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Newsline - August 30, 2000




OSTANKINO TOWER DEEMED STABLE...

Following a meeting of a government commission investigating the Ostankino television tower blaze, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin announced on 29 August that construction experts say the tower is stable and not in danger of collapsing. Lesin also noted that the majority of the equipment in the tower has been "preserved and is ready to operate." Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, for his part, said that at cabinet meeting scheduled for 31 August, construction experts will lobby for the reconstruction of the tower, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 August. JC

...AS MORE BROADCASTS RESUME IN CAPITAL

Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that a temporary transmitter will be placed on the tower at a height of 147 meters to allow state-run Russian Television broadcasts to resume in the capital city by the evening of 30 August. The previous day, NTV, which is part of Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST holding, and another private channel, TV-6, in which Boris Berezovskii and LUKoil have stakes, began broadcasting in Moscow's southeast through a cable television network. And Interfax quoted NTV director Yevgenii Kiselov as saying that residents in the southeast of Moscow will soon be able to receive TV-Tsentr. JC

GOVERNMENT REJECTS 'NEW TORPEDO' THEORY IN 'KURSK' DISASTER

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said in St. Petersburg on 29 August that the "Kursk" nuclear submarine was not testing a new type of torpedo when it sank during naval maneuvers earlier this month. That claim had been made by a member of the government commission investigating the causes of the sinking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Interfax quoted Klebanov as saying that the submarine had launched a type of torpedo that has been in use for nearly 20 years. Klebanov also "made it understood" that he does not believe the launch of the torpedo was the cause of the disaster. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted unidentified officials in the U.S. administration as confirming a "New York Times" article saying that sonar tapes and other recordings by a U.S. submarine in the Barents Sea contain strong evidence that the "Kursk" sank because of an accident involving a torpedo. JC

'BLACK AUGUST' DISASTERS TO COST GOVERNMENT DEARLY

Russian media have been speculating how the government will find the money to deal with the aftermath of the "Kursk" and Ostankino disasters. According to AP, the cost of repairing the damage to the television tower is estimated up to $1 billion, while "Segodnya" points out that this year's budget allocates some $2.7 billion for dealing with emergency situations, most of which has already been spent. A government commission's plan to raise the "Kursk" from the bed of the Barents Sea and retrieve the bodies of the crew, which Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov announced on 29 August and is scheduled to begin at the end of September, is estimated to cost $100 million. Klebanov's comment that the money will come from the federal budget and various funds, including international ones, prompted speculation that next year's zero-deficit budget will have to be amended. JC

GLASNOST FOUNDATION STORMED

"The Moscow Times" reported on 30 August that the office of the Glasnost Foundation was stormed by police earlier this week in what the head of the foundation described as a "conscious, government action aimed at intimidating civil society." Sergei Grigoryants told the Moscow daily that about 10 masked policemen wielding automatic rifles burst into the office on the evening of 28 August, forced a dozen people to lie facedown for some 40 minutes, and "then left without a word" of explanation. Grigoryants added that one of the policeman kicked him in the head and back. The Glasnost Foundation has strongly criticized the war in Chechnya and the activities of the Federal Security Service. JC

PUTIN BANS ARMS SALES TO ETHIOPIA, ERITREA

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on 29 August banning Russian arms sales to Ethiopia and Eritrea from now until 17 May 2001 in order to ensure Moscow complies with UN Security Council Resolution 1298, ITAR-TASS reported. But the presidential press service said that "the given measures do not embrace deliveries of military equipment and property meant for exclusively humanitarian use." PG

PUTIN SAYS RAPPROCHEMENT WITH JAPAN MEETS NATIONAL INTERESTS

In a message to the ninth meeting of representatives of the Russian Far East, Siberia and Hokkaido, President Putin said on 29 August that Moscow and Tokyo "are united by a common understanding of the strategic importance of active development of long-term mutually-beneficially partnership" for the two countries, Interfax reported. Putin is scheduled to visit Japan from 3-5 September. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS EXPANDED DIALOGUE WITH KUWAIT...

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told his visiting Kuwaiti counterpart, Sulayman Shahin, on 29 August that "further cooperation will meet the interests of both Russia and Kuwait," Interfax reported. Ivanov added that he supports UN efforts to free Kuwait POWs held in Iraq. Shahin later met with Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin to discuss expanding cooperation. PG

...BUT MAKES DEAL WITH IRAQ

Slavneft, a Russian- Belarusian oil company, has signed an agreement with Baghdad to develop an oil field estimated to contain more than 1 billion barrels of crude oil, AP reported on 29 August. The agreement will take effect once UN sanctions are lifted. In the meantime, company spokesmen said, Slavneft will conform with all UN resolutions. PG

RUSSIAN AIRLINE READY TO FLY MOSCOW-BAGHDAD ROUTE

Russia's VAL Airline is ready to make regular flights between Moscow and Baghdad, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Since December 1997, the company has made a total of six flights to Iraq carrying humanitarian cargo. PG

PUTIN CONGRATULATES TATARSTAN ON SOVEREIGNTY DECLARATION ANNIVERSARY

President Putin sent a message congratulating the Republic of Tatarstan on the occasion of its 10th anniversary of the latter's declaration of state sovereignty, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. In his message, Putin said that "the republic has long been a part of Russia" and "all of us will build a strong and efficient federation." Putin was represented at the Kazan celebrations by Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, who called for "a dialogue" between Tatarstan and Moscow over how to proceed in the future. PG

PUTIN RECEIVES DUMA DEPUTY FROM CHECHNYA

President Putin on 29 August received Aslanbek Aslakhanov, the newly elected State Duma deputy for Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. The presidential press service said the two discussed the situation in that North Caucasus republic. State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev had told Aslakhanov the previous day he would ask President Putin to receive him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). PG

