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Newsline - December 6, 2000




ARTISTS, INTELLECTUALS, RIGHT-WING POLITICIANS SLAM DECISION ON ANTHEM...

Famous Russian cultural figures appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to rethink his support for readopting the Soviet Union's national anthem (minus the words) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). In an appeal published in "Izvestiya" on 5 December, ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya, writers Boris Strugatskii and Aleksandr Volodin, composers Andrei Petrov and Rodion Shchedrin, conductor Gennadii Rozhdestvenskii, and actors Galina Volchek and Kirill Lavrov said they believe that "no new text will be able to erase the words attached to [the music] that forever glorify Lenin and Stalin." They added that "the debate on the anthem has already split a nation in which the process of reconciliation and consolidation had begun." Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Union of Rightist Forces faction leader Boris Nemtsov, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii also expressed their opposition to the Soviet anthem. Chubais called Putin's decision a "historical mistake." JAC

...AS DUMA MOVES QUICKLY TO MAKES PUTIN'S CHOICES REALITY

The State Duma will consider on 8 December a package of laws on national symbols, including the coat of arms, the anthem, and the flag, the Duma Council decided on 5 December. State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma might pass the entire package in all three readings on that day. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Yevgenii Primakov have already expressed their enthusiastic support for the bills. JAC

GREF ADMITS KEY LEGISLATION ON HOLD UNTIL NEXT YEAR

Addressing an international conference in Moscow on 5 December, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref pledged that a draft land code is likely to be ready for circulation among the business community as early as January 2001, Interfax reported. After it is reviewed by businessmen, it will first be submitted to the president and then to the State Duma. He also said that draft customs code will be submitted to the lower legislative house during the first quarter of 2001. Previously, the government had promised that the land code and customs code would be considered by the Duma during its fall session (see "Endnote," "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000). "Izvestiya" concluded on 5 December that even though there are two subjects that could enliven Russia's political-economic life--namely, "the land code with its numerous variations gathering dust in the Duma, not counting the government's variation, and the labor code," the Kremlin is prepared to trade "the land draft code for the law on state symbols," that is, the anthem, the national flag, and the coat of arms. JAC

MEDIA MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL DO UNTO OTHERS...

In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 5 December, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin explained his views on the operation of foreign media on Russian soil. In a comment reminiscent of an earlier remark by Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, Lesin said that he believes that the principle of equal conditions for Russian and foreign mass media in the council's information security doctrine should be understood "above all as a principle of reciprocity" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2000). Lesin recalled that the U.S. State Department did not allow the Media Ministry to "organize the work" of state-controlled Radio Mayak in the U.S. "If other countries protect their information markets from us, we, too, should protect our [information] market from them." JAC

...ACCUSES PRINT MEDIA OF CORRUPTION, MISMANAGEMENT

Lesin also argued that the threat to freedom of the press "comes from the print media itself," which does not properly understand its own commercial possibilities or even the interests of its readers and generally has an inadequate marketing policy. Therefore, the print media, according to Lesin, have to supplement their revenues by whatever means necessary, such as "illegal revenues from unregistered indirect advertising" or the practice whereby "articles are ordered and paid for and written in someone's interest." He concluded, "Today the degree of freedom in both the printed and electronic mass media is maximal and the responsibility for what is written and said is categorically minimal." JAC

FEDERAL PROSECUTORS RAID ORT

Investigators from the Moscow Air Transport Prosecutor's Office seized financial documents from the offices of Russian Public Television (ORT) on 5 December. Deputy Prosecutor Vahid Abubakarov told ITAR-TASS that ORT is under investigation for its alleged failure to pay $200,000 in custom duties in August 1999 as well as for other financial misdeeds during the period 1997-1999. Specifically, ORT is suspected of smuggling foreign films into Russia and of failing to pay customs duties on those films, AP reported. ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst denied the charges, adding that the station has fully cooperated with investigators since the investigation was first launched in 1999. Boris Berezovskii owns a 49 percent stake in ORT. JAC

GAZPROM DROPS LAWSUIT

Gazprom-Media announced on 5 December that it now owns a 46 percent stake in NTV and holds a 19 percent stake as collateral, Interfax reported. According the agency, the same day Gazprom-Media dropped a lawsuit seeking the recovery of a $248.5 million loan from Media-MOST. The previous day, the Office of the Prosecutor-General revealed that it has issued an international arrest warrant for Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). JAC

DEFENSE MINISTER UNDERLINES MOSCOW'S STRONG STAND ON ABM...

