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Newsline - January 25, 2001




PUTIN TELLS OLIGARCHS 'FEARS ARE BEHIND US'

At a 24 January meeting with 21 major Russian businessmen--but not embattled Vladimir Gusinskii or Boris Berezovskii -- President Vladimir Putin said that there has not been an industrial collapse or a redistribution of property. He promised the introduction of business-friendly legislation within three weeks, asked the businessmen to obey all laws and not interfere in executive or legislative branch decisions, and called on them to support an assistance package for veterans of Russian "hot spot" operations. "Vedomosti" reported on 24 January that Putin had made use of an appeal from the group arguing that the Russian economy is "on the verge of collapse." A day earlier, Nikolai Ulyanov wrote on the pro-Kremlin website strana.ru that the meeting was intended to establish a truce between the president and the businessmen who now understand what the rules of the game are. PG

MOSCOW PRESSES FOR BORODIN'S RELEASE

Under pressure from Russian public organizations and Duma members, the Russian authorities said they are doing all they can to seek the release of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin, who is now held in New York on an extradition request from Switzerland, Russian and Western agencies reported on 24 January. Borodin's lawyers said they will seek at a hearing on 25 January to have him released on bail. PG

MOSCOW SEEN FACING DIFFICULT TALKS WITH PARIS CLUB

An article in the 24 January "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that Russian negotiators with the Paris Club will have a difficult time in getting any rescheduling, given that some Russian officials have acknowledged Moscow can in fact pay all that is owed. But another official, this time from the Audit Chamber, told Interfax on 24 January that Moscow has the funds to make all scheduled payments this year. The Economic Development Ministry said the same day that Russia's state debt fell 10.4 percent in 2000 to $161 billion. PG

PROSECUTORS ANNOUNCE END OF FIRST STAGE OF GUSINSKII CASE

Investigators at the Office of the Prosecutor General told Interfax on 24 January that they have completed the first stage of the investigation of the Media-MOST holding company and its owner Vladimir Gusinskii. They conducted yet another search of the company's offices on the same day, prompting Media-MOST lawyers to describe the officials as latter-day "oprichniki." Meanwhile, in another case which some observers linked to the Gusinskii investigators, on 23 January prosecutors detained Mikhail Mirilashvili, a St. Petersburg businessman and leader of the Russian Jewish Congress, on suspicion of kidnapping, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

PUTIN THANKS CLINTON, CONGRATULATES BUSH

In a letter to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, President Putin thanked him for what he called his constructive and well-meaning approach to Russia, Interfax reported on 24 January. And in a message to new U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin said he looks forward to working "towards broadening interaction" between the two countries. PG

RUSSIA TO INCREASE DEFENSE SPENDING IF U.S. DEPLOYS NMD

Strana.ru said that Russia will double its expenditures on defense if the United States goes ahead with a national missile defense system, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 January. In addition, the paper said, Russian officials would respond by withdrawing from START II limitations on certain kinds of missile. PG

UN CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIAN TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS

A study prepared for the UN Institute for Disarmament Research said that Russia's 4,000 tactical nuclear weapons may not be fully secure, AP reported on 24 January. PG

MOSCOW SEEN TAKING UKRAINE 'AWAY FROM NATO'

In the 24 January "Kommersant-Daily," Kirill Razumovskii said that Russian-Ukrainian military cooperation is set to develop to such an extent that Ukraine, which has been tilting toward NATO, will now lean toward Moscow. PG

WAS LUKASHENKA SENT HOME?

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka's unscheduled departure from Moscow to Minsk late on 23 January led to speculation in the Moscow media that angered the Russian government by his recent statements about the United States in the case of Pavel Borodin. An article in the 24 January "Vremya novostei" said that "even the most nationalist and most pro-Western politicians in Belarus understand that approval for the presidency of Belarus is handed out in the Kremlin," and suggested that Lukashenka is no longer looked upon with unqualified favor in Moscow. Two other reports suggested tensions between the two Union capitals. ITAR-TASS reported that Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev urged both governments not to cancel a 29 January meeting, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported complaints by one official that Moscow may not have provided Borodin with advance information about what was likely to happen in the U.S. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has named one of Borodin's deputies, Igor Selivanov, as acting state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union. PG

DUMA GIVES RIGHTS COMMISSIONER ACCESS TO PRISONS

The Duma on 24 January gave final approval to an amendment to the criminal code which will give human rights commissioners at both the federal and regional level access to prisons without prior agreement from the authorities, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA RETURNS CIS TREATIES TO PUTIN

The Duma on 24 January returned to President Putin treaties with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in order that he could introduce clarifications to eliminate provisions of these treaties which contradict the Russian constitution, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA LOOKS TO REDUCE YELTSIN'S IMMUNITY

On a second reading of a draft bill providing immunity to prosecution for former presidents, the Duma decided on 24 January by a vote of 275 to 139 to allow such individuals, in the first instance Boris Yeltsin, to be charged for committing serious crimes while in office, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

POLL PUTS COMMUNISTS IN THE LEAD

A poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion found that 35 percent of voters would cast their ballots for the Communist Party were elections held now, Interfax reported. Some 21 percent would vote for Unity, 11 percent for the Union of Rightist Forces, 9 percent for Yabloko, and 6 percent for Vladimir Zhirinovskiy's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. No other party crossed the 5 percent barrier needed for representation in the Duma. PG

RUSSIA NOW HAS 56 POLITICAL PARTIES

In the run-up to Duma debates in February about a new law on political parties, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said on 24 January that at the present time there are 56 political parties and 150 political associations in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the head of the Central Election Committee, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, said that he expects the Duma to pass President Putin's draft political parties law, Interfax reported on 24 January. PG

MORE ECONOMIC STATISTICS RELEASED

The Economic Development Ministry announced on 24 January that Russia's GDP rose in 2000 to 6,940.1 billion rubles ($250 billion), 7.6 percent more than the figure for 1999, Russian agencies reported. The ministry added that Russia's foreign trade surplus more than doubled to $67 billion, mostly as a result of rising oil and gas prices. Russians' real incomes rose 9.1 percent in 2000 compared to a year earlier, while unemployment fell from 12.2 percent to 10.2 percent over the same period. But Russia built 6.4 percent fewer square meters of new housing in 2000 than in 1999. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry told AFI that it expects legal pay to rise 15 percent as a result of changes in the tax code. PG

