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Newsline - January 16, 2001




RUSSIANS ANGERED BY BUSH REMARKS...

Moscow analysts, politicians, and media outlets reacted angrily on 15 January to U.S. President-elect George W. Bush's remarks in "The New York Times" that his administration might reduce or cut off aid to Russia. Liliya Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Center told "Vedomosti" that "it is unpleasant that this statement is made when we still have not rebuilt our relations with the International Monetary Fund." That paper noted that words like those used by Bush "have never before been pronounced at such a senior level." "Izvestiya" described Bush's remarks about Russia as "a perestroika" in relations between the two countries. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told ITAR-TASS that Moscow understands that such a shift could have an impact on Russia's negotiations with the IMF. And, in a rejoinder to both Bush and "The New York Times," a Kremlin official told Interfax on 15 January that "this respectable newspaper may be wrong" in asserting that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not bury Vladimir Lenin. PG

...AS GROWING DIFFERENCES ACKNOWLEDGED...

Writing in "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie," no. 1, Vadim Solovev said that since the beginning of 2001, Russian and American officials have been exchanging charges about violations of military agreements, with each side responding to the other's suggestions with new ones. PG

...AND MORE CONFLICTS SEEN AHEAD

"Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie," no. 1, said that Russia's weakness combined with the new American attitudes mean that there is "no point" in continuing talks over further cuts in nuclear arms. And Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Political Research, told Interfax on 15 January that he does not exclude the possibility that the incoming Bush administration's plan to erect a national missile defense (NMD) could in fact trigger a new nuclear arms race. On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Rome that Moscow will keep its proposals to cut back the number of nuclear weapons if Washington would agree not to build NMD. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR PROTECTING 'ALL FORMS' OF PROPERTY

President Putin on 15 January called for enhancing the protection of all forms of property, including private property, in a discussion with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin reportedly asked the government "to discuss the problem with all representatives of the market-based economy" in order to provide directions for law enforcement bodies. But a dispute about Putin's attitude toward private property in land continued: Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev was quoted by Interfax as saying that the new draft land code does not contain a provision for the free buying and selling of land, while Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Viktor Pokhmelkin told the same agency that it is hardly likely that Putin would agree to such a prohibition -- although he acknowledged that guarantees on this point might be in a separate law and not in the land code itself. PG

PROSECUTORS STEP UP INVESTIGATIONS

On 15 January, investigators and prosecutors sought information in a variety of high-profile cases, Russian agencies reported. Investigators questioned Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov as a witness about the illegal export of scientific and technical information. They questioned Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko as a witness in the SBS-Agro case. They submitted written questions to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in connection with the Vladimir Gusinskii case. They interrogated without the presence of lawyers Media-MOST finance chief Anton Titov. And they questioned NTV chief accountant Yuliya Rozinova. But Valerii Nikolaev, the chief investigator of the Gusinskii case, said that there are no political motives behind the actions of the authorities in that investigation. PG

DEBT PROBLEMS CONTINUE

Finance Minister Kudrin, who will represent Russia at the international economic conference in Davos, said on 15 January that upcoming talks between Russia and the IMF in February "will be difficult," Interfax reported. "Vedomosti" reported that a subgroup of the Russian-German strategic group will meet at the end of January to discuss possible conversion of Russian debts into investment instruments. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 January that the IMF won't help Russia, with "Segodnya" suggesting the same day that the IMF might even seek to use Russia's problems to push its own agenda with the Paris Club. PG

CHILLY VLADIVOSTOK RESIDENTS TAKE TO THE STREETS...

About 100 protesters closed the federal highway between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk for about 90 minutes on 15 January to protest electricity blackouts affecting the city, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Protesters told the agency that their neighborhood in Vladivostok has been experiencing electricity shortages for 10-14 hours at a time while heat and water are also being suspended during that time. They are calling for the resignation of Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko and Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov. The previous day, protesters in another section of the city also closed down a street. Dalenergo head Yurii Likhoida told the agency the same day that industry in the krai has almost come to a halt because of the shortage of coal and electricity. The press center of a local power station told ITAR-TASS on 15 January that the situation may deteriorate even more in the next 24 hours because of a continuing shortage of coal. JAC

...AS SIBERIA STILL GRIPPED BY FROSTS...

Contributing to the coal shortage is the continued extremely cold temperatures in parts of Siberia where the coal is mined. In Irkutsk Oblast, for example, 11 people have died because of the cold spell, while another 120 people have been admitted to hospitals for frostbite, according to ITAR-TASS. In some parts of the region, temperatures have risen to minus 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, allowing children to return to school, but in the northern parts of the oblast temperatures remain at minus 48-50 degrees Celsius. The largest raion of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast continued its state of emergency on 15 January, which was first declared on 11 January because of the severe frost. Children have been kept home from school, but home heating systems so far continue to work. JAC

...AND GOVERNMENT, UES TRY TO ALLEVIATE FUEL PROBLEMS

The Russian government has transferred 10.5 billion ($400 million) so far this month to stabilize the fuel situation in the coldest regions of Siberia and the Far East, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. And Moscow has decided to dispatch another 7.5 billion rubles to help improve the situation, Prime Minister Kasyanov said. Meanwhile, a UES commission plans to work with firms in the region to try to get the heating problems there under control. PG

JAPANESE POLITICIAN CALLS FOR AIDING RUSSIAN FAR EAST

Muneo Suzuki, the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's general questions bureau, told ITAR-TASS on 15 January that Tokyo should consider providing soft loans to Russia to help it develop the Russian Far East. PG

ROSSEL PREPARES TO BLAME CENTER FOR UNPAID WAGES?