FSB COMPLAINS OF 'PRESSURE' IN POPE CASE

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) told Interfax on 29 August that "attempts are now being made to put pressure on investigators" working on the case of Edmond Pope, a U.S. businessman charged with spying and now being held in the Lefortovo detention facility. Pope's wife told the media after meeting with her husband the same day that he is in "terrible condition." Russian officials blocked prevented U.S. Congressman John Peterson (Republican) from meeting with Pope, Reuters reported, but Peterson told the press that "everyone in America knows Ed Pope is no spy." PG

ZYUGANOV PREDICTS MORE TECHNOLOGICAL DISASTERS

Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the Russian Communist Party, said on 29 August that he expects more disasters involving the country's technological infrastructure, ITAR-TASS reported. He cited a study carried out several years ago according to which 80 percent of aircraft and aviation equipment and 70 percent of turbine generators at power plants are "exhausted." PG

KASYANOV RECEIVES SPECIAL ANTI-CRIME TASK FORCE

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told 700 representatives of the country's special anti-crime task forces that "now that criminality has become organized and terrorism endangers the state," the forces' work is acquiring "a special significance for our society," ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Meanwhile, First Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Vladimir Kozlov said that "a number of suspects" from the North Caucasus have been identified in the case of the 8 August Pushkin Square bombing. PG

RUSSIA PLANS TO BORROW $5 BILLION ABROAD IN 2001

According to the draft federal budget submitted to the State Duma, the Russian government plans to borrow $4.795 billion abroad next year, Interfax reported on 29 August. It will seek $3.945 in untied loans and $850 million in targeted credit. PG

GOVERNMENT URGES RATIFICATION OF MONEY-LAUNDERING CONVENTION

The government on 29 August urged President Putin to submit the anti-moneylaundering convention for ratification by the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia signed the convention on 7 May 1999. The government information department said that "Russia's participation in the convention is envisioned by the commitments that it undertook when receiving membership in the Council of Europe." PG

RUSSIAN STEELMAKERS WANT U.S. STEEL DEAL ANNULLED

Russia's steelmakers are urging the government to withdraw from a July 1999 agreement limiting Russian steel exports to the U.S., Interfax reported. PG

20 JOINT-STOCK COMPANIES TO BE PRIVATIZED IN 2001

The government plans to privatize stakes in 20 joint-stock companies next year, according to the draft privatization program submitted to the Duma, Interfax reported on 29 August. Those firms include LUKoil, Rosneft, Slavneft, and Gazprom. PG

ITERA SAYS IT HAS NO PLANS TO RAISE GAS PRICES TO CIS DEBTORS

Igor Makarov, president of the Itera group, said his companies will not raise prices for gas supplied to CIS countries, Interfax reported on 29 August. Prices will go up, he said, only in response to increases in the costs of extraction, purchase, and transportation. PG

SKURATOV FINED FOR LIBEL IN MABATEX CASE

A Moscow district court on 29 August fined former Prosecutor- General Yuri Skuratov 5,000 rubles ($180) for statements in "Argumenty i fakty" that the court said were libelous against Mabatex firm head Behgjet Pacolli, Interfax reported. Skuratov's lawyers said they will appeal the ruling. PG

KRASNOYARSK PROSECUTORS PROTEST BYKOV'S RELEASE

Krasnyoarsk prosecutors have lodged a protest against the decision of the Krasnoyarsk city court to release businessman Anatolii Bykov from pre-trial detention, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. The prosecutors argued that the court violated judicial regulations in taking this step. PG

RUSSIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF NUCLEAR EXPLOSION

On the 51st anniversary of the Soviet Union's detonation of a nuclear device at Semipalatinsk, Academician Viktor Mikhail, the director of the Academy of Science Institute of Strategic Stability, said in an article in "Voennyi Parad" that nuclear weapons will remain a reliable instrument of ensuring global security into the future, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. "We increasingly clearly see military-political functions of nuclear weapons of the great nuclear powers as non- combat but 'political weapons,'" he added. PG

CIVILIAN SATELLITE PROGRAM IN TROUBLE

Russian space official Vladimir Umnikov told ITAR-TASS that 34 of Russia's 43 socio-economic and scientific satellites have used up their resources and will no longer be able to supply data unless new funds are found. If this situation continues, he said, Russia will lose its satellite capabilities in the areas of communications, weather forecasting, and natural resources and will be forced to turn to more expensive foreign sources for those services. PG

VODKA PRICES TO RISE BY END OF THE YEAR

National Alcohol Association President Pavel Shapkin told Prime- TASS on 29 August that the price of vodka is expected to rise by 10-15 percent before the end of 2000. Since January of this year, prices for vodka have already increased an average of 9 percent. PG

DRUG USE UP 25 PERCENT IN LAST YEAR

The number of Russians using illegal drugs increased by 25 percent over the past 12 months and now totals approximately 3 million, Viktor Shushakov, a deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's narcotics department, told ITAR-TASS on 29 August. He said that many of the drugs are being smuggled from Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, adding that young Russian are turning to drugs because of despair and limited career prospects. PG

TV BLACKOUT HAS MUSCOVITES TURNING TO PAPERS, VIDEOS, SATELLITE

Moscow residents have been buying more newspapers and videocassettes since television channels went off the air in the capital as a result of the Ostankino television tower fire, Interfax reported on 29 August. "Even such costly magazines as 'Cosmopolitan' have been bought up in the last few days, although demand for them has traditionally not been high," vendors said. Meanwhile, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 August that sales of satellite dishes have skyrocketed in the capital: on 28 August, the day after the fire broke out, the NTV Plus calling center received 400 times the average number of inquiries from residents interested in buying such equipment. PG/JC




