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Newsline - December 21, 2000




MOSCOW DEPUTY MAYOR REGAINS CONSCIOUSNESS

Iosif Ordzhonikidze, the victim of an assassination attempt on 19 December, regained consciousness at the Sklifosovskii Emergency Aid Clinic on 20 December but remains in a "medium-grave condition," ITAR-TASS reported. Investigators said that they will identify the man who had shot Ordzhonikidze but that they expected he has already been killed by those who hired him to kill the deputy mayor. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said he does not believe that the attack on Ordzhonikidze will damage the investment climate in Russia's capital, ITAR-TASS reported, but he added that it "will undoubtedly influence the general state of society." PG

PUTIN SEES NEW ROLE FOR SECRET SERVICES

On his return from Canada, President Vladimir Putin marked Secret Services Day on 20 December by telling his former colleagues in those services that their agencies must put the skills they learned in the past to work to defend democracy, Russian agencies reported. He also said that the security services have reduced the price Russia has had to pay in Chechnya. Meanwhile, representatives of those services stressed their more direct contributions to Russia in 2000. Federal Security Service Director Vladimir Shults said that his group prevented 13 explosions this year, arrested 11 spies, and tracked another 400 foreign agents, Interfax reported. But Vladimir Semichastny, who served as KGB chairman from 1963 to 1967, said that he regrets the current divisions in the country's security operations and the departure for the private sector of many intelligence officers. And another former senior KGB official, Leonid Shebarshin, told "Vremya MN" that the recent case of Edmund Pope was a "warning" to the U.S. Also on 20 December, the FSB promoted State Duma deputy Nikolai Kharitonov, the leader of the parliament's agro-industrial group, to the rank of full colonel in the FSB. PG

KOKH DENIES LINK BETWEEN PROSECUTION WITHDRAWAL OF SUIT AGAIN GUSINSKII

Gazprom-Media director general Alfred Kokh told Interfax on 20 December that there is absolutely "no connection" between an investigation of Gazprom-Media and its dropping of a lawsuit against Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii. Kokh said the suit was dropped because his company does not wish to go forward with its July 2000 deal with the embattled media magnate. PG

MEDIA FIGURES OPPOSE GUSINSKII'S EXTRADITION

Prominent Russian editors on 20 December sent a letter to Spanish officials urging them not to extradite Gusinskii to Russia, characterizing the case against him as purely political, Reuters reported. Duma Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov offered to testify to that fact in a Spanish court, Interfax said. But Interpol officials maintained that there are no "political motives" involved as far as it is concerned. Meanwhile, Arkadii Volskii, the president of the Russian Union of Manufacturers and Businessmen, said he and his group do not support the appeals of some media groups not to do business with the Russian government. PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL PASSES 2001 BUDGET

The upper house on 20 December passed the federal budget law for 2001 by a vote of 122 to 12 with two abstentions, Russian agencies reported. The budget is balanced, with revenues and spending set at 1.193 trillion rubles ($42 billion). Defense expenditures will account for 3.2 percent, a figure that pleased Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Interfax reported. In other actions, the Federation Council unanimously passed amendments to the 2000 budget law reflecting greater than expected revenues and approved a bill to prevent the further spread of tuberculosis in Russia. The incidence of that disease has doubled in the last few years and now affects more than 85 out of every 100,000 residents, ITAR-TASS said. PG

STATE DUMA VOTES FOR PRODUCTION SHARING DRAFT

The lower house has passed in the first reading a draft law allowing direct production sharing, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 December. Under its provisions, investors and the state can negotiate deals, something that one Duma member said will allow the state to earn significant income from the sale of oil. But the Duma rejected a draft law proposed by the Union of Right Forces that would have opened the way for private ownership of land, ITAR-TASS reported. The measure received only 221 votes, not the 226 required to pass. While the Duma was meeting, some 350 trade unionists picketed the parliament building to protest the new draft labor code under consideration, Russian agencies reported. PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL SEATS SOME UNSEATS OTHERS

The upper house of the parliament confirmed Ramazan Abdulatipov as the representative of Saratov but refused to seat either Igor Glukhovskii, who had been nominated by the Jewish Autonomous Region, or Vladimir Kulakov, who had been named by Magadan, because the two men live in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 December. At the same time, it terminated the powers of chairmen of the legislative bodies of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Aleksei Arteev, and of Kaliningrad Oblast, Valerii Ustyugov. PG

KUDRIN PREDICTS INFLATION TO FALL TO 12-14 PERCENT IN 2001

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told Interfax on 20 December that inflation for this year will not exceed 20-20.5 percent and that the rate, now "under the complete control of the government," will fall to between 12 percent and 14 percent in 2001. PG