In an interview with REN TV on 15 January, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel predicted that fulfillment of the 2001 federal budget could trigger social explosions in several Russian regions, Interfax reported. Rossel noted that donor regions are losing a significant part of their tax revenues; these "regions, as they are drained of blood, in the near term will probably not [be able to] pay wages to state sector workers," he said. Sverdlovsk Oblast is considered a donor region, which means that it contributes more in tax revenues to the center than it receives back in the form of federal transfers. Also on 15 January, the oblast's Ministry of Finance reported that the backlog of unpaid wages to state sector workers totaled 36.1 million rubles ($1.3 million) JAC

AMERICAN ARRESTED IN MOSCOW FOR GEM SMUGGLING

The Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 15 January that its agents have arrested an American citizen who is part of a drug smuggling operation. He reportedly was carrying gems from India to his business in the United States. PG

FEWER RUSSIANS THINK RUSSIA IS INSOLVENT

A ROMIR poll reported by "Versty" on 13 January said that only a quarter of Russians believe that Russia is incapable of paying its debts, down from 51 percent who thought so three months ago. Another survey of 500 leading figures in politics and the economy found that two-thirds of this group believe that Russia can resolve the debt crisis without borrowing money, the paper said. PG

GERMAN PROSECUTORS LOOK INTO RUSSIAN MONEYLAUNDERING

The German weekly "Der Spiegel" reported on 15 January that German prosecutors are investigating a Russian group that is suspected of laundering some $7.2 billion through German and European banks, AP reported. PG

'UNITY' SEEMS 'SET TO FALL APART'...

The pro-Kremlin Unity party "seems set to fall apart, after barely a year," "Obshchaya gazeta," no. 2, reported. Part of the reason for that, the paper said, are tensions between Moscow and the regions. Another part is because of party leader Sergei Shoigu's lack of political skills. And a third factor, the paper added, is because "the whole project he is charged with is inevitably doomed." PG

...AS NEW MOVEMENT IS ANNOUNCED

State Duma deputy Gennadii Raikov, the head of the People's Deputy group, told Interfax on 15 January that an all-Russian social-political organization called People's Deputy will be organized at the end of January. He said that the new group will work as close as possible with President Putin. PG

MILITARY R&D TO RISE, ARMS PURCHASES TO FALL

The state defense order for 2001 approved by the government on 15 January calls for increasing spending on research and development by 43 percent and cutting back on arms purchases by 13 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. The government also discussed how to pay the eight billion rubles ($280 million) it owes defense firms but did not reach any decision. Meanwhile, Interfax reported, the military has purchased 10 German BMW cars for top commanders. PG

NATIONALITIES MINISTRY DENIES PLAN TO EXPAND REGIONS

Beslan Bargandzhia, the head of the legal department of the Federation and Nationalities Ministry, on 14 January denied statements by the media and Russian politicians that Moscow is preparing a plan to expand some regions at the expense of others, Interfax reported. Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, had welcomed this possibility, but on 14 January, Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said that any such plan would be highly problematic, Interfax reported. He said that any such change would require constitutional amendments, but he did acknowledge that his ministry is preparing a law on regulating regional borders. PG

NO PAPAL VISIT IN SIGHT

Foreign Minister Ivanov said in Rome after meeting Pope John Paul II on 15 January that the two of them had not discussed a papal visit to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. The two did find common ground on many questions, he said, including peace in the Middle East. PG

MOSCOW BACKS BELGRADE ON DEPLETED URANIUM, TRIALS FOR MILOSEVIC ALLIES

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told Interfax on 15 January that Moscow supports a proposal at the UN to immediately inspect those areas of Yugoslavia where NATO forces employed depleted uranium shells. Meanwhile, First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev said that the trial of former officials is entirely up to the Yugoslav government. "The international court is not politically unbiased," Avdeev said. "Otherwise it is hard to understand why Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has seen no reason for the investigation of crimes committed during NATO aggression against Yugoslavia." Meanwhile, a group of Russian economic experts arrived in Belgrade to help draft a program for economic recovery, Interfax reported. PG

LUKASHENKA IN MOSCOW TO DISCUSS CLOSER TIES

After leading his ice hockey team to an 8-5 victory over a Russian government squad on 15 January, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that he hopes to step up cooperation with Russia during his visit on a variety of issues, including defense. (See related item in Part II.) PG

PUTIN VETOS GO BACK TO DUMA

President Putin recently vetoed three Duma-passed measures -- one on tax code amendments, one on the administrative law code, and a third on a program to fight tuberculosis -- and has returned them to the legislature for reconsideration, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA COMMITTEE URGES MORE RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR AFGHAN-TAJIK BORDER

