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Newsline - August 28, 2000




SEVERAL FEARED DEAD IN MOSCOW TV TOWER BLAZE...

Moscow fire- fighters continued on 28 August to try to contain a fire that broke out the previous day in a technical area at the top of the Ostankino television tower. The top third of the 540- meter tower, which is the world's second-tallest free- standing structure, has been completely destroyed, according to firemen quoted by Ekho Moskvy, and flames and smoke were reported to be spreading downward to the 120-meter mark on the morning of 28 August The tower was evacuated shortly after the blaze began, but several people, including firemen, trapped in a lift are feared dead. Reuters quoted a spokesman for Moscow City Hall as saying the fire department may have violated regulations by using the elevator instead of stairs after the fire broke out. A zone of 500 meters around the tower has been cleared, and the head of Moscow's fire department was quoted as saying it is theoretically possible that the concrete tower could collapse. JC

...AS PUTIN SAYS LATEST DISASTER HIGHLIGHTS COUNTRY'S PLIGHT

President Vladimir Putin told the cabinet on 28 August that the Ostankino television tower blaze "highlights what condition essential facilities, as well as the entire country, are in," Interfax reported. "Only economic development will allow us to avoid such calamities in the future," he added. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said it will take two or three days to restore television broadcasts to Moscow, while months will be needed to renovate the tower. The fire initially knocked out the broadcasts of national stations such as Russian Television, ORT, and NTV, but transmissions to most regions resumed by satellite shortly after. In Moscow, however, broadcasting remained severely disrupted on the morning of 28 August. Meanwhile, Moscow prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation under an article of the Criminal Code on damage to property through negligence. JC

'KURSK' CRIMINAL CASE FOCUSES ON COLLISION THEORY?

The criminal case into the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine has been opened under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with "violations of safety regulations of railway, air, or water transportation resulting in the death of two or more people through negligence," Interfax reported on 26 August, citing unidentified sources from the law enforcement agencies. According to the news agency, the government commission examining the cause of the disaster, in which all 118 crew members died, has concluded that the most likely reason for the sinking was the "impact resulting from the submarine's colliding with an unidentified object." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev had underlined in Astrakhan the previous day that he still believes the "Kursk" sank after colliding with a "foreign submarine." He said that Russian submersible craft are continuing to search in the area of the disaster for evidence of such a collision. JC

PUTIN HONORS 'KURSK' CREW...

President Putin on 26 August signed a decree posthumously conferring the "Hero of Russia" order on the commander of the sunken "Kursk" submarine, Captain Gennadii Lyachin, and the Order of Courage on all other crew members. Putin also instructed the government to erect a memorial to the crew near the Central Russian Armed Forces Museum. JC

...URGES CREATION OF NAVAL RESCUE CENTERS

The previous day, Putin urged the creation of rescue centers at the naval bases of the Baltic, Pacific, Black Sea, and Northern Fleets. Speaking on Russian television following a meeting with the president, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said the government still has to work out details of such a plan. Russian rescue teams were unable to open the hatch of the "Kursk" and had to wait for a Norwegian-British team to accomplish that task. Reuters on 25 August quoted Viktor Zakharov, head of the navy's radiation, chemical, and biological protection service, as saying that the country's top sea divers now work on contract for foreign companies. JC

RIGHTS GROUP TO SUE GOVERNMENT OVER 'KURSK' DISASTER

Veronika Marchenko, head of the Mothers' Right group, told Reuters on 26 August that her group will sue the Russian government for covering up information on the sinking of the "Kursk" submarine and for inefficient action. At the same time, Marchenko said the cases will not begin for several months, since many relatives of the victims are now concentrating on recovering the bodies from the sunken vessel. JC

ZYUGANOV URGES 'NATIONAL SALVATION' PROGRAM

In the wake of the "Kursk" disaster, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has sent a letter to President Putin and other senior Russian officials calling for the adoption of "an extraordinary national salvation program" to reverse the country's current course, Russian agencies reported on 25 August. Zyuganov called for the reversal of some privatizations, increased funding for science, education, and health, improved discipline within the government, new controls on the media to end "anti-state propaganda," and the "merciless" suppression of separatist and terrorist forces. Zyuganov said that if Putin agrees to this program, he will find the Communists and all "patriotic forces" ready to fully support him. PG

KASYANOV ARGUES RUSSIA NEEDS ONLY MINIMAL NUMBER OF NUCLEAR ARMS...

