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Newsline - August 29, 2000




OSTANKINO BLAZE EXTINGUISHED...

Some 26 hours after a fire broke out at the top of the Ostankino television tower, Moscow firefighters succeeded in the late afternoon of 28 August in extinguishing the blaze. Three of the bodies of the four people thought to have died in the incident have been identified. "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 August that two commissions have been formed to determine the extent of the damage to the tower and decide whether it should be left standing or pulled down. The architect of the structure, Vladimir Milashevskii, is quoted as saying that the concrete tower is unlikely to fall but that he is unsure whether the metal spire would survive the intense heat. According to Interfax, however, Gosstroi chairman Anvar Shamuzafarov has said the tower will have to be dismantled. Gosstroi, which is the state company overseeing all state construction, formed one of the commissions studying the condition of the tower in the aftermath of the fire. JC

...AS QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT SAFETY STANDARDS

Emergencies Ministry official Viktor Beltsov said on 29 August that the reason it took so long to put out the fire was that automatic fire extinguishers inside the tower either did not work or ran out of foam. Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether fire regulations were violated during the operation to extinguish the fire. Two of the victims identified, a firefighter and elevator operator, had been trapped in a lift that crashed down into the basement of the tower. Sources in the fire service said that power went off when those in the lift were on their way up to deliver supplies to firefighters. Reuters reported on 29 August that a Chechen fighters' website said guerrillas have claimed responsibility for the fire, but Russian officials say they do not suspect sabotage. According to Beltsov, the most likely cause of the blaze was a short circuit. JC

PUTIN ORDERS TV BACK ON THE AIR BY NEXT WEEK

President Vladimir Putin on 28 August ordered the government to ensure that national television stations resume broadcasting in Moscow City and Moscow Oblast within one week. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, for his part, said he hopes broadcasts will be resumed by the end of this week using UHF channels and cable television. As a result of the Ostankino blaze, broadcasting in the Moscow area has been heavily disrupted, and according to "The Moscow Times," two stations are currently acting as the only source of televised news for Moscow residents: Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii's TNT channel, which is relaying NTV news and is broadcasting on UHF, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's cable station Stolitsa. The latter was reportedly ordered by the Moscow city government to show video-cassettes of news programs pre-recorded by state-owned Russian Television, Russian Public Television, and TV Tsentr. Meanwhile, TV-6, which has links to LUKoil, has begun broadcasting on the Internet at , ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. JC

'KURSK' SUBMARINE WAS REPORTEDLY TESTING NEW WEAPONS SYSTEM

Primore legislature chairman Sergei Zhekov, who is a member of the government commission investigating the causes of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine disaster, told journalists in Vladivostok on 28 August that the vessel was testing a new weapons system when it sunk in the Barents Sea during naval exercises earlier this month, Interfax reported. Zhekov declined to give information about the new system, saying that it is a "state secret." He did say, however, that the commission believes that as it was surfacing, the "Kursk" collided with a foreign submarine. The collision, he continued, coincided with the submarine's launching of new missile, which in turn damaged a Northern Fleet ship taking part in the maneuvers. JC

PUTIN THANKS NORWAY, BRITAIN FOR AID DURING 'KURSK' DISASTER

President Putin telephoned with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and British Premier Tony Blair on 28 August to thank their countries for their assistance in seeking to rescue the 118 men aboard the "Kursk." Putin told Stoltenberg that he wants to sign a long-germ agreement with Norway on cooperating on rescue operations in the Barents Sea, Interfax reported. JC

KASYANOV LISTS ACHIEVEMENTS OF FIRST 100 DAYS

In an interview with the newspaper "Vremya novostei" published on 28 August, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that his government's most important achievements during its first 100 days were the passage of the tax code and the completion of restructuring Soviet-era debt to the London Club of creditor countries. He said his government's immediate priorities are to prevent "an unfounded strengthening" of the ruble and to consolidate the country's banking sector. PG

BANKER SAYS PARIS CLUB UNLIKELY TO RESTRUCTURE DEBT

Sergei Storchak, deputy chairman of Vneshekonombank, told "Vedomosti" on 28 August that he sees little chance that the Paris Club of creditor countries will agree to reschedule all the Soviet-era debt Moscow owes them. But unless these countries do agree to a rescheduling, he added, Russia will have to use more than 50 percent of federal budget revenues to pay the national debt. PG

MOSCOW WON'T REPRESENT U.S. IN NORTH KOREA TALKS

Russian Foreign Ministry officials told Interfax on 28 August that Moscow "is ready to discuss the whole range of problems facing northeastern Asia and to listen to the U.S. standpoint concerning its relations with North Korea," but they added that the Russian government "does not intend to do anything about North Korea at the request or instruction of third parties." The report came as State Department Counselor Wendy Sherman arrived in Moscow to discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula with Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov. Meanwhile, Russian officials announced that a planned visit by North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun in late September has been postponed. PG

