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Newsline - October 23, 2000




DIVERS BEGIN WORK TO RETRIEVE 'KURSK' CREW BODIES

Russian and Norwegian divers, working in shifts over the past weekend, have cut through the outer hull of the sunken "Kursk" nuclear submarine and removed an industrial rubber coating between the outer and inner hulls. Work on cutting into the thicker inner hull began on 23 October and is not expected to be completed until the following day, according to Russia navy spokesman. However, as weather conditions deteriorate in the Barents Sea, it is feared that the work of the divers may be complicated. Russian Navy Commander-in Chief Vladimir Kuroedov cautioned the diving teams on 20 October not to take any excessive risks in carrying out the operation to retrieve at least some of the remains of the 118 crew members, Interfax reported. Earlier, he had suggested that the operation might not take place at all (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000). Only Russian divers are to enter the submarine. JC

ALLEGED U.S. SPY DENIED MEDICAL EXAMINATION

The Moscow City Court on 20 October rejected a request by U.S. businessman and former naval officer Edmond Pope to undergo a medical examination, despite having given the defense 24 hours to draw up proposals for such an examination. Pope, who has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer, has been examined only by Russian doctors since he was detained in April on charges of seeking to buy classified information about a high-tech torpedo. Pavel Astakhov, Pope's lawyer, told journalists after the hearings that the presiding judge had also denied requests that the hearings be taped and that the court accept as evidence certain documents that Pope says prove his innocence. Meanwhile, U.S. President Bill Clinton telephoned with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on 20 October to express concern that Putin "hasn't taken enough steps yet to free Edmond Pope," Reuters quoted a White House spokesman as saying. JC

SYNAGOGUE RAIDED IN MEDIA-MOST INVESTIGATION

Moscow's central synagogue was raided on 20 October during the Jewish holiday week of Sukkoth, the Feast of the Tabernacles. Moscow Jewish Community Vice President Pavel Feldblyum told Interfax that as they examined the synagogue's financial documents, law enforcement officers were interested in "practically everything" but primarily "in what way the Jewish community was 'laundering' money it is receiving from its sponsors," especially funds provided by Media-MOST. According to a World Jewish Congress official in New York, the synagogue's major donors are the Russian Jewish Congress and Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, Reuters reported. Aleksandr Osovtsov, vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, condemned the raid, noting that "if they had come to the offices of the Moscow Jewish Community," that could have even been understood. But, he noted, "they came to the Choral Synagogue--a place that is holy and special for all Jews of the former Soviet Union." JAC

BUDGET PASSES SECOND READING BY LARGER MARGIN...

State Duma deputies on 20 October passed the draft 2001 budget by 302 to 129 with one abstention, Interfax reported. In the first reading, the budget had passed by only six votes more than the necessary 226. The budget has retained its zero deficit, while 29.2 billion rubles ($1.05 billion) were redistributed, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). Spending on defense was increased by 12.6 billion rubles, on the police by 2 billion rubles, on agriculture by 5 billion rubles, on education by 3 billion rubles, on industry by 2 billion rubles, and on science by 1.5 billion rubles. Programs that sustained cuts were in the spheres of state management, international activities, foreign debt servicing, and assistance to the regions. According to "The Moscow Times" on 21 October, some 20 percent of total revenues under next year's budget are earmarked for debt servicing. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT CREDITS NEW, IMPROVED RELATIONSHIP WITH LEGISLATURE

Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin declared that the budget's passage symbolizes a new stage in cooperation between the government and the State Duma. "What we have now is everyday civilised co-operation between the government and the State Duma--the way it is in West European nations," he commented. The State Budget Committee suggested 1 December as the date for the budget's third reading will take place. The fourth and final reading would then take place on 10 December. JAC

PUTIN URGES ARAB LEADERS TO RESUME PEACE PROCESS...

In a message to the Arab summit in Cairo on 21 October, Russian President Putin called for increased efforts to end the violence between Israelis and Palestinians and to resume the Middle East peace process. Putin stressed that Russia will play an active role in seeking a peace agreement, saying it "cannot remain indifferent to the fact that explosive potential is again building up" in the region. Moscow was not invited to attend last week's Sharm el-Sheikh summit. In a telephone conversation on 20 October, U.S. President Clinton thanked Putin for his support "during the difficult negotiations" in Sharm el-Sheikh, according to the Kremlin press service. The two leaders also agreed to coordinate their efforts to resolve the conflict in the Middle East. A U.S. official had earlier suggested that Israel and Palestine were to blame for Russia's absence from the Sharm el-Sheikh summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). JC/JAC

...AS ISRAEL REQUESTS RUSSIAN HELP IN SECURING ISRAELI SOLDIERS' RELEASE

Also on 20 October, an envoy sent by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Moscow told journalists that he had brought a message to Putin urging him to become more involved in the Middle East peace process. Knesset member Roman Bronfman told Putin that Israel hopes Moscow will help secure the release of several Israeli citizens being detained by Hizbullah guerrillas. Earlier this month, a member of a delegation accompanying Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on his Middle East tour met with the Hizbullah leadership to "trade ideas" about the possible swap of detained Israelis for Lebanese being held in Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000). JC