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in Sarov, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, on 25 August that Russia wants to "scale down" the number of nuclear weapons "to the minimally allowable point" but that as a great power, it will do whatever it has to do to maintain "the minimal level of nuclear arms necessary for Russia." He added that Russia "must be sure that our facilities are safe," Interfax reported. In other comments, Kasyanov said that Russia could provide a place for other countries to send their nuclear wastes for permanent disposition. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on 27 August announced that London will provide some $120 million to fund nuclear safety efforts in Russia and other post-Soviet states. PG

...SAYS ECONOMY STABLE

Kasyanov also said on 25 August that Russia's economic and financial situation is stable and unlikely to deteriorate, Interfax reported on 25 August. Meanwhile, Russian Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said that he does not expect the ruble's exchange rate to vary widely in the near future. He commented that Russia's economic situation is sufficiently good that Moscow will be able to honor its domestic and foreign commitments, "even without a $640 million IMF tranche." PG

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS BALANCED BUDGET TO DUMA

The government on 26 August submitted a balanced 2001 budget to the State Duma, Russian agencies reported. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the new budget was on the whole "deficit-free, honest, and realistic." But even before the budget arrived, some parliamentary deputies proposed increasing spending on defense (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000). And State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 25 August that the parliament may revise defense spending upward, Interfax reported. PG

SOVIET-ERA DEBT SWAP ALMOST COMPLETED

Moscow has virtually completed the swap of Soviet-era debt to the London Club of creditors for new Russia Eurobonds, Russian agencies reported on 25 August. More than 99 percent of the debt has now been rescheduled, with only $300 million not yet swapped. PG

PUTIN TO MEET ARAFAT, BARAK IN NEW YORK

Vasilii Sredin, Russia's presidential envoy for the Middle East peace process, said that he expects President Putin to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, when the three attend the UN Millennium summit in New York in early September, Interfax reported on 25 August. Sredin added that as far as he knows, the Palestinian leadership has not yet made a final decision on whether to declare independence on 13 September. PG

SERGEEV WORRIED BY ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN CENTRAL ASIA

Defense Minister Sergeev told his CIS colleagues on 25 August that Islamic militants "will try to exacerbate the situation in Central Asia by conducting acts of sabotage and terrorism and organizing rebellions," Interfax reported. Sergeev said that there are more than 5,000 gunmen in the ranks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, many of whom are in Afghanistan. Sergeev met with his colleagues from Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine during a CIS military exercise in the Astrakhan region from 21-26 August. PG

MOSCOW SAYS LATVIAN LANGUAGE LAW DISCRIMINATES AGAINST RUSSIANS

In a statement released on 25 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Latvian language law discriminates against ethnic Russians and other minorities living in Latvia. The ministry noted that Riga continues "to ignore the demands of a large part of [its] own population as well as European human rights standards." It added that "we see this as a result of a number of foreign partners' silent tolerance of the Latvian authorities discriminatory policy against national minorities." PG

MOSCOW ATTACKS KOUCHNER ACTION ON KOSOVA ELECTION DATE

Russia's permanent representative to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, told the Security Council on 25 August that Bernard Kouchner, the head of the UN mission for the Interim Kosovo Administration, exceeded his authority by setting a date for elections there without consulting council members, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MORE YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS IN MOSCOW

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic met with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, in Moscow on 26 August to discuss Kosova, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Yugoslav Telecommunications Minister Ivan Markovic met with Duma speaker Seleznev in the Russian capital on 25 August. And Serbian opposition candidate Voislav Kostunica told Interfax in Moscow the same day that relations with Russia have always been important to Yugoslavia and its population. PG

POPULAR SUPPORT FOR CHECHEN WAR CONTINUES TO FALL

Only 50 percent of Russians now support the continuation of the Russian effort against Chechnya, according to a poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center, Interfax reported on 25 August. That figure is down from 55 percent at the end of June. Thirty-nine percent of Russians now favor peace talks with the Chechen fighters, up from 33 percent in June. And 77 percent said they are concerned that President Putin has not yet managed to end the hostilities there. PG

AUDIT CHAMBER TO EXAMINE CHECHEN WAR FINANCING

After a meeting with President Putin on 25 August, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said that his organization will now examine the way in which Moscow has financed the war in Chechnya, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW TRACKING FOREIGN AID TO CHECHNYA

Major General Aleksandr Malinovskii, the head of the Interior Ministry's international cooperation division, said that Russian agencies are tracking numerous groups providing assistance to the Chechen militants as well as monitoring "76 electronic addresses used by leaders of the Chechen gangs," Interfax reported on 25 August. PG

MORE CHECHEN FIGHTERS INTERCEPTED IN INGUSHETIA?

Russian military officials in Chechnya claimed to have trapped a second convoy of some 180 Chechen fighters and Arab mercenaries in Ingushetia who were on their way from Georgia to Chechnya, Interfax reported on 27 August. The spokesmen said the convoy is surrounded and is being liquidated. A convoy reportedly en route from Georgia to Chechnya via Ingushetia was intercepted on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2000). On 26 August, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, deputy commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, denied that Russian troops have shelled Ingushetian territory, Interfax reported. LF

TATARSTAN PRESIDENT URGES MOSCOW, REGIONS TO COOPERATE

Mintimer Shaimiev told Ekho Moskvy on 26 August that creating a single legal space in Russia would be possible but that it should be done with respect for the opinions of both Moscow and the regions, ITAR-TASS reported (see also "End Note" below). PG