ONLY FIVE PERCENT OF RUSSIANS SAY MOSCOW SHOULD BACK PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Center and reported by Interfax on 28 August, only one Russian in 20 believes that Moscow should support Palestinians Arabs in every way to create their own independent state as soon as possible. Thirty- six percent said that Moscow should work to promote a peace settlement between Palestinians and Israel, and 30 percent said Russia should stay out of the conflict entirely. PG

RUSSIA TO PRESS PACE TO RESTORE VOTING RIGHTS

Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee and leader of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, told Interfax on 28 August that he and other Russian officials will press PACE countries to restore Russia's voting rights in that body during the upcoming UN session in New York. The assembly deprived Russia of voting rights earlier this year over European concerns about Moscow's behavior in Chechnya. Rogozin said that if PACE does not relent, his delegation will boycott the assembly's September session, just as it stayed away from the June meeting. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES BULGARIA FOR ENTRY BANS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 August told Interfax that Moscow is concerned about what it described as a politically biased decision by the Bulgarian National Security Service to deny four Russian businessmen the right to enter that country over the next 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 August 2000). "If the Bulgarian Security Service had real evidence of objectionable activities by those businessmen," the Foreign Ministry report said, "it would be logical to share it with the Russian side, particularly in view of the actively developing cooperation in that sphere between our countries." PG

PUTIN DISCUSSES CASPIAN STATUS WITH TURKMEN LEADER

President Putin on 28 August telephoned his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss the legal status of the Caspian Sea and expanding Russian-Turkmen economic and political cooperation, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA SUPPLIES GREECE WITH AIR-DEFENSE SYSTEMS

Moscow has supplied 21 mobile SA-15 Gauntlet air defense systems to Greece, Interfax reported on 28 August. The system is capable of detecting up to 48 targets at ranges of 25 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 6 kilometers. Meanwhile, Russian officials have announced plans to display the advanced anti-aircraft missile system Tunguska-M at the Africa Aerospace and Defense- 2000 exhibition in South Africa in September, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE MEETS WITH NORTH CAUCASUS ELDERS

The council of 13 aksakals (elders) representing North Caucasus republics and krais met for the first time on 28 August with the head of the South Russia federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, "Izvestiya" reported. The Kalmyk representative on the council is a prominent poet, while the remainder are heads of either veterans or Cossack organizations. "Izvestiya" noted "difficulties" in selecting a representative from Karachaevo-Cherkessia but did not elaborate. LF

CHECHNYA'S DUMA DEPUTY MEETS WITH SELEZNEV

A Chechen delegation headed by Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's recently elected State Duma deputy, met with Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev for 90 minutes on 28 August, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. The talks focused on the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the war in Chechnya. Two days earlier, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Aslakhanov as saying that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had contacted him to propose a meeting to discuss whether peace talks are feasible but that "unfortunately I did not manage to meet him." Seleznev undertook to brief President Putin on his talks with the Chechens, adding that he will propose a meeting between Putin and Aslakhanov. Aslakhanov told journalists he does not plan to join any Duma faction. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS, INGUSH PREMIER DENY REPORTS OF FIGHTING

A spokesman for the North Caucasus department of the Russian Federal Border Guards has denied Russian military claims that federal forces engaged in a battle in Ingushetia the previous day with fighters and mercenaries en route from Georgia to Chechnya, Interfax reported on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). Ingushetia's Prime Minister Akhmed Malsagov also issued a statement on 28 August denying that any such fighting took place. LF

HARVEST WILL MAKE RUSSIA SELF-SUFFICIENT IN GRAIN

First Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatolii Mikhailov announced on 28 August that Russia will harvest 67-68 million tons of grain this year, making it self-sufficient in grain and grain products, Interfax reported. Some 38 million tons have been collected so far. Mikhailov also noted that approximately 23.7 million families living in urban areas currently farm small lots in the countryside to supplement their diets. And he noted that farmers are short of fuel and lubricants, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA TO INCREASE DIAMOND EXPORTS

Gokhran head Valerii Rudakov told Interfax on 28 August that next year Russia will increase the export of uncut diamonds from state reserves. He noted that the 2001 state budget calls for an increase in revenue from the sale of precious metals and stones and said that "most likely, we will sell more uncut diamonds." Meanwhile, Russia and the international diamond consortium De Beers have announced plans to negotiate a new diamond trade agreement. But Vyacheslav Shtyrov, the head of Alrosa, Russia's biggest diamond producer, said he opposes De Beer's plans to introduce a global system to monitor the flow of uncut diamonds. PG

PUTIN DIRECTS CULTURE MINISTRY TO TAKE OVER BOLSHOI

President Putin has signed a decree directing the Ministry of Culture to take over the management of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Interfax reported on 28 August. PG

