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Newsline - November 9, 2000




PUTIN READY TO WORK WITH 'ANY' U.S. PRESIDENT

Speaking in Rostov-na-Donu on 8 November as the results of the U.S. presidential election were still in doubt, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia will work with any future administration in Washington, noting that "we have thoroughly studied the programs of the two main candidates," ITAR-TASS reported. Putin added that "as for official congratulations, we have to wait until official bodies make their decision." He offered the help of Russian election officials if the U.S. needed it. Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, Putin said, is in the U.S. just now and "he can help his American colleagues if need be." PG

RUSSIAN EXPERT RESPONDS TO U.S. ELECTION...

Institute of the USA and Canada Director Sergei Rogov told ITAR-TASS on 8 November that future relations between Moscow and Washington will depend on the attitude of the new administration toward national missile defense. He added that he and his colleagues do not rule out "radical changes" in the relationship "if Republicans come to power." He noted that there are "many people we know" on George W. Bush's team including Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, who he said are "real professionals, without ideological messianic ideas." With such people, Rogov said, "it is possible to do business and come to agreement." "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, foresees "a multitude of troubles" for Russia if Bush wins the ballot. "The threat of the collapse of the [1972] Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty may be the first" of such troubles, the newspaper commented in its 9 November issue. PG/JC

...AS DO RUSSIAN POLITICIANS

State Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said that he views the election of Bush as preferable to that of Vice President Al Gore, whom he described "as a hawk Democrat," ITAR-TASS reported. Boris Gryzlov, the head of the pro-government Unity faction in the Duma, said that he would welcome a Bush victory because "the U.S. Republic Party made a great contribution to the normalization of relations between the two super-powers." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that Bush would "interfere in Russia's internal affairs much less than his predecessors," Interfax reported. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that he does not believe there will be any major change in U.S. policy once the election results have been finalized. Meanwhile, former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, among others, expressed the opinion that the difficulty in naming a winner in the U.S. election highlights "imperfections" in American democracy. Kozyrev said that whatever the outcome this year, "one might expect an amendment to the U.S. constitution aimed at improving the election process" in the U.S., Ekho Moskvy reported. PG

KLEBANOV SAYS NEW EVIDENCE SUPPORTS 'KURSK' COLLISION THEORY...

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who heads the government commission investigating the causes of the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, told journalists on 8 November that pictures taken of the vessel during the recent recovery operation support the theory that the "Kursk" collided with another vessel. Scratches and a dent between the submarine's first and second compartments suggest that such a collision took place, Russian media quoted Klebanov as saying. At the same time, Klebanov noted that the investigative commission is still considering three possible causes--a collision with another vessel, striking a World War II mine, and an on-board explosion. Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov recently said he is "certain" that the "Kursk" disaster was caused by a collision with a foreign submarine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). JC

...AS SECOND NOTE FOUND ON SUBMARINER'S BODY

Klebanov also revealed on 8 November that a second note had been found on one of the 12 bodies recovered from the wreck of the "Kursk" submarine. Russian television channels showed Klebanov reading parts of the message that detailed how the 23 seamen who had fled to the vessel's ninth compartment struggled during the last hours of their lives: "We are all feeling bad. We are getting weaker from the effects of carbon monoxide following the fire. Pressure is rising... We won't hold out for more than 24 hours." A similar note was found on the body of another seamen shortly after the recovery operation got under way (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). JC

COURT BARS WITNESS IN POPE TRIAL FROM WITHDRAWING TESTIMONY...

Pavel Astakhov, the lawyer defending accused U.S. spy Edmond Pope, told journalists on 8 November that the Moscow City Court has refused to allow Anatolii Babkin to retract testimony claiming that he had handed over classified information on a high-speed torpedo to Pope. Babkin said in a letter to the court that the testimony had been given under pressure from investigators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000). Later the same day, Russian Television broadcast video footage that it said showed Babkin giving state secrets to Pope, but Reuters pointed out that it was impossible to tell from the "grainy footage" if any documents had changed hands between the men identified as Pope and Babkin. JC

...AS RUSSIAN DOCTORS HAND OVER RESULT OF POPE'S MEDICAL TEST

The U.S. State Department announced on 8 November that Russian doctors have handed over the results of a medical test they performed on Pope last week, after his trial had been postponed for a second time when the defendant complained of acute joint pains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). Pope has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer and has been examined only by Russian doctors since he was detained in April. According to the doctors who carried out last week's test, Pope's cancer is still in remission and the defendant is well enough to stand trial. JC

FOREIGN INVESTORS HAVE 50 PERCENT STAKE IN SMIRNOV

The lawyer of Sergei Yuzefov, whom a court recently named as general director of the Smirnov Vodka Trading House, has revealed that unidentified foreign investors have a 50 percent share in the company, Interfax reported on 8 November. Yuzefov's appointment as general director of Smirnov is opposed by Boris Smirnov, who is the chief executive officer of the company and owns the other half of the shares. Smirnov has been holed up in the distillery since last weekend, when police entered the building to enforce the court ruling appointing Yuzefov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000). Yuzefov's lawyer declined to name the foreign investors but said they do not include UDV North America, which produces Smirnoff vodka and with which Smirnov has been engaged in a legal battle over the use of the name "Smirnoff." JC