RUSSIA TO RESUME DEBT PAYMENTS TO PARIS CLUB

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin said on 20 December that Moscow will resume payments on its debt to the Paris club of creditor countries even if it does not reach an accord on rescheduling, AP reported. Meanwhile, Yevgenii Yasin, the director of an experts institute at the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told the "Ekho planety" magazine that Russia can repay its foreign debt in the next 15 to 20 years if "normal relations are established with Western creditors," if the debt is rescheduled, and if Russian capital exports are "sizably cut." In other comments, he said that reducing the share of barter payments from 60-70 percent to 21 percent was the major economic achievement in Russia this year. PG

THREE OUT OF FIVE RUSSIAN FIRMS NOW PROFITABLE

The State Committee for Statistics released a report to PRIME-TASS on 20 December that showed that during the first 10 months of 2000, 60.3 percent of Russian enterprises made a profit. Industrial and transport firms did the best, with housing and communal services performing the least well. PG

PUTIN AGAIN WARNS AGAINST NMD

Before leaving Canada, President Putin said that scrapping the ABM Treaty of 1972 and constructing national missile defenses "will bring nothing except a collapse of the entire system of international security," Interfax reported on 20 December. In other comments to his Canadian hosts, Putin said that Russia has made progress in "assembling a federation" in a country that had looked like a decentralized state. He said that the introduction of federal districts has "considerably strengthened the system of state control and filled gaps in the country's single legal and economic system." As a result of this progress in the political sphere, he said, progress in the economy is virtually inevitable. PG

MOSCOW EU TO DRAFT PROGRAM ON ENERGY COOPERATION

Following talks with his Belgian counterpart, Guy Verhofstadt, in Moscow on 20 December, Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov announced that Russia and the EU are to begin drafting a program on cooperation in the energy sector, which, he added, could be approved at a Russia-EU summit in October 2001, Interfax reported. Belgium will take over the EU rotating presidency next year. At the Russia-EU summit in the French capital in late October, European Commission head Roman Prodi proposed that EU imports of Russian fuel, mainly gas, be sharply increased over the next 20 years, and he announced the setting up of a working group to study boosting such imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2000). Russian President Putin, meeting with Verhofstadt in the Kremlin on 20 December, praised Russian-Belgian economic ties, noting the growing trade turnover between the two countries. JC

TIMING OF NATO OFFICE OPENING TO DEPEND ON 'POLITICAL WILL'

Unidentified diplomatic sources in Moscow told Interfax on 20 December that the decision on when to open a NATO information office in the Russian capital will depend on "political will." Russia last week declined to determine a date for the opening of the new office after the Atlantic alliance had criticized its campaign in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). "Given the current state of relations between Russia and NATO, it was recognized as inappropriate in Brussels to set definite dates for the opening of the information office," those sources commented. JC

'UNUSUALLY HIGH' NUMBER OF SUBS DECOMMISSIONED THIS YEAR

Minister for Atomic Energy Yevgenii Adamov announced on 20 December that Russia decommissioned 20 nuclear submarines this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Adamov noted that this figure is "unusually high," since in previous years only between two and four nuclear submarines were taken out of service. According to the Defense Ministry, a total of 150 decommissioned submarines are waiting to be dismantled. JC

DEFENSE MINISTRY FINANCE CHIEF REJECTS CORRUPTION CHARGES

Colonel General Georgii Oleinik, head of the Defense Ministry's Main Military and Finance Department, told Interfax on 20 December that he denies having abused his powers. Military prosecutors recently brought such charges against Oleinik, who has been under investigation since the summer in connection with the alleged embezzlement of $450 million in Defense Ministry funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). "The main military prosecutor has to understand that the apportioning of the Finance Ministry's budget cannot be allocated only by the chief military financier but also by the defense minister," the agency quoted him as saying. Some observers have linked the investigation involving Oleinik to the conflict between Defense Minister Sergeev and chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin, who have differing views over the fate of the Strategic Rocket Forces. JC

MOSCOW WELCOMES UN AFGHAN RESOLUTION SEES LINK TO CHECHNYA

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 December said that Moscow hopes the new UN Security Council resolution on Afghanistan will help stop the spread of terrorism while not harming the Afghan people, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Sergei Lebedev, the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told RTV television that there is a direct connection between Afghanistan and Chechnya, with groups of rebels moving "from one conflict area to another." PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT DOESN'T SPY ON NEIGHBORS

Foreign Intelligence Service chief Lebedev also said on RTR television on 20 December that his agency does not spy on other CIS countries, but he added that "it would be untrue to say that we are not interested in what happens in these countries." Lebedev says that Moscow gets information about them from "the far abroad." Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Soltaganov, the director of Russia's tax police, said that a planned intelligence service would be only an analysis center, Interfax reported. PG

GORBACHEV SAYS BUSH WILL CHANGE STYLE NOT SUBSTANCE OF U.S. RUSSIAN TIES

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said in Moscow on 20 December that "people are scared that it will be tough for Russia with the new administration" of U.S. President-elect George W. Bush. Gorbachev acknowledged that "the style will change, the articulation and problems will be different, but the politics will not be irresponsible or overloaded with emotion," he said. PG