FINANCE MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIA NEEDS $10-15 BILLION INVESTMENTS A YEAR

Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Petrov said on 24 January that Russia must invest $10-15 billion a year to keep its economy growing and that a significant portion of that sum must come from foreign investors. PG

ISRAELI PRESIDENT CALLS PUTIN 'A GREAT FRIEND OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE'

Israeli President Moshe Katsav on 24 January said in Moscow that President Putin is "a great friend of the Jewish people," AP reported. "For the first time in history," Katsav said, "the Kremlin had a kosher kitchen and all the food was kosher." Putin for his part noted that bilateral trade between Russia and Israel had passed the $1 billion mark last year and pointed to investment opportunities in Russia itself. PG

NAZI CAMP SURVIVORS WARN OF FASCISM IN RUSSIA

On the 56th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces, survivors of the camps warned in Moscow that "fascism is once again rearing its head in Russia, and we cannot allow this to happen," Interfax reported on 24 January. One of their number praised Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov for prohibiting a congress of the Russian National Unity party in the Russian capital, but participants in the meeting noted that "the ideology of fascism and anti-Semitism is still alive" in many Russian cities and regions. PG

MOSCOW EXPECTS PACE TO RESTORE VOTING RIGHTS

Russian officials were encouraged by a decision of the political committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 24 January calling for reseating Russia's delegates in PACE, Interfax reported. The full assembly will discuss Russian policy in Chechnya and vote on reseating Russia on 25 January. PG

INFO SECURITY DOCTRINE SAID NOT A THREAT TO MEDIA FREEDOM

Vladislav Sherstyuk, the first deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council and one of the drafters of the information security doctrine, was quoted by "Krasnaya zvezda" on 24 January as saying that the doctrine contains no threats to media freedom but is intended to protect the country's national security. Sherstyuk said that unauthorized access to key information files represents one such threat, and he called for heightened vigilance against such probes. But Duma deputy Sergei Ivanenko (Yabloko) said that proposals to modify Russia's media law which had been put forward by the pro-Kremlin Unity faction represent a threat to freedom of the press, Interfax reported on 24 January. Meanwhile, the Press Ministry warned of what it said was another threat to media freedom: plans to ban ads during movies on television. Such a ban, the ministry said could lead to the politicization of broadcasting. PG

STROEV SAYS PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF LAND RESOLVES 'NOTHING'

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 24 January, Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev said that the introduction of private ownership of land "does not resolve anything," Interfax reported. The chief thing is to set up a system that will result in greater investment in the land itself, the speaker said. PG

JUSTICE MINISTRY ISSUES 3,829 OPINIONS ON REGIONAL LEGAL ACTS

As part of President Putin's demand that regional legislation be brought into line with federal laws, the justice ministry last year issued 3,829 opinions on legal acts by the regions and helped to bring 1,338 such acts into line with federal legislation, Interfax reported on 24 January. PG

MUSLIM COMMUNITIES FIRST TO FACE LIQUIDATION

Thirty-seven of the 38 religious communities in Kabardino-Balkaria which have failed to reregister with the authorities and thus face mandatory liquidation are Muslim, Keston News Service reported on 24 January. PG

TRANSPORT MINISTRY BACKS CAR CELLPHONE BAN

Deputy Transportation Minister Mikhail Kozlov told Interfax on 24 January that his ministry supports a ban on the use of cellular telephones while driving a car. PG

SOLZHENITSYN CALLS FOR HARD LINE ON CORRUPTION, UKRAINE

Writing in the 24 January "Argumenty I fakty," Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that critics of President Putin should remember the condition Russia was in when he took power. But at the same time, the noted writer criticized Putin for eliminating the ecology committee and the forest administration. He also said that the Russian president should take a tough line against corruption and against Ukraine because of its moves against the Russian language. PG

KALININGRADERS PROTEST MOSCOW'S POLICIES

Carrying signs asking "Do you need us, Russia?" and saying "Hands Off the Special Economic Zone," some 3500 Kaliningrad residents protested against Moscow's economic policies which have resulted in price hikes, Interfax and BNS reported on 24 January. Meanwhile, the Russian tariff committee said it is working to modify levies that had led to higher prices in the Russian exclave, Interfax reported the same day. The region's governor, Vladimir Yegorov, has offered a guarantee that investors will not be troubled by corruption, and the Duma has launched an investigation into newspaper reports that Moscow was prepared to trade away the exclave in exchange for the cancellation of some Russian debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). PG

THE CITY THAT WANTS TO SWITCH OBLASTS

The residents of Balakovo in Saratov Oblast have collected signatures asking Governor Konstantin Titov to include their city in his Samara Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 January. They said that they had taken this step because "we do not want to live" under Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov. PG

ULYANOVSK BUSINESSMEN BACK NATIVE SON LENIN

Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov said that businessmen in his region will contribute to the construction of memorials at sites connected with V.I. Ulyanov (Lenin), "Izvestiya" reported on 24 January. "Unlike many other functionaries, we in Ulyanov's homeland have not betrayed him," Shamanov said. PG

MUSCOVITES MAY GET FREE FUNERALS, QUIET NIGHTS

A Moscow city official told Interfax-Moscow on 24 January that he expects the city to decide before the end of the year to provide its residents with free funerals. He added that the city is currently conducting an inventory of old cemeteries and noted that there will not be a shortage of cemeteries in the course of the next ten years. PG

BEER GAINS BUT VODKA LEADS

Vladimir Shishkin, the head of the Russian Breweries Association, said in Moscow that domestic beer production rose 22 percent from 1999 to 2000 while vodka consumption fell by 9 percent over the same period, DPA reported. But vodka remains the drink of choice among Russians, accounting for 67 percent of all alcoholic beverages consumed there. PG

ANGRY, COLD PROTESTORS IN FAR EAST TARGET RAILWAY

About 2OO people in the village of Razdolnoe in Primorskii Krai tried to block the Trans-Siberian railway on 24 January to protest the lack to heat to their homes, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. The heating season came to an early close in the village last month when lack of fuel caused pipes to freeze and lack of power stopped electric heaters from working. After three attempts to break a police cordon protecting the rails, the group retreated. According to ITAR-TASS, residents of the village tried earlier in the month to block traffic on the highway between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. Also on 22 January, protestors in the city of Artem succeeded in blocking a roadway and 300 people in the village of Novom gathered in a protest meeting. JAC