After a hearing on 15 January, Duma Defense Committee deputy chairman Nikolai Bezborodov told Interfax that his committee believes Moscow should dispatch more troops to reinforce the Afghan-Tajik border. He also said that the committee hopes to amend the law on the military draft so that those aged 18 but still in secondary schools will be deferred. PG

MINIMUM PENSIONS GO UP

President Putin on 15 January said that minimum pensions will go up to 600 rubles ($21) a month, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Kasyanov signed the decree the same day, as Pension Fund board chairman Mikhail Zurabov said that the minimum pension rate may rise to 1,500 rubles a month by the end of 2001. Meanwhile, the news agency reported that Putin may create within the next two weeks a national council for pension reform. Most pensioners receive more than the minimum, but the average, AP reported, is still 820 rubles a month. PG

RUSSIA NOW SECOND TO U.S. IN NUMBER OF PRISONERS

For the first time in many years, Russia now has fewer people incarcerated -- 900,000 -- than does the United States, Justice Ministry officials told Interfax on 15 January. The number of those behind bars in Russia is falling, and their behavior there has improved, with 33 percent fewer attempts to escape and 22 percent fewer crimes committed while incarcerated. PG

2000 MORTALITY FIGURES WORSE THAN 1990, BETTER THAN 1995

The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 12 January that the death rate last year from murders, suicides, and accidents connected with alcohol is double that of 1990 but somewhat better than in 1994-95. In 2000, for example, the suicide rate stood at 39.8 per 100,000 people, compared to 26.4 per 100,000 in 1990 and 42.1 in 1994. The committee also reported than 2 percent of adult Russians now are registered each year at sobering up stations or hospitals. But on the same day, monitoring.ru told Interfax that its pollsters had found that only 5 percent of Russians drink "frequently" and that 16 percent do not drink at all. PG

INTERNET INTERFERES WITH LIVES OF RUSSIAN SURFERS

Nineteen percent of Russians who use the Internet told monitoring.ru that they had begun to "experience interference in their personal lives" after going online, Interfax reported on 12 January. Respondents aged 18 to 24 reported more such interference than other age groups. PG

MOSCOW TO GET PET CEMETERY

A cemetery for pets will open in the Russian capital as soon as city officials give their permission, Interfax-Moscow reported on 15 January. PG

RUSSIAN LITERATURE TEACHER TURNS TO CATTLE RUSTLING

A literature teacher in Chuvashia has been arrested as the head of a band of cattle rustlers, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 14 January. Preliminary figures suggest her band struck at least 18 times. PG

PACE DELEGATION ARRIVES IN CHECHNYA

Visiting northern Chechnya on 15 January, a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe headed by Lord Frank Judd visited a camp for displaced persons at Znamenskoe and held lengthy talks with interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Russian Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, and the Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov. Kalamanov assured the delegation that Moscow will aim to narrow the discrepancy between the number of reported cases of human rights violations by the Russian military and the number of persons actually brought to trial on such charges. He also gave the number of persons officially registered as missing in Chechnya as 426. LF




NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ARRIVES IN ARMENIA

Lord George Robertson arrived in Yerevan late on 15 January for talks with the Armenian leadership on further expanding the country's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenia stepped up its participation in that program last year, increasing the number of activities in which it participated to more than 30, compared with 11 in 1997. Robertson told journalists that he will also discuss regional security in the South Caucasus at what he termed "this critical time." He declined to comment on the aspirations of neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan to join the Alliance, noting that no South Caucasus state has yet formally applied for NATO membership. Robertson met on 15 January with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and is scheduled to hold talks on 16 January with President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian before leaving for Baku. LF

ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN EXCHANGE POWS

Meeting on 14 January on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, representatives of the two countries' armed forces exchanged one captured Armenian serviceman for three Azerbaijani prisoners, Turan and Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Both sides linked the exchange to agreements reached during the meeting last month between the Armenian and Azerbaijani defense ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES EXPLAIN RATIONALE FOR PARTICIPATION IN PARLIAMENT

Following a seven-hour discussion in Baku on 14 January, the Supreme Council of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) voted 61 to five in favor of the participation of the group's six deputies in the work of the recently-elected parliament -- but only to campaign for that legislature's dissolution and the holding of new elections, Turan reported. The Civic Solidarity Party, which is aligned with the reformist wing of the AHCP and has three deputies in the new legislature, voted the same day to do likewise. Those two parties, together with several other influential opposition parties, had signed an agreement on 14 November abjuring participation in the new parliament on the grounds that the poll outcome was rigged and therefore invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2000). Opposition Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar said the decision of the AHCP and Civic Solidarity to participate in parliament proceedings renders "problematic" any future cooperation between those parties and Musavat. LF

ISRAELI DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Navaf Masalhu held talks in Baku on 15 January with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, and Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev, Turan reported. Those talks focused on the prospects for developing bilateral economic and cultural ties and on the situation in the Middle East. It was noted that Aliyev has an open invitation to visit Israel. Aliyev had announced in April 2000 his intention of doing so before the end of the year, but no date has yet been set for that visit. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT HAILS NEW IMF LOAN...