In written answers to questions posed by Reuters, Igor Sergeev made clear that Russia's position on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is "consistent and unchangeable." "Russia will not agree to any 'adaptation' of the ABM treaty that would allow national anti-missile defenses to be deployed and thus, in fact, destroy the treaty," he said. Sergeev's comments come on the heels of a proposal by the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Vladimir Yakovlev, to create an "index" of strategic weapons to counterbalance the U.S.'s deployment of a limited national missile defense system. Such an index would include both anti-missile systems and nuclear weapons and would allow a country to increase one component by making cuts in the other, according to that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2000). In his comments to Reuters, published on 5 December, Sergeev said that there have been no talks on Yakovlev's proposal "and we will not hold any [such discussions]." The Russian defense minister is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen in Brussels on 6 December. JC

...STRESSES RUSSIA REMAINS OPPOSED TO NATO EXPANSION

Speaking in Brussels on 5 December after meeting with NATO defense ministers, Sergeev said that Russia will develop its relations with NATO but strongly opposes the alliance's eastward expansion. Moscow, he said, is seeking to improve its ties with the alliance "on a new, more pragmatic basis," noting that the two sides play "too strong" a role in European and global politics "to continue ignoring each other's interests." The Russian defense minister also said that Russia's participation in the alliance's Partnership for Peace program will focus on military exercises. He also made clear that Moscow expects to be given a role in the planning of such exercises. JC

RUSSIA, CROATIA AIM TO STEP UP POLITICAL DIALOGUE

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his Croatian counterpart, Tonino Picula, meeting in Moscow on 5 December, called for a more "intensive political dialogue" between their two countries in order to boost cooperation in the UN, the OSCE, and other international organizations, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Ivanov noted that Moscow views Croatia as an important partner and believes the current situation in the Balkans offers the opportunity to strengthen stability in Europe. Picula, for his part, extended an invitation to President Putin to visit Zagreb. He also named energy, industry, and tourism as areas in which the two countries could cooperate. JC

INFLATION FALLS

Inflation last month reached 1.5 percent compared with 2.1 percent in October, Russian agencies reported on 5 December, citing the State Statistics Committee. In 15 regions, inflation in November rose above 2 percent; the republics of Sakha and Bashkortostan had the highest inflation, with 3.1 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. JAC

U.S. AGENCY LAUNCHES COOPERATION SCHEME WITH RUSSIAN BANKS

U.S. Export-Import Bank head James Harmon told reporters in Moscow on 5 December that his bank is ready to begin long- and short-term cooperation with a number of Russian banks, including Vneshtorgbank, Sberbank, Vneshekonombank, Moscow Narodnyi Bank, Alfa Bank, MDM Bank, and the International Moscow Bank. Cooperation agreements have already been signed with three of these banks--Sberbank, Vneshtorgbank, and Vneshekonombank. According to Interfax, the agreement with Sberbank covers cooperation in such areas as short- and medium-term insurance for export contracts, guarantees and direct credits for goods and services from the U.S., and lending to Sberbank in dollars and other convertible currencies, with Eximbank guarantees. JAC

SALVATION ARMY BENT ON VIOLENT OVERTHROW OF RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT?

"The Moscow Times" reported on 6 December that a Moscow City Court rejected an appeal by the Salvation Army on 28 November to register as a religious organization in the city of Moscow. City officials had denied the group the right to register because its headquarters are in London and said it could open only a representative office in the Russian capital. Colonel Kenneth Baillie, head of the group's operations, told the daily that the court believes that since the organization has the word "army" in its name, "we are a militarized organization bent on the violent overthrow of the Russian government." In order to comply with the controversial 1997 federal law on religion, the organization needs to register by 31 December 2000 or risk being forced to cease its operations. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 December, the Salvation Army first started work in Russia in 1923, but it was soon declared "anti-Soviet" and banned. It did not resume its operations in Russia until 1992. JAC




ARMENIA, CHINA MAP OUT FUTURE COOPERATION

Meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Rongji, in Beijing on 4 December, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian pledged to expand both political and economic ties, to maintain high-level contacts, and "to expand friendly and cooperative relations in all spheres," Xinhua and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a joint communique released after the talks, Armenia pledges support for Beijing's "one China" policy, reaffirming that it will not establish official ties with Taiwan. China, for its part, expresses support for the territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan and the hope that the Karabakh conflict can be resolved "in a just and reasonable way...in line with the relevant international principles." LF

EBRD ACQUIRES SHARE IN ARMENIAN ENERGY DISTRIBUTION NETWORKS

The Armenian government and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed an agreement in Yerevan on 5 December whereby the bank acquired a 19.9 percent stake in four electricity-distribution companies currently up for international tender, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The winner of the tender to acquire a 51 percent stake in those companies will be announced in March 2001. The price the EBRD will pay for its stake will depend on the sum offered by the future owners to acquire the four companies. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SAYS OPPOSITION DEPUTIES SHOULD ATTEND SESSIONS

Murtuz Alesqerov called on opposition parliamentary deputies on 5 December to end their boycott of the newly-elected legislature, Turan reported. He argued that as those deputies were elected by the country's population, "they must attend parliamentary sessions and express their opinion. They must not hold rallies and demand someone's resignation every day." The opposition decided shortly after the 5 November poll to refrain from participating in the new legislature, claiming that the outcome of the poll was falsified. Also on 5 December, Alesqerov asked independent television journalists filming the parliament proceedings to leave the chamber after 30 minutes on the grounds that they were "disturbing" deputies. Cameramen for Azerbaijan state television were permitted to continue filming. On 6 December, deputy parliamentary speaker Zakir Zeynalov collapsed in the parliament and died of heart failure, Turan reported. He was 62. LF