KUZBASS GOVERNOR RESIGNS IN ORDER TO WIN RE-ELECTION

Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev reaffirmed his plans to resign his office, Russian agencies reported on 24 January. The oblast's legislative assembly will consider his resignation at its session on 25 January when they are expected to accept it. According to local law, elections must then be held within three months. Tuleev had announced earlier that he wants gubernatorial elections to take place this April rather than in October, when they are currently scheduled ("RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). Tuleev claims he's motivated by the desire to save the oblast money, since an April election will coincide with previously scheduled elections for the oblast's legislature. When asked about Tuleev's plans on 24 January, Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov told reporters that "today no legal obstacles for [such a move]," however, "from a moral point of view there are nuances." JAC




DETAINED ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN HOSPITALIZED

Arkadii Vartanian, who was taken into custody last October and subsequently charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership, was transferred on 22 January from the remand prison of the National Security Ministry to the Institute of Cardiology of the Ministry of Health, Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Vartanian's wife Elena had told journalists on 22 January that he was suffering from high blood pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). LF

ARMENIA, IRAN DISCUSS INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS

Iranian Finance and Economy Minister Hossein Namazi and Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian signed a "memorandum of understanding" in Yerevan on 24 January following a meeting of the inter-governmental council on economic cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Under the terms of that memorandum, the two sides pledge to raise bilateral trade turnover from last year's level of $100 million to $250 million in 2001, and to coordinate final preparations for construction of a 140 kilometer gas pipeline to supply Armenia with Iranian natural gas. Namazi met on 23 January with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who called for closer cooperation between "two countries with common interests" in the South Caucasus. On 24 January, Namazi met with President Robert Kocharian, who characterized relations between Armenia and Iran as "a strategic partnership." LF

AZERBAIJANI, FRENCH PRESIDENTS MEET

Visiting Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev met in Paris on 24 January for lunch with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. France, with the U.S. and Russia, co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group which has been trying to mediate a settlement of the conflict since 1992. Chirac stressed the need for what he termed "a balanced solution," while Aliyev expressed confidence that it will prove possible to resolve the conflict peacefully. Aliyev told journalists: "We have discussed several variations, several versions, but we will continue the discussions and we hope to reach a conclusion." Aliyev told journalists after the talks that he had criticized last week's vote by the French parliament condemning the 1915 Armenian genocide. Chirac said he understands Baku's negative attitude to that vote, but expressed confidence that it will not negatively impact on bilateral relations. Some Azerbaijani opposition parties have called for the closure of the French embassy in Baku and for France to relinquish its co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group. LF

UN COORDINATING COUNCIL FOR ABKHAZIA MEETS

Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations to the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council charged with issues relating to the Abkhaz conflict met in Sukhum on 23 January, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. UN Special Envoy Dieter Boden deplored the lack of progress towards either a political settlement of the conflict or the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia. Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili, however, was quoted as saying progress has been made in repatriating displaced persons. Boden accused the Abkhaz of violating the cease-fire agreement of 28 May 1998 by conducting military exercises in the restricted zone without the consent of UN observers or the CIS peacekeeping force. It is not clear whether he also expressed any criticism of the murder of several Abkhaz police officers earlier this month by Georgian guerrillas under the command of Dato Shengelaia, who was released from detention in Georgia last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001). The Abkhaz representatives condemned Shengelaia's release and accused Tbilisi of creating conditions conducive to terrorism and that threaten peace and stability in the region. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY COMPLAINS OF INADEQUATE FUNDING

Deputy Interior Minister Zurab Chkhaidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 January that his ministry does not receive adequate funding from the state budget, Caucasus Press reported. He said due to last year's budget sequester, the ministry only received the equivalent of $18.8 million, and is unlikely to receive the full 50 million laris ($25 million) allocated for 2000. He said police salaries alone amount to 3 million laris per month, and that staff are owed 12 months' back salaries. LF

INDEPENDENT PAPER FINED FOR SLANDER IN KAZAKHSTAN

Bigeldy Gabdullin, editor of the independent newspaper "XXI vek," told RFE/RL's Almaty bureau on 24 January that he had just received a notification of a 13 January ruling of the Almaly District court fining his paper 5 million tenges (about $35,000) for publishing "false materials harming the prestige" of the sugar-refining giant Sakharnyi Tsentr, which is owned by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliev. LF

U.S. CONDEMNS SENTENCE ON KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN...

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Boucher on 24 January condemned the seven-year jail sentence handed down on 22 January to opposition Ar-Namys Party leader and former Kyrgyz Vice President Feliks Kulov. Boucher said the closed trial "contravened international human rights standards," making it impossible to judge whether the trial was fair. He added that "the charges and proceedings give every appearance of being politically motivated." LF

...AS HIS SUPPORTERS, ALLIES VOW PROTESTS

Emil Aliev, a leading member of Kulov's Ar-Namys Party, told journalists in Bishkek on 24 January that the party intends to hold repeated protests until Kulov is released from prison, Interfax reported. Following Kulov's detention in March 2000, his supporters staged daily pickets in Bishkek until his acquittal in August. Kyrgyz parliament deputy chairman and Socialist Party leader Omurbek Tekebaev, whose unsuccessful bid for the presidency in October 2000 Kulov helped to coordinate, told journalists in Bishkek the same day that the verdict on Kulov constituted "a sort of political reprisal." Tekebaev said he intends to use unspecified "political methods" of exerting pressure on the Kyrgyz leadership to release Kulov, noting that "someone in the upper echelons of power does not want Kyrgyzstan to become 'an island of democracy'" in Central Asia. LF

NEW JOB CREATION PROGRAM UNVEILED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Bishkek City administration agreed on 24 January to allot 2 million soms (about $40,000) for micro-credits to start small businesses, and an additional 500,000 soms for temporary jobs in the city this year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Of Kyrgyzstan's 4.9 million population, 54,000 people are officially registered as unemployed, but the National Statistics Agency believes the true figure is 180,000. LF

TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS ADMITTING REFUGEES WOULD SPUR DRUG-SMUGGLING, FUNDAMENTALISM

Interfax on 24 January quoted Tajik Foreign Ministry Information Department Head Igor Sattarov as arguing that allowing some 10,000 Afghan displaced persons to enter Tajikistan would destabilize the internal political and economic situation there. He said the presence of those refugees would contribute to a resurgence of Islamic militancy, facilitate drug-smuggling, and "increase the possibility of using Tajikistan for subversive operations" against neighboring states, meaning Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He said that international organizations should provide aid for the displaced persons. The UNHCR had formally asked the Tajik government on 22 January to allow the displaced persons, now encamped along the Afghan-Tajik border, to enter Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 January 2001). LF

TURKMEN COURT POSTPONES APPEAL AGAINST CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

The Ashgabat city court on 24 January postponed sine die the hearing of an appeal by Pentecostal pastor Viktor Makrousov against the 4 January confiscation of a private home in the city used for religious services by the city's Pentecostal church, Keston News Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2001). On 10 January, Turkmen police and members of the city administration raided a meeting of the Protestant church in Ashgabat and warned the two dozen persons attending not to participate in any further "illegal" meetings, Keston News Service reported on 25 January (see also "End Note" below). LF




LUKASHENKA URGES END TO MINSK'S CONTACTS WITH PACE...

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 24 January said Minsk should stop seeking contacts with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which recently failed to restore Belarus's guest status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001). "Our parliamentarians should stop all their trips and crawling on their knees in front of PACE or any other organization... We should cooperate with those who want to cooperate with our parliament... We will save several thousand dollars on membership fees and give [that money] to people for medicines," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. According to PACE officials and deputies quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, PACE may return to considering the restoration of Minsk's guest status in the organization following this year's presidential ballot in Belarus. JM

...MEETS WITH KYRGYZ PRESIDENT

The same day Lukashenka met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, who stopped in Minsk on his way to an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. Lukashenka said he is extremely interested in meeting Akaev to discuss cotton supplies from Kyrgyzstan. "We will supply Kyrgyz peasants with the sufficient amount of equipment of which they are dreaming on the eve of the sowing campaign," Lukashenka assured Akaev. Lukashenka's meeting with Akaev was not planned and occurred as a result of Lukashenka's unexpected return from Moscow. Some Russian media speculated that Lukashenka cut short his Moscow visit because of his failure to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to persuade the Kremlin to appoint a Belarusian official as acting secretary of the Belarus-Russia Union following Pavel Borodin's arrest in New York. JM

THREE OPPOSITIONISTS ACCUSED OF SLANDERING LUKASHENKA

The prosecutor's office in Barysau, Minsk Oblast, has accused three local opposition activists--Alyaksandr Abramovich, Ales Yasyuk, and Nadzeya Hrachukha--of slandering President Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 24 January. The oppositionists on 16 January held a picket in Barysau, demanding that Lukashenka be subjected to a psychiatric examination. The tidings of Lukashenka's alleged mental disorder were reported by the independent "Nasha svaboda," which is also facing libel charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001). JM

EBRD TO PROMOTE INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN UKRAINE

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on 24 January signed a deal offering $9 million in guarantees for four large Ukrainian banks to help them handle international trade, Interfax reported. "It is very important to support Ukraine's international and intra-regional trade," EBRD First Vice-President Charles Frank commented. The banks are the Aval Post Pension Bank, the First Ukrainian International Bank, the Forum Commercial Bank, and the Nadra Commercial Bank. Frank announced that the EBRD is planning to open a new bank in Ukraine that will provide "micro-lending" for small businesses. Frank also discussed the construction of two nuclear reactors in Ukraine to compensate for the loss of electricity due to the Chornobyl closure. He said the EBRD may decide to finance the construction if the Paris Club agrees to restructure some of Ukraine's foreign debt. JM

RUSSIAN ENVOY NOTES IMPROVEMENT OF RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TIES

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Ivan Aboimov said on 24 January the two countries have made progress in improving their relations, Interfax reported. "The main thing is that our countries have become aware of the need to break the negative dynamics [in mutual relations]," Aboimov said. According to Aboimov, the positive factors include a 20 percent increase in trade between the two countries, efforts to settle a dispute over Ukraine's natural gas debt to Russia, and eight meetings last year between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma. JM

ANTI-PRESIDENTIAL PROTESTS RESUME IN UKRAINE

Some 100 people held a picket in front of the Interior Ministry in Kyiv on 24 January, demanding that President Leonid Kuchma and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko resign, Interfax reported. The picketers accuse Kuchma and Kravchenko of involvement in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. One of the protest leaders told the agency that in more than 20 cities people have pitched tents, resuming the Ukraine Without Kuchma protest, which was suspended for the Christmas and New Year holiday break. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry denied the allegation voiced last week in the parliament that ministry official Eduard Fere masterminded the death in an automobile accident of Popular Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil in 1999. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES STRICT EMPLOYMENT LAW

Estonia's parliament passed a much-debated law on 24 January that limits the number of hours employees can legally be forced to work, according to BNS. The law sets a national standard work day of eight hours, and the standard work week is now considered to be 40 hours. The law also prohibits employees from holding several jobs, and restricts all employees to a maximum work week of 48 hours, overtime included. Among compromises reached to pass the bill, sponsors agreed to exempt executives, clerics and the self-employed from the law's restrictions, and allowed employers to expect their employees to work up to 200 hours of overtime in a given calendar year. MZ

CONTROVERSIAL LATVIAN MP DENIED ACCESS TO STATE SECRETS

Latvia's main intelligence agency, the Constitutional Protection Office, has denied controversial parliament deputy and former Interior Minister Janis Adamsons the security clearance necessary to access state secrets, according to a 24 January LETA report. The announcement was made by parliamentary National Security Commission chair Andrejs Pantelejevs, who said the decision was based on a consensus that Adamsons's personal and professional qualities constitute grounds for doubting his ability to maintain confidentiality. Deputy Constitution Protection Office Director Uldis Dzenitis told LETA that the original finding had been made on 9 November. Adamsons, currently a member of the National Security Commission, said he will appeal the decision. MZ

