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Newsline - January 12, 2001




'BALKAN SYNDROME' DEBATE CONTINUES

Colonel-General Leonid Ivashev, the chief of the Defense Ministry's international cooperation department, said on 11 January that the U.S. and NATO have "unleashed the dirty war against a sovereign Yugoslavia" and that they must bear moral and material responsibility for using depleted uranium shells, Interfax reported. But at the same time, he said that there has been no "Balkan syndrome" detected among Russian peacekeepers there. Air Force Chief of Staff General Anatolii Kornukov seconded that position, noting as well that Russia does not have such shells in its inventory. And Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia must have "exhaustive information" on the use of depleted uranium in weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. But Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told Interfax that "depleted uranium, if it really is there, cannot cause leukemia." Other Russian scientists cited by the press noted, however, that such uranium is extremely toxic even if it is not highly radioactive. PG

SHOKHIN SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD PAY ITS DEBTS

Duma banking committee chairman Aleksandr Shokhin told Interfax on 11 January that it is unacceptable for Moscow not to meet its credit obligations to the Paris Club. He suggested that the Russian government had created this crisis to try to force the creditor countries to write off part of Russia's debt to them. Indeed, "Izvestiya" suggested that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had taken this step in order to purchase stability at the price of damaging Moscow's reputation. Meanwhile, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told Interfax that official talks with the Paris Club may begin in two or three months. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR PROSECUTORS TO SHIFT APPROACH

In a speech to a conference of Russian prosecutors on 11 January, President Vladimir Putin said that prosecutors must change with the times, and he called for the development of a strategic plan for such changes, Russian agencies reported. He said that the role of prosecutors in defending human rights is "moving to the forefront today." And he praised the prosecutors for helping to strengthen Russia's state and federalism during the past year, noting that 60 constitutions and 2,312 regional laws had been brought into conformity with central legislation. PG

STRUGGLE FOR MEDIA CONTROL CONTINUES

Gazprom-Media told Russian and Western media on 11 January that it has pulled out of its arrangement with Deutsche Bank to sell a stake in NTV to other investors, effectively ending Ted Turner's quest to buy part of that company. Also on 11 January, prosecutors questioned Media-MOST official Andrei Tsimailo for a second day about that company's operations, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Boris Berezovskii told "Kommersant" the same day that he is about to sell his 49 percent holding in ORT to Roman Abramovich and predicted that as a result, ORT will "pass under state control." PG

RUSSIAN TROOPS LAUNCH SEARCH FOR AID WORKER ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA

Russian forces in Chechnya launched a large-scale search on 11 January to locate and release U.S. humanitarian aide worker Kenny Gluck, who was snatched by armed men in the village of Starie Atagi south of Grozny two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). Interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 11 January deplored the abduction and said he has asked Chechen police to join the search for Gluck. Speaking in Washington on 11 January, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Ricker called for Gluck's immediate release, according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile Russian officials implied that Gluck himself was to blame for his kidnapping. Interfax quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that Gluck and a second U.S. aid worker both entered Chechnya using forged documents, while Russian human rights envoy in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov said that Gluck had shown scant regard for his own safety. Medecins sans Frontieres, for which Gluck works, has suspended its operations in Chechnya, as has a Danish humanitarian organization operating there. LF

STROEV WANTS ELECTED FEDERATION COUNCIL

Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told President Putin on 11 January that he thinks that the parliament's upper chamber should be elected rather than appointed, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. Stroev told reporters that "the house of regions is being formed from bureaucrats close to the federal center and from people living in Moscow," a pattern that "will discredit the system of authority." PG

ZYUGANOV CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT, CHANGES STRATEGY

Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 11 January criticized the current Russian leadership for what he termed its continuation of the "destructive" policies of its predecessor, Interfax reported. He also said that his party will avoid staging public protests but instead seek to "penetrate into all spheres of public life," ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. PG

51 PERCENT OF RUSSIANS SAY PUTIN'S PERFORMANCE 'SATISFACTORY'

A new poll by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center found that 51 percent of Russians say President Putin's performance so far is "satisfactory," "Izvestiya" reported on 11 January. More than half believed that he has been unsuccessful in restoring order, promoting economic growth, and dealing with Chechnya. PG

STROEV PUTS CAPITAL FLIGHT AT $25 BILLION IN 2000

Federation Council Chairman Stroev said on 11 January that capital flight from Russia amounted to $25 billion in 2000, Interfax reported. He said that this represented an increase of 10 percent from the year before. And in comments to a meeting of Russian prosecutors, Stroev suggested that Russia's shadow economy now comprises 40 percent of the country's GDP. PG

EBRD MAY COORDINATE $10 BILLION SAKHALIN PROJECT

The "Financial Times" reported on 11 January that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is considering serving as the coordinator for a $10 billion oil and gas project on Sakhalin. The newspaper said that Tokyo is very interested in such a project. PG

MOSCOW MULLING WITHDRAWAL FROM U.S. STEEL PACT

The Trade and Economic Development Ministry is considering proposals for withdrawing from the agreement between Moscow and Washington which restricts Russian steel exports to the U.S. in exchange for an American promise not to impose anti-dumping duties on Russian steel, Prime-Tass reported on 12 January. Ministry officials said most Russian steel producers are in favor of a withdrawal. PG

