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Newsline - January 22, 2001




PUTIN SAYS DEBT PAYMENT DELAY 'TECHNICAL, TEMPORARY'

President Vladimir Putin said on 19 January that Moscow's delay in making scheduled debt payments to the Paris Club is the result of what he described as "technical, temporary" problems, ITAR-TASS reported. At a Kremlin meeting, Putin asked Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov whether two weeks is enough to resolve those problems. When Kasyanov said it is, Putin said that "the problem will be solved" by mid-February. He added that "Russia has never refused and will not refuse to fulfill its financial obligations," but that the government must work harder to reschedule the country's obligations, especially of Soviet-era debt. Kasyanov asked the parliament to amend the 2001 budget to allow for payments, noting that "without changes in the budget, we cannot find our way out of the situation." Duma debt commission chairman Vladimir Nikitin said that Moscow "must use all means to write off" some 30 percent of the Soviet-era debt and then pay the rest, ITAR-TASS reported. Duma banking commission chairman Aleksandr Shokhin said that he believes the parliament will soon pass a resolution calling on the government to seek both restructuring and a partial write-off of debt. Duma deputy Oleg Morozov, who heads the group on ties between the Russian and German parliament, told Interfax on 19 January that Moscow must negotiate a possible deferment of payments on the basis of the argument that otherwise "we would be unable to pay." PG

PUTIN DEMANDS ACCOUNTABILITY AMIDST ENERGY CRISIS

President Putin said on 19 January that those responsible for failing to provide energy and heat in the Russian Far East must be identified and held responsible, Russian agencies reported. "We talk a lot about needed structural changes in the government and its departments and we set up new structures, but nobody is taking specific, personal responsibility for the current situation." He said that he will no longer "accept seriously severe cold as an excuse." PG

SOME POWER SUPPLIES RESTORED IN FAR EAST...

Energy supplies to the capital city Vladivostok normalized by 20 January, ITAR-TASS reported, but power cut-offs continue in some cities and villages for as long as 10 hours a day on average. Artem, Nakhodka, Bolshoi Kamen, Tavrichanka, Slavyanka, Trudovoe, Volno-Nadezhdinskoe, and Razdolnoe were still without electricity on 20 January. Prime Minister Kasyanov told cabinet ministers on 18 January that Primorskii Krai will have adequate power supplies within a few days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001). Part of the problem in the krai is that coal supplies have been arranged but some shipments will not arrive until 23 January. According to the agency, the village of Narechnoe has been the coldest spot in the krai: it has been experiencing temperatures of minus 45 degrees Celsius at night and minus 35 degrees Celsius during the day. JAC

...AS MORE UTILITY EXECUTIVES FACE TROUBLE WITH THE LAW

Law enforcement officers in Tambov Oblast have detained the deputy head of Tambovenergo, Stanislav Kiselev, in connection with the death of a retired colonel in a local intensive care unit after an artificial respirator ceased functioning because of a power cutoff, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. According to RFE/RL's Russian service, the local electric utility cut off power to a number of municipal establishments because of mounting unpaid bills. Meanwhile, in Stavropol Krai the local prosecutor has charged Stavropolenergo Director General Aleksandr Pribytkov with acting illegally to gain profit for himself and company stockholders, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 16 January. Earlier, an arbitration court revoked a 583,000 ruble ($21,000) fine imposed against Stavropolenergo for switching off electricity to non-paying customers. JAC

FOREIGN MINISTRY PLAYS DOWN BORODIN ARREST

Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov told Interfax on 20 January that the arrest of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin in New York was not "the start of some unpleasant relations with the new U.S. administration." He said that "it should not be forgotten that the incident with Borodin occurred" while Bill Clinton was still president. He added that Moscow is waiting "very calmly and constructively for the new U.S. administration to establish itself in full," something he said will take "six months or so." At that time, Moscow will "be ready for business-like talks on an equal footing." Mamedov's comments came even as some Russian officials indicated that they will not attend an inauguration event at the American embassy in Moscow and as some Russian media continued to speculate about Borodin's arrest, with some suggesting that U.S. secret services were involved and others pointing out that his arrest reflects the American commitment to the rule of law. PG

RUSSIAN ANALYSTS OFFER MIXED ASSESSMENTS OF BUSH...

Long-time Moscow U.S. watcher and former head of the USA and Canada Institute there Georgii Arbatov said that he does not expect any surprises from the Bush administration, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 January. He added, however, that President George W. Bush's lack of experience in international affairs means that no one can rule out what Arbatov called "cowboy-like" actions. Another Moscow Americanist, Genrikh Trofimenko, said in an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 19 January that the inauguration of George W. Bush means that the U.S. will focus on domestic affairs, that it will drop "excessive ideological considerations" in its dealings with Moscow, and that Washington will seek to build up its military forces to defend its national interests. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" on 20 January said that "so far George Bush looks unimpressive in comparison with Bill Clinton." And "Segodnya" noted the same time that "many American observers are perplexed by the unexpected optimism of some Russian politicians, who say that it will be easier for Russia to work with the Republican cabinet than with Democrats. In fact," the paper concluded, "serious trials are awaiting politicians." PG

...BUT MILITARY PROJECTIONS ARE PESSIMISTIC

According to "Segodnya" on 17 January, some Russian military and security analysts are arguing that with the advent of the Bush administration, there is the possibility of "a new era of nuclear confrontation" and that "a Cold War between the U.S. and Russia is not out of the question." Because of these views, the paper said, President Putin has deferred implementing a decision adopted last fall to shift resources from the country's nuclear forces to conventional ones, a delay that lies behind the somewhat contradictory reports in "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant" on 18 January as the supporters and foes of such a shift jockey for position. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" quoted Duma deputy General Aleksandr Piskunov to the effect that Moscow will not be able to force the new U.S. administration to change its mind on NMD and therefore must press for a new nuclear anti-proliferation treaty, which he said would most help Russia's interests. PG

FSB TASKED WITH CONDUCTING CHECHEN WAR...