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTAPPOINTS TRANSPORT MINISTER, POLICE COMMISSIONER, CALLS FOR OPENNESS

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus signed decrees on 24 January appointing Dailis Barakauskas as his country's next Transport Minister and former criminal police chief Vytautas Grigaravicius as the new Police Commissioner General, according to BNS and ELTA. Adamkus simultaneously accepted the resignation of former Transport Minister Gintaras Striaukas, who is accused of violating ethics and conflict of interest rules (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). In a public statement on the scandals that have emerged within Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas's government, Adamkus appealed for more openness and an end to the upheavals that "cause unnecessary tension in the country...we will lose time for reforms and the confidence the public has vested in the new authorities," ELTA reported. MZ

POLAND'S CITIZENS' PLATFORM HOLDS FERVENT FOUNDING CONVENTION

The Citizens' Platform proclaimed by Maciej Plazynski, Donald Tusk, and Andrzej Olechowski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001) held its first national convention in Gdansk on 24 January, Polish media reported. "Every child knows what to do--overcome corruption, de-politicize the country, and simplify election law... The only escape is to free the economy from stupid laws and corrupt officials. We must carry this burden since it won't be done by the socialists or the trade union-led right," Olechowski told a 4,000-strong enthusiastic crowd in the Olivia Hall, where Solidarity was created 20 years earlier. "There were three of us in the beginning. Thousands joined in two weeks' time. I'm sure there will be millions very soon," Plazynski said. JM

CZECH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT PARTIALLY INVALIDATES ELECTORAL REFORM...

The Constitutional Court on 24 January partially upheld a complaint by President Vaclav Havel and 33 senators against the amended electoral law passed by the Chamber of Deputies last year, Reuters reported. The court upheld the view that the legislation violates the constitutional provision on proportional elections and introduces elements of a majority system, court chairman Zdenek Kessler told the agency. The court consequently abolished that part of the law that would have divided the Czech Republic into 35 (instead of the current 8) electoral districts. That division would have made it more difficult for smaller parties to gain parliamentary representation and would have worked to the advantage of the amendment's sponsors, the Socialist; Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). But the court upheld the provision of the law stipulating that in order to gain representation, electoral alliances must garner 5 percent of the vote for each member of the alliance. MS

...RULING PROMPTS OPPOSITE REACTIONS

Havel, who attended the proceedings, welcomed the ruling, calling it "wise," as well as "very responsible, comprehensive, objective, convincing and balanced." CSSD Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross and ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus both said they respect the court's ruling but will now seek other ways to amend the electoral law. Freedom Union Chairman Karel Kuehnl said the court's ruling confirms the position of his party on the law. He added that he does not fear the upholding of the article in the law that introduces the 5 percent threshold for each member of an electoral coalition, Kuehnl explained that the Four Party Coalition, of which the Freedom Union is a member, has been enjoying 30 percent support in opinion surveys. MS

CZECH COMMUNIST DEPUTY PRESENTS CUBAN CASE AGAINST PILIP, BUBENIK

Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) deputy Miroslav Ransdorf on 24 January told AP that Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, who have been held in detention in Cuba since 12 January, had brought into that country material supplied by the U.S. Freedom House organization for Cuban dissidents. He said the Cuban Foreign Ministry has informed the KSCM that Pilip and Bubenik were also asked by Freedom House to gather information and hand it to the organization's officials on their return. Ransdorf said they had with them a computer, names and addresses of dissidents they should meet, along with computer diskettes and CD-ROMs that were to be turned over to those dissidents with instructions on how to use the materials. MS

CUBA URGES CZECH APOLOGY

The allegations presented by Ransdorf were also included in a statement distributed by the Cuban Foreign Ministry on 24 January. Addressing the Czech authorities, the statement said they should "honestly recognize what happened and offer our people an apology." Such a step, the statement continued, "would achieve more than all the lies and falsehoods, more than all the pressures in this world, more than NATO and all of its bombers and missiles [and] more than all the power of the rich countries and their combined wealth." The statement ended with the words "admit we are right, appeal to our generosity [and] do not again commit the error...of putting our firmness to test," CTK reported. Freedom House spokesman Michael Goldfarb refused to comment on the Cuban statement, but said that the allegation that Pilip and Bubenik were U.S. agents was "ridiculous and bogus." MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARIANS CALL ON CUBA TO RELEASE CZECHS

A petition calling on Cuba to release Pilip and Bubenik was signed on 24 January by 155 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, CTK reported. The petition says neither of them committed any criminal offense and their detention contradicts the principles democratic states abide by. Assembly Chairman Lord Russell-Johnston separately wrote a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro protesting against the detention of "our Czech colleague, deputy Ivan Pilip and his compatriot, Jan Bubenik." Also on 24 January, Werner Hoyer, chairman of the European Federation of Liberal, Democratic and Reform Parties, sent an open letter to Castro saying Havana has "thrown serious doubts over its proclaimed preparedness to cooperate more closely with European democracies." Finally, the U.S. based Human Rights Watch said the case shows "how flawed the Cuban Criminal Code is." MS

TEMELIN RE-ACTIVATION FACES NEW DELAY

The technical problems that stopped the testing at the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant may take longer to solve than the three weeks initially envisaged, Reuters and AP reported on 24 January, citing Temelin's director Frantisek Hezoucky and a spokesman for the plant. Vibration of the steam pipes in the plant's secondary, non-nuclear circuit are still posing problems and likely to further delay the resuming of testing. MS

ZEMAN SAYS GERMANY MUST NOT FEAR CZECH'S EU MEMBERSHIP

In an interview with the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 24 January, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said Germany has no reason to fear that after the Czech Republic joins the EU, cheap Czech labor force would invade that country. "The Czechs are fond of their country" and are "a nation of weekend cottage owners" who would not be eager to go elsewhere, he said. The only exception are top experts who are not satisfied with their salaries at home, but those are "the kind of people Germany anyhow welcomes." On the controversial issue of the 1945 expelled Germans, Zeman said he considered it "politically closed." The past, he explained, "did not start in 1945 but with the breakup of Czechoslovakia and the active cooperation of a large majority of Sudeten Germans with Adolf Hitler." MS