EARTHQUAKES, FLOODS HIT FAR EAST

Earthquakes measuring 3- 4.5 points on the Richter scale hit regions in the Far East on 27 August, Interfax reported on 28 August. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that flooding has forced many people from their homes in that region. PG




ARMENIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PARLIAMENT BLOC

Stepan Minasian, a spokesman for the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 28 August that his party believes that "sound forces" exist capable of resolving the tensions between the HZhK and the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), its partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary bloc. "Miasnutiun is our inherited capital. If it still can serve the people, we must do everything to preserve it," Minasian said. Prime Minister and HHK leader Andranik Markarian had warned last week that the HZHK risks being stripped of its remaining government posts if the perception persists that it seeks to align with the opposition nationalist Right and Accord bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000). LF

ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI EDITOR DECLARES HUNGERSTRIKE

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," announced on 28 August that he will begin an indefinite hunger strike to protest his arrest on suspicion of involvement in an abortive plane hijack, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). Arifoglu's lawyer told journalists on 28 August that his client is being held in solitary confinement. LF

AZERBAIJANI POPULAR FRONT THREATENED WITH EXCLUSION FROM PARLIAMENTARY POLL

The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP) plans to picket the Central Electoral Commission on 1 September to protest that body's refusal to register the party for the 5 November parliamentary elections, Turan reported on 28 August. The Central Electoral Commission has said it will register the AHCP only if the party ends the infighting between its two rival factions (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 34, 24 August 2000). Also on 28 August, AHCP First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov told Nikolai Vulchanov of the OSCE'S Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights that he believes the inner-party differences could be resolved provided that the rival wing abandons its "insubordination" to the party's ruling body. Kerimov proposed drafting a new list of AHCP parliamentary candidates based on that compiled last month by AHCP chairman Abulfaz Elchibey. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CONDEMNS OFFICIAL HARASSMENT

Opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said on 28 August that the intensification of official pressure on opposition parties is aimed at preventing their participation in the 5 November parliamentary poll. He said that Musavat still hopes to participate in that ballot and to form an alliance with the AHCP to contend the 25 mandates to be allocated under the proportional system. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE THWART DEMONSTRATION BY OUSTED PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS

Police in Baku on 28 August forcibly dispersed 30-50 supporters of exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov who tried to stage a picket outside the Russian embassy, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. The picketers want the Azerbaijani parliament to enact legislation formalizing Mutalibov's status as former president and to shelve legal proceedings against him. Mutalibov is accused of theft of arms and ammunition, instigating and participating in mass public disturbances, and complicity in the alleged coup attempts against President Heidar Aliyev in October 1994 and March 1995. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR THIRD TERM

Addressing the first Congress of Teachers in Bishkek on 28 August, President Askar Akaev finally announced his intention to seek re-election in the 29 October presidential poll, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Several initiative groups have already collected the 50,000 signatures in Akaev's support needed to register his candidacy. LF

TRIAL OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST CONTINUES

The trial resumed on 28 August in Bishkek's Pervomai District Court of Topchubek TurgunAliyev and seven other defendants accused of planning to assassinate President Akaev last year, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 1999 and 3 August 2000). Three National Security Ministry officials told the court on 28 August that the prosecution has failed to demonstrate that the accused had formed an armed group capable of carrying out the assassination. LF

KYRGYZ TROOPS REPEL NEW INVASION ATTEMPT

After a battle lasting six or seven hours, Kyrgyz government forces repelled a group of some 60 gunmen who attempted to cross from Tajik territory into Kyrgyzstan's southern Batken Oblast near the Jyluu-Suu border post during the night of 27-28 August, Reuters and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, quoting a presidential press spokesman. One of the invaders was captured. No casualty figures were made public. LF

MINISTER DENIES UZBEK MILITANTS IN TAJIKISTAN

At a press conference in Dushanbe on 28 August, Tajikistan's Minister for Emergency Situations Mirzo Ziyoev denied that members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operate from bases in Tajikistan, Reuters and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Ziyoev said a Tajik government commission recently visited the eastern regions of Tajikistan bordering on Uzbekistan and ascertained that there are no militants' bases there. Ziyoev also rejected as untrue Russian press allegations that members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) are abetting the Islamists. He said such claims are intended to undermine Tajik-Russian relations. Ziyoev, who is a former UTO field commander, has been identified as one of the key figures supporting the Uzbek militants. Ziyoev admitted that he met in April with one of the IMU leaders, Djuma Namangani but added that Namangani left Tajikistan shortly after that meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 5 May 2000). LF

