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Newsline - December 8, 2000




PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION URGES PUTIN TO PARDON POPE

Meeting in Moscow on 8 December, the presidential pardons commission recommended that President Vladimir Putin grant clemency to U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, who was sentenced the previous day to 20 years in prison for espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). After his sentencing, Pope sent a letter to Putin asking the president to pardon him; he said he wanted to return to Pennsylvania to improve his health and see his father, who is terminally ill, for the last time. Commission head Anatolii Pristavkin was quoted by Interfax as saying that Pope, who has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer, is a sick man and should be "let go." The U.S. has protested Pope's sentence and appealed to Putin to pardon the former naval officer. In an interview with CNN in September, during a visit to the U.S., Putin had said that the court must first make its ruling in Pope's case and then "we'll see what we can do" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2000). JC

STATE SYMBOL BILLS SAIL THROUGH DUMA...

The State Duma on 8 December voted overwhelmingly to approve in the second and third (final) readings a bill reinstating the Soviet-era anthem (with new words). The votes were 378 to 53 and 381 to 51, respectively, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 8 December, Duma deputies voted to approve the bills on retaining the tricolor flag and the Tsarist coat of arms. The Communist faction, the largest in the lower house, had earlier expressed its willingness to support all three bills, while the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko had said they would vote against restoring the old Soviet anthem. SPS members in St. Petersburg held a meeting on 7 December to protest the possible reinstatement of the Soviet anthem, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Unity leader Boris Gryzlov said on 7 December that the subject of the new state symbols could not be a subject for haggling. JAC/JC

...AS PUTIN SAYS YELTSIN ENTITLED TO HIS OPINION

Russian Regions group leader Oleg Morozov told reporters after a meeting with Russian President Putin on 7 December that Putin is aware of the negative attitude of former President Boris Yeltsin toward the readoption of the Soviet anthem. According to Morozov, Putin said that Yeltsin's opinion "deserves attention and respect, as does the opinion of any citizen of Russia," but the former president's opinion does not influence his own point of view. Morozov also revealed that Putin believes the future of Lenin's Tomb has no relationship to the country's new state symbols. Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais suggested recently that Lenin ought to be buried if the old Soviet anthem is going to be brought back (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). JAC

MANILOV SAYS U.S. THREATS OVER IRAN ARMS SALES 'UNACCEPTABLE'

First deputy head of the General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov told Interfax on 7 December that U.S. threats to impose sanctions on Moscow if it goes ahead with conventional weapons sales to Iran are "unacceptable." Such sales are Russia's "internal affair," he said, adding that Russian-Iranian military cooperation "poses no threat to third countries and is objectively aimed at strengthening stability and peace" in the Middle East. Also on 7 December, Russian and U.S. experts wrapped up two days of talks that focused on Russia's plans to pull out of a 1995 agreement with the U.S. whereby Moscow had refrained from selling conventional weapons to Teheran. Few details of those talks have been made public. Reuters, however, quoted an unidentified U.S. Embassy spokesman as saying that the two sides had "full and frank discussions." JC

COMMUNISTS TO BE STRIPPED OF SOME INFLUENCE IN LOWER HOUSE?

At least four central Russian newspapers have carried reports that the presidential administration wants to redistribute committee chairmanships in the State Duma to the detriment of the Communist faction, which now controls some nine committees. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 December that according to its unidentified sources, some three to four committees will be taken away from the Communists and given to the groups that went mostly empty-handed during the first distribution, namely the Union of Rightist Forces, Yabloko, and Fatherland-All Russia. "Vremya MN" suggested that the redistribution is punishment for the Communists' continuing opposition to the president's policies and some of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's recent anti-Putin statements at the last party congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2000). However, that newspaper and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" both suggest that the rumors may have been deliberately planted in order to encourage the Communist faction to support all three bills in the president's package on state symbols. JAC

TV CHANNEL TO PASS TO NEW OLIGARCH?

Boris Berezovskii announced on 7 December that he is withdrawing his plan to establish the Teletrust Company to manage his 49 percent stake in Russian Public Television (ORT), Interfax reported. The oligarch said he is making this decision in light of a new arrest in the Aeroflot case. Former Aeroflot Deputy Director General Nikolai Glushkov was arrested earlier that day. Teletrust was to have been run by a group of journalists, artists, and intellectuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2000). Following a number of similar reports in other Russian news sources, Interfax reported, citing unnamed Moscow sources, that Berezovskii may sell his stake to former Sibneft head and State Duma deputy (independent) Roman Abramovich. According to the sources, Abramovich may buy the stake and resell it to the state. Asked about a possible sale to Abramovich, Berezovskii said "I do not rule out anything that does not endanger my friends." JAC

MEDIA MINISTRY REPORTEDLY WANTS TO REVIVE GOSTELRADIO...