In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, Eduard Shevardnadze expressed satisfaction on 15 January at the IMF directors' approval, announced three days earlier, of a new $141 million, three-year anti-poverty loan for Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said the Fund's decision "means Georgia is a normal country with long-term prospects of development," according to AP. He added that the first $12.5 million tranche will be disbursed "within days." Announcing the Fund's decision, Deputy Managing Director Shigemitsu Sugisaki said Fund directors urge Georgia to reach agreements with creditors on rescheduling its large foreign debts, particularly those for energy. LF

...AS 'ZERO OPTION' DEBATE CONTINUES

Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 16 January that by relinquishing any further claim on the assets of the former USSR, as the IMF has urged it to do, Georgia would gain the possibility of having its energy debts to Russia written off, according to Caucasus Press. Moscow has offered the so-called "zero option," whereby Georgia abandons its claims on Soviet assets in return for the restructuring of its debts to Russia. Arsenishvili called on the Georgian parliament to ratify the "zero option." Meanwhile, on 12 January, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze denied that Ukraine, which like Georgia has not yet relinquished its claim on a share of Soviet assets, had asked the Georgian leadership not to ratify the "zero option." Parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili had said on 11 January that the Ukrainian embassy in Tbilisi had made such a request to the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). LF

KAZAKHSTAN POSTS SOLID RISE IN INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT

Kazakhstan's industrial output in 2000 grew by 14.6 percent compared with the previous year, Interfax reported on 15 January, quoting the National Statistics Agency. Output in the mining sector rose by 21.5 percent, while processing industries registered 15.6 percent growth. Refined gold and silver production grew by 20 percent and 39 percent, respectively, to reach 11,515 kilograms and 895,077 kilograms. LF

NEW KYRGYZ FINANCE MINISTER SOLICITS SUGGESTIONS FOR ANTI-POVERTY PROGRAM

Newly-appointed Finance Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, whom "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 January predicted will ultimately succeed Kurmanbek Bakiev as premier, convened a meeting in Bishkek on 15 January to discuss proposals for a three-year national anti-poverty program, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Lidiya Fomova, the chairwoman of the Public Association for the Social Protection of the People, again proposed increasing the minimum monthly pension of 120 soms ($2.5). In his re-election campaign last fall, President Askar Akaev promised that pensions would be adjusted quarterly beginning in 2001, but this year's budget failed to include funds for such an increase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). LF

TAJIK COURT SENTENCES EIGHT ISLAMISTS

Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 15 January handed down prison terms of between one and six years on eight members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The men are employees of a state farm near Dushanbe who joined Hizb-ut-Tahrir in late 1999 and had distributed literature calling for the overthrow of the country's leadership and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. They were, however, found guilty only of inciting racial and religious hatred, but not of membership in a criminal group or calling for the overthrow of the regime. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH WORLD BANK REPRESENTATIVE

Imomali Rakhmonov held talks in Dushanbe on 15 January with the World Bank director for Central Asia, Kiyeshi Kodera, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Those talks focused on implementation of projects sponsored by the World Bank, Tajikistan's draft anti-poverty program, and on the terms for release of the second tranche of a loan for structural reforms. Rakhmonov had discussed the latter issue last fall with the Bank's vice president for Europe and Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2000). LF




BELARUS FALLS WELL SHORT OF CONTRIBUTION DUE TO UNION BUDGET

Last year Minsk contributed only 29.8 percent of what it was due to pay to the Belarus-Russia Union budget, which finances joint economic, military, and cultural projects, Belapan reported on 15 December. As for Moscow, it paid 101.1 percent of what it was expected to contribute in 2000. Belarus spent nothing on the union's programs to develop integrated microcircuits, sewing machines, and dairy equipment, but it fully funded joint armament and laser technology programs as well as the Slavic Bazaar art festival in Vitsebsk and the Days of Belarusian Culture in Russia. "I have spoken long ago that there is no need for us to produce pans, spoons, and forks at those enterprises that are intended for the production of high-precision and high-tech weapons," President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists in Moscow on 15 January. (See related item in Part I.) JM

PROSECUTORS ASKED TO PROBE PUBLICATION ON LUKASHENKA'S ALLEGED PSYCHOPATHY

The State Press Committee has requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office look into the 12 January publication of a "medical conclusion" in the independent newspaper "Nasha svaboda," Interfax reported on 15 December. "Nasha svaboda" published a statement by a psychiatrist asserting that President Lukashenka is suffering from a "mosaic psychopathy" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). State Press Committee deputy head Uladzimir Hlushakou said the publication is a "crime and provocation." He added that the committee chose not to send a warning to the newspaper because "those warnings [run off the newspaper] like water off a duck's back." "Nasha svaboda" is arguably the most harassed independent newspaper in Belarus: it was twice forced to halt its appearance and change its name following unfavorable court rulings in 1997 and 1999. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER INDICTED FOR GAS SMUGGLING, TAX EVASION

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 15 January formally charged Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko for smuggling Russian gas out of Ukraine with the use of forged documents and for evading taxes. The charges relate to the period in 1996-97 when Tymoshenko headed the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine. Prosecutors placed travel restrictions on Tymoshenko, preventing her from leaving Kyiv without permission. They linked Tymoshenko's case with that of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is accused of large-scale theft and moneylaundering. "This is a political reprisal," Tymoshenko commented on the charges, adding that they are "a part of the plans of those clans who want to limit my actions aimed at establishing order in Ukraine," Interfax reported. She said she has sued Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko because "he is breaking the law and practically destroying people by decree." JM