SELEZNEV SEEKS BUDGET 'LEFTOVERS'

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has asked President Putin to help transfer to the Duma budget "leftovers" so that such monies can be distributed to committees that are underfinanced in the 2001 budget, ITAR-TASS reported. He put those funds at between 10 billion and 15 billion rubles ($380,000-$580,000) and said that they should be added to current budget allocations. PG

SECURITY AGENCY OFFICIALS TO BE FINGERPRINTED

President Putin has signed a law requiring the fingerprinting of employees of executive agencies, the police, the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information, and foreign intelligence and customs services, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 November. Fingerprinting will also be required of draftees, bailiffs, fire and rescue services, and those who claim the status of refugee, the news agency said. PG

RUSSIA PLANS TO BAN PUBLIC DISPLAY OF NAZI SYMBOLS

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has asked Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko to push through the Duma legislation that would ban the public use of the swastika and other Nazi symbols, Interfax reported on 8 November. Several extremist groups, including Russian National Unity, currently use such symbols. The Moscow city authorities imposed such a ban in the mid-1990s, dpa reported, but the new proposal would extend that prohibition to the entire country. PG

GAZPROM-MEDIA-MOST CASE POSTPONED

The Moscow arbitration court on 8 November postponed hearing Gazprom-Media's case against Media-MOST, Interfax reported. Gazprom-Media has sued in order to recover $248.5 million in debts owed by Media-MOST. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS IMF APPROVAL

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Moscow officials began talks with the IMF on 8 November to gain its approval of Russia's reforms not so much to obtain loans, which Russian officials insist Moscow does not need, but to discuss debt rescheduling with others to whom Moscow owes funds, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

UNEMPLOYMENT FALLS

The Labor and Social Development Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 8 November that the number of people unemployed in Russia fell 15-20 percent in the first nine months of 2000 compared with the first nine months of last year. The ministry said its retraining programs have helped cut unemployment, adding that more than 60 percent of those still unemployed need professional training, retraining, or upgrading of skills. PG

DEFENSE MINISTRY GAINS CONTROL OVER MILITARY COOPERATION

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told ITAR-TASS on 8 November that the transfer of control over military cooperation with foreign countries from the Industry, Science, and Technologies Ministry to his own agency will make such ties "more effective." Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov said in Moscow on 8 November that the merger of Rosvooruzhenie and Promeksport into a single state arms exporting company, Rosoboroneksport, will help promote Russian arms sales abroad, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). PG

PUTIN PLEDGES NOT TO CUT AIR FORCE TROOPS

President Putin, speaking in Rostov-na-Donu on 8 November, vowed to "support and strengthen" the air force, saying that the number of its troops will not be reduced, ITAR-TASS reported. A Security Council meeting on 9 November is due to discuss the issue of cuts in Russia's armed forces as a whole. Earlier this week, RIA-Novosti had quoted air force General Aleksandr Popov as saying the force would shed 5,000 positions to total 35,000 troops. Putin also discussed on 8 November the social and economic problems faced by the Southern Russia district, which includes Chechnya. Putin described the district as a potential "tourist destination" and proposed developing transport infrastructure to attract both Russian and foreign investment. JC

ROSNEFT TO RETAIN CONTROLLING STAKE IN CHECHEN OIL INDUSTRY

Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov issued a decree on 4 November establishing a subsidiary of Rosneft that will exploit Chechnya's oil and natural gas reserves, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 8 November. Rosneft will have a 51 percent stake in the new subsidiary, Grozneftegas, while the Chechen administration will hold the remaining 49 percent. The creation of the new company, originally announced for August, has been delayed by a struggle for control between the Russian government and interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who had demanded a majority stake. LF

MOSCOW WELCOMES YUGOSLAVIA'S RETURN TO OSCE

Russian Foreign Minister spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 8 November that Moscow expects Yugoslavia to resume its seat in the OSCE at that body's upcoming permanent council meeting on 10 November, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that Russia "has long and consistently called for the resumption of work of the Yugoslav delegation." PG

SLAVNEFT SIGNS ACCORD WITH IRAQ

Slavneft, the Russian-Belarusian oil company, has signed a preliminary agreement with Iraq to development that country's Subba oil field, Interfax reported on 8 November. Citing commercial confidentiality, Slavneft President Andrei Shtorkh refused to give any details of the accord. PG

SHOIGU VISITS LIBYA

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Tripoli on 8 November for talks with Muammar Gaddafi and other senior members of the Libyan government, ITAR-TASS reported. Shoigu is scheduled to discuss Russian cooperation in developing Libya's oil fields, expanded military sales to Tripoli, and cooperation in a variety of economic fields, including banking, ITAR-TASS said. PG