"Segodnya" reported on 6 December that it has obtained a copy of a document from the Media Ministry in which the creation of a new state television and radio broadcasting corporation, to be called Gostelradio, is proposed. The corporation would then be split, and 49 percent would be sold to private investors. Gostelradio would also be financed by means of a television tax. "The Moscow Times" reported the next day that an unnamed high-ranking official at All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) confirmed that the privatization of the company's transmission facilities has been under discussion for some time, but the source denied that any talks were being held over the sell-off of state-owned television and radio companies. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko has denied that there are any plans to create the new structure, Interfax reported. JAC

...AS STATE MEDIA TO PRODUCE SINGLE PORTAL

"Vremya MN" reported on 6 December citing RIA Novosti that next year VGTRK is planning to open a free access information product on the Internet called Hot Line-1 ("goryachaya liniya-1), combining the product of RIA Novosti, Russian Television, Radio Rossii, Radio Mayak, and Golos Rossii. According to the daily, the project would be "the first step toward the creation on the [Russian] Internet of a single multimedia portal." JAC

GOVERNMENT TO RAISE TARIFFS ON RAW MATERIALS EXPORTS...

New higher tariffs on raw material exports from Russia will be adopted by the end of the year, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref announced on 7 December, according to Interfax. Gref made the announcement following a meeting with President Putin. According to the minister, Putin emphasized that the need to improve customs tariff and tax policies in the raw materials sector of the economy. JAC

...AS PUTIN CALLS FOR REDUCING BUREAUCRATIC BARRIERS TO BUSINESS

Putin also called for the reorganization of Russia's natural monopolies and the "de-bureaucratization" of the economy. In the hopes of accomplishing the last-named goal, Putin pressed for the adoption of a package of bills, government directives, and decrees that would, among other things, limit various kinds of inspections of businesses, reduce the number of activities that must be licensed, and remove barriers to businesses undergoing registration. JAC

ENTERPRISE COUNCIL CONVENES AGAIN TO CONSIDER TAX REFORM

The second meeting of the Enterprise Council was held in Moscow on 6 December. According to "Izvestiya" the next day, those present discussed the drafts of Article 25 of the Tax Code, which covers business revenue. The council set up a working group to discuss the two versions of the code as well as formulate conclusions on key issues in the Tax Code, such as tax breaks for investors and the profit tax. The government is proposing that the profit tax remain at 30 percent but that its structure be changed. The government is also proposing that a number of business costs be made tax-deductible, such as personnel training and advertising, according to the daily. The council held its first meeting last October, at which the topic of tax reform was also discussed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2000). JAC

RUSSIAN MILITARY NOT INVOLVED IN ATTACK ON GROZNY MAYOR

A spokesman for the Chechen Prosecutor-General's office on 7 December denied rumors that the attack two days earlier on the home in Gekhi of Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov was carried out by federal troops, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). LF




ARMENIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF 1988 EARTHQUAKE

President Robert Kocharian and other senior officials have visited the northern town of Gyumri, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1988 that killed an estimated 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 December. In an appeal coinciding with the anniversary, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian acknowledged that "problems and difficulties" with reconstruction persist, adding that "eliminating the notion of a 'disaster zone'...is a matter of honor for our state, our government and all of us," according to Armenpress. Only 55 percent of damaged and destroyed homes have been rebuilt to date, and an estimated 26,000 families in Gyumri and its surrounding districts still live in temporary housing. Also on 7 December, Noyan Tapan quoted Russian seismologist Aleksei Nikolaev as claiming that the Armenian earthquake, together with those that devastated Ashgabat in 1948 and Tashkent in 1966, were triggered by Soviet nuclear weapons tests. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS AZERBAIJANI VERSION OF RECENT KARABAKH TALKS

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vilayat Guliev, did not discuss during their recent talks in Vienna the possibility of resurrecting the first of the Karabakh peace proposals made by the OSCE Minsk Group in 1997, Noyan Tapan reported on 7 December, citing an Armenian Foreign Ministry statement published in "Azg." In a recent interview with Mediamax News Agency, which observers claim is controlled by Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Guliev was quoted as saying that Oskanian had proposed reviving that proposal "with certain reservations" and that the two ministers had agreed to suggest that option to their respective presidents. "Azg" also denied that Oskanian proposed not reviving discussion of the most recent Minsk Group proposal, made in November 1998, envisaging that Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic form a common state. Azerbaijan rejected that proposal. "Azg" quoted the Armenian Foreign Ministry as saying that Yerevan's position remains unchanged and that Armenia will consider as a basis for negotiation any proposal that does not stipulate that Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

