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Newsline - October 11, 2000




IVANOV CONTINUES MID-EAST DIPLOMACY

Following brief visits to Syria and Lebanon earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000), Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spent 10 October in Israel, where he had a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and separate talks with Israel's President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and acting Foreign Minister Ben-Ami Shlomo aimed at resolving the Israel-Palestinian stand-off. Very few details of those meetings have been revealed. Speaking in Tel Aviv after his talks with the Israeli foreign minister, Ivanov urged "all parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to show a high degree of responsibility," Interfax reported. Later he told ITAR-TASS that some progress was achieved in his 10 October meetings and that "the position of rejection is being replaced by dialogue." The same agency reported that Ivanov may meet with Barak again on 11 October and then proceed to Damascus. Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. JC

MOSCOW WANTS MORE EU, UN ACTION TO ASSIST YUGOSLAVIA

Unidentified Russian diplomatic sources told Interfax on 10 October that the EU's decision to lift various sanctions against Yugoslavia should be followed up by "more significant steps." The sources said that the end of bans on oil sales to Yugoslavia as well as on flights by Belgrade's JAT airlines to Western Europe is a "step forward toward bringing Yugoslavia out of its isolation," but the EU should not limit itself to this. "Serious economic assistance, including in the context of reimbursing the country for damage resulting from NATO bombing," should be forthcoming, they added. The same sources noted that Russia intends to urge the UN Security Council to lift its arms embargo on Yugoslavia. JC

SEOUL PRAISES RUSSIA'S ROLE IN IMPROVED TIES WITH PYONGYANG

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Han-dong, speaking in Moscow on 10 October after talks with Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov, praised Moscow for the role it played in helping to improve ties between North and South Korea. In particular, Lee pointed to Russia's cooperation with the U.S., Japan, and China in paving the way for the summit meeting between the North and South Korean leaders earlier this year. Kasyanov, for his part, stressed Moscow's readiness to contribute to the Korean rapprochement in both the political and economic spheres. He said that Russia is prepared to modernize industrial complexes that South Korea built with the help of the Soviet Union and to restore rail links between the North and South. The two premier also discussed establishing a joint industrial zone in Nakhodka, Primorskii Krai. JC

FINANCE MINISTER RULES OUT REPETITION OF AUGUST 1998 CRISIS...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 10 October that another crisis like that experienced in August 1998 is now impossible because the main cause of economic instability--the budget deficit--has been overcome, Interfax reported. Last week, the State Duma passed in the first reading the draft 2001 budget, which projects equal levels of spending and revenue. Meanwhile, Russian agencies reported the same day that a new IMF mission will arrive in Russia on 7 November. JAC

...TALKS DOWN THE RUBLE...

Also on 10 October, Kudrin told a meeting of the Finance and Tax Ministries that the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank are working together to slow the ruble's rise. He explained that the government would not like to see the ruble "become stronger, as such strength reduced the competitiveness of Russian goods." Lately, the ruble has been trading at a rate of almost 28 rubles to the dollar. State Duma Budget Committee Chairman (Russian Regions) Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters that if the Central Bank had not been buying foreign currency in such large amounts, the ruble rate would be around 20-25 to the dollar. JAC

...SEEKS TO PROVIDE ASSURANCES ON CENTRAL BANK'S INDEPENDENCE

In comments to reporters on 10 October, Kudrin insisted that the amendments to the Law on the Central Bank recently submitted to the Duma would not change the bank's status: "They only specify provisions dealing with the Central Bank's federal owned property," he said. "This cannot be viewed as a change in the status of the Central Bank." Some central newspapers reported earlier that the proposed amendments would transform the Central Bank into a state enterprise and radically diminish its independent status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2000). JAC

ANOTHER FEDERAL CREDITOR PUTS PRESSURE ON MEDIA-MOST

Finance Minister Kudrin told reporters on 10 October that the Finance Ministry has financial claims against Media-MOST, the first tranche of which is worth $140 million. The same day, Vneshekonombank, acting on behalf of the Finance Ministry, filed a lawsuit in a Moscow court to recover some $30.8 million in debt from the media holding's satellite venture, Bonum-1, Interfax reported. According to the bank, as of 18 January, Bonum-1 stopped making payments on four separate loans. Last week, an unnamed source at Sberbank told Interfax that the bank was considering opting out of a credit agreement with Media-MOST and would demand immediate payment of a more than $100 million loan to the company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000). JAC

RUSSIAN PHYSICIST WINS NOBEL PRIZE

Zhores Alferov, State Duma deputy (Communist) and vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on 10 October, along with two U.S. scientists. The three scientists won the prize for their pioneering work in developing semi-conductors for use in satellite communications and cellular phones. Alferov is the first Russian to win a Nobel Prize since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Alferov, 70, heads the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute in St. Petersburg. He said that he will give part of his prize money to the Scientific and Educational Center at the institute, but "most of it...will be taken care of by my wife." JAC