RUSSIA SETS VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR SLOVAKS

From 1 January 2001, Slovak citizens who seek to visit the Russian Federation will have to obtain an entry visa, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on 8 November, according to an ITAR-TASS report. The ministry said that Moscow is taking this step in response to Slovakia's imposition of a visa requirement for Russian nationals wishing to visit that country. PG

MOSCOW CITY TO BUILD FLATS FOR BLACK SEA SAILORS

A spokesman for Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov announced on 8 November that the city will help the Black Sea Fleet construct a 150-apartment building for the fleet's sailors, ITAR-TASS reported. For a long time, Luzhkov has portrayed himself as a special defender of the Black Sea Fleet. PG

AEROFLOT SHARES TO APPEAR ON LONDON EXCHANGE

A group of Western banks is structuring an offering under which shares of the Russian airline Aeroflot will be traded on the London stock exchange sometime in the next five years, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 November. Aeroflot lost $60 million in 1999 but is expected to have profits totaling $30 million this year. PG




ARMENIA HAILS FRENCH SENATE GENOCIDE VOTE

In a statement issued on 8 November, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ara Papyan welcomed the vote earlier that day by the upper chamber of the French parliament recognizing the 1915 killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said that the vote "reaffirms historical truth" and that it will enable Armenia and Turkey to "overcome difficult issues inherited from the past" and will facilitate regional cooperation. The lower chamber of the French parliament had passed a virtually identical bill in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 1998), which the Senate at that time failed to endorse under pressure from the Turkish government. The new bill must now be approved by the French National Assembly. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER DENIES HE PLANS TO RESIGN

Andranik Markarian told journalists in Yerevan on 8 November that he has not submitted his resignation, nor does he intend to do so, according to Snark on 8 November as cited by Groong. He also denied rumors of an imminent cabinet reshuffle. The newspapers "Hayots ashkhar," "Aravot" and "Haykakan Zhamanak" have all suggested that Finance and Economy Minister Levon Barkhudarian, Culture Minister Roland Sharoyan, Education Minister Eduard Ghazarian, Agriculture Minister Zaven Gevorgian, Telecommunications Minister Eduard Madatian and National Security Minister Karlos Petrosian may lose their posts. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES VOTE ON VANISHED DEPUTY

Parliamentary deputies voted on 8 November to postpone for two weeks a debate on whether deputy Vano Siradeghian should be stripped of his mandate, according to Snark cited by Groong. A former minister of internal affairs, Siradeghian fled Armenia in April after his immunity was lifted to enable police to take him into custody for the remainder of his trial on charges of having ordered a series of contract killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 April 2000). The Armenian parliament committee for state and legal affairs ruled last month that his protracted absence is "unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2000). Parliamentary speaker Armen Khachatrian said that although Siradeghian has failed to participate in recent votes, the debate on stripping him of his mandate must be announced seven days in advance to enable him to attend. That debate can take place in his absence only if Siradeghian twice fails to appear to participate in it. LF

KARABAKH ASSASSINATION TRIAL ADJOURNED INDEFINITELY

The trial of 15 men charged with the failed 22 March attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was adjourned indefinitely on 8 November at the request of lawyer Eduard Agadjanian in order to permit his client, Suren Aghadjanian, to undergo a further medical examination, Snark reported. Suren Aghadjanian is the former chief bodyguard of ex-Karabakh Army commander Samvel Babayan, who is accused of master-minding the assassination attempt. Aghadjanian had undergone a psychiatric examination in Yerevan, where doctors pronounced him mentally fit to stand trial. He appeared in court for the first time on 2 November. But his attorney called for a second psychiatric examination, claiming that Aghadjanian is insane. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SETS CONDITIONS FOR ADMISSION OF ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

Following a heated two-day discussion, representatives of the Council of Europe Foreign Ministers voted late on 8 November to admit both Armenia and Azerbaijan to that body, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Earlier the same day, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian had told the Armenian parliament that Armenian membership in the council this year was unlikely due to the flagrant violations during the 5 November Azerbaijani parliamentary elections. The council had ruled in June that the two countries should be accepted as full members simultaneously (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2000). But it made Azerbaijan's membership contingent on clarification of international criticism of the parliamentary ballot and the adoption of amendments to the constitution and laws on elections and the media, according to Turan. Armenia must also amend its election and media laws. Both countries are urged to intensify efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS INSIST PARLIAMENTARY POLL WAS FREE, FAIR, AND DEMOCRATIC

