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Newsline - October 30, 2000




ANOTHER EIGHT BODIES RECOVERED FROM 'KURSK' WRECK

A Russian Northern Fleet spokesman announced on the morning of 30 October that another eight bodies have been recovered from the wreck of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, which sunk during naval maneuvers in the Barents Sea in August. This brings the total of number of bodies recovered from the vessel to 12. All of the bodies were found in the ninth compartment of the submarine, where, according to a note discovered on one of submariners, 23 crewmembers had sought refuge after explosions rocked the submarine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 October 2000). On 27 October, Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov said it is unlikely that the "Kursk" crew survived longer than one day following the sinking of the vessel. He noted that the situation in the ninth compartment is "complex" because some bodies show signs of burning "while one of the bodies [found there] was not touched by fire at all." JC

PUTIN ARRIVES IN PARIS FOR EU SUMMIT, OFFICIAL VISIT...

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the French capital on 29 October to attend an EU-Russia summit and then have talks with French leaders, including his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac. The previous day, an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official quoted by ITAR-TASS sought to dispel the impression that Russian-French ties have cooled following Putin's accession to the presidency earlier this year. "The absence of contacts on a political level cannot be interpreted as evidence of a quarrel," that official said. Among the West European countries, Putin visited London, Madrid, and Berlin shortly after being elected president, and the absence of Paris from that list prompted speculation that the Russian president was irked by France's strong criticism of Moscow's campaign in Chechnya. Also on 28 October, some 250 intellectuals, politicians, and actors published a petition in "Le Figaro" condemning Russia's Chechen campaign and calling for a rally in downtown Paris on 30 October to demonstrate against Putin and the war, Reuters reported. JC

...PROMISES BELGRADE IT'LL SOON RESUME GAS SUPPLIES

Following talks with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in the Kremlin on 27 October, Putin announced that Russia is prepared to resume gas supplies to Belgrade "very soon." According to Interfax, the Russian president promised to increase an existing credit line to Belgrade to allow it to pay for Russian gas deliveries. Putin also praised Kostunica for preventing a bloodbath during the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Kostunica, for his part, underlined the importance of Russia's role in resolving the Bosnian and Kosova problems. He called for "a balance of European, Russian, and U.S. influences in the Balkans, which alone can bring about peace and stability in the region," Interfax reported. JC

SEVEN KILLED IN CHECHEN CAFE BOMBING

The manageress, one waitress, and five Russian servicemen died on 29 October when a bomb exploded at a cafe in the Chechen village of Chiri-Yurt, 30 kilometers south of Grozny, Russian agencies reported. Four Russian policemen were killed on 27 October when Chechen fighters ambushed their convoy in Daghestan, close to the border with Chechnya. LF

UNITY DECLARES ITSELF PARTY OF THE PRESIDENCY...

At Unity's second congress, which took place in Velikii Novgorod on 28 October, Sergei Shoigu declared that his party's orientation is "conservative-centrist." The next day, the party issued a declaration that it stands for "conservatism in politics and free development in economics," ITAR-TASS reported. Unity also declared itself the "party of presidential authority"; Unity, the statement said, supports the presidency as an institution because "for Russia the head of state was, is, and will be the center of consolidation, the source of political common sense, and a guarantor of the country's unity. There is more to the presidency than just an elected office. The president is the symbol of the nation's unity and the mouthpiece for its aspirations." Shoigu also estimated the party's membership at more than 200,000 nationwide, while ITAR-TASS reported that 883 delegates and 143 guests attended the congress. JAC

...CONDUCTS A PURGE

On the congress's opening day, Shoigu declared that the party's ranks had to be cleansed, noting "some deputies have resorted to direct blackmailing during the passage of some laws." He added that many other party members act like "prostitutes: they go with whoever pays... Such members must be kicked out of Unity." The next day, State Duma deputy Vladimir Koptev-Dvornikov was expelled from Unity's Political Council for "divisive tactics," such as not supporting Unity's candidate of choice in the recent Udmurt presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October 2000). Shoigu said that Koptev-Dvornikov's expulsion will be the last from the party and that he is planning to raise the question of expelling Duma deputy Abdul-Vakhit Niyazov from the Unity faction for supporting "a Turkish opposition party of the Wahhabite mode." JAC

AUDIT CHAMBER WARNS GOVERNMENT ABOUT POSSIBLE LOSS OF ORT

The Audit Chamber on 27 October released a report about the Russian Public Television (ORT) concluding that the Russian government, which owns 51 percent of ORT, may lost its controlling shares because the television channel is plagued by debts, including a $100 million loan to Vneshekonombank that has not been paid, Interfax reported. According to "Vedomosti," the station put up as collateral for that loan a 13 percent stake in which shares were split evenly between state and private investors. The loan came due in January and has been neither paid nor deferred. JAC