MOSCOW, MINSK AGREE TO BYPASS LITHUANIA

The Permanent Committee of the Union State of Russia and Belarus has decided to bypass Lithuania in making shipments to and from Kaliningrad, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 January. The body took this step after Lithuania imposed duties on Russian and Belarusian goods in transit to Kaliningrad which the two governments argue are discriminatory. PG

BUSH ADMINISTRATION SEEN PUTTING GEOPOLITICS ABOVE HUMAN RIGHTS

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 January, Aleksei Podberezkin said that he expects the incoming U.S. administration will put national interests "above humanitarian" ones like Chechnya. He said he expects "Republicans are going to treat Russia as a great power," that they "will try to understand Russia's logic because they fear unpredictability more than anything else," and that "the Americans are not going to use their military to promote humanitarian concerns." Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Moscow wants to continue dialogue with the new administration "without any pauses," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 January. PG

RUSSIA WON'T TOLERATE BECOMING 'ANOTHER BRAZIL'

Anatolii Utkin, the head of the international surveys department at the USA and Canada Institute, wrote in "Trud" on 11 January that Western advice that Russia should "forget about our past greatness and become another Brazil" ignores the fact that "150 million Russians don't perceive themselves as Brazilians." Instead, he said, Russians should focus on their domestic problems in order to be in a better position to compete internationally. PG

AIR FORCES TO BE CUT, NOT COMBINED WITH SRF

General Kornukov, the commander of the Russian air force, said on 11 January that his command will be reduced by 36,000 uniformed personnel by 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that a merger of his forces and the Strategic Rocket Forces is "not being discussed at the moment," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Colonel General Georgii Shpak, the chief of Russian airborne troops, said the morale of his troops is high and that they are receiving the support they need from President Putin, Russian agencies reported. PG

RUSSIA, GERMANY AGREE TO MODERNIZE THIRD COUNTRY MIG FIGHTERS

Moscow and Berlin signed an intergovernmental agreement on 11 January to cooperate in modernizing MiG-29s for Eastern European countries, Interfax reported. There are approximately 120 such planes in the region, many of which need repairs, and which the countries involved plan to keep even after joining NATO. PG

LEAST SENIORITY, HIGHEST PAY?

The highest paid federal officials in Russia are the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, "Segodnya" reported on 11 January citing the 2001 federal budget. Moreover, the annual cost of these envoys and their staff is $14.1 million, according to the daily. The previous day, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported that the reformed Federation Council will cost the budget some $4 million a year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). According to "Segodnya," salaries are awarded on the basis of no clear logic. The envoys earn $3,820 a month, which is 4.6 times more than President Putin and 5.3 times more than Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov. Prime Minister Kasyanov pulls in a meager $650 a month, which is $300 less than any of the deputies of Aleksandr Voloshin, head of the presidential administration, earn. It is also considerably less than the prime minister earned the previous year. The daily suggests that it might be time for Kasyanov to go on strike. JAC

TATARSTAN, BASHKORTOSTAN CONSTITUTIONS SAID TO BE OUT OF LINE WITH FEDERAL LAW

At a conference in Moscow for prosecutors across Russia on 11 January, Aleksandr Zvyagintsev, the deputy prosecutor-general to the Volga Federal District, reported that all of the regions in that district have brought their local constitutions in line with the federal constitution except Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, Interfax reported. According to Zvyagintsev, an appeal regarding the situation has already been filed with the federal Supreme Court. He said that in the district overall some 900 legal acts were found in violation of the federal constitution, and more than 800 of them have already been amended. Last month, Dmitrii Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration, told "Obshchaya gazeta" that the ethnic republics are more reluctant than other regions to bring their laws into conformity with federal legislation (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). In particular, he singled out Bashkortostan, Tatarstan and Sakha (Yakutia). JAC

DUMA COMMISSION GIVES OK TO TATARSTAN'S ALPHABET PLAN

The chief consultant, Natalya Lyashenko, to the State Duma Committee on Nationality Affairs, told reporters in Kazan on 11 January that the intention of the special Duma commission that arrived in the republic on 9 January was "to study the situation" around the republic's plans to shift the alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin script, but not to conduct an inspection, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). She added that there is nothing "extreme or horrible" about the planned transition, and that in a legal sense, everything about the transition appears to be in order. However, she suggested that the only thing that is not quite correct was the absence of federal organs from the process. Communist Party leader Zyuganov had a different view, declaring last month that the move is an "open step towards separatism," "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The commission was sent at the initiative of Communist Party faction member Anatolii Chekhoev. JAC

PAPER ASKS IF PUTIN KNOWS WHAT'S HAPPENING IN CHECHNYA

An article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 11 January noted that the Chechen conflict has virtually disappeared from Russian mass media, even though it is far from clear that the fighting is over. "The generals in charge of Chechnya must be telling Putin: 'Everything is all right. Just a little longer, and all these criminals will be finished off.' That is probably why," the paper concludes, "the truth about the war is being kept under the lid." PG

CANADA SAID TO HAVE FAILED IN GETTING A SHKVAL TORPEDO

Both "Vremya novostei" and "Izvestiya" reported on 11 January that Canadian government efforts to acquire the Russian Shkval torpedo, like those of convicted and then pardoned U.S. citizen Edmund Pope, had failed. PG

FSB HAS RUSSIAN TELL OF CIA APPROACH

"For the first time in its history," "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 January, the Federal Security Service (FSB) authorized a Russian citizen who had been approached by U.S. intelligence to speak publicly about what took place. PG

