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Newsline - January 9, 2001




PARIS CLUB WON'T TOLERATE UNILATERAL DEFAULT BY MOSCOW

In a letter to Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Paris Club chairman Jean Pierre Jouyet said that his group "doesn't condone any debtors' unilateral default," AP reported. Jouyet said that the Club of creditor nations expects Russia "to honor in full the debt service arising from all categories of obligations." PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL INSPECTION ON URANIUM EXPOSURE IN KOSOVA...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 8 January called for an international body, either the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency, to conduct inspections in Kosova to determine whether there are any dangers from the use of shells containing spent uranium fuel by NATO forces there, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that "we are worried about the health of our servicemen." PG

...PLEDGES CONTINUED COOPERATION WITH UN MISSION THERE

Also on 8 January, Ivanov told Hans Haekkerup, who will replace Bernard Kouchner on 15 January as the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosova, that Russia wants to continue to cooperate with the United Nations there, Interfax reported. At the same time, Ivanov said, Russia has its own concerns, adding that he would welcome the chance to discuss them with Haekkerup in Moscow. PG

SECURITY OFFICIAL COMPLAINS U.S. EVALUATES MOSCOW BY RUSSIA'S POLICY IN IRAN

Writing in the January 2001 "Yadernyi kontrol," Yevgenii Zvedre, a senior official in the Foreign Ministry's security and disarmament department, complained that "the Iranian issue has become a prism through which the American leadership views practically the whole complex of Russian-American relations." He said that this approach appears to reflect a desire on the part of Washington "to cast a shadow on Russia's fulfillment of its international obligations on missile non-proliferation, [and] put in doubt the effectiveness of the work of its export control system." PG

NO RADIATION FOUND AT KURSK WRECK SITE

The Russian navy's press service told ITAR-TASS on 8 January that radiation at the site of the sunken Kursk submarine does not exceed natural background levels. Major General Boris Alekseev, the chief of the Russian military's environmental safety department, said that "information from autonomous detectors installed on the hull of the Kursk is obtained at strictly set dates and is absolutely accurate." But Aleksei Yablokov, the president of the Center for Ecological Policy, told the Russian news service that the submarine would have to be raised eventually lest radiation leak into the surrounding environment. PG

RUSSIAN FIRM PRODUCES NEW SUBMACHINE GUN

The Kovrov Mechanical Plant (KMZ) told ITAR-TASS on 8 January that it has produced a new generation machine gun which allows for more accurate targetting. KMZ is already known for its 9a-91 submachine gun and expects its new and improved version to do well in the international marketplace. PG

STATE DUMA DEPUTIES QUESTION TATARSTAN'S SWITCH TO LATIN ALPHABET

The Tatar-Inform agency reported on 5 January that the federal Ministry for Federation and Nationalities Affairs has begun looking into Tatarstan's plans to switch back to Latin script, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. Kim Minnullin, the Tatarstan official in charge of language promotion, said that some deputies in the State Duma want to abolish those plans without any discussion or debate. He said his department is preparing documents for Moscow in favor of the shift. A Duma delegation is due in Kazan this week to study the issue. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN WON'T BRING REPUBLIC CONSTITUTION INTO LINE

Bashkortostan presidential analytic department head Amir Yuldashbaev told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 8 January that Ufa will not fully satisfy Russian complaints about the republic's constitution because if it did, "nothing would remain not only of the Bashkortostan Constitution but even of the Russian Constitution." He said that Moscow officials who made the complaints do not consider Russia to be a federation, and he called their comments to be an example of "professional idiocy." If the republics do what the Moscow officials want, he said, Russia will be turned into a unitary state, one with elements from both the Soviet and tsarist past. PG

ST

PETERSBURG DUMA NOTORIOUS FORMER DEPUTY OF IMMUNITY Deputies in St. Petersburg's city legislature have voted to deprive their former colleague, Yurii Shutov, of parliamentary immunity, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 5 January. Shutov, a former aide in the mid-1990s to then Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, was arrested in February 1999 on suspicion of organizing several high-profile contract killings in the city (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 July 2000). Shutov, who is being detained at Tikhvinskii prison, has made two attempts at self-mutilation during the investigation of his alleged crimes, according to the daily. JAC