UKRAINIAN PICKETERS WANT GERMAN CHANCELLOR TO CANCEL MEETING WITH KUCHMA

Some 60 people on 15 January picketed the German embassy in Kyiv demanding that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cancel his meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during the latter's trip to Germany scheduled for later this week, Interfax reported. "We appeal to you [Schroeder] -- cancel Kuchma's trip, show that there is no place in Europe for leaders who could not deny horrible accusations of their complicity in murders, terror, and attempts to restore totalitarianism," the civic committee Ukraine Without Kuchma said in a statement handed over to the embassy's charge d'affaires. JM

UKRAINE'S SECURITY SERVICE DENIES PRESSURE ON RFE/RL JOURNALISTS

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has denied that their employees are pressuring Radio Liberty journalists in order to influence the RFE/RL coverage of developments in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 15 January. The SBU's denial seems to be in response to RFE/RL President Thomas Dine's recent statement on the SBU's activities vis-a-vis RFE/RL. "In recent days, people claiming to be Ukrainian intelligence officers have approached members of our Ukrainian Service and threatened reprisals against them and those who rebroadcast our programming in Ukraine if the service does not modify its coverage of Ukrainian political developments," Dine said. JM

ESTONIAN ARMY TO PURCHASE MISSILES

Major Peeter Hoppe, acting chief of operations of the General Staff, told the daily "Eesti Postimees" on 15 January that the larger defense budget will enable the armed forces to improve their anti-aircraft and anti-tank capabilities, BNS reported. A long-term cooperation program with a partner country will help Estonia to build a radar system and decide what missiles to buy. Noting that the army has no money for acquiring medium-range missiles, Hoppe said: "But we have the money to buy short-range missiles, or U.S.-made Stingers and Russian Igla-type missiles." He also noted that there is a long-term project underway with another partner country concerning the acquisition of anti-tank weapons, such as lighter and shorter-range anti-tank rockets. SG

NEW POLITICAL PARTY ESTABLISHED IN LATVIA

About 100 people gathered in Riga on 14 January and established a new centrist political party named Musu Latvija (Our Latvia), LETA reported the next day. The Congress approved the party program and elected a nine-member board and former Interior Minister Dainis Turlais as party chairman. More than 400 persons have joined the party, of whom about one-third are residents, but not yet citizens of Latvia. While supporting Latvia's quest to join the EU, it questions the need for NATO membership since it believes that NATO requirements are unacceptable and the country cannot currently afford greater defense allocations. The party plans to run candidates in the February municipal elections. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION AGREE ON EU ACTION PLAN

Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, chief Euro-negotiator Petras Austrevicius, and Foreign Ministry officials met with leaders of the opposition parties on 15 January and agreed on the coordination of actions for the country's swift entry into the EU, ELTA reported. The left opposition dropped its demand that a public referendum be held to amend the constitution to permit the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens. The ruling majority agreed to establish a Constitutional Amendments Commission in the parliament, to require the government to seek the best possible deal for Lithuania in EU negotiations, and to note the contributions made by the current opposition in adopting decisions on EU membership. SG

POLAND'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER TO LEAD NEW 'POLITICAL INITATIVE?'

In an interview with Radio Gdansk on 15 January, Andrzej Olechowski and Donald Tusk suggested that Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski may lead their joint "political initiative" to set up a centrist alternative to the Solidarity Electoral Action and the Freedom Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). Plazynski said he will not refuse the leadership offer. "There won't be any misunderstandings in this troika and there will be no voting to select any particular individual," he added. Meanwhile, the independent polling agency Pentor has found that 38 percent of respondents "view positively" the Plazynski-Tusk-Olechowski initiative, while 38 percent expressed a negative attitude. JM

CZECH TELEVISION STRIKERS MEET MANAGEMENT

Striking Czech Television journalists and representatives of the management appointed by former Director-General Jiri Hodac on 15 January met for the first time since the crisis broke out nearly one month ago, CTK and AP reported. The meeting was mediated by the so-called Tripartite, which includes representatives of labor unions, employers, and the government. No breakthrough was achieved, but the meetings are to continue. Also on 15 January, the striking journalists asked the Council for Radio and Television to consider withdrawing the license of private Nova TV. They said that Nova Director Vladimir Zelezny adopted positions amounting to "serious interference in the Czech television crisis." Zelezny has taken the side of the Hodac-appointed management. A spokesman for Nova TV said in reaction that "it is paradoxical" that the measure was advocated by those who "claim they support the freedom of speech." MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY PROTESTS CUBAN DETENTIONS

In a note to the Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague, the Czech Foreign Ministry on 15 January protested against the detention of parliamentarian and former Finance Minister Ivan Pilip and human rights activist Jan Bubenik, CTK and international agencies reported. The ministry demanded their "immediate release" and an "explanation" from the Cuban authorities. The Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said Pilip and Bubenik had met on 11 January with two local activists of this body, who were also briefly detained after the meeting. The authorities tried in vain to pressure the Cuban activists into admitting that the Czech visitors had given them money and "subversive materials." Reuters cited diplomatic sources in Havana as saying they expect that Pilip and Bubenik will be deported from Cuba. MS