President Putin on 22 January transferred responsibility for coordinating military operations in Chechnya from the Defense Ministry to the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian agencies reported. At the same time, Putin confirmed that the number of Russian troops in Chechnya will be reduced, but did not specify by how many. Putin said that the transfer of responsibility "does not mean that the counter-terrorist operation will end. It will continue no less intensively, but with the accent on different forces and means." Predicting the transfer of responsibility for the war from the Defense Ministry to another agency, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said on 19 January that move will herald more intensive efforts to neutralize Chechen "ring-leaders," including field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, and Aslan Maskhadov, whose four-year term as Chechen president expires on 27 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Russian and Chechen observers have suggested in recent months that the Russian military's failure to take further action to wipe out the remaining Chechen fighters is at least partly due to senior officers' desire to enrich themselves through the illicit export of oil and scrap metal from Chechnya (see "RFE/.RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 1, 5 January 2001). On 21 January, the Russian Interior Ministry launched a coordinated operation to intercept all such consignments of crude oil and scrap metal destined for export from Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...AS FIGHTING RESUMES

Chechen fighters launched 19 separate attacks on Russian positions in Grozny, Gudermes and Argun on 20-21 January, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported on 22 January quoting unnamed sources within the pro-Moscow Chechen government. That source said five Russian soldiers had been killed and nine injured in those attacks. But in Moscow, presidential aide Yastrzhembskii denied that large-scale clashes had taken place in Gudermes, according to ITAR-TASS, while Chechen military commandant Lieutenant-General Ivan Babichev told that agency the following day that Islamist fighters who attacked Chechen police in Gudermes on 21 January "were almost immediately surrounded and then destroyed." LF

NEW CHECHEN PREMIER NAMED

On 19 January President Putin issued a decree expanding the powers of the Chechen administration, which is now longer officially designated as an "interim" one. That decree empowered Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to proceed with the appointment of a Chechen prime minister who will simultaneosuly serve as his first deputy. As he had earlier hinted, Kadyrov named former Stavropol Krai government head Stanislav Ilyasov to that post, Russian agencies reported. An ethnic Russian who was born and raised closed to the border between Chechnya and Daghestan, Ilyasov told journalists in Moscow in 19 January his top priority is to transform the situation in Chechnya from a military standoff to civilian reconstruction. LF

GAZPROM-MEDIA TO SELL NTV STAKE ONCE IT GETS IT

Gazprom-Media director Alfred Kokh said in Moscow on 19 January that his company will sell a 19 percent stake in the NTV television network if the Arbitration Court rules in its favor and transfers these shares from Media-MOST to Gazprom-Media, Interfax reported. Kokh added that he is surprised that Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii did not make use of an earlier accord when he sought to sell NTV shares to U.S. media magnate Ted Turner. Meanwhile, Aleksei Volin, a senior aide to Prime Minister Kasyanov, was quoted by Interfax on 20 January as saying that the government "cannot and has no right to create special conditions for any individual market player," including Turner. Consequently, were it to do so, Volin said, that "would be an example of state protectionism and a violation of the principles of free competition." PG

PROSECUTORS SEIZE GUSINSKII'S PROPERTY

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor General on 19 January confirmed that officials have seized Media-MOST head Gusinskii's country house near Moscow because the article of the criminal code under which he is charged allows for the confiscation of property, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Spanish government decided on the same day to hand over Moscow's request for Gusinskii's extradition from Spain to a court, something the Russian news service said his supporters welcome. That came about even as Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov was on his way to Spain to press Moscow's case against Gusinskii. PG

KISELEV DENIES MEDIA-MOST PLANS TO FIRE HIM

NTV Director General Yevgenii Kiselev on 19 January denied rumors that the management of Media-MOST plans to dismiss him from his position, Interfax reported. "These reports do not correspond to reality and are deliberate disinformation" aimed at "splitting the management of Media-MOST," said Kiselev, who is himself a member of the Media-MOST board of directors. PG

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION GREW 9 PERCENT IN 2000...

Russia's State Statistics Committee reported on 19 January that industrial output rose 9 percent in 2000, but noted that the rate of growth had slowed in the final quarter. Growth was greatest in light industry, up 22 percent from 1999. PG

...GOVERNMENT PROPERTY, PRIVATIZATION REVENUES SOAR...

A property ministry official told Interfax on 19 January that the Russian budget received more than 50 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) in revenues from returns on state holdings and the sale of property last year. That figure was 19 percent higher than in 1999. PG

...AS STANDARD & POOR'S PROJECTS 2-3 PERCENT ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 2001

S&P experts told Interfax on 19 January that Russia's economic growth in 2001 should amount to 2-3 percent, somewhat less than the 4 percent the Russian government has projected. The rating agency said that inflation will almost certainly exceed the 12-14 percent Moscow has predicted, but it declined to give a figure. PG

GAS PRICES RISE FOR INDUSTRIAL CONSUMERS

The Federal Energy Commission will raise retail gas prices for industrial consumers by an average of 18 percent as of 20 January, Interfax reported on that date. Tariffs for the population at large are slated to rise by 25 percent as of 1 March 2002, the news agency said. PG

LACK OF EQUIPMENT COST RUSSIA 10 MILLION TONS OF GRAIN

"Vremya novostei" reported on 19 January that Russian farms lost as much as 10 million tons of grain in 2000 because farms lack the necessary tractors, combines and harvesters. The paper added that Russia's domestic production of such machinery can satisfy only 5-10 percent of the total need. PG

UNITED FINANCIAL CONTROL CONCEPT DRAFT PREPARED

Vyacheslav Soltaganov, the director of the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP), told Interfax on 20 January that a draft concept of unified financial control in Russia has been prepared and will be submitted for President Putin's approval in February or March. He said that the concept is directed at creating "an integral control system helping, on the one hand, to avoid the duplication of functions, on the other, to do away with legal loopholes." He added that the analytic center he has been calling for will be within the finance ministry rather than in the FSNP. He said this new body will be "a financial intelligence service." PG

LENINGRAD OBLAST SAYS PRIMORSK PORT TO BE READY BY END OF 2001

The press service of the Leningrad oblast government said on 20 January that the first tanker carrying crude oil will sail from the Primorsk port in December 2001, Interfax-Northwest reported. PG

MOSCOW SAYS WEST NOT PROVIDING ENOUGH AID FOR DISMANTLING CHEMICAL WEAPONS STOCKPILE

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 19 January released a statement saying that "despite the political assurances we received before the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the assistance from the international community is not adequate to the scale of the difficult task Russia is resolving in complex economic conditions," AP reported. The proffered aid covers just 7 percent of the $5-6 billion needed. Meanwhile, on the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said that he hopes to raise additional funds in the West to raise the Kursk submarine, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA TO SEND MEDICAL EQUIPMENT TO IRAQ

Science and Industry Minister Vadim Lazurin told Interfax on 19 January that Moscow will supply Baghdad with medical equipment, including ambulances. No figures about the volume of this assistance were released. PG

RIGA SAYS RUSSIAN MYTHS ABOUT LATVIA ARE GROUNDLESS

Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, who was in Moscow in his capacity as chairman of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, told a press conference on 19 January that "there are too many myths in Moscow" about conditions in Latvia. He said that it is not true that Russian veterans who liberated Latvia during World War II from the Nazis are denied benefits. He said that ethnic Russians in Latvia who are not yet citizens can always "make a different choice and become citizens." Berzins said that "I always urge them to do so and remind them that Latvia will become a EU member and they will thus be the first Russians to enter the EU." PG

ACCIDENT SHUTS DOWN TRANS-SIBERIAN

Twenty-eight freight cars went off the rails on 20 January, forcing the suspension of traffic on the Trans-Siberian railroad, ITAR-TASS reported. The incident, which occurred in the Trans-Baikal section of the track, may have taken place because of extremely low temperatures, officials told the news agency. PG