NEW ULYANOVSK GOVERNOR TALKS TOUGH

Newly-elected Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov issued a statement on 8 January explaining his first measures as the new head of the region, the website http://www.region.ru reported. General Shamanov, a former military commander in Chechnya, pledged to struggle against crime and corruption. He said "It is possible that my first steps, as governor, may appear somehow harsh. Unfortunately, I need to begin work with a series of unpopular measures and you should not be afraid of this. My intentions are humane, and my task simple: to raise the living standards of residents of Ulyanovsk." Shamanov defeated the incumbent Governor Yurii Goryachev in elections held on 24 December 2000 (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). JAC

FINLAND TO HELP RUSSIA'S NORTHERN PEOPLES

Finland, which chairs the Arctic Council, will spend $105,000 to provide food and medical supplies to the indigenous populations of northern Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. The Finnish aid will be distributed to native populations in the Kola peninsula and along the Pechora river. PG

ANOTHER IMAM MURDERED IN CHECHNYA

Magomed Khasuev, the 70-year-old imam of the village of Germenchuk, was shot dead near his home on the morning of 9 January, Caucasus Press reported. He is the second religious official to be murdered in Chechnya over the past week (aee "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2001). LF

PATRIARCH FORSEES SPIRITUAL RENEWAL OF RUSSIA

Speaking at Moscow's Epiphany Cathedral on the second day of Christmas, Patriarch Aleksii II expressed his hope that the 21st century will bring about peace and the spiritual renewal of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. He said that "the Russian Orthodox Church is entering a new era with the firm belief that peace and accord will prevail and holy Orthodoxy will revive in our long-suffering land." He said that among the reasons for his hopes for the future are the generational change in the clergy and the large number of people who are returning to the Church. PG

700,000 MUSCOVITES ATTEND CHURCH AT RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS

Interfax reported on 8 January that some 700,000 Muscovites attended religious services in some 200 churches on Christmas eve and on Christmas Day. Meanwhile, the police reported that the capital was quiet with far fewer crimes than normal, Interfax-Moscow reported. PG




ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN TO REMAIN IN DETENTION

Acting on a request from state prosecutors, a Yerevan court last week prolonged for a further month the pretrial detention of business magnate Arkadii Vartanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 January. Vartanian was arrested on 30 October following a protest rally he convened in Yerevan and charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 8 November 2000). Vartanian's supporters had convened a rally on 6 January near the Armenian National Security Ministry building to protest his continued detention, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

OBSERVERS SAY AZERBAIJANI POLL FELL SHORT OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS...

In a statement released in Baku on 8 January, OSCE observers characterized the 7 January repeat parliamentary elections in 11 constituencies as showing "some improvement" over the flawed 5 November ballot, but concluded that the elections "still did not meet a number of international standards for democratic elections." The statement noted that measures taken by the Azerbaijan authorities following the 5 November ballot "failed to restore full confidence in the election process." As a result, "the repeat elections took place in an atmosphere of mistrust and were marked by the boycott of several opposition parties," the statement said. LF

...AS PRELIMINARY RESULTS MADE PUBLIC

According to the preliminary results released by the Central Electoral Commission on 8 January and cited by Turan, independent candidates won two of the 11 mandates and representatives of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party--four, while the pro-regime Ana Vatan party, the reformist wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Yurddash Party, a splinter group that split from the Civic Solidarity Party, and the Alliance in the Name of Azerbaijan each gained one. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA CONFRONT 'BALKAN SYNDROME'

Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev has ordered that the Azerbaijani servicemen who have returned from serving with the UN KFOR force in Kosova should undergo medical examinations to determine whether any of them have suffered health damage from exposure to NATO weaponry conaining depleted uranium, Turan reported on 9 January. A Georgian official stated on 5 January that none of the several dozen Georgians who served with that force has shown any signs of contracting leukaemia. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN DEPUTY MINISTER ARRESTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES

Former Deputy Minister of Agriculture Guram Didberidze and former ministry official Aleksandr Kakashvili were arrested in Tbilisi on 8 January and charged with misappropriation of state property and abuse of their official position, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Didbaridze is suspected of having misappropriated over 2 million laris ($1 million) from the sale of agricultural equipment donated by the Japanese government. LF