MAVERICK AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL PLANS PROTEST MARCH

Former Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev announced on 5 December that he plans to organize a march by Baku city bus drivers from the border town of Astara to the Azerbaijani capital to protest the Azerbaijani customs' refusal to allow the import of 900 Mercedes buses he had leased from an Iranian company for use in the capital, Turan reported. Allakhverdiev, who resigned in September amid disagreements with other founding members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 40, 14 October 2000, and No. 42, 27 October 2000), blamed the customs' decision on Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade, one of his bitterest rivals. LF

SUSPECTED MURDERER OF U.S. CITIZEN ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN

A person suspected of having murdered John Michael Alvis, the head of the U.S. Republican Institute's Azerbaijan program, was detained on 3 December, Turan quoted Baku police chief Major-General Magerram Aliyev as saying on 5 December. Alvis was found stabbed to death in his Baku apartment on 30 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). Aliyev did not divulge the suspect's identity, but Glasnost-North Caucasus on 5 December said that the person held is believed to be a woman. LF

VISA REQUIREMENT CAUSES CHAOS ON GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN FRONTIER...

As the visa requirement for Georgian citizens traveling to the Russian Federation took effect on 5 December, Russian border guards began refusing entry to Georgian drivers who did not have the relevant documentation, AP reported. Some Georgians prevented from entering Russia to sell agricultural produce there reportedly blamed their predicament on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze who, they believe, alienated Russia by his pro-Western orientation. ITAR-TASS on 5 December quoted officials at the Russian consulate in Tbilisi as complaining that their workload has increased as hundreds of Georgians apply for visas. LF

...AS GEORGIA QUESTIONS RUSSIA'S RATIONALE

Also on 5 December, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze said that the Georgian government will not permit the opening of Russian consulates in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which border on Russia. Antadze argued that Moscow's decision to exempt residents of those regions from the visa requirement until the end of this year undercuts its argument that the visa requirement is needed for security purposes. He pointed out that "criminal elements" will be able to enter Russian unhindered from both regions. Interfax on 5 December said that at the CIS summit in Minsk four days earlier, Georgia rejected an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to dispense with the visa requirement if Georgia agreed to joint military action with Russia against Chechen fighters ensconced on Georgian territory, especially in the Pankisi gorge. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that agreeing to such military actions would turn Georgia into "a platform for a major Caucasian war. We would be sucked into a bloody conflict," Reuters on 5 December quoted him as saying. LF

PRESIDENT DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN EASTERN GEORGIA

Georgian President Shevardnadze has declared a state of emergency in the country's eastern region of Kakheti, Caucasus Press reported on 6 December. Speaking at a cabinet session, Shevardnadze said that move was prompted by rising crime in the region, and expressed confidence that the local population will support measures to stabilize the situation. The region includes the Pankisi gorge, home to some 7,000 ethnic Chechen citizens of Georgia and an estimated 5,000 Chechen refugees from the Russian Federation. Earlier on 6 December, Georgian police, assisted by local Chechens, secured the release in eastern Georgia of Georgian businessman Valeri Samkharadze, who was taken hostage five days earlier, Caucasus Press reported. Two Spanish businessmen also abducted last week are still being held hostage in the Pankisi gorge. Three Red Cross officials were abducted in the Pankisi gorge in August but later released unharmed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2000). LF

U.S. HAILS KAZAKHSTAN'S COMMITMENT TO BAKU-CEYHAN...

Stephen Sestanovich, who is the U.S. State department's special envoy for the Newly Independent States, met in Astana on 5 December with Kazakhstan's National Security Council Secretary Marat Tazhin and Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov to discuss regional security, energy and economic cooperation, and democratization, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Turan on 6 December quoted Sestanovich as expressing approval of the Kazakh government's stated interest in exporting oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline, which, he suggested, could ultimately be renamed Aktau-Baku-Ceyhan. Visiting Baku last month, U.S. special envoy for the Caspian John Wolf had advocated that the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline be extended to Aktau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2000). Pending construction of that pipeline, Kazakhstan and the U.S. will step up cooperation in exporting oil by barge across the Caspian from Aktau to Baku and from there by rail via Georgia to Western markets, according to Interfax. LF

...AS KAZAKHSTAN'S STATE OIL COMPANY PLANS TO EXPAND PRODUCTION, EXPORT

Nurlan Balghymbaev, who is president of Kazakhstan's national oil company KazakhOil, told the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 4 December that KazakhOil plans to increase production to 9.9 million tons in 2001, compared with an estimated 5.5 million tons this year, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan's total oil production for the first 10 months of 2000 was 31.86 million tons. Balghymbaev said that much of KazakhOil's planned increase will be sold to Ukraine for refining at the Kherson Oil refinery. KazakhOil has stated its intention to participate both in the privatization of that refinery and in construction of the planned Odesa-Brody oil pipeline. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, however, had publicly stated his opposition on 16 November to KazakhOil's participation in the former project, which he termed "not rational." Toqaev argued that it would be more profitable to refine Kazakh oil at the Pavlodar Oil Refinery in northern Kazakhstan. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM TURKEY