MOSCOW SAYS CONDITIONS NOT RIGHT FOR KOSOVA LOCAL ELECTIONS

Speaking at the close of a 20 October meeting in Bucharest of foreign ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov warned that if local elections are held in Kosova at the end of this month, as planned, they will "complicate even more" the situation in the province. "There are no conditions to ensure the safe return of all citizens, regardless of their nationality and religion." Earlier, Ivanov had pledged Moscow's support to the new Yugoslav leadership to help it resolve the problems that it currently faces, including "the Kosovo problems," according to Interfax. Meanwhile, Russian agencies on 23 October quoted Russian President Putin as saying that he will meet with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in Moscow later this week. JC

RUSSIAN MILITARY TO CHANGE TACTICS IN CHECHNYA

Russian military spokesmen in Chechnya told Interfax on 21 October that they will increase the number of checkpoints in lowland regions of Chechnya in anticipation that Chechen fighters will descend from the southern mountains to spend the coming winter in the plains. They said that at present Chechen forces are concentrated at three mountain locations in Vedeno, Nozhai-Yurt, and Kurchaloi. On 20 October, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said in a live radio interview that the Russian forces' primary objective is to locate and wipe out Chechen field commanders, according to ITAR-TASS. During that interview, Yastrzhembskii also criticized the work of the pro-Moscow interim Chechen administration, arguing that a new Moscow-based federal body is needed to supervise economic restoration in Chechnya. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT URGED TO RESIGN

Speaking on Chechen television on 21 October, interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov again called on President Aslan Maskhadov to resign and go into exile, ITAR-TASS reported. Kadyrov claimed that "the majority" of Chechen fighters have already given up armed resistance to the Russian forces. An elder of the village of Goity in Urus-Martan Raion was assassinated that same evening. On 20 October, Kadyrov said in Gudermes that by 1 November, all Chechen ministries will move back to Grozny from their temporary quarters in Gudermes but that his own office will remain in Gudermes as no suitable premises can be found for it in the devastated capital. Kadyrov attributed that lack to Moscow's having made available only 119 million rubles ($4 million) in funds for reconstruction over the past four months. LF

RUTSKOI REMOVED FROM REGIONAL BALLOT

One day before the 22 October gubernatorial elections in Kursk Oblast, the regional court barred incumbent Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi from seeking re-election. In doing so, the court upheld complaints filed by two other candidates that Rutskoi had abused his office as governor and violated election campaign laws. Rutskoi responded that he considers the ruling a "conspiracy" and that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. State Duma deputy (Communist) Aleksandr Mikhailov won the 22 October ballot with some 39 percent backing, followed by Viktor Surzhikov, a former KGB agent who earlier this year was appointed main federal inspector in Kursk Oblast, with 22 percent. Surzhikov, who was one of the two candidates who filed the complaint against Rutskoi, is reported to have been the Kremlin's favored candidate to oust the incumbent (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 26 July 2000). And according to Reuters on 23 October, Rutskoi had "infuriated" Putin by launching an initiative to help the families of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine disaster. A run-off ballot will take place in Kursk Oblast between Mikhailov and Surzhikov in two weeks. JC

RUSSIAN POPULATION DECLINES BY ANOTHER HALF MILLION

Russia's population plunged by 507,400 people--0.3 percent--during the first eight months of the year to total 145.1 million people as of 1 September, Interfax reported on 20 October, citing the State Statistics Committee. The number of births increased 2 percent during the first eight months of the year compared with the same period last year; however, the rate of deaths increased 5 percent. From January to August 2000, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 593,600. ITAR-TASS reported the same day, citing the committee, that the Russian population will drop by 11 million people over the next 15 years. JAC

JOBLESS RANKS SHRINK

The number of unemployed people dipped to 7.149 million at the end of September, a drop of 18.6 percent compared with the same date last year, the State Statistic Committee reported on 20 October. At the same time, the number of jobless rose 0.3 percent from the previous month this year. At the end of August, the number of unemployed fell 1 percent compared with July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2000). Of Russia's economically active population, 9.9 percent are registered as unemployed. JAC

NEW ALL-RUSSIA MUSLIM PARTY IN THE WORKS

The leaders of the All-Russia Islamic Congress and the Refakh Islamic Organization signed a cooperation accord on 20 October, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the goal of the accord is to achieve "the maximum possible unity and prevent a split of Moslems during an election period." The Palestinian and Egyptian envoy to Russia attended the signing ceremony. JAC

AND NOW FOR A PARTY OF ALL OF THE ABOVE

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii has suggested that the LDPR, the Communist Party, Fatherland-All Russia, Unity, the Agro-Industrial and People's Deputy groups in the Duma unite to form a new party, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 20 October. The new grouping would include all the parties or deputies' groups currently represented in the lower legislative house, except for Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces. The daily, which is close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, commented that although Zhirinovskii's proposal is unlikely to be taken seriously, "considering the changes to the party system that have been prepared by the Kremlin, it is possible that Zhirinovskii's idea is something more than just a fantasy." That newspaper reported the same day that the new law on political parties drawn up by the Central Election Committee will considerably tighten the requirements for registering as a party, thus giving the Kremlin "an ideal tool for destroying the legal opposition." JAC




ARMENIA EXPRESSES REGRET OVER SHELVING OF U.S. GENOCIDE RESOLUTION...

