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Newsline - December 27, 2000




PUTIN CONFIRMS LIMITS ON POWERS OF REGIONAL ENVOYS...

In an interview with Russian Public Television, Russian Television and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin touched on many of his pet themes, such as reducing bureaucratic red tape for businesses and the necessity of raising the population's living standards. Putin declared that his personal envoys to the seven federal districts should act strictly within the limits of their powers "and never interfere in the sphere of local leaders," adding that their task is "to coordinate the activities of the federal districts, not rule." He also stated that Russia is "gradually departing from a decentralized state system. But we must not return to Soviet-style super-centralization." Putin called the new State Council an "advisory body [that] is very important to me, because I have an opportunity to regularly meet and deal with regional leaders." JAC

...CONSIDERS DEVELOPMENT OF POLITICAL PARTIES INADEQUATE...

On the issue of political parties, Putin said Russia lacks "stable national parties" and that the ones that do exist look more like "political clubs with interests of their own." On 26 December, Putin discussed a draft law on politicial parties with leaders of the State Duma's factions. After the meeting, the leaders of two of the Duma's largest factions, Gennadii Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, and Unity's Boris Gryzlov, told reporters that they will support the bill. According to Zyuganov, the bill will likely pass in its first reading in January. In an interview with NTV on 25 December, State Duma deputy (independent) Vladimir Ryzhkov said that the law which requires parties to have at least 10,000 permanent members "will in fact rule out the emergence of new parties." JAC

...AVOIDS WEIGHING IN ON EES CONTROVERSY...

In the interview, Putin sidestepped the controversy over the restructuring plan for Unified Energy Systems (EES), noting that there is "nothing catastrophic" in the fact that EES head Anatolii Chubais and presidential economic advisor Andrei Illarionov have clashed publicly over the plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000). On 26 December, the presidium of the State Council decided that a restructuring program for EES should be prepared by 1 March 2001, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. However, at a press conference after the session, Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress, a member of the presidium and chair of a new group put in charge of reorganizing EES, said that he hopes the 1 March deadline will "most probably be put off." JAC

...AND CALLS FOR NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH IRAN?

Putin also called for Russia to abandon its imperial ambitions and follow a pragmatic policy defined by the pursuit of Russia's national interests. He noted, "we scared the world so badly in Soviet times that this led to the creation of military blocs" from which no one benefitted. He continued, "On the one hand, we have to get rid of imperial ambitions. On the other hand, we have to clearly understand where our national interests lie and fight for them." With regard to Iran, Putin noted that Germany recently opened a new credit line for Teheran and that relations between Iran and Europe have attained a "new level." And he asked, "Why should we be shy?" On 26 December, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev began an official visit to Iran. He will discuss the development of bilateral military and technical cooperation. JAC

GUSINSKII WINS LEGAL VICTORY

A Moscow court on 26 December dismissed the fraud case against Media-MOST head Vladmir Gusinskii; however, the office of the Prosecutor-General said that it would appeal the court's decision, according to Interfax. Media-MOST spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii noted that the decision shows "that in the Russian judicial system there are some people left who won't give into pressure." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 December, Gusinskii's lawyers did not expect such an outcome; six months ago, the same Tver district court rejected a similar appeal; charges against a media magnate were not declared illegal. And, according to the daily, if a Moscow municipal court approves the resolution of the Tver district court, then the Prosecutor General's Office will have to withdraw the international arrest warrant and extradition request for Vladimir Gusinsky. On 22 July, Gusinskii was released from a Spanish jail after posting one billion pesatas ($5.6 million) in bail. JAC

RUSSIAN DUMA DEPUTIES MEET WITH CHECHEN PARLIAMENTARIANS...

Four Russian State Duma deputies, including Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction leader Boris Nemtsov and Aslan Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the lower house, met in Nazran on 23 December with seven members of the Chechen legislature elected in May 1997. The two delegations signed a five-point protocol which Nemtsov told journalists could serve as a basis for a mediated solution to the conflict. The issue of Chechnya's sovereignty was not discussed, according to Aslakhanov. Kremlin officials slammed Nemtsov's initiative. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax that the Duma deputies had "no mandate" to embark on such talks, while presidential representative in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov termed them "a stab in the back," according to ITAR-TASS on 25 December. President Putin was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 December as saying that he has "a negative position towards contacts with representatives of the rebels," and that "the military action must be carried to its conclusion." Nemtsov briefed Putin personally on the Nazran meeting on 26 December. He had told Interfax the previous day he is convinced that the Kremlin will begin negotiating with Chechen representatives next year. LF

...AS PUTIN REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR INTERIM LEADER