BEREZOVSKII RESPONDS TO PUTIN'S REMARK

Business magnate Boris Berezovskii told Interfax in Paris on 27 October that he intends to keep working in the media sphere in Russia, pledging that he will "do everything to preserve mass media that are free from the state." He also commented on President Putin's recent interview with "Le Figaro" in which Putin answered in response to a question about criticism of him from Berezovskii that the state has a cudgel that it uses only once but on the head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2000). Berezovskii said "Napoleon said that he was more afraid of one newspaper than 100,000 bayonets. Putin is not Napoleon and television is not a newspaper. Television unfavorably differs from a newspaper by the fact that it can be hit with a club and a newspaper cannot." JAC

USTINOV LAWSUIT AGAINST NTV BEGINS

A Moscow city court began hearings on 27 October in a lawsuit filed by Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov against NTV general director and anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev, ITAR-TASS reports. Ustinov in particular objects to NTV reports in July and September saying that an apartment supplied to Ustinov was linked to the criminal investigation of former Kremlin facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin. JAC

ALLEGED U.S. SPY'S WIFE DENIED SECOND PRISON VISIT

Cheri Pope, the wife of U.S. businessman and former naval officer Edmond Pope, who is currently being tried on espionage charges, has been refused permission to visit her husband in the Lefortovo prison for a second time, Western agencies reported on 27 October. Cheri Pope was allowed to see her husband for one hour last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). Also on 27 October, ITAR-TASS quoted Edmond Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, as saying that his client's trial is likely to end in two weeks, noting that the public prosecutor is putting only two or three questions to each witness. "The court ruling will be a sort of present--a good or a bad one--to the new U.S. president," Astakhov commented. JC

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION CONFIRMS RECEIPT OF REFERENDUM SIGNATURES

Central Election Commission member Nina Kulyasova told reporters on 27 October that election commissions in more than 60 regions in Russia have received signatures collected by environmental groups in support of a nationwide referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). According to Kulyasova, if all goes well for the referendum's sponsors, the referendum could be held in March or April 2001. JAC

DUMA DECIDES NOT TO SEND ELECTION OBSERVERS TO U.S.

Duma deputies on 27 October rejected a plan by some 11 deputies to send a group of observers to monitor the U.S. presidential elections. The vote, according to AP, was 267 opposed and only 12 in favor. The plan, which was supported by deputies Nikolai Ryzhkov (independent) and Gennadii Kulik (Fatherland-All Russia) among others, had been prompted by U.S. criticism of Belarus's recent parliamentary elections. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov will visit the U.S. to observe how the elections are conducted, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 October. JAC

NEWSPAPER SAYS POLICE THINK CHECHENS SET OSTANKINO ON FIRE

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 October, citing only a "well-informed and reliable source," that Russian law enforcement agencies suspect the Ostankino television tower was deliberately set ablaze with "the involvement of Chechens" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2000). According to the daily, which receives financing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ, "law enforcement agencies knew that Chechen field commanders had planned terrorist acts in Moscow for 26-27 August." An ethnic Chechen employed as a technician at the tower was approached by other Chechens and offered $30,000 to plant explosives in the tower. The technician reportedly suggested that the tower be set on fire instead. JAC

CHORNOBYL WORKERS END HUNGER STRIKE

A group of 25 people in Tula Oblast who were disabled as a result of their work cleaning up after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster ended their hunger strike on 27 October, ITAR-TASS reported. The strikers had been protesting amendments to the law on welfare benefits to Chornobyl workers. According to "Izvestiya," the amendments would have made benefits "proportional to the severity of medical conditions rather than wages." The former workers were insisting that the new law must not worsen their situation. Chairman of the regional Chornobyl Union Vladimir Naumov told ITAR-TASS that the strike was called off after the State Duma rejected amendments to the Chornobyl law and after the government found a way to pay "700 million rubles [$25 million] in compensation for the damage to relief workers' health, as envisaged by current legislation." JAC

MORE THAN ONE-THIRD OF POPULATION MAKES DO WITH BELOW-SUBSISTENCE INCOME

Deputy Labor Minister Galina Karelova told reporters on 27 October that some 50 million Russians have incomes below the subsistence level, which amounted to 1,185 ruble ($42) a month in the second quarter of 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. Of families with three or more children, nearly 70 percent have incomes below that level. According to Karelova, the amount of overdue child allowances has decreased by 10 percent since the beginning of the year and now totals more than 26 billion rubles. Only 14 regions have no arrears in child allowances. JAC