BROTHER OF PYRAMID SCHEME OPERATOR ARRESTED

Police in Moscow on 11 January arrested Vyacheslav Mavrodi, the brother of the former MMM company head Sergei Mavrodi who operated a pyramid scheme that defrauded thousands of Russians in the mid-1990s, Interfax reported. He had been sought since August 1999 on suspicion of illegal sale of precious metals. PG

POET MAY SUE OVER NEW ANTHEM'S LYRICS

Yelena Khebylova, a young Russian poet, said on NTV on 11 January that she is consulting attorneys about the possiblities of suing Sergei Mikhalkov and others for using her words and ideas without permission. Mikhalkov, 87, has been given credit for the new lyrics for Russia's national anthem. Khebylova said that she had submitted an entry in the competition for new lyrics and that the final lyrics resembled hers. But specialists told NTV that plagiarism would be extremely difficult to prove. PG

HALF OF RUSSIANS CONSIDER THEMSELVES POOR

A monitoring.ru survey found that 51 percent of urban Russians consider themselves poor and only 2 percent consider themselves wealthy, "Trud" reported on 11 January. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents own shares in Russian enterprises, 9 percent own computers, and 31 percent own cars, the survey found. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW YEREVAN MAYOR

Robert Kocharian on 11 January accepted Albert Bazeyan's resignation, which he had tendered the previous day, as mayor of Yerevan, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). The same day, Kocharian appointed as Bazeyan's successor 45 year old Deputy Energy Minister Robert Nazarian, who is not a member of any Armenian political party. Suren Sureniants, a senior municipal official who worked closely with Bazeyan, said that Bazeyan and Kocharian had disagreed over the city finances. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT...

A Baku military court on 11 January handed down a life sentence on former Gyanja city police chief Natik Efendiev, Turan and Interfax reported. Efendiev was found guilty, together with Terter district military commander Colonel Rasim Alekperov, of plotting at the behest of exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership. Alekperov and his brother Aghasi both received 15 year jail sentences. Efendiev, together with a second former Gyanja official, Rza Mamedov, was arrested in Turkey, where he had been living for several years, in January 2000 and extradited to Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 4, 28 January 2000). Alekperov was arrested in February 2000 in connection with two murders committed by his subordinates (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 7, 17 February 2000). LF

...DESPITE LACK OF EVIDENCE

Lawyers for the accused repeatedly complained that the trial, which began in late October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 200), was conducted with grave procedural violations, Turan reported. That agency also quoted Efendiev's lawyer, Elton Guliev, as saying that the evidence adduced by prosecution proved only that Efendiev was guilty of illegal arrest or exceeding his authority, but could not by any stretch of the imagination be construed as treason or as substantiating the charges that he was planning a coup d'etat. LF

UKRAINE ADVISES GEORGIA AGAINST 'ZERO OPTION'...

Georgian parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 January that the Ukrainian government has urged the Georgian parliament not to ratify the so-called "zero option," whereby Georgia will forfeit any claim to a share of the assets of the former USSR in return for the restructuring of its $179 million debt to Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Ukraine and Georgia are the only two former Soviet republics that have not yet formally abjured any claim to the assets of the former USSR. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has argued in favor of the "zero option," noting that ratification of it is a key condition for disbursement of a new IMF loan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000 and 8 January 2001). Davitashvili argued that Georgia's share of the Soviet assets, which is estimated at between $2.5-5 billion, is enough to pay off not only its debts to Moscow but the entire state debt, which he said totals $1.4 billion. LF

...AS KEY DOCUMENTATION FOUND MISSING

Davitashvili also argued on 11 January that whoever is found to be responsible for the disappearance from the state chancellery of a Georgian-Russian document initialed in 1993 detailing Georgia's share of the assets and liabilities of the former USSR should be brought to trial for espionage or criminal negligence, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze said that his ministry is trying to trace the document which, he added, vanished "several years ago." LF

RELATIVES SEEK TO NEGOTIATE RELEASE OF SPANIARDS ABDUCTED IN GEORGIA

Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 January that the families of the two Spanish businessmen kidnapped east of Tbilisi in late November are conducting negotiations in Russia on securing their release, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). Targamadze complained that those talks "have seriously harmed the search" for the two hostages. Also on 11 January, Georgian National Security Minister Kutateladze said he cannot definitively confirm that the two Spaniards are being held in the Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgia. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO INCREASE USE OF STATE LANGUAGE IN COURTS

The Kazakh Supreme Court has endorsed a program of instruction in the state language (Kazakh) for employees in the judiciary, with the aim of increasing the use of Kazakh in the legal system, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 11 January quoting a Supreme Court official. Judges will eventually be expected to have a professional command of both Russian and Kazakh. At present the use of Russian predominates in the court system. LF

IRAN DISPATCHES HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANS STRANDED ON AFGHAN-TAJIK BORDER

The Iranian embassy in Dushanbe on 11 January dispatched some 40 tons of aid to the estimated 10,000 Afghans who have taken refuge on the Afghan-Tajik border from the ongoing hostilities between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, Interfax reported. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has said those displaced persons will not be permitted to enter Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2001). LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SNUBS U.S. AMBASSADOR OVER NEW YEAR'S PARTY