President Putin told journalists in Moscow on 26 December that interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov is "the only center of authority" in Chechnya, Interfax reported. In a bid to end speculation that Kadyrov will soon be replaced (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 20 October 2000 and No. 43, 3 November 2000), Putin said Kadyrov will continue in that post "until we go over to other methods of settling political problems of this kind -- to the election of head of the [Chechen] republic." He said that military operations aginst the Chechen fighters will be continued by "special units" formed of "professionals." LF

RUSSIAN POPULATON DIPS AGAIN

Russia's population fell by 0.4 percent or 611,200 people during the first 10 months of 2000, according to the State Statistics Committee on 25 December. The country's population totaled 144.99 million as of 1 November. According to the committee, migration helped to stem the 23.1 percent decline in the population due to natural causes. During January-October, 1.566 million people were born, and 1.851 million died. Also during this period, the number of marriages increased 1.2 percent while divorces rose 19.9 percent. JAC

OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT DROPS, CASH INCOMES SWELL...

The number of unemployed persons as measured by the Sate Statistics Committee dropped 19.0 percent as of the end of November to 7.368 million compared to the same date last year, Interfax reported on 25 December. According to the committee, the population's cash revenues adjusted for inflation grew 9.1 percent during the first 11 months compared with the same period last year. In November alone they soared 11.1 percent compared with November 1999 and rose 3.8 percent compared with October 2000. JAC

...'BUSH'S LEGS' RISE IN POPULARITY

During the first nine months of 2000, poultry imports from the U.S. more than doubled compared with the same period last year, rising to 403,300 tons from 168,300 tons, Interfax reported citing the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council. (U.S. poultry imports are commonly referred to as Bush's legs, a reference to the poultry imports, especially chicken legs, that flooded the Russian market as food aid during President George H. Bush's administration.) According to the Council, the rise is probably attributable to the reduction this year of an import duty on poultry from 30 percent to 20 percent. Meanwhile, during the first 11 months of 2000, Russia's agricultural production rose 4.1 percent measured in constant prices, according to the State Statistics Committee. JAC

LABOR CODE POSTPONED UNTIL NEXT SPRING

Duma Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman (Fatherland-All Russia) Andrei Isaev told reporters on 26 December that consideration of a new Labor Code has been postponed until April 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Isaev, members of the government, Duma, and trade unions will draw a new draft code to be considered in its first reading by the lower legislative house during April 2001. Earlier this month, following protests organized by labor unions across the country, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok asked that consideration of the draft legislation be postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). The State Duma completed its fall session on 22 December and will hold its first plenary session of the spring session on 17 January, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

RESEACHER'S ESPIONAGE TRIAL POSTPONED

The espionage trial of Igor Sutyagin of the Institute for USA and Canada will reopen on 9 January, after Sutyagin requested an additional lawyer and more time to prepare his defense at proceedings held in Kaluga Oblast on 26 December. Sutyagin, who has been held in prison for more than a year, is accused of passing classified information about Russian nuclear submarines to the U.S. and Britain, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). Sutyagin's lawyer said that his client hasn't had access to classified information and based his analyses on information available from open sources. According to ITAR-TASS, Sutyagin's preparation for the book, "Russia's Strategic Nuclear Arms," published by the Ploughshares Fund and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, "may have caught the attention of foreign intelligence services." The agency added that the court may seek to determine "sources of funding behind these [Western] foundations." JAC

FOUR INCUMBENT REGIONAL LEADERS REGAIN SEATS...

In seven gubernatorial elections held on 24 December, four incumbents, two generals and one oligarch won. Three governors supported by the Communist Party won, while one lost. Incumbent President Aleksei Lebed of the Republic of Khakasiya was re-elected with 73 percent of the vote. Incumbent Governor Viktor Shershunov of Kostoma Oblast was also re-elected in a run-off election with 63 percent of the vote compared with 24.61 percent for his competitor, Kostroma Mayor Boris Korobov. In Volgograd Oblast, incumbent Governor Nikolai Maksyuta won with 36.45 percent of the vote compared with 28.36 percent for his closest rival, local factory director Oleg Savchenko. A run-off election will need to be held. Incumbent Chelyabinsk Governor Petr Sumin won with 58.77 percent of the votes; his closest competitor State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Mikhail Grishankov had only 16.68 percent of the vote. JAC

...AS OLIGARCH BECOMES GOVERNOR...