AZERBAIJANI CUSTOMS ALLOWS IMPORT OF IRANIAN BUSES

First Deputy Baku Mayor Eldaniz Laidjev told Turan on 7 December that customs officials have now raised their objections to the import of some 900 Iranian buses leased by former Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev for use in the capital. Laidjev said that President Heidar Aliyev had intervened to instruct Prime Minister Artur Rasizade to give the go-ahead to import the vehicles. Allakhverdiev had threatened to lead a protest march of bus drivers from the Azerbaijan-Iranian border to Baku if the buses were not allowed into the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). LF

MOSCOW RATIONALIZES IMPOSITION OF VISA REQUIREMENT FOR GEORGIA

Russia is doing all in its power to minimize the inconvenience to Georgia arising from the introduction of a visa requirement for citizens of that country wishing to enter the Russian Federation, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement of 7 December summarized by ITAR-TASS. The statement repeated Russia's "constructive" proposal to open more consulates in Georgia to process visa applications, which Tbilisi has already rejected. Also on 7 December, Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Udovenko as rejecting the argument that the imposition of the visa requirement constitutes interference in Georgia's internal affairs. The EU and a U.S. State Department spokesman have both criticized Moscow's decision to exempt from the visa requirement residents of Georgia's breakaway Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE APPREHEND ARMED CHECHENS

After establishing an additional 10 roadblocks in the Kakheti district of eastern Georgia, police on 7 December detained three heavily-armed Chechen fighters at the entrance to the Pankisi gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Russian observers have for months claimed the gorge is controlled by Chechen field commanders, while Georgian officials have systematically rejected those claims. But Georgian presidential press secretary Kahka Imnadze told Interfax the same day that Georgian police will not "comb" villages in the region searching for Chechen militants, in the way that Russian Interior Ministry troops do in Chechnya. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 8 December, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze denied that his men had either conducted negotiations with the persons who abducted two Spanish businessmen last week or paid a ransom to secure their release, according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ACCUSES SPEAKER OF BUDGET SABOTAGE

David Gamqrelidze, who quit the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) parliamentary faction three months ago to head the opposition "New Faction," on 7 December accused the SMK and parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania personally of inflicting economic damage estimated at 300 million lari ($152 million) though the use of budget funds to secure the SMK's victory in the November 1999 parliamentary election, Caucasus Press reported. Gamqrelidze is chairman of the parliamentary commission charged with investigating Georgia's ongoing budget crisis. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES DRAFT CONCORDAT

Eduard Shevardnadze on 7 December approved a draft Concordat to be signed between the Georgian state and the Georgian Orthodox Church, Caucasus Press reported. The agreement, which will be published for nationwide discussion before being submitted to the parliament, recognizes the "leading role" of the Georgian Orthodox Church but imposes no restrictions on the activities of other religious organizations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 6, 11 February 2000). LF

ABKHAZ, RUSSIAN REPRESENTATIVES DISCUSS MILITARY BASE

Vladislav Ardzinba, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, held talks in Sukhum on 7 December with a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official and two Russian military officers on the planned withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the Russian base at Gudauta, Caucasus Press reported, citing Apsnipress. The commander of the Russian parachute regiment currently stationed at that base said that no agreement has yet been reached with Georgia on the withdrawal from Gudauta of 78 armored vehicles and 11 artillery pieces. Interfax on 6 December, however, quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry statement as saying that the withdrawal of that equipment will begin "within days" and will be monitored by foreign observers. The statement expressed the hope that the Abkhaz leadership will not obstruct that withdrawal and that Tbilisi will facilitate it. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, IRAN PLAN TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Sadyq Kharrazi in Astana on 7 December to discuss expanding trade and economic cooperation, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Interfax quoted Kharrazi as telling journalists after those talks that Tehran considers Kazakhstan, together with the other Central Asian states, "a strategic regional partner" and is interested in expanding so-called "oil swaps" with Kazakhstan. Under such arrangements, Iran receives up to 1 million tons of Kazakh crude for refining at its Tabriz refinery, and exports on behalf of Kazakhstan an equivalent amount from a Gulf terminal. Kharrazi also called for talks between all five Caspian littoral states on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Iran and Turkmenistan currently oppose Russia's most recent proposals, which Kazakhstan has endorsed, on how to structure those talks. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET FOR 2001

The parliament on 7 December approved next year's budget in the second and final reading, Interfax reported. The final version of the budget includes the increase in revenues that the opposition had demanded during the first reading but which was rejected by the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2000). Revenues have thus been increased to 412.45 billion tenges ($2.86 billion) from 406.2 billion tenges (16 percent of anticipated GDP), while expenditures have been increased from 462 billion to 468.25 billion tenges, resulting in a deficit of 55.8 billion tenges, which is equivalent to 2.2 percent of GDP. Prime Minister Toqaev told deputies on 7 December that the government will receive before the end of this year $660 million from the sale to Chevron of a 5 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture, Interfax reported. LF