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ara Papyan said in Yerevan on 20 October that Armenia regrets the U.S. House of Representatives' decision to withdraw from its agenda a bill that recognized the 1915 killings in Ottoman Turkey of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. House speaker Dennis Hastert had cancelled a vote on the bill the previous day at the urging of U.S. President Bill Clinton, who argued that it would adversely affect U.S.-Turkish relations. Papyan said Yerevan still hopes Turkey will agree to embark on a "dialogue" on all issues that obstruct the normalization of bilateral relations. Spokesmen for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun and the Orinats Yerkir party also expressed disappointment that the bill was shelved. LF

...WHILE AZERBAIJAN TERMS DECISION 'CORRECT'

Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov described the U.S. House of Representatives' decision not to proceed with the vote on the genocide bill "a logical, correct, and appropriate step," according to Turan on 20 October. The Religious Board of Muslims of the Caucasus similarly issued a statement greeting the U.S. move as "restoration of fairness and banning of falsification of historical facts," the news agency reported the next day. LF

WESTERN DONORS AGREE ON NEW AID PACKAGE FOR ARMENIA

Western donor states and international organizations pledged on 20 October to provide Armenia with up to $350 million in new loans and aid by the end of 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, quoting Armenian Finance and Economy Minister Levon Barkhudarian. The World Bank will provide some $75 million of that total. At the same time, the donors called on the Armenian government to take "more resolute action to remove constraints on private sector development and privatization, to improve the rule of law" and to develop the health, education and social services sectors. They also expressed concern at the ongoing failure to meet revenue collection targets. LF

ARMENIAN FARMERS WARN OF IMMINENT FAMINE

A coordinating council consisting of representatives of the country's farmers and of seven political parties warned on 20 October that the financial situation of many farmers is rapidly deteriorating owing to their tax burden and increasing debts, Noyan Tapan reported. Council head Sargis Sedrakian noted that Armenia does not yet have a comprehensive agrarian policy. LF

KARABAKH CEASE-FIRE VIOLATED

Two Azerbaijani servicemen were wounded late on 19 October near the Tazakend settlement in Aghdam Raion during shelling from Armenian positions, Azerbaijani news agencies reported the following day. LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES CONCLUDE ELECTION ALLIANCE

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar and the leader of the "conservative" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Mirmahmud Fattaev, signed an agreement in Baku on 20 October pledging to cooperate during the ongoing parliamentary election campaign, Turan reported. The Azerbaijan Popular Front faction, which was barred from contesting the party list seats in the 5 November ballot, will back Musavat's candidates competing under the proportional system, while Musavat will support Popular Front candidates in single-mandate constituencies. The two parties will also cooperate in monitoring the vote. LF

CHECHEN INFILTRATORS SURRENDER TO GEORGIAN TROOPS

Georgian Interior Ministry and army troops late on 22 October surrounded a group of between 20-60 Chechen fighters who had crossed into Georgian territory from Chechnya via Ingushetia several days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. Most of the Chechens surrendered after negotiations with the Georgian side. Reuters on 22 October cited Georgian Television as reporting that the Chechens wanted to pass through Georgian territory en route to Azerbaijan or Turkey. Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Grigol Katamadze on 22 October described the Chechen infiltration as "a deliberate act of sabotage," which he said could not have taken place without the connivance of Russian border guards. A spokesman for the Russian Federal Border Service rejected that accusation the same day, according to Interfax. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN MINISTER ATTACKED, WOUNDED

Former Energy Minister Davit Zubitashvili received severe gunshot wounds in a struggle on 20 October with unidentified persons who tried to abduct him near his Tbilisi home, Caucasus Press reported. Zubitashvili is under investigation for alleged financial malpractice. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER TRADE ACCUSATIONS...