State Duma deputy (independent) and former Sibneft executive Roman Abramovich won the gubernatorial election in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug with a hefty 90 percent margin. The previous week, incumbent Governor Aleksandr Nazarov withdrew his candidacy in the race, thus ensuring Abramovich's victory. Abramovich's closest rival, Vladimir Yetylin of the scientific research center Chukotka, captured only 3 percent of the vote. JAC

...AND TWO GENERALS ASSUME TOP REGIONAL POSTS

Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, a former top commander in Chechnya, won elections in Ulyanovsk Oblast with 56 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Governor Yurii Goryachev, who had only 23 percent. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Shamanov had the support of the Communist Party and the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces. He was also widely considered to have the support of the Kremlin. In Voronezh Oblast, the head of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) regional directorate, Vladimir Kulakov, defeated incumbent Governor Ivan Shabanov. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov earlier accused the FSB of using its entire network of agents in the campaign against Shabanov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Kulakov was supported by Unity and the People's Deputy group. JAC




ARMENIA HOPES FOR EVENTUAL EU MEMBERSHIP

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told a press conference in Yerevan on 26 December that EU membership is one of Armenia's longterm foreign policy objectives, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We believe that it is time for the European Union and its member countries to formulate a clear stance on the Caucasus and determine whether they are prepared to see the Caucasus as a part of the EU some time in the future," Oskanian said. He added that the Armenian leadership plans to raise the issue during a February visit to Yerevan by EU Foreign Affairs Commisioner Javier Solana and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lund. Sweden takes over the EU rotating presidency on 1 January. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

The Armenian Pan-National Congress (HHSh) held its 12th congress in Yerevan on 22-23 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputies elected former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian as chairman of the movement's board, replacing former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian who fled Armenia in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 April 2000). Deputies rejected, however, a proposal to rename the HHSh the Liberal Party of Armenia, according to Noyan Tapan. In the presence of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Arzoumanian accused the present Armenian leadership of being incapable to resolve the country's probelems. He argued that the HHSh should form a united front with other center-right parties that had split from its ranks during the 1990s. LF

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Visiting Baku on 25-26 December, Igor Sergeev held talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart General Safar Abiev, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and President Heidar Aliev, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Topics discussed included Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Azerbaijan next month, the security situation in the South Caucasus, the Karabakh conflict, and the Gabala radar station. Interfax quotd Sergeev as saying after his talks with Abiev that he is "120 percent convinced" that there will be no resumption of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Sergeev also said that the investigation into supplies of Russian weaponry to Armenia in 1994-1996 has been completed, and that "there were no illegal deliveries." Interfax quoted Aliyev on 26 December as saying that he hopes Putin's upcoming visit will mark the beginning of a "new stage" in bilateral relations and contribute to solving outstanding problems between the two countries. LF

OUSTED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF OPPOSITION PARTY

The Civil Unity Party elected exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov as its chairman at the party's second congress, which took place in Baku on 23 December, Turan reported. The party was founded in April 2000 to support Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since fleeing Azerbaijan in May 1992. "Azadlyq" on 26 December quoted him as saying that he intends to run in the Azerbaijani presidential elections due in 2003. LF

GEORGIA PEGS RUSSIAN BASES COMPROMISE TO CONCESSIONS ON ABKHAZIA

The fifth round of bilateral talks on the closure of Russia's four military bases in Georgia, which took place in Tbilisi on 21-23 December, failed to yield a firm agreement on the terms of and timetable for the closure of the Russian bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 December that the Georgian leadership rejected a Russian proposal not to close those bases for 15 years. He said the bases will remain for an unspecified period acceptable to both countries. Menagharishvili also rejected as exaggerated the Russian claim that the closure of the bases and redeployment of Russian forces to Russia will cost some $700 million. Interfax, however, quoted Russian Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who headed the Russian delegation, as saying that during a meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze agreement had been reached "in principle" that the two Russian bases should remain for a further 15 years. But Shevardnadze reportedly made that extension conditional on unspecified concessions from Moscow in resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Interfax reported. LF

LAND TAX IN KYRGYZSTAN INCREASED BY 40 PERCENT

The lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 22 December to increase the land tax by 40 percent, from an average of 225 soms to 315 soms ($6.5) per hectare RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. President Askar Akaev had called for a165 percent hike, to 596 soms per hectare (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 December 2000). The average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan in $20. LF

REVIEW OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST'S ACQUITTAL RESUMES

The Bishkek City Military Court on 22 December resumed its review of the August decision by the same court to acquit former Deputy President and opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was arrested in March and charged with abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister. He was acquitted in early August, but the board of the Kyrgyz Military Court annulled that ruling in September and called for a review of the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 12 September 2000). That review began in early October but was suspended six days later later because of the indisposition of the presiding judge. LF