Visiting Ankara on 5 December, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev solicited additional political and economic support, which Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said Ankara will gladly provide, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 6 December. This year, Turkey rescheduled Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt. LF

KYRGYZ PENSIONERS DEMAND AMENDMENTS TO DRAFT BUDGET

One of the leaders of the Public Association for the Social Protection of the Population told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 5 December that her organization has appealed to the People's Assembly (the upper house of parliament) not to approve the draft budget submitted by the cabinet. She noted that the draft does not provide for the quarterly indexing of pensions to prices that President Askar Akaev had promised during his campaign for re-election this fall. LF

DISTRIBUTION OF DROUGHT AID UNDERWAY IN TAJIKISTAN

The Dushanbe office of the UN's World Food Program began on 5 December distributing aid to those Tajiks most severely hit by last summer's drought, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Some 280,000 people in Khatlon Oblast will be provided with food over the next three months. Almost half the country's 6.2 million population are affected by the failure of this year's grain harvest. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO GIVE MORE CLOUT TO PROSECUTORS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 5 December that prosecutors should become the driving force behind the work of the entire law enforcement system in Belarus. He made that statement while introducing new Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman to the staff of the Prosecutor-General's Office. Lukashenka appointed Sheyman, his closest aide, to that post after firing him from his position as Security Council secretary last week. Lukashenka complained that Belarus's law enforcement bodies "have alienated themselves from efforts to prevent the destabilization of the state system," ITAR-TASS reported. He urged prosecutors to step up the fight against corruption, organized crime, and "the corrupted opposition that is trying to seize power by any means with the powerful support of Western countries" (see also "End Note" below ). JM

BELARUSIAN EX-PREMIER LOOKS TO PRESIDENCY

"I am a free man now [and] enjoy all civil rights, including the right to register as a presidential candidate, which I will do in 2001," former Premier Mikhail Chyhir told Reuters on 5 December. Chyhir was commenting on the Supreme Court's decision that had overturned a three-year suspended sentence handed down to him for alleged abuse of power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000). However, the Supreme Court did not acquit Chyhir; rather, it sent his case back to the prosecutor for further investigation. "To send [the case] back to the prosecutor's office for further investigation merely means to quietly bury this story without recognizing anyone's guilt," Chyhir noted. JM

BELARUS, IMF FAIL TO AGREE ON 'SHORT-TERM' REFORM PLAN

The Belarusian government and an IMF mission have failed to agree on an IMF-endorsed short-term reform program during the past two weeks' talks in Minsk, Belapan reported on 5 December. The talks were "useful and rather concrete" but failed to produce a memorandum on the program, IMF representative for Lithuania and Belarus Mark Horton told journalists. According to Horton, Minsk refuses to comply with IMF recommendations to improve the business environment; in particular, the fund recommended revoking the presidential decree that provides for confiscating the property of individuals and corporations that cause "damage to the state." The fund and the government also disagree on the pace and extent of price liberalization in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CHORNOBYL CLOSURE...

The parliament on 5 December held hearings on the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, which is to take place at noon on 15 December. The hearing was attended by foreign lawmakers, diplomats, and international lenders. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma complained that the West is dragging its feet on its obligation to compensate Ukraine for the loss of energy and jobs after the closure. Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, who said last month that Ukraine could delay the closure until it has real proof of the necessary aid, admitted this time that a delay is unlikely. "Further use of Chernobyl without serious investments and repairs is impossible," AP quoted Plyushch as saying. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told the parliament that Kuchma's decision to close Chornobyl was made under the enormous pressure from the West, adding that it will "practically ruin Ukraine's economy." JM

...WHILE WESTERN DONORS PLEDGE FUNDS

"Once Chernobyl is closed, Ukraine will not be left alone. We will be with Ukraine for many years to come," Joachim Jahncke, vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, assured the Ukrainian lawmakers. The EBRD's board is to decide this week whether to lend Ukraine 250 million euros ($220 million) to complete two nuclear reactors in order to compensate for the energy loss due to the Chornobyl closure. The EBRD formerly pledged to give Kyiv $100 million to buy fuel for Ukraine's non-nuclear power plants, while the European Commission promised 25 million euros for the same purpose. The Chornobyl closure is expected to cost some $1.4 billion. Of that, $220 million is to come from the EBRD, $585 million from the EU, $350 million the U.S., France, Sweden and Spain, $105 million from Russia, and $160 million from Ukraine's Enerhatom. JM