...COMMENTS ON LENIN BURIAL AND HIMSELF

In other comments, the former Soviet president said that the founder of the Soviet state ought eventually to be buried but not for some time until society stabilizes. And with regard to himself, Gorbachev said that because he had been "president of another country," Russia's law governing former presidents does not apply to him. He added that he has no interest in being included in its provisions. PG

REGISTRATION OF POPULATION TO START IN 2001

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told ITAR-TASS on 20 December that the Russian government plans to compile a computerized register of the population starting in 2001. The new registry will provide a continuing and accurate portrait of Russian society, help develop policies, and serve as a tool for the introduction of new technologies, he said. PG

ANTI-SEMITIC OUTBURST IN SARATOV

A group of people demonstrated outside a meeting of rabbis in Saratov and chanted anti-Semitic slogans, the Anti-Defamation League said in a press release on 20 December. Among the slogans were "Hi to representatives of the wandering tribe," "the Saratov-Magadan train leaves at 7:40" (a reference to the forced labor camps in Stalin's time), and "Gusinskii is waiting for you in Spanish resorts." PG

MANY RUSSIANS REMAIN IGNORANT OF INTERNET

Some 55 percent of all Russians know little or nothing about the existence of the Internet, according to the results of a poll of 66,610 people in 115 cities conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by ITAR-TASS on 20 December. At the same time, some 10.3 million Russians now have access to the Internet at work, home, or at friends, the survey found. Muscovites still account for one-quarter of all Russian users. PG

CHECHEN INTERIM ADMINISTRATION HEAD DENIES OFFERING PREMIER'S POST TO RIVAL

In an interview printed in "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 December and summarized by Interfax, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov denied having offered the post of Chechen prime minister to Malik Saidullaev, chairman of the Moscow-based Chechen State Council. "Izvestiya" on 20 December had cited Russian media reports of the previous day claiming that Kadyrov had done so at a meeting between the two men in Moscow. Kadyrov admitted to "Kommersant-Daily" that he had discussed the creation of a Chechen government with Saidullaev but that Saidullaev "has his own ideas" on that issue. Kadyrov added that he considers himself the optimum candidate to head such a government, in which case he might offer Saidullaev a post as his deputy. Kadyrov has hitherto been hostile to Saidullaev. LF




FORMER SENIOR ARMENIAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS STALLED

Former Armenian deputy parliamentary speaker Ara Sahakian has accused the present Armenian leadership of leading the Karabakh peace process into deadlock by substituting the direct dialogue between Presidents Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliev, from which representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic are excluded, for the ongoing OSCE-sponsored negotiations, Noyan Tapan reported on 19 December. Sahakian also accused the Armenian leadership of trying to preserve the status quo, arguing that as a result, Armenia is being excluded from integration processes in the South Caucasus. Speaking in Baku on 20 December, President Aliyev warned against military action to try to bring Nagorno-Karabakh back under Azerbaijani control, Turan reported, citing the independent daily "Azadlyq." LF

GEORGIA READY TO ACCEPT 'ZERO OPTION' IN DIVIDING FORMER SOVIET ASSETS

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told a cabinet session on 20 December that the parliament will soon debate ratifying an agreement whereby Georgia will withdraw its claims to former Soviet assets in return for Moscow 's writing off Georgia's share of the former Soviet debt, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze noted that all other former Soviet republics, except Ukraine, have already accepted that option. Minister of State Giorgi Arsenishvili told ministers that he has twice discussed the "zero option" with Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov, who had agreed to it. Russia had made rescheduling of Georgia's $179 million debt contingent on Tbilisi's acceptance of the "zero option." Shevardnadze had previously informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that Tbilisi would accept the zero option only after a debt rescheduling agreement was signed. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT LAMBASTES MEDIA

Shevardnadze also complained during the 20 December cabinet session that the Georgian media are conducting an all-out "informational offensive" against the country's leadership, Caucasus Press reported. He said only the first channel of Georgian state television makes any attempt to counter that "flow of disinformation." Shevardnadze appealed to journalists to focus more attention on measures taken by the government to overcome the ongoing economic crisis. He also charged Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili with drafting a new media law. Saakashvili, however, commented to Caucasus Press the same day that since Georgia already enacted a law on the press in 1991, there is no need to adopt new legislation. He suggested that rather than try to curb the media, it would be more appropriate to focus on improving the moral standing of the cabinet. LF

GEORGIAN CABINET REJECTS PRESIDENT'S ECOLOGICAL INITIATIVE

At the same 20 December cabinet session, Saakashvili circulated photographic evidence that the State Forestry Commission engages in illegal felling and accused Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze of condoning that activity, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze ordered the creation of a state commission to investigate Saakashvili's allegations. Recalling that at his personal request the World Bank allocated $20 million for the development of forestry in Georgia, Shevardnadze also proposed a two-year moratorium on all felling. The cabinet, however, rejected that proposal. LF