INVESTIGATION INTO ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT COMPLETED IN TAJIKISTAN

National Security Minister Khayriddin Abdurahimov told "Sadoi Mardum," the newspaper of the Tajik parliament, that the investigation into the failed 16 February bid to kill Dushanbe mayor Makhmadsaid Ubaidulloev is being wrapped up, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 22 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 21 February 2000). Abdurahimov said all the perpetrators are in detention and will go on trial shortly. Ubaidulloev is reportedly the second-most powerful political figure in Tajikistan. On 25 December, Tajik police announced the detention of five supporters of rebel Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev on charges of killing a local police chief and a local government official in two separate incidents in August 1997, AP reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT DECLARES AMNESTY

As anticipated, President Saparmurat Niyazov marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by proclaiming an amnesty for 12,000 of the country's estimated 19,000 prison population, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). Those released the following day included dissidents Nurberdi Nurmamedov and Pirimguli Tanrykuliev. LF

UZBEKISTAN WARNS KYRGYZSTAN OVER GAS DEBTS

Tashkent sent a telegram to the Kyrgyz authorities on 25 December warning that it will cut natural gas delivereies within days unless Bishkek pays its outstanding $2 million debt for previous supplies, Kyrgyz government official Saparbek Balkybekov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau. Kyrgyzstan's Deputy Prime Minister Esengul OmurAliyev had said three weeks earlier that Bishkek and Tashkent had reached agreement on rescheduling that debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). LF

UZBEK POLICE SEIZE ARMS CACHE

Uzbek police have arrested Tashkent resident Leonid Yudin, who divulged the location of a secret arsenal comprising nine firearms, large quantities of ammunition, several grenades and 10 kilograms of explosives, Interfax reported on 25 December quoting the Uzbek Interior Ministry press service. Five other persons including a Syrian and a Russian national who purchased a weapon from Yudin were subsequently arrested. LF




BELARUS REACHES OUT TO BAGHDAD

First deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration Vladmir Zametalin met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on 23 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Zametalin presented the Iraqi leader with a letter from his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka and said that Minsk will soon open direct flights to Baghdad. For his part, Saddam Hussein invited Lukashenka to visit Iraq. PG

LUKASHENKA WANTS ONLY BELARUSIANS AS PRIESTS

After a meeting with Cardinal Kazimir Sventek, the leader of the Roman Cathollic church in Belarus, Belarusian leader Lukashenka noted that he wants only persons who are citizens of Belarus to be priests in that country, ITAR-TASS reported. At present, he said,149 of the country's 261 Catholic priests are foreigners, most of them Polish citizens. PG

BELARUS, NORTHWEST RUSSIA TO OPEN STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT CENTER

Industrial, transportation and financial organizations in Belarus and Russia's northwestern regions agreed on 22 December to establish a strategic development center, ITAR-TASS reported. The new center will coordinate railroad tariffs and promote cooperation on pipeline and port construction. PG

KYIV COURT BANS TENT CITY PROTEST

A Ukrainian court on 22 December ordered the dismantling of a tent city set up by protesters who charge that President Leonid Kuchma and his regime were involved in the death of editor Hrigory Gongadze, Interfax reported. "Either the protesters will leave of their own accord or we will find a wind to blow them away," Kyiv Mayor Hrihory Omelchenko said. PG

KUCHMA, PUTIN PUSH EXPANDED TIES

At their meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian President Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sharply criticized the work of the existing intergovernmental economic cooperation commission and called for expanded ties, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 December. Both presidents suggested that businessmen should be involved in the commission's work. They also agreed to defer payment of Ukraine's gas debt to Russia for ten years. Negotiators for the two countries agreed on new guarantees for Russian gas transit across Ukraine and reserve supplies for and payments by Ukraine during the next year. The two leaders also participated in the opening of a new electric power station outside St. Petersburg, and the next day participated in the unveiling of a Taras Shevchenko statue in St. Petersburg. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER POINTS TO UKRAINE-RUSSIA-NATO TRIANGLE

Speaking on Ukraine's first "day of the diplomat," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko on 22 December said that Ukraine will continue to cooperate with NATO as long as that corresponds to Kyiv's interests, ITAR-TASS reported. He argued that "the triangle Ukraine-Russia-NATO already exists de facto, but it is early to speak about its existence de jure." PG

RUSSIAN PROSECUTORS IN KYIV ON OLEINIK CASE

Officials of the Russian military prosecutor's office arrived in Kyiv on 22 December to interview senior Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko, about the abuse of office charges against Gen.Georgy Oleinik, the former head of the Russian defense ministry's budget and finance department, ITAR-TASS reproted. The investigators want to ask Timoshenko about large cash transfers between the Ukrainian government and Russian officers. PG