CHITA OBLAST RE-ELECTS GOVERNOR

According to preliminary data cited by ITAR-TASS, Ravil Geniatulin has been re-elected as administration head of Chita Oblast, having won 57.5 percent of the vote in the 29 October ballot. Geniatulin, who is reported to have the backing of the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 September 2000), had a large lead over his nearest rival, State Duma deputy Colonel-General Viktor Voitenko (People's Deputy), who garnered only 16 percent. Also on 29 October, Bair Zhamsuev won re-election as administration head of the Aginskii Buryat Autonomous Okrug with 95 percent backing. ITAR-TASS reported that his only two rivals were local school teachers. JC

GRANDMOTHER ALLEGEDLY TRIES TO SELL GRANDCHILD FOR PARTS

AP reported on 28 October that a woman in Ryazan has been arrested for planning to sell her grandson so that his organs could be removed and sold in the West. The boy's uncle told police that the child was to have been sold for $70,000. The grandmother had told the child that he was going to be taken to Disneyland. JAC




ARMENIA COMMEMORATES PARLIAMENT SHOOTING ANNIVERSARY...

Led by President Robert Kocharian, thousands of Armenians on 27 October visited the graves of the eight senior officials shot dead in the parliament building one year earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Flags were flown at half mast across the country, and a minute of silence was observed at the time the shooting started. In an address, Kocharian said the killing had dealt "a severe blow" to Armenia's international prestige but that chaos was averted and stability eventually restored. LF

...AS INVESTIGATOR SAYS HE BELIEVES GUNMEN ACTED ON ORDERS

Armenian Military Prosecutor Gagik Djahangirian, who heads the investigation into the 27 October parliament shootings, said on 28 October that he still believes the five gunmen responsible were acting on orders from other persons whose identity he is seeking to establish, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. On 23 October, Aram Sargsian, whose brother Vazgen was one of those killed, accused Djahangirian of avoiding establishing the truth about the killings, branding him a coward. Sargsian made clear that he believes persons close to President Kocharian are implicated in the shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2000). Djahangirian said on 28 October that both President Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian have been questioned in connection with the shootings. He said that if Aram Sargsian is unhappy with his handling of the investigation, Sargsian should ask that the investigation be transferred to the jurisdiction of Prosecutor-General Boris Nazarian, whom Djahangirian termed Sargsian's "friend." LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SON AGAIN ACCUSES OPPOSITION LEADERS

Continuing his election campaign tour of Azerbaijan's regions, Ilham Aliev, who is one of the deputy chairmen of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told voters on Barda and Gyanja on 27 October that in June 1993, then parliament speaker Isa Gambar and opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov had been prepared to bomb Gyanja to quash the insurrection led by Suret Huseinov, Turan reported. Ilham Aliyev also accused Democratic Party of Azerbaijan chairman Rasul Guliev of maintaining close ties with the Armenian lobby in the U.S. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT UNSANCTIONED MEETING

Police in Baku intervened on 28 October to prevent some 40 members of the Civil Unity Party, which supports former President Ayaz Mutalibov, holding a protest demonstration in the city center, ITAR-TASS reported. Several of the would-be demonstrators were beaten and injured, according to Human Rights Watch. The party's leaders had been warned earlier not to go ahead with the planned demonstration, the purpose of which was to protest the refusal of the Azerbaijani authorities to register the party. Police had similarly prevented a protest by Civil Unity Party members two weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). LF

GEORGIAN POLICE DISPERSE DEMONSTRATION BY FORMER PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS

Police in Tbilisi used force on 28 October to disperse a demonstration in the city center by some 200 supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, AP and Caucasus Press reported. Participants in the demonstration, which was intended to mark the 10th anniversary of the parliamentary elections won by Gamsakhurdia's Round Table/Free Georgia coalition, called on the present government to resign and for the restoration of Gamsakhurdia's leadership team. LF

TWO GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS KILLED

Two Georgian border guards were killed and one wounded by an anti-tank mine in the Assa valley on 27 October after the three inadvertently strayed on to Russian territory, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian contingent had intended to meet with several of their Russian counterparts to discuss the situation on the Georgian-Russian border. Also on 27 October, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Naptvaridze said Tbilisi considers Moscow's proposal that OSCE observers should be deployed along that stretch of the border "perfectly acceptable" but says it will not raise that possibility with the OSCE at present, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). Some 40 OSCE observers have been deployed along the Georgian-Chechen border since early this year. Meanwhile Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 27 October that the 25 Chechen fighters who surrendered to Georgian forces on 21 October and are currently undergoing medical treatment do not qualify for refugee status in Georgia as they have committed unspecified crimes. LF

LOWER HOUSE OF KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT PASSES LAND LAW

After a lengthy debate, the lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament voted late on 26 October in favor of draft legislation that permits the private ownership of land, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The law was first debated late last year but shelved after repeated strikes and protest demonstrations. An amended version was reintroduced in June, but debate was postponed for four months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED...