AEROFLOT CASE CONTINUES, INVESTIGATOR SAYS

Aleksandr Filin, a senior investigator in the Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General, told Interfax on 25 August that the investigation into Aeroflot is continuing, despite the resignation of Nikolai Volkov, who had been responsible for the case. PG

GOLD, GAS PRODUCTION RISE

Gold production rose 10.4 percent over the last 12 months, to a three-year high of 125.87 tons, and is expected to increase another 10-15 percent over the next 12 months, Natural Resources Minister Boris Yatskevich told Interfax on 25 August. Meanwhile, the Energy Ministry announced that Russia produced 340.27 billion cubic meters of gas in the first seven months of 2000, of which Gazprom accounted for 307.88 billion cubic meters, the Russian agency said. PG

FSB SAYS ACCUSED U.S. SPY FIT TO REMAIN IN PRISON

The FSB told Interfax on 25 August that Edmond Pope, a U.S. citizen who has been held on charges of espionage since 5 April, is physically fit to remain in prison, despite appeals by his wife and the U.S. government to release him on health grounds, Interfax reported. Since being detained, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said, Pope has had 10 meetings with U.S. Embassy representatives, and during these meetings, he "lodged no complaints or protests against the investigators at the Lefortovo prison." PG

SS-18 LAUNCH POSTPONED UNTIL SEPTEMBER

Rosaviacosmos has postponed until September the launch from Baikonur of a modified SS-18 that is slated to carry two Saudi Arabian, two Italian, and one Malaysian satellite into orbit, Interfax reported on 26 August. That decision follows two aborted countdowns last week. PG

ALCOHOL DEATHS RISE SHARPLY

Russia's National Alcohol Association told Interfax on 25 August that the number of Russian citizens who have died from alcohol poisoning increased by 45.2 percent during the first five months of 2000 as compared with the same period last year. Some 15,823 people died from accidental alcohol poisoning from January to May 2000, as compared with 10,897 people one year earlier. PG




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION SEEKS MORE GOVERNMENT POSTS

The 18 members of Kayunutiun (Stability), the second-largest faction in the parliament, announced on 25 August that they will demand greater representation in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's cabinet in acknowledgement of their continued support for the government's policies, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 August. Kayunutiun representatives will meet this week with Markarian to discuss that demand. Observers predict that Markarian, for his part, is seeking broader support within the parliament in anticipation that the People's Party of Armenia will eventually quit the Miasnutiun coalition, of which Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia is the senior partner (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 34, 24 August 2000). LF

CONCERN GROWS OVER ARREST OF AZERBAIJANI NEWSPAPER EDITOR

Azerbaijani investigators on 25 August again searched the editorial offices of "Yeni Musavat," the organ of the opposition Musavat Party, and examined computers for evidence connected with the failed 18 August attempt by a Musavat party member to hijack an Azerbaijani Airlines plane, Turan reported. Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of "Yeni Musavat," was arrested on 22 August on suspicion of involvement in the hijack. Amnesty International, the OSCE's media representative, international journalists' organizations, and EU states' ambassadors in Baku have all registered their concern over his arrest. Also on 25 August, the Prosecutor- General's Office issued a statement saying that Arifoglu's arrest was not connected with his journalistic activities. Investigators have also questioned up to 10 members of the Musavat party and promised to help them find employment if they agree to quit the party. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO JOIN CIS AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM

Azerbaijan will join the CIS air defense system, ITAR-TASS on 26 August quoted Defense Minister Safar Abiev as saying in Astrakhan. Abiev was observing the joint exercises undertaken by the seven CIS states aligned in the common air defense system (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine). LF

HOSTAGES RELEASED IN ABKHAZIA

Six Georgians taken hostage in Abkhazia's Gali Raion on 23 August were released unharmed three days later as a result of mediation by members of the UN Observer Mission and the CIS peacekeeping forces, Caucasus Press reported. The 5,000 lari ($2,050) ransom that the Abkhaz hostage-takers had initially demanded was not paid. The brother of the leader of the hostage-takers was recently killed by Georgian guerrillas. LF

GEORGIAN JOURNALISTS UNION TO BE EVICTED FROM OFFICE?