AGA KHAN VISITS TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 28 August with the visiting spiritual head of the world Ismaili community, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two men discussed the implementation of an agreement signed during the Aga Khan's visit to Dushanbe in September 1998 whereby the Aga Khan Development Network undertook to provide humanitarian aid and to fund various programs in the health and education sectors. They also signed an agreement on creating a Central Asian University in Dushanbe, for which the Aga Khan will provide $5 million. Construction of the university will begin in 2002 and cost an estimated $150 million. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT DECREES AMNESTY

President Islam Karimov has issued a decree granting an amnesty to an unspecified number of prison inmates, Interfax reported on 28 August. The amnesty is pegged to the anniversary of Uzbekistan's 1991 declaration of independence. Eligible for amnesty are World War II veterans, people over 60, Chernobyl victims, minors, the disabled, and foreign nationals. The amnesty does not extend to persons convicted for terrorism, crimes against the constitutional system, extremism, or inciting ethnic or civil strife. Nor does it apply to members of extremist or other illegal organizations. LF




OSCE GETS MIXED SIGNALS FROM BELARUS OVER ELECTIONS

At a conference in Vienna on 30 August, the OSCE is expected to make a decision on whether to send international observers to the 15 October legislative polls in Belarus. Anatol Lyabedzka and Vintsuk Vyachorka from Belarus's "united opposition," which has announced a boycott of the vote, are to urge the Vienna forum not to send observers, while two government representatives are to ask the organization to do so, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 August. Meanwhile, former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, who is running in the elections, has appealed to the "opposition-minded citizens" to take part in the polls and to the OSCE not to send observers, Belapan reported the same day. For their part, Supreme Soviet deputies Volha Abramava and Uladzimir Navasyad, who are also running, appealed to the OSCE to send observers to the October ballot (see also "End Note" below). JM

OSCE MISSION, GERMAN EMBASSY IN BELARUS REJECT OPPOSITION CRITICISM

The Conservative Christian Party on 25 August accused the OSCE mission in Minsk of supporting "Russia's occupation policy" vis-a-vis Belarus by "campaigning for the dictator[-sponsored] pseudo-elections." The party, which is led by Zyanon Paznyak, also demanded that the mission's head, Hans Georg Wieck, be replaced. The OSCE mission responded on 28 August that it considers the charges a "defamation campaign" that shows Paznyak's party is not "an interlocutor that can be taken seriously on the political stage and in the international arena," Belapan reported. The party's accusations--which extended to "certain political groups in Western Europe, especially German diplomats"--were also criticized by the German embassy in Minsk. The embassy called those accusations unfounded, adding that Germany is conducting its policy toward Belarus "in cooperation with [Germany's] political allies and the OSCE." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CONFIDENT ABOUT FUTURE, WITH OR WITHOUT IMF

Leonid Kuchma on 28 August spoke confidently of Ukraine's chances of overcoming its economic crisis, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. He said the country's living standards will improve even if the IMF refuses further credits to Kyiv. Kuchma noted that the recent $100 million payment to the IMF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000) may be viewed as the beginning of Kyiv's repayment of its full debt to the fund. He said that once Ukraine repays its IMF debts, the country will be able to live without foreign credits. According to Kuchma, the parliament is willing to cooperate with the government and there is no need for early legislative elections. "I will not initiate such elections myself, and I will oppose [any] attempts to do so," he pledged. JM

MASS POISONING IN UKRAINE POSSIBLY CAUSED BY MILITARY 'WASTE'

Ukraine's Main State Sanitary Inspector Olha Bobylova said on 28 August that the "most likely" cause of the mass poisoning in four villages of Mykolayiv Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 August 2000) is "waste" from military facilities located in the vicinity of those villages, Interfax reported. Bobylova added that the Defense Ministry has declined to respond directly to the Health Ministry's inquiries about the location of liquid rocket fuel waste in the affected area, saying only that there have been no rocket fuel spills. However, another Health Ministry official, Roman Sova, said a government special commission found that soil and ground water in the area are contaminated with "products of the decomposition of liquid rocket fuel components." JM

NORDIC, BALTIC PREMIERS MEET IN PARNU

The prime ministers of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden met in the Estonian resort town of Parnu on 28 August for regular "5+3" discussions. Most significantly, the Nordic premiers again voiced support for the Baltic states' membership in NATO, saying they hope that the planned NATO summit in 2002 will yield positive results for all three states, BNS reported. Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson added that the timetable for EU enlargement should become clearer under the Swedish presidency, due to begin at the start of 2001. MH

SWEDISH BANK WANTS TO TAKE OVER BALTIC BANKS

One of Sweden's largest banks, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), announced on 28 August that by the end of the year, it hopes to take full ownership of the banks in which it currently holds a controlling stake, BNS reported. SEB holds large stakes in Lithuania's Vilniaus Bankas (42 percent), Latvia's Unibanka (50.5 percent), and Estonia's Uhispank (50.2 percent), which in turn owns Latvia's Saules Banka. The bank plans to remove all three banks from the stock exchange by offering to buy all floating shares. SEB President Lars Thunell said that the bank's plans are a "logical step" in its regional strategy, ELTA added. Shares for the three banks all closed significantly higher on the news of SEB's plans. MH