Askar Akaev was re-elected for a further five year term as president of Kyrgyzstan on 29 October, defeating five rival candidates. Central Electoral Commission chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev said on 30 October that preliminary results from all but 30 of 2,085 polling stations indicated that Akaev garnered approximately 74.2 percent of the vote, Reuters reported. Omurbek Tekebaev, deputy speaker of the parliament's upper house, polled 13.89 percent and businessman Almazbek Atembaev 6.04 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 74 percent. LF

...AMID CHARGES OF FRAUD, INTIMIDATION

While Akaev told voters in Bishkek on 29 October that the ballot would be fair, campaign helpers for opposition candidates Melis Eshimkanov and Atembaev were detained by police or prevented from monitoring the poll, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A criminal case was opened in Bishkek after international observers discovered 700 ballot papers marked in favor of Akaev in a ballot box when polling began. Election observers from the Coalition of Kyrgyz NGOs were not permitted to monitor the vote, despite a ruling by Imanbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER'S APPEAL POSTPONED

Bishkek City Court judge Orozbek Chynbaev on 27 October postponed until 7 November the hearing of appeals by seven people sentenced last month to 16-17 years imprisonment on charges of having planned to assassinate President Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000). Meanwhile some 20 relatives of those seven men continued to picket the regional government building in the southern town of Djalalabad on 27 October for the 12th consecutive day. They insist that the men are innocent. LF

PRICES SKYROCKET, CURRENCY NOSEDIVES IN TAJIKISTAN

President Imomali Rakhmonov's 26 October announcement of the planned introduction of a new Tajik currency unit, the somoni, immediately triggered panic buying, rising prices, and a steep fall in the value of the ruble, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 27 October. The Tajik ruble declined in value to 3,000 to the U.S. dollar in Khujand and 4,000 to the dollar in Kulyab. One week earlier, the Tajik ruble was trading at 2,050 to the dollar. The Tajik ruble also lost value against the Russian ruble, sliding from 87 to 110 Tajik rubles to 1 Russian ruble. Prices of staples such as flour, sugar, and vegetable oil doubled within hours. A National Bank administrator in Kulyab appeared on local television to appeal to the population not to resort to panic buying. LF

OSCE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTER

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel met with Talbak Nazarov in Dushanbe on 28 October to discuss the political situation in Tajikistan, ethnic minorities, and regional security issues, including Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Van der Stoel reportedly gave a positive assessment of the Tajik peace process and noted that the country's success in tackling economic and social problems would contribute to the development of harmonious relations between the country's various ethnic groups. LF




LEGISLATIVE RUN-OFF TAKES PLACE IN BELARUS

According to preliminary data, the 29 October run-off to the Chamber of Representatives was valid in all 56 constituencies where voting took place, Belapan reported on 30 October. A total of 97 deputies in the 110-seat legislature were elected in the two rounds of voting. Turnout was some 52 percent, Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told journalists. Under the electoral code, turnout for a run-off must be at least 25 percent for the vote to be deemed valid. The OSCE, which denounced the 15 October vote in Belarus as undemocratic, sent no observers to the run-off. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO SHARE POWER...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 October said he might transfer some of his current powers to the legislature or the government, Reuters reported. He promised to take "certain steps" to this end before next year's presidential elections. "After the presidential elections, we will take an important step. Maybe we will have to initiate a referendum to make the constitution more flexible," Lukashenka added. "Lukashenka is not the kind of person who can share anything, to say nothing of state power. Most probably, this is just another ploy to change the constitution again to prolong his term in office," Yuras Belenki from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front commented. JM

...SAYS NO RUSH TO ELECT LEGISLATURE OF BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION

Lukashenka said Belarus's next election will be that of the head of state. By saying this he rejected suggestions by some Belarusian and Russian officials that elections to the Belarus-Russia Union legislature be held either this fall or next spring. Lukashenka noted that Minsk and Moscow must define the powers of their joint legislature before holding elections to the new body, "We need not rush," he said, adding that his view is shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lidziya Yarmoshyna told journalists that a presidential ballot must be held no later than 27 September 2001. She also said Belarusian Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn, who was born in Russia, is not eligible under Belarusian legislation to run for Belarus's presidency. Some Belarusian commentators have speculated that Moscow would like to see Uladzimir Yarmoshyn as Belarus's president instead of the unpredictable Lukashenka. JM

KYIV SEEKS EU MEDIATION IN RUSSIAN GAS TRANSIT

First Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyy said on 27 October that Kiev wants more say in developing Europe's energy market, Reuters reported. He also asked the EU to help mediate in Kyiv's dispute with Moscow over gas transit via Ukraine. "It is necessary to draw the European Union into the process of settling the issue of the transit of Russian energy to Europe," Chalyy noted. He said Ukraine wants "to apply European tariff policies" to shipments of Russian gas; this suggests that a new tariff scheme might involve Western gas consumers who are currently shouldering transit costs, according to Reuters. The issue of Russian gas supplies to Europe is likely to be raised at this week's Russia-EU summit in Paris. JM