KOVALEV DENOUNCES DRIFT TOWARD TOTALITARIANISM

In a keynote address to an "extraordinary congress" on protecting human rights in Russia, Duma deputy and longtime human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev said that the drift toward totalitarianism begins with "subtle technical methods," some of which may not in and of themselves appear to be so bad, Interfax reported on 20 January. He called on those attending to respond quickly when "the constitutional fundamentals, civil society, and the supremacy of law and human rights are endangered." PG

RUSSIA'S GERMAN COMMUNITY REVIVING

Leonid Krenzler, the chairman of the German national and cultural community in Stavropol Krai, told ITAR-TASS on 21 January that in-migration of ethnic Germans from the North Caucasus and Central Asia and decreased out-migration to Germany has swelled the size of Stavropol's German community from 13,000 in 1980 to more than 18,000 now. He said that his group is seeking to revive an old German settlement there with funding from both Moscow and Berlin. PG

AIDS, HEPATITIS, TB ALL PREDICTED TO RISE IN RUSSIA

Experts at the forecasting center of the Emergencies Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 19 January that the number of cases of AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis will rise in some regions in 2001. The experts said that the largest HIV infection increases are expected in Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Tver, and Tyumen oblasts. They added that increases in other diseases, including cholera, dysentery, and typhoid are also expected. Moreover, they warned that in-migration may lead to outbreaks of more exotic diseases. PG

UNCONTROLLED IN-MIGRATION SEEN THREATENING RUSSIA

Writing in "Vek," no. 2, Irina Demina said that Russia is threatened by uncontrolled illegal in-migration. She noted that the government is preparing a draft concept paper on the management of migration and will include it in the 2002 budget. She further argued that immigration policies of the center and the regions must be harmonized and that both governments need to devote more attention and funds to this problem. PG

RUSSIANS PREFER NOT TO SUBSCRIBE

A ROMIR survey reported by ITAR-TASS on 20 January found that 76 percent of Russians prefer to buy newspapers and magazines each day rather than subscribe to them. They do so, the survey found, because of the high price of subscriptions. It reported that most readers focus on crimes, accidents, and local news. PG

BURYING LENIN BECOMES MORE LIKELY

Pravda.ru reported on 18 January that the presidential administration is preparing plans for burying at some point in the future not only Lenin but all other former Soviet officials now interred in the Kremlin wall. President Putin, the service said, finds this idea "interesting." PG




ARMENIA SUSPENDS BROADCASTING OF RUSSIAN TELEVISION

Armenia stopped rebroadcasting the programs of the Russian state TV channel ORT on 20 January after ORT's leadership refused to sign a new contract under which it would finance those broadcasts, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. The second Russian state TV channel, RTR, signed a new contract with Yerevan agreeing to do so. Commenting on 17 January on the likelihood that broadcasting of one or both channels would be suspended, Armenian presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian stressed that the Armenian decision was prompted by financial, not political considerations, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

LACK OF FUNDING JEOPARDIZES PLANNED ARMENIAN CENSUS

Armenian government officials have expressed concern that inadequate funding may necessitate the postponement of the national census scheduled for October 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 20 January. The state budget for this year allocates only 92 million drams ($167,000) for that purpose, far less than the estimated 1.2 billion drams needed. In 1995, questionnaires were drawn up for a census to be conducted in 1999, but in November 1998, the census was postponed for financial reasons until 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). On 1 January 1999 Armenia's population was 3,798,200. LF

KARABAKH PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET FOR 2001

The parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 19 January approved the enclave's budget for this year, almost two-thirds of which will be provided by the Republic of Armenia, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. The budget sets expenditures at 14 billion drams ($25.4 million) and revenues at 4.5 billion drams. The resulting deficit is to be covered by an annual "inter-state loan" from Armenia. Social security accounts for 33 percent of planned spending, the largest single allocation. It is not clear whether the draft budget included a separate allocation for defense spending, and if so, how large that allocation is. Legislators from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun voted against the budget after their proposed amendments to the original draft were rejected. LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS ASSAULTED

Haji Zamin, a journalist employed by the independent daily "Azadlyq," was assaulted and beaten near his Baku home late on 17 January by three unknown men who threatened to kidnap him, Turan reported two days later. Zamin, who has repeatedly reported on official corruption, managed to escape. On 19 January, Etibar Mansaroglu, who writes for the newspaper "Etimad," was attacked and severely beaten near a Baku market. He has been hospitalized with head, eye and internal injuries. The Council of Editors representing Azerbaijani journalists on 19 January appealed to President Aliyev to take measures to protect the country's journalists. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES UPCOMING GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING

At a meeting in Baku on 18 January with Judy O'Connor, the resident World Bank representative, President Heidar Aliyev said a sweeping reform of the executive branch is to be implemented in the near future, Turan reported. He gave no details. LF

NEW DATE SET FOR AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO IRAN

President Aliyev will make an official visit to Tehran before the 7 June Iranian presidential election, AFP quoted Baku's ambassador to Tehran Abbasali Hasanov as telling journalists on 18 January. That visit was originally scheduled for 1999 but repeatedly postponed because of tensions in bilateral relations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 41, 14 October 1999 and Vol. 3, No. 12, 24 March 2000, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August and 16 October 2000). LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS FRENCH PARLIAMENT VOTE ON ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

Meeting on 19 January with Azerbaijani parliamentarians, President Aliyev said Baku will protest the 18 January French parliament vote condemning as genocide the killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Turan reported. Aliyev termed that vote a misrepresentation of history. Sheikh Allakh-shukur Pashazade, who is Azerbaijan's most senior Islamic clergymen, likewise condemned the French vote "a provocation...aimed at the falsification of historical facts and at inciting hatred." Some 50 activists from the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party picketed the French embassy in Baku on 19 January to protest the vote. LF

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON RUSSIA TO LIFT GEORGIAN VISA REQUIREMENT

The European Parliament voted unanimously on 18 January to urge Russia to lift the visa requirement it imposed on citizens of Georgia last month, Caucasus Press reported. The resolution condemned as "de facto annexation of Georgian territory" Moscow's decision to exempt from that requirement residents of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

GEORGIA BEGINS REREGISTERING CHECHEN REFUGEES

Georgian Ministry for Refugees on 20 January began checking and reregistering the 7,500 Chechens currently living in Georgia's Pankisi gorge who have been formally granted refugee status, Caucasus Press reported. The re-registration is being conducted in response to repeated Russian claims that the Chechen population of the Pankisi gorge includes armed Chechen fighters. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S WIDOW BEGINS FORMING SHADOW CABINET

Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, whose husband Zviad was ousted as president in early January 1992 and died in mysterious circumstances two years later, has begun forming a shadow government, of which she has been elected prime minister, Caucasus Press reported on 20 January. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER SURVIVES HELICOPTER CRASH