OPIC HEAD SAYS UKRAINE'S INVESTMENT CLIMATE NOT OPTIMAL

George Munoz, the president of the U.S. Overseas Private Investments Corporation, told the Bloomberg Business Information Service that Kyiv has failed to create a favorable climate for foreign investment, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 December. He added that the IMF's willingness to resume loans is a positive step, but only if Ukraine lives up to the IMF's conditions. (Underscoring these observations, the last international full-service investment bank in Ukraine closed its offices because of a lack of interest by foreign clients, AP reported on 26 December.) The Ukrainian National Bank says that it expected to disburse the first tranche of new IMF money on 26 December. But the Ukrainian Finance Ministry said that Kyiv will ask the Paris Club to reschedule Ukrainian debt payments, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Kuchma on 23 December signed into law the credit agreement with the EBRD. Under its terms, Kyiv will get a credit of $100 million to purchase fuel this winter. PG

UKRAINE PLANS TO REORGANIZE TAX ADMINISTRATION

Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov told Interfax on 26 December that Kyiv will divide his organization into separate functional departments, modernize its facilities and improve management training in 2001. The moves are prompted by the government's need to improve tax collections, AP said.

STANDARD & POOR'S RAISES ESTONIA'S STATE RATING OUTLOOK

The Bank of Estonia announced on 22 December that Standard & Poor's (S&P) had upgraded Estonia's state rating outlook from "stable" to "positive," while maintaining its other ratings unchanged, ETA reported. Estonia has a rating of BBB+ for long-term foreign currency obligations, A- for kroon obligation, and A-2 for short-term foreign currency and kroon obligations. S&P has granted the BBB+ rating also to Hungary and Poland, but higher ratings to Slovenia (A) and the Czech Republic (A-) and lower ratings to Latvia (BBB) and Lithuania (BBB-). The "positive" outlook reflects Estonia's success in reforming the economy and attracting greater foreign investments. The export-oriented private sector has generated significant economic growth, but the state's high current account deficit and relatively high short-term foreign debts level still have to be reduced. SG

TWO DEAD IN COLLAPSE OF RIGA FOOD STORE

Two women were killed and four people injured seriously when a six-story building collapsed in the center of Riga in the afternoon of 22 December, BNS reported. Five stories of the building were uninhabited, but the ground floor had an "Essa" food supermarket which was filled with customers at the time of the collapse. The cause of the accident has not been determined, but the police are investigating two possibilities: the tearing down of a support beam or the storing of too much construction waste in one location on the sixth floor. The Riga construction inspectorate chief blamed the owners of the building for the accident because a construction permiit had been issued only for work on the first floor. SG

LITHUANIA'S POLICE COMMISIONER GENERAL DISMISSED

Interior Minister Vytautas Markevicius on 22 December dismissed Visvaldas Rackauskas as Police Department commissioner general, appointing deputy commissioner Raimondas Budginis as his temporary replacement, ELTA reported. Rackauskas had been appointed police commissioner in June 1999 by then Interior Minister Ceslovas Blazys. The dismissal was prompted by changes in the police law that provided that the commissioner general be appointed and dismissed not by the interior minister, but by the president on the interior minister's recommendation. Markevicius noted that it is not sufficient for the commisioner to be only a good specialist in one field, for he ought to have expertise in all spheres of police work and good management skills. SG

KWASNIEWSKI BEGINS SECOND TERM

Aleksander Kwasniewski has begun his second term as Poland's president after taking the oath of office on 23 December, Polish and Western agencies reported. In his inaugural address, Kwasniewski called on Poles to unite in the common effort to join the European Union. At the same time, he said that he hopes to ease tensions in society, tensions highlighted by a continuing strike of nurses for higher wages. Also on 23 December, Kwasniewski was sworn in again as supreme commander-in-chief of Poland's army and navy, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

SOLIDARITY ELECTION BLOC BECOMES A FEDERATION

The leaders of Solidarity agreed on 23 December to transform their election bloc into a federation of parties to be led by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, AP reported. This arrangement ends internal disputes that began following the defeat of Solidarity Chairman Marian Krzaklewski in the October 2000 presidential elections. Krzaklewski announced that he will resign from as the group's leader, PAP reported. PG

BALCEROWICZ APPROVED AS POLISH BANK HEAD

The Polish parliament on 22 December voted 226 to 214 to approve former Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz as president of the National Bank of Poland, PAP reported. Balcerowicz, who pushed through the country's economic reforms in the 1990s, will serve for six years. He replaces Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz who is becoming the vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Balcerowicz's appointment has been welcomed by Western governments and financial institutions. PG

PAPAL STATUE LOSES ITS METEORITE

Witold Tomczak and Halina Nowina-Konopta, two independent right of center deputies in the Polish Sejm, broke apart a statue purporting to show Pope John Paul II crushed by a meteorite, AP reported on 22 December. Their action was the latest and most definitive protest against a statue many Polish Catholics said offended their faith. Tomczak told PAP after the attack that "meteorites are associated with dinosaurs, not with the Pope." PG

NEW CZECH TELEVISION MANAGEMENT FIRES REBELS...