BALTIC STATES REGISTER DIFFERENCES IN GDP GROWTH

Estonia's GDP increased by 6.4 percent, Latvia's by 5.1 percent, and Lithuania's by 1.9 percent in the first six months of 2000 compared with the same period last year, BNS reported on 27 October. The rate of GDP growth in Latvia and Lithuania in the second quarter of the year was lower than in the first quarter, declining from 5.5 percent to 4.8 percent in Latvia and from 4.2 percent to 0 percent in Lithuania. In Estonia, GDP grew by 7.4 percent in the second quarter. SG

CONSTANTINOPLE PATRIARCH VISITS ESTONIA

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople began a week-long visit to Estonia on 26 October. At a meeting the following day with Estonian Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus, he declared his full support for the registration of Estonia's pro-Moscow Orthodox Church, BNS reported. The spokesman for that Church, Leonti Morozkin, however, issued a sharply worded statement accusing the Constantinople patriarchate of contributing in the early 1990s to the rift in Estonia's Orthodox community. "We will never join the patriarchate of Constantinople, which has so deeply wounded our feelings," he commented. President Lennart Meri conferred Estonia's highest award, the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, on the patriarch, who in turn conferred on Meri the Holy Cross of the Most Blessed Virgin. Bartholomew also met with Prime Minister Mart Laar and parliamentary chairman Toomas Savi. SG

SUPPORT FOR ESTONIAN MEMBERSHIP IN EU, NATO DECLINES

A poll conducted by the market research company EMOR among 500 Estonian citizens aged 15 to 74 indicates that support for membership in the EU and NATO has declined, BNS reported on 27 October. Support for joining the EU decreased from 52 percent in January to 43 percent in October, while backing for NATO membership slipped from 57 percent to 53 percent over the same period. Forty-five percent of respondents opposed accession to the EU, while 30 percent were against membership in NATO. The percentage of those undecided about whether Estonia should enter the EU and NATO has remained more or less stable, at 12 and 18 percent, respectively. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES SIX LAWS PASSED BY FORMER PARLIAMENT

Valdas Adamkus on 27 October vetoed six laws passed by the former parliament and urged the new parliament to revise them, ELTA reported. Among the laws are the amendments to the media law, according to which Lithuanian national television would be forced to reduce advertising and would therefore lose valuable revenues. Adamkus argued that the provision in the state service law enabling parliamentary deputies to return to the posts they occupied before being elected to the parliament violated the principles of equal rights and fair competition enshrined in other laws. He also promised to propose a new law on reorganizing Lietuvos Energija, arguing that the law passed by the former parliament could damage the stable functioning of electricity networks in Lithuania. And he rejected the amendments to the laws on religion communities and education because the 2000 state and municipal budgets do not contain the necessary funding to implement them. SG

POLAND, UKRAINE SIGN COOPERATION PROTOCOL

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, signed a protocol on mutual trade and economic cooperation on 27 October, PAP reported. The protocol mentions the completion of the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline, joint participation in "European energy plans," as well as the cooperation in ship building, agricultural machinery building, and the modernization of Ukraine's power generation plants. Poland's trade turnover with Ukraine amounted to $700 million in January-July 2000, up 30 percent compared with the same period last year. Buzek commented that Polish-Ukrainian economic relations have acquired a "qualitatively new level." Yushchenko said his trip to Poland last week confirmed that both countries are strategic partners pursuing a single goal--European integration. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT SPEAKS IN FAVOR OF EARLY PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT

Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 29 October that holding early parliamentary elections in Poland "makes a lot of sense," PAP reported. Kwasniewski explained that a parliamentary ballot in the first half year of 2001 would "give a newly emerged parliamentary majority the opportunity to prepare its own budget" for 2002. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance's call to hold early parliamentary elections has also been supported by Freedom Union (UW), which quit the ruling coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action earlier this year. JM

HAVEL SAYS ONLY CZECHS CAN THREATEN OWN IDENTITY

Speaking on the 82nd anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia, President Vaclav Havel said that the only threats to Czech national identity come from the Czechs themselves, not from international organizations and supranational institutions, CTK reported on 28 October. The same day, he presented 38 people with state awards for their contribution to his country. Among the honorees was Michael Novak, an U.S. citizen of Czech origin, who was recognized for his contributions to democracy and the protection of human rights. Earlier, he served as a member of the U.S. Board for International Broadcasting, which oversaw RFE/RL. PG

ANNIVERSARY OF CZECHOSLOVAK INDEPENDENCE MARKED

Some 150 National Patriotic Front followers marched to the Slavin cemetery on 28 October to mark the anniversary of Czechoslovakia's independence. Police blocked some 60 anarchists who were protesting the march. Meanwhile in Bratislava, some 200 Slovak citizens marked the same anniversary with speakers noting that when both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are in the EU, they will again have a common future, CTK reported. PG