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT REMOVES ARMED FORCES COMMANDER

In an acrimonious session on 28 August, the Estonian parliament narrowly voted to dismiss Lieutenant General Johannes Kert from the post of armed forces commander. The vote was 47 to 46, with the ruling coalition mainly voting in favor of approving President Lennart Meri's 30 July decision to remove Kert from that post. Addressing the parliament, Meri suggested Kert was over-politicized: "I made a proposal to the general, in a very discreet and calm manner, to assume another office in the armed forces leadership. Kert refused that, taking steps that are not consistent with principles of civilian control," BNS reported. Kert, who also addressed the parliament, responded "I don't know what the president is reproaching me for," adding that he is "waiting with great interest" for someone to explain to him what he did wrong. Defense Ministry Juri Luik actually said he disapproved of Kert's address to the parliament," adding that it reminded him of a "politician's speech." MH

NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST ESTONIAN MINISTER FAILS

The parliament on 28 August failed to pass a no-confidence motion against Economics Minister Mihkel Parnoja. The opposition- sponsored motion failed by a 46 to 50 vote, ETA reported. The opposition accused Parnoja of harming the country's interests through the controversial sale of a 49 percent stake in the country's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). The opposition also criticized Parnoja for adhering to a non-disclosure clause and not making the entire agreement public. MH

GUN INCIDENT IN LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY

One security guard died and another was seriously wounded in a shooting at the Latvian Foreign Ministry on 27 August, LETA reported. Police officials say that one security guard was injured when a gun was accidentally fired. However, 15 minutes after the incident, which the injured guard confirmed as an accident, the security guard whose gun apparently went off committed suicide. Police are still investigating the incident. MH

SOLIDARITY BIRTHDAY MAY BECOME NATIONAL HOLIDAY, BUT NOT ANYTIME SOON

Former Solidarity leader and President Lech Walesa told Polish Radio on 28 August that the date of Solidarity's emergence should be a national holiday in Poland. Solidarity is considered to have come into being on 31 August 1980, when striking workers in Gdansk signed the so-called August agreements with the then communist government. Walesa added, however, that first it must be generally accepted in Poland that communism was a crime against the nation and state. Incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski commented that the Solidarity anniversary would become a national holiday only if such a decision were made jointly by Poland's largest political forces. According to Kwasniewski, such a decision is unlikely within the next 50 years. Kwasniewski has not been invited to attend Solidarity's 20th birthday celebrations. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER SAID TO BE 'PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE'

Presidential candidate Dariusz Grabowski on 28 August said Self-Defense farmers' trade union leader Andrzej Lepper is a "prisoner of conscience," PAP reported. Lepper, who is running in this year's presidential race, was arrested last week for his repeated failures to appear in court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2000). "I regret that those who have brought about trouble for the Polish countryside are at large, while those who care about those wronged are put in jail," Grabowski commented. He offered to put up bail for Lepper in order to enable the latter to conduct his election campaign. A Silesian branch of the Alliance of Farmers' Trade Unions and Agricultural Organizations has also appealed for Lepper's release, saying that his arrest was a "drastically disproportionate" measure. JM

CZECH DAILY ON IMPLICATIONS OF PREMIER'S CHARGES

"Mlada fronta Dnes" (MfD) questioned in its 29 August issue whether it is proper for the daily to continue covering developments in the "Operation Lead" case in light of the lawsuit filed by Czech Premier Milos Zeman against two MfD reporters on charges of fabricating the entire affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000), CTK reported. In an editorial, Petr Sabata wrote that there is a danger that in the future any politician will be able to accuse a newspaper of trying to discredit him/her if something unpleasant is written. Sabata asked if readers can now trust MfD's reporting on the scandal given that it has been made, "through no fault of its own," a part of the case. PB

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EU ASSESSMENT WILL BE BETTER

Jan Kavan said on 28 August that the European Commission's report on the Czech Republic's preparedness for EU entry will be more positive in 2000 than in the previous two years, CTK reported. Kavan said there has been a "positive shift" in the way the Czech Republic is viewed as a possible member. Despite the improvement, Kavan said there are still "problems and shortcomings we've been unable to do away with." Last year Prague was criticized particularly for the slow pace of modifying its legislation to comply with the EU's acquis communautaire. PB

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT TO ABOLISH OFFICE ON COMMUNIST CRIMES