Incumbent President Askar Akaev's election campaign staff issued a statement in Bishkek on 20 October accusing opposition presidential candidates of calling for the destabilization of the political situation, Interfax reported. The statement said that an appeal to the electorate by opposition candidates demanding copies of polling protocols constitutes "a breach of the election code" and could provoke "mass disturbances and violence at polling stations." Meanwhile former National Security Minister and Vice President Feliks Kulov, who was deemed ineligible to contend the poll after refusing to sit the mandatory Kyrgyz language test, appealed to law enforcement agencies not to break up election rallies or detain persons canvassing for opposition candidates. LF

...AS OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CHARGE DISCRIMINATION

Kyrgyz opposition presidential candidates Omurbek Tekebaev and Melis Eshimkanov told journalists in Bishkek on 20 October that local authorities are doing everything in their power to prevent campaigning on behalf of any candidates other than Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Also on 20 October, aides to opposition presidential candidate Almaz Atembaev said that Kyrgyz state radio and television and the independent television and radio station KOORT refuse to broadcast election propaganda on Atambaev's behalf. LF

KYRGYZ INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER FINED

A Bishkek district court ruled on 20 October that the independent newspaper "Asaba" must pay 5 million soms (about $105,000) in compensation to parliamentary deputy Turdakun UsubAliyev for having repeatedly insulted him over a period of eight years, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. "Asaba" editor Ernis Asek Uulu said he will appeal the court ruling. LF

KYRGYZSTAN OFFERS RUSSIA RARE METAL PLANTS IN PAYMENT OF DEBT

The Kyrgyz government has offered Moscow 23 wholly or partly state-owned firms, including plants engaged in the processing of gold and uranium, in payment of its debts, Interfax reported on 20 October, quoting State Property Fund Deputy Chairman Anatolii Makarov. Kyrgyzstan's external debt is estimated at $1.76 billion, of which $30.5 million is owed to Russia. LF

WORLD BANK TO CONSIDER LOANS FOR TAJIKISTAN

World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Johannes Linn met with Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 21 October to discuss the release of the final $14.1 million tranche of a loan intended to support economic restructuring, Russian agencies reported. Linn said the World Bank will also consider in the near future making available an additional $3 million loan to alleviate the impact of this summer's severe drought. LF

THREE DETAINED FOR ATTACK ON KOREAN RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY IN TAJIKISTAN

Three Tajiks have been arrested in Dushanbe in connection with the 1 October bomb attack on a Korean religious congregation, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2000). Seven people died and some 50 were injured in that bombing. LF

TURKMENISTAN LAUNCHES MAJOR IRRIGATION PROJECT

Turkmenistan has embarked on a $5-6 billion project to create a giant reservoir in the Karakum desert that will provide water to irrigate some 4,000 square kilometers of land, AP and Reuters reported. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who conceived the project, has rejected as unfounded some environmentalists' fears that it could prove counter-productive. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MULLS 'STRATEGIC COOPERATION' WITH PUTIN

Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Belarusian Television on 21 October that he discussed three issues of "strategic cooperation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last week. According to Lukashenka, Putin agreed to give Belarus an oil deposit in Russia to extract oil solely for Belarusian needs. Lukashenka expressed his satisfaction over Russia's recent deal on the transfer of electricity to Western Europe via Belarus, saying that Belarus will receive money for that transit. And he praised Gazprom's intention to build "additional pipelines" through Belarus to supply natural gas to Western Europe. "If we implement this project, we will live twice as well [as now], " Lukashenka noted. He added that the money Minsk receives for the transit of Russian gas to Europe will be sufficient for Belarus to pay for all the gas it consumes. JM

BELARUSIAN EX-PREMIER'S WIFE CONVICTED FOR BITING POLICEMAN

A Minsk district court on 20 October handed down a two-year suspended prison term to Yuliya Chyhir, wife of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. She was found guilty of putting up "violent resistance to a police officer on duty" by biting him in the ear when she tried to enter a courthouse in Minsk during her husband's trial in May. She told the court that she bit the policeman impulsively after he manhandled her. The court, however, did not believe her and additionally found her guilty of "inciting those gathered near the court...to enter the building in an unorganized way." "In this 'democratic' country I am facing two years in prison for merely trying to lead my sons to an open trial which was to pronounce a sentence on their father," Reuters quoted her as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN NGOS WANT TO ANNUL ELECTIONS IN SOME CONSTITUENCIES

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee has requested that the Prosecutor-General Office and the Central Electoral Commission invalidate the results of the 15 October legislative ballot in nine constituencies, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 October. The committee said the election results in those constituencies were falsified, adding that turnout in all of them was below 50 percent. Committee head Tatsyana Protska told RFE/RL that the committee's monitors documented examples of overstating election turnout, shortening voters' lists, and "machinations with ballot-boxes" by local election commissions. The Central Coordinating Council for Election Observation will soon submit a motion to annul the election results in another 27 constituencies because of falsification, the council's representative told RFE/RL. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'CALM' OVER BYPASS PIPELINE SCHEME...