TEMELIN REACTOR SHUT DOWN, BUT PROTESTS CONTINUE

The nuclear reactor at Temelin, in the Czech Republic, was shut down on 26 October, but protests against it continued in Austria, CTK reported. Spokesman for the plant said the shutdown was the result of an "insignificant" problem and that no "serious" delays in bringing the plant online were expected. Meanwhile, former Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told CTK on 28 October that Austrian complaints about the plant were entirely "artificial." PG

VISEGRAD FOUR, ROMANIA PLEDGE BETTER PROTECTION FOR MINORITIES

Officials from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania met in Prague on 27 October to stress their commitment to ensuring the better treatment of ethnic minorities and particularly of Roma, CTK reported. Meanwhile, TASR reported that Roma continue to be the least popular ethnic minority in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. And AP reported on 28 October that officials in the Romanian capital of Bucharest have banned horse-drawn carts from the city, an action many see as directed against the Roma community. PG

SLOVAKS DESTROY LAST SOVIET MISSILES

At a ceremony in Novaky on 27 October, Slovak officials destroyed the last components of Soviet SS-23 short-range missiles, CTK reported. The ceremony was attended by senior Slovak and U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Carl Spielvogel. PG

SOLDIERS TAKE OATH TO SLOVAK SOCIALIST REPUBLIC

A Slovak colonel had Slovak soldiers take an oath of loyalty to the Slovak Socialist Republic, CTK reported on 29 October. Officials said that the action was "by mistake" and reflected "butterflies in the stomach" of the officer involved. But officials said that "the general staff does not want and will not tolerate such mistakes." PG

GERMANY REASSURES HUNGARY OF SUPPORT ON EU

German parliamentary chairman Wolfgang Thierse told visiting Hungarian President Ferenz Madl that Berlin will do its best to secure Hungary's admission to the EU, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 October. Madl, who was making his first foreign trip as president, said he believes that Hungary will be fully qualified by 2002, dpa reported the same day. He also met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, President Johannes Rau, and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. PG




RUGOVA CLAIMS VICTORY IN KOSOVAR ELECTIONS...

Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova said on 29 October that his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) party won some 60 percent of the votes in the previous day's municipal elections, Reuters reported. OSCE officials have said they will not release preliminary results until 90 percent of the vote has been counted, which is expected to be the case late on 30 October. But an OSCE spokesman did not dispute Rugova's claims. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova was expected to finish second in the ballot. Rugova said the LDK "cultivates tolerance and cooperation with other political groups." The elections were praised by OSCE and EU officials, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. PB

...CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCE

Rugova said that the election results have "both a local and national context--which is the independence of Kosova," Reuters reported. He said "I am for straightforward, formal recognition of Kosova, better now when KFOR and [the UN administration] are here." PB

BELGRADE CALLS ELECTIONS 'INVALID'

A statement from the office of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica called the elections in Kosova invalid since the Serbian minority in the province boycotted the vote, AP reported. The transitional government of Serbia called the elections "unacceptable because they are single-ethnic...not based on the laws of the Republic of Serbia and are contrary to the proclaimed goals and responsibilities of the international community." The statement also decried the fact that "not even elementary conditions" existed for the vote. Kosovar Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic told B-92 Radio that the elections are not free: "For free elections you need freedom of movement first, basic safety. Kosovo Serb live in ghettos, in fear of attacks." PB

YUGOSLAVIA TO PARDON POLITICAL PRISONERS

The Yugoslav government will amnesty all political prisoners and draft dodgers, the state agency Tanjug reported on 29 October. Belgrade University law professor Stevan Lilic said those being held will be released after the federal parliament adopts an amnesty law being prepared by a team of experts under his direction. Besides political prisoners, the authorities will release victims of political repression and those jailed for harming Yugoslavia's reputation, its constitutional order and social system. PB

EU APPROVES LARGE AID PACKAGE FOR SERBIA

The EU parliament has given its approval to a 200 million euro ($166 million) aid package for Serbia, AP reported on 27 October. EU Budget Commissioner Michaela Schreyer said "the EU is living up to its promises to the new Serbian leadership by providing the necessary funds for emergency aid." She added that the decision was ratified in "record time." Schreyer said "Europe is now ready to help in very concrete ways with support for energy, food, health, schools, and media." The money is also earmarked to help buy fuel so that Serbia can get through the winter without heating shortages. PB

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN WELCOMES BELGRADE REQUEST TO JOIN UN