The Tbilisi city authorities are attempting to evict the Georgian Union of Journalists from the offices it rents in the city, Caucasus Press reported on 25 August, quoting the union's chairman, Tamaz Bibiluri. LF

EXPLOSION DAMAGES GEORGIAN MONASTERY

A bomb blast during the night of 26-27 August damaged an iron cross erected by a religious sect near Mtskheta and blew out windows in a nearby monastery, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Transmitters belonging to the Georgian Ministry of Communications were also damaged. Members of the sect told police that shortly before the blast, unknown men forced them into a bus and drove them to a neighboring village. The Georgian Orthodox Church views the sect with mistrust, and a criminal investigation into its activities is under way. LF

BUSINESSMAN CLAIMS TO HAVE GIVEN BRIBE TO FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER

The Prosecutor-General's Office is to investigate a claim by businessman Grigorii Luchanskii that he gave a $100 million bribe to Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who served as Kazakhstan's premier from October 1994 until October 1997, Interfax reported on 25 August. The Kazakh authorities have accused Kazhegeldin of tax evasion, bribery, and abuse of his official position. LF

KAZAKH PREMIER MEETS WITH CHINESE DELEGATION

Qasymzhomart Toqaev met in Astana on 25 August with a visiting delegation of the Chinese Communist Party to discuss the prospects for expanding trade and economic relations, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Toqaev extended an invitation to Zhu Rongji, China's State Council premier, to visit Kazakhstan, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

FOURTH KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL FAILS LANGUAGE TEST

Batken Oblast Vice Governor Yryslan Toichubekov failed the mandatory language test for presidential candidates on 25 August, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He was the fourth person to do so. Members of the Central Electoral Commission's Linguistic Commission said that while Toichbekov speaks Kyrgyz fluently, he cannot write grammatically. Also on 25 August, a Central Electoral Commission official told RFE/RL that Professor Kubanychbek Apas cannot register to contend the poll as he has lived in Moscow for the past 15 years. Apas has twice been jailed while visiting Kyrgyzstan for criticizing incumbent President Askar Akaev. LF

PENSIONS RAISED IN KYRGYZSTAN

President Akaev issued a decree on 25 August raising pensions by 20 percent, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The minimum monthly pension for civilians is now 120 soms (about $2.5) and for retired military personnel 240 soms. LF

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IN TAJIKISTAN

Visiting Dushanbe on 24-25 August, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo discussed with his Tajik counterpart, Khumdin Sharipov, and President Imomali Rakhmonov the recent fighting between Uzbek and Kyrgyz government troops and fighters from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Also discussed was cooperation to combat drug trafficking and terrorism. The collegiums of the two ministries held a joint session on 25 August. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT WILL NOT ATTEND UN MILLENNIUM SUMMIT

On the advice of his doctors, Saparmurat Niyazov will not travel to New York to attend the UN Millennium Summit, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August. Niyazov, who is 60, underwent heart bypass surgery in 1997 and is rumored also to suffer from other health problems. LF

POLICE, ISLAMIC MILITANTS CLASH IN EASTERN UZBEKISTAN

One police officer and eight "bandits" were killed in a shootout on 25 August in Andijan Oblast, Reuters reported, citing Uzbek State Television. It was not clear whether the gunmen were members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose fighters have repeatedly engaged both Uzbek and Kyrgyz government troops over the past month. On 27 August, General Bolot Djanuzakov, who is secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, told Interfax that those militants were engaged primarily in reconnaissance activities. He said Kyrgyz forces have sealed off their potential escape routes south into Tajikistan. On 25 August, Defense and Security Ministry spokesmen in Kazakhstan said special troops have been deployed on the country's southern border with Uzbekistan and additional border guard posts are being established. A spokesman for the Russian Border Guards in Tajikistan said on 26 August that those troops thwarted eight attempts by gunmen to cross from Afghanistan into southeastern Tajikistan during the previous week. LF

UZBEKISTAN, CHINA DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian said in Beijing on 24 August, after talks with an Uzbek delegation headed by Uzbek Defense Minister Yuri Agzamov, that China plans to intensify military cooperation with Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported. Chi said that Beijing will give Uzbekistan military aid worth 3 million yuan ($365,000) "as a goodwill gesture," according to Interfax. The two ministers discussed the recent fighting in Central Asia between Kyrgyz and Uzbek government troops and fighters of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They also signed a defense cooperation agreement, the details of which have not been made public. LF




U.S. AMBASSADOR TO OSCE ARGUES AGAINST SENDING OBSERVERS TO BELARUSIAN POLLS

David T. Johnson said in a statement last week that sending international observers to Belarus's 15 October elections "at the urging of a regime that seeks such observation as a badge of legitimacy would be a mistake." Johnson noted that the Belarusian government has made no real progress toward complying with the OSCE's four conditions to democratize the electoral process. And he called Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent pledges to undertake some democratizing measures (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 August 2000) "overdue, inadequate, and hollow in the absence of meaningful implementation." According to Johnson, the elections are taking place at a time of increased political repression and harassment of journalists, while Lukashenka's announcement of a "period of peace" comes late and cannot be put to the test by the opposition or international community. JM

SUPREME COURT REVOKES PRISON TERMS FOR TWO BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS

Belarus's Supreme Court on 25 August granted a request by Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich and Supreme Soviet deputy Valery Shchukin to annul their prison sentences and send their case to the Minsk City Court for retrial by a different panel of judges, Belapan reported. In June, the court handed down Statkevich a two- year suspended sentence and Shchukin a one-year suspended sentence for participation in unauthorized street protests last year. Both politicians are planning to take part in the 15 October legislative elections. Had their appeal been rejected, they would have ceased to be eligible to run. The Supreme Court agreed with the defendants that the lower court's verdict was based on inadmissible evidence and that their misdemeanors are punishable under the Administrative Offenses Code rather than the Criminal Code. JM