Commenting on Gazprom's plan to build a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000), Leonid Kuchma on 21 October urged his fellow countrymen to "remain calm," Interfax reported. Kuchma said the construction of such a pipeline is very expensive and cannot be completed "today or tomorrow." He noted that the capacity of the planned pipeline "cannot worry us, either." And he added that Ukraine's gas pipelines "fully satisfy the needs of Europe." Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said the previous day that neither Poland nor Slovakia will agree to build on their territories a gas pipeline that circumvents Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. JM

...ANNOUNCES 10-20 PERCENT RISE IN PENSIONS

Kuchma announced on 20 October that pensions will go up by 10-20 percent as of 1 December, Interfax reported. He pledged another increase in pensions in April of next year. JM

ITALY THREATENS BALTICS FOR UN POST?

"Lietuvos Rytas" reported on 20 October that Italy threatened to downgrade or close its embassies in Vilnius and Tallinn if Lithuania and Estonia failed to support Italy's bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. "Lietuvos Rytas" claims to have obtained a copy of a letter signed by Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Umberto Vattani to the Estonian Foreign Ministry. An Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that Italy has been promoting its candidacy by oral and written communications, but he would not comment on the contents of the letter alleged to contain the threats. BNS quoted "La Repubblica" as calling the letter "an unsuccessfully concealed threat." MH

POLL SUGGESTS SAVI IN LEAD TO BECOME ESTONIAN PRESIDENT

A survey conducted by "Luup" magazine indicates that parliamentary speaker Toomas Savi is the likely choice to succeed President Lennart Meri next fall. The magazine polled 241 of 266 local government leaders, who alongside the 101 parliamentary deputies make up the electoral college that is convened if the parliament is unable to muster a two-thirds majority for a single candidate. Of the polled local government leaders, 49.6 percent supported Savi of the Reform Party, BNS reported. Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria Union came second with 19.6 percent, followed by Andres Tarand of the Moderates and conductor Eri Klas, with 6.7 percent each. MH

INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPREADS THROUGH RIGA POLICE ACADEMY

Some 55 first-year cadets at the Latvian Police Academy have fallen ill with an as yet undiagnosed illness, with victims complaining of fever, backaches, pressure in the eyes, and a sore throat. The academy is the second training center to be hit by an infectious disease: last month, more than 100 cadets at the neighboring National Defense Academy came down with diphtheria, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 11 September 2000). MH

POLISH OPPOSITION WANTS EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has submitted a motion to parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski to hold early parliamentary elections on 13 May 2001, Polish media reported last week. SLD leader Leszek Miller justified the motion by saying that early elections would enable a new government to draft a budget consistent with its own election manifesto. Miller added that a second factor in favor of the SLD proposal is the fact that Jerzy Buzek's cabinet was unable to submit a 2001 draft budget within the constitutional deadline. Another opposition group, the Peasant Party, said it supports the SLD motion, while Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski called it "political blackmail." Under the constitution, the parliament needs at least a two-thirds majority to hold early elections. JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK HEAD APPOINTED EBRD VICE PRESIDENT

Polish National Bank Chairwoman Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz has been appointed vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. EBRD President Jean Lemiere announced on 20 October that Gronkiewicz-Waltz will assume her new duties on 1 January 2001. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski commented that the appointment is a "personal success" for Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who for the past eight years has "built confidence for the National Bank in Poland and in the world," AP reported. Kwasniewski pledged that later this week he will begin consultations with all major parliamentary parties on choosing a new National Bank chief. JM

EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER UPBEAT ON POLAND'S MEMBERSHIP PROSPECTS

Guenter Verheugen was in Podlasie Province, northeastern Poland, on 22 October to gather first-hand information on the country's preparedness to meet EU standards in border security and agriculture. In what seems to be the EU's clearest statement to date on when Poland will join the union, Verheugen said the EU will be ready to admit Poland between 2003 and 2005. "[The EU] can conclude the negotiations with most advanced countries in 2002. That gives you a clear time window between 2003 and 2005," AP quoted Verheugen as saying. JM

ROMA REPRESENTATIVES EXPLAIN TO CZECH PRESIDENT BID FOR RECOGNITION AS NATION

Representatives of the International Romany Union (IRU) have met with Vaclav Havel to explain the IRU's demand that Roma in different countries be recognized as "a nation without a state," CTK reported on 20 October. IRU General-Secretary Christo Kjucukov, who is a Bulgarian Rom, told CTK after the meeting: "We do not want our own state. We want other states to recognize us as a nation equal to them." Kjucukov said that although members of his community are recognized as a minority, "that, unfortunately, does not mean recognition of our minority rights." MS

VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR CIS CITIZENS GO INTO EFFECT IN CZECH REPUBLIC

As of 22 October, citizens of Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan need visas to enter the Czech Republic, CTK reported, citing the Foreign Ministry. In May, Prague introduced visa requirements for Russian and Belarusian nationals and in late June for Ukrainian citizens. MS

SCHROEDER TELLS SLOVAK DAILY THAT EU EXPANSION POSSIBLE BY 2002

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told the Slovak daily "Pravda" of 23 October that the EU might accept new members by the end of 2002, Reuters reported. In the "Pravda" interview, which was published the same day he arrived for an official visit to Bratislava, Schroeder said the EU must complete all internal reforms by 2002 so that it is prepared to expand. Some EU candidate countries have said they will be ready to enter the union by 2003, but EU officials have often cited 2005 as the earliest date when expansion will take place. PB