MORE ACCOMPLICES OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SENTENCED

Following a year-long trial, 11 former Armenian Interior Ministry officers were sentenced on 29 August to jail terms ranging from five years to 15 years for murder, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prosecutors say that the men committed two murders on orders from Vano Siradeghian, who in the early 1990s was Armenian interior minister. Siradeghian was stripped of his parliamentary immunity last February to face those charges but disappeared in April and is believed to have fled abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February and 10 September 1999 and 7 April 2000). Nine men said to have also been members of Siradeghian's death squad were sentenced in July 2000. LF

ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI NEWSPAPER EDITOR CHARGED WITH 'TERRORISM'

Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," has been charged with illegal possession of a firearm, participation in a plane hijack, and terrorism, Turan reported on 29 August, citing "unofficial information" from an undisclosed source. Arifoglu was arrested on 22 August after police searched his apartment and found a pistol that he claims they planted there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). Numerous international human rights and journalists' organizations have written to the Azerbaijani authorities expressing concern at Arifoglu's detention. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said on 28 August that "Washington has urged the government of Azerbaijan to ensure that [Arifoglu's] rights are protected and that the investigation is held in full conformity with Azerbaijan's laws and international standards." Four members of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front (AHCP) detained on suspicion of involvement in the 18 August hijack were released on 26 August, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY BRINGS LAWSUIT AGAINST CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION

AHCP First Deputy Chairman Ali Kerimov has brought legal action against the Central Electoral Commission in response to that body's refusal to register the party to participate in the 5 November parliamentary elections, Turan reported. Responding to an oral request from Kerimov's opponents within the AHCP, the commission ruled that it will register the party only if its two rival factions overcome their differences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Kerimov claims that the refusal violates the election law. LF

ALLEGED ISLAMIC TERRORISTS ON TRIAL IN AZERBAIJAN

The trial has begun at Azerbaijan's Supreme Court of members of the Jeyshullah (soldiers of Allah) terrorist organization, Turan reported on 29 August. Identified as "radical Wahhabis," the organization's members are accused of a series of murders and of attacks on a Hare Krishna temple and the Baku office of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Jeyshullah is said to have been active in Azerbaijan since 1996. LF

RUSSIA, GEORGIA DISCUSS DEBT RESCHEDULING

During talks in Moscow with Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Georgian Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli reached agreement to continue negotiations on the rescheduling of Tbilisi's $179 million debt to Russia, Caucasus Press reported on 29 August. The IMF has insisted on Georgia's rescheduling its debts to both Russia and Turkmenistan, Reuters quoted Nogaideli as telling journalists in Tbilisi on 25 August before his departure for Moscow. Also on 29 August, Georgian Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava told Caucasus Press that he will travel to Moscow shortly for talks on restructuring Georgia's debts for Russian gas and electricity, which amount to $69 million and $46 million, respectively. LF

CZECH OWNERS TO PAY GEORGIAN EMPLOYEES' WAGE ARREARS

The Czech management of the Chiatura Manganese Plant, in western Georgia, reached agreement with the Georgian government on 29 August on a schedule for paying 800,000 lari ($410,000) in back wages to the plant's employees, Caucasus Press reported. The plant will also pay 100,000 lari to the state budget. The plant's employees staged protests earlier this month to protest mismanagement by the plant's new owners and to demand their unpaid wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2000). LF

KAZAKHSTAN FINALLY SIGNS TENGIZCHEVROIL SALE AGREEMENT

Kazakhstan's Deputy Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov and Nick Zana, managing director of Chevron Overseas Petroleum's Eurasia unit, have signed an agreement whereby Astana will sell to Chevron a 5 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 29 August. Kazakhstan previously held a 25 percent and Chevron a 45 percent stake in that undertaking. Chevron will pay $660 million for its additional share, $450 million in cash and the remainder in the form of funding for development programs in Kazakhstan. A debate has been under way within the Kazakh leadership for the past year over the advisability of selling all or part of Kazakhstan's share in Tengizchevroil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August and 29 November 1999 and 16 March 2000). Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said on 29 August that the sale will reduce Kazakhstan's vulnerability to market conditions, according to Interfax. LF

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY VISITS KAZAKHSTAN

Bill Richardson held talks in Astana on 29 August with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Toqaev on Caspian hydro-carbon extraction and on U.S. technical assistance in developing the port of Aqtau, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev reaffirmed his country's commitment to export oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2000). Richardson told journalists following his talks with Nazarbaev that Washington considers Kazakhstan "an important partner" not only in oil and gas extraction but also in trade and security. After meeting with Toqaev, Richardson said that the U.S. will help Kazakhstan create a rapid-response system in the event of oil spills in the Caspian. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SAYS BORDER SITUATION DETERIORATING

General Bolot Djanuzakov, who is secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, told journalists in Bishkek on 29 August that the situation on Kyrgyzstan's southern border with Tajikistan worsened over the previous two days, Interfax reported. He said Kyrgyz government forces repelled an attempt by some 70 fighters, presumably from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), to cross into Kyrgyzstan during the night of 27-28 August. Two groups of some 50 fighters each who attacked Kyrgyz border posts near the Yangi-Daban pass and the Abramov glacier during the night of 28-29 August were also driven back, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The Kyrgyz forces suffered no casualties in that operation. Djanuzakov added that Kyrgyz and Uzbek troops have fully blocked the border between Kyrgyzstan's Djalalabad Oblast and the Tashkent Oblast of Uzbekistan and have killed nine Islamist fighters, according to ITAR-TASS. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in a telephone conversation with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on 29 August. Also on 29 August, a spokesman for the Russian Border Guard contingent in Tajikistan told Interfax that the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border has deteriorated. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN RULE OUT TALKS WITH 'TERRORISTS'...