U.S. PRESENTS KYRGYZSTAN WITH DEFENSE EQUIPMENT

A ceremony was held at a military base near Bishkek on 7 December to mark the formal handing over to Kyrgyzstan of military equipment worth $1 million donated by the U.S., RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The equipment, which includes short-wave radio receivers and field glasses, was the first consignment of some $3 million worth of equipment promised by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during her visit to Bishkek in April. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY REFUSED PERMISSION TO CONVENE ROUND TABLE

Former Vice President Feliks Kulov's Ar-Namys Party was forced to cancel a planned roundtable in Bishkek on 7 December after no organization in the capital would allow it the use of premises for that purpose, RFE./RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The focus of the roundtable, which will now take place in the open air on 9 December, will be government and judicial reform. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT SAYS CENTRAL ASIAN STATES CONCERNED AT SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN...

Visiting Tashkent on 6-7 December, Stephen Sestanovich, who is adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on the Newly Independent States, said that Central Asian countries are concerned by the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. He advocated further discussions among the so-called "Six-Plus-Two" group on how to end the Afghan civil war. That group comprises Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia and the U.S. Sestanovich said the U.S. will propose to the UN Security Council new sanctions against the Taliban that are intended to prevent an intensification of "terrorists'" activities in Afghanistan. Russia will also urge the UN Security Council to increase pressure on the Taliban, Interfax reported on 7 December, citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. Sestanovich met in Tashkent with President Islam Karimov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, Deputy Premier Rustam Azimov, and National Security Council Secretary Mirakbar Rakhmankulov. LF

...BUT TURKMEN PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS DANGER

Addressing heads of diplomatic missions in Ashgabat on 7 December, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov said that the situation in Afghanistan does not pose any threat to neighboring countries, according to Interfax. He said ultimatums, military actions, or the isolation of Afghanistan will only increase the suffering of that country's population. Niyazov again invited representatives of the warring Taliban and the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani to travel to Ashgabat to participate both in celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Turkmenistan's neutrality and talks aimed at ending the civil war. LF




BELARUSIAN TEACHERS WANT PAY RISE

Some 168,000 teachers have signed an appeal demanding that their wages be increased by the end of the first quarter of 2001 to equal the average pay in the industrial sector, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 7 December. Tamara Chobatava, head of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers, did not rule out that teachers will go on strike if the government fails to meet their demand. She admitted, however, that the union is too poor to help striking teachers financially in the event of a long protest. JM

NEWLY APPOINTED BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONFIRMS POLICY PRIORITIES

Mikhail Khvastou gave his first news conference on 7 December in his capacity as foreign minister and listed the country's foreign-policy priorities. Khvastou said Minsk will give priority to relations with Russia within the Belarus-Russian Union as well as to those with the Eurasian Economic Community and the CIS. Khvastou also mentioned Minsk's intention to "strengthen the belt of good-neighborliness" around Belarus, develop relations with the EU, and "restore the level of our relations" with the U.S. Khvastou said Minsk is unhappy about the U.S. State Department's stance on Belarus and advised Washington "to think very well" before making statements about "the political changes that took place during the parliamentary elections" on 15 October, Belapan reported. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BALANCED 2001 BUDGET...

The parliament on 7 December voted by 249 to 126 with four abstentions to approve a zero-deficit budget for 2001 in the third and final reading. The bill projects consolidated budget revenues at 52 billion hryvni ($9.6 billion) and forecasts inflation at 23 percent. Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov commented that the 2001 budget is the "most realistic" budget since Ukraine declared its independence. A balanced budget is crucial if the IMF is to resume its 2.6 billion loan. JM

...APPROVES BANKING LAW IN SECOND READING

The same day, lawmakers approved a bill on banks and banking activities in the second reading, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 8 December. The bill stipulates that the minimum statutory reserves of a regional bank must be at least 1 million euros ($880,000) or 3 million euros for banks operating in "larger areas." The statutory reserves of a nationwide bank must be at least 5 million euros. The adoption of the banking law was one of the IMF's requirements for resuming its loan to Kyiv. JM

EBRD APPROVES CONDITIONAL LOAN FOR UKRAINE'S NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has approved a $215 million loan for completing the construction of two nuclear reactors, at the Khmelnytskyy and Rivne power plants, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 8 December. The bank made the loan conditional on the closure of the Chornobyl plant, the IMF's resumption of its loan to Ukraine, and Kyiv's written pledge to enhance nuclear safety standards. The loan is to be repaid over 18 years at a LIBOR+1 percent interest rate. The total cost of the reactors' completion is estimated at $1.48 billion. Euroatom, the largest creditor of the construction project, is expected to make a decision next week on a $585 million loan. JM