Lieutenant General Sat Toqpaqbaev suffered minor injuries on 19 January when his helicopter crashed while trying to land in Lenger, in southern Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Several other senior officers were injured in the crash, and one killed. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CHINESE AMBASSADOR

Meeting on 19 January in Astana with Chinese Ambassador You Peishi, Nursultan Nazarbaev characterized bilateral relations as problem-free, and called for expanding bilateral trade from last year's $600 million to $1 billion, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. But Nazarbaev also warned that the Chinese National Oil Corporation must take measures to protect the environment in areas of north-western and western Kazakhstan where it is conducting operations, and should give priority to local specialists when hiring personnel. Last year Kazakh officials criticized the management of Aqtobemunaigaz, in which the Chinese National Oil Corporation owns a 60 percent stake, for discriminating against Kazakh employees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2000). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST SENTENCED TO SEVEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT

The Bishkek Military Court on 22 January handed down a seven year prison sentence on former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was taken into custody in the courtroom after the verdict was announced. The court had acquitted Kulov last August on charges of abusing his official position while serving as national security minister in 1997-1998, but then decided one month later to review that verdict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 12 September 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT OUTLINES CABINET'S PRIORITIES...

Addressing a cabinet session on 20 January, President Askar Akaev listed as the cabinet's priorities for this year administrative reform; development of small business; support for small towns; drafting and implementing a strong finance and tax policy; increasing exports; attracting direct foreign investment,; and developing the communications, energy and tourism sectors, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev also ordered the government to raise electricity tariffs by 100 percent by 1 March. On 19 January, Akaev had named Jakyp Abdrakhmanov, chairman of the Djalalabad Oblast Court, as minister of justice, thereby completing appointments to Kurmanbek Bakiev's cabinet. LF

...PLEDGES TO RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS

Speaking at a conference in Bishkek on 19 January to mark the 10th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court, President Akaev admitted that due to what he termed "the difficulties of the transition period," human rights are not adequately respected in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Three days earlier, Akaev had instructed the government, political parties and NGOs to draft a new 10-year human rights program. Speaking at the conference, Constitutional Court chairwoman Cholpon Baekova said international human rights organizations' criticisms of the country's penitentiary system are entirely valid. She called for a total reform of the Interior Ministry. LF




BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE TO SEEK RESTORATION OF GUEST STATUS IN PACE

A delegation of the Chamber of Representatives is in Strasbourg to seek the restoration of Belarus's guest status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Interfax reported on 22 January. That status was suspended following the 1996 controversial constitutional referendum which abolished the Supreme Soviet and introduced a bicameral legislature consisting of the Chamber of Representatives and the Council of the Republic. According to European observers, last year's elections to the Chamber of Representatives were undemocratic. Belarusian lawmaker Alyaksandr Shpileuski told Belapan on 21 January that the delegation will seek the restoration of Belarus's guest status on the premise that last year's elections were recognized by the Belarusian people and do not need any international recognition. Interfax reported that two representatives of the Belarusian opposition will also appear at the PACE hearings in Strasbourg. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS TYMOSHENKO...

Leonid Kuchma on 19 January fired Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was in charge of the energy and fuel sector in Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet. Kuchma's spokesman Ihor Storozhuk said Tymoshenko was sacked following a request by prosecutors who recently launched a case against her on charges of gas smuggling and tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). The presidential decree dismissing Tymoshenko was made public while Kuchma was on an official trip in Germany (see below). Meanwhile, Yushchenko's spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna said Yushchenko has not requested the president to dismiss Tymoshenko, as required by the constitution with regard to replacements in the cabinet. JM

...WHO PLEDGES TO REMAIN IN UKRAINE, AND IN OPPOSITION

"I do not intend to leave the country. Irrespective of where I am--in prison, or at liberty-- I will now, once and for all, go over to the opposition against the current regime. I hope the Fatherland Party will support me," "Zerkalo nedeli" on 20 January quoted Tymoshenko as saying. Tymoshenko fiercely denies any wrongdoings, blaming the charges brought against her on the desire for reprisals by "oligarchs" whose interests she allegedly harmed by her reforms in the energy and fuel sector. The Fatherland Party led by Yuliya Tymoshenko controls 31 seats in the 449-strong parliament, as is thus a crucial constituent of the fragile pro-government majority. JM

KUCHMA VISITS GERMANY

Ukrainian President Kuchma met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and German President Johannes Rau during his 18-20 January visit to Germany. Many commentators see Kuchma's trip as an attempt to improve his international standing, which has become significantly marred by Ukraine's tape scandal implicating the Ukrainian president in the abduction of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Kuchma handed over to Schroeder a manuscript from the Berlin Music Academy's Bach Archive that was looted by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War II and discovered in 1999 in Ukraine. JM

WHOSE BODY ARE GONGADZE'S WIFE AND MOTHER TO BURY?

Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office has agreed to give the body of a man found near Kiev in November last year to the wife and the mother of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze for burial, Interfax reported on 20 January. At the same time, the Prosecutor General's Office refused to give Heorhiy Gongadze's mother and wife a certificate confirming his death, saying that it has not been officially established with absolute certainty that Gongadze was killed and that the body is his. JM

SURVEY SHOWS RUSSIANS RESIDING IN ESTONIA NOT WORSE OFF THAN ESTONIANS

A recent survey by the Integration Foundation showed that stories about Russians suffering great economic hardships in Estonia are a myth, ETA reported on 19 January. It indicated that the number of average-income people is roughly the same among citizens of Estonia and non-citizens. The only significant difference is in the percentage of the skilled workforce which is 35 percent among non-Estonians and 22 percent among Estonians. The survey showed that the economic situation of households is relatively similar, especially for low-income families, and differences are caused by the location of residence rather than ethnic background. SG

OUTGOING RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR BELIEVES LATVIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS ARE IMPROVING

In his farewell visit to Daugavpils on 19 January, Aleksandr Udaltsov declared that Latvian-Russian relations showed a tendency to improve lately, LETA reported. He praised the work of the Daugavpils City Council for its understanding of the problems of non-citizens and Russian-speakers living in the city. Udaltsov said, however, that the two main issues hampering more-rapid improvement in relations are the problem of non-citizens and Latvia's wish to gain membership in NATO. He noted: "Even though the West is trying to convince Russia that enlargement of NATO cannot endanger the country, we believe, however, that this organization's drawing closer to the borders of Russia is not desirable." SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS BERLIN

On 19 January Valdas Adamkus delivered a speech to an international forum in Berlin, organized by the Bertelsmann Fund, on the hopes and expectations of CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan countries for joining the European Union, ELTA reported. More important than the speeches at the forum, however, were the opportunities to speak with other European leaders. Adamkus told European Commission President Romano Prodi that he agrees with the commission's recent proposals for greater cooperation with the Kaliningrad region and promised to help implement them. He also stressed the importance of the Northern Dimension initiative for the region and suggested that Ukraine should also be included in its projects. Adamkus suggested to his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma that economic cooperation between their countries should be expanded greatly. The next day Adamkus held talks with German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. SG

POLAND'S NEW POLITICAL INITIATIVE ACQUIRES NAME...