Richard Holbrooke said in Sarajevo on 27 October that he welcomes Yugoslav President Kostunica's call that his country be admitted to the UN as an equal successor state to other former Yugoslav republics, Reuters reported. Holbrooke said "this ends or will soon end a long...dispute in the UN that has gone on for eight years. It will also open many other doors for regional cooperation." A UN General Assembly resolution adopted in September 1992 said Belgrade could not "continue automatically the membership of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the United Nations" and urged it to apply for new membership, as the former Yugoslav states have done. The French Foreign Ministry also praised the announcement by Belgrade. PB

BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEES SPEEDY RESUMPTION OF RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE

Jadranko Prlic said on 28 October in Bologna that he foresees the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia by the end of the year, Reuters reported. Prlic said "talks can start as soon as a new government in Belgrade is established. Bosnia is not laying down any conditions." Prlic met with Yugoslav President Kostunica on 22 October in Sarajevo. A new Yugoslav cabinet is not expected to be formed in Belgrade until next week. PB

BOSNIAN CROATS PUSHING FOR 'INDEPENDENCE?'

A majority of Bosnian-Croat political parties called on 28 October for a referendum on the rights of ethnic Croats in Bosnia to be held during general elections on 11 November, AFP reported. In the referendum, Croats will vote on a rights declaration issued in the central Bosnian town of Novi Travnik by the main nationalist Croatia Democratic Community (HDZ) and six other parties. That document was issued in the presence of Bosnian Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljic. A "Croatian People's Convention" was also founded on 28 October. HDZ leader Ante Jelavic was elected its president and said the convention should "act as the permanent and highest political institution of Croatian people" in Bosnia. The actions follow protests by the HDZ against changes in electoral rules that the HDZ says will diminsh its leading position in Bosnian-Croat politics. PB

CROATIA WANTS TO MOVE QUICKLY ON BETTER EU RELATIONS

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Berlin on 27 October that Zagreb wants to swiftly improve relations with the EU, dpa reported. Mesic said that "naturally there are expectations" and that Croatia is hoping that Brussels will announce that talks on granting Zagreb associate status with the EU will be made at the 24 November Balkans summit in the Croatian capital. Mesic made his comments at the end of a two-day visit to Germany. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called on 26 October for more foreign investment in Croatia. The president of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse, hailed Mesic the following day as "a representative of the new democratic developments" in Croatia. PB

TAIWAN, MACEDONIA SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT

The Taiwanese Defense Ministry said that Skopje and Taipei will sign a defense accord on 30 October in the Taiwanese capital, AFP reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman said the agreement will be signed during a visit to Taipei by Macedonian Defense Minister Liuben Paunoski. Macedonia and the Vatican have both recognized Taiwan instead of China. PB

EU URGES ROMANIA TO ACCELERATE PRIVATIZATION PROCESS

Fokion Fotiadis, the EU representative in Romania, has urged Bucharest to speed up the privatization of money-losing firms, AP reported on 28 October. "Privatization is very urgent in Romania because there are many companies which swallow huge resources without producing anything in exchange," he said. PG

HOMBACH SEEKS TO SPEED UP EU-ROMANIAN PROGRAMS

While in Bucharest for a Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe meeting, special coordinator Bodo Hombach on 27 October met with Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, Mediafax reported. Constantinescu hailed the first steps in increasing cooperation in the region and presented the advantages of transporting oil from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Romania. Hombach promised to speed up common development programs between the EU and countries in southeast Europe. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES RUSSIAN DEBT RESTRUCTURING

Lawmakers on 27 October ratified the agreement restructuring Chisinau's debts to the Russian Federation over 15 years, Infotag reported. Moldova currently owes $122 million to Russia, including $30 million that is owed by the separatist Transdniester region. Some deputies argued that the Transdniester should repay its portion of the debt on its own. PG

MOLDOVA'S CIS MEMBERSHIP NO OBSTACLE TO EU INTEGRATION

Ivan Borislavlevich, the European Commission representative in Chisinau, said Moldova's membership in the CIS is not in itself an obstacle to Moldovan membership in the EU, AP FLUX reported on 28 October. At the same time, he said that a communist president in Moldova would put the EU "on guard" but would not end dialogue between the EU and Moldova. Meanwhile, Moldovan Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Leanca told BASA press the same day that there has been little progress over the last two years in talks between Moldova and the EU. PG

TRANSDNIESTER TO GET NEW RUBLES IN 2001

Igor Smirnov, the leader of the breakaway Transdniester, issued a decree on 27 October calling for the introduction of new rubles there in the year 2001, AP FLUX reported. Old rubles will be exchanged for new ones at the rate of 1 million to one. Meanwhile, the "Tara" newspaper reported on 27 October that the Tiraspol government now views former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's plan for settling the Transdniester dispute favorably. PG

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS SOFIA WINNING ANTI-CORRUPTION FIGHT