Djanuzakov told journalists on 29 August that the Kyrgyz government will not embark on negotiations with the IMU fighters, Russian agencies reported. "No dialogue can be maintained with gangs who attempt to break into Kyrgyzstan by means of military operations since they are criminals against humanity," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. He described the fighters as "common criminals rather than representatives of the Uzbek armed opposition." In Tashkent, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov similarly ruled out talks with IMU leaders Djuma Namangani and Takhir Yuldashev, branding them "bandits" and "terrorists." Karimov rejected an offer by Said Abdullo Nuri, leader of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party to mediate between the Uzbek government and the IMU, Interfax reported. Karimov said Nuri's offer shows that "he is guiding and assisting the terrorists and that he is not a politician but a puppet in the hands of international centers." LF

...ACCUSE TAJIKISTAN

Djanuzakov told journalists on 29 August that all the groups of fighters with whom Kyrgyz government forces have clashed over the past month entered Kyrgyz territory from Tajikistan and retreated into that country after being repelled, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He cast doubt on Tajik officials' claims that Dushanbe is taking unspecified "special measures" against the militants. Djanuzakov had earlier criticized Dushanbe's refusal to allow Kyrgyz and Uzbek forces to pursue the retreating militants onto its territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2000) Tajik Security Council Deputy Secretary Nuralisho Nazarov on 29 August accused Kyrgyz officials of disinformation, saying that the militants have a base on Kyrgyz territory near the village of Zardaly in Batken Oblast. He said that Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov is currently in eastern Tajikistan and that there are no rebel bases there. President Karimov on 29 August also lashed out at Dushanbe, accusing the Tajik leadership of connivance with the Islamists. Karimov said Tajik denials that the IMU has bases in Djirgatal, Tavildara, and Garm are "unserious." LF

UZBEKISTAN DENIES REQUESTING RUSSIAN MILITARY HELP

ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 29 August quoted unnamed "military-diplomatic sources" in Moscow as saying that Uzbekistan has addressed an official request to the Russian leadership for military assistance to combat the IMU threat. Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the International Military Cooperation Department within the Russian Defense Ministry, told Interfax the same day that Tashkent had asked for a small amount of a specific type of military hardware. He did not elaborate. Ivashov added that there is "no question" of sending either Russian troops or military experts to Uzbekistan. During Russian-Uzbek talks at deputy foreign minister level in Moscow on 28 August, a Russian official said Russia is ready "to provide the necessary assistance to Uzbekistan and other members of the Commonwealth in their struggle against the subversive activities of extremists," Interfax reported, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. LF

GERMANY ALLOCATES DROUGHT RELIEF AID TO TAJIKISTAN

The German government has allocated 1.35 million German marks ($600,000) to purchase flour, vegetable oil, and other emergency food supplies for those members of the Tajik population hardest hit by this summer's drought, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. UN agencies last month estimated that half of Tajikistan's 6 million population is threatened by hunger, but Economy and Foreign Relations Minister Yahyo Azimov dismissed that figure, saying "there will be no famine" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July and 4 August 2000). LF

TURKMENISTAN, IRAN ASPIRE TO 'SPECIAL RELATIONS'

Former Turkmen Foreign Minister and currently presidential special envoy Boris Shikhmuradov travelled on 27 August to Tehran where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to Caucasus Press-Caspian and "Vremya novostei" of 29 August. In a joint statement, the two men affirmed their countries' shared aspirations to build "special relations" and to broaden cooperation, particularly in the Caspian. According to "Vremya novostei," Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov sent a personal message to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Khatami, expressing support for Iran's proposal to divide the Caspian Sea into five equal national sectors. The three other littoral states--Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan--advocate leaving the present demarcation lines in force. Shikhmuradov also endorsed Iran's proposals for ending the civil war in Afghanistan. LF




INTERNATIONAL NGO TO MONITOR BELARUSIAN BALLOT

Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR), told journalists in Minsk on 29 August that his organization will monitor the 15 October elections to the Chamber of Representatives, Belapan reported. The IHFHR will conduct its monitoring, which is part of an EU-sponsored project in Belarus, in cooperation with the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. Rhodes said he does not expect the IHFHR's monitoring to influence the international community's decision on whether to recognize the newly elected legislature. He noted that the Belarusian government has created conditions for possible election frauds, especially during the so-called early voting procedure. According to Rhodes, only 4 percent of the country's electoral commission members are not associated with the government. JM

UKRAINE TO QUIZ MOSCOW ABOUT SOVIET-ERA ROCKET FUEL SPILLS

President Leonid Kuchma on 29 August visited the area in Mykolayiv Oblast where more than 400 people have succumbed to an illness blamed on Soviet-era rocket fuel, Interfax reported. Kuchma said he will ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to help obtain information from Russia's Defense Ministry about possible rocket fuel discharges from missile bases during the Soviet era. Ukraine's Defense Ministry asserts that there have been no accidents at the missile launching sites in the affected area since 1978. "We will declare this region an area of environmental emergency [and] conduct a comprehensive analysis of all the sites where missiles were based in the Soviet era," Kuchma pledged. However, he said he is not convinced that the poisoning was caused by rocket fuel waste, adding that the cause might have been a "complex" one. JM