ZEMAN NOMINATES NEW CZECH JUSTICE MINISTER

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek on 24 January confirmed that Zeman has recommended that President Vaclav Havel appoint Jaroslav Bures as the next Justice Minister, CTK reported. Bures, aged 46, was until recently chief judge on Prague's High Court. He will take over the post from Pavel Rychetsky, who served as interim Justice Minister after the resignation from that position of Otakar Motejl. Motejl has since been appointed the Czech Republic's ombudsman. Like Motejl, Bures has no party affiliation. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES HUNGARIAN LANGUAGE FACULTY AT NITRA UNIVERSITY

By a narrow majority, the cabinet on 24 January approved the setting up of a faculty with Hungarian-language tuition within the existing Nitra university. The faculty is to train Hungarian-language teachers and offer other arts-related degrees, CTK and AP reported. The cabinet earmarked 10 million crowns (some $6.85 million) for financing the faculty. Slovak Democratic Left ministers abstained. The decision stops short of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK)'s demand that a Hungarian-language independent university be set up in Nitra, but SMK deputy premier Pal Csaky described it as "a positive and strong political signal." The cabinet remains divided on the SMK's demand that the preamble of the constitution be changed and a separate administrative district be set up in the southern region, and on the transfer of land whose owners are unknown to the jurisdiction of local administration. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SEES ROSY ECONOMIC DAYS AHEAD

Mikulas Dzurinda said on 24 January the record foreign investment registered in 2000 and the drop in unemployment indicate that Slovakia's economy will be strong in the next few years. Dzurinda said that foreign investment reached $1.1 billion in the first nine months of 2000, compared to $359 million the previous year. Foreign investment is also likely to continue climbing, due to the intended privatization of banks and gas and electric utilities, AP reported. The government hopes foreign investors will help create new jobs, and retraining programs are being offered to those who have been laid off, he said. MS

SLOVAK COMMISSION TO MONITOR 'BALKAN SYNDROME'

The cabinet on 24 January announced a commission will monitor the health of Slovak soldiers who served as peace keepers in the Balkans. The commission will be headed by Defense Minister Jozef Stank and include experts from the defense and health ministries. The Defense Ministry said so far no Slovak peace keepers have been affected by the so-called "Balkan syndrome," MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR RELEASE OF PILIP, BUBENIK

The cabinet on 24 January called on Cuba to "quickly decide to release" Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, saying it would view such a step as "a good-will act [of the Cubans] that would be appreciated as such." The government said it is interested in "mutually beneficial relations of partnership" with Cuba, and the release of the two Czech prisoners would "undoubtedly influence positively the further development of Slovak-Cuban relations," CTK reported. MS




DJINDJIC CALLS HAGUE CHARGES AGAINST MILOSEVIC 'HEARSAY...'

Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 24 January that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's indictment against former President Slobodan Milosevic is "hearsay," "Vesti" reported. Djindjic added that he insists on seeing more concrete evidence from the court. He stressed that he wants Milosevic tried in Serbia, adding that the Serbian authorities have sufficient "compromising evidence" against the former president with regard to atrocities in Kosova. He did not elaborate. Djindjic said that the entire Belgrade leadership is united in its insistence that Milosevic be tried in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001). He rejected an appeal by Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Milosevic be extradited as a "goodwill gesture," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She, in turn, turned down Djindjic's request that Hague experts come to Belgrade to study the Serbian court system. According to Djindjic, she feels that such a move would be too time-consuming and that time is of the essence in dealing with Milosevic. PM

DJINDJIC WANTS THREE-YEAR EXTENSION OF YUGOSLAV FEDERATION

Djindjic also said in Belgrade on 24 January that he wants the federation with Montenegro to be maintained for at least three more years, "Vesti" reported. At the end of that period, the federation could be dissolved if the Montenegrins want (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001). Djindjic stressed that he is not so much concerned about holding on to Montenegro as about the possible effects that Montenegrin independence would have on Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SLAMS SERBIAN STANCE ON MILOSEVIC...

Speaking in Strasbourg on 24 January, the Council of Europe's Secretary General Walter Schwimmer criticized Belgrade's refusal to extradite Milosevic. "We have offered them many possibilities of assistance, but we are also very clear [about] the conditions for membership, and one of the conditions for membership for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is full cooperation with the international criminal tribunal in The Hague. We made this very clear. I deplore that there were, and I quote their own press statements of the office of Mr. Kostunica, that there were 'deep differences' between President Kostunica and Carla Del Ponte when they met yesterday in Belgrade," RFE/RL quoted Schwimmer as saying. PM

... AS DOES WASHINGTON

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 24 January that "our position on [the need for a Hague trial for] Milosevic and the other indictees is well known. So we're looking for Yugoslavia to cooperate with the tribunal, as other states in the region are doing and as all the members of the United Nations are obligated to do," AP reported. Observers note that any concession to Belgrade on trying Serbian war criminals in Serbia is likely to trigger a host of similar demands from Croatia and Bosnia for similar treatment. This, in turn, could lead to a collapse of the Hague-based process. PM

SERBIAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST WANTS MILOSEVIC IN THE HAGUE

Natasa Kandic, who is widely regarded as Serbia's foremost human rights activist, told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 24 January that Milosevic belongs in The Hague. She stressed that this is necessary because his victims include many thousands of people in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova as well as in Serbia. Kandic argued that Serbs can come to grips with their recent past only when those guilty of war crimes are brought before the tribunal. She added that she believes that most of Serbia's new leaders understand that Yugoslavia has an "international obligation" to cooperate with The Hague. PM

HAGUE COURT TO DEAL WITH POSTWAR KOSOVA?