Maciej Plazynski, Donald Tusk, and Andrzej Olechowski on 19 January announced that their new political initiative will be called the Citizens' Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO). "It is our goal to release the energy dormant in Poles," Olechowski told journalists. He added that the PO counts on support from the political center. The PO's main program tasks are to promote education, boost economic growth, introduce a flat-rate income tax and free people with the lowest incomes from paying this tax, combat corruption, and restructure the agricultural sector. The PO is to hold a national convention in Gdansk on 24 January. The PO intends to participate in this year's parliamentary elections and transform itself into a political party after them. "Judging by the avalanche of queries and support declarations, we see that people are visibly interested in the new initiative," Tusk noted. JM.

...WHILE FREEDOM UNION CONTINUES TO SHRINK

The continuing defections from the centrist Freedom Union (UW) to the Plazynski-Tusk-Olechowski initiative seem to have culminated in a 20 January split of the Young Democrats Association, the UW's youth arm. The association's leading body voted by 31 to 16 to renounce a cooperation accord with the UW and forge ties with the Citizen's Platform. The UW on 19 January held a meeting of its regional activists in an attempt to prevent further defections. UW Chairman Bronislaw Geremek said that, according to his estimates, only several hundred people will leave the party, which has some 23,000 members. He admitted, however, that the emergence of the Plazynski-Tusk-Olechowski initiative took the UW by surprise. A poll by the PBS private polling center found in mid-January that 23 percent of respondents are ready to vote for the new initiative. JM

CZECH DIPLOMAT MEETS HAVANA PRISONERS

Czech charge d'affaires in Havana Josef Marisek on 21 January was allowed by the authorities to meet with deputy Ivan Pilip and human rights activist Jan Bubenik, who were detained last week in Cuba, CTK reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil. Pospisil said that "they are in good health, although conditions in jail are quite unpleasant." He said Pilip and Bubenik were separated and each of them has to share a cell of 6 square meters by 3 with other prisoners. Pilip's wife Lucie and Bubenik's brother Martin left for Havana on 20 January, and met with their relatives the next day, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported, citing Marisek. In Prague, communist deputy Miroslav Ransdorf said on 19 January that the Cuban authorities have agreed to grant visas to a Czech parliamentary delegation that wants to travel to Havana to discuss Pilip and Bubenik's release. MS

'VISEGRAD FOUR' PRESIDENTS CALL FOR RELEASE OF CZECH PRISONERS BY CUBA

President Vaclav Havel on 19 January told journalists in Pszczyna, Poland, that his Visegrad Four counterparts, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Rudolf Schuster and Ferenc Madl have expressed solidarity with the two Czechs detained in Havana and said they would try to help bring about their release. Havel said he is certain their detention was unjustified and the accusations against them "fabricated." Kwasniewski and Schuster both said they are not considering appealing to Cuban President Fidel Castro personally. They were asked by the journalists if they intend to do so as "former communists" who had met Castro. In Prague, Czech Premier Milos Zeman told journalists on 20 January that he intends to use his contacts in the Socialist International to bring about Pilip's and Bubenik's release. MS

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE ON BEHALF OF CZECH PRISONERS MOUNTS

U.S. Helsinki Committee Chairman Christopher H. Smith on 20 January called on the Cuban authorities to release Pilip and Bubenik, saying their detention might be "some sort of retaliation" for the role played by the Czech Republic in drafting a UN Human Rights Commission resolution on the violation of human rights in Cuba, CTK reported. The Cuban ambassador to Berlin, Marcelino Medina, was summoned on 20 January to the Foreign Ministry and handed a note demanding the immediate release of the two prisoners. One day earlier, Amnesty International called on Cuba to grant Pilip and Bubenik the rights to which they are entitled while in detention. It said the authorities must clarify the accusations against them and grant them full access to legal assistance. MS

CZECH TV OFFICIAL ADMITS 'MISTAKE'

Ladislav Paluska, former financial director of Czech Television, on 21 January admitted that he had "made a mistake" when agreeing to take over as "transition" TV director at the suggestion of the striking journalists' committee. Paluska said he had not "fully evaluated" the impact of his step and that he now realizes the measure was "not legal," CTK reported. "I bear sole and full responsibility for that, and there is no reason why anyone else should shoulder that responsibility," he added. On 19 January, Jindrich Beznoska, who was appointed financial manager of Czech TV by former director Jiri Hodac, said he had taken measures to "control, but not suspend" Czech TV payments. Members of the striking committee said they are apprehensive that Beznoska might stop payments of salaries and use money kept by the employees in saving accounts, but he dismissed the possibility. MS

AUSTRIAN TEMELIN OPPONENTS DEMONSTRATE AT BORDER

Austrian opponents of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant demonstrated at the Wullowitz/Dolni Dvoriste crossing on 19 January but did not obstruct traffic, CTK reported. They said the Temelin reactor that has been shut off temporarily must not be put back into operation before the assessment of the plant's impact on the environment agreed on by the two countries' governments is completed. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN GERMANY

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan met in Berlin on 19 January with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer, discussing bilateral relations, Slovakia's quest for EU and NATO integration, and the situation in the Balkans, SITA reported. Fischer praised Slovakia's progress towards integration in the two organizations and said he sees "no obstacles" in Bratislava's way. He also said German financial circles and firms are interested in investing in Slovakia. The two chief diplomats attended the Bertelsmann Forum on international relations in Berlin. Also on 19 January, a Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country "is in contact" with the Czech Republic and is willing to help in the efforts to free Pilip and Bubenik from their Cuban detention. Boris Gandel said releasing further information on the matter "would be counterproductive at this stage." MS

'VISEGRAD FOUR' BACK SLOVAKIA'S NATO BID

The presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland--Vaclav Havel, Ferenc Madl and Aleksander Kwasniewski--on 19 January told journalists in Pszczyna, Poland, that they are backing Slovak efforts to become a NATO member and hope a decision in this sense will be made at the next NATO summit in Prague, in 2002, CTK reported. Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said he "appreciates the support" and added that "after being shown the yellow card, we are now back in the game." He also said it would be "unfair" to change conditions for admission before Slovakia had become a NATO member. MS

SUDETEN GERMAN SPOKESMAN PRAISES SCHUSTER

Johann Boehm, spokesman of the organization representing the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the 1945 Benes decrees, on 19 January said he "acknowledges and pays respect" to President Schuster's recent "dissociation from the expulsion of Sudeten and Carpathian Germans," CTK reported. Boehm, who is also speaker of the Bavarian parliament, said Slovakia "maintains a direct dialogue and [a policy of] fruitful cooperation with the Carpathian Germans," though "agreement has not yet been reached on all issues" under discussion. He said Slovakia's policy was "correct," in contrast to the position taken "by some Czech nationalists." "We would be grateful if what proved possible in the case of the Carpathian Germans and Slovakia would also become possible in that of the Sudeten Germans and the Czech Republic," he commented. MS