Ali Ahmedov, who is executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), told journalists in Baku on 8 November that the parliamentary ballot three days earlier was free, fair, and democratic, Turan reported. He added that the number of votes garnered by the various Azerbaijani political parties accurately reflects their relative popularity. YAP reportedly received 70 percent of the vote under the proportional system. Also on 8 November, Central Electoral Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov similarly argued that the failure of all but two parties to win the minimum 6 percent of the vote required for representation under the proportional system shows that other parties "lack a social base." Panahov said he does not doubt international election monitors' claims that they witnessed "some" procedural violations, but he added that he doubts such "irregularities" occurred nationwide. LF

GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER RELEASED FROM CUSTODY

Dato Shengelaia, leader of the "Forest Brothers" guerrilla movement operating in western Georgia, was released from detention on 8 November, nine days after declaring a hunger strike, Caucasus Press reported. Shengelaia was arrested in September and sentenced to three months detention for assaulting a local official in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 September 2000). He is widely believed to have engaged in smuggling across the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN DEMONSTRATION PARTICIPANT DIES

An unnamed participant in the 28 October Tbilisi demonstration by supporters of deceased Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia has died in hospital, Caucasus Press reported on 8 November. Vakhtang Bochorishvili, leader of the 21st Century parliament faction, has called for an investigation to ascertain whether the demonstrator died of injuries received when police used violence to disperse that protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2000). LF

CYANIDE LEAK AT GEORGIAN GOLD PRODUCER 'NORMALIZED'

Georgian presidential representative in eastern Georgia Levan Mamaladze said on 8 November that a cyanide leak at the Georgian-Australian gold-producing joint venture in Madneuli was halted before the poison reached the nearby River Mashvera, which is a tributary of the Kura, Caucasus Press reported. He ruled out any large-scale ecological damage as a result of the leak. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S 2001 DRAFT BUDGET UNVEILED

The lower chamber of the parliament began debating next year's draft budget on 8 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Characterizing the draft as "realistic and stable," Finance Minister Mazhit Esenbaev told deputies that it projects GDP at 2,535 billion tenges (approximately $17.7 billion) and GDP growth at 4 percent. Revenues are estimated at 406.2 billion tenges, or 16 percent of GDP, and expenditures at 462 billion tenges, resulting in a budget deficit of 55.8 billion tenges, which is equal to 2.2 percent of GDP. Interfax reported that planned expenditures include some 148 billion tenges for social needs, which will allow the minimum wage to be raised by 30 percent. Esenbaev said an exchange rate of 152.7 tenges to $1 is envisaged for next year. On 7 November, National Bank chairman Georgii Marchenko had argued for a slight revaluation of the tenge from the present exchange rate of 142.7 to 144 to $1, according to Interfax. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN

Imomali Rakhmonov visited Iran on 7-8 November at the head of a government delegation that included the ministers of defense, economy, and foreign economic relations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 9 November. Rakhmonov discussed with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Khatami, the prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation, especially in the spheres of hydroelectric-energy and highway construction, and possible military-technical cooperation. In particular, they focused on a possible Tajik-Iranian-Russian project to construct the Sangtudin hydro-electric power station, which is being partly financed by an Iranian credit. The two presidents also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, agreeing that a military victory in the ongoing civil war is impossible and that the UN should mediate talks on establishing a coalition government. LF

TAJIKISTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS MILITARY-TECHNICAL COOPERATION

A Russian delegation headed by Zinovii Pak, director-general of the Russian Munitions Agency, met in Dushanbe on 8 November with Tajik Prime Minister Aqil Aqilov to discuss cooperation between the two countries' military-industrial complexes, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Russian delegation is to visit defense plants in Kulyab and Dushanbe. LF

TAJIK SUPREME COURT HANDS DOWN TWO MORE DEATH SENTENCES

Shomakhmad Khasanov (also known as Mowgli) and Validjon Khalilov were sentenced to death on 8 November for committing six murders, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Khasanov and Khalilov belonged to an armed criminal gang that committed more than 50 attacks and robberies in the Kofarnihon and Lenin Raions in 1998-1999; four other members of that gang received prison terms. Two days earlier, the Supreme Court had passed death sentences on three members of a second criminal gang that had operated in the town of Tursunzade and the Shakhrinau and Gissar Raions, killing three people. A total of nine death sentences have been handed down over the past month. LF

NUMBER OF HOMELESS IN TAJIK EARTHQUAKES LESS THAN ORIGINALLY REPORTED

A member of the Tajik presidential administration told Asia Plus-Blitz on 9 November that a visit by Prime Minister Aqilov to the southeastern regions of the country hit by last week's earthquakes had revealed that the number of people left homeless is far fewer than the original estimate of 17,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000. According to the agency, 2,135 people are said to have lost their homes. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS ON ELECTION OF UPPER HOUSE