Jana Bobosikova, who was appointed Czech Television news director on 23 December by new director general Jiri Hodac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 December 2000), on 26 December dismissed 20 members of the staff who refuse to recognize the new management and abide by its directives, CTK and international agencies reported. She warned that she will ask police to help evacuate the television premises. On 24 December, the television staff security called on police to help them gain control of the building. But police refused to intervene, calling the matter an "internal dispute" that does not threaten lives, heath or property. On 27 December Hodac filed a criminal suit against the protesting staff. MS

...AS VIEWERS GET COMPETING NEWS BROADCASTS

Since 24 December, Czech television viewers have been receiving competing news broadcasts, one by the team that refuses to recognize the authority of the new management, the second compiled by broadcasters who abide by the directives of that management. The new management's broadcasts were aired with the help of the private TV Nova station, while the "rebels'" news were received by cable TV holders. Thousands rallied outside Czech Television in support of the dismissed journalists on 26 December. MS

POLITICIANS DIVIDED IN REACTIONS TO TV CONFLICT

On 26 December, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal called on Jiri Hodac to resign, and a group of senior Four Party Coalition leaders headed by Jan Ruml, Michael Zantovsky and Jan Pilip arrived at the Czech television in the afternoon hours of 26 December to prevent the evacuation of staff by force. But Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 22 December called the reaction of employees to Hodac's appointment "hysterical." Ivan Langer, Chamber of Deputies chairman of the Media Commission, said the commission will not discuss the developments before 12 January 2001, but Ruml said the Senate might meet in special session for this purpose on 3 January. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT COMPLAINS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER NATIONAL BANK LEGISLATION

Vaclav Havel on 22 December officially asked the Constitutional Court to rule that parts of amendment to the National Bank Law approved earlier this year by the Chamber of Deputies are unconstitutional, CTK reported. The amendment curbs the president's prerogatives to appoint the bank's governor and its board. Havel also said that the provision in the amendment obliging the bank to coordinate inflation targets with the cabinet runs counter to the basic law. On 19 December, the government also asked the court to rule whether the premier must counter-sign appointments to the post of governor made by the president, in the wake of Havel's appointment of Zdenek Tuma as bank governor. That appointment was made before the amended law took effect. MS

TEMELIN NUCLEAR PLANT SHUTS DOWN AGAIN

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant shut down automatically on 22 December for the second time in a week, CTK and dpa reported. The shutdown was due to what officials described as a "minor technological problem" that prompted one of the turbine generators to switch off. The plant's testing went on, however, and fission reaction was not discontinued. Austrian opponents of the plant on 24 December set up a Christmas camp at the Wullowitz/Dolni Dvoriste border crossing point but did not block border traffic. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT DISSATISFIED WITH CABINET'S PERFORMANCE

President Rudolf Schuster on 22 December told CTK that he is dissatisfied with the performance of the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda. Schuster said ministers "spend more time on political intrigues" than on solving the problems of Slovak citizens. He said the government should have "made better use" of the chance offered by the failure of the opposition-proposed referendum on early elections. "They should go more often among the people and listen to what they have to say, because families have hit the bottom and cannot tighten belts any more," Schuster commented, adding that the reform proposals that the cabinet will bring next year must take into consideration what "people are able to accept." In other news, Dzurinda on 22 December met with Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov, who is vacationing in the High Tatras. They discussed bilateral relations. MS




SERBS REPUDIATE MILOSEVIC IN PARLIAMENTARY VOTE...