CZECH JUSTICE MINISTER SENDS TREASON CASE TO SUPREME COURT

Justice Minister Pavel Rychetsky has asked the Supreme Court to order a Prague district court to instigate criminal proceedings against Karel Hoffman, CTK reported on 15 January. Hoffman, a high Czechoslovak Communist Party official, ordered radio and television to stop broadcasting after Warsaw Pact troops invaded the country in August 1968, thus preventing the broadcast of resolutions of the government and the party condemning the invasion. In June 2000, the Prague district court returned the case to the Prosecutor-General's office, saying it is not based on sufficient evidence, which the office denies. The Prague High Court of Justice refused to act on the Prosecutor General's appeal, which then asked the Justice Ministry to interfere (see related item in Slovak section below). MS

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER WARNS AGAINST 'MISSING THE EU TRAIN'

If Slovakia failed to join the EU by 2004, it will not become a member of the union before 2010, Pavol Hamzik, the deputy premier in charge of EU integration, warned on 15 January. Hamzik said that it will take the EU time to evaluate the results of the first expansion wave, and failure to make it to this wave will lead to political turmoil in the country. He called for the speedy approval by the parliament of reforms required by the accession drive, and, in particular, of a constitutional amendment on the country's administrative division and of the civil service reform, AP and CTK reported. Both measures have been delayed by differences in the ruling coalition, and particularly between the Hungarian Coalition Party and the other coalition members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). MS

BELGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER EXPLAINS VISA RESTRICTIONS TO SLOVAKS

Visiting Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne on 15 January told journalists that his country will be in a position to lift visa requirements imposed on Slovak citizens when those who intend to appeal for asylum in his country learn more about the recent measures for restricting such applications and when Slovakia's own efforts to "help its ethnic minorities" bear fruit. He said the tightening of asylum policies has already led to a drop in applications, most of which came from Slovak Roma. Duquesne and his Slovak counterpart, Ladislav Pittner, signed an accord for the exchange of information between their ministries and for cooperation in efforts to curb the organized smuggling of people from Slovakia into Belgium and other EU countries, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER OPPOSES AMNESTY FOR BILAK

Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky will not ask President Rudolf Schuster to grant an amnesty to Vasil Bilak, the Czechoslovak Communist Party ideologist charged with treason in connection with the "invitation" sent to Warsaw Pact countries to extend "brotherly help" to Czechoslovakia in 1968, CTK reported, citing a ministry spokeswoman. Bilak, 83, has refused to ask President Rudolf Schuster for a pardon, but the president may still grant one, despite Carnogursky's position. MS

ECONOMY MINISTER PRESENTS HUNGARY'S SZECHENYI PLAN

Gyorgy Matolcsy on 15 January presented details of the 55 tenders worth 100 billion forints ($357 million) which form the government's economic program called the "Szechenyi plan." Matolcsy said the main objective of the plan is to secure foreign investment and effectively expand supply possibilities. Of the 100 billion forints in non-refundable state subsidies, 45 billion will be available for small- and medium-size enterprises, 20 billion for tourism, and 30 billion for the government's housing program. MSZ




YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HAS 'NO TIME' FOR DEL PONTE

Aleksandar Popovic, who is deputy head of President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, said in Belgrade on 15 January that his chief has no time to meet Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. She is slated to visit Belgrade on 23 January. Popovic said: "Mr. Kostunica can receive presidents or prime ministers, and Madame Del Ponte is neither one nor the other. She is not even a foreign minister of a country, or an ambassador who brings accreditations. ...Mr. Kostunica's day has 24 hours, and Madame Del Ponte is not high enough in some hierarchy for Mr. Kostunica to receive her." When a reporter asked Popovic why Kostunica can find time for film director Emir Kusturica, Popovic replied: "He's more important for us than is Carla Del Ponte," "Danas" reported. PM

DEL PONTE HAS 'SEALED INDICTMENTS' FOR YUGOSLAV LEADER

Del Ponte said in Zagreb on 15 January that "I hope that President Kostunica...will find some time to meet me. He is meeting a lot of people. I don't think that he won't find time to meet the prosecutor of the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia)," Reuters reported. She told Brussels' "Le Soir" that she wants to give Kostunica an unspecified number of secret indictments, Reuters reported. "I'll say these individuals are indicted by the tribunal. Here are the indictments, here are the arrest orders. Do your duty. I will hand over everything, even the sealed indictments. A great many of these people are refugees in Serbia. President Kostunica has the means to cooperate. It's a question of will," she added. PM

BATIC WARNS YUGOSLAV LEADER AGAINST 'SPITE'

In Belgrade on 15 January, Serbian Justice Minister-designate Vladan Batic called Kostunica's decision "politically harmful," AP reported. He told Radio B-92 that the tribunal is a "fact of life" that cannot be ignored. He warned official Belgrade to stop acting "in spite" toward The Hague. Kostunica has previously met with foreign ministers, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, and aides to top foreign leaders, as well as with heads of state and government. One person he "did not have time" for was U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2000). Serbia's macho culture often has difficulties dealing with powerful, strong-willed women. In any event, the international community has lost potential leverage over Kostunica by extending early recognition and aid to his government before getting firm commitments regarding Belgrade's cooperation with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). PM