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 8 November discussed the formation of the Council of the Republic with oblast governors and the Central Electoral Commission head Lidziya Yarmoshyna, Belarusian Television reported. The 64-seat upper house is formed by 56 senators elected by the six oblast and Minsk City councils from among candidates proposed by local councils; the remaining eight senators are appointed by the president. "Let's elect the best servicemen, doctors, teachers, scientists, as well as creative and culture workers," Lukashenka said. He also urged that women make up no less than one-third of the house. And he suggested that all governors should become senators in order "to ensure continuity" between the old and new upper houses. The deadline for nominating candidates to the Council of the Republic is 14 November. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET APPROVES TWO-STAGE PENSION INCREASE

The government on 8 November approved a two-stage increase in state pensions, Interfax reported. Currently, the monthly minimum and maximum pensions are 48 hryvni ($8.8) and 81 hryvni, respectively. As of 1 December, those pensions will be raised to 55 hryvni and 90 hryvni and as of 1 April 2001 to 58 hryvni and 108 hryvni. Out of Ukraine's 49 million residents, more than 13 million are pensioners. The officially approved monthly subsistence minimum in Ukraine is 270 hryvni per capita (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2000). JM

UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER REJECTS RECENT BRIBERY CHARGES

Lawyers of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who has been jailed in the U.S. on charges of laundering $114 million, have told Interfax that Lazarenko "categorically rejects" the recent accusation that he accepted bribes from Oleksandr Tymoshenko, a member of the Unified Energy Systems Board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2000). The lawyers added that Lazarenko has "never maintained business or other relations" with Oleksandr Tymoshenko. JM

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRAISES BALTIC STATES' PROGRESS TOWARD EU MEMBERSHIP

In its annual report on the progress of candidate countries toward meeting the criteria for EU membership, the European Commission praised the Baltic states for making significant progress but noted areas in which improvement is still necessary, BNS reported. Estonia is recognized as the Baltic state to have made the most progress but was urged to continue efforts to integrate non-citizens and improve public administration and the judiciary. Lithuania is described for the first time as a functioning market economy that could withstand competitive pressure within the EU in the medium term, but the country is criticized, among other things. for being slow in dealing with company bankruptcy cases. The report praises the improved integration of non-citizens in Latvia, citing the country's adoption of the language law and its implementing regulations, but it notes that, among other things, the country should improve bringing its laws into line with EU ones, strengthen the judiciary, and continue to fight corruption. SG

LATVIA'S POPULATION DROPS BY MORE THAN 10 PERCENT OVER LAST DECADE

Preliminary census data released by the Central Statistics Office on 7 November indicate that the country's population on 31 March 2000 was 2.375 million, a decrease of 291,000 or 10.9 percent, from the 1989 census, BNS reported. Women number 1.282 million and men 1.093 million. The number of people over 60 increased by 39,000 to 502,300 while the number of residents below 14 decreased by 146,000 to 424,000 and those between 15-59 years by 186,000 to 1.448 million. The urban population decreased by 13.5 percent, with the largest declines in the cities of Liepaja (22 percent) and Riga (16 percent). The rural population fell by only 5.1 percent. SG

LATVIA SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH HOLY SEE

Latvian Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka and Apostolic Nuncio to the Baltic states Erwin Josef Ender, meeting in Riga on 8 November, signed an agreement between Latvia and the Vatican replacing the pre-World War II Concordat that was not implemented after the restoration of independence in 1991. In the new agreement, Latvia also guaranteed the inviolability of places of worship and respect for the secrecy of confession. The most controversial part of the document is the guarantee of restitution of property formerly owned by the Catholic Church. To avoid criticism that the Catholic Church was given special privileges, the law on religious organizations has been amended to permit Churches to sign agreements similar to the one between the state and the Latvian Conference of Bishops SG

LATVIAN, LITHUANIAN INFLATION UP IN OCTOBER

Latvia's Central Statistics Office announced on 8 November that consumer prices increased by 0.4 percent in October compared with the previous month and by 2 percent compared with October 1999, BNS reported. The price of commodities increased by 0.5 percent and that of services by 0.1 percent. Lithuania's Statistics Department reported that the producer price index grew by 0.9 percent in October compared with September and by 12.7 percent compared with October 1999. Those increases are largely due to a 5.8 percent increase in oil product prices. SG

POLISH PREMIER SATISFIED WITH EU PROGRESS REPORT...

Jerzy Buzek on 8 November said he is satisfied with the European Commission's assessment of Poland in its annual report on the progress of candidate countries toward meeting the criteria for EU membership, PAP reported. The report, which was released earlier the same day, says Poland has strengthened its position among the countries aspiring to become EU members as a result of its stable economic growth, progress in the modernization of the economy, and the recent acceleration of legal adjustments. However, the report notes that Warsaw has not even begun the necessary, far-reaching transformations in the agricultural sector. The commission also said that Poland is too slow in improving the functioning of its courts and administration and is not sufficiently efficient in controlling its borders or combating corruption and organized crime. JM