UKRAINE REPAYS IMF $100 MILLION AHEAD OF SCHEDULE

Ukraine last week paid a $100 million debt to the IMF ahead of its repayment schedule, Interfax reported on 25 August. Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented that the repayment was made "exclusively with the aim of focusing attention on the resumption of [the IMF's $2.6 billion loan program.]." According to Yushchenko, this move is intended "to cut short discussions around the technique and methodology" of determining the hard-currency reserves in Ukraine's National Bank. An international audit ordered by IMF found earlier this year that the bank had overstated the size of those reserves in 1997 in reports to the fund (see RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). The fund suspended its loan program to Ukraine in September 1999. JM

UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES EVACUATE CHILDREN FROM MYSTERY POISONING AREA

The authorities have evacuated 378 children from the four villages in Mykolayiv Oblast, whose inhabitants are suffering from a mysterious form of poisoning (see RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000), Interfax reported on 27 August. According to health officials, the poisoning is "non- infectious and non-allergic." Last week, 71 people from those villages, including 58 children, remained hospitalized with symptoms whose cause could not be identified. JM

ESTONIA, NRG SIGN POWER PLANT DEAL

After four years of talks, the deal to sell a 49 percent stake in Estonia's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy was signed on 25 August. Representatives of NRG, the Estonian government, the power utility Eesti Energia, and Narva Power Plants signed the agreement on the basic terms of the sale, as well as a package of supplemental agreements, including one on an investment plan. An agreement outlining the procedures for concluding the sale was also signed, as some minor details will still need to be cleared, ETA reported. Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja said that all supplemental agreements should be concluded within 12 months and that the transfer of shares in Narva Power Plants will take place only after all agreements are concluded. MH

BORDER GUARD HEAD TO RUN ESTONIAN MILITARY?

At a meeting of the State Defense Council on 27 August, President Lennart Meri proposed that head of the Border Guards, Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts, be named as commander of the defense forces, ETA reported. The meeting precedes an extraordinary parliamentary session called for 28 August to discuss the military leadership crisis, which arose when Meri sacked former commander Lieutenant General Johannes Kert at the end of June, following the latter's one-year study leave in the U.S. At the 27 August meeting, the council decided to support Kouts for the position once the parliament officially approves Kert's dismissal and the issue has been discussed by the parliament's Defense Committee. Opposition parliamentary deputy Kullo Arjakas told "Eesti Paevaleht" that Kouts did an excellent job with the Border Guards but has no extensive military education. MH

U.S. OFFICIAL WARNS RUSSIA OVER INTERFERING IN LITHUANIAN AFFAIRS

Meeting with Lithuanian parliamentary officials on 25 August, Philip Petersen of the Potomac Foundation advised Russia to desist from interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries. "If it turned out that part of the U.S. financial assistance to Russia could be spent on interference in the affairs of other countries, there would be a great scandal at the U.S. Congress," Petersen said, adding that "representatives of the U.S. Congress are concerned about how Russia uses U.S. financial assistance." Petersen also urged the Lithuanian parliament to place more emphasis on defense spending and hinted that the U.S. Congress sees budget allocations for defense as a gauge of how serious Lithuania is in its bid to join NATO. MH

SEVERAL LITAS MILLIONAIRES AMONG LITHUANIA'S TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

"Respublika" reported that according to income declarations filed, there are seven litas millionaires among Lithuania's top government officials, BNS reported on 25 August. Head of the State Sports Department Rimas Kurtinaitis, who played professional basketball throughout Europe, is the richest, having declared 9.68 million litas ($2.42 million). In second place is Economics Minister Valentinas Milaknis, a former successful businessman (5.05 million litas), followed by parliamentary deputy and head of the Peasants Party Ramunas Karbauskis (4.87 million litas). The combined family assets of President Valdas Adamkus ranked fourth at 2.75 million litas, while the family assets of Finance Minister Vytautas Dudenas took sixth place at 1.49 million litas. Both Adamkus and Dudenas were long-term residents of the U.S. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT AIMS TO WIN RE-ELECTION IN FIRST ROUND

The State Electoral Commission on 25 August registered Aleksander Kwasniewski as a candidate for the 8 October presidential ballot, Polish media reported. Kwasniewski said at an electoral meeting the same day that he wants to win in the first round. "I am sure I am the only candidate who can set such a goal," he noted. By the 24 August deadline, the State Electoral Commission had received at least 100,000 signatures each from 13 candidates seeking the presidential post. JM

POLISH CATHOLIC CHURCH URGES RECONCILIATION

The Conference of Bishops of Poland's Roman Catholic Church issued a letter on 26 August calling the year 2000 a "time of reconciliation and grace," dpa and AP reported. "We ask forgiveness for those among us who show disdain for people of other denominations or tolerate anti-Semitism," the bishops wrote, adding that "anti-Semitism, just like anti-Christianism, is a sin." The bishops admitted that while undertaking noble efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust, Poles also showed indifference or enmity. "We should also efficiently overcome all signs of anti-Judaism, which stems from wrong interpretation of the Church's teaching, and of anti- Semitism, which is hatred stemming from nationalist or racial ideas that still exist among Christians," the bishops said. They noted, however, that anti-Polish sentiments among some Jewish groups should be "countered with equal determination." JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT OFFICE SAYS NEWSPAPER INVENTED 'OPERATION LEAD'...