YUGOSLAV OPPOSITION LEADER SLAMS KOSTUNICA-MILOSEVIC MEETING

Momcilo Perisic, who is a leading member of Kostunica's political coalition and a former head of the General Staff, said in Belgrade that Kostunica should have arrested President Slobodan Milosevic instead of meeting with him recently, "Vesti" reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). Predrag Markovic of the G-17 Plus group of economists said that Kostunica should have asked Milosevic what he did with all the money he stole instead of talking politics with him. But coalition member Dusan Mihajlovic (see below) said that he "trusts" Kostunica even if it is not yet clear why he agreed to meet the former dictator. Mihajlovic added that Milosevic should, in any event, follow the example of former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and turn himself in to the tribunal rather than engage in politics. PM

DEL PONTE 'CLEARS UP MISUNDERSTANDINGS' IN CROATIA

Speaking in Zagreb on 15 January, Del Ponte said that she has "withdrawn the invitation" for General Petar Stipetic, who heads the General Staff, to testify before the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). She added, however, that Stipetic has "offered" to "be interviewed" by the court, Reuters reported. Del Ponte concluded that "we think now we have found a solution to all our problems, and from tomorrow our cooperation [between Zagreb and the tribunal] will be of the best." "Jutarnji list" quoted her as adding that she brought no new indictments of suspected Croatian war criminals. She stressed that the court wants to try individual war criminals and is not seeking a blanket condemnation of the Croatian army's 1995 offensives against Serbian rebels. Many Croats suspect the tribunal of taking a much tougher stand toward Croatia than toward Serbia or the Serbian rebels. PM

MILOSEVIC MINISTER BEATEN IN SERBIAN CAPITAL

Unidentified persons attacked and beat Bratislava Buba Morina in Belgrade on 15 January, "Glas Javnosti" reported. Her party -- the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) of Mira Markovic -- called the assault "organized" and suggested that there was a political motive. Morina was minister for refugee affairs under the Milosevic regime. JUL is extremely unpopular and did not even win 1 percent of the votes in the recent elections. Many refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova regarded Morina and the regime as cynical and insensitive toward their plight. PM

OPEN FILES IN SERBIA?

Dusan Mihajlovic, who is slated to head the police in the new Serbian government, told "Blic" of 16 January that he wants to open the archives of the security services. He called such a move "very important." PM

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION REJECTS PLAN FOR ELECTIONS, REFERENDUM

Meeting in Podgorica on 15 January, the steering committee of the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) rejected President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists' (DPS) call for early elections, to be followed by a referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2001). The SNP leaders said that they want elections to be held in May, after which the new parliament would pass a law on the referendum, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, the steering committee of the Social Democratic Party agreed to the DPS' proposal on the condition that all parties agree in writing to hold the referendum by the end of June. PM

YUGOSLAV, MACEDONIAN EXPERTS EXAMINE BORDER ISSUES

Representatives of the Yugoslav and Macedonian governments are slated to begin four days of closed-door talks on 16 January, Beta reported from Skopje. The experts will seek to clear up outstanding issues in defining the two countries' common frontier. Borders between republics were often poorly defined in former Yugoslavia. Following the split-up of that country, the Milosevic regime took advantage of Macedonia's military weakness to occupy several strategic positions on the Serbian-Macedonian frontier. PM

CONCERN IN EU OVER U.S. BALKAN POLICY

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an EU diplomat told dpa in Brussels on 15 January that "we are concerned about the [recent] statement [by President-elect George W. Bush] that the U.S. may withdraw from its peacekeeping operations in Kosovo." The diplomat stressed that, "for military success in the Balkans, a U.S. presence in both Kosovo and Bosnia is necessary" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). Bush told "The New York Times" of 14 January that "we'd like for [the European allies] to be the peacekeepers. And they know that." He added that "I'll honor the agreements that [the Clinton administration] has made. And we've got an agreement to be in the Balkans. And it's going to take a while [to reduce the U.S. presence], and I understand that." PM

UN CRIME FIGHTING FORCE IN KOSOVA

UN police spokesman Dimitri Kaportsev said in Prishtina on 15 January that they have set up a 30-member intelligence unit to deal with the growing problem of organized crime on a province-wide level, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 January 2001). PM

NON-NATIONALISTS TAKE KEY POSTS IN BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT

The new parliament of the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation held its constituent meeting in Sarajevo on 15 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. For the first time in a post-communist Bosnian legislative body, the key offices have gone to members of non-nationalist parties, namely to members of the 10-party Alliance for Change. The new speaker is Enver Kreso, and his deputy is Ivan Brigic. The secretary-general of the House of Representatives is Slavica Gebert. Members of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) walked out and called a party meeting for the following day. HDZ leaders argue that their party received some 90 percent of the ethnic Croatian votes. They demand a separate Croatian political entity, which the international community has previously rejected as a violation of the Dayton agreement. Brigic and Gebert are non-nationalist Croats. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PREMIER BANS MINISTERS FROM POLITICS