Social Democrat deputy Zdenek Koudelka said a government-proposed amendment to the penal code would eliminate the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV), CTK reported on 28 August. Koudelka said if the bill is passed, the UDV's investigators would merge with regular police detectives. The legislation, which is supported by the communist deputies, will be debated this fall. The UDV has been criticized in the past for inefficiency and lack of results. The office was established in 1995 and has resolved or closed some 1,489 cases, while another 1,000 remain under investigation. The UDV has prosecuted 151 people and has brought charges against another 58. PB

SLOVAK OFFICIAL: NATO MEMBERSHIP POSES NO THREAT TO RUSSIA

Jan Figel, the state secretary of Slovakia's Foreign Ministry, said on 28 August in Bratislava that Slovakia will remain Russia's "good partner" after the East-Central European country gains NATO membership, CTK reported. Figel made his comments after meeting with Aleksandr Avdeev, first deputy Russian foreign minister. Avdeev said that Moscow does not suffer from "Natophobia," but he added that NATO enlargement last year brought "the destabilization of the balance of powers in Europe." He said there is a level of distrust between Russia and NATO but that Moscow does not want this distrust to affect relations with Slovakia. PB

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES SLOVAKIA, NON-COMMITAL ON EU ENLARGEMENT

Joschka Fischer said in Bratislava on 28 August that Slovakia is "on the right path" toward EU membership, Reuters reported. Fischer, however, stressed that the union must first make internal reforms before any expansion can occur: "It would be meaningless to provide any visionary dates, but it is important to notice progress made [by Slovakia] in recent years," he commented. Slovak officials have set 2004 as their target date for joining the EU. Fischer met with Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan during his visit. PB

NO FURTHER EVIDENCE IN HUNGARIAN OIL CASE

Laszlo Pallag, the chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating illegal oil deals among government officials between 1992 and 1996, admitted on 28 August that he has no further evidence of high-ranking politicians' involvement in those deals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June and 24 August 2000). Prosecutor- General Peter Polt said the documents presented by Pallag last week contain claims that are mostly false and hinder the work of the Prosecutor-General's Office. Former Prime Minister Peter Boross said at the committee's 28 August hearing that sacked secret service officers might be behind the present scandal. MSZ




SERBIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE BLASTS MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT

Vojislav Kostunica, who is the Yugoslav presidential candidate of a coalition of Serbian opposition parties and who leads most public opinion polls, blasted the recent decision of the Montenegrin authorities not to cover the campaign for the 24 September presidential and parliamentary elections in the state-run media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). He said that "both Serbian and Montenegrin regimes are doing all they can to narrow the space in which all political parties and options can be heard [and] to limit the normal expression of views in public life in favor of one side," Reuters reported from Belgrade on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 August 2000). Elsewhere, Kostunica called on the Montenegrin leadership to be specific about its plans for the future of the federation, "Blic" reported. "Vreme" of 26 August includes a poll giving Kostunica 35 percent of the vote and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic 25 percent. The other two main candidates have 5 percent each. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION TO MAKE DEAL WITH MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION?

Mladjan Dinkic, who heads the G-17 group of independent economists, said that the Montenegrin government of President Milo Djukanovic has "left the Serbian opposition in the lurch" with its ruling on media coverage of the elections, "Vesti" reported on 29 August. He added that Djukanovic has made a political mistake by not risking a direct electoral contest with his rivals, the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party (SNP). Dinkic said that the Serbian opposition must look to its own interests and that this could mean a post- election deal with the SNP. PM

MONTENEGRO BECOMING ISSUE IN SERBIAN ELECTIONS?

Vojislav Mihajlovic, who is the candidate of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, told Montena-fax in Podgorica on 28 August that Milosevic is mistaken if he thinks he can forcibly keep Montenegro in the Yugoslav federation. Mihajlovic stressed that the Yugoslav federation must be based on equality of the two republics and openness to the outside world. PM

STILL NO WORD ON MISSING SERBIAN EX-LEADER

Kaca Stambolic, who is the wife of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, told "Vesti" of 29 August in Belgrade that she still has no word regarding the whereabouts or safety of her husband, who "disappeared" recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). She added that she remains optimistic, noting that her husband is no longer a political figure. Opposition political leaders, for their part, are increasingly treating Stambolic's disappearance as a political crime. Opposition leader Dusan Batakovic described the incident as "yet another cheap ploy in the runup to the elections." The Democratic Opposition of Serbia said in a statement that the case is a "political abduction." The opposition demanded that the official media end their silence and report on the incident, Reuters reported. PM

MILOSEVIC HAILS YUGOSLAV-RUSSIA TRADE PACT

Milosevic said in Belgrade on 28 August that a trade deal concluded by Yugoslav and Russian delegations will greatly benefit both sides. He added: "The agreement is a big step in improving mutual ties...which will in turn contribute to economic stability in both countries.... Economic cooperation is of vital interest to Russia and Yugoslavia and...[reaffirms] the friendship of both nations," AP reported. Observers note that Milosevic may be seeking to promote good relations with Russia in the runup to the elections. All four leading presidential candidates espouse nationalist, anti-Western views and stress Serbian- Russian friendship. PM