UKRAINE TO PRIVATIZE ALL COAL MINES IN 2001

Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists on 7 December that the government intends to privatize all Ukrainian coal mines by mid-2001, Interfax reported. She said all coal mines will be divided into four groups, according to their potential to attract investment: profitable mines, "potentially profitable" ones, loss-making ones, and mines that are to be closed. There are currently 196 coal mines in the country. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROVIDES BODYGUARDS FOR OPPOSITION POLITICIAN

Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree ordering the secret police to protect Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's life for three months, Interfax reported on 7 December. The presidential press service said Moroz has addressed a letter to the State Protection Directorate requesting such protection. Last week, Moroz publicized an audio recording that allegedly reveals Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 December 2000). Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office said it has not yet begun evaluating the recording because Moroz refuses to say whether he provided the "original" tape or a "copy" tape. JM

ESTONIA'S TRUST IN POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS SHARPLY DECLINES

A survey of 1,000 people carried out by Saar Poll institute in November showed that trust in political institutions in Estonia has fallen significantly, ETA reported on 7 December. In a May survey the president, parliament, government, and prime minister received the confidence of 73, 50, 53, and 47 percent, respectively. The same figures in November had declined to 58, 32, 34, and 31 percent. The rating of the government and the parliament is the lowest ever, Prime Minister Tiit Vahi had the trust of only 28 percent before resigning in 1997 from that post in the wake of a housing scandal. Trust in local governments remained more stable, declining from 50 percent in May to 45 percent in November. SG

LATVIA ANNOUNCES DATE OF LOCAL ELECTIONS

The Central Election Commission announced on 7 December that municipal elections in Latvia will take place on 11 March 2001, BNS reported. These will be third municipal elections since the restoration of the country's independence in 1991. Latvian citizens will elect representatives to 72 town councils, 473 county councils and, for the first time, seven area councils. Under amendments to the election law, lists of candidates in towns and areas where the population exceeds 5,000 will be accepted only from political groups and registered and unregistered alliances In the previous local elections, lists were also accepted from groups of voters. The election commissions will accept the lists of candidates from 20-30 January 2001. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS 2000 BUDGET

The parliament on 7 December voted 79 to 12 with 25 abstentions to approve an amended 2000 national budget, which reduces projected revenues by 211 million litas ($52.75 million) to 5.847 billion litas and expenditures to 6.647 billion litas, ELTA and BNS reported. While some additional funds were added for health care, education institutions, municipal budgets, and some other areas (such as 3.9 million litas for the debt-ridden State Radio and Television), 236 million litas were cut from the servicing of the state debt, among other things, and 45.6 million litas from state support for pensions. The parliament also approved a government-backed measure that reduced the pensions paid to working pensioners to the base pension of 138 litas per month. However, it also reduced value-added tax on municipal heating from 18 to 9 percent as of 1 January. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT APPOINTS BALCEROWICZ AS CHIEF BANKER

Aleksander Kwasniewski has appointed Leszek Balcerowicz, former finance minister and deputy premier, as head of the National Bank to replace Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who is to assume the job of deputy president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in January. The presidential office said Balcerowicz's nomination is in recognition of his "spectacular achievements, qualifications, experience, international standing and trust in financial circles." Kwasniewski chose Balcerowicz after the latter's party, the Freedom Union (UW), had ensured that the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) would back of his candidacy in the parliament. The AWS and the UW have reportedly struck a deal whereby the AWS will back Balcerowicz in exchange for the UW's support for the 2001 budget draft and cooperation on a number of other appointments. Balcerowicz denied that such a deal has been made. It is unclear whether Balcerowicz will now have to relinquish his post as financial adviser to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. JM

POLISH NURSES THREATEN GENERAL STRIKE

The Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives has announced a general strike for 13 December, Polish Television reported on 7 December. The nurses are threatening to leave patients unattended on that day. They are dissatisfied with the current talks with the government on pay rises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). Nurses are now on strike at more than 50 health service establishments. In some hospitals, nurses have launched hunger strikes. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO OF NATIONAL BANK BILL...

The Chamber of Deputies on 7 December overrode President Vaclav Havel's October veto of the new law on the National Bank, CTK reported. The vote was 122 to 46, with most deputies representing the Social Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Party supporting the bill. Havel has said that the law restricts the independence of the bank and is unconstitutional. The chamber had passed the law in August. The same day, the daily "Ceske Slovo" reported that Havel intends to turn to the Constitutional Court on the matter, but presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said that Havel is "still considering" what steps to take. The president has finished convalescing after a mild case of pneumonia, and doctors say he will resume work on 11 December. MS

... APPROVES JOINING NATO'S AIR-DEFENSE SYSTEM

By a vote of 130 to 22, the Chamber of Deputies also approved the Czech Republic's integration into NATO's air-defense system, CTK and AP reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said the measure will allow the Czech air force to be deployed in NATO countries and allied forces to be deployed in the Czech Republic and, if necessary, use weapons. The decision must still be confirmed by the Senate. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES DZURINDA, GOVERNMENT