UKRAINIAN PENSIONERS DEMAND OFFICIAL STATUS FOR RUSSIAN, CHEAP UTILITIES

Some 6,000 pensioners marched in Donetsk on 29 August to demand that the local authorities grant official status to the Russian language in their heavily industrialized and mainly Russian-speaking region, Interfax reported. The pensioners also demanded that the prices for utilities, housing, and bread be lowered. According to Hryhoriy Samoylyk, leader of the Donetsk branch of the Socialist Party, the oblast population owed 851 million hryvni ($156 million) in utility payments as of 1 July, while wage arrears in the oblast stood at 800 million hryvni. The same day, the Donetsk Oblast Council refused to put the pensioners' demands on its agenda, prompting the demonstrators to announce they will stage another protest on 12 September. JM

ICELANDIC PREMIER STRESSES NATO SUPPORT FOR ESTONIA

David Oddsson, who is on a three-day visit to Estonia, said on 29 August that Iceland supports Estonia's membership in NATO and that the historic opportunity to enlarge the alliance should not be wasted, ETA reported. Oddsson, who attended the meeting of Nordic and Baltic premiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000), said that though Iceland is small and plays a smaller role in NATO affairs than other members of the alliance, it can speak through its vote. During a meeting with Oddsson, President Lennart Meri expressed interest in learning from Iceland's experience in creating a national genetic database. Estonia is planning to set up its own such database. MH

DID VOTING MISTAKE LEAD TO ESTONIAN MILITARY HEAD'S DISMISSAL?

An apparent voting mistake by deputy Tonu Kauba of the opposition Center Party resulted in the dismissal of Lieutenant General Johannes Kert from the post of armed forces commander, ETA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Kauba was apparently playing with the electronic voting system when his erroneous "for" vote was registered, despite his party's strong opposition to the dismissal. Votes can be challenged only during the sessions at which they are cast. The Center Party faction the next day voted to expel Kauba. "I'm extremely upset that I let my colleagues down," Kauba told BNS. In other news, on 29 August another extraordinary session of the parliament had be canceled owing to the lack of a quorum. Several governing coalition members failed to appear to discuss important acts related to EU integration. MH

CONTROVERSIAL LATVIAN DEPUTY TO KEEP IMMUNITY?

The parliamentary Legal Committee on 29 August failed to support a motion to lift the parliamentary immunity of controversial lawmaker Janis Adamsons, LETA reported. After testimony from prosecutors, the committee voted against the motion by two to six with one abstention. The same day, the parliament's Mandate and Submissions Committee voted by two to four against lifting the immunity of Adamsons. The committees' votes are non-binding, as the motion must still be submitted for a full parliamentary vote. The vote in the legislature could be close since most parties have already declared how they intend to vote on the issue, although the coalition For Fatherland and Freedom party may tip the balance. Adamsons is accused by prosecutors of libel for linking several high government officials--including then Premier Andris Skele-- with a pedophilia scandal. The full parliamentary vote is due on 7 September. MH

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT OVERTURNS, UPHOLDS SOME PRESIDENTIAL VETOES

Lawmakers on 29 August tackled several bills vetoed by President Valdas Adamkus earlier this summer. The parliament voted to overturn the veto on changes to the wage system for civil servants, politicians and judges but failed to defeat a veto on a controversial media law that would create a media inspectorate, ELTA reported. A law on the use of polygraphs was approved after amendments proposed by the president were included. The parliament also passed a law on the status of the Klaipeda Port area after Adamkus and parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis had reached a compromise earlier the same day. MH

SOLIDARITY CELEBRATES 20TH BIRTHDAY...

"Nobody has the sole rights to what happened 20 years ago--it was a joint effort by many people," former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said in Gdansk on 29 August, opening three days of festivities to mark Solidarity's birthday. Walesa noted that the developments gained such speed "that we did not manage to express due thanks to all who deserved it." "Thus I say thank you 20 years later, to all those who contributed," Walesa said, standing on an electrical cart, as he had done in the 1980s. The celebrations' organizers reconstructed a communist state-run grocery inside the Gdansk shipyard, with shelves as bare as under communism. And a water cannon and an armored personnel carrier were on display to recall how special police forces suppressed the street protests in the 1980s. JM

...WHILE WALESA CALLS FOR WESTERN AID TO POST-COMMUNIST COUNTRIES

Later the same day, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek opened a conference attended by a number of European prime ministers, leaders of the European People's Party, Solidarity figures, and historians to discuss the role of international solidarity in European integration. Speaking at the conference, Walesa urged the West to create a new assistance program for the post-communist countries that would be similar to the post-war Marshall Plan. "This is the only way to ensure controlled development and progress," he said, mentioning Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine as countries that urgently require help. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT APOLOGISES FOR 'UNFORTUNATE' REMARK ON SOLIDARITY

Aleksander Kwasniewski has apologized to everyone who might have felt hurt by his "unfortunate" statement on the motives for joining Solidarity after August 1980, PAP reported on 29 August. When asked during an interview on Radio Gdansk the previous day why he had not joined Solidarity in 1980, Kwasniewski replied that he had been deterred from doing so by "the terrible sheep-like rush [to join], which began as soon as September [1980]." "In such situations, I usually keep my distance," Kwasniewski added. Kwasniewski, who is identified by many with the former communist regime, was not invited to attend the celebrations of Solidarity's 20th anniversary. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER RELEASED FROM JAIL

The regional court in Gorzow Wielkopolski, western Poland, has released radical farmers' leader and presidential candidate Andrzej Lepper from jail after his campaign staff lodged an appeal and pledged that Lepper will abide by the law. Lepper was arrested last week for repeatedly refusing to appear in court over a blockade he organized at a border crossing in 1999. Another radical farmers' leader, Marian Zagorny, who is serving a 15-month sentence for dumping imported grain on rail tracks, began a hunger strike on 29 August after a court rejected an appeal to free him on health grounds. JM

AUSTRIA TO LINK TEMELIN WITH CZECH EU MEMBERSHIP...