...BUT DISAPPOINTED WITH ACCESSION TIMETABLE

Buzek criticized the EU 's prediction that it will not conclude accession negotiations with aspiring countries until 2002. "That [prediction] does not satisfy us fully. It raises concerns whether once negotiations wrap up in the middle of 2002, it is possible to carry through all ratification procedures to enter on 1 January 2003," AP quoted him as saying. Buzek added that Warsaw plans to conclude EU accession negotiations in 2001. JM

EU REPORT NOTES IMPROVEMENTS IN CZECH REPUBLIC

The European Commission says in its annual report on the progress of candidate countries toward meeting the criteria for EU membership that the Czech Republic's performance has improved compared with previous years. The report praises the Czech Republic for improving its treatment of the Romany minority, ensuring higher banking standards, and accelerating the process of harmonizing Czech legislation with that of the EU. However, it also criticizes the Czechs for failing to launch a comprehensive reform of the judiciary, the slow pace of reforming the state administration system, and corruption. In evaluating the candidate countries' economies, the European Commission put the Czech Republic and Slovenia in the third group, behind Malta and Cyprus in the first group and Poland, Hungary, and Estonia in the second. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman queried the next day whether the Czech Republic really deserves to be included only in the third group of candidate countries. JC

BRATISLAVA WELCOMES EU PROGRESS REPORT

Members of the Slovak cabinet have welcomed the European Commission's annual progress report, particularly its assessment that Slovakia is a functioning market economy--the first time the country has been described as such, CTK reported on 8 November. "The report amounts to a healthy encouragement for Slovakia [to proceed on its way]," Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan commented. The report notes, however, that the process of reforms in Slovakia has slowed down owing to disputes within the government coalition, among other reasons. It also criticizes Slovakia for lack of progress in helping its Romany minority to integrate into society. JM

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER PLEDGES TO REVERSE POLICY AFTER REFERENDUM

Vladimir Meciar said on 8 November that he will reverse the current government's course if the 11 November referendum on early elections succeeds and his party gains power, Reuters reported. "We would do everything differently from the current government... But the foreign policy priorities, such as integration with the EU and NATO, would remain the same," Meciar told journalists. JM

HUNGARY WELCOMES EUROPEAN COMMISSION REPORT

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told reporters in Malta on 8 November that the European Commission annual assessment of Hungary is "the best ever." The report states that virtually without exception, Hungary has fulfilled the political criteria for EU membership and has fulfilled most economic conditions. The document points out, however, that the country should improve supervision of the financial market and the transparency of the use of public funds as well as strengthen the independence of the National Bank. A document attached to the report suggests Hungary could be admitted to the EU in 2003. MSZ

HUNGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTER SUBMITS BILL ON 1956 UPRISING RULINGS

Ibolya David on 8 November submitted a bill to the parliament that would declare null and void the summary court verdicts passed in the wake of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. David said the bill would aid the legal and moral rehabilitation of persons persecuted during the uprising. In other news, Defense Minister Janos Szabo said controversial historian Robert Szalay's recent promotion to lieutenant colonel will be reviewed following complaints from the Federation of Resistance Fighters and Anti-Fascists. The organization said Szalay has praised Ferenc Szalasi, leader of the World War II Arrow Cross movement in Hungary. MSZ




YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT REJECTS INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA

Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 8 November that Kosovar Albanian leaders' calls for the Serbian province of Kosova to become independent are "unacceptable," AP reported. Kostunica said in a statement released by his Democratic Party of Serbia that the demand "recently made by the leader of the strongest political party of Kosovo Albanians [Ibrahim Rugova], is unacceptable." It added that Rugova's push for independence "only increases tensions in the province." Rugova urged Belgrade, the U.S., and the EU on 7 November to recognize Kosova as an independent state. Rugova has ruled out discussing autonomy within Yugoslavia. PB

SERBIAN INTERIOR MINISTER FILES CHARGES AGAINST SECURITY SERVICE DIRECTOR

Stevan Nikcevic filed charges on 8 November against the head of Serbia's secret service, Rade Markovic, AP reported. Nikcevic, who is one of three officials serving as interior minister within the Serbian transitional government, said Markovic is accused of endangering Serbia's security, jeopardizing the safety of the public, and issuing personal threats. Nikcevic said "I feel I cannot do my duty...with a man such as Markovic heading the secret service." Nikcevic said Markovic, who is a longtime ally of former President Slobodan Milosevic, has said in public that "he is a man with 'specific influence' among persons in the underworld whose 'assistance' he may have to enlist." Serbian reformist members of the new government have insisted on Markovic's resignation from the government before they will participate in it. PB

FRANCE APPOINTS AMBASSADOR TO BELGRADE...