CARNOGURSKY REPLACED AS HEAD OF SLOVAKIA'S CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS

Parliamentary deputy Pavol Hrusovsky was elected head of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) at a party conference on 21 October in the western Slovak town of Trencin, CTK reported. Hrusovsky received 249 votes and his opponent, Jan Figel, 179. Jan Carnogursky, who announced in June he would step down as chairman of the party he had headed for some 10 years, supported Hrusovsky, who is seen as more socially conservative than Figel. PB

HUNGARIAN REPORT SAYS POLITICIANS WERE SPIED UPON

According to a report recently declassified by Prosecutor-General Peter Polt, police captain Csaba Bodi commissioned a private detective in December 1996 to monitor the activities of Zoltan Pokorni, who was the FIDESZ parliamentary group leader at that time. Bodi also gave the detective the addresses of other senior FIDESZ politicians, including Viktor Orban, Janos Ader, and Tamas Deutsch, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 20 October. The report comes after two years of investigations into allegations that FIDESZ politicians were spied upon under the Socialist-led government. MSZ

HUNGARY, ROMANIA REOPEN BORDER CHECKPOINT

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Romanian counterpart, Mugur Isarescu, attended a ceremony on 20 October to reopen the border crossing at Cenad, which was closed by the communist regimes some 50 years ago, Reuters reported. Orban said "we are happy that we are able to reopen this sort of 'Checkpoint Charlie.' These are gestures based on a small-step policy." Orban and Isarescu held talks after the ceremony, with economic issues dominating the agenda. PB




SERBIAN OPPOSITION READY TO RELAUNCH STREET PROTESTS?

Talks between supporters of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and backers of his predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic, are slated to begin again in Belgrade on 23 October. Heading the agenda is the formation of a power-sharing transitional government for Serbia until the 23 December elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000). Some of Kostunica's backers have said repeatedly in recent days that they may call for street protests once again if Milosevic's Socialists (SPS) do not quickly reach an agreement with the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). Matters became more complicated on 22 October when the DOS presented the SPS with a list of an unspecified number of Milosevic loyalists whom the DOS wants out of office. Among those included on the list are security chief Rade Markovic and ranking SPS functionary Branislav Ivkovic, AP reported. PM

KOSTUNICA WORKING ON SETTING UP YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT

Kostunica began talks with Montenegrin leaders in Podgorica on 22 October about the formation of a new Yugoslav government. Among those he met with was Socialist People's Party (SNP) leader Zoran Zizic, who is widely expected to be the next Yugoslav prime minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). Kostunica said that he will begin launch a discussion with Podgorica on the future of the legal relationship between Serbia and Montenegro once he has a government in place in Serbia, VOA's Croatian Service reported. PM

SERBIA'S MILOSEVIC SOUGHT TO SAVE OWN SKIN

DOS leader Zarko Korac, whom many believe will be the next Yugoslav foreign minister, told the Zagreb weekly "Feral Tribune" that Milosevic was interested only in protecting himself and his family when he met with Kostunica on 5 October, "Danas" reported on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2000). Chief of the General Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic brought Kostunica to Milosevic's home. Korac added Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic, have no future in politics. Many observers believe that Kostunica promised Milosevic that he will not be deported to The Hague in return for having peacefully given up the presidency. PM

KOSTUNICA PAYS CONTROVERSIAL VISIT TO BOSNIA...

Kostunica held talks with Bosnian Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian leaders at a meeting hastily convened by representatives of the international community at Sarajevo airport on 22 October, after he had visited the Republika Srpska. Halid Genjac, who is the Muslim representative on the joint presidency, said: "We agreed that this is the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations between two countries," AP reported. Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is a moderate ethnic Croat, added that Kostunica's visit was a "good start for future relations." Kostunica, who supported hard-line Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic during the 1992-1995 conflict, said that he favors setting up diplomatic relations between Sarajevo and Belgrade. He added that "truth is not one-sided, especially when we talk about interethnic relations." Kostunica came to Bosnia for the reburial in Trebinje of a Serbian poet who died in the U.S. in 1943 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). Bosnian officials previously made it clear that Kostunica must meet with Bosnian government representatives during his stay lest he appear to show disrespect for Bosnian sovereignty. PM

...MAKES GESTURE TO KOSOVARS

Kostunica asked officials of the Justice Ministry to begin proceedings to pardon and free from prison ethnic Albanian human rights activist Flora Brovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 21 October. Brovina is the best-known Kosovar detainee in Serbia, along with student leader Albin Kurti. At least 700 additional Kosovars remain in Serbian jails following round-ups in 1998 and 1999. Kosovar leaders have called on Kostunica to free all of them as a gesture of good will. PM

WILL U.S. HAVE LIMITED ROLE IN BALKANS?