GERMAN CHANCELLOR REASSURES POLAND BEFORE EU SUMMIT

"[This week's EU summit in] Nice must become a milestone in European unification. The interests of Europe as a whole must take precedence over individual national interests," German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in Warsaw on 6 December, dpa reported. According to the agency, Schroeder's words signal Germany's determination to push ahead at the Nice summit with the EU enlargement schedule in order to be ready to accept new members in 2003. "I was glad to hear that the chancellor's opinion on supporting Poland's expectations is unequivocal," Buzek said. Schroeder's presence in Warsaw coincides with the 30th anniversary of former Chancellor Willy Brandt's historic visit to that city, where he signed the German-Polish treaty confirming the inviolability of the post-war Oder-Neisse (Odra-Nysa) line border. JM

LITHUANIAN PREMIER IN WARSAW

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told his Lithuanian counterpart, Rolandas Paksas, on 5 December that Poland's relations with Lithuania will acquire a "new quality," PAP reported. Paksas, who arrived in Warsaw on his first foreign trip as prime minister, praised Poland for its role as "Lithuania's advocate" in its strivings for NATO membership. He added that Lithuania wants to join the alliance in 2002. Buzek announced that talks on "difficult issues" in bilateral relations will begin next week in expert commissions and are to include rules on the spelling of Polish names in Lithuanian. Buzek also said the Polish government has donated 385,000 zlotys ($86,300) for the construction of a Lithuanian Center in Punsk, northeastern Poland, and will channel 1.5 million euros ($1.32 million) for the closure of a reactor at the Ignalina nuclear power plant. JM

POLISH NURSES STAGE FOUR-HOUR NATIONWIDE STRIKE OVER WAGES

Nurses in some 80 percent of Polish hospitals staged a four-hour strike on 5 December to pressure the government into paying promised wage hikes, PAP reported, citing the Union of Nurses and Midwives. The union is demanding an average $100 wage increase and the indexation of nurses' earnings to the almost 10 percent inflation. Polish nurses are among the most poorly paid public-sector employees, with average monthly salaries rarely exceeding $150, well below the $450 national average. Following talks with the government later the same day, union head Bozena Banachowicz commented that those discussions were "inauspicious," while Health Minister Grzegorz Opala said he was "satisfied" with them. JM

ESTONIA CLOSES EU CHAPTER ON FREE MOVEMENT OF GOODS

Estonian and EU negotiators decided in Brussels on 4 December to provisionally close the chapter on the free movement of goods, ETA reported the next day. The chapter is one of the most extensive, with 496 legislative acts, and the Czech Republic is the only other current applicant to have closed it. Harmonization of Estonia's legislation with that of the EU will cost 300 million kroons ($17 million), but Tallinn did not ask for a transition period and says it will be ready to implement the legislation on the date of EU accession. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER EXTRADITION AGREEMENT WITH AUSTRALIA

After meeting with President Vaire Vike-Freiberga on 5 December, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Latvian parliament agreed to send the Latvian-Australian extradition agreement to the parliament for consideration, BNS reported. The committee had linked the extradition agreement to the case of accused Nazi war criminal Konrads Kalejs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2000), who has Australian citizenship. Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka, however, has asserted that Kalejs's extradition could be requested without the agreement; she pointed out that negotiations on that accord were launched two years ago, when the Kalejs case had not been topical. The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed gathering the necessary documents to request Kalejs's extradition from Australia but is waiting for them to be translated into English before filing the extradition request. SG

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES APPROVES CZECH 2001 BUDGET

The Chamber of Deputies on 5 December approved the 2001 budget, CTK and AP reported. The vote was 127 to 54. Four deputies abstained and 15 failed to participate in the vote. The budget provides for expenditures of 685.18 billion crowns (some $17.4 billion) and revenues of 636.2 billion, and a deficit of 48.98 billion crowns. MS

RUSSIA SAYS IT IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR TEMELIN

The Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry on 5 December denied it has made an official statement about the Temelin nuclear power plant but said that a statement distributed one day earlier by the Russian Embassy in Prague "in principle reflects" the ministry's position, CTK reported. That statement said that the Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry considers that the completion of the Temelin nuclear power plant with a control system supplied by the U.S. firm Westinghouse and the use of "foreign" nuclear fuel at the plant have "relieved Russia of any responsibility for the plant's fate." The statement says that the Czech side has "unilaterally violated" provisions in the agreement on supplies of nuclear fuel to Temelin, which has Soviet-designed reactors and whose construction began during the communist regime, in 1983. MS

SLOVAK PROSECUTION OVERRULES DECISION TO HALT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST DZURINDA

The Bratislava Prosecutor-General's Office overruled a decision by Slovak police to halt criminal proceedings against Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda in connection with his illegal payment of bonuses to cabinet ministers, CTK reported on 5 December, citing Radio Twist. Dzurinda is suspected of having paid 3.7 million crowns ($75,646) in bonuses, which were later returned to the state budget by all the ministers who received them. Police have also accused former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar of paying 13.7 million crowns in bonuses to ministers; proceedings against Meciar have already been launched. Dzurinda refused to comment, saying he has "full trust" in the investigative authorities and will cooperate with the police, if requested to do so. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY TO TRY REMOVING PITTNER AGAIN

The Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will move another motion of no confidence in Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, CTK reported on 5 December, citing Radio Twist. The HZDS has already failed several times to bring about the dismissal of Pittner. It has now collected more than 30 signatures for a debate on Pittner's recent statement that the HZDS might be banned if it is proved in court that Meciar knew about, and was involved in, the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son. MS

SLOVAK, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS CALL FOR INTENSIFIED COOPERATION

Dzurinda met with Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko in Bratislava on 5 December to discuss bilateral trade and ways to boost it. The two premiers also discussed the Russian monopoly Gazprom's plan to build a pipeline through Poland and Slovakia that would circumvent Ukraine. Dzurinda said Slovakia wants to "safeguard good relations with our neighbors" but will "not hesitate" to participate in the project if invited to do so. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of "softening" visa requirements that their countries recently imposed on each other. They signed six bilateral agreements, including one on combating organized crime. Yushchenko also met with President Rudolf Schuster and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, AP reported. MS

HUNGARY, RUSSIA TO FIGHT ORGANIZED CRIME

Hungarian Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and his visiting Russian counterpart, Vladimir Rushailo, agreed in Budapest on 5 December to set up a joint police team to fight organized crime and terrorism. The team's priorities will include combating drug-trafficking, money-laundering, international terrorism, and the smuggling abroad of stolen cars. MSZ




BELGRADE REPORTS SNIPING ALONG SERBIAN-KOSOVA BORDER

Belgrade-based Yuinfo Television, which had strong links to the government of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, reported on 5 December that ethnic Albanian militants fired on Serbian police in the village of Lucane for the second day in a row. Elsewhere, the Yugoslav authorities asked the UN Security Council to hold a special meeting on the crisis along Serbia's border with Kosova. Belgrade officials again suggested that KFOR has not been doing enough to cut the supply of weapons and fighters from Kosova to the Presevo valley (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). The Yugoslav authorities called on KFOR to fulfill its obligations "so that the situation can be resolved in a peaceful manner," AP reported. PM

UN SETS NEW RULES FOR KOSOVA BORDER CRACKDOWN

UN civilian authorities in Prishtina issued new rules on 5 December that will help enable police and KFOR peacekeepers to curb the flow of weapons and guerrillas from Kosova into Serbia, Reuters reported. Under the new policy, persons suspected of engaging in violent behavior can be banned from a given area for 30 days. They face two months imprisonment if they violate the ban. A UN spokeswoman stressed that the new rules will "be very useful [for KFOR in curbing the activities of] known troublemakers who are going across the border all the time." PM

U.S. SEEKS ELECTIONS IN LEAD-UP TO KOSOVA TALKS

James O'Brien, who is the Clinton administration's top adviser on the Balkans, told VOA on 5 December that general elections should take place in Kosova "sooner rather than later." He stressed that elections are necessary to provide "legitimacy" for the Kosovar leaders before they represent their people in any talks about the province's political future. "That's a productive path that has the possibility of creating sustained democracy in the region," he added. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told VOA that Belgrade first wants preliminary talks regarding future elections and other issues affecting Kosova's political status. He added that any elections held before such talks took place would "pre-define" the province's status, presumably meaning in the direction of independence, Reuters reported. All ethnic Albanian leaders categorically reject any negotiations with the Serbian authorities on the political future of the province. They seek talks with the international community in preparation for independence. PM

KOSOVA'S 'CYBER MONK' TO LEAVE POLITICS?

Father Sava Janjic has resigned his membership in the Serbian National Council and his position as spokesman for the province's Serbian minority, "Vesti" reported on 6 December. Father Sava, who is known for his excellent English and his work on promoting the Serbian cause in Kosova on the Internet, will devote himself to his religious duties at the Decani monastery. The reasons for his decision are not clear. PM

OSCE FINES KOSOVAR DAILY

The OSCE has fined the Prishtina Albanian-language daily "Bota Sot" $22,000 for spreading "religious and ethnic intolerance," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

EU MONEY FOR SERBIAN OPPOSITION

The EU has pledged some $750,000 to support the independent media and NGOs in the runup to the 23 December Serbian elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 5 December. Brussels also pledged more than $1 million for the longer-term work of unspecified Serbian and Montenegrin NGOs aimed at developing the civil society. In related news, the Society of Journalists of Serbia expelled Milorad Komrakov from membership. The Milosevic-era television news editor was charged with having spread "disinformation over a long period of time and with deceiving the public in a way incompatible with the journalistic profession." PM

AMNESTY CALLS ON YUGOSLAV LEADER TO MEET INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International said in a press release on 5 December that "Kostunica must order the arrest of indicted suspects--including...Milosevic--and their transfer" to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The statement also called on Kostunica to "address the culture of impunity...not only for violations of international humanitarian law, but also for violations of both domestic criminal codes and of international standards." Other concerns include investigating and bringing to justice police and other officials suspected of mistreating citizens during the Milosevic era. Amnesty also calls upon Kostunica to act on "an amnesty law for conscientious objectors, issues relating to the unfair trials of Kosovo Albanian prisoners held in Serbian jails, and the rights of refugees and internally displaced people in the country." PM

YUGOSLAV CURRENCY DEVALUED

The Yugoslav National Bank has made official the existing exchange rate of 30 dinars to the German mark in place of the previous official rate of 20 dinars to the mark (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic said that the government "invites" the numerous black-market currency dealers in Belgrade, Novi Pazar, and elsewhere to register their businesses with the authorities and become legal exchange offices, AP reported. PM

HEATING CUTS IN SERBIA

A strain on the power grid caused by "record consumption levels" led the authorities to announce power cuts in Serbia on 5 December, AP reported. Low gas pressure resulting from cuts in Russian gas deliveries resulted in cuts in heating supplies amid freezing temperatures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). PM

MACEDONIA'S 'TAIWAN EXPERIMENT' ABOUT TO END?