NEW LEGISLATION ON POLITICAL PARTIES TO REQUIRE 10,000-MEMBER MINIMUM

In an interview with "Segodnya" on 10 October, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov provided some details about his commission's draft legislation on political parties. According to Veshnyakov, the bill requires that in order to be registered parties must have at least 10,000 members nationwide, with no less than 200 members in each region. In addition, parties will have to present an annual financial report detailing the amount they have received from donors as well as provide auditors the opportunity to check their financial activities. Under the bill, parties would receive financial assistance from the federal budget based on the number of votes they poll. Veshnyakov added that he does not think it is necessary to raise the barrier of 5 percent of the national vote for parties to enter the State Duma, as has been suggested by some parties, including Unity. At a press conference the previous day, Veshnyakov said the bill will be submitted to the Duma before the end of 2000. JAC

DUMA TO REMAIN IN SESSION A BIT LONGER

Members of the Duma Council have called for prolonging the lower legislative house's current session to 29 October, ITAR-TASS reported. The session was scheduled to end on 20 October. In a schedule of the Duma's planned activities published in "Kommersant-Daily" last August, the Duma was supposed to have discussed the Land Code and the Law on the Constitutional Assembly in their first readings before the end of October; however, those pieces of legislation have not yet been considered. In comments to reporters in Boston on 7 October, Minister for Economic Trade and Development German Gref revealed that the government has not yet decided how it wants to proceed with land reform legislation. JAC

AUTOWORKERS STAGE LIMITED STRIKE

An unspecified number of workers staged a strike on 10 October that shut down the main metal press at AvtoVAZ's central plant in Togliatti, Samara Oblast, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. The strike was organized by an AvtoVAZ workers' union called Unity, which has some 3,500 members, but the action was opposed by the larger union at the plant, which represents all of AvtoVAZ's 120,000 employees. The striking workers were protesting a restructuring plan, which has lead to declining profits and fears that workers will lose their "social guarantees," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 October. The daily also noted that the strike coincided with General Motor's Board of Directors' consideration of a joint venture with AvtoVAZ. JAC

SMALL BUSINESSES MORE ABUNDANT IN CENTRAL RUSSIA?

As of 1 January 2000, Russia had 890,500 small businesses employing 6.5 million people on a permanent basis, Anti-Monopoly Deputy Minister Andrei Tsyganov told the State Duma on 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Tsyganov, small enterprises contributed 6.2 percent of the country's output last year and produced 423.4 billion rubles ($15.2 billion) in goods and services. More than 70 percent of small businesses are located in the European part of Russia, with one out of every five in Moscow. JAC

RADIOACTIVE CARGO SPILLS INTO FAR EASTERN RIVER

A barge carrying a 3 ton container of radioactive materials sank in the Amur River in Khabarovsk Krai, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 October. According to the agency, the barge capsized because of "cargo displacement," but the container with the radioactive material was damaged in the accident. An Emergencies Ministry official said that preparations are being made to bring the barge back to the surface. JAC

BOLSHOI TO CLOSE FOR RECONSTRUCTION IN FALL 2002

Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi announced on 10 October that the Bolshoi Theater will close for reconstruction in September 2002, Interfax reported. The renovation of the 19th century theater, whose foundations are sagging and which urgently requires rewiring, among other things, has long been postponed owing to a lack of funding. Some six weeks ago, President Putin imposed direct government control over the Bolshoi and at the same time pledged more funding for the theater's reconstruction (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2000). Shvydkoi said that the construction of an annex to serve as a substitute stage during the theater's renovation will be completed by March 2002. JC




CIS CUSTOMS UNION STATES CREATE NEW EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION...

The presidents of the five member states of the CIS Customs Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) signed a treaty in Astana on 10 October establishing a new Eurasian Economic Union on the basis of the Customs Union, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). Unlike its predecessor, the Eurasian Economic Union will be registered with the UN as an international organization, which means that its decisions are binding on all participants and take precedence over international law, according to "Vedomosti" on 11 October. Those decisions will be reached by a two-thirds majority vote: Russia will have 40 percent of the vote, Kazakhstan and Belarus 20 percent, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 10 percent. Russian Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko predicted that the new Eurasian Economic Union might achieve a common currency in fewer than the 30 years it took the EEC, on which the new union is modeled, to do so. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new union will not be an exclusively economic body but will have "social and humanitarian" aspects that he hopes will bring "positive results for the people." Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev had outlined such measures, entitled "Ten Simple Steps Towards Ordinary People," in January 1998. LF

...APPROVE ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING PROGRAM

The five presidents also approved the broad outlines of a five-year program for restructuring their respective economies, promoting macro-economic stabilization, improving the investment climate, and ensuring adequate food supplies for their populations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 October. They further pledged to strengthen controls on their borders, according to Nazarbaev. LF

BUDGET CUTS IN ARMENIA INEVITABLE?