Condoleeza Rice, who is senior national security adviser to Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush, told "The New York Times" of 21 October that Bush would like peacekeeping in the Balkans to become a European responsibility within a "new division of labor" in NATO. She stressed that Bush wants the U.S. to concentrate on its broader obligations: "The United States is the only power that can handle a showdown in the Gulf, mount the kind of force that is needed to protect Saudi Arabia, and deter a crisis in the Taiwan Straits. Extended peacekeeping detracts from our readiness [for] these kinds of global missions." Rice added, however, that Bush will consult with European allies and not undertake "precipitous" action. PM

GORE SUGGESTS U.S. WOULD STAY IN BOSNIA, KOSOVA UNDER HIS ADMINISTRATION

Democratic candidate and Vice President Al Gore told Reuters by telephone on 21 October that "without U.S. participation in peacekeeping missions, we would no longer be able to continue U.S. leadership of NATO. And without U.S. leadership of NATO, the alliance would be doomed over time to collapse [and] peace in Europe may not long endure." U.S. General Wesley Clark told the news agency: "When [NATO] allies are putting in more than 80 percent of the effort [in Kosova], there is not much room for an argument about burden-sharing. If we want to be part of this, we can't do much less." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: "To be talking about [reducing the U.S. role] right now, when Kostunica is putting together his new coalition...I think is truly dangerous.. .. We need to [concentrate and] finish the job." Terence Taylor, assistant director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, argued that "the Balkans is the new NATO mission." PM

CROATIA'S MESIC NOT TO GO TO SKOPJE SUMMIT

Croatian President Stipe Mesic will not attend the planned meeting in Skopje on 25 October of leaders of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, and Romania, his spokeswoman told Reuters in Zagreb on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2000). The Macedonians set up the meeting so that regional leaders could discuss Balkan issues with Kostunica. Mesic's spokeswoman said, however, that "we want to have good relations with the neighbors, but the president, although willing to go, cannot make it because of his [previously scheduled] visit to Germany." Macedonia's Makfax news agency reported on 20 October that it is not clear if Albanian President Rexhep Meidani will attend the meeting. Many regional leaders recall Kostunica's nationalist past and want him to show that he has broken with greater Serbian ideas before they politically embrace him (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000). PM

ALBANIAN ELECTION COMMISSION CONFIRMS SOCIALIST VICTORY

The Central Election Commission said in a report on 21 October that the governing Socialists won control of 252 out of 398 towns and municipalities in the two recent rounds of local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). The opposition Democrats of former President Sali Berisha will govern in 118 communities, Reuters reported. Berisha claimed fraud in the first round and boycotted the second one. The ballot is widely seen as a test of political strengths in the runup to the 2001 legislative election (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 October 2000). Genc Pollo and other leaders of the Democrats' reform faction have called on Berisha to step down. PM

OPINION POLL CONFIRMS ILIESCU, PDSR IN THE LEAD

According to an opinion poll conducted from 10-15 October, former President and Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) Chairman Ion Iliescu is in the lead ahead of the 26 November presidential election, with 47 percent backing. Iliescu is followed by independent candidate Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu (15 percent), National Liberal Party (PNL) candidate Theodor Stolojan (13 percent), and Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor (11 percent). The PDSR is leading the field ahead of the parliamentary elections with 52 percent backing, followed by the PNL and the PRM (11 percent each). Thirty percent of respondents were undecided or said they will not vote. The opinion poll was conducted by three different polling institutes and has a margin of error of 1.6 percent. ZsM

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW READY TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH BUCHAREST

Igor Ivanov said in Bucharest on 20 October that Russia is willing to improve political and economic relations with Romania, despite the two countries' failure to agree to a bilateral agreement, AP reported. Ivanov said after meeting with his Romanian counterpart, Petre Roman, that the lack of a bilateral treaty should not be an obstacle to better ties. Roman said that Bucharest's orientation toward the EU will not prevent it from improving relations with Russia. Romania refuses to sign a treaty with Russia until Moscow returns the treasury Romania sent to it in 1917 for safekeeping. It also wants Moscow to denounce Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, which resulted in two Romanian provinces being ceded to the former USSR. PB

MOLDOVAN FARMERS DECRY LACK OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT, CORRUPTION

Some 4,000 farmers rallied in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on 21 October to demand a cut in taxes on agricultural produce, AP reported. Protest leaders also called for the removal of immunity for parliamentary deputies, judges, and prosecutors and urged that corrupt state officials be criminally charged. In other news, Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said on 20 October that he welcomes the parliament's decision to privatize two of the country's major industries: wine and tobacco. The decision will help Moldova qualify for $125 million in loans from the World Bank and the IMF, ITAR-TASS reported. PB

BULGARIA SAYS LIBYAN HIV TRIAL MAY BE POSTPONED AGAIN

Bulgarian Justice Minister Teodossyi Simeonov told the parliament on 20 October that the trial of six Bulgarians accused of deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the HIV virus may be delayed once again, Reuters reported. The trial of five nurses and one doctor has already been postponed six times at the request of the defense. It is scheduled to open on 4 November. The defendants face the death penalty if convicted. Some 393 children in a Benghazi hospital were infected with HIV, and the Bulgarians have been charged, along with eight Libyans and a Palestinian, with conspiracy aimed at destabilizing Libya. PB




JUDGE'S DISMISSAL UNDERLINES PROBLEMS FACING RUSSIAN JUDICIARY


by Sophie Lambroschini

Earlier this month, Sergei Pashin, a respected judge, was stripped of his post by Moscow's Qualification Collegium of Judges for allegedly violating legal ethics.