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka said on 11 January that U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak has not been invited to a reception by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to celebrate the New Year on 13 January according to the Orthodox Church calendar. Kozak arrived in Minsk on 20 October, but Lukashenka has so far refused to receive his credentials. Many in Belarus believe that Lukashenka is seeking to affront Kozak because of Washington's strong condemnation of the Belarusian regime's crackdown on political freedoms. Kozak personally angered official Minsk by questioning the legitimacy of Belarus's legislative and executive branches in a press interview (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). Minsk suggested that Kozak is not yet a full-fledged ambassador, but the latter thinks otherwise, saying he has presented his credentials to the Foreign Ministry and thus complied with diplomatic protocol. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS GET READY FOR WORSE TIMES

Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of the independent "Nasha svaboda," said on 11 January that the presidential administration has worked out a plan to repress all private printing houses that print independent and opposition publications, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Zhuk was commenting on the recent confiscation of a printing press in the private printing house Magic, which prints some 20 independent periodicals in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2001). Iosif Syaredzich, chief editor of the independent "Nasha volya," added that his newspaper is already looking for a printing house abroad in order to appear without interruption during the upcoming presidential election campaign. Magic director Yury Budzko, who considers the confiscation order illegal, noted that if that order is not lifted, his company may go bankrupt in several months. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS SLAM PROSECUTOR-GENERAL OVER MISSING JOURNALIST CASE

Serhiy Holovatyy and Viktor Shyshkin, members of the ad hoc parliamentary commission to investigate the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, have accused Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko of seeking to hide evidence in the Gongadze case, Interfax reported on 11 January. Valeriy Ivasyuk, the commission's expert, noted in connection with the Gongadze case that Ukraine "has created a forensic-medical system to annihilate people and hide crimes." Robert Menard, head of the Reporters Without Borders international group, told journalists in Kyiv the same day that he recommended to President Leonid Kuchma that Potebenko be dismissed because of the unsatisfactory investigation progress in the Gongadze case. Menard added that Kuchma "did not speak in [Potebenko's] defense." JM

PACE PLEDGES TO HELP EVALUATE 'MOROZ'S TAPES'

Hanne Severinsen, a rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), pledged PACE's help in making an expert evaluation of the "Moroz tapes" which caused a political scandal in Ukraine by implicating President Leonid Kuchma in Gongadze's disappearance. "If it turns out that these tapes are authentic, you will have a Watergate in Ukraine," Severinsen said, adding that PACE will find an institution to evaluate the original tapes made by Kuchma's former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. The same day, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said Melnychenko eavesdropped on Kuchma for a total of 300 hours. And Melnychenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 9 January that he has taped "dozens of people" in Kuchma's office, adding that those persons can confirm the authenticity of the tapes. Prosecutor-General Potebenko told the parliament the previous day that Melnychenko's recordings are doctored. JM

ESTONIAN REFORM PARTY CALLS FOR 20 PERCENT INCOME TAX

The Reform Party board decided that one of the party's main aims for 2001 will be to reduce the individual income tax rate from 26 to 20 percent, BNS reported on 11 January. To finance this, the party wants to reform public service by removing double compensations, reducing benefits paid to officials, and rendering labor relations in the public sector more flexible. At the present time, 44 percent of the income tax revenues goes to the state and 56 percent to local governments. It is estimated that after the reduction, state and local governments will receive 805 million kroons ($49 million) and 1,030 million kroons less, respectively. The other partners in the ruling coalition, the Pro Patria Union and the Moderates, however, seem unlikely to support the tax reduction, believing that the reforms would not compensate the lost income. SG

LATVIAN PARTIES ARGUE OVER LASCO PRIVATIZATION

Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK Chairman Maris Grinblats declared that if the privatization regulations of the Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2000) are not amended by 1 February, the party may not take joint responsibility for the privatization, BNS reported on 11 January. Grinblats opposes the requirement that the main business of potential bidders has to be shipping, oil extraction and refining, transportation, or warehouse management. Prime Minister Andris Berzins, however, said that he doubted that the LASCO privatization would endanger the government coalition. The regulations cannot be changed because this would delay the privatization by at least six months and, moreover, they had already been sent out to 52 potential bidders. Berzins said that all possible steps were taken to ensure the maximum transparency of the privatization, and the regulations were drafted with the help of international advisors and World Bank experts. SG

IMF APPROVES LITHUANIAN ECONOMIC POLICY MEMORANDUM

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund on 11 January approved the economic policy memorandum with the Lithuanian government, BNS reported. It obligates Lithuania to continue a tight fiscal policy by keeping the budget deficit under 1.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or 691 million litas ($172.75 million). The IMF approved the 2000 fiscal deficit of 3.3 percent of GDP, which is higher than the commitment made in March 2000. The memorandum allows Lithuania to receive a $54 million loan, which, however, is not expected to be taken. Deputy Managing Director of the IMF Shigemitsu Sugisaki read a favorable report about Lithuania that asserted "Economic growth resumed while inflation remained low, the current account deficit declined faster than expected, confidence in the currency board was maintained, and financial markets stabilized." SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS PROPERTY RESTITUTION LAW

The Sejm on 11 January voted by 225 to 189 with five abstentions to pass a bill offering 50 percent compensation in bonds or, where possible, in property to former owners whose property was confiscated by the Communist authorities between 1944 and 1962. The compensation will be paid to those owners or their immediate heirs who were Polish citizens until 31 December 1999. Government experts expect some 170,000 restitution claims that may cost Poland more than $11 billion. The law was supported by the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union, but opposed by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Peasant Party. "[The bill] will introduce justice and at least in part compensate all those who lost their property after the war," AWS lawmaker Tomasz Wojcik said. "This bill will hinder our nation's development," SLD lawmaker Marek Borowski commented. JM