Rudolf Schuster said in an interview with the Austrian daily "Der Standard" published on 7 December that ministers are "paying too much attention to party problems at the expense of solving the Slovaks' problems," CTK reported. In an allusion to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Schuster said this is inevitable "if a new party is set up half-way through the government's mandate." Schuster also criticized the way the cabinet handled the proposed dismissal of Supreme Court chairman Stefan Harabin, saying that "clear evidence" of his "misbehavior" should have been produced beforehand rather than seeking such "proof" after the decision to dismiss him had been taken. The president also commented that Interior Ministry officials often act before a court has made a ruling. By way of example, he noted that ministry officials had provided information to Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, who recently suggested that the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia might be banned. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER REBUTS CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

Pavol Kanis told journalists on 7 December that the luxury villa he is building in a Bratislava residential area is financed from savings, wages, a loan received from a personal friend who has no ties with the ministry he heads, and from winning the lottery several times. "Betting," Kanis said, "is a national hobby in Slovakia" and "one should see it as a sport." The minister noted he cannot complete the construction of the villa without taking out a mortgage, CTK reported. Kanis called the press conference after reports in the media said he could not possibly cover the costs of building the villa from his salary alone. MS




SERBIAN LEADER CALLS ON KOSOVARS TO TAKE PART IN YUGOSLAV POLITICS

Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic told a joint session of the two houses of the Yugoslav parliament on 7 December that he hopes the Kosovar Albanians will take part in the political life of Yugoslavia. He added that he expects the international community to remove the threat from Kosovar guerrillas to "elementary freedoms and rights of citizens" in the Presevo valley, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He stressed that "we won't allow a single bit of our land to be taken away." His remarks appear made for Yugoslav domestic political consumption. The Kosovars have for years refused to have anything to do with Serbian politics on the grounds that their future lies in independence. NATO and the UN have recently stepped up measures to prevent ethnic Albanian guerrillas from infiltrating into Serbia from Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). PM

SOME 1,500 GUERRILLAS IN SOUTHWEST SERBIA?

Yugoslav Defense Minister Slobodan Krapovic told the upper house of the parliament on 7 December that up to 1,500 guerrillas have entered the demilitarized zone on the Kosova-Serbian border, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS WARN AGAINST HOLDING SERBIAN VOTE IN KOSOVA

Moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova and former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci said in Prishtina on 7 December that they are opposed to holding the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections in Kosova. Adem Demaci, who was a leading communist-era dissident and now heads the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that holding the Serbian elections in Kosova could lead to renewed bloodshed. Elsewhere, KFOR's General Carlo Cabigiosu confirmed that voting will take place in Serbian enclaves in the province. PM

KOSTUNICA: YUGOSLAV RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON AWAIT NEW ADMINISTRATION

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told the Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" of 8 December that his country's relations with the U.S. have improved considerably since the beginning of the year. He added that Washington has increasingly responded positively to the EU's lead in improving ties to Belgrade. He hopes that the advent of a new administration in Washington will lead to a change in personnel that, in turn, will further contribute to an improvement in relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2000). Kostunica also noted that he has had an easier time improving his country's standing in the international community than he has in dealing with fellow Serbian politicians. PM

NEW YUGOSLAV DIPLOMATIC LINEUP READY?

"Vesti" reported on 8 December that leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia have agreed on who will fill the most important ambassadorial posts after the 23 December elections. According to the daily, newly elected Belgrade Mayor Milan Protic will leave that job to become ambassador to the U.S. Protic is a historian who studied in that country. He is at home with the idiom and culture of the U.S. in a way that few, if any, opposition leaders can match. Montenegro's Miodrag Lekic will go to Rome, while Radomir-Backo Diklic will represent his country in Paris. The ambassador to Germany will be Milovan Bozinovic. Professor Vladeta Jankovic, who is the deputy chief of Kostunica's party, will go to London, the daily added. PM

NEW DEPUTY CHIEF OF YUGOSLAV NATIONAL BANK

After weeks of political in-fighting over the choice of a deputy head of the National Bank, both houses of the parliament approved the appointment of Radivoje Rasovic to the post, "Danas" reported on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). PM

EFFORTS MADE TO FIND MISSING SERBIAN LEADER

A telephone hot-line has been set up in Serbia to support opposition efforts to find missing communist-era leader Ivan Stambolic, "Danas" reported on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2000). The number is 063-8042800. In addition, a website has been set up at www.gdejestambolic.org. Stambolic has been missing for 105 days and is widely believed to have been kidnapped by agents of the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