CHINA TO FINANCE TURKEY-GEORGIA RAIL LINK

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and his visiting Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan signed an agreement in Ankara on 8 January whereby Beijing will finance construction of the planned railway linking the Turkish city of Kars and Tbilisi, AP reported. China envisages that link as part of a railway linking China via Central Asia with the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The outcome of the initial tender proclaimed in November 1997 for construction of that railway was nullified in the spring of 1999 due to financial disagreements. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OIL PRODUCTION UP IN 2000

Production of oil and gas concentrate in Kazakhstan increased by 17.3 percent compared with the previous year to 35.26 million tons, exceeding the planned tagret by 5.2 percent, Interfax reported on 5 January. The largest single producer was the Tengizchevroil consortium with 10.5 million tons of oil, which represents a year-on-year increase of 9.6 percent. LF

TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTRY DISMISSES RUMORS OF NEW KHUDOIBERDIEV INVASION

An Interior Ministry official in Tajikistan's Sughd region has dismissed as groundless rumors that rebel Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev may launch a new incursion into Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 9 January. But he added that local law enforcement and other power forces recently held exercises in the region and are prepared to repulse any aggression. Khudoiberdiev's forces invaded Tajikistan's Leninabad Oblast from neighboring Uzbekistan in November 1998. LF




BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PLEASED WITH TALKS IN MOSCOW...

Following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov said that Minsk and Moscow are able to work together in all areas, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. He added that trade between the two countries increased 40 percent from 1999 to 2000 and now amounts to approximately $9 billion. "To us, an export-oriented country, the Russian market is number one," Khvostov said. PG

...WANTS EXPANDED TIES WITH CIS COUNTRIES...

In an interview with ITAR-TASS following his Moscow meeting, Khvostov called for expanding economic cooperation within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States. He said that "the CIS is an organization that will enable [its members] to restore the dynamics of economic relations and bring it to the level that existed between individual countries before." He added that "we have to move away from barter deals in economic relations...and convert our economic relations into more civilized trade relations between our countries." PG

...BETTER TIES WITH WESTERN EUROPE...

Khvostov also told ITAR-TASS that improving relations with European countries is one of the top priorities of Belarusian foreign policy. He said that Minsk is "always ready to begin negotiations and want[s] our voice to be heard." "We are at the center of Europe and its organic part. Therefore there is no need to artificially bypass our country," Khvostov added. In the next year, he said, Belarus will seek to overcome what he called "political obstacles" to improved ties. PG

...AND IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES

Moreover, Khvostov said, Belarus wants to normalize ties with the United States. He said that "we recognise that the United States is a world power with which one has to maintain good relations at all times." As a result, Belarus is ready to begin negotiations in order to state its vision for the problems which exist in bilateral relations. Khvostov concluded that the two sides need to "look for elements that will bring us together, not set us apart." PG

RIOT AT JUVENILE DETENTION COLONY IN BELARUS

Juvenile detainees at a penal colony in Vitebsk rioted over the weekend to protest conditions there and injured four policeman in the process, Belarusian television reported on 8 January according to ITAR-TASS. The rioters demanded freeing several prisoners from detention cells, ending the requirement that they sing during marches, and the opportunity to tell their side of the story to the media. Criminal proceedings have begun against the ringleaders, the news service said. PG

PRESIDENT SAYS BELARUS WILL PRODUCE ITS 'OWN' INTELLIGENTSIA

Speaking at a reception for Belarusian cultural figures, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that their country does not need to rely on foreign sources of support to generate a new educated elite but could produce its own intelligentsia with the support of the state, Interfax-West on 7 January. PG

UKRAINE'S DEPUTY PREMIER NOT IN DETENTION

Speaking to Interfax-Ukraine on 8 January, Fatherland Party spokesman Petro Yabochuk called media reports that Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko is in detention "another canard started by well-known circles." He said she was still at liberty. Ukrainian authorities on 5 January identified her as the subject of a criminal probe for smuggling, forgery and tax evasion. PG

CRIMEAN TATARS SEEK GREATER REPRESENTATION IN STATE OFFICES

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the chairman of the mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, told the fourth Kurultai meeting in Simferopol this week that Crimean Tatars must achieve better representation in state offices either by changing the way in which elections are conducted or by the adoption of a new Ukrainian law "which would defend the rights of the Crimean Tatar people," Interfax-Ukraine reported on 6 January. PG