Minister for State Revenues Gagik Poghosian told journalists in Yerevan on 10 October that taxes collected so far this year amount to only 60 percent of the planned total of 202 billion drams ($380 million), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said that shortfall may necessitate spending cuts but added that such cuts would primarily involve government procurements and would therefore not affect government sector employees. LF

ARMENIAN METRO DRIVERS STRIKE OVER PAY ARREARS

Some 70 metro drivers in Yerevan staged a strike on 10 October to protest nonpayment of their salaries over the past four months, Noyan Tapan reported. Metro Director Tigran Musheghian blamed the arrears on underfinancing from the state budget. The drivers resumed work after Prime Minister Andranik Markarian promised to look into the issue and consider increasing subsidies to the metro system. LF

OSCE HAILS LIFTING OF AZERBAIJAN ELECTION RESTRICTIONS...

In a press release issued in Baku on 10 October, the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission expressed its approval of the 8 October decision by Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission to register all political parties that had applied to contest the 5 November parliamentary election. The press release quoted ODIHR Director Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann as expressing the hope that candidates whose application to run in single-mandate constituencies had been "unduly denied" will now be registered. LF

...BUT SLAMS AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL'S CRITICISM

Stoudmann has also written to Ramiz Mekhtiev, head of the Azerbaijani presidential administration, taking issue with Mekhtiev's remark that an ODIHR statement criticizing the Azerbaijan Central Electoral Commission's failure to register several opposition parties to contest the poll was "unprofessional," Turan reported on 10 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2000). Stoudmann also refuted Mekhtiev's claim that the statement did not reflect ODIHR's opinion, as it was signed not by Stoudmann personally but by his deputy. LF

RELEASED AZERBAIJANI EDITOR RESIGNS

Rauf Arifoglu, who was released from detention last week, has resigned as editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" to concentrate on campaigning for the 5 November parliamentary election, Turan reported on 10 October quoting "Azadlyg." Arifoglu, who faces charges of attempted hijacking, illegal arms possession and planning a coup d'etat, is sixth on the Musavat party's list of candidates to contest the poll under the proportional system. LF

JAPANESE DONATION EMBEZZLED IN GEORGIA?

Some $900,000 donated by a private Japanese citizen to be used to meet part of the estimated $4 million cost of conducting next year's Georgian general census has vanished without trace, Caucasus Press reported on 10 October, quoting State Statistics Department Deputy Chairman Joseph Archvadze. LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS CO-ETHNICS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Meeting in Astana on 10 October with the leaders of an association representing Kazakhstan's large Russian minority, Vladimir Putin called for that community to be given opportunities to preserve and develop its language and culture, Interfax reported. The association's leader, Yurii Bunakov, said that Putin is the first Russian president to take an interest in his co-ethnics' plight, adding that Russians are emigrating from Kazakhstan as they are "losing hope." Bunakov noted that while Russians account for more than 35 percent of the total population of Kazakhstan, they occupy less than 8 percent of government posts. LF

EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL POLL RESTRICTIONS...

The EU issued a statement in Brussels on 10 October expressing anxiety over obstacles that "might prevent opposition figures" from contesting the 29 October presidential poll, Reuters reported. The statement also expresses "perplexity" over "the purpose and progress " of court proceedings brought against some of those candidates, including former Vice President and Bishkek mayor Feliks Kulov. LF

...AS OPPOSITION CRITICIZES OBSTACLES TO CANDIDATE'S CAMPAIGN

The opposition socialist Ata-Meken party issued a statement in Bishkek on 10 October criticizing the Kyrgyz authorities for interfering in the presidential election campaign of its chairman Omurbek Tekebaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The statement claimed that Tekebaev's campaign posters are systematically removed from public places. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ABJURES REGIONALISM, CLAN TIES

Incumbent President Askar Akaev's presidential campaign program gives priority to consolidating democratization, Interfax reported on 10 October. To that end, Akaev pledged that members of Kyrgyzstan's next government will be selected solely on the basis of their professional qualifications, rather than on the basis of their origins or clan affiliation. Akaev also promised to improve the investment climate and macro-economic stability and promote conditions that will support the development of private business. LF

IMPRISONED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE

Opposition Erkindik party leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev has begun a hunger strike in prison to protest the Central Electoral Commission's decision to allow incumbent President Akaev to contest the 29 October presidential poll but to exclude several opposition candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Turgunaliaev was sentenced last month to 16 years' imprisonment on charges of planning to assassinate Akaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000). LF