PROMINENT YUGOSLAV COMMUNIST-ERA LEADER DIES

Svetozar Vukmanovic-Tempo died at his home in rural Montenegro on 7 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Tempo was a leader in Josip Broz Tito's Partisans during World War II and subsequently entered politics from time to time. In the past two decades, he was best known as a writer and publicist. PM

CROATIAN PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS LAUNCH WARNING STRIKE

"Thousands" of public service workers took part in a one-day warning strike at various places throughout Croatia on 8 December, AP reported. The workers want a 8.5 percent wage hike and a Christmas bonus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). Some 200,000 people work in the state sector. Half of them are represented by the six unions staging the strike. The government is committed to an austerity program. PM

CROATIAN MEDIA BOSS TO SUE MINISTER

An attorney for Ninoslav Pavic said that Pavic is suing Interior Minister Sime Lucin in conjunction with the police's recent decision to detain Pavic and supervise a search of his home, dpa reported from Zagreb on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). In a statement released by his office, Lucin said that "everything was done according to the law" in the Pavic case. PM

SERBIAN GUNNER ON THE LOOSE IN CROATIA

A lone Serbian rebel, who has refused to accept the 1995 victory of the Croatian army over the Krajina forces, is believed to have killed four people in the Sisak area since 1996, Reuters reported on 8 December. Police have found three of the bodies in recent days. The police are conducting an "intensive" search for suspected gunman Zivko Korac, who is believed to be hiding in the woods of Zrinska Gora. PM

VETERAN CROATIAN POLITICIAN DIES

Vlado Gotovac died in Rome on 7 December after a long bout with liver cancer, which stemmed from medical problems he acquired during long years in communist-era prisons. In independent Croatia, the former dissident was best known as a journalist and politician. He was active first in the Social Liberal Party and later in the Liberal Party, but most of all, he relished the role of political gadfly and free spirit. "Jutarnji list" suggested that he could have played a moral role in Croatian politics similar to that of President Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic had he become president of Croatia. PM

PETRITSCH SAYS EU LACKS VISION FOR BOSNIA

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 7 December that at no time in the past five years has Bosnia been as free from the threat of war as it is now. Petritsch said he fears, however, that the international community is focusing its assistance too much on Serbia and to a lesser extent on Kosova to the detriment of Bosnia. He stressed that Bosnia must have more direct investment if it is to cease being dependent on aid. In particular, Petritsch charged that the EU is "too bureaucratic" and does not have "enough vision" to be of effective assistance to Bosnia. PM

BOSNIA SETS CONDITIONS FOR RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE

The joint presidency agreed on 7 December to proceed with efforts at establishing diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). As a precondition to setting up ties, the presidency wants an agreement on resolving the division of properties and assets of the former Yugoslavia. It also seeks an agreement on determining individual responsibility for war crimes and on settling disputes between citizens of the individual countries. PM

BOSNIA INTRODUCES VISA REQUIREMENT FOR IRANIANS

Bosnian Prime Minister Martin Raguz said in Sarajevo on 7 December that the government has introduced a visa requirement for Iranian citizens, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The move is part of an effort to deter Iranian citizens from using Bosnia as a point of illegal entry into Western Europe. Bosnian Muslim leaders earlier introduced visa-free travel in recognition of Teheran's support for the Muslim cause during the 1992-1995 war. PM

ROMANIAN POLLS SHOW ILIESCU LEADING AT DISTANCE

Three public opinion polls released on 7 December show that ahead of the 10 December presidential runoff, the candidate of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) has a comfortable lead over Corneliu Vadim Tudor, head of the Greater Romania Party (PRM). According to the Institute for Public Opinion Polling, Ion Iliescu is backed by 69 percent and Tudor by 31 percent. A Data Media poll shows Iliescu ahead of Tudor with 67.91 percent backing, compared with 32.09 percent. And a Center for Urban and Social Research poll gives Iliescu a 70 percent lead over Tudor, whose backing it puts at 30 percent, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIANS MARCH AGAINST EXTREMISM

Some 800 participants in the December 1989 uprising marched in Bucharest on 7 December to warn of the danger of extremism, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day several hundred students staged a march of their own, and the Federation of Jewish Communities released a statement condemning Tudor's allegations in his electoral address on Romanian television the previous day. The PRM leader claimed that he has received letters of support from officials of the community. The federation said Tudor had been "a staunch enemy of the Jews" in Romania for many years and has repeatedly displayed anti-Semitism and xenophobia. It also condemned the PRM leader's "aggressive stance" against members of the Hungarian and Romany minorities. MS

LOOMING CONFLICT OVER ROMANIAN PREMIER'S FUTURE

Government spokeswoman Gabriela Vranceanu-Firea announced on 7 December that Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu will chair the last meeting of his cabinet on 12 December, following which "he will return to his post as governor of the National Bank." The announcement seems to be in response to a PDSR statement earlier that day that the party will seek to "change the management of the National Bank" and the legislation that governs that bank's activity, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Isarescu accepted the premiership last year on condition that he be allowed return to his post at the end of the cabinet's mandate. The parliament approved that condition at the government's request. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT UPHOLDS LUCINSCHI COMPLAINT