SERBIA WARNS WEST TO STAY OUT OF COURT CASE

On a visit to Havana, Cuba, on 28 August, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic told Western countries not to become involved in the Belgrade court case against four Western nationals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2000). He argued that "we consider any pressure, interference not to be [in keeping] with the court procedure.... [The two Britons and two Canadians] are charged with violating the laws of Yugoslavia, and threatening to conduct terrorist actions on the soil of Yugoslavia against Yugoslav [officials].... What is important [is that] they enjoy all rights to [an attorney] and to consular visits, so there are not any reasons for concern," Reuters reported. The case against the four men and a second case against four Dutch males are widely seen to be part of Milosevic's election campaign. Meanwhile in Belgrade, a judge completed his preliminary investigation in the case of the Britons and Canadians. PM

KOSOVA PEACEKEEPERS TO BECOME MORE MOBILE

British Brigadier General Robert Fry, who heads peacekeepers in Kosova's central military district, has ordered an increase in the number of mobile patrols, Reuters reported from Prishtina on 28 August. The move is aimed at reducing the number of violent incidents, particularly those against innocent civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). PM

SWISS ARREST KOSOVA ARMS SMUGGLERS

Police officials in Bern said on 29 August that they arrested one Kosovar and one French citizen in July in connection with a major arms smuggling ring to the troubled province, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 29 August. The two were allegedly part of a ring that smuggled anti-tank weapons to Kosova in 1999. Investigations are continuing. PM

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES WITNESS KILLED IN EXPLOSION

An explosion killed Milan Levar in front of his Gospic home on 28 August. A bomb squad from Zagreb is investigating, "Vecernji list" reported. Police have a "very precise tip," Reuters noted. Levar testified in 1997 in The Hague against ex-soldiers regarding Croatian war crimes against Serbian civilians in 1991. His testimony and that of a colleague marked the first instance of Croats testifying against Croats in conjunction with atrocities committed in 1991. Levar, who helped organize the 1991 defense of Gospic against Serbian rebels, recently said that he and his family have been frequently harassed by right-wingers and extremist war veterans. PM

CROATIAN POLICE MAKE ARREST FOR ARSON

Police in the Dubrovnik area arrested a man from Trebinje in the Republika Srpska for arson, Reuters reported on 28 August. Police believe he started at least some of the blazes that have swept southern Croatia in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). Also on 28 August, rain began to fall and put out all the fires in the Dubrovnik area, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DOLE OPENS MISSING PERSONS' INSTITUTE IN BOSNIA

Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who heads the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), inaugurated an institute in Sarajevo on 28 August to help trace the fate of those missing since the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. He stressed that "no project is as essential to reconciliation and peace as this one, which can bring [comfort] to thousands of families who have been locked in the torment of the past and unable to move toward the promise of the future," Reuters reported. During the 1990s, Dole was an outspoken supporter of Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. PM

BOSNIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST CROATIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

After receiving authorization from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Bosnian police arrested Dominik Ilijasevic in Kiseljak on 28 August. He is now awaiting trial in Zenica. The ethnic Croat is wanted by the Sarajevo authorities for war crimes committed against Muslims during the 1992-1995 conflict, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS OFF ON DIPLOMATIC CHANGES

President Milan Kucan has declined to sign a request by Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk for the replacement of five Slovenian ambassadors, "Delo" reported on 29 August. Kucan argued that any changes in diplomatic representation should be made by the new government that will be elected in the 15 October vote. He wrote Foreign Minister Lojze Peterle to ask how long he expects any ambassador posts might remain vacant and whom he proposes to fill them. The embassies in question are in Buenos Aires, Rome, Tokyo, Strasbourg, and Moscow. Argentina is home to a large Slovenian emigrant community, including, until recently, the Bajuk family. PM

ROMANIAN GROUP LAUNCHES ILIESCU'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

The "For Ion Iliescu" support group has formally launched the presidential election campaign of Ion Iliescu, the former president and current chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), Romanian media reported on 28 August. The Bucharest meeting was held in the absence of Iliescu, who is on an official visit to Germany. PDSR First Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase read an appeal signed by some 500 Romanian intellectuals harshly criticizing the current governing coalition. Nastase argued that Iliescu would bring "dignity" back to the presidential office, which he said is currently "stained by mediocrity and indecency." The PDSR announced that they have collected some 650,000 signatures in Iliescu's support, more than double the required 300,000. ZsM