France has nominated Balkan expert Gabriel Keller as ambassador to Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 8 November. The government said the appointment marks the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and said it is up to France to approve Keller's nomination. France and Yugoslavia have traditionally had close ties. PB

...WHILE U.S. TO RESTORE TIES SOON

The U.S. said the same day that it will restore relations "very soon" and will not wait for repairs to its damaged embassy before doing so. The State Department said inspectors sent to Belgrade reported that it will take several months of repairs to the embassy before it is functional. PB

YUGOSLAV INFORMATION MINISTER CONCERNED JOURNALISTS WERE DENIED VISAS

Slobodan Orlic said he is concerned by a report that five U.S. journalists were denied visas to visit the country, AP reported. Orlic said he received a call from Freimut Duve, the head of media freedom at the OSCE, who said that the journalists were denied visas, despite filing the appropriate documents. Orlic said "the old regime's practice of blacklisting certain foreign reporters and declaring them undesired...is continuing." He said he will look into the incident and appealed to officials to issue the visas. PB

TENSIONS AT SERBIAN PRISONS EASING

Serbian officials said on 8 November that discussions with inmates who have taken control of three Serbian prisons have improved the situation there, Reuters reported. Sead Spahovic, one of three heads of the Serbian Justice Ministry, said the violence of the first days of the riots has subsided (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000), although there are reports of hunger strikes and disobedience at two other correctional facilities. He said prisoners are being "cooperative and fair. They are acting in a sensible fashion." One group of prisoners said some of their demands have been met. The Belgrade daily "Glas Javnosti" suggested on 9 November that the riots were planned from outside the prisons by leaders of Yugoslavia's secret services. PB

SLOVENIA'S STATE SECRETARY ARRESTED FOR TAKING BRIBE

Boris Sustar was arrested on 8 November for allegedly accepting a $100,000 bribe, AP reported. Sustar was caught with two other men in a Ljubljana suburb with $35,000 in his briefcase. Sustar, a well-known economics professor, oversaw the privatization of former state-owned companies and the harmonization of Slovenian and EU legislation. PB

FINANCIAL POLICE OFFICERS DISMISSED IN BOSNIA

The office of Bosnia High Commissioner Wolfgang Petritsch criticized on 8 November the dismissal of two financial police inspectors who had been working on important cases, Reuters reported. Petritsch's spokeswoman, Alexandra Stiglmayer, said "the financial police have been working very effectively and are currently conducting important investigations." The daily "Dnevni Avaz" reported on 8 November that chief inspector Zufer Dervisevic and his deputy, Miroslav Vidovic, had been relieved of their duties in a letter from Bosnian Premier Edhem Bicakcic. The U.S. embassy called on the government to review a decision "that works against the interests of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina," and it praised the financial police for their fight against organized crime and corruption. PB

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST HUMAN TRAFFICKERS

Police on 8 November arrested four Croatians suspected of being involved in the trafficking of 22 illegal immigrants from China and Turkey, AP reported. The four were caught near the Sosice border crossing with Slovenia together with 18 Chinese and four Turkish citizens. The four face up to five years in jail. Croatian customs officers have detained more than 5,000 people trying to illegally cross the border in the first six months of this year. PB

ALBANIAN PREMIER RESHUFFLES CABINET

Ilir Meta announced on 8 November that he has reshuffled his cabinet and that the changes have been approved by President Rexhep Meidani, AP reported. Meta said the move is intended to increase "the efficiency of our work in governing the country." Interior Minister Spartak Poci will be replaced by Ilir Gjoni, whose post as defense minister will be filled by Ismail Lleshi, a Socialist Party veteran. Ilir Zela, the minister of public works, will be replaced by Spartak Poci. Gjoni is the son of Xhelil Gjoni, a former secretary of the Communist party's Central Committee. Xhelil reportedly has close ties to former Albanian President Sali Berisha, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party. Meta, who at 31 is the youngest premier in Europe, has reshuffled his cabinet three times since taking office one year ago. PB

EUROPEAN COMMISSION REPORT CRITICIZES ROMANIA...

"Romania cannot be considered a functioning market economy and is not yet able to respond, in the medium term, to the competitive pressures that exist on the EU market," according to the European Commission's annual report on the progress of candidate countries toward meeting the criteria for EU membership. The EC's annual report for 2000 puts Romania last among the 12 states seeking EU membership. It notes the Romanian government is determined to solve the problem of orphaned and institutionalized children and says that democratic institutions exist but are not working properly. The report adds that there is still much to be done with regard to the economy, while the agriculture sector must undergo far-reaching structural reform and public administration must be decentralized. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said Romania still has a long way to go to gain membership but noted that the Romanian government's target of joining the EU by 2007 is a realistic one. ZsM

...WHILE ISARESCU QUESTIONS ITS FINDINGS

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu said the country's economic situation is better than suggested by the report, noting that the EU used data supplied by the IMF, Romanian media reported. He said he will send letters both to the IMF and the European Commission explaining that Romania has made real progress in economic terms. The first deputy chairman of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania told BBC's Romanian Service that the report does in fact reflect the real situation in the country. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WILL NOT STAND FOR RE-ELECTION