The Austrian cabinet said on 29 August that the Czech Republic's EU entry talks should be linked to the safety of the Temelin nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia, CTK reported, citing the Austrian news agency ATA. Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said that if safety and environmental standards are not met by Temelin, then Austria will not agree to the closing of the "energy chapter" in the Czech Republic's EU enlargement talks. Austria is nuclear-free and has long protested the construction of Temelin, which is to become operational in several weeks. The Czech Republic says the plant meets all European safety and environmental standards. A Temelin spokesman, Milan Nebesar, accused Austrian critics of engaging in an "hysterical and demagogic campaign" against the plant. He said unlike Germany's "correct stance" on the issue, Austrian concerns are based on "half-truths or downright lies." PB

...AS CZECH POLITICIANS LAMBASTE SCHUESSEL

Vaclav Klaus, the chairman of the Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies, called Schuessel's statement an "absolute scandal," CTK reported on 29 August. Klaus said the Czech government is "behaving in a very normal way with regard to Temelin." Czech President Vaclav Havel said the operation of Temelin must not be linked to EU expansion. He said Schuessel's statement is a misunderstanding because "the EU has no contract that nuclear power stations may not be built," adding that most EU countries use nuclear power. Havel said he will speak with Austrian President Thomas Klestil by phone about the issue on 30 August. The Czech Foreign Ministry declined to comment, but Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said he is not worried by Austria's demand because Temelin meets EU environmental requirements and safety standards. PB

WANTED SLOVAK BUSINESSMAN RETURNS FROM ABROAD

Vladimir Poor, a leading member of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia who fled the country amid charges of fraud and corruption, returned to Bratislava and was arrested on 28 August, CTK reported. Poor returned just as an international warrant for his arrest was being prepared. He was released by police after several hours of questioning. He told TV Markiza that he is "innocent and all accusations can be easily refuted." Poor and some business partners bought a large stake in the lucrative Nafta Gbely gas company in 1996. He and two others are alleged to have made false contracts and defrauded Nafta Gbely of some 285 million crowns ($6 million). PB

SLOVAKIA'S ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY OUTLINES DEMAND FOR OWN REGION

The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) said on 28 August that it is not requesting that a 13th region be set up in southern Slovakia, where most of the ethnic Hungarian population lives, CTK reported. SMK chairman Bela Bugar said the party wants the region to be created within "the framework of the planned territorial division." He said the SMK proposes that a self-governing region made up of the Dunajska, Streda, Komarno, Sala, Nove Zamky, Levice, and Galanta districts be formed. He declined to say which two of Slovakia's 12 regions would merge so that the total number of regions remains the same. SMK Deputy Chairman Jozsef Kvarda said several weeks ago that a 13th region formed from the districts inhabited mainly by ethnic Hungarians should be created. PB

HUNGARIAN OIL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SAYS HE HAS MORE EVIDENCE

Laszlo Pallag, the chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating illegal oil deals among government officials, on 29 August contradicted his statement the previous day that he has no more evidence on politicians' involvement in those deals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Pallag told Hungarian TV that he still has information that could prove the involvement of former police chief and current Interior Minister Sandor Pinter. In related news, the parliament has postponed a decision to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Pallag, whom Pinter and Democratic Forum chairman Sandor Lezsak have sued for slander. MSZ

HUNGARIAN INTELLECTUALS SUPPORT ZAMOLY ROMA

Ten Hungarian intellectuals, including film director Miklos Jancso, philosopher Miklos Tamas Gaspar, and Roma Civil Rights Foundation President Aladar Horvath have addressed a letter to the French government requesting political asylum for the 43 Roma from Zamoly currently in Strasbourg. Citing the ideals of "equality, liberty, and fraternity," the signatories vowed to act as witnesses in supporting the group's claim that it is racially persecuted in Hungary, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 30 August. MSZ




OPPOSITION CAMPAIGNS IN SERBIAN HEARTLAND

Some 10,000 people turned out in Cacak on 29 August to support Serbian opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica and leaders of the G-17 group of independent economists. The politicians presented to the voters both their election program and a "White Book" outlining the record of the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. After the meeting, police briefly detained several opposition supporters. On 30 August, Kostunica is slated to hold a rally in Pozarevac, which is the home and power base of the Milosevic family. The opposition will officially launch its campaign on 1 September with a convention of 15 parties in Belgrade's Sava Center. PM

HEIR TO SERBIAN THRONE CALLS FOR 'VOTES FOR CHANGE'

Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic said in a statement from his London office on 29 August that it is the patriotic duty of all Serbs to vote for the united opposition's Yugoslav presidential candidate--by which he meant Kostunica--in the 24 September Yugoslav and Serbian elections. Aleksandar noted that the royal family does not take an active role in politics, but he stressed that the united opposition offers the best hope for needed change. He regretted that the Montenegrin authorities plan to boycott the elections. The elections will affect the future of Montenegro as well as that of Serbia and Kosova, Aleksandar said. PM

DRASKOVIC: STAMBOLIC KIDNAPPED TO KEEP HIM OUT OF YUGOSLAV ELECTIONS

Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic said in Nis on 29 August that former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic was kidnapped recently to prevent him from running in the presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Draskovic stressed that the Milosevic regime fears that the entry of new candidates into the presidential race will diminish Milosevic's chances of winning. In recent days, SPO supporters have collected some 25,000 signatures to place Stambolic on the ballot as the candidate of an independent citizens' initiative, "Vesti" reported on 30 August. PM