THREE PROMINENT POLISH POLITICIANS PROCLAIM NEW 'POLITICAL INITIATIVE'

Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski, Senate deputy speaker Donald Tusk, and independent politician Andrzej Olechowski on 11 January announced the anticipated creation of a new "political initiative" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001), PAP reported. The three politicians spoke about a "wide political platform" that is to represent "people of the center." Plazynski and Olechowski noted that they do not intend "to build a political party at the moment," while Tusk suggested that the initiative will transform into either an electoral committee or a political party. The three politicians pledged to formulate their political platform in two weeks' time. Plazynski declared that he will leave the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), while Tusk said he will quit the Freedom Union (UW). Polish commentators say the initiative will considerably weaken the right-wing AWS and the centrist UW ahead of this year's parliamentary elections. JM

CZECH TV DIRECTOR RESIGNS

Controversial Czech Television director Jiri Hodac, whose appointment three weeks earlier led to a strike and countrywide protests, resigned on 11 January, citing health reasons. Hodac added that he and the new team he appointed at the TV's management, have been "the target of the most inconceivable and wretched forms of personal attacks in the media," CTK and international agencies reported. A crowd estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000 that gathered in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest against Hodac's refusal to step down, cheered on learning about the resignation. A spokesman for the striking journalists welcomed the news but added that the strike continues, as the strikers' other demands have not been met. These include the dismissal of the Hodac-appointed management (who announced it was not stepping down) and of the Radio and Television Council. Two of that council's members, both appointed by the Social Democratic Party, resigned earlier on 11 January. MS

CZECH POLITICIANS REACT TO THE RESIGNATION

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla and Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky--both having the rank of deputy premier-- welcomed the news of Hodac's resignation and said the decision was a "responsible act which will contribute to calming the situation," CTK reported. Ivan Langer of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who is chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Media Commission, said "I hope that those who were blood-thirsty are satiated and satisfied now, and that they will stop pressing for additional legislative crimes." Earlier, Freedom Union Chairman Karel Kuehnl said his formation will not support the government-proposed amendment to the law on the Radio and Television Council in the Chamber of Deputies unless the Senate and the president are added to those persons entitled to nominate the council's members. The chamber will debate the amendment on 12 January. MS

IFJ CONGRATULATES STRIKERS

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) congratulated the striking journalists on Hodac's resignation, CTK and AP reported. IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, in a message to those journalists, said their victory will be "an inspiration to journalists to double efforts for the defense of [independent] public broadcasting." White also said the IFJ will now turn its attention to similar problems in Hungary, where "our colleagues... will be encouraged by the events in Prague." MS

CZECH PREMIER INVITES PARTY LEADERS TO CONSULTATIONS ON FIGHTER PLANES TENDER

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 11 January sent invitations to the leaders of all parliamentary parties except the communists to attend consultations on the tender approved by the government earlier this week for the purchase of fighter planes. Freedom Union chairman Kuehnl said in reaction that it would have been preferable to call the meeting before approving the tender, and ODS "shadow defense minister" Petr Necas said the government has "taken a unilateral decision and now wants the blessing of the other parties." Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy said the announcement of a tender does not necessarily mean that the decision to buy the fighters has also been made, CTK reported. MS

AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR DEPLORES 'LITTLE PROGRESS' ON TEMELIN

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on 11 January said in Berlin that he "regrets" that "thus far little progress has been made in preparing the environmental impact assessment" he and Zeman agreed on at their meeting in Melk at the end of last year. Schuessel said he expects the Czech side to fully abide by the agreement. Czech Environment Minister Milos Kusvart submitted to the cabinet on 11 January the results of the assessment conducted by experts from both sides and the EU, but the ministers said they still need time to study it. Zeman pledged in Melk that the assessment will be binding on the Czech Republic. Pavel Telicka, chief Czech negotiator with the EU, on 11 January told Radio Frekvence 1 that he expects Austria to withdraw objections to concluding EU parleys with Prague on the energy chapter of the acquis communautaire "within a fortnight." MS

FORMER SLOVAK DEPUTY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF WANTED BY POLICE

Slovak police have launched a countrywide search for Rudolf Ziak, Deputy Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Chief under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, and may issue an international arrest warrant against him. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner told Markiza TV on 11 January that Ziak is charged with "sabotage and spreading false alarm" in connection with intelligence operations allegedly intended to prevent NATO and EU accession by Slovakia's neighbors. Ziak has rejected the allegations, and in December said he does not fear prosecution and will not try to avoid it, CTK reported. His lawyer told journalists on 11 January that his client is in the U.S. at the invitation of unspecified foundations and intends to visit other countries too. The lawyer did not specify when Ziak intends to return. MS

SLOVAK PEACE KEEPERS TO UNDERGO EXAMINATIONS FOR 'BALKAN SYNDROME'

Slovak soldiers deployed in KFOR peace keeping missions in Kosova and those who have served in those missions in the past will undergo medical examinations at the Ruzomberok military hospital next week, CTK reported on 11 January. Hospital head Igor Combor said some soldiers who returned from the missions said they do not trust the examinations, and in order to overcome their suspicions, the hospital will cooperate with civil clinics in Kosice and Bratislava. A spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry said Slovakia has asked NATO whether peace keepers who have served in Bosnia might have been exposed to dangers. MS

ANTI-CHAIRMAN MOVES GROW AMONG HUNGARY'S SMALLHOLDERS...