Ranko Djinovic, who heads the association of relatives of Serbs missing in Kosova, said in Belgrade on 24 January that Del Ponte told him that she has asked the UN for permission to extend the court's mandate to include postwar crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001). Djinovic added that such a mandate would enable the tribunal to investigate ethnically motivated crimes against Kosova's Serbian minority, AP reported. As several hundred Milosevic supporters jeered Del Ponte and pelted her car with eggs, groups of Serbs from Kosova prevented Milosevic supporters from displaying a large portrait of the former dictator. Milosevic began his political career by encouraging nationalist sentiments among the Serbs in Kosova and later in Croatia and Bosnia, only to abandon those people later. PM

KOSOVA GOVERNOR WANTS PRISONERS SENT HOME FROM SERBIA

Hans Haekkerup, who is the new chief UN civilian administrator in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 24 January that the 700 Kosovar prisoners being held in Serbian jails should be sent to prisons in Kosova. "We think that those who cannot be released under the amnesty law should be returned to Kosovo. We will then review the cases and release the people who have been held without any legal reason," AP quoted him as saying. He promised that the UN will exercise the highest professional standards in conducting the review. PM

SERBIAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION SLAMS GOVERNMENT POLICY TOWARD ALBANIANS

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (HOPS) said in its monthly statement that there is no difference between the policy of the current government toward the ethnic Albanians in southwest Serbia and that of Milosevic. HOPS argued that the Albanians are poorly represented in local government bodies and that Albanian-language media "do not exist" there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 January. PM

KFOR DETAINS VOA REPORTER, TWO OTHERS

A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 25 January that peacekeepers detained VOA journalist Linda Karadaku, guerrilla spokesman Shaqir Shaqiri, and a third person for illegally attempting to enter Kosova from the demilitarized zone in the Presevo region, Reuters reported. The three tried to cross the border via a back road rather than passing through a checkpoint, the KFOR spokesman added. KFOR has moved to cut illegal traffic across the frontier in recent months, but sporadic fighting continues. PM

MONTENEGRO TO VOTE ON 22 APRIL

Leaders of the parties represented in the parliament agreed in Podgorica on 24 January to hold early legislative elections on 22 April. The new parliament will then decide whether to hold a referendum on independence, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A poll published by the Center for Human Rights and the Damar agency suggests that 49.8 percent of Montenegrins favor independence while 39.8 percent are opposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2001). The same poll indicates that 46.4 percent of the electorate favor the pro-independence governing coalition, whereas 33.1 percent plan to vote for pro-Belgrade parties. PM

CROATIA TO STEP UP PROSECUTION OF WAR CRIMINALS

Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said in Zagreb on 24 January that the government will set up a special bureau to help speed up the prosecution of war criminals, dpa reported. "The government is not satisfied with the [speed of] prosecution of war criminals so far conducted by the Croatian courts. The new bureau will work within the state prosecutor's office" to that end, he added. PM

CROATIA BACKS OFF ON ISRAELI MIG MODERNIZATION

Defense Minister Jozo Rados said in Zagreb on 23 January that Croatia is obliged to cancel a $100 million agreement with Israel to modernize its MiG 21 jets because of a lack of funds, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

MACEDONIA LAUNCHES WIRETAP INVESTIGATION

Public Prosecutor Stavre Djikov has launched an investigation into opposition charges that the government has bugged the conversations of several top political figures, including the current and past presidents, AP reported from Skopje on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). Several journalists and businessmen were also allegedly bugged. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has denied the charges. PM

ARRESTS IN GRENADE INCIDENT IN MACEDONIA

Police have arrested three people and issued warrants for several more in conjunction with a recent grenade attack on the police station in the ethnic Albanian village of Tearce, AP reported on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). Local Albanian leader Mehi Nesimi warned "the government not to blame the Albanians for everything that is going on." He accused the police of "brutal" behavior in carrying out their investigation. The government denied the charges. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN BRUSSELS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 25 January met in Brussels with Javier Solana, EU commissioner for foreign policy and security, and will meet later with Guenter Verheugen, the commissioner for EU expansion, Romanian Radio reported. On 24 January, Nastase conferred in Brussels with EU Commission President Romano Prodi, and NATO General Secretary Lord George Robertson. Prodi told the Romanian premier the EU will continue to extend help provided Romania continues its reform course. Robertson said a decision about the further NATO expansion will be taken at the organization's 2002 summit in Prague. Nastase told journalists after the meetings that the problem of Romania's abandoned children has "aggravated" as of late because "some NGOs have used the funds [allocated for this purpose] in money laundering operations." He also complained that "pressure groups" from Romania and abroad "promote the export of children." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL ORGANIZATIONS

President Ion Iliescu told a group of local businessmen from Vrancea county on 24 January that the World Bank, which 30 years ago urged Romania to set up agricultural-industrial enterprises, is now urging Bucharest to liquidate them, but wants to set such enterprises "in a neighbor country"--a reference to Hungary. Iliescu also said that Romania must find its own specific solutions to its economic problems, because "our interests do not always converge" with global economic developments. "They want us to privatize the entire banking system" and "transform us into beggars" who would ask favors from banks "that are no longer Romanian," the president remarked. Those foreign banks, he said, would "transfer abroad both deposits and the profits created by Romanian economy," thus "serving foreign interests." MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPOINTS NEW OFFICIAL NEWS AGENCY BOSS

Ioan Mihai Rosca has been appointed new director general of the official Rompres agency, AP reported on 24 January. Rosca's appointment follows the transfer of Rompres to governmental control and the dismissal last week of the agency's former head, Constantin Badea. Rosca is a former communist journalist who was a spokesman for former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu from 1993 to 1996. MS

NO ROMANIAN CABINET MINISTER HAS SERVED FORMER SECRET POLICE

Gheorghe Onisoru, chairman of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives, on 24 January announced that an inquest conducted at Premier Nastase's request found no evidence that any cabinet minister had worked for the former communist secret police or had been an informer for it, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI STILL CONSIDERING PARTICIPATION IN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous republic on 24 January decided not to hold a referendum on changing the denomination of the region parallel with the 25 February Moldovan elections, Flux and Infotag reported. An official of the assembly cited by Infotag explained that referenda must be announced 60 days ahead, and time is too short now for meeting that legal requirement. However, the assembly will still consider whether to allow the elections on the autonomous republic's territory. It also passed a resolution demanding that Gagauz-Yeri be proportionally represented in the Moldovan parliament, government, Constitutional Court and any other governmental structure. The assembly passed a resolution to establish customs controls separate from the Moldovan customs at all entry and exit points on the territory. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT AGAINST INITIATIVE TO OUTLAW FASCISTS, NAZI AND COMMUNISTS

The government on 24 January decided to oppose the legislative initiative of a group of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies to outlaw fascist, Nazi and communist political parties. The cabinet said Moldova's constitution prohibits the activity of any formation which openly acts against pluralism, a state based on the rule of law, and the country's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. It said the right of association cannot be otherwise restricted and that the activity of parties must be judged according to their deeds and not according to their denomination, Flux reported. The approval of the initiative would have resulted in outlawing the Party of Moldovan Communists, the strongest formation in the outgoing legislature. MS