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS BRUSSELS

Mart Laar received the European Bull award of the European Taxpayers Association in Brussels on 8 January. The association decided to give the award to Laar after studying the Estonian tax system and its policy of freeing companies from income tax on investments. Laar noted: "The award is not meant for me but for the whole state whose tax system, namely the proportional income tax, has been maintained over the years by various governments," EU expansion commissioner Gunther Verheugen told Laar that Estonia need not fear restrictions in the free movement of labor in its negotations for EU membership as the EU will work out a definite solution concerning that chapter on Sweden's initiative. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT DELINES TO COMMENT ON KALININGRAD REPORTS

Vika Vaira-Freiberga refused on 8 January to comment on U.S. media reports last week that Russia has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 January 2001). Vaira-Freiberga noted that such comment would be "premature and inappropriate," given that "there is no reliable confirmation" of those reports and that Russia has categorically denied them. But she added that if the reports prove to be true, "it would have serious international consequences." LF

AUSTRALIAN COURT SETS DATE FOR LATVIA'S EXTRADITION REQUEST

An Australian court will consider on 26 January Latvia's request to extradite Latvian-born Australian citizen Konrads Kalejs, who is accused of committing war crimes during World War II, BNS reported on 8 January. Latvia had requested his extradition only last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000), even though a warrant for his arrest was issued in October. Prosecutor Liana Dadzite said the decision of the hearing will not be final because Kalejs has "all legal rights" to appeal the ruling. She said she does not think Kalejs will try to delay the extradition process on the grounds of his health condition because the proceeding will be sufficiently prolonged (up to 19 months) anyway. Kalejs' lawyer Juris Moculskis said that he does not know what steps Kalejs would take to defend his rights in the Australian court, but noted that he does not have a very high assessment of the work performed by Latvian Prosecutor General's Office in the investigation of the case and summarizing the evidence. SG

LITHUANIA'S SOCIAL INSURANCE FUND DIRECTOR RESIGNS

Aidas Pikiotas resigned from his post as director of the Social Insurance Fund (SoDra ) on 9 January, declaring that he could not continue in the post after Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas expressed dissatisfaction with his work, Radio Lithuania reported. Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute the previous day had announced the results of the first ever study of SoDra's activities. That study revealed that SoDra has too many functions that are incompatible with its main functions and unveiled violations such as absence of administrative responsibility, duplication of functions, and improper payments for preparing programs. SoDra has an annual budget of 4.5 billlion litas ($1.125 billion) and is responsible for social insurance services and payments to more than one million people. SG

CZECH TELEVISION COUNCIL REFUSES TO VOTE ON HODAC'S DISMISSAL

The Television Council on 8 January refused to act on last week's resolution by the Chamber of Deputies and did not place the dismissal of TV director Jiri Hodac on its agenda, CTK and international agencies reported. The two Social Democratic Party (CSSD) members of the council were outvoted by the three Civic Democratic Party (ODS) members on the body which is incomplete due to the earlier resignation of one of its members. The Chamber of Deputies may decide at its meeting on 12 January to dismiss the council for non-compliance as a result. The council decided at its meeting to call on Hodac to start negotiating with the striking journalists, and approved the TV budget for the first quarter of the year. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said that the council's ignoring of the chamber's decision is "unacceptable." MS

HODAC RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL

Hodac was released on 8 January from the Prague medical facility where he was hospitalized on 4 January and doctors said he will continue to receive treatment at home. The private security services hired by him on 31 December stopped guarding the entry to the Television newsroom later on 8 January. Members of the strikers' committee welcomed the step, but said they will not leave the newsroom until all their demands are met, including "a halt of censorship by Hodac, his departure as TV director and the resignation of the Television Council," CTK reported. New public rallies in support of the strikers are planned for 11 January in Prague and several other cities. The rallies are to use as a slogan a toast made by famous film director Milos Forman on Czech TV on the New Year's Eve: "Politicians--Enough is Enough." MS