CAMEROON CONFIRMS ARMS DEAL WITH SLOVAK FIRM

Cameroon representatives confirmed that arms were purchased from the firm ZTS OSOS, although they mistakenly identified the firm as being "Czech," CTK reported on 20 January, citing French media sources. Cameroon says there was nothing illegal about the deal, which was mediated by French arms dealer Pierre Falcone, and that it paid for the arms purchased from the ZTS OSOS. Falcone and Jean Christophe Mitterrand, son of the late French president, were allegedly involved in the illegal "Angolagate" arms deal that violated the embargo on selling weapons to that country. The daily "Le Monde" recently reported that Cameroon--at the times of the 1994 deal locked in a border conflict with Nigeria-- had purchased arms from the ZTS OSOS. Mitterrand Jr. has been detained and later freed on bail. MS

SLOVAKIA READY TO RETURN JEWISH-OWNED LAND

Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos is ready to accept the demand of the Central Association of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia that land originally owned by Holocaust victims be returned to their heirs, ministry spokesman Feodor Mikovic told CTK on 21 January. Koncos also agrees to the demand that rent collected from land leased by the state and formerly owned by Jews who perished in the Holocaust be used for the conservation of the Slovak Jewish cultural heritage. The Jewish community said it does not know how much land belongs to Holocaust victims who left no heirs, and the Slovak Land Fund claims it has no registry from which it could compile the data. MS

TORGYAN CONFIDENT ABOUT SMALLHOLDERS' UNITY...

Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 21 January told journalists that any suggestion that the FKGP might quit the governing coalition "can be ruled out." Torgyan said he does not intend to hold consultations with Prime Minister Viktor Orban regarding the ongoing crisis in the FKGP and possible personnel changes, as these "are internal affairs." He claimed that his closest aides had been "blackmailed" while he was on a recent official visit abroad, and that the intention of his rivals was to "create chaos in the party leadership." A closed meeting of the FKGP steering board on 19 January decided to replace FKGP Deputy Chairman Zsolt Lanyi and Deputy General Secretary Robert Repassy with Sandor Kavassy and Gellert Bakoczy, respectively. MSZ

...WHILE OTHER PARTIES WORRY ABOUT THE SCANDAL'S MAGNITUDE

Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs on 19 January accused Orban of "not only toleration, but even finding excuses" for Torgyan's implication in the recent scandals surrounding his "costly and meaningless" trips abroad as Agriculture Minister and the "shady circumstances" surrounding the construction of his private villa. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ibolya David, chairwoman of the junior coalition Hungarian Democratic Forum, remarked that the use of public funds by the Agriculture Ministry "can no longer be regarded as an internal FKGP affair" and noted that Torgyan's involvement in scandals "endanger the cabinet's activity as a whole." MSZ




NEW SERBIAN PARLIAMENT OPENS

For the first time since the communists came to power at the end of World War II, a Serbian legislative session dominated by non-communist parties opened in Belgrade on 22 January, AP reported. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) has a two-thirds majority. DOS has already made known the names of many key appointments. A government could be in place as early as the end of the week. "Vesti" reported on 21 January that Subotica Mayor Jozsef Kasza will become one of several deputy prime ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). His place in Subotica will be taken by fellow ethnic Hungarian Istvan Ispanovic. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY CHIEF: PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE IN NATIONAL INTEREST

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the General Staff, wrote in the military publication "Vojska" that the concept of each European country providing for its own defense is outdated. He argued that collective agreements are the way of the future, "Vesti" reported on 21 January. Pavkovic stressed that if NATO and the Yugoslav government and parliament agree, it is in the Yugoslav military's interest to join the Partnership for Peace program. He said that Yugoslavia "is ready to cooperate with all countries that have a similar interest, especially with European countries but also in a broader context." He did not specify which non-European countries he meant, but there has been much speculation in the Serbian media in recent weeks that Belgrade stands to gain by taking a cooperative rather than a confrontational stand toward the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). Pavkovic added that having closer links to NATO will better enable Serbia to pursue its interests in Kosova and the Presevo region. PM

NEW SERBIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS ROUND-THE-CLOCK WATCH ON MILOSEVIC

Interior Minister-designate Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 21 January that one of his first acts will be to place former President Slobodan Milosevic under a 24-hour police surveillance, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). "There is a UN war crimes tribunal warrant for Milosevic, and the local judiciary is investigating charges of his abuse of power here. So the public has the right to know where he is and what he is doing," Mihajlovic told Reuters. Asked if he could imagine Serbian police arresting Milosevic, Mihajlovic replied: "I don't need to imagine, I see no problem with that." PM

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER: 'LET MILOSEVIC GO TO THE HAGUE'

Justice Minister-designate Vladan Batic said that Milosevic must go to The Hague and face the war crimes charges against him, "Vesti" reported on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 January 2001). Batic added that the tribunal is legitimate and Yugoslavia is obliged to cooperate with it because the court was approved by the UN Security Council. He argued that Milosevic has "ruined an entire generation" and must face punishment lest the "entire [Serbian people] remain a victim and hostage" of the former leader and others under indictment. PM

MORE MILOSEVIC RELATIVES RETURN HOME

Milosevic's daughter-in-law and toddler grandson returned from Moscow to Belgrade on an Aeroflot flight on 21 January, Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). There is still no word on the whereabouts or plans of Milosevic's son, Marko. PM

SERBIAN EXPERTS: ECONOMY LIKELY VICTIM OF 'URANIUM CAMPAIGN'

Several Serbian economic and scientific experts told journalists in Belgrade recently that the ongoing "uranium campaign" has already begun to have a negative impact on hopes of improving the economy by boosting agricultural exports, "Vesti" reported on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Reports," 9 January 2001). Dragisa Raicevic, who heads the agriculture faculty in Zemun, noted that some foreign firms have already begun to cancel orders for Serbian mineral water. He added that Serbian agriculturists had hoped to earn much money by offering foreign markets "healthy food," but that these hopes have been dashed. Ivan Lackovic of the electro-technical faculty added that the campaign has frightened off many potential investors from abroad. Medical specialist Zeljka Ilic noted that stress, not uranium, has been the main problem for people's health stemming from the 1999 bombing campaign. PM

CLINTON LIFTS REMAINING U.S. SANCTIONS AGAINST SERBIA

Outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton notified Congress on 19 January that he is lifting the remaining "outer wall" of sanctions imposed in 1999 against Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The ban on financial dealings by Milosevic and 80 members of his entourage remains in force. Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade that "a good deal" of the sanctions no longer exist but did not elaborate. PM

MONTENEGRIN FOREIGN MINSTER WARNS OF EU 'BELGRADE LOBBY'