MONTENEGRIN EX-LEADER: STAMBOLIC MAY NO LONGER BE ALIVE

Momcilo Cemovic, who heads the Montenegrin Monetary Council and is a former prime minister and federal Yugoslav cabinet member, said in Berane on 29 August that he fears Stambolic may no longer be alive. Cemovic added that Stambolic deserves the respect of all Montenegrins, Montena-fax reported. Cemovic argued that those who kidnapped Stambolic want to eliminate one of Serbia's most capable politicians from the political scene. In Belgrade, the private daily "Danas" noted on 30 August that the police have yet to release any findings from their investigation into the Stambolic case. The regime daily "Politika" reported that the police are intensifying their efforts to solve the mystery of Stambolic's disappearance. PM

MONTENEGRIN GENERAL: MONTENEGRO TO AVOID WAR

General Radosav Martinovic told AP in Podgorica on 29 August that the people of Montenegro have learned from Milosevic's wars over the past 10 years the importance of preserving peace. "After these bitter lessons,...I am convinced we will resist all provocations that could lead to another Balkan abyss," Martinovic added. PM

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS KOSOVARS

Joschka Fischer told a news conference in Prishtina on 29 August that recent violence against Serbian children must stop. The violence is "unacceptable and it must be condemned in the strongest way by all political parties," Reuters quoted him as saying. Fischer added: "It's a political issue, how the majority deals with minorities." He said that he had been unable to meet with local Serbian leaders "for security reasons," AP reported. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT SAYS LEVAR'S KILLERS FEARED TESTIMONY

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Gospic on 29 August that those who killed war crimes witness Milan Levar are those who feared his testimony, "Novi List" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). Croatian police experts meanwhile confirmed that the explosion that killed Levar was cause by a bomb. PM

TWO MORE CROATIAN SOCCER CHIEFS ARRESTED

Police have arrested two former top officials of the Hajduk-Split soccer club, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 29 August. Zeljko Kovacevic and Petar Reic are two of several people from Croatian sports charged in recent months with misusing their positions and embezzling money under the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

MORE REVELATIONS IN CROATIA ON AHMICI CRIMES

Paul Risley, who is a spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said that five Croats implicated in the 1993 atrocities in the Bosnian village of Ahmici will most likely stand trial in Croatia, "Jutarnji list" reported on 30 August. Risley was commenting on recent reports in the Croatian press that the Interior Ministry has compiled sufficient evidence to prosecute the men, whom Croatian police have suspected since 1995 of complicity in the massacres of Muslims. The government received a police report on Ahmici on 21 August, "Novi List" reported. The document allegedly contains "state secrets" and has not been made public. The Rijeka daily added that the report is likely to show that the persons responsible for the crimes were top-level Croatian political leaders and not General Tihomir Blaskic, who is on trial in The Hague. PM

BOSNIAN KINGPIN TO STAND TRIAL IN CROATIA?

The Sarajevo daily "Avaz" reported on 30 August that it has learned that Croatian authorities will try Fikret Abdic for war crimes. It is not clear when proceedings will begin against the former kingpin of the Bihac pocket in northwestern Bosnia. The Sarajevo government previously indicted Abdic for war crimes and wants Croatia to extradite him. Croatian law forbids extradition, but the new Croatian government is reportedly willing to put him on trial itself. Abdic gained fame as a businessman, convicted criminal, successful politician, and folk hero who broke with the Muslim leadership of Alija Izetbegovic soon after the outbreak of the war in 1992. The Sarajevo authorities then charged that he collaborated with Serbian and Croatian forces alike. After the 1992-1995 conflict, Abdic found refuge in Croatia, where he is believed to have enjoyed special protection from Tudjman. PM

BOSNIAN CROAT POLITICAN APPEALS ON BEHALF OF POSAVINA CROATS

Kresimir Zubak, who heads the moderate New Croatian Initiative (NHI), told "Avaz" of 30 August that he recently told President Mesic that the new Croatian government has done no more for the Croats of the Posavina region of northern Bosnia than the Tudjman government did. Zubak added that for the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina, there does not appear to be much difference between the new Croatian government and its predecessor. Observers note that Zubak, who is a Bosnian Croat from the Doboj region, may be seeking votes in the 11 November elections from people of Posavina. Many Croats suspect that Tudjman gave up control over Posavina, which lies across the Sava River from Croatia, as part of a secret deal with Bosnian Serb leaders. Few Posavina Croats have been able to return to their pre-war homes, which they are entitled to do under the 1995 Dayton agreement. PM

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS WITHDRAW SUPPORT FOR FINANCE MINISTER

The Central Standing Bureau of the National Liberal Party (PNL) on 29 August withdrew its support for Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes, Romanian media reported. The move came after Remes had refused last week to accept a PNL extraordinary congress decision endorsing Theodor Stolojan as the party's presidential candidate. The minister and other PNL dissidents subsequently declared support for Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu's presidential candidacy. Isarescu on 29 August answered a PNL request to distance himself from Remes's support by saying he will maintain his political independence. This way, he argued, he will be able to preserve "the cabinet's cohesion and efficiency." Isarescu refused to dismiss Remes on political grounds (see also "End Note" below). ZsM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ISSUES DECREE ON LAND RESTITUTION LAW