BULGARIAN TRADE DEFICIT HIGH

Bulgaria imported some $581.9 million worth of goods more than it exported in the first six months of this year, BTA reported, citing the National Statistics Institute. Bulgarian exports consisted mainly of ferrous and non-ferrous metals and textiles, while major imports were fuels, vehicles, and electrical and industrial machinery. EU member states remain the country's main trading partners, making up some 50 percent of its total trade. The largest partners are Italy, Germany, Greece, and Belgium. PB




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION IN (AT LEAST) TWO MINDS OVER ELECTIONS


By Jan Maksymiuk

Life has never been easy for opponents of Belarus's ruling regimes, whether in the period before Alyaksandr Lukashenka or after the first Belarusian president took over the reins of power in 1994. But the 15 October elections to the Chamber or Representatives presents a dilemma that the Belarusian opposition seems not to have confronted so far. Currently, there are at least two distinct stances among Lukashenka's opponents on how to approach the upcoming ballot.

The "radical opposition," represented by the Christian Conservative Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (led by charismatic Zyanon Paznyak from exile in Poland), rejects any participation in this fall's legislative elections. Paznyak's party argues that the polls are senseless in view of the legislature's illegitimate character and that the opposition's participation in the polls would only legitimize the Chamber of Representatives at the expense of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation, which is still recognized by all European governments, except Russia and Yugoslavia, as Belarus's lawful parliament.

Moreover, Paznyak argues, once the Chamber of Representatives is legitimized, it will set about approving all integration accords signed by Lukashenka with Russia. Thus, he says, the incorporation of Belarus by its eastern neighbor will be accomplished in an apparently lawful manner. In fact, Paznyak accuses the OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck of seeking to obliterate Belarus's independence by pushing the opposition to take part in the elections.

The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which until quite recently was called "the democratic opposition," has suffered a split and now refers to itself as "the united opposition." The council's two main pillars are the Belarusian Popular Front Party (led by Vintsuk Vyachorka from Minsk) and the United Civic Party (led by Anatol Lyabedzka also from Minsk). The council loyally cooperates with the OSCE Minsk mission, seeking ways to establish democracy in Belarus. Having failed to organize an OSCE-mediated dialogue with Lukashenka, the council announced an "active boycott" of the 15 October poll. It intends to stage protest rallies under the slogan "Yes to Elections, No to Farce" and collect signatures for a referendum on the OSCE's four requirements to make the electoral process in Belarus more transparent and democratic.

The "leftist opposition," represented by the Belarusian Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus (a local replica of Vladimir Zhirinovskii's notorious political formation in neighboring Russia), has decided to participate in the elections, even though both groups assert that there are no suitable conditions for a democratic ballot in Belarus.

However, what has most thrown the democratic opposition ranks into disarray is the declared intention of more than 50 opposition activists, including such important figures as former Premier Mikhail Chyhir (without party affiliation) and Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich, to run in the elections. Each of those activists will run on an independent ticket, that is, each will be fielded by a group of no fewer than 1,000 voters. Statkevich's party was the first to send a highly confusing message to the electorate by announcing it will not participate in the undemocratic ballot but does not forbid its members to do so on an independent ticket.

Chyhir and Statkevich have strong arguments to support their decision. Recent independent polls show that some 70 percent of Belarusians want to vote in this fall's elections and that this figure is growing. The polls also suggest that the call for an election boycott--which to succeed will require election turnout to be below 50 percent--may well fail. And some surveys suggest that opposition and independent candidates face virtually the same chances of winning as pro-regime ones.

Chyhir and Statkevich argue that it is vitally important for the opposition to gain a foothold in the Chamber of Representatives, even if this body has only limited powers. According to both politicians, this fall's election campaign and the possible establishment of an anti-regime "bridgehead" in the Chamber of Representatives could bring Democrats back into the public spotlight and help them prepare Belarusian voters for the incomparably weightier contest--next year's presidential elections.

It is not difficult to foresee that regardless of the outcome of the 15 October ballot, the Belarusian opposition is poised to inflict enormous damage upon itself by campaigning for two opposing objectives--having the electorate go to the polls and stay at home at the same time. This dual campaign will almost certainly deepen the current split in the democratic camp and minimize the chances of fielding a single democratic candidate against Lukashenka in 2001.

When the OSCE mission was installed in Minsk to assist Belarus on its tortuous way toward electoral democracy, many assumed that it was, above all, the anti-democratic regime and many ignorant voters who needed enlightenment. Judging by the current electoral situation, the OSCE's lessons were difficult to swallow not just for those elements but also for those identifying themselves as more knowledgeable democrats.

This week, the OSCE is expected to make a decision on whether to send its observers to the Belarusian elections. It is generally thought that it will decide against doing so. Given the Belarusian regime's stubborn refusal to make any meaningful concessions to democratic behavior, such a decision appears the only justifiable one. It is unlikely, however, to help the Belarusian opposition achieve its goals- -whatever they might be.


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