BELARUS AGREES TO PROVIDE KYRGYZSTAN WITH MILITARY ASSISTANCE

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told his Kyrgyz counterpart, Akaev, in Bishkek on 10 October that Minsk is ready to provide assistance to Kyrgyzstan within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty to counter attempts to destabilize the situation in that country, ITAR-TASS reported. Akaev said that Belarus will supply special equipment, including surveillance systems, that will be used to protect Kyrgyzstan's borders. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT NAMES RUSSIAN AS ADVISER

Saparmurat Niyazov announced in Ashgabat on 10 October that he has chosen an ethnic Russian, Vadim Masson, as his adviser on science and culture, Interfax reported. Masson acquired Turkmen citizenship last year. Niyazov also announced the foundation of a scientific institute, whose council Masson will chair and which is to study Turkmenistan's cultural heritage and "the role of the Turkmen people in...modern civilization." LF

SYNAGOGUE DAMAGED BY FIRE IN UZBEK CAPITAL

One of Tashkent's four synagogues was badly damaged by fire late on 9 October, shortly after Yom Kippur services ended, AP reported. Several Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze. Rabbi Abe David Gurevich said that although the cause of the fire is not yet clear, he plans to request police protection for other synagogues and for a Jewish school. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO HOLD ANTI-ELECTION RALLY ON 14 OCTOBER

Opposition parties will hold a march and rally in Minsk on 14 October to protest the dictatorship of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the 15 October legislative elections which the Belarusian opposition calls an "election farce." The Minsk authorities have denied the opposition permission to hold the demonstration in the city center and have suggested instead Bangalore Square, on the city's outskirts. The opposition says, however, it will stage the protest in the center. "Our goal in Minsk on the eve of the elections...is to regain our right to march along the [central] avenue. We are not going to provoke any artificial confrontation," Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka was quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service as saying on 10 October. JM

ENVOY SAYS EUROPEAN TROIKA SENDS NO 'OFFICIAL' OBSERVERS TO BELARUSIAN POLLS

Wolfgang Berendt of the Council of Europe--who is to be present during the 15 October elections in Belarus, along with one envoy each from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament--told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 10 October that neither he nor the other two envoys will be "official" election observers. "This is not an official mission because an official mission should have included more than one representative from each of our organizations," Berendt added. Meanwhile, Belarusian Television reported the previous day that the Central Electoral Commission has accredited 16 representatives of the European parliamentary troika as "international observers" during the 15 October ballot, following a request by OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck. JM

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS UKRAINE MAINTAINS EUROPEAN COURSE

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko assured foreign diplomats in Kyiv on 10 October that Ukraine will continue its efforts to integrate with Europe. "Let me reiterate once again that our course remains unchanged. As President [Leonid] Kuchma stated...the course on European integration is and will remain our priority," Reuters quoted Zlenko as saying. Zlenko declared that Kyiv wants "to materialize its European choice in a concrete form," according to Interfax. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER REPORTS ON PREPARATION FOR WINTER...

Yuliya Tymoshenko told the parliament on 10 October that this year the country saw growth in every branch of the fuel and energy sector except oil refining, Interfax reported. According to Tymoshenko, electricity production increased by 0.6 percent compared with the same period in 1999, oil extraction by 0.1 percent, gas extraction by 2.2 percent, and coal mining by 6 percent, while oil refining shrank by 41 percent. Tymoshenko assured lawmakers that Ukraine's nuclear power plants have a sufficient amount of fuel for the winter. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, however, remained unconvinced and commented that the situation in the energy sector does not differ from last year's. "If people freeze in their apartments in the winter, no [political] power will be able to stay in place," he added. JM

...SAYS AUTHORITIES UNABLE TO COPE WITH CORRUPTION IN ENERGY SECTOR

Tymoshenko also told the parliament that the authorities have so far failed to combat corruption and "other shadow economy phenomena" in the energy sector. "Petty offenses are investigated and persecuted. But the Prosecutor-General's Office for some reason fails to instigate criminal proceedings with regard to offenses involving billions [hryvni]," she noted. She accused the Prosecutor-General's Office of obstructing the government's efforts to improve the situation in the energy sector. JM

REPORT SAYS NON-ETHNIC ESTONIANS LOYAL TO ESTONIA

Estonia's Population Affairs Minister Katrin Saks presented a new integration report on 10 October that suggests 84 percent of non-ethnic Estonians living in Estonia consider Estonia their home and 79.3 percent proclaim their loyalty to the Estonian state. Among ethnic Estonians, 86 percent of respondents say they believe that people of many nationalities can work and live together in one country and 75 percent holds that different languages and cultures enrich society. Ten percent of the ethnic Estonians surveyed said they are not ready for a multicultural society in Estonia, BNS reported. MH

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS CANDIDATE FOR LEGAL CHANCELLOR