Branko Lukovac said that the EU has damaged its credibility in Montenegrin eyes by insisting recently that Montenegro not declare independence, "Vesti" reported on 21 January. He added that an unnamed "Belgrade lobby" in Brussels has done much to strengthen Serbia's position at the expense of that of Montenegro. Lukovac argued that Montenegro hopes that the international community will not "penalize" it because it has chosen to seek independence by peaceful means rather than through armed struggle. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan made similar remarks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 21 January. In the weekly "NIN" on 19 January, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that he is optimistic that Serbia and Montenegro can remain united. He added, however, that he will not try to stand in Montenegro's way if its citizens opt for independence in a referendum. PM

KOSTUNICA STILL AMBIGUOUS ON BOSNIAN PEACE PACT

Kostunica said in Sarajevo on 18 January that he respects the 1995 Dayton peace agreements but has doubts about their legality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). "You know that the Dayton peace agreement was negotiated only with Slobodan Milosevic. You know that the agreement was signed by only Milosevic, despite the fact he was the Serbian, not the Yugoslav president," AP reported. Kostunica added that he foresees that Dayton will be replaced at some point by "other solutions" but did not elaborate. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PRIME MINISTER SACKS NATIONALIST APPOINTEE

Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said on 18 January in Banja Luka that he has replaced Goran Popovic as trade minister and named him to head the customs office instead, AP reported. Ivanic was under heavy pressure from the U.S. to exclude all members of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) from the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). Ivanic is also under pressure from Bosnian Serb President Mirko Sarovic (SDS) to include at least one member of that party in a cabinet post. The SDS has won all Bosnian Serb elections over the past ten years. PM

POLITICAL CHARGES AND COUNTERCHARGES IN MACEDONIA

On 19 January, opposition Social Democratic leader Branko Crvenkovski gave Public Prosecutor Stavre Djikov what Crvenkovski called documentary evidence of wire-tapping, "Vesti" reported on 21 January. Crvenkovski charged that the government eavesdropped on conversations of President Boris Trajkovski, Djikov, several ministers, leaders of opposition parties, and journalists from some 10 media outlets. Djikov said that he will work to clear up the matter as soon as possible. For her part, Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska told "Dnevnik" of 19 January that the Interior Ministry possesses bugging equipment but only to use against what she called foreign intelligence agencies. She denied that the ministry eavesdrops on domestic politicians or journalists. Dimovska called for the matter to be cleared up quickly. PM

GRENADE ATTACK ON MACEDONIAN POLICE STATION

One policeman was killed and three injured when a grenade struck the police station in the ethnic Albanian village of Tearce on 22 January, AP reported. Police are investigating. There have been attacks on police stations in ethnic Albanian regions in previous years with motives ranging from political to criminal. PM

ALBANIA, YUGOSLAVIA RENEW DIPLOMATIC TIES

The Information Ministry said in a statement on 19 January that Belgrade and Tirana have reestablished diplomatic relations, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). PM

NASTASE ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF ROMANIAN RULING PARTY

The 869 delegates to the extraordinary National Conference of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 19 January unanimously elected Prime Minister Adrian Nastase as new PDSR chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He replaces President Ion Iliescu, who is barred by the constitution from being a party member during his presidential tenure. Addressing the forum, Iliescu said he intends to return to the PDSR when his mandate ends. Nastase told the delegates in what recalls communist discourse that "one can never be right against the party." The conference elected Cozmin Gusa to the newly-created position of PDSR secretary general. Mediafax said the 30-year old Gusa is a mass-media expert. The forum also added five new deputy PDSR chairmen to the existing six and abolished the position of first deputy chairman hitherto held by Nastase. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN RULING PARTY HAS NEW CHAIRMAN

A congress of the extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 20 January elected Andrei Marga as its new chairman after an exchange of mutual recriminations and dramatic balloting. Marga, a former Education Minister, received the backing of 374 delegates, as against 263 who voted for former Interior Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu. Calin Constantin Chirita withdrew from the race on 19 January, and Vasile Lupu followed suit the next day, urging the forum to amend the statutes making it possible for Marga--whose party membership is rather recent--to run. Of the four candidates who ran in the first ballot, Marga and Ionescu advanced to the second, but neither garnered the necessary majority and a third ballot had to be held. Lupu was then elected first deputy chairman and Chirita deputy chairman. Outgoing PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu was elected honorary chairman for life on 19 January. MS

RIFT SURFACES IN HUNGARIAN MINORITY PARTY LEADERSHIP

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko, speaking at a meeting of the UDMR Council of Representatives in Targu Mures on 20 January, said the 2000 electoral outcome had been good, but would have been better if honorary chairman and radical wing leader Bishop Laszlo Toekes had not urged his supporters to vote for Hungarian candidates who ran on separate lists. He called Toekes's behavior "schizophrenic." Toekes denied the accusation and said that "schizophrenic" is a word well-fitting the agreement with the PDSR recently signed by the pro-Marko leadership. Defending the agreement, Marko said it had already produced good results for the UDMR in the form of the recently-passed Local Public Administration Law and the restitution law passed by the parliament. The council voted to approve the agreement with the PDSR, Mediafax reported. MS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER APPEALS TO LIKE-MINDED PDSR PEERS

Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 19 January appealed to "patriotic" parliamentarians from the PDSR, calling on them to "boycott by all possible means" the approval of the Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The law has yet to be discussed by a mediation commission to bridge gaps between the versions approved by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively. He mentioned by name Adrian Paunescu, George Pruteanu, Liviu Maior, Antonie Iorgovan and Sergiu Nicolaescu, calling on them to halt the transformation of what he termed as "the language of horses" (Hungarian) into Romania's second official language. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WHITEWASHING ANTONESCU?

President Ion Iliescu on 21 January said "one must not forget" what the Iron Guardist 1941 "delirium of intolerance and anti-Semitism" signifies for Romanian history. Iliescu spoke at a ceremony at the Coral Temple in Bucharest marking 60 years since that pogrom. That brief "delirium" excepted, he said, there is no Romanian contribution to the "long European history" of persecution of the Jews and it is "significant" that there is no Romanian word for "Holocaust." While paying homage to the Iron Guard's victims, he said, it is "unjustified to attribute to Romania an artificially inflated number of [Jewish] victims for the sake of media impact." This mistaken view, he added, might disappear when "Romanian [i.e. not Jewish] historians will tackle this subject." Many historians and other intellectuals in contemporary Romania deny or minimize the number of Jewish victims who perished as a result of being deported to Transnistria by the Ion Antonescu regime. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN STOCKHOLM