CZECH LEADERS EXPLAIN TV CONFLICT POSITION TO IFJ

The government is "neutral" in the current dispute over Czech television, Zeman told International Federation of Journalists General Secretary Aidan White on 8 January. White arrived in Prague to learn about the conflict at first hand, CTK reported. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said Zeman told White that the cabinet's neutrality derives from the fact that the law places all responsibility on the Television Council. Zeman and White also discussed the government-approved amendment to the law on the council which the parliament will debate later this week. White also met with Culture Minister Pavel Dostal, who told him he has "irrefutable proof" that the conflict was caused by "the private media lobby" which has "connections" with the new TV management appointed by the council. White is also scheduled to meet ODS leader Vaclav Klaus and members of the striking journalists' committee. MS

FORMER CZECH COMMUNIST OFFICIALS CHARGED WITH NAZI COVER-UP

The Prosecutor General's Office on 8 January indicted two former communist officials for "abuse of power" in protecting war-time SS officer Werner Tutter from prosecution for crimes committed during the Second World War, CTK and AP reported. In 1994 Tutter became a member of an anti-partisan squad made up of Czech and Slovak ethnic Germans. Jan Srb, a spokesman for the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes, identified the two officials as former Deputy Interior Minister "Jaroslav K", and former First Deputy Prosecutor General "Jaroslav D." In 1948, a court in Bratislava, unaware of the full range of Tutter's crimes, sentenced him to six years in prison for "collaboration." While in prison, Tutter was recruited as a secret agent of the Communist secret police, and in 1954 was sent to West Germany, where he worked as a Czechoslovak spy till his death in 1983. MS

MORAVIAN PARTY SUES CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER

The extra-parliamentary Moravian Democratic Party (MDS) on 8 January filed a lawsuit against Petr Uhl, government human rights commissioner, for refusing to include "Moravians" as a separate ethnic group in the census planned for later this year, CTK reported. MDS spokesman Ivan Drimal said his party accuses Uhl of "abuse of power." Uhl, who also chairs the Czech Council on Ethnic Relations, has stated in a letter to Slovak Deputy Premier in charge of ethnic minority problems Pal Csaky that the drive in Slovakia and the Czech Republic to have Moravians recognized as a distinct ethnic group was prompted by the attempt of some politicians to gain access to political power and influence and to financial means by doing so. MS

CSSD PASSES 'DUBIOUS DONATION' TO CHARITY

The CSSD leadership decided to give to charity an 860,000 crowns ($23,290) donation received before the 1998 general elections from entrepreneur Josef Matoulek, Zeman told journalists on 8 January. A Prague court of justice on 5 January sentenced Matoulek to ten years in prison for fraud in a privatization deal, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS PARTY SHAKEN BY IN-FIGHTING

Zsolt Lanyi, deputy chairman of the junior coalition member Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), on 8 January said he is prepared to take over the party's chairmanship until the next parliamentary elections in 2002. Lanyi and FKGP parliamentary group leader Bela Pokol earlier resigned their posts after FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan instructed the national steering board to remove the chairwoman of the party's Budapest branch, Katalin Liebmann, for her "disruptive activity." Lanyi said he does not want to become an accomplice to such actions, and suggested that the chairman be elected democratically. In related news, FKGP deputy group leader Laszlo Csucs is collecting signatures to have Torgyan removed, Hungarian media report. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CHARITY LEADER ATTACKED AT THE ROMANIAN BORDER

Father Imre Kozma, Head of the Hungarian Maltese Charity, was attacked on 7 January by a Romanian national at the Bors border station on the Romanian side of the border. The attack occurred some 20 meters from the crossing point, but no Romanian official came to help Kozma. Kozma said his money and diplomatic passport were stolen in Romania and he was waiting at the border to enter Hungary when a man jumped out of a jeep and tried to hit him several times. On 8 January, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Csaba Lorincz summoned Romanian Ambassador Petru Cordos to his office, requesting an investigation into the assault. MSZ




TOP MONTENEGRIN POLICE OFFICIAL SHOT DEAD

An unknown gunman or gunmen shot and killed Darko-Beli Raspopovic in a crowded square in central Podgorica on 8 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He was the head of uniformed police in the mountainous republic, reporting directly to Interior Minister Vukasin Maras. This is the second possibly political killing in Montenegro in less than one year. Last May, President Milo Djukanovic's security adviser, Goran Zugic, was shot and killed on a Podgorica street (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2000). The murder was never solved. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNING PARTY OFFERS EARLY ELECTION DEAL