Lawmakers on 10 October rejected the candidacy of Priit Kama for legal chancellor, with 49 votes in favor and 50 against, ETA reported. The 28-year-old Kama faced opposition criticism over his age and his political affiliation (he is a member of Prime Minister Mart Laar's Pro Patria Union). However, the result of the secret vote shows that some members of the ruling coalition also cast their ballot against Kama. The president's office said that a new candidate will be proposed soon. Kama's candidacy had been proposed and supported by President Lennart Meri. MH

GREEK PRESIDENT VOICES SUPPORT FOR LATVIAN NATO BID

Kostantinos Stephanopoulos, on a three-day state visit to Latvia, reaffirmed his country's support for Latvia's NATO and EU integration goals. Speaking at a press conference on 9 October, Stephanopoulos said "Latvia belongs and will belong with the European family," BNS reported. After a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Stephanopoulos noted "we recognize Latvia's progress in political and economic sectors." Stephanopoulos travels to Estonia on 11 October for a three-day state visit. MH

PAKSAS BACK AS LITHUANIAN PREMIER?

The Liberal Union and New Alliance (Social Liberals) are close to finalizing a coalition agreement, the parties' representatives announced on 10 October. The leaders of the two parties met with President Valdas Adamkus, who "took the proposal very positively," AP quoted a presidential spokesperson as saying. Unconfirmed reports by ELTA indicate that the group is proposing former Premier Rolandas Paksas (Liberal Union) as their prime ministerial candidate, despite Paksas's recent comments about the current poor economic situation in the country. Together with the Peasants Party, which has pledged its four seats to the coalition, and other groups, the coalition has an estimated 70 seats--just short of a majority. The ruling Conservatives, who have only nine seats, said they will not participate in the coalition. Meanwhile, Premier Andrius Kubilius criticized the idea of Paksas--who was his predecessor --also becoming his successor. MH

POLISH PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER TO FORM CENTRIST MOVEMENT

Andrzej Olechowski, who came second in the 8 October presidential ballot with 17.30 percent backing, has announced he will establish a new political movement tentatively called Nowe Centrum (New Center), PAP reported on 10 October. The movement, led by Olechowski, may later transform into a political party. Robert Smoktunowicz, a member of Olechowski's election committee, told journalists that the movement will be officially founded on 21 October. Smoktunowicz added that Olechowski will launch talks with the Freedom Union and the Conservative Peasant Party (a component of the ruling Solidarity bloc) on cooperation in next year's parliamentary election campaign. "Enough of rocking the boat from left to right, Poland needs balance in a moderate middle and that is where Olechowski's new movement comes in," Pawel Moczydlowski, another aide of Olechowski's, told Reuters. JM

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 10 October incorrectly identified Poland's Peasant Party leader as Jaroslaw Kwasniewski. His correct name is Jaroslaw Kalinowski. JM

AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR CRITICIZES CZECH LEADERS IN BRATISLAVA

Wolfgang Schuessel, during a one-day visit to Slovakia on 10 October, criticized Czech leaders for declining to hold discussions on the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, AP reported. "One should never refuse dialogue with one's neighbors," Schuessel said. In contrast, he praised the Slovak government for conducting "an intensive dialogue" with Austria on the subject of nuclear power plants and said his government is supportive of Slovakia's membership in the EU. Austrian demonstrators continue to block Czech-Austrian border crossing points and said the blockade will be expanded. They added that they will lift it only after Schuessel meets Czech Premier Milos Zeman at the Wullowitz/Dolni Dvoriste border on 16 October. Czech government spokesman Libor Roucek, however, said he "knew nothing" about such a meeting, CTK reported. MS

CZECH TOURIST OFFICE IN PARIS VANDALIZED

A group of 15 masked men on 10 October broke into the Czech Republic's Cedok tourist agency in Paris and destroyed furniture and equipment, causing damage totaling 100,000 francs ($13,250). They left behind a flyer demanding the release of "prisoners." A group of protesters have been demonstrating outside the Czech embassy in the French capital over the past two weeks against "Czech police brutality" in riots that took place during the recent IMF/World Bank annual meeting in Prague. MS

CZECH PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN IN SLOVAKIA

Vaclav Klaus, on his first visit to Slovakia since February 1993, met with his Slovak counterpart Jozef Migas, Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda, and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 10 October, TASR and CTK reported. Klaus told journalists that he is "skeptical" about the EU's intentions to bring about the union's enlargement and that he believes its members "prefer the status quo." He also described the Visegrad Four group as an organization that is "unnecessary and artificial." Kukan described Klaus's opinions on the EU as "realistically skeptical." Klaus declined to comment on the planned referendum on Slovak early elections, saying "I have always avoided instructing people in neighboring countries and will stick to that principle." He said that approach must also apply to the Czech-Austrian dispute over Temelin, commenting that interference in internal affairs is "always a serious matter." MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES EU EXPANSION IN BRUSSELS