Ivan Kostov told the Bulgarian parliament on 27 October that there have been fewer cases of official misconduct and bribe-taking in 2000 than in 1999 and that a larger number of such cases have been solved, BTA reported. In other comments, Kostov complained that the EU is treating Bulgaria unfairly, lumping it together with other countries that have not done as well as it has, AP reported. But European Commission officials noted that Bulgaria has made enormous progress and said that visa restrictions against Bulgarians must be lifted, BTA reported. PG

BULGARIA'S MUSLIMS ELECT NEW MUFTI

Bulgarian Muslims on 28 October elected Selim Mjumjun Mehmedov, 37, as their new chief mufti, Reuters reported. Until now, Mehmedov had been a Muslim official in Plovdiv. Meanwhile, a former chief mufti, Fikri Hasan, has won his case against the Bulgarian government in the European Court of Human Rights, BTA reported on 27 October. The court held that the Bulgarian authorities violated his rights. PG




LOTTERY AFFAIR HIGHLIGHTS INCOMPLETE CZECH MEDIA INDEPENDENCE


By Tony Wesolowsky

Betting fever is growing in the Czech Republic. And one of the chief companies cashing in on the fever is Sazka (which means "bet" or "wager" in Czech).

Sazka operates the only nationwide daily lottery and airs many commercials on Czech public television. Five months ago, a public television reporter uncovered some questionable business practices at the company, along with numerous instances of what he said was heavy-handed lobbying by Czech politicians. The charges were aired earlier this month, but only after a week's delay to allow Ales Husak, Sazka's president, to immediately rebut the report, which he claimed was one-sided.

The director of Czech Television, Dusan Chmelicek, denied Husak had personally lobbied him to hold up the airing of the program. He says the reason the program was delayed was because it was one-sided.

Miroslav Mares, the chairman of the Council of Czech Television, which oversees the country's two public television stations, told RFE/RL that the whole episode is "strange." The more than 90 million crowns ($2.2 million) Sazka spends annually on advertising on Czech public television may have influenced Chmelicek's actions, he commented. And he noted that his council will investigate libel allegations made by Sazka.

Czech Culture Minister Pavel Dostal, whose ministry oversees television legislation, said in an interview with RFE/RL that the Sazka affair demonstrates the power of commercial interests in the media: "What happened shows that advertisers have influence on public broadcasting, in this case television. In my opinion, this is very dangerous, more dangerous than the influence of politicians [on the media]. Because if a politician did something similar, journalists would create a scandal [that is, investigate]. Advertisers not only advertise in public broadcasting but advertise in those media that employ journalists who, in this case, cannot create a scandal because their publisher would also lose an advertiser."

The Sazka controversy comes at a difficult time not only for low-budgeted Czech national television, but for the country's journalists in general. One reason is that Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman regularly castigates those journalists for what he calls their lack of professionalism. One of the Social Democrat leader's fiercest barbs came a few weeks ago, when he said in the daily "Pravo" that "journalists claim they are the watchdogs of democracy. But they are not the pit bulls of Czech society, just degenerate mongrels, searching only for sensations."

In addition, one Czech journalist is facing eight years in prison for a report aired on a commercial television station that the government says compromised state security. Earlier this year, Tomas Smrcek reported that six years ago Jiri Ruzek, the head of the country's state security service, had "hired" a friend to protect him from prosecution on a drunk-driving charge. In his report, Smrcek held up a paper showing the man had indeed been hired by Ruzek. The Czech government says that by doing so, Smrcek revealed a classified document and thereby broke the law. In another incident a few months ago, two journalists for the daily "Mlada Fronta Dnes" were formally charged by the government for refusing to reveal the sources of their report on what was called "Operation Lead." The operation was allegedly a smear campaign meant to discredit a Social Democratic Party leader, Petra Buzkova.

Under a new media law passed by the Czech parliament early this year, reporters are obliged to reveal a source for a story if the source is a wanted criminal or someone suspected of wrongdoing. In the "Operation Lead" affair, the two journalists refused to reveal their source. The controversy reached as high a level as that of President Vaclav Havel, who granted the two journalists clemency.

But the reporters say they will continue to challenge the law in court. One of them, Jiri Kubik, told RFE/RL that they intend to continue the fight for the right to protect a source--a bedrock principle of journalism in the West.

Other elements of the new Czech media law have been a source of controversy since it took effect last February. The law's so-called "right-to-response" clause forces media outlets to grant time or space to any side felt to be slighted in media reports. A U.S. journalism professor, James Brodell, has warned that many editors will back down from taking on powerful interests for fear of the law's repercussions.

But some of Czech journalists' troubles may be of their own making. Earlier this month, for example, a former director of the Czech utility CEZ testified in court that he had paid a journalist to write favorable stories about nuclear energy. CEZ owns the controversial new Czech nuclear power plant at Temelin. The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague.


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