Laszlo Csucs, deputy leader of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) parliamentary group, resigned his position on 11 January, Hungarian media reported. Csucs said he does not know whether he will remain a member of the FKGP faction in the parliament, because party chairman Joszef Torgyan may "want to set a precedent at my expense," which would be in line with Torgyan's "divide and rule policy." Csusc's resignation follows those of Bela Pokol, also a former FKGP deputy parliamentary group leader, and Zsolt Lanyi, who had the same position in addition to being FKGP deputy chairman. Torgyan, who is visiting South America, said he will "look into the Csucs matter when I return." MS

...AS TORGYAN'S AGRICULTURAL POLICIES CRITICIZED BY EXPERTS

Hungarian agriculture does not meet EU accession standards due to "the professional and moral fiasco" of those in charge of agricultural policies, a group of experts said on 11 January. The group set up a civil organization called the Green Ribbon Movement. Its heads are Mihaly Kupa, former finance minister in the Jozsef Antall cabinet, Tamas Nagy, chairman of the National Federation of Hungarian Farmers and Cooperatives, and Gyorgy Rasko, former Agriculture Ministry state secretary. They said the organization's purpose is to "counterbalance the impotence and incompetence of the present agricultural leadership." Meanwhile, the daily "Vilaggazdasag" reported that the Torgyan-run Agriculture Ministry has been barred from using agricultural subsidies in 2001 without the prior consent of the Finance Ministry headed by main coalition partner FIDESZ, in an attempt to prevent the "premature depletion and objectionable spending of the ministry's funds." MS




YUGOSLAV MINISTER CALLS ON WAR CRIMINALS TO TURN SELVES IN

Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said in Belgrade on 11 January that Yugoslav citizens indicted for war crimes should turn themselves in to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. Referring to former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic's voluntary decision to go to The Hague, Grubac said: "Biljana Plavsic acted normally, in the way every other citizen suspected by a court, local or international, should do. The procedure does not mean that a person is guilty," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, several other leading Belgrade officials, and the former regime have all questioned the legitimacy of the Hague-based court. PM

SERBIAN MINISTERS TO DROP BUSINESS INTERESTS

Justice Minister-designate Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 12 January that "members of the new Serbian government will not be allowed to have their own private businesses," Reuters reported. "They will not be allowed to enter any kind of new business arrangements or exert pressure on the media, the judiciary, the police, and public enterprises," Batic added. Djindjic has vowed to clean up corruption. Under former President Slobodan Milosevic, government officials participated in massive corruption designed to give them a stake in the system and provide Milosevic with a potential source of blackmail or other pressure against them. Batic added that all ministers will undergo medical tests, the results of which will be made public. PM

YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OK'S AMNESTY LAW--BUT NOT FOR KOSOVARS

The government approved an amnesty law on 11 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The largest group affected will be some 34,000 persons who have been sentenced for "crimes" against the army, including desertion and failure to answer a draft notice. Some 700 Kosovars seized during the 1998 and 1999 Serbian crackdown still remain in Serbian jails. They include student leader Albin Kurti. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT TO BELGRADE

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 11 January that President Milo Djukanovic will travel to Belgrade on 14 January. He will discuss future Serbian-Montenegrin relations with Kostunica and Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). Kostunica and Djindjic have said recently that the Montenegrin leadership is making unnecessary trouble by raising demands for redefining Podgorica-Belgrade relations. Djindjic said on 11 January that the Montenegrins should have raised their demands not now but rather "six years ago," when Milosevic was still in power and the present Montenegrin leadership squarely behind him, Beta news agency reported. PM

MONTENEGRINS REACT TO KOSTUNICA PROPOSAL

On 11 January criticism continued from Montenegrin political leaders of Kostunica's recent proposal to redefine Belgrade-Podgorica ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). Vujanovic said that the proposal meant that Serbia would always be in a position to dominate Montenegro. Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic, who is a leader of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, dubbed the offer "paternalistic." She stressed that it does not go as far to meet Montenegrin demands as Kostunica had previously indicated would be the case, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Social Democratic leader Miodrag Ilickovic dubbed the proposal a "document for the elimination of Montenegro." But Predrag Bulatovic of the Socialist People's Party called the proposal "completely acceptable" and a "help for the parties that want unity" with Serbia to continue. In Novi Sad, Vojvodina leader Nenad Canak said that the proposal is only "a personal [one] by...Kostunica, which is supported by nobody." PM

ITALIAN MINISTER SLAMS MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT

Finance Minister Ottaviano Del Turco told "La Repubblica" of 11 January that Djukanovic has knowingly harbored and protected Italian cigarette-smuggling kingpin Francesco Prudentino, AP reported. Del Turco added: "Without President Djukanovic's protection, Prudentino would have never become the richest, the most powerful, and the most dangerous trafficking boss in the Mediterranean." Djukanovic--like some other leaders in several parts of the former Yugoslavia--is widely suspected of having made handsome profits from profiteering during the wartime sanctions regime. PM