Svetozar Marovic, who is deputy chairman of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said in Podgorica on 8 January that early parliamentary elections should take place before the end of March, "Pobjeda" reported on 9 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2001). Whoever wins the election would then have the duty to organize a referendum on independence, he continued. Predrag Bulatovic of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) said that his party will probably have an answer for the DPS at the beginning of the coming week. PM

YUGOSLAV PRIME MINISTER: DIALOGUE, NOT REFERENDUM, THE SOLUTION

Zoran Zizic (SNP) told a private television station in Podgorica that the solutions to Yugoslavia's problems lie in dialogue and negotiations, "Vesti" reported on 9 January. He said that Montenegro should hold early parliamentary elections and then enter negotiations with Belgrade without holding a referendum on independence. Djukanovic considers such a referendum necessary in view of the importance of the issues involved. With regard to Kosova, Zizic also called for dialogue with "elected leaders" of the province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. He did not address the fact that no Albanian political party is interested in anything but independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 December 2000). Turning to the tensions in the Presevo valley, Zizic said that the authorities will not negotiate with the "terrorists" there because they are not appropriate partners for a dialogue. PM

PROTIC TO REPRESENT YUGOSLAVIA IN WASHINGTON

U.S.-trained historian Milan Protic will be Yugoslavia's next ambassador to the U.S., "Danas" reported on 9 January. Protic, who was recently elected mayor of Belgrade, promised to leave the capital "in good hands." His critics charge that Protic owes it to the voters to remain in Belgrade for at least one term. His supporters argue that there is perhaps nobody in the Serbian leadership who is so at home with the U.S., its culture, and its idiom as Protic. They stress that he is the best person to repair the damage inflicted on Washington-Belgrade ties by Milosevic and to reinvigorate the relationship. PM

YUGOSLAVIA'S 'GORAN IN THE LION'S DEN'

In the first direct top-level contact between Belgrade and the Atlantic alliance since the 1999 conflict in Kosova, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will pay an "unofficial" visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on 10 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He will meet with Secretary-General Lord Robertson and other top officials. PM

NEW MILITARY COMMAND STRUCTURE FOR BELGRADE?

Retired General Zivota Panic said in Frusa Gora that the current Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council is too unwieldy to provide effective leadership in times of crisis. He suggested that it be replaced with a Serbian Security Council responsible directly to the president, as is the case in many other countries, "Vesti" reported on 8 January. Under the current Yugoslav constitution, supreme military authority formally lies with the General Staff. Milosevic's admirers referred to him as the "commander-in-chief," but that title does not appear in the constitution. PM

THIEVES STEAL POLICE WEAPONS IN SERBIAN CAPITAL

Unidentified persons broke into a police warehouse and took weapons with a black market value of $85,000, AP reported on 9 January. The haul included 60 submachine guns, 137 handguns, and 166 assault rifles, in addition to more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition. There was no sign of a forced entry. Serbian Interior Minister Bozo Prelevic said: "Someone must go to jail for this." PM

PRESEVO REFUGEES RETURN HOME

Saip Kamberi, who heads the Committee for Human Rights in the Presevo village of Lucane, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 8 January that almost all of the local people who fled during recent fighting have come home. Those with homes in the part of the village that is outside the demilitarized zone have moved into quarters inside the zone, however. This because Serbian police have occupied the homes in Lucane outside the zone. PM

BOSNIAN SERB EX-PRESIDENT TO HAGUE?

Biljana Plavsic will go to The Hague by 15 January to testify in an undisclosed capacity before the war crimes tribunal, "Vesti" reported on 9 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). The daily added that "all top officials" of the Republika Srpska know about Plavsic's plans but are maintaining a "wall of silence" around the affair. Speculation is that Plavsic will tell the tribunal what she knows about the role of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in return for leniency in her own case. It is widely believed in Bosnia that Plavsic appears on the tribunal's secret list of indictees for her supposed role in planning the "ethnic cleansing" of Serbian-held territory during the war. She broke with Milosevic during the war over his lack of zeal for the Bosnian Serb cause. She later worked closely with representatives of the international community without, however, renouncing her nationalist views. Known as the "Iron Lady" and "Ice Queen," she now enjoys little political influence among Bosnian Serbs. PM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR TO CROATIA

