party (PNL) members resigned from the party on 23 August, Romanian media reported. The eight disagree with the nomination of Theodor Stolojan as presidential candidate at an extraordinary party congress last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000) and have announced their support for Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu's candidacy. They refuse to recognize the current PNL leadership and accuse it of driving the party toward "the communist left." The PNL leadership previously threatened Remes with expulsion and the withdrawal of support for him as finance minister. But Adrian Vasilescu, Isarescu's adviser, quoted the prime minister as saying it is "not the time to replace ministers on political grounds." ZsM

INTENSE POLITICAL NEGOTIATIONS UNDER WAY IN ROMANIA

Adrian Nastase, first deputy chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), announced on 22 August that the PDSR has accepted the Alliance for Romania (APR) party's offer to "normalize relations," Romanian media reported. The APR, which was founded in 1997 by PDSR dissidents, failed to secure a cooperation agreement with the government coalition member National Liberal Party and has seen its public support decline over the last few months. Meanwhile, the Romanian Democratic Convention-2000 coalition on 22 August began cooperation talks with former Premier Victor Ciorbea's National Christian Democratic Alliance and the Party of Moldavians. ZsM

BUSINESSMAN SAYS EXPULSION FROM BULGARIA POLITICALLY MOTIVATED

Michael Chorny, who last week banned from Bulgaria for 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000), said on 23 August that the expulsion is politically motivated, BTA reported. Chorny, who has Russian, U.S., and Israeli passports, said he thinks the expulsions are intended to deflect attention from the "Bug Gate" scandal. Chorny added he has invested some $200 million in Bulgarian companies in telecommunications, machine-building, metallurgy, and real estate. Chorny's lawyer said French attorneys will inform the European Parliament and the European Commission about discrepancies between Bulgarian and European legislation regarding the free movement of people. PB




There is no end note today.







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