ALBANIA, YUGOSLAVIA TO RESTORE DIPLOMATIC TIES

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Tirana on 11 January that "the Albanian government once again expresses its readiness to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. We hope this would serve the interests of the two sides as well as cooperation, good understanding, and security and stability in the region," Reuters reported. The Yugoslav government offered the previous day to restore ties, which were effectively broken in 1997. Belgrade wants Tirana to help guarantee an international settlement in Kosova, including one ignoring the demand of the province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority for independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). Albania is under international pressure to improve ties to the Kostunica government (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000). Albanians on both sides of the Albanian-Kosovar border generally consider the new Belgrade government to be as nationalistic as the previous one. PM

PETRITSCH RULES ALL ETHNIC GROUPS EQUAL THROUGHOUT BOSNIA

Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative, issued an interim ruling on 11 January that makes all citizens fully equal throughout Bosnia regardless of their ethnic background. The move is a key step toward breaking the political power of the ethnically-based parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN PRIVATE STATIONS STAGE STRIKE

A group of private television and radio stations plan a two-hour strike for 12 January, Makfaks news agency reported. The broadcasters object to what they call a lack of transparency in the allocation of state broadcasting funds, as well as to the national television monopoly of MRTV, which costs them potentially lucrative advertising revenues. The broadcasters also object to the continuing existence of numerous stations that broadcast without a license. PM

SLOVENIAN CABINET COMPLETED

The parliament voted 54-17 on 11 January to fill the four vacant cabinet posts, "Delo" reported. They are: Economics Minister Tea Petrin; Education, Science, and Sport Minister Lucija Cok; Transportation Minister Jakob Presecnik; and Information Minister Pavel Gantar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). Some 81 out of 90 legislators were present. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT SEALS TUDJMAN'S ARCHIVES

The government on 11 January ordered that all documents belonging to the office of the late President Franjo Tudjman go into the custody of the state archives and remain closed to the public for 30 years. The measure also includes tape recordings and transcripts of them, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The ruling mentions that there can be "exceptional cases," but it is not clear what this means. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has expressed an interest in several of Tudjman's tapes. "Novi List" said that the tribunal's access to the materials will be "limited," describing the ruling with the comment: "The transcripts will go into a military bunker." PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES DEBUT AS OSCE CHAIRMAN...

In his inaugural address as OSCE rotating chairman, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 11 January that the organization will continue to focus on respect of individual rights, conflict prevention and conflict resolution, as well as on international cooperation and security, Romanian and international agencies reported. Geoana said Bucharest has handed over responsibility for the Transdniester conflict to Portugal in order to "avoid the impression of partiality" but the OSCE must continue insisting on finding a solution to that conflict based on respect for Moldova's territorial integrity and the OSCE 1999 Istanbul summit resolution on withdrawal of Russian troops from the region. MS

...LISTS FURTHER OSCE PRIORITIES

Geoana said another main focus of activity will be Chechnya, and proposed that Romanian ambassador to Kyiv Alexandru Cornea head a new mission to Grozny, calling on Russia to grant it "all possible support." He said his first mission as OSCE chairman will take him next week to Belgrade, and the OSCE will help prepare elections in Kosova and build democratic institutions in Bosnia. The OSCE will also concentrate on the struggle against organized crime, ethnic hatred and discrimination against minorities. In 2001, he said, Romania will organize an OSCE conference on the situation of Sinti and Roma in Europe (see also "End Note" below). MS

OSCE TO INQUIRE INTO 'BALKAN SYNDROME'?

Adrian Severin, chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, on 11 January said the organization is considering setting up "a group of rapporteurs" to investigate the so-called Balkan Syndrome and the use of "risk-ridden modern military technologies," Romanian Radio reported. Severin told Mediafax he is "unsatisfied" with the collaboration with the Romanian Foreign Ministry and hopes that this will improve after the changes at the ministry's leadership. Former Foreign Minister Petre Roman and Severin are known to be political rivals, and Severin was expelled from Roman's Democratic Party in 1998. MS

TRANSYLVANIAN ROMANIANS WARN AGAINST 'NEW KOSOVA'

Several organizations representing ethnic Romanians in the Harghita and Covasna counties, the majority of whose population is Magyar, are wary of the "consequences" of the agreement recently reached between the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. In a letter addressed on 11 January to President Ion Iliescu, the government and the parliament, they warn against "the danger" of transforming "two counties in the heart of Romania into a new Kosova." The organizations object to the intention to pass in the Chamber of Deputies the Public Administration Law previously approved by the Senate. They claim that legislation gives the Hungarian language in areas inhabited by Magyars the status of "a [second] official language." They say this will "intensify separatism" and the "de facto setting up of a Hungarian border inside the country," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

GREATER ROMANIA PARTY TO APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

Augustin Bolcas, leader of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, said on 12 January the PRM will appeal to the Constitutional Court against the chamber's decision to change house regulations. The decision aims at shortening parliamentary debate to speed up the legislation process. It stipulates that debates on articles of a draft law no longer need the presence of a majority of deputies. That presence is required only when voting on the law as a whole. Proposed amendments are to be debated mostly in commissions, plenum debates being allowed only on amendments commissions failed to debate. The agenda is to be decided by a new committee formed by leaders of parliamentary parties, whose vote reflects their respective factions' weight. Bolcas said this transforms the chamber into "a bureaucratic vote-machine that passes laws on assembly-line." MS