Mladen Ivanic said in Banja Luka on 15 January that cabinet members will not be allowed to engage in partisan political activities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that he is trying to find a "solution" to the international community's objections to the inclusion of a member of the hard-line nationalist Serbian Democratic party in his cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESTITUTION LAW

The Chamber of Deputies on 16 January approved a law for the restitution of dwellings nationalized by the communist regime, Mediafax reported. The vote was 222 in favor and 73 against, with one deputy abstaining. The law was opposed by the Greater Romania Party. The chamber voted to accept the version of the law approved last year by a mediation commission of the two houses of the parliament, after they had separately voted on different versions. Since the Senate has already approved the mediation commission's version, the law can be promulgated by President Ion Iliescu, unless an appeal is launched at the Constitutional Court within five days. MS

ROMANIA REPLIES TO EU ON VISA LIFTING REQUIREMENTS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 15 January sent a letter to European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi and the government separately replied to the questionnaire sent by the commission in connection with the 18 December decision to lift visa requirements on Romanian nationals when Romania meets the conditions for this decision. Both letters detail the measures Romania will undertake to secure its borders against illegal immigration, bring asylum-granting legislation in line with that of the EU, and introduce standard EU-type passports, as well as provide a precise calendar for the fulfillment of these EU-imposed conditions, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

WORLD BANK MISSION VISITS ROMANIA

Andrew Vorkink, World Bank director for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, on 15 January met with Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu, reviewing the new cabinet's plans and the extent to which they fit into previous agreements with the bank on lending to Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vorkink will continue meetings with Romanian officials until 20 January. An IMF delegation is also expected to review later this month the provisions of the budget that the Nastase cabinet intends to submit to the parliament. Nastase has several time said that he wants to negotiate with the IMF a larger deficit than that provided in the accords signed with Romania by the previous coalition. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN COURT POET CHANGED PARTIES, NOT POLITICS

Adrian Paunescu, who has been elected a senator on the lists of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), on 15 January demanded that PDSR parliamentary group chairman Ioan Solcanu provide "clarification" on the agreement reached by the PDSR with the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) on the appointment of UDMR deputy prefects in several counties, Mediafax reported. Paunescu, a former Ceausescu court poet, represented the Socialist Labor Party in the Senate between 1992 and 1996 and has now been reappointed chairman of the Senate's Culture Commission. Solcanu said the agreement covers Harghita, Covasna, Salaj, Satu-Mare, and Mures counties. MS

INFORMATION MINISTER RESPONDS TO PREDECESSOR'S CRITICISM

Responding to criticism by Peter Eckstein Kovacs, former minister in charge of national minorities, Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu said "the cabinet as a whole," rather than a single minister, is representing the interests of national minorities in the Nastase cabinet. Eckstein Kovacs on 14 January criticized the decision to subordinate the former Department for the Protection of National Minorities to the Public Information Ministry. That department is now called the Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations, Mediafax reported. The agency also reported that the PDSR and the UDMR have agreed to support in the Chamber of Deputies the same version of the Public Administration Law that has already been approved by the Senate. Among other things, the law allows bilingual signs in localities where 20 percent or more are members of national minorities and the use of minority languages in contact with the authorities in those localities MS

MOLDOVAN INTERIOR MINISTER RUNS ON COMMUNIST LISTS

Interior Minister Vladimir Turcan on 15 January told journalists that he is running on the lists of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in the early elections scheduled for February, Flux and Infotag reported. Turcan said his decision to do so does not stem from "ideological considerations." He explained that: "I have accepted [PCM leader Vladimir] Voronin's offer...because I share the Communists' viewpoint on the need to strengthen the law enforcement bodies and impose on the country a dictatorship of the law." MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN IN BULGARIA

Visiting Slovak parliamentary chairman Josef Migas on 15 January met with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova and told her Bulgaria's NATO membership would contribute to stability in southeastern Europe, TASK and CTK reported. Migas also held talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Yordan Sokolov, on the two countries' efforts to gain EU membership. Migas praised the EU decision to abolish visa requirements for Bulgarian citizens. He added that it is "paradoxical" that visa requirements for Slovak citizens have been introduced at a time when Slovakia is nearing EU membership. He said that Slovakia's "Romany issue" is one reflecting "difficult historic and social problems" that required close cooperation among all EU members and associated members and the assistance of the EU as a whole. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO DISCUSS WATER SUPPLY PROGRAM

The government will discuss this week a program aimed at coping with Bulgaria's increasingly difficult problem of water supplies, Environment and Water Minister Evdokia Maneva said on Bulgarian Radio on 14 January. On 11 January, officials from the ministry said Premier Ivan Kostov's cabinet is planning to limit daily water consumption to cope with expected shortages due to the 2000 drought and to chronic leakage problems, AP reported. The cabinet is planning to revamp the water supply system through a $2.3 billion investment program. The authorities intend to limit daily water consumption to 200 liters per person. Due to leakage, per capita consumption in Sofia now equals some 600 liters, compared to about 150 liters per person in large West European cities. MS




There is no end note today.





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