FORMER TURKISH PRESIDENT'S PLANNED VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN CANCELLED

Suleyman Demirel's planned 22 December visit to Baku to attend the opening of a clinic renovated by a Turkish company will not take place, Turan reported on 21 December. No reason was given for the cancellation. LF

MORE CABINET CHANGES IN KAZAKHSTAN

President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 20 December appointed Uraz Djandosov, head of the state electricity monopoly KEGOC, as deputy prime minister responsible for finance, replacing Yerzhan Utembaev, Russian agencies reported. Djandosov served as deputy premier in the cabinet of Nurlan Balghymbaev, which resigned one year ago. Nazarbaev also replaced Kairbek Suleymenov as interior minister with the head of the presidential guard, Bulat Iskakov, who has simultaneously held the post of one of Suleymenov's deputy ministers. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN REFUTES PRESIDENT'S ACCUSATIONS

Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 20 December, Orleu movement leader Seydakhmet Quttyqadam denied that he has ever accepted money from either Russian or any other foreign intelligence service to sow discord within Kazakh society, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. In a two-hour television interview one week earlier, Nazarbaev had branded Quttyqadam a "scoundrel" for allegedly taking such money to create discord (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 15 December 2000). Quttyqadam also admitted that the Opposition Forum, which was created one year ago and unites several prominent opposition parties, has been forced under pressure from the authorities to tone down its activities, Interfax reported. But he vowed that the forum will continue to lobby for a public dialogue between the authorities and the opposition and try to regain "a worthy place on the political scene," rather than risk the emergence of a political vacuum that could be filled by "extremists." LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO BE JOINT OPERATOR OF AKTAU-BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE?

Georgian International Oil Company president Giorgi Chanturia and Georgian presidential adviser on Caspian issues Edward Chou met in Astana on 20 December with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev to discuss Kazakhstan's participation in the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Chanturia was quoted as saying that Astana plans to export up to 20 million metric tons of crude annually via that pipeline and that Kazakhstan's state pipeline company KazTransOil will be the operator of the Aktau-Baku section of the pipeline. LF

KAZAKHSTAN RUSSIA PLAN MILITARY-TECHNICAL COOPERATION

Russia and Kazakhstan will establish a bilateral commission on military-technical cooperation next month, ITAR-TASS quoted Russian Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov as telling journalists in Moscow on 20 December. Klebanov said Astana has assured Moscow that its 20 Soviet-era defense enterprises "have retained their capabilities." The bilateral commission will draft a cooperation program and a program for exporting armaments jointly produced by the two countries. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT REJECTS LAND RETAIL TAX HIKES

The lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 20 December rejected President Askar Akaev's proposal to increase the land tax by 260 percent, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Deputies referred that proposal back to a special government-parliament commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). But deputies did agree to raise the retail tax from 2 percent to 3 percent. Akaev had asked for a 5 percent hike in that tax. LF

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES POSTPONE ROUNDTABLE WITH OPPOSITION

Presidential administration official Arslan Anarbaev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that the roundtable discussion between representatives of the authorities, the opposition, the media and NGOs has been postponed from 23 December until mid-January as President Akaev has not yet named a new government. The opposition boycotted the first such roundtable in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 June 2000). LF

UZBEKISTAN CHINA REGISTER GROWTH IN BILATERAL TRADE

China's ambassador in Tashkent, Li Jingxian, told Interfax on 20 December that trade and economic relations between the two countries have reached a "qualitatively new level" this year. He said the two countries are focusing on long-term large-scale economic cooperation and the creation of joint ventures. Li added that bilateral trade turnover in 2000 is expected to reach $200 million. Bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and China in 1999 exceeded $1 billion. LF




BELARUSIAN KGB BUSY UNCOVERING FOREIGN AGENTS

Yauhen Babrou, deputy head of the Belarusian KGB's Center for Information and Public Relations, said on a Minsk radio station on 20 December that the KGB has exposed 120 agents of foreign special services as well as an unspecified number of Belarusian "helpers" in the past 18 months, Belarusian Television reported. Babrou also confirmed President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent announcement of the arrest of three foreign spies in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). "Those detentions were indeed made, other comments on this issue will be accordingly made by us in due course," Babrou noted. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY AGREES TO SACK POWER MINISTERS

Leonid Kuchma met on 20 December with representatives of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). According to one of them, Yuriy Lutsenko, Kuchma agreed to order that independent experts be consulted in connection with the disappearance case of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and to sack Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and Security Service chief Leonid Derkach. The "Ukrayinska pravda" Internet newsletter reported that Kuchma "categorically rejected" the demand of the protesters that he himself resign. However, presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko commented later that Kuchma "is ready to consider [the dismissals] but stressed during the meeting [with the protesters] that all appointments and reshuffles of ministers are made following proposals by the Cabinet of Ministers." Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said Kuchma wants to shift responsibility for the dismissals to Premier Viktor Yushchenko. JM