MOLDOVA, ROMANIA, STILL DIFFER ON BASIC TREATY

Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz believes Moldova and Romania should not reopen the negotiations on the basic treaty initialed last year, but his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana insists on doing so, Infotag reported on 11 January, at the end of Cernomaz's visit to Bucharest. The agency cited Geoana as saying that negotiations at expert level should be aimed at ensuring that the treaty can be ratified by the two countries' parliaments "without problems." Infotag also said that Cernomaz criticized the frequent official Romanian use of the term "two Romanian states" in reference to Moldova and Romania, warning that separatists "in Tiraspol and Gagauz-Yeri" are exploiting this for their own "anti-Moldovan interests." MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION 'BALKAN SYNDROME'

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is demanding that a special meeting of the parliament National Security Commission be convoked to hear Defense Minister Boyko Noev and Chief of Staff general Mikho Mikhov report on the results of the medical examination that Bulgarian peace keepers in Kosova and Bosnia were submitted to. The BSP says the results must be published immediately and the government must request from all NATO member states all information they have on the use of depleted uranium munitions and their environmental effect on the territory of former Yugoslavia and neighboring countries. The BSP wants all members of the Bulgarian contingents in Bosnia and Kosova to be returned to Bulgaria for further medical examinations, and for water and soil along the border with Yugoslavia to be tested with international cooperation, Bulgarian Radio, cited by the BBC monitoring, reported on 11 January. MS

BULGARIAN DEPUTIES LEAVE RULING ALLIANCE

National Agrarian Union (BZNS) deputies Georgi Pinchev and Zheko Stoyanov on 11 January resigned from the parliamentary group of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), Bulgarian Radio, cited by BBC monitoring, reported. They said the SDS has been "ignoring its allies from the BZNS by adopting administrative decisions that compromise the agrarian reform in the manner in which these measures are being implemented." Deputies representing the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization have also recently quit the SDS parliamentary group. SDS Deputy Chairwoman Rositsa Totkova denied either of these two desertions signal the disintegration of the SDS alliance. MS

CORRECTION:

The name of the former Bulgarian Communist Interior Minister mentioned in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 11 January is Dimitar Stoyanov and not Petar Stoyanov, who is the incumbent Bulgarian President.




OSCE CHAIRMAN TO DISCUSS MOSCOW CRITICISMS


By Roland Eggleston

The new chairman of the OSCE, Romanian Foreign minister Mircea Dan Geoana, said on 11 January he would use his year in office try to focus on the problems of the ordinary citizen but he emphasized that this would not diminish OSCE's efforts to overcome political and military crises in Europe. One of his priorities is to discuss doubts in Moscow about OSCE's focus.

Geoana began his year with a meeting which agreed that OSCE should establish a mission in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade. Geoana said he will go to Belgrade next week to discuss with Yugoslav officials the scope of the mission's activities and when it could begin work. Yugoslavia was re-admitted to the OSCE only at the end of last year after the fall of the Milosevic administration.

Geoana said he will also go to Moscow soon for discussions on a number of problems. One of them is Moldova and its breakaway region of Transdniester. Geoana said Romania remains skeptical of a draft settlement recently proposed by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii

Primakov, which he described as "not ideal." However he said the dialogue with Russia and Moldova is continuing. He said he discussed Moscow's position with the Moldovan Foreign Minister in Bucharest the previous day.

Geoana promised that OSCE will also continue to be involved in trying to find a solution to the Transdniester conflict. He noted that Romania has a special relationship with Moldova and said that to avoid any suggestion that the Romanian chairmanship was not objective, he had asked Portugal to take charge of day-to-day discussions. Portugal will take over the chairmanship of the OSCE next year (2002).

During his Moscow visit, Geoana will also discuss Russia's growing dissatisfaction with some aspects of OSCE's work. Diplomats told an RFE/RL correspondent in Vienna on 11 January that these came to a head at a foreign ministers' meeting in Vienna at the end of last year. The Russian Foreign Minister, Ivanov, sharply criticized what he perceived as an exaggerated OSCE focus on the Balkans and parts of the former Soviet Union. In particular, he criticized OSCE's continuing criticism of the situation in Chechnya and its demands to be allowed to re-establish its mission there. He said the OSCE should also pay attention to faults in Western societies, including Xenophobia, racism and crime. His criticisms led to Russia refusing consensus to a planned official report on the meeting. Only a modified version appeared.

Diplomats said in Vienna on 11 January that Ivanov's speech at the December meeting was reminiscent of comments which came from Moscow in the past and said there was concern about its implications.

At his 11 January press conference, Geoana said he knew that Russia had discussed its concerns with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during the latter's private visit to Moscow last weekend. However he gave no details. Nor did Geoana discuss the approach he will take during his forthcoming visit to Moscow. But he did say that he will continue to press for the return of an OSCE mission to Chechnya under a Romanian ambassador.

Geoana promised a continued OSCE focus on all its traditional areas of interests, including Central Asia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Belarus. He said that OSCE "can and should make a real contribution to the democratization of Belarus." He said the OSCE urged all parties there to "commit themselves to a meaningful dialogue which would heal some of the existing internal divisions."

He said the OSCE wants to work together with Central Asian states to identify specific areas of co-operation which would yield concrete and positive results for them.

"Our goals in Central Asia will be to enhance the development of the rule of law, civil society and the rights of the individual," he said. The OSCE will also promote economic prosperity and environmental security. He said OSCE will also "explore the most appropriate ways to ensure the security of Central Asian borders against external threats." Roland Eggleston is a senior RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.


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