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 8 January that Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, will discuss issues involving Zagreb-Hague cooperation in the Croatian capital on 15 January. He repeated observations made recently by Hague spokesmen that the ongoing wave of speculation in the Croatian press on possible indicted war criminals has unnecessarily "created an atmosphere of fear." One issue on the agenda is the tribunal's interest in tapes of the late President Franjo Tudjman's conversations with his aides. Meanwhile in The Hague, Del Ponte's spokeswoman said that she is still waiting for Belgrade to fix the date of the prosecutor's visit to the Serbian capital, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIA REVIEWING SERBIAN PROPERTY CLAIMS

The authorities have begun reviewing some 18,000 "temporary decisions" made by the previous government to allow Croatian refugees to live in the homes of Serbs who fled abroad, Hina reported on 8 January. Some 11,000 claims have been filed by Serbs for the return of their property. Some 3,531 properties have already been given back to their owners. PM

REGIONAL COOPERATION BETWEEN SLAVONIA, VOJVODINA

Top officials from eastern Slavonia and Vojvodina met in Ilok on 8 January to discuss regional cooperation, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Serbian representatives pledged to help find and return cultural properties from Vukovar taken to Serbia during the 1990-1995 conflict. The Croatian representatives also called for an investigation into the fate of missing Croatian civilians and soldiers. PM

ROMANIA APOLOGIZES FOR BORDER INCIDENT

The Foreign Ministry on 9 January officially apologized for the 7 January incident at the Romanian-Hungarian border in which Roman Catholic priest Imre Kozma, head of the Hungarian branch of the Maltese Charity Order, was attacked by an unidentified assailant (see Hungarian item above). The ministry said the incident is "singular and unprecedented" and "by no means reflects on Romanian-Hungarian" relations and on Romanian public opinion attitudes towards Hungary, Mediafax reported. The Romanian ambassador to Budapest, Petru Cordos, has been instructed to inform the Hungarian authorities about the ongoing police investigation of the incident. MS

ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN MINORITY TO HAVE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS?

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 8 January discussed with Viorel Hrebenciuc, leader of the parliamentary group of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), the appointment of UDMR members as deputy prefects in counties with a large Magyar minority proportion, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The UDMR wants ethnic Hungarians to be appointed deputy prefects in the Harghita, Covasna, Satu Mare, Salaj, Bihor and Cluj counties. The UDMR's Consultative Council on 6 January approved the 27 December agreement signed by the party's leadership with the PDSR and Marko told the forum that a "non-verbal" part of that agreement stipulates the appointment of UDMR members in counties with a large Hungarian minority population. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER EXPLAINS EXTREMIST ELECTORAL SUCCESS

In an interview with the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said that "only poverty and mistrust in existing state institutions" can explain the transformation of the extremist Greater Romania Party into the country's second-largest parliamentary formation, Romanian Radio reported on 8 January. Geoana said that it is "high time to renounce rhetoric and move to deeds." He said Romania's problems do not derive from "mistaken policy orientations," but from "meager achievements" and, unlike its predecessor, the present government "will not waste its time on internal quarrels" but proceed to implement needed changes. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN DENIES 'CONFLICT OF INTERESTS'

Nicolae Vacaroiu told Mediafax on 8 January that there is "no conflict of interests" between his chairmanships of both the Senate and the Development and Investments Bank (BID). He nonetheless added that he will "soon" decide whether to resign his BID position, following his recent election at the head of the Senate. MS

ROMANIAN INFORMATION MINISTER DENIES INTENTION TO SUBORDINATE TV, RADIO

Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu told journalists on 5 January that rumors of his ministry's intention to place Romanian TV and radio under the subordination of his ministry are "groundless," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Dancu said his ministry is "committed to the freedom of the press, which is a constitutional right," and that the two institutions will remain subordinated to parliamentary supervision and control as "public institutions." MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF TO TAKE UP DIPLOMATIC POST

Costin Georgescu, outgoing director of the Romanian Intelligence Service, will be his country's ambassador to Cyprus, Mediafax reported on 5 January. Georgescu has been appointed to that post by former President Emil Constantinescu. President Ion Iliescu has canceled the appointment made by Constantinescu of former Prosecutor General Mircea Criste as Romanian ambassador to Germany. MS