UKRAINIANS SAY FAREWELL TO UNIATE CHURCH LEADER

Some 10,000 people gathered in Lviv on 20 December to pay their last respects to Cardinal Myroslav Ivan Lyubachyvskyy, head of Ukraine's Uniate (Greek Catholic) Church, who died last week at the age of 86, Reuters reported. Lyubachyvskyy led the largest Uniate Church in the world and was spiritual leader of 5 million Uniates in Ukraine and another 2 million Ukrainian believers living mostly in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. After spending 45 years in exile, Lyubachyvskyy went back to live in Ukraine in 1991. "His return to Ukraine became a vindication of the irreversibility of the reign of God's spirit over our nation," independence activist and former Soviet dissident Mykola Horyn said in his words of condolence. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2001 STATE BUDGET

The parliament on 20 December voted by 54 to 38 to pass the 2001 state budget of 29.78 billion kroons ($1.71 billion), ETA reported. The budget is balanced without a deficit and slightly larger than this year's 28.5 billion kroon budget. Increased allocations are foreseen for defense, education and the social sphere, and road construction. The opposition parties, most of whose proposed amendments were rejected, blamed the ruling coalition for passing a budget that was not transparent and that failed to allocate sufficient funding to education and science. SG

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET IN PALANGA

Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Juri Luik.(Estonia) ended two-days of talks in Palanga on 19 December by signing a memorandum of mutual understanding on the establishment of an aerial surveillance training center in Karmelava, Lithuania, BNS reported. Most of their discussions focused on increased defense cooperation and the formulation of a common policy toward joining NATO. The meeting reaffirmed the principles of the statement made by the nine candidate countries meeting in Vilnius in May, namely, that the entry of one Baltic state into NATO would be a victory for the other Baltic candidates. The ministers also discussed a project on the creation on a joint air force transport squadron, BALTWING. SG

WORLD BANK GRANTS LOAN FOR LATVIAN REGIONAL WASTE DUMP PROJECT

The World Bank regional director for the Baltic states and Poland, Basil Kawalsky, signed an agreement in Riga on 19 December on a $2.2 million loan for the implementation of a household waste management project in the western Latvian region of Liepaja, BNS reported. The loan is for 17 years, but repayment will begin only after five years. The total cost of the project is $27 million; the Nordic Investment Fund, the Swedish International Development Agency, the European Commission, as well as the Latvian and Liepaja region and city governments are to all help meet the remaining costs. The new waste dump is to be completed by 2002. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 2001 BUDGET

The parliament on 19 December voted by 70 to 58 with nine abstentions to approve the government-proposed 2001 budget, Radio Lithuania reported the next day. The Social Democratic coalition and the Peasant Party voted against the budget, while the Conservatives abstained, noting that they cannot support a budget that takes away 150 million litas ($37.5 million) from pensioners for school renovations and private home construction, The budget foresees revenues of 6,428 million litas and expenditures of 7,334 million litas. The planned budget deficit of 906 million litas is 13 percent larger than the planned 2000 deficit and accounts for 1.9 percent of GDP. SG

POLISH PROSECUTORS TO PROBE MYSTERIOUS TELECOMMUNICATIONS CABLE

Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski has ordered that prosecutors investigate a mysterious high-tech telecommunications cable that Russia's Gazprom has laid along its gas pipeline across Poland, Polish media reported on 20 December. Kaczynski told journalists that the investigation will "definitely involve more than one ministry." The existence of the fiber-optic cable, which is able to handle most of Russia's telecommunications traffic with the West, was revealed by "Gazeta Wyborcza" last month (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT INCREASES PAY OFFER TO NURSES

Health Minister Grzegorz Opala and Finance Minister Jaroslaw Bauc on 20 December made their "final offer" in the ongoing controversy between the government and nurses over wage hikes, PAP reported. Opala and Bauc said the government can increase the monthly remuneration of health service employees in 2001 by 203 zlotys ($46), an improvement on their earlier proposal of 170 zlotys. The Union of Nurses and Midwives said it is not accepting the offer and pledged to continue protest actions. According to the union, nurses were on strike in 138 hospitals throughout the country on 20 December. JM

CZECH & AUSTRIAN PRESIDENTS AGREE THAT TEMELIN MUST NOT BE OBSTACLE TO EU ENTRY

Visiting Austrian President Thomas Klestil and his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, agreed on 20 December that the dispute over the Temelin nuclear power plant must not become an obstacle to the Czech Republic's membership in the EU, CTK and AP reported. "We agreed that any bilateral problems, no matter how serious, must not in any way be associated with the process of EU expansion," Havel told journalists after the meeting. Klestil said that "bilateral problems must be solved in bilateral manner" but added that he understands people in his country who express concern about Temelin's safety. Klestil also welcomed the recent compromise agreement between Prime Minster Milos Zeman and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. MS

CZECH TV HAS NEW CHIEF...