Participants in Serbian parliamentary elections on 23 December gave 65 percent of their votes to the Democratic Opposition of Serbia alliance of new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and only 14 percent to the Socialist Party of former President Slobodan Milosevic, Western news agencies reported. That translates into 178 seats for the 18 parties of the DOS, which will now form a new government, and only 36 seats for the Socialists. PG

...BUT HARDLINERS MAKE DEMANDS

Borislav Pelevic, the head of the Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ) founded by ultra-nationalist warlord Arkan, said on 26 December that his party, which gained 14 of the 150 seats in the new parliament, will demand that the parliament hold its first session in Kosovo in order to reassert its rights over that region, Reuters reported. He said that he expects other parties to support this and the international community to give its permission. PG

MILOSEVIC MAY BE CHARGED, ARRESTED

Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic said on 25 December that his government will launch an investigation that could lead to the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes in Yugoslavia, AP reported. But officials made clear that Milosevic would have to be tried in Yugoslavia before anyone would consider extraditing him to the Hague to face war crimes charges. As DOS leader Dragolub Micunovic put it on 22 December, sending Milosevic to the Hague right away would in effect mean that he was being pardoned for all he had done in Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

DJINDJIC BECOMES PRIME MINISTER DESIGNATE

Zoran Djindjic, a longtime opposition figure known for his pragmatism but also for his past clashes with the country's new president Kostunica, is now the prime minister designate and will name a government by 10 January, Western agencies reported. Djindjic negotiated with Milosevic in 1993 over the possible formation of a government of experts, and he attempted to take control of state enterprises during the October 2000 revolt against Milosevic. PG

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WELCOMES SERBIAN POLL OUTCOME

The European Union, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and most major governments welcomed the outcome of the Serbian parliamentary elections. Michael Steiner, foreign policy advisor to German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder, spoke for many when he said that the outcome represented "a Christmas present for democracy in Europe," Reuters reported. On 26 December, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker released a statement saying that the elections were "an important milestone in the going demcoratic transition that began with Milosevic's defeat in September's federal presidential elecitons." In the first concrete move, Japan announced in advance of the vote that it would lift the sanctions it had imposed on Belgrade under Slobodan Milosevic, DPA reported. PG

BELGRADE FIRES OFFICERS IN MONTENEGRO

The Yugoslav Supreme Defense council on 26 December fired Col.Gen. Milorad Obradovic, Admiral Milan Zec and Colonel Luka Kastratovic, all of whom had been servinvg in Montenegro, AP reported citing Podgorica dailies. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has long sought these dismissals and he is quoted as saying that he is "generally happy" with the Supreme Defense Council's actions. PG

THREE-QUARTERS OF SERBIA WITHOUT POWER

Officials declared a state of emergency in Cacak and other cities went dark as Serbia's energy crisis worsened over the last week, local and Western wire services reported. On 26 December, more than three-quarters of the country was suffering significant power outages, with officials promising relief only when temperatures rise, wire services reorted. Dragan Batalo, the deputy director of Serbia's power grid, told Radio B92 that the power shortage reflected both the failure of the Milosevic regime to make repairs especially after the NATO bombardment and the fact that Belgrade is no longer illegally importing power from abroad. PG

KFOR EXPECTS IMPROVED TIES WITH BELGRADE

Shawn Sullivan, the political advisor to KFOR commander Lieutenant General Carlo Cabigiosu, told Reuters on 26 December that the peacekeeping force expects "a more positive and helpful approach" from Belgrade now that the elections have taken place. "We need Serbs to participate in administrative structures here [in Kosovo] and we need the release of Albanian prisoners," he said. PG

VOTE SEEN DEEPENING DIVISIONS IN KOSOVA

Speaking of an election most ethnic Albanians boycotted, Naim Jerliu, the vice president of the moderate ethic Albanian party LDK, said on 25 December that the vote "was an attempt to destabilize Kosovo and its aim was to deepen the division in Kosovo." Kosova's Serbs, who alone across Serbia voted for Slobodan Milosevic's party, "confirmed that they continue to dream about another state," Jerliu said. "They showed they do not want to be integrated in Kosovo's society and institutions. They voted against Kosovo." PG

BELGRADE THREATENS UNILATERAL ACTION ON KOSOVO BUFFER ZONE

The Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council on 25 December called on the UN Security Council to set a deadline for Albanian rebels to leave the buffer zone along the Kosova boundary, AP reported. If they fail to do so, the Belgrade government said, it would act unilaterally to remove them. This ultimatum followed a series of events over the last week. On 22 December, Yugoslav officials and diplomats toured the Presevo valley during which U.S. Ambassador William Montgomery praised "the non-violent position of the Yugoslav government." Then on 24 December, Yugoslav forces took control of the strategic St. Ilija hilltop. And on 25 December, Serbian police reported that four Serbs are missing in the region, AP said. PG

IVANIC NOMINATED BOSNIAN SERB PRIME MINISTER

Mirko Sarovic, the newly elected president of the Bosnian Serb republic, nominated Mladen Ivanic to be prime minister, Reuters reported. Ivanic, 42, who heads the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), said he seeks to gain support from Western governments, but admitted that may not be possible. Earlier Ivanic said that a stable government would not be possible without the participation of the nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS). The SDS was founded by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has been indicted for war crimes, and the United States and other Western governments have indicated that they oppose any participation by his followers in the government. PG