MOLDOVA'S INFANT MORTALITY AMONG HIGHEST

Moldova has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January, citing a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report released on the same day. The report says the mortality rate among newborn infants is 18 per one thousand and that of children under 5 years 23 per one thousand. Almost one out of three children is anemic. MS

BULGARIAN EURO-LEFT WANTS PRESIDENTIAL POWERS EXPANDED

Euro-Left leader Alexander Tomov told President Petar Stoyanov on 4 January that his party intends to propose that the envisaged constitutional amendments currently under debate include an expansion of presidential prerogatives, the BBC monitoring service reported, citing Bulgarian Radio. Tomov said the president must be granted the right to legislative initiative and that a presidential veto should be overruled by a special, rather than a simple majority of law-makers. MS




ARMENIA EMBARKS ON YEAR-LONG CHRISTIANITY CELEBRATION


By Emil Danielyan

Armenia is celebrating the 1700th anniversary of Armenians' conversion to Christianity. An ancient Armenian kingdom in 301 AD became the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion. And the Armenian Apostolic Church wants the year-long celebration that began on New Year's Eve to be an extraordinary occasion for enhancing the role of religion in public life.

But the country's authorities are seeking also to cash in on the commemoration as a huge commercial undertaking, seizing on the occasion to attract investment in Armenia's struggling economy. The authorities also aim for worldwide publicity.

Official hopes for the festivities underlie government forecasts of an economic upswing next year that foresees output growing by an unprecedented 8 percent.

Institutions such as the World Bank have acknowledged the economic significance of the Christianity anniversary. The bank's resident representative in Yerevan, Owaise Saadat, recently told reporters "This is an opportunity for us to project Armenia's image, to tell the people who don't know about Armenia what a potential it has."

There are forecasts of a record influx of tourists -- official estimates of 150,000 to 200,000 -- with each visitor injecting at least $1,000 a into the economy. Local travel agencies are more cautious in their predictions but also expect a major rise in tourism. The biggest problem facing them, they say, is a lack of acceptable hotels.

Anahit Papazian, who is a senior executive at the Levon Travel agency, told RFE/RL "I'm not sure we are prepared to accommodate so many people. First of all, we don't have enough hotel beds. We are struggling to make reservations for our customers due in 2001." She said that ethnic Armenians, mostly diaspora Armenians from Europe and the United States, comprise the greatest market potential for visitors to Armenia, expresing regret that "unfortunately, the influx of tourists to Armenia has a strictly ethnic character. We haven't yet been able to arouse Westerners' interest. Very few of them come to Armenia."

Apres Zohrabian, a manager at the Sati Armenia company, which specializes in sightseeing tours for foreigners, says the demand for hotels is now three times the supply. He said prices at the few Yerevan hotels which meet international standards have shot up by 30 percent as a result.

The tourist industry hopes that a number of hotels under construction with completion dates set for next May will help. This promises, however, only a partial solution. The authorities plan to accommodate a large share of the expected visitors in private apartments available for rent.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian headed a state commission that developed a timetable of special events to include religious ceremonies, festivals, theatrical shows and concerts. The celebrations are to reach their climax in September with the opening of a new huge cathedral in the capital Yerevan. The organizers have invited Pope John Paul to the opening, and report that the Vatican has tentatively accepted that invitation.

The head of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Garegin, says he hopes that the 1700th anniversary not only will expose Armenia's Christian identity to the outside world but also return religion to the day-to-day life of Armenians who lost touch with many Christian rites and traditions during 70 years of Soviet rule.

But that is not what primarily preoccupies the country's secular authorities. Khosrov Harutiunian, deputy chairman of the organizing commission, met at year's end with leading businessmen to discuss commercial participation.

The commission offers licenses for local manufacturers to adopt the official logo of the celebrations. A brewery in Yerevan has expressed interest in placing it on its labels. The organizers also envisage advertising space in official booklets and travel guides to be circulated abroad. An aide to the Armenian Minister of Industry and Trade has urged export-oriented firms to seize on the opportunity to market their products.

The government has obtained $22 million from two Armenian-American charities to upgrade Armenian tourist infrastructure. The grants are being mainly spent on the repair of roads and bridges leading to medieval churches and monasteries. Emil Danielyan is a correspondent with RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau.


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