Petru Lucinschi does not plan to run for re-election when the parliament votes for a new president on 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 November, citing the president's press service. Lucinschi will leave for Minsk on 1 December to attend a CIS summit. According to the Russian news agency, Lucinschi "does not plan to run because he is strongly against his powers being limited by deputies and their decision to elect the president in the parliament." ET

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN PROTESTS AGAINST EU VISA RESTRICTIONS

Petar Stoyanov said on 7 November that the EU's visa requirements for Bulgarians are not warranted and must be removed, AP reported. Stoyanov told students at Sofia's Economic University that the visa regime is "humiliating." He said "we have to achieve a positive solution through negotiations and persuasion and not by pressure, whimpering, and being angry." Stoyanov's comment was in response to calls by some members of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) who have called for Sofia to withdraw from the EU-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe unless the visa requirements are removed. PB

BULGARIAN MINISTER REPRIMANDED FOR HITTING JOURNALIST

Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov refused calls on 7 November for him to sack Justice Minister Teodossyi Simeonov, who punched a newspaper photographer three days earlier, Reuters reported. Kostov said Simeonov's behavior "cast an unfavorable light on the government...which respects the media and public opinion." The ruling UDF called on Simeonov to apologize to the photographer, who works for the newspaper "Sega." Simeonov said he was defending his constitutional right not to be photographed without his permission. Bulgaria's nine largest daily newspapers made a joint declaration that called for Kostov to sack Simeonov. PB




ANOTHER PRECEDENT FROM KOSOVA?


By Paul Goble

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga has suggested that NATO's willingness to intervene in Kosova means that the Western alliance will be prepared to come to the aid of Latvia and other East European countries should Moscow threaten them at some point in the future.

Speaking to the BBC on 6 November, Vike-Freiberga said that Russian nostalgia for the old Soviet empire continues to cast a shadow on its relationships with its neighbors but that she and other leaders in the region have been encouraged by NATO's willingness to intervene in province. "Kosovo is not a member of the NATO alliance," the Latvian leader noted, "and yet the alliance was able to take action when it felt that, according to the principles on which it is founded, action and intervention [were] necessary." As a result, she said, "I would expect it to do no less anywhere else in Europe."

Many who opposed NATO's intervention in Kosova argued that it created a dangerous precedent because the alliance was getting involved in a conflict that NATO itself defined as a civil war. And many Russians were especially concerned that NATO might some day be prepared to intervene in what they view as their country's internal affairs.

But now the president of Latvia is arguing that Kosova set yet another precedent, one she and her colleagues in Eastern Europe may welcome but one that Russia may find equally unacceptable and that at least some in NATO may be unwilling to acknowledge. Like many leaders in Eastern Europe, Vike-Freiberga often has expressed concerns about the pace of NATO expansion, fearing that any further delay in the expansion of the alliance will not only enervate the local population but also encourage what those leaders see as the increasingly assertive policies of the Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin.

NATO countries have sought to reassure East Europeans that the Western alliance already provides the countries of Eastern Europe with a kind of penumbra of security. They argue that the alliance's Partnership for Peace program, the proximity of alliance members to them, and NATO's efforts to promote a more cooperative relationship with Moscow all serve that end. But East Europeans appear to find such statements less than reassuring, and Vike-Freiberga's comments represent the latest effort to find some basis for believing that the West will in fact defend their countries if they are attacked.

There are three problems with the argument that Kosova sets a precedent for future NATO action in the area.

First, NATO officials have been explicit that the decision to go into Kosova did not set any precedents for its future action elsewhere--despite what some Russians fear and what some East Europeans clearly hope. The leaders of NATO countries have said repeatedly that they responded in Kosova as they would respond to any particular crisis--in terms of its specific features.

Even the NATO Charter's Article 5--which says that an attack on one member will be viewed as an attack on all and which many in Eastern Europe appear to believe requires NATO to respond with force--only requires in fact that NATO countries consult on how they would respond in any particular case.

Second, Vike-Freiberga's focus on the meaning of NATO for non-member countries may have some negative consequences for Latvia itself. It may reduce domestic support there for the kind of measures that NATO membership requires. In addition, it may detract attention from the need there for other domestic reform measures that appear likely to be even more critical for that country's future security--and that NATO membership by itself will do nothing about.

And third, arguing that Kosova sets the precedent Vike-Freiberga suggests could trigger precisely the kinds of problems she believes that the declaration of such a precedent is intended to preclude. On the one hand, it almost certainly will lead Moscow to take an even harder line against the eastward expansion of the alliance, a line that ever more countries in NATO appear willing to respect. On the other, Vike-Freiberga's claim of a Kosova precedent is likely to force NATO itself to stress that Kosova is not the precedent she hopes for, thus leaving Latvia and her neighbors' position less defensible than it was before such a claim was made.

Those twin developments would, in turn, almost certainly leave Latvia and her neighbors less secure than they are today, precisely the opposite outcome that both the Western alliance and regional leaders so clearly want.


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