Ferenc Madl told European Commission President Romano Prodi in Brussels on 10 October that Hungary's "booming economy" should help it become a full EU member within the next few years. He noted that 70 percent of Hungary's foreign trade is already with EU countries. Madl also said that owing to its national interests and the presence of ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina, Hungary is "obliged" to support Yugoslavia's integration into Europe. In other news, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters in Budapest that the government might increase a $100 million credit line already provided by Eximbank to encourage Hungarian investments in Serbia. MSZ




MILOSEVIC BACKERS BREAK OFF SERBIAN POWER-TRANSFER TALKS

Members of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj's Radicals have broken off talks with supporters of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica aimed at a transfer or power in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 10 October. The Socialists and Radicals said that they will resume talks only when "lynch mobs" in various parts of Serbia cease trying to take over state institutions, businesses, and factories (see below). On 9 October, Seselj's bodyguards fired into the air to ward off a crowd of angry students who had assembled around him, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. PM

DJINDJIC: SERBIAN SECRET POLICE REGROUPING

Zoran Djindjic, who is one of the top leaders of the Democratic Opposition, said in Belgrade on 10 October that some members of Milosevic's secret police have regrouped and resumed wire-tapping of opposition politicians, Reuters reported. Djindjic added, however, that the majority of the police are loyal to the new government. Opposition leader Nebojsa Covic said that "everybody and nobody" controls the police at the moment. The opposition wants to appoint one of its own people as interior minister, but Milosevic supporters are resisting the move. On 11 October, Reuters reported that plainclothes police briefly detained Djindjic's driver and the bodyguard of a second opposition leader. PM

KOSTUNICA READY TO SACK TOP GENERALS?

"The army will have to be consolidated," Kostunica said in Belgrade on 10 October, AP reported. "Vesti" wrote the following day that Kostunica will fire the top military leadership at an upcoming session of the Supreme Defense Council. The first but not only generals to be purged will be indicted war criminal and Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic and Chief of the General Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic. The meeting will take place once Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has recovered from injuries sustained in a recent car accident, the daily added. Kostunica may hold a smaller meeting with leading generals shortly. Meanwhile in Montenegro, the authorities have greatly increased the police presence outside government buildings in recent days. PM

CACAK MAYOR WARNS YUGOSLAV OLD GUARD

Velimir Ilic told AP in Belgrade on 10 October that "the people will eat [Milosevic's Socialists] alive" unless they hand over power to the new authorities. He stressed that crowds from Cacak, who helped bring down the Milosevic regime on 5 October, are ready to return to the capital to "finish the job" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2000). Ilic warned Milosevic's supporters that "the people's patience is exhausted." PM

YUGOSLAVIA RETURNING TO TITO-ERA 'SELF-MANAGEMENT'?

Many workers across Serbia have forced their bosses out in recent days and set up self-managing councils to run the enterprises or restored former directors from the pre-Milosevic era, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 10 October. In some cases, individuals with no connection to the Democratic Opposition have sought to take over enterprises, allegedly in the name of the new government. At many universities, students have forced out professors and rectors who were Milosevic's political appointees. PM

YUGOSLAVIA'S CROWN PRINCE ALEKSANDAR TO BELGRADE

The office of Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who is the claimant to the Yugoslav and Serbian thrones, said in a press statement in London on 10 October that he will go to Belgrade on 15 October to congratulate Kostunica on his election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). The statement added that "the Crown Prince will also stress the need for unity amongst all democratic political parties in the interest of all citizens, as well as the indispensable need for taking urgent measures to help people in the greatest need. Furthermore, he will appeal to all citizens to respect each other, ruling out any kind of revenge." PM

INDEPENDENT SERBIAN JOURNALIST FREED

On 10 October, a military court in Nis freed from prison Miroslav Filipovic, who is serving a 10-year sentence on espionage charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). The court ordered a retrial, claiming "irregularities" in the original trial. Filipovic has always maintained that he is innocent. He has argued that the real reason he was jailed was because of his reporting of Serbian atrocities in Kosova in 1999. In recent days, the new government freed two British, two Canadian, and four Dutch nationals, whom the Yugoslav authorities arrested as part of Milosevic's pre-election xenophobic propaganda campaign. Kostunica has not issued a general amnesty but said that he "wants politics out of the courtroom," "The New York Times" reported. PM

SERBIAN OFFICIALS TO ZAGREB

Democratic Opposition representatives Zarko Korac and Dusan Mihajlovic are slated to meet with Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula in Zagreb on 11 October, Hina reported. PM