The Television Council on 20 December selected Jiri Hodac as director of Czech Television, AP reported, citing CTK. Hodac replaces Dusan Chmelicek, who was dismissed on 12 December. Hodac served from April 2000 as director of the news department but was forced to leave because of differences with Chmelicek. MS

...PROMPTING PROTESTS

Freedom Union deputy Vladimir Mlynar protested Hodac's appointment, charging that it is politically motivated since Hodac is associated with Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party. Mlynar also said that the new television boss had failed in his previous position. An emergency committee set up by Czech Television staff broadcast a protest against Hodac's appointment at prime viewing time. Among other things, the committee declared that "the last independent television is in immediate danger! Help save it! Democracy is at stake!" Hodac said in response that the protest was "not balanced" and that he has asked news director Jiri Vondracek to "do something about it, and I believe he will." Vondracek, a signatory of the protest, announced he is resigning. MS

SLOVAK AGREEMENT WITH VATICAN TAKES EFFECT...

A controversial "basic treaty" between Slovakia and the Vatican took effect on 18 December, after Slovak President Rudolf Schuster and Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Angelo Sodano exchanged ratification documents at the Vatican, CTK reported. Following the ceremony, Schuster and his wife had a brief audience with Pope John Paul II. The agreement was signed by Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and Sodano in Bratislava on 24 November and was ratified by the Slovak parliament on 30 November. Critics said the agreement grants the Vatican rights that are not in line with the separation of Church and state. MS

...WHILE ORTHODOX FEUD WITH GREEK CATHOLICS COMES TO END

Representatives of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches signed an agreement in Slovakia on 20 December on settling the long-standing dispute over property restitution, CTK reported. The agreement was also signed by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. The dispute stemmed from the communist regime's decision to outlaw the Greek Catholics and the transfer of that Church's properties to the Orthodox Church. The settlement of the dispute was mediated by Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of human rights. Under the agreement, the government will allot 55.9 million crowns (about $3.75 million) in compensation for confiscated properties. The sides will also withdraw lawsuits against one another and will not insist on the implementation of court rulings on the issue. MS




HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS EX-YUGOSLAV WAR CRIMINALS MUST GO TO HOLLAND...

Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 20 December that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other indicted war criminals must face trial in The Hague and not in their own respective countries, as Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica recently suggested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). Del Ponte argued that "Yugoslavia is not--and for many years will not--be in a position to hold a fair trial of Milosevic for the charges brought, and to be brought, by this tribunal," AP reported. She stressed that she is angry by what she sees as a tendency among Serbs to regard Milosevic's crimes as having been committed primarily against his own people. "What about the other victims: Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians, Croats, among others--those hundreds of thousands of people who fell prey to barbarian warfare, ethnic cleansing, torture, rapes, etc.?" Del Ponte said that such people would not be willing to go to Belgrade to attend a trial. PM

...WANTS AID TIED TO BELGRADE'S BEHAVIOR

Speaking in The Hague on 20 December, Del Ponte called upon the new U.S. administration and European leaders to make the surrender of Milosevic and other indicted war criminals a precondition for economic aid to Belgrade, AP reported. Del Ponte, who is Swiss, appeared to echo remarks made in recent weeks by Croatian President Stipe Mesic, Albania's Rexhep Meidani, and many other political figures in the region that the West was too hasty in granting the new Belgrade authorities full recognition. Such individuals argue that other countries in the region have had to meet strict requirements to receive the support of the international community. They add that Belgrade received early recognition before demonstrating that it is ready to comply with international legal standards and that it is prepared to acknowledge its guilt in starting four wars in the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). PM

YUGOSLAVIA READMITTED TO IMF

The IMF said in a statement in Washington on 20 December that Belgrade's membership in that body has been restored after a break of eight years, Reuters reported. Mladjan Dinkic, who heads the National Bank, said: "This is a great success for the federal government and the central bank, after only two months of negotiations. This effectively means that the gates of world capital are now open to us. It's a green light for investors, and we expect substantial private investments next year." The IMF has already approved a loan of $151 million for Belgrade, some $130 million of which will be used to pay Yugoslavia's arrears with the IMF. German business executives told "Newsline" recently that Yugoslavia must thoroughly overhaul both its legal system and its business culture if it expects to attract serious foreign investment. PM

SERBIAN COALITION SET FOR LANDSLIDE VICTORY

Campaigning for the 23 December parliamentary elections ended at midnight on 20 December. Polls suggest that the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition may take up to 80 percent of the votes. Milosevic's Socialists seem likely to win about 15 percent, with most of the rest going to Vojislav Seselj's Radicals, AP reported. Zoran Djindjic, who is the DOS's choice for prime minister, said that "for us, Serbia is not just a territory, not just a population. For us Serbia is a great idea and a great obligation," Reuters reported. Observers suggest that the real test for the opposition will lie in maintaining its unity after the election and making the transition from criticizing to governing. PM

NATO SERBIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS BORDER CONFLICT...

KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu met with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Bujanovac on 20 December to discuss how to deal with Kosova-based guerrillas operating in the demilitarized zone on the Serbian side of the border, Reuters reported. It was the first such meeting between NATO and Serbian officials on Serbian territory. Cabigiosu said afterward that the talks were "constructive" and that "it is possible to find a peaceful solution to this problem. This meeting was a step in the right direction." He did not make any mention of Kostunica's recent remarks that Belgrade will "cleanse" the zone of "terrorists" if the foreigners fail to prevent further infiltration from Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). PM

...TO CHAGRIN OF GUERRILLA LEADERS

Shaqir Shaqiri, who is a spokesman for the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), told Reuters in Prishtina on 20 December that the fighters have no interest in attending such meetings. He added that he is "irritated" that it took place. Shaqiri stressed that "the only solution for the Presevo valley problem is through direct negotiations between ethnic Albanian political and military representatives and the Serbian side, under international supervision." PM

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES THREE MILITARY MEN OVER KOSOVA KILLINGS

For the first time, a Yugoslav military court in Nis sentenced two soldiers and an officer to a total of almost 14 years in prison in conjunction with the killing of an elderly Kosovar couple in March 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 December. A representative of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Fund also noted that this was the first time that a Serbian court has worked together with UNMIK, which is the UN's civilian authority in Kosova. PM

NEW UN CIVILIAN BOSS IN KOSOVA SEEKS SELF-GOVERNMENT

Hans Haekkerup, who will soon take charge of UNMIK from Bernard Kouchner, told Reuters in New York on 20 December that his "goal is to get Kosovo away from the headlines, but at the same time keep the interest of the international community on what is going on in Kosovo. First we have to define the legal framework for provisional self-government." He added that he wants to involve local Serbs in the process, and that he hopes that expanding self-government will help contribute to stemming the violence. Haekkerup argued that "when you call elections, Kosovo-wide elections, you should make sure that you also know what you are electing--an assembly, a government but also, of course, what the powers, the competence of these institutions will be," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The outgoing Danish defense minister added that "the goal, of course, should be that Kosovo in the future would have self-sustained growth so that they, to a higher degree, could support themselves." PM

CROATIAN CAPITAL RENAMES SQUARE FOR NAZI VICTIMS

The Zagreb city council voted on 20 December to restore the name of Square of the Victims of Fascism to the place that was renamed Square of Croatian Heroes approximately 10 years ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

BOSNIAN REFORM LAWS GO INTO EFFECT

The office of Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, issued a statement in Sarajevo on 21 December saying that a package of laws aimed at promoting economic reform has come into effect. The statement added that "a consistent legal framework based on market economy criteria and European practice will send a positive signal to foreign and domestic investors and business people," dpa reported. Petritsch has long spoken of the need to ferret out corruption and remove communist-era red tape. An important provision of the new legislation is the dismantling of the Payment Bureau, which has been criticized as non-transparent. PM

PETRITSCH PLANS TO BUILD BOSNIAN STATE

Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 21 December that "next year, the building of a single state of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be at the center of the stage in my office. Once you have a state, that's a precondition for entering the European integration processes," AP reported. He added that Bosnian leaders' failure to introduce necessary reforms had prevented the country from joining the Council of Europe, a development that he called "a scandal." Referring to the recent trend among Western countries toward an early recognition of Yugoslavia, Petritsch argued that "I don't want to see Yugoslavia enter the Council of Europe before Bosnia. That would not be good." PM

THINK TANK SAYS BOSNIA CANNOT MANAGE AFFAIRS ALONE

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report in Sarajevo on 20 December saying that "Bosnian politics may be characterized as a paradoxical combination of flawed democracy and a semi-international protectorate, in which the international community often appears reluctant to use its powers effectively," Reuters reported. "Having acknowledged that Bosnia is indeed a protectorate, the point will then be to use the opportunity that this offers in order to build a functioning, sustainable institutional framework." The ICG urged Petritsch to use his powers to ban Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), arguing that "long-term, sustainable peace in Bosnia will remain impossible as long as the SDS is permitted to participate in the political process." PM

NASTASE OFFICIALLY APPOINTED ROMANIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE

President Ion Iliescu on 20 December officially appointed Adrian Nastase as premier-designate, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Both politicians said they hope the parliament will approve the government on 28 or 29 December. The National Liberal Party said it will support Nastase's minority government, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania said it "hopes" to be able to support it after consultations with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) are over. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said his party's support will depend on the government program Nastase presents in the parliament. Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said the PDSR has "failed to comprehend" that the national interest "calls for a national unity cabinet" and the PRM will act "as an opposition party." MS

ILIESCU INTRODUCES PRESIDENTIAL TEAM

At his first press conference as head of state, Iliescu presented the new main presidential counselors, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Former Foreign Intelligence Service Chief Ioan Talpes is counselor for defense issues. Journalist Octavian Stireanu is the new counselor for internal affairs, while former Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu is foreign affairs counselor. In response to a journalist's question, Iliescu said he cannot "for now" say whether he intends to replace the heads of Romania's intelligence services but added that "it is customary that when governments change, the heads of these institutions are also changed." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS POSTPONED

Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov on 21 December announced that the next round of the presidential elections, due to be held on the morning of 21 December has been postponed until the afternoon "on judicial grounds and to allow time for consultations," Flux reported. The agency said the ad-hoc Parliamentary Elections Commission has reached the conclusion that the intended boycott of the vote by several center-right parties might result in President Petru Lucinschi dissolving the parliament on 25 December. At least 61 lawmakers must participate in the round for it to be valid. On 20 December, Diacov announced that his For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc will boycott the parliament session on 21 December. The other center-right formations have also decided to boycott the elections. MS

IMF WORLD BANK RESUME LENDING TO MOLDOVA

Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis told journalists on 20 December that the IMF and the World Bank have decided to resume loaning to Moldova, but he warned that unless the parliament approves the agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on debt restructuring, lending could be stopped again, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). MS

PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY TO BE CURBED IN BULGARIA?

The ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 20 December submitted a draft law on a constitutional amendment that would curb the immunity from prosecution of law makers and judges, Reuters reported. The draft was submitted by 83 SDS deputies, but observers doubt it will be approved. Constitutional changes require the support of two-thirds of the 240-member parliament, where the SDS holds 139 seats. The main opposition Socialist Party rejected the draft as "unacceptable" and the third largest party in the legislature, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, described the draft as a "populist, pre-electoral move." MS




FORMER BELARUSIAN LEADER AIMS AT CHANGE THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX


by Jeremy Bransten

Since his ouster as Belarusian head of state by a Communist-dominated parliament in 1994, Stanislau Shushkevich has been one of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's most ardent critics.

A physicist by training, the 66-year-old Shushkevich became involved in politics in 1986 when he criticized government negligence in reporting on the nuclear accident at Chornobyl in neighboring Ukraine. With the backing of the Belarusian Popular Front, Shushkevich became a member of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet in 1990. The following year, he was named its chairman--the highest post in the country.

Shushkevich was one of the three signatories of the Belovezha accords in December of that year. Those accords created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

He had advocated neutrality in military matters, but in 1993 the Belarusian parliament overrode Shushkevich's objections and voted to join the CIS collective security agreement. Communist legislators forced Shushkevich from his post as head of state soon afterward. He now leads the Social Democratic "Hramada" party.

During a visit to RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague recently, Shushkevich said that Belarus's current leadership has been unable to develop the economy and that for the past several years, Belarus has been subsisting on its aging Communist-era infrastructure. "In Belarus, the relics of gigantic unprofitable communist enterprises are being preserved," he commented. "The relative well-being of society--I stress, relative -- and our current survival stems from the fact that we are using up the resources that our fathers and grandfathers amassed."

According to Shushkevich, Belarus's feeble economy means the country is not self-reliant, putting its sovereignty at risk: "In the conditions of such a drop in production and the using up of our basic resources, Belarus cannot pay for its own upkeep. The labor of its people is not enough to buy it the necessary amount of energy it requires in Russia--gas and coal."

Shushkevich noted that Russia has skillfully manipulated Belarus's predicament--with the willing help of President Lukashenka, to bring Minsk back into its embrace. "As a result, it looks as if Russia is constantly helping this poor Belarus and keeps the poor Belarus afloat, which cannot exist as a sovereign state," he added.

In addition to running the economy into the ground, Shushkevich faults the Belarus leadership for gutting all efforts at nation-building. In 1994, when Lukashenka came to power, textbooks that attempted to portray the region's past objectively were pulled from school shelves, to be replaced by Soviet-era books. The country's post-independence flag was replaced by its Soviet equivalent.

Currently, in the capital Minsk, there is only one secondary school where teaching is conducted in the Belarusian language. As in Soviet times, all students interested in continuing their education must be fluent in Russian. "The possibility of receiving an education in the Belarusian language has been lost," he lamented. "There is not one higher education institution where courses are taught in Belarusian."

The press, too, has been curbed. The few semi-free publications that exist are dwarfed by the output of state-sponsored periodicals. Shushkevich pointed out that "for each edition of the more or less free press--and I say more or less because we have no truly free press--there are 24 government publications of considerably better quality, [that are] cheaper, and so forth."

But Shushkevich says that all these factors, have galvanized the divided opposition. Next year, presidential elections are due, and Shushkevich says the opposition intends to field one candidate against Lukashenka.

Next year holds the promise of political change for Belarus--if the opposition plays its cards right. But Shushkevich says he is determined to effect change through the ballot box. He shrugs off the possibility of a Yugoslav-style popular revolt, pointing out that after centuries of suppressed national consciousness and 80 years in which personal initiative of any kind was stifled, Belarusians are not ready to take to the streets en masse. "As a physicist, I will tell you: We have different surroundings and different starting conditions."

But as a politician, Shushkevich says he intends to be there for his people, whatever happens. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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