TRANSDNIESTER WILL NOT ALLOW MOLDOVAN BALLOT

Central Electoral Commission (CEC) chairman Dumitru Nedelcu has failed to convince the Tiraspol authorities to allow balloting on 25 February on the territory they control, Flux reported. Transdniester residents wishing to vote will have to travel to the right bank of River Dniester and the authorities in Tiraspol assured Nedelcu they will not hinder them from doing so. Also on 24 January, the CEC rejected the demand of the National Liberal Party to eliminate from the electoral competition the lists of the Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRAM). CEC acknowledged that PRAM leaders had infringed on the rules regulating election broadcasts but said the infringement was not serious enough to warrant the party's disqualification. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN SECRET POLICE CHIEF CHARGED

The last chief of the communist Committee on State Security, Dimitar Ivanov, has been charged with destroying Interior Ministry files on surveillance and persecution of regime opponents, AP reported on 24 January. Ivanov, now a businessman and the publisher of the Socialist Party daily "Duma," faces a sentence of up to eight years in prison if found guilty. Interior Ministry officials said some 40 percent of the State Security archive was destroyed when the communists lost their grip on power in 1989. The remainder of the archive was partially opened to the public in 1997, when the parliament approved a bill requiring leading politicians to be screened to determine whether they had worked for the secret police or as its informers. The law also allows individuals to check whether State Security kept files on them. MS

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR SAYS POLICE REPEATEDLY INFRINGING SURVEILLANCE LAW

A Bulgarian prosecutor told journalists on 24 January that police are repeatedly violating the country's surveillance law and are guilty of "multiple and alarming offenses," AP reported. Rosen Dimov said the infringements of the law range from failing to respect the procedure for having surveillance activities approved to the destruction of evidence. The Prosecutor General's Office on 24 January submitted a report to the Higher Judicial Council on surveillance activities. Dimov said that over the last two years, judges have granted permission for police to use surveillance measures in 10,000 instances, but the evidence collected could be used in court in only 1,000 cases. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN KING TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT?

Former Bulgarian monarch Simeon II, in an interview with the daily "24 Chasa" on 24 January, refused to rule out the possibility that he would run for president in the elections scheduled for fall this year, AFP reported. Asked whether he could stand in the elections, Simeon replied "That depends on many things. I am a man with a lot of experience, I have thought of everything. Things are different from what one might imagine." The 63-years old former monarch is now paying his eighth visit to the country of his birth and speculation in the media that he is preparing a political comeback has been fueled by a remark made by one of his aides that Simeon may remain in Bulgaria "for a longer time." The daily "Trud" on 24 January said he will stay in Bulgaria at least till the June parliamentary elections. MS

DISSENTING BULGARIAN CLERGY INVITE POPE TO VISIT

The splinter group led by Metropolitan Inokentii within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on 24 January joined the repeated invitation sent to Pope John Paul II to visit Bulgaria, AP reported. Patriarch Maxim, whom the dissenters accuse of collaboration with the communist regime, has refused to invite the pontiff to visit, while the Holy See has said a visit is contingent on invitations from both state and ecclesiastic authorities. MS




TURKMENISTAN CRUSHES RELIGIOUS MINORITIES


By Felix Corley

Their faith may be the only thing sustaining Christians in Turkmenistan this year, a community which--with the exception of 12 Russian Orthodox parishes - has now been almost completely crushed.

All other Christian groups there have had their legal status revoked since 1997, when all the country's religious communities were barred from retaining legal status under harsh amendments to the religion law, except for Muslim communities aligned with the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox.

In 1999 the authorities in the capital Ashgabad spent a week destroying the newly-built Adventist church with bulldozers while Western ambassadors looked on helplessly. To this day a pile of rubble is all that remains. Officials insisted the site was needed for a new road, but it has never been built.

This month saw a court order the confiscation of Ashgabat's Pentecostal church, a ruling its pastor Viktor Makrousov is now desperately challenging.

The Turkmen authorities have done nothing to mask their policy of destroying the country's religious minorities, at least from the locals (they have consistently refused to justify their policy to outsiders). When raiding the Ashgabad Baptist church in 1999, one of the Committee for National Security (KNB, formerly KGB) officers openly announced, "First, we'll deport all foreign missionaries, then we'll strangle the remaining Christians in the country."

During a raid in December 1999 on the home of Vyacheslav Shulgin, a Baptist in Mary, senior lieutenant Davlet Yazykuliev of the Mary KNB told him: "We will hang you." Shulgin and his family escaped this fate: they were instead deported to Russia.

This past year saw the Turkmen authorities complete their self-imposed task of expelling all foreigners known to have been engaged in religious activity. Hundreds of Iranian Islamic preachers and dozens of Westerners (mainly Protestants) were forced to leave the country, as well as numerous citizens of other CIS states. In August 1999 the Hare Krishna leader Aleksandr Prinkur was expelled to Uzbekistan, while in December of that year Ramil Galimov, a member of a Jehovah's Witness group in Kyzyl-arbat who held dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship, was summarily deported. Six Baptist missionary families were deported between December 1999 and May 2000, mostly to Russia.

With the expulsions completed, the Turkmen authorities are close to completing their second goal: crushing all religious minority activity. Two believers are known to be serving four-year prison terms for their faith - Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist, and Yazmammed Annamamedov, a Jehovah's Witness. Several Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are also imprisoned.

Those isolated believers who remain live in a state of fear. Believers of many faiths have been expelled from their jobs, condemning them to poverty in a country where the state dominates the economy. Four Protestants, led by Pastor Shokhrat Piriev, were detained in November 2000, tortured with electric shocks and beaten. They were freed after being fined one month's average wages and being forced to make over their homes as "gifts to President Niyazov". Piriev's home in a village near Ashgabad was seized on 9 December.

Officials at all levels - whether in the KNB, the police, local administrations or the Council for Religious Affairs - repeatedly declare that only Islam and Orthodoxy are allowed in the country, despite the fact that nowhere is this stated in law. The Turkmen constitution guarantees religious freedom