Visiting Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 19 January discussed with his Swedish counterpart Anna Lindh cooperation between the OSCE, of which he is rotating chairman, and the EU, the rotating chairmanship of which is now Swedish. They also discussed bilateral relations and Romania's quest for EU integration. Geoana handed Lindh a letter addressed by Premier Nastase to Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, proposing the renewal of negotiations between the two countries on liquidating Romania's $650 million debt to Sweden. The debt stems from 1922-1934 treasury bonds and Swedish property confiscated by the communist government. Geoana also met Swedish parliament chairwoman Birgitta Dahl and conferred with Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the International Peace Research Institute, who takes over the position of OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities on 1 July. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON CHANGING STATUS

The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region is to vote on 23 January on holding a referendum changing the official status of the region into "Gagauz Republic," Infotag and Flux reported on 19 January. The referendum is to take place on 25 February, parallel to the Moldovan parliamentary elections. But the assembly will also debate whether to boycott those elections, following the Moldovan parliament's refusal to amend the electoral law to ensure a representation of 15 seats for the region's representatives. Also on 19 January, Popular Assembly chairman Mikhail Kendigelean announced that the assembly intends to sign an agreement with the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), backing the PCM in the elections. Kendigelean said the PCM is "the only ally of the Gagauz," and recognizes the need to amend the Moldovan constitution to include a special article on Gagauz-Yeri. MS

BULGARIA CHARGES PRESUMED LUKANOV ASSASSINS

Two Ukrainians and three Bulgarians are charged with the 1996 murder of Andrei Lukanov, who was Socialist Party Premier between 1989 and 1990, AP reported on 21 January, citing BTA. Media reports speculated that the assassination was connected with Lukanov's involvement as a businessman in dubious deals. The lawyer of one of the Ukrainians charged said the five are his client, Alexander Rusov and Alexei Kichatov (both Ukrainians), Bulgarian businessman Angel Vasiliev, his nephew Georgi Georgiev and Yurii Lenev, an employee in Vasiliev's firm. Local media speculated that Vasiliev, a construction entrepreneur, hired Rusov and Kichatov to kill Lukanov. The reports also said Vasilev had been linked to the Orion business group of Lukanov's foes in the Socialist Party, which was headed by then-premier Zhan Videnov. Rusov and Kichatov were extradited from Ukraine and Vasiliev was extradited from the Czech Republic. MS

BULGARIAN HACKER RAIDS PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE

President Petar Stoyanov's press office on 19 January said it is stepping up security measures after Stoyanov's official website was hacked by an intruder earlier last week, Reuters and AP reported. The intruder left a message saying: "Why did I do it? Very simple: when my parents live in misery and I cannot find a job without the proper connections, when most of my friends seek their fortune abroad, what else is left?" Presidential spokeswoman Neri Terzieva said that despite precautionary measures, it cannot be guaranteed the incident will not happen again because "Bulgarian hackers are so talented." In another incident, the website of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces was invaded on 18 January. The hackers left a message including obscene remarks and their own nicknames. Bulgaria has no legislation punishing cyber-crime. MS




BULGARIAN MEDIA LAW HAS LESSONS FOR CZECHS


By Ron Synovitz

About 200 Bulgarian journalists signed a petition last week to protest the way the country's broadcasting council is handling the selection of the next director of National Radio. The journalists are demanding the resignation of the seven-member National Council for Radio and Television. They say that after one failed search for a new radio director, the council has proven itself unable to fulfill its duties. The journalists also accuse council members of violating procedures that are outlined in Bulgaria's state broadcasting laws.

Bulgarian media law now looks very much like what striking public TV journalists in the Czech Republic would like their country to adopt. But the Bulgarian variant does not appear to be working well in practice.

Members of Bulgaria's broadcast council are nominated by non-governmental organizations from a broad cross-section of society. They are supposed to be journalists, critics or artists. Four of the seven council members are appointed by parliament and three are named by the presidency.

But Bulgarian journalists say the law, although looking good on paper, has not prevented partisanship from creeping into public media.

Earlier this month, the Bulgarian council rejected five candidates who were nominated for the job of directing national radio. As called for by law, each candidate was nominated by a non-governmental journalism organization. Among those rejected by the council was outgoing National Radio director Alexander Velev, whose term of office expired this month.

Journalists complain that the council exceeded its powers by naming an interim director while it conducts a second search. There also are complaints that some candidates in the first round of nominations were rejected because of their political affiliations rather than on the basis of their ability to do the job.

Opposition members of parliament have called for an extraordinary meeting of the legislature's culture and media committee to look into the matter. In making the call for the sessions, commission deputy chairman Dimo Dimov said concerns have been raised about the possibility that the next director of National Radio may be chosen on the basis of political affiliation.

Dimov says the parliamentary committee meeting should take place before the council takes a final decision on the next National Radio director. He also says the commission's session should be open to members of the broadcasting council as well as to National Radio journalists.

To be sure, no one in Bulgaria questions the fact that political affiliations play a factor in the appointment of national media directors. Bulgaria went through a series of short-lived governments in the early 1990s. In every case, one of the first steps of the new government was to replace the previous state radio and television directors with their own candidates.

President Petar Stoyanov's chief spokeswoman, Neri Terzieva, knows from her own personal experience during the early 1990s about the political nature of the top state broadcasting posts. As a pro-western reformist who openly supported the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces, or UDF, Terzieva was the manager at state TV responsible for creating the country's second national television channel, Efir 2, in 1992.

Terzieva attempted to foster a new kind of journalism in Bulgaria based on Western standards of objectivity rather than on the political patronage system of the totalitarian era. But Terzieva herself was forced to leave her post as director of state TV director after the resignation of UDF Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov in December 1992.

In the mid-1990s, the former communists in the Bulgarian Socialist Party passed laws giving the legislature power to directly appoint state broadcast media bosses.

The current media law was passed after UDF election victories in 1997 gave anti-communists control over both the parliament and the presidency. At first, the law gave the UDF-dominated parliament the exclusive right to name the bosses of state radio and TV. But complaints from journalists led to the creation of the National Council for Radio and Television as a way of reducing parliament's control over broadcasting.

Terzieva told RFE/RL that in the current case President Stoyanov thinks the council has abided by the laws. She says regulations on the appointment of a National Radio director allow the possibility of a candidate for the post to be nominated or chosen through a contest with rules that are specifically created by the council. But Terzieva says President Stoyanov acknowledges that he has no right to deliberate on the activity of the council because it is an independent public body.

The media crisis in the Czech Republic sparked mass street protests numbering in the tens of thousands. Public anger grew swiftly after striking journalists alleged that a new public TV director was in effect a political appointee made by the Czech TV Council, whose nine members themselves are named by parliament's lower house.

The public outcry over the scandal has brought about the dissolution of the Czech TV Council and sparked debate on the need for a new law covering public TV.

A spokeswoman (unnamed) for the Bulgarian president says the difference between the problems in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria is obvious. In Bulgaria, she says, the council is waiting for journalist groups to nominate a qualified candidate to head National Radio. She says this provision in Bulgarian law appears to be what Czech public TV journalists have been demanding from the beginning of their protests. Ron Synovitz is a senior editor with RFE/RL in Prague


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