But it was not because of corruption--generally acknowledged to plague the Russian court system--that his peers judged Pashin unworthy of his job. Rather, he was dismissed for criticizing the sentencing of a young man to a prison term for draft-dodging, despite the constitutional right to conscientious objection, and for giving his personal telephone number during a radio show to a listener in need of legal help. Pashin has said he will appeal the dismissal.

Pashin says that the real reason he lost his post was because of his "independence," an appraisal with which human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Memorial agree. Pashin argues that as obtaining and keeping a job has grown more difficult in Russia, judges have become more subservient to their superiors. Also, he says, the reluctance of Russian authorities to push for long-promised judicial reforms adds to pressure on judges not to make just decisions but rather non-controversial ones.

Pashin told RFE/RL last week that insecure work conditions are a major factor in making judges dependent on the state. "Judges, like all of us, are very dependent on their bread and butter," he commented. "That's why the majority of decisions concerning either their own colleagues or other citizens are linked to a fear of arguing with the boss, a [fear] of being [punished for that]."

Pashin said he has been offered up to $20,000 in bribes for a desired verdict. Nonetheless, he hesitates to charge judges in general with taking bribes. Rather, Pashin believes that indirect financial pressure on judges is more important in corrupting them.

The Russian press has frequently reported that as real wages have declined in recent years, governors have regularly been paying judges so-called "extras" out of their regional budgets. According to those reports, until last year Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov paid judges regular bonuses. Ostensibly, they were given to supplement the judges' low federal wages--$100-200 a month. But as long as Luzhkov was providing the bonuses, he did not lose a single case he brought against newspapers that criticized him. Last fall, the Kremlin publicly criticized Luzhkov for this practice and pledged to end political influence over the courts in the regions.

According to Pashin, judges are themselves rated by the number of "acceptable" rather than legally correct decisions they make. That helps explain the extreme harshness of Russian courts' decisions today, he added. Acquittals are rendered in less than 1 percent of cases, a proportion even lower than the acquittal rate under Stalin.

In principle, such problems should have been ironed out as early as 1992, when then President Boris Yeltsin ordered a sweeping series of new laws and codes to provide a transition from the Soviet court system to a democratic Russian one. Pashin was one of the main authors of the reform, which included introducing a status for judges that guaranteed their independence and the institution of jury trials and administrative courts separate from criminal ones.

Some of the reforms were at least partially implemented, such as the publication of a new penal code. Jury trials were set up on an experimental basis in nine of Russia's 89 regions. But then the reforms stalled. There have since been a few cases of judicial independence, notably the acquittal of environmentalist Alexander Nikitin by a Saint Petersburg court, which was twice upheld by Russia's Supreme court, despite heavy government pressure. But on the whole, as Supreme Court president Vyacheslav Lebedev told the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" earlier this month, overworked and underpaid judges simply are unable to "fulfill their potential in defending peoples rights."

A number of studies have shown that the perceived arbitrariness of Russian courts is a major reason why potential foreign--and domestic--investors are wary of putting money into the country. It is also undoubtedly one reason why President Vladimir Putin made the transformation of the judiciary one of the main points of the reform plan he revealed after his election in the spring.

The State Duma has also pledged new efforts in this direction. Several months ago, lawmakers adopted some important amendments to judicial laws. And a new penal procedure code is expected to be adopted by the end of the year, replacing the 40-year-old Soviet document still in effect.

Viktor Pokhmelkin, a member of the Duma's legislation committee, puts most of the blame for the stalled reforms on the previous legislature, in which, he noted, the communist-dominated legislation committee blocked many bills. Pokhmelkin says that today's Russian government supports key legal reforms.

The Union of Right Forces, of which Pokhmelkin is member, is insisting that the budget contain "a special paragraph for judicial-legal reform in addition to the existing financing of the courts," he said. "We consider that additional, and large, sums of money should be allotted to intensify and speed up judicial reform. In general, [the government] supports this proposal...but there is some disagreement on the sums that should be allotted for these aims."

But Pashin harbors strong doubts about the Kremlin's dedication to overhauling the legal system. He says the government's financial decisions so far show that legal reform is far from being a priority, adding that "I would suppose that the military actions in Chechnya cost the equivalent of dozens of judicial reforms." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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