The Czech Government Office has filed charges against two reporters for the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" accusing them of having invented the "Operation Lead" document in an effort to discredit the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD), CTK reported on 28 August. The daily denies the allegations, according to which the reporters planted the document on a government computer. "Operation Lead" was an alleged smear campaign against CSSD member and deputy chairwoman of the Chamber of Deputies Petra Buzkova. Many members of the CSSD said at a meeting on 26 August that they disagree with Premier Milos Zeman's explanation that an "institution" created "Operation Lead." Zeman added that it could have been the same "institution" behind the "Bamberg Affair" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 1999. PB

...WHILE CONTROVERSIAL ADVISER RESIGNS

Zdenek Sarapatka, Zeman's political adviser who told police that another Zeman adviser, Vratislav Sima, had drawn up the "Operation Lead" document, called Zeman's hypothesis a "tragicomedy." "If someone really sees 'spymania' behind it, then it's...an unwillingness to listen to the truth." He added that he has resigned and that Zeman did not suspend him, as the premier had earlier claimed. PB

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES BILL LIMITING PARTY MEMBERSHIP

The Slovak cabinet agreed at a special meeting on 25 August to support a bill that would prohibiting simultaneous membership in two political parties, CTK reported. The bill was initiated by the Democratic Left Party and supported by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said that if passed, it will go into effect on 1 January 2002, but he added that he is not in favor of the bill. The legislation would mainly affect Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), which the premier established at the beginning of this year to become the successor to the SDK. In other news, the Democratic Union party of Economics Minister Lubomir Harach voted at a party meeting in Zilina on 26 August to merge with the SDKU. PB

UN COMMITTEE PRAISES, CONDEMNS SLOVAKIA ON ROMANY ISSUES

The UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination issued a report on 26 August that praised Slovakia for some human rights improvements but also criticized it for its treatment of Roma, CTK reported. The committee welcomed the establishment of the office for human rights, ethnic minorities, and regional development, as well as the appointment of a commissioner for Romany affairs. But the UN agency was concerned about, among other things, the effort to settle Roma and about decrees issued by the authorities of two communities barring Roma from living there. PB

ANOTHER HUNGARIAN ROMA LEADER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST EMIGRATION

"The National Gypsy Authority does not support the emigration of Roma but believes that the problems brought to light by the present situation [of the Zamoly group seeking political asylum in France] must be solved," Florian Farkas, the chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, said on 25 August. The authority intends to establish an information center to demonstrate to the West the reasons behind some Romany families' decision to emigrate, Farkas announced. MSZ




FORMER SERBIAN LEADER 'DISAPPEARS'

Ivan Stambolic, whom Slobodan Milosevic ousted as Serbian president in 1987, disappeared while on his daily jog in a park near his Belgrade home on 25 August. His wife, Kaca, said that there has been no sign of him since and that no member of the police has visited the family home, "Vesti" reported on 28 August. Lawyer Nikola Barovic said that neighbors recall recently seeing an unfamiliar white van parked in front of Stambolic's home, "Danas" reported. Barovic added that the silence of the state-run media about Stambolic suggests that there is a political aspect to his disappearance, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The 64-year-old Stambolic was once Milosevic's political mentor but was ousted by his former protege during Milosevic's rise to power. Stambolic then remained aloof from politics for many years but has recently spoken out against Milosevic and his policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2000). PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION CONCERNED OVER STAMBOLIC

The Democratic Alternative said in a statement on 26 August that the disappearance of the former Serbian president shows that "Serbia is sailing in dangerous waters," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic argued that the incident is indicative of the lawless political and social climate in Serbia today, "Vesti" reported on 28 August. The Civic Alliance of Serbia called the disappearance a "dangerous political event" and appealed to those responsible to give proof that "Stambolic is still alive and well." The Serbian Renewal Movement condemned the "abduction" of the former leader as a "terrorist act" and demanded his release. PM

KFOR ARRESTS ALBANIAN FOR ASSAULT ON SERBS

Peacekeepers arrested an ethnic Albanian south of Prishtina on 27 August in connection with a hit-and-run assault on a group of Serbian young people, which left one child dead and three teen-agers injured, Reuters reported. Swedish peacekeepers said that the man is likely to be charged with vehicular homicide and drunk driving. The Serbian National Council said in a statement that the assault was "motivated by ethnic hatred," but a KFOR spokesman argued that such a conclusion is premature, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, moderate Serbian leader Father Sava described the situation in Kosova as being "between chaos and the road to democracy," "Danas" reported on 28 August. PM