U.S. ENVOY TO SERBIA

William Montgomery, who is outgoing U.S. ambassador to Croatia and widely expected to be the new ambassador in Belgrade, is slated to arrive in the Serbian capital on 11 October, Reuters reported. He will launch "exploratory talks" aimed at restoring diplomatic relations. The U.S. embassy complex in central Belgrade stands empty and is covered with anti-U.S. and anti-NATO graffiti. In recent weeks, Montgomery has headed a U.S. office in Budapest aimed at promoting democracy in Serbia. President Bill Clinton's adviser James O'Brien is expected on 12 October as part of a wider Balkan tour. PM

KOSTUNICA REFUSES TO YIELD ON KOSOVAR PRISONERS

Kostunica told French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine in Belgrade on 10 October that the release of the at least 700 Kosovar Albanians held in Serbian jails is contingent upon ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosova clarifying the fate of some 1,000 missing Kosovar Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). He has previously linked any progress on Kosova to the return of Serbian refugees there. Kostunica told Vedrine that he wants to start a "dialogue" with the Kosovar leaders. The Yugoslav president also said that his country wants to become an EU member "with full powers," Reuters reported. Vedrine replied that "Yugoslavia has much to do" before that can happen, adding that "one should not put the cart before the horse." PM

KOSOVA'S SURROI COOL ON DIALOGUE WITH BELGRADE

Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's best-known journalist, told Reuters in Prishtina on 10 October that Serbia and Kosova "are both, curiously enough, in the state-building process. We will need to communicate, but I think first we will need to communicate as equal partners, and certainly within international fora." Kosovar leaders have long insisted that any contacts with Belgrade can only take place with international participation and not on a bilateral level. PM

RADICALIZATION OF KOSOVA IN THE OFFING?

Reuters on 10 October quoted several Western NGO officials and diplomats in Prishtina as warning that Kosovars may tend to support radical candidates in the 28 October local elections if they sense that the international community has "gone too far towards Kostunica." Many Kosovars fear that the West will try to force them back into a close relationship with Serbia now that Milosevic is gone. Louis Sell, who is the Kosova director of the International Crisis Group, told the news agency that "there are no Albanians who do not want independence." PM

NATO SAYS BOSNIAN CROAT ARMY WORKING AGAINST IT

SFOR spokeswoman Susan Gray said in Sarajevo on 10 October that NATO peacekeepers recently found an unspecified quantity of illegal weapons and espionage equipment in offices of the Bosnian Croat intelligence service. The discovery came in a post office in the central Bosnian town of Vitez. She did not go into detail but noted that the Croats were "collecting data that could be detrimental to SFOR and the international community's operations," Reuters reported. She said that the Croats were involved in unspecified "anti-Dayton activities." PM

CROATIAN PROSECUTOR CHARGES SPY CHIEF IN WAR CRIMES CASE

The prosecutor's office in Zadar has charged Josip Nekic, who headed the Zadar branch of the Agency for the Protection of the Constitutional Order, and Zeljko Stipic, a local army member, with giving aid and shelter to four former Croatian soldiers involved in the 1993 Ahmici massacre of Muslim civilians in Bosnia, AP reported on 11 October. Nekic's agency is one of Croatia's secret services, which enjoyed significant power under the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

NO GRAND COALITION IN SLOVENIA?

Conservative leader Janez Jansa and center-left leader Janez Drnovsek told Ljubljana's 24-UR radio that their respective parties represent opposite poles in Slovenian politics. Jansa said that a coalition between such different parties is unlikely. The broadcast added that the two parties currently lead in opinion polls in the runup to the 15 October legislative elections. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT AMENDS ELECTORAL REGULATIONS

The government on 10 October amended election regulations to make it possible for alliances of parties to compete in the parliamentary elections and back a presidential candidate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Until now party alliances were allowed to compete in local elections only. The move follows an appeal launched by the extra-parliamentary Generation 2000 party against the registration of the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 (CDR 2000) on grounds that the similarity of names could cause confusion. Under the amended regulations, the parties that recently formed the CDR 2000 can compete as an alliance. MS

ROMANIA LAUNCHES 'ECONOMIC, DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE' IN YUGOSLAVIA

Foreign Minister Petre Roman said in Belgrade on 10 October that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica "positively responded" to Romania's proposals to re-launch and boost trade between the two countries and encourage the participation of Romanian companies in Yugoslavia's reconstruction. He said Kostunica also views favorably Romania's request to speed up removing debris from the River Danube in Novi Sad. Roman added that his and Industry and Trade Minister Radu Berceanu's one-day visit to Belgrade was "an economic and diplomatic offensive," and he suggested to Kostunica that Romania propose Yugoslavia's accession to CEFTA. The Romanian foreign minister also said he will propose that his government set up a special fund to encourage Romanian business investments in neighboring countries. The same day, Bucharest decided to lift its embargo against Yugoslavia. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ACCEPTS PRESIDENTIAL APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 10 October ruled that an electoral amendment, passed by the parliament in March, stipulating that only parties registered for at least two years can run in the parliamentary elections is unconstitutional, Infotag reported. The provision was appealed by President Petru Lucinschi and independent deputy Ion Morei. At the same time, the court rejected three other complaints against the amendment by Lucinschi and Morei. The two challenged the stipulations that the Central Electoral Commission and its chairperson are appointed by the parliament, that foreign media licensed in Moldova cannot run electoral advertisements, and that independent candidates must garner at least 3 percent of the vote to gain representation in the legislature. MS