The Constitutional Court on 7 December upheld President Petru Lucinschi's complaint against a law on citizens' initiatives to amend the constitution, which the parliament passed in May, Flux reported. Lucinschi vetoed the law arguing that it was unconstitutional, but the legislature overrode his veto. The court agreed that the law's provision stipulating that the parliament can declare null and void citizens' initiatives to amend the basic document infringes on citizens' constitutional rights. Lucinschi also said the provision stipulating that at least 200,000 eligible voters must back such an initiative and at least 33 deputies must support including it on the parliament's agenda is "too prohibitive." MS

BULGARIA AGAIN REBUFFED OVER PIRATE SOFTWARE

International software manufacturers have warned that Bulgaria's integration into the Western economy may be jeopardized by its continued failure to act against CD and software piracy, AFP reported on 7 December. Velizor Sokolov, the Bulgarian representative of the Business Software Association (BSA), said that the two major problems that Bulgaria faces are corruption and failure to protect intellectual property. BSA Deputy Chairwoman for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE Marjia Laitinen met earlier this week with senior Interior Ministry officials as well as with police and Justice Ministry officials to discuss the problem. She called on them to close down the Slaveikov Square market in Sofia, where most pirated CDs and other wares are sold. Laitinen said that law enforcement in this area is "low" and even the few individuals who have been arrested were not convicted. Sokolov, for his part, noted "investigations are unreasonably delayed." MS




ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS


By Paul Goble

A Moscow court decided late last month that the Salvation Army represents a security threat to the Russian government. That ruling may make it impossible for the international humanitarian assistance organization to reregister before the end of this month. If that is the case, it will be forced to suspend operations in Moscow.

Kenneth Baillie, the head of the army's Russian operations, said that the Moscow City Court had reached this conclusion on 28 November. "Since we have the word 'army' in our name," he said, the court concluded that "we are a militarized organization bent on the violent overthrow of the Russian government."

The Salvation Army, of which Baillie is a colonel, was founded in the 19th century along military lines but without the usual military goals. Its members carry no weapons and have as their mission assistance rather than conquest.

The court ruling will make it impossible for the group to register as required by Russian law, and court officials said they would give its officers the official verdict only sometime within the next month--a delay that might make it impossible for the Salvation Army to appeal to a higher court.

The Salvation Army has been present in Russia since the collapse of communism. In addition to Moscow, the group operates community centers in 13 Russian cities, providing food, shelter, and clothing to the homeless, the elderly, and others.

One 85-year-old participant in the Salvation Army's Russian program told a Moscow newspaper that "this is the only thing that saves us lonely people. Here we get everything we need, love and human contact." And the leader of the Moscow Salvation Army office added that "if we have to close [the office,] the people who have been using it will lose everything. They'll have nothing but their four walls.

The Salvation Army's current legal travails began in 1997, when the Russian parliament passed a law requiring religious organizations with less than 15 years of work in Russia to register with the local authorities. The army's Moscow office filed documents in February 1999. In August of that year, Moscow officials refused to register the group.

At that time, the Moscow city officials said that the group could not register because its headquarters were outside of the Russian Federation and that it could have only a representative office in Moscow. In response, the army filed suit, and in July 2000 the court upheld the city's position. The current finding against the army was the result of the group's appeal of that decision.

These legal appeals, the Salvation Army said, have forced it to spend more than $20,000 in legal fees, money that the group indicated it would have much preferred to spend on those in need.

Colonel Baillie told "The Moscow Times" this week that the Moscow court's latest action showed that the Salvation Army has been singled out, although he said it is "unclear" why. But he acknowledged that there's a general wariness and suspicion of foreigners: "That's part of Russian culture and certainly part of the religious culture."

No court in any other region of Russia has taken such an action against the Salvation Army, but officials in the regions are likely to be watching to see whether the finding against this group is upheld or overturned. If the court decision stands, many of them may also move against the group. If it is overturned, they are less likely to try to close the army's operations.

Regional courts are not the only ones who will be watching to see just what the Russian legal system does. The Salvation Army enjoys near universal support around the world for its longstanding efforts to help those in need, regardless of nationality, religion, or political affiliation.

During this holiday season, when the army's officers stand on the streets of major Western cities to collect money for its charitable activities, such a Russian move against the group will undoubtedly cause many people to draw new conclusions about the direction that Russian political life is taking.

But the Salvation Army has pledged to continue to work where it can because its officers have always insisted that they answer to a far higher court than any judicial assembly in any particular city or any particular country.


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