CHINA TO OPEN CONSULATE IN MONTENEGRO

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Guchang said after meeting with Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac in Podgorica on 25 August that "we have already assigned a general consul of the People's Republic of China to Podgorica, and he will soon start activities for the opening of the consulate," Reuters reported. Liu told reporters that the consulate "will be very important for overall relations, regular dialogue and will contribute to our cooperation." Among the topics he and Lukovac discussed was the presence of Chinese illegal migrants in Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 August 2000). Reuters called the Chinese decision to open the consulate "a diplomatic blow for Belgrade." Italy, Russia, Croatia, and Greece currently have consulates in the Montenegrin capital, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MILOSEVIC BACKERS ANGRY WITH MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT'S POLICY ON ELECTIONS

Vice President of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) Predrag Bulatovic said in Podgorica that the government's "ban on [official] media coverage" of the 24 September federal elections is "undemocratic," "Danas" reported on 28 August. In the runup to the election, which the governing coalition is boycotting, the SNP has demanded a special session of the parliament on 12 September to discuss the standard of living, the privatization process, and related issues. Predrag Popovic, who is deputy speaker of the parliament, called the demand a "marketing ploy" aimed at winning votes, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 26 August. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT SETS SOCIAL, ECONOMIC PRIORITIES

Government ministers and trade union leaders ended a four-day meeting at Plitvice Lakes National Park on 27 August with a pledge by the government to create jobs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac said that there is "no alternative" to job creation. He also outlined the government's budget plans for the next three years, as well as its ideas on tax reform, economic development strategy, and social policy. He added that the government will freeze wages for ministers and legislators while ensuring that workers are paid, "Jutarnji list" reported. The daily quoted three leading economists as saying that the government will have to increase the annual growth rate to more than 3 percent if it wants to promote economic recovery. The daily also noted that labor unrest has plagued every government since 1990 and that only former Prime Minister Nikica Valentic succeeded in temporarily placating the unions, in 1993. PM

FIRES TAKE TOLL IN SOUTHERN CROATIA

Fires continue to threaten much of southern Croatia and have destroyed half of the Arboretum in Trsteno, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 27 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000). The authorities closed the Adriatic highway near Dubrovnik because of the proximity of the blazes. Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Split the previous day that he intends to punish those officials responsible for not taking adequate preventive measures against fires. He added that some fires may have been deliberately started by "mentally disturbed individuals," but he does not think that "terrorists" are responsible for the blazes. Elsewhere, the Croatian authorities lent a fire-fighting aircraft to Montenegro in response to that an appeal by the authorities there. In particular, the area of the coast between Petrovac and Rezevici is affected by fires. PM

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA'S FIRST NEW MOSQUE

Some 10,000 Bosnian Muslims attended a ceremony near Prijedor on 26 August to dedicate a new mosque. It is the first Islamic religious building to be constructed in the Republika Srpska since the 1992-1995 conflict. Local officials said, however, that the reconstruction was "illegal" because the Islamic community did not obtain the proper legal documents, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Muslim religious leaders claim that some 170 Islamic religious buildings were destroyed during the conflict, including two historical mosques in Banja Luka that were registered with UNESCO as cultural properties of international importance. PM

DEMOCRATIC PARTY NOMINATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

At its congress in Bucharest on 25 August, the junior coalition Democratic Party (PD) formally nominated chairman and Foreign Minister Petre Roman as its presidential candidate, Romanian media reported. Roman told the meeting that his program is centered on "re-establishing the authority of the state" and the rule of law. PD deputy chairman and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu harshly attacked Roman's rivals, concluding his address to the gathering by saying "You're the best, Petre." Roman, once a close associate of former President Ion Iliescu and the first prime minister after the 1989 change of regime, was forced to step down after miners rampaged in the capital in September 1991. ZsM

TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIAL DISMISSES BROAD AUTONOMY AS SOLUTION

Valery Litkai, the minister of foreign affairs for the unrecognized Transdniester Republic, said on 25 August that the building of a "common state" between Moldova and the breakaway Transdniester region must be based "on two equal subjects," Infotag reported. Litkai said at a meeting with the presidium of the region's Union of Industrialists, Agrarians, and Entrepreneurs in Tiraspol that the "broad autonomy notion is used practically nowhere any more." He said Transdniester must "sign with Moldova a constitutional act to be duly reflected in the two constitutions." Litkai heads the Transdniester delegation at the Chisinau-Tiraspol status negotiations. PB

PUTIN SENDS CONGRATULATIONS ON MOLDOVA'S INDEPENDENCE DAY

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Moldovan counterpart, Petru Lucinschi, on the occasion of the former Soviet republic's day of independence on 27 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Several ceremonies were held in the capital, but Infotag reported that there were no military parades. PB