DIACOV SAYS NO MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 'YET AGREED' ON

Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov denied on 10 October that the main parliamentary political groups have already agreed on the presidential candidate to be elected under the new system in December, Flux reported. He admitted, however, that discussions are ongoing between his own Democratic Party, the Party of Moldovan Communists, and the Democratic Convention of Moldova. Diacov also said that his recent visit to Moscow helped dispel "suspicions" that the Russian leadership "has certain options favoring this or that [Moldovan] political personality" or that it "tends to interfere in Moldovan internal affairs." He said he discussed with his Russian counterpart, Gennadii Seleznev, the Transdniestrian conflict and the so-called "Primakov plan" on settling that conflict. But he added that the plan has "not yet been finalized." MS

BULGARIA HAILS KOSTUNICA VICTORY, WARNS OF PITFALLS

President Petar Stoyanov on 10 October said he expects Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's victory in the elections to positively impact on the general image of the Balkans and help attract foreign investments to the region. Stoyanov told reporters that the challenges facing Kostunica include how to approach the Kosova problem, treat ethnic minorities, and handle Belgrade's re-integration into international institutions, Reuters reported. Stoyanov said there is "no room for antagonism" between the two Balkan neighbors and that he has invited Kostunica to visit Bulgaria. MS




A NEW THREAT TO RELIGIOUS MINORITIES?


By Paul Goble

New Russian government efforts to enlist the Orthodox Church in Moscow's fight against religious minorities, who some Russian officials say threaten Russia, could endanger religious liberty in that country.

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said in Volgograd last week that the Russian police and religious leaders should combine forces to oppose cults and sects that "aim to undermine statehood in Russia." Those remarks represent the Russian government's clearest response so far to the Russian Orthodox Church's requests for a special relationship with the state and to the court-imposed limitations on government controls over religious groups.

Since the collapse of Soviet power, Russian Orthodox hierarchs have sought to enlist the government in opposing the missionary activities of various non-indigenous religious groups, denominations that the Orthodox often describe as "foreign." Responding to this effort, the Russian government drafted and passed a law that not only underscored the special relationship between the state and Orthodoxy but also set the stage for Russian government moves against religious competitors.

But last year, Russia's Constitutional Court struck down several provisions of that law after a group of Jehovah's Witnesses argued that the legislation violated the principle of freedom of conscience as enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution.

Rushailo's proposed alliance between state and Church thus appears to be an effort to circumvent this ruling. On the one hand, it could open the way for the state to use the Church to fight some of its battles. On the other, it might suggest to Orthodox and others that at least some in the Church are prepared to play the kind of intelligence and control function that some priests and hierarchs played during Soviet times.

The timing of Rushailo's suggestion makes it likely that his remarks will be especially troubling both to followers of minority denominations and to those concerned about religious and human rights. Recently, the U.S. State Department publicly condemned attacks on a Jewish school in Ryazan on 17 September and on assemblies of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in Volgograd--where Rushailo made his remarks--on 20 August.

The State Department called on the Russian authorities to "conduct full and thorough investigations on an urgent basis" and said that "those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under Russian law." The U.S. statement also provided details of all three attacks. In Ryazan, it said, a group of youths had broken into a Jewish Saturday school, shouted anti-Semitic slogans, and intimidated the local principal into denying the Jews further use of the school.

Local officials have told the media that they are investigating the case. But they have made no arrests, and at least one Ryazan official dismissed the event as simple hooliganism with no broader meaning.

In Volgograd, the State Department noted, other groups of extremists burst into the services of the two Christian denominations and beat worshipers, directly threatening several Mormon missionaries from the U.S. In addition, the statement pointed out, officials close to President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and regional officials whom the Kremlin actively supports have made openly anti-Semitic remarks. Such actions and remarks, the State Department said, "undermine efforts to create a tolerant society under the rule of law." It added that "all Russian citizens must be afforded the greatest possible protection of their religious and hard-won democratic freedoms."

At least some Russians who view religious minorities as a threat may read Rushailo's words as Moscow's response to the U.S. on this point and thus see his words as a kind of official blessing for attacks on religious minorities--even if that was not his intention.

If that should happen, then the tragic events of Ryazan and Volgograd may very well be repeated elsewhere, a development that could threaten not only the followers of minority religions in Russia but the very possibility of religious freedom in the country.


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