The government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski may reconsider its diplomatic ties with Taiwan following the recent departure of the Democratic Alternative and its leader, Vasil Tupurkovski, from the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). Tupurkovski was the politician most responsible for Skopje's decision in 1999 to switch relations from Beijing to Taipei. The Liberal Party, which recently joined Georgievski's coalition, is anxious to restore ties to Beijing, the Makfaks news agency reported on 5 December. Tupurkovski hoped for massive investments from Taiwan, which failed to materialize. PM

CHINESE AID FOR ALBANIA

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan ended a two-day visit to Albania on 5 December after discussing ways to promote economic cooperation with President Rexhep Meidani and Prime Minister Paskal Milo. The previous day, Tang and Milo signed an agreement on a Chinese $1.25 million grant to Albania. Tang also pledged to help support market reforms in the host country, dpa reported. Construction will soon begin on a hydroelectric project in northern Albania, on which the two governments previously agreed. Many of the projects built with Chinese aid in the 1960s and 1970s now lie in ruins due to neglect or looting. Some Chinese experts have written in recent years that the former dictator Enver Hoxha pressured his allies to build prestige projects that the Chinese knew to be economically or ecologically unsound. The chief tangible legacy of the once close relationship between China and Albania is the occasional Chinese-built tractor or bicycle seen on Albanian roads. PM

AUSTERITY FOR CROATIAN GOVERNMENT WORKERS?

The Croatian government decided on 5 December not to cut the salaries of government employees in 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The governing coalition promised pay cuts for government employees during its election campaign one year ago. Railway workers have threatened a warning strike over their demands for a 8.5 percent pay hike. Croatian Railways has been plagued with labor unrest in recent years. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM LEADER WRITES MEMOIRS

Former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has completed his memoirs, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 6 December. He stressed that his book will consist of his own recollections and not aspire to be a history of his years in politics. PM

SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT SET TO BEGIN WORK?

Leaders of the political parties in the governing coalition have reached an agreement on dividing committee assignments between their respective parties, Ljubljana's Radio 24-Ur reported on 6 December. PM

NASTASE COMMENTS ON NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROMANIAN OPPOSITION

Adrian Nastase, whom the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) has designated to form a minority government, said on 5 December that negotiations with the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party on securing their support in the parliament have been suspended to avoid "ambiguity" ahead of the 10 December presidential runoff, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said that the PDSR does not want to be perceived by the electorate as intending to set up a "coalition" with "those who have destroyed and plundered the country" in the last four years. He added that the party intends to pursue "its own program" and will under no circumstances set up a coalition with the Greater Romania Party (PRM). If PRM presidential candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor wins the runoff, he said, the PDSR will go into opposition, which would trigger early elections. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST WANTS 'STADIUM JUSTICE'

In an interview with the BBC on 5 December, Tudor said that if he wins the upcoming presidential election, he will send to jail "within 48 hours all bandits in this country " and "confiscate their wealth." He said that the judiciary system in Romania "has ceased to function" and consequently "there will be public trials in stadiums." If the parliament is "hostile" to him, Tudor added, "I shall use [my] constitutional prerogative of dissolving the parliament and calling early elections within six month." The constitution does not, in fact, grant the president that prerogative. Also on 5 December, Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) chairman Valeriu Tabara announced that the PUNR is leaving the National Alliance, which it set up with the Romanian National Party (PNR), and PNR chairman Virgil Magureanu said his party will seek other allies. MS

MOLDOVA, BULGARIA BAN EU BEEF IMPORTS

Moldova on 2 December banned imports of beef and cattle from Germany and Spain in a move to prevent the spread of BSE (mad cow disease), ITAR-TASS reported. On 5 December, Bulgaria announced that it was banning beef imports from Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, and Spain, AP reported. MS

BULGARIAN, GREEK LEADERS DETERMINED TO OVERCOME DELAYS IN PIPELINE CONSTRUCTION

Visiting President Petar Stoyanov and Greek Premier Kostas Simitis said on 4 December that they are determined to overcome delays in the construction of a pipeline project that would transport Russian oil from the Black Sea port of Burgas to Alexandropolis in northern Greece, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. The project had been stalled by technical and economic disputes, as well as doubts about its efficiency. Simitis also said Greece backs Bulgaria's quest for EU membership, and he pledged $60 million in aid to Sofia. Stoyanov also met with President Kostis Stephanopoulos and with opposition leader Kostas Karamanlis. MS




LUKASHENKA CONDUCTS 'ETHNIC CLEANSING' AMONG SECURITY OFFICIALS


By Jan Maksymiuk

Belarus's authoritarian president continues to bewilder the public both at home and abroad with his highly unconventional behavior. Last week's developments in Minsk amply justify the widespread perception among political analysts that Alyaksandr Lukashenka belongs to the least predictable of world leaders.