BULGARIA STEPS UP FIGHT AGAINST MONEY-LAUNDERING

Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov said in Sofia on 25 August that the country is intensifying its battle against money-laundering and other international crimes, Reuters reported. Yordanov's comments come on the heels of the expulsion of 13 foreign businessmen from Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2000). Yordanov said every attempt to launder money in the country "must be crushed...it is bad for the country's image." He said Western countries tell him that because of its geographical location, Bulgaria is well suited as a major transit country for international crime syndicates. PB

THOUSANDS OF BULGARIAN EMIGRES RETURN FOR CELEBRATION

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov appealed to thousands of Bulgarian expatriates and many tens of thousands of others gathered at the Rhodope Mountain on 26 August to "not be locked in pessimism," AP reported. Stoyanov had called Bulgarians living abroad to come to the two-day millennium celebration held in conjunction with the traditional Rozhen folk festival. He urged the expats to return to Bulgaria and told his countrymen not to "lose their faith" in the future. Some 700,000 Bulgarians are estimated to have left the country since the fall of communism in 1989. PB




TOWARD A DIVISION OF POWERS


By Paul Goble

Russia can become a genuinely federal state only if Moscow and the regions agree to divide responsibilities, to respect the rights of both sides, and to learn from each other. Otherwise, the country is likely to remain trapped in a zero-sum game--one in which gains by one side will threaten the status of the other and in which Moscow's efforts to recentralize or the regions' bids to achieve independence could point to disaster.

This was the disturbing message Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev delivered in media interviews over the weekend. As he has done for more than a decade, the Tatarstan leader struck a middle course between those who favor recentralizing power in Moscow and those who want the regions and republics to gain ever more authority.

On the one hand, Shaimiev urged the creation of "a single legal space in Russia," one of the key elements of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin's efforts at recentralizing authority in Moscow. Indeed, the Tatarstan leader added that he fully approves Putin's plans to use federal power to implement political and economic reforms in the country's far-flung regions. Achieving those goals will be impossible, he said, if central authority remains "weak."

On the other hand, Shaimiev sharply criticized those in Moscow who "want to rule the regions from the center, like in old times, when we were dictated to about absurd things like the percentage of fat in milk and butter we sold." Many people making that argument, Shaimiev continued, now "call themselves democrats but in financial and economic matters, they represent the central planning system at its worst." And he stressed that his Republic of Tatarstan is now ready, willing, and able to "increase our autonomy" just as it was when it declared its sovereignty and independence from Russia a decade ago.

At one level, Shaimiev's argument represents only the latest example of his efforts to steer a middle course, to avoid offending both the powers that be in Moscow and those in his own republic who are more nationalistically inclined.

But more important, Shaimiev suggested a way out of the last decade's struggle between Moscow officials who have seen their power decline and regional leaders who have sought to grab as much power as they can over as many issues as possible. Former President Boris Yeltsin initiated that process by telling the leaders of the federation subjects "to take as much sovereignty as you can swallow."

In extremely pointed language, the Tatarstan president argued that both the central government and the regional authorities must be strengthened, something possible only if they agree on who is responsible for what rather than fighting over everything. His words justifying an increase in power for Tatarstan are striking in this regard: "Now I think we can increase our autonomy," Shaimiev said, "so that the federal center can deal with strategic problems only, which is what it is supposed to do."

If Moscow and the regions can agree to divide responsibilities rather than fight over power, Shaimiev argued, both sides can win and the country can benefit.

Moscow will be spared involvement in many local matters that local officials can more effectively address. And the central government can also benefit from regional experiments, such as Tatarstan's law allowing for the private ownership of land. Indeed, Shaimiev said, he and his fellow Tatars had expected that Moscow would do that much earlier, even taking into account Tatarstan's Constitution when the center drafted its own. "Unfortunately," he added, "this did not happen."

And the regions will gain as well from this arrangement, Shaimiev insisted. A single legal space will in fact improve the economic conditions of all, not by taking money from the wealthier regions--his own included--but by enlarging the marketplace.

Shaimiev's proposal thus represents a plan to overcome one of the most unfortunate features of both the totalitarian past and the efforts of the past decade to escape from it.

Under Soviet totalitarianism, no higher organization ever recognized the unique powers and responsibilities of lower organizations. Instead, each institution in the hierarchy had the power to overrule those below it. That frequently meant that decisions were simply bucked up the line, often to the Politburo of the Communist Party Central Committee--even when they concerned very specific local matters. And when Soviet power collapsed, officials at all levels tried to assume the role of the topmost body in the new pyramids rather than dividing responsibilities between themselves and the regions.

Shaimiev has simultaneously identified the problem and pointed toward a solution. But the political experiences of both the recent and more distant past make it uncertain that Russians either in Moscow or in the regions will be able to follow his lead.


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