The Romanian government on 29 August issued an urgent ordinance on the land restitution law, adopted in July 1999, "Ziua" reported. The decree set 31 December 2001 as the deadline for land restitution. Only 10,000 hectares of land have been returned to former owners so far, while another 300,000 or so hectares remain to be returned. The Agricultural Ministry predicts that by the end of next year, a total of some 800,000 hectares confiscated by the communist regime will have been returned to their owners. ZsM

CABINET RESHUFFLE IN TRANSDNIESTER

Igor Smirnov, the leader of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, announced on 28 August that a new government has been formed, Infotag reported. Absent from the new cabinet are Finance Minister Sergei Gradinari, Economy Minister Anna Kirova, Minister of Industry and Energy Yurii Ganin, and Deputy Premier Pavel Tsymai. The next day, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry sent a letter to all foreign embassies in Chisinau requesting that they do not take part "in any way" in the upcoming celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the "Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic." A delegation from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic plans to attend those celebrations, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 August. PB/LF

BULGARIA REMINDS MOSCOW THAT WARSAW PACT WAS DISBANDED

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry rejected Russian charges that the expulsion of four Russian businessmen was politically motivated, BTA reported on 28 August. The Russian Foreign Ministry had said that the reasons for the expulsions were political (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 29 August 2000) and that if the four were involved in illegal business dealings, then Bulgaria should have informed Russia. The ministry in Sofia replied that: "We find it necessary to recall that the Warsaw Pact does not exist. Bulgaria...has put an end to the practice of sharing its national security considerations with other states." PB




ROMANIA'S LIBERAL PARTY SEEKS TO STAY IN POWER AT ALL COSTS


By Zsolt-Istvan Mato

The National Liberal Party (PNL) is "the only party that can reform the Romanian political system," PNL First Deputy Chairman and Romanian Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica said recently. Indeed, his party seems to be up and coming at the moment.

But during the last few months, the activities of PNL leaders have been described using such contradictory attributes as "political pragmatism" and "immorality," "flexibility" and "inconsistency." And when announcing last month that he will not run for a second term, President Emil Constantinescu was alluding to the actions of the PNL when he denounced the "blind struggle for personal or group interests."

In some respects, the PNL's evolution since its rebirth in 1990 is quite remarkable. Marked by bitter infighting and dissension, the liberal movement initially failed to unite and in the 1992 general elections scored less than the 3 percent threshold required to gain parliamentary representation. By 1996, however, the party had largely achieved internal unity and, in alliance with the National Liberal Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) within the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), won the ballot and became the main partner in the government coalition. After 1998, as the CDR's popularity waned and the PNL's public image improved, the Liberals asked for equal representation within the CDR leadership and on its parliamentary election lists. When the PNTCD refused to give up its positions in power, the PNL explored other possibilities.

The PNL's first important move was to run on separate lists for the June 2000 local elections. Gaining slightly better results than the fragmented CDR, the Liberals believed they would be better off without their former allies and began to look for new ones. With opinion polls showing that Constantinescu had little chance of beating Ion Iliescu in the presidential race, the PNL declined to continue backing the incumbent.

The PNL's first priority was to counter the influence of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), which opinion polls say has about 45 percent backing. Stoica announced the objective of creating a "social-liberal" political force to secure a large faction in parliament. Significantly, the PNL did not rule out a post-election alliance with the PDSR, with which it had cooperated in 1991- 1992 under Theodor Stolojan's premiership. But Stoica first turned to former PDSR Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu's Alliance for Romania party (APR) at the suggestion of the Social-Liberal Initiative (ISL), a group that formerly had close ties with the PDSR.

Perceived as a good technocrat, Stolojan is credited with enjoying great trust among the electorate and is seen as the "miracle solution" for "saving the country" from its economic troubles. This is one of the main reasons why Stoica chose him as the PNL candidate for president. Negotiations with the APR went well, and the press spoke of a Melescanu- Stolojan partnership--the first as presidential and the second as prime ministerial candidate. However, not everyone in the PNL was happy about cultivating close relations with the APR, and PNL National Council Chairman Nicolae Manolescu resigned from the party. Moreover, it became obvious that the party rank-and-file would not accept Melescanu as their presidential candidate. As the ratings of the APR and Melescanu began to drop, the PNL turned away from the APR, too, and decided to run on a separate list for the November parliamentary elections, supporting Stolojan as its presidential candidate.

Although many questioned both the alliance and the PNL's electoral strategy, the party's 18 August extraordinary congress demonstrated unity and strength. Delegates almost unanimously endorsed Stolojan's candidacy, and they also approved Stoica's strategy and named him campaign manager. Ultimately, the congress confirmed the tendencies within the party in recent months: the so-called Stoica group retained complete control over the party rank-and-file and its agenda. Some even commented that "party democracy" had been replaced with "democratic centralism." Stoica has been setting party priorities for a while, but he saw his position strengthened after the congress and is now considered the real leader of the PNL.

But there was also strong opposition to these developments, above all from Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes. A few days after the congress, Remes and several other top PNL members said that by endorsing Stolojan, Stoica and his group had driven the party toward "the communist left." The dissenters set up an initiative group aimed at restoring the "true" PNL and declared their support for Isarescu in the presidential contest. It is still unclear how this group will affect the party, but it seems Stoica will keep the party from disintegrating.

Most important for the PNL is that it has severed ties with the past and changed its principles. Strong survival instincts and the will to regain power prevail --irrespective of which party the PNL needs to form an alliance. However, the PNL's actions suggest Stoica has little chance to realize his grand project of reforming Romania's political system. Until now, he has succeeded only in reforming the party's values--a move that will have short-term results. But in the long run, the Liberals may well leave pragmatism and flexibility behind and return to the stance of the "old" PNL. The author is a free-lance journalist in Cluj, Romania.


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