On 27 November, Lukashenka unexpectedly fired Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman, KGB chief Uladzimir Matskevich, and Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. Sheyman was replaced by Foreign Minister Ural Latypau, whose post was assumed by presidential aide Mikhail Khvastou. Matskevich's position was filled by Leanid Yeryn, chief of the presidential security service and Matskevich's deputy until September. The position of prosecutor-general remained vacant for two days, after which Lukashenka appointed Sheyman to take over that office.

Lukashenka has accomplished "yet another state coup," the Charter-97 website commented, noting that key posts in Belarus are now in the hands of "Russia's open proteges in Lukashenka's entourage." Belarus's premier, deputy premiers and heads of the power ministries, as well as a number of deputy ministers and the speaker of the Chamber of Representatives, are all Russian-born.

Exiled Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski echoed Charter-97: "[The shakeup] should not leave any doubt in anybody's mind that, to quote leaders of the Russian Federation, Belarus is witnessing the completion of a 'cleansing' [zachistka] of the regime of Belarusians... In its ethnic composition, our country's dictatorial regime is almost completely Russian and, in relation to Belarus, of an occupational nature."

Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 30 November that he had not known about the security shakeup in Minsk until it took place. Putin added that he believes Lukashenka's assurances that those replacements had been planned "for a long time."

Russian newspapers, however, suggested that Russia may have a hand in at least one sacking. According to some reports, Moscow had repeatedly insisted on the dismissal of Sheyman, who was in charge of Belarus's arms trade and had allegedly offered Belarusian weapons abroad at "dumping" prices, to the detriment of Russian arms dealers. This explanation seems plausible, inasmuch as Sheyman is widely believed to be Lukashenka's most loyal aide and closest friend and, moreover, is one of the very few members of Lukashenka's 1994 election team still serving the president. Sheyman's appointment as prosecutor-general just two days after his sacking seems to confirm that Lukashenka had initially dismissed him under pressure .

According to some Belarusian independent newspapers, Sheyman is primarily responsible for providing Lukashenka with security reports that keep the Belarusian president in a perpetual state of suspiciousness and distrust of everyone in the government. Sheyman is also believed to be a strong supporter of continuing Minsk's policy of confrontation with the West.

Another motive for the security shakeup may be the lack of any conclusive results in the investigation of the disappearance of prominent opposition and public figures in Belarus. Lukashenka himself said that he fired Matskevich, Sheyman, and Bazhelka for "grave dereliction of duty" in investigating crimes, including those that "have had a wide public response." Independent commentators, however, interpret that action differently. Human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla commented that in the runup to the presidential election campaign, Lukashenka intends to conceal the truth about the disappearance of oppositionists in Belarus and has appointed officials who will help him achieve that goal.

Two weeks ago, a number of Belarusian media outlets received an e-mail from an address on the yahoo.com server accusing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's Security Service of killing Russian Public Television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski and opposition politician Viktar Hanchar. The sender, who identified himself as a KGB officer, said the KGB arrested nine people, including five officers of the presidential Security Service, who confessed to having killed Zavadski and buried him near Minsk. According to the sender, the arrested group was also involved in killing Viktar Hanchar, who disappeared in September 1999. Based on this claim, independent commentators assert that Lukashenka carried out the security shakeup to prevent further compromising leaks from the KGB and other law enforcement bodies.

On one point, independent and official commentators agree--namely, that the replacements are intended to strengthen the president's position before next year's presidential elections. Lukashenka made that clear on 28 November, during a televised meeting with the KGB top leadership. Lukashenka launched into lengthy tirades against his alleged foreign and domestic enemies, in a manner that was significantly more incoherent than on previous occasions. In tone, those tirades verged on the hysterical; in terms of content, they suggested Lukashenka's paranoiac belief in a global plot against the Belarusian president, with NATO playing the most insidious role.

"Only low-value cards are left in your deck. No matter how you shuffle them, they will not become trump cards," Andrey Sannikau, Lukashenka's former deputy foreign minister, commented in an open letter to the Belarusian president following the security shakeup. While that statement may prove true in the long run, Lukashenka appears, at least for now, to have reinforced his ranks by promoting "foreign legionnaires." It is generally believed in Belarus that the 2001 presidential elections will be a crucial event in the country's political history. According to some observers, Lukashenka distrusts native Belarusians in his government because they are likely to show "emotional weakness" during the struggle for power in the country in which they have ethnic and cultural roots. As for Russian-born politicians, they are apparently more inclined to seek to please the leader who pays them than to care about Belarus's political future or economic well-being.


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