UNHRC REGISTERS DELINE IN BOSNIA REFUGEE FIGURES

Werner Blatter, head of the Bosnia office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters on 22 December that the number of Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat refugees has declined significantly since 1995. The number of registered refugees, he said, has fallen from an estimated 845,000 in 1996 to only 518,252 now. PG

CROATIAN BANK BUYS LARGE BOSNIAN BANK

Zagrebacka Banka on 22 December purchased slightly more than 95 percent of the shares of Bosnia's Universal Banka, AP reported. PG

MACEDONIA SELLS MAJORITY STAKE IN MOBILE PHONE NETWORK

Skopje on 22 December sold a 51 percent stake in the country's mobile telephone network to Hungary's Matav telecommunications company, AP reported. Matav paid less than Greece's OTE had offered, but Macedonian Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski said that "the best choice was made and both sides are satisfied." PG

MACEDONIAN POLICE DEPORT SLAVIC PROSTITUTES

Macedonian police expelled 108 prostitutes from Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the Beta news agency reported on 22 December. Deputy Interior Minister Rifat Elmazi said that the police intend "to deport all prostitutes from other countries." PG

SLOVENIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY

Slovenia's parliament on 26 December held a special session to mark the tenth anniversary of the country's declaration of independence, AP reported. President Milan Kucan told the deputies that "this was a big historical enterprise that opened the door to the future of Slovenia." The country's declaration of independence came a day after Slovenes voted overwhelmingly to pursue a course separate from Yugoslavia, a decision that sparked a ten-day war with the Yugoslav army. PG

NASTASE SUBMITS GOVERNMENTAL PROGRAM...

Premier-designate Adrian Nastase on 22 December submitted to the permanent bureaus of the two chambers of parliament the program of his government, which is to be approved by the legislature on 28 December. The program envisages a 4.5-6 percent growth in the GDP in the period 2001-2004, cutting the inflation rate and a "transparent" privatization process, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The document emphasizes the need to balance between the "imperatives of a market economy and those of social protection," while at the same time taking into consideration "suggestions and recommendations of the EU, the IMF and the World Bank." Outgoing Premier Mugur Isarescu met with Nastase on 23 December to discuss the transition to the new executive. Isarescu said the government's program can be considered to be a continuation of the medium-term development strategy lunched by his cabinet. MS

... AND GOVERNMENTAL LINE-UP

The list of cabinet members was also submitted to the two bureaus on 22 December. The government is to have 27 members, three of whom (Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu and Information Minister Vasile Dancu) are not members of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Six of the new ministers served in the Nicolae Vacaroiu PDSR cabinet between 1992 and 1996. MS

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES ENVISAGED IN ROMANIA

Nastase also submitted to the three parliamentary democratic opposition parties the draft of the envisaged joint declaration of support for the PDSR minority cabinet. Among other things, the draft envisages constitutional changes: the Senate is to be elected in single constituencies and concentrate its activity in representing county interests and foreign policy matters, with all other legislation prerogatives transferred to the Chamber of Deputies. The cabinet's prerogatives of ruling by governmental orders are to be drastically reduced and parliamentary immunity is to cover only expression of political opinion. A new law on political parties is to be drafted so as to reduce their number and new legislation to be devised to cover parliamentary and presidential elections and accelerate reforms in the judiciary. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT GIVES 'GREEN LIGHT' TO PARLIAMENT DISSOLUTION

The Constitutional Court on 26 December ruled that President Petru Lucinschi has "the right and the duty" to dissolve the parliament, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi on 22 December asked the court to rule whether the parliament's failure to elect a president on that day counts as the fourth and last attempt provided by the electoral law and if the legislature's decision to schedule a new round for 16 January 2001 is constitutional. The court also said Lucinschi is "obligated" to remain in office until a new president is elected by the new legislature. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said Lucinschi will now dissolve the parliament sometime between 12 and 15 January. In a televised speech on 26 December, Lucinschi said he will not seek a new term as president. MS

'MEIN KAMPF' TRANSLATION PUBLISHED IN BULGARIA

Bulgaria's Jewish community on 22 December protested against the recent publishing and sale of what is being advertised as "the first unabridged Bulgarian version" of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," AP reported. The 584-page translation went on sale on 21 December. The volume does not specify the identity of the translator or the the publisher or the number of printed copies. The Jewish community called for a ban on its sale. Translation of Hitler's infamous book recently went on sale in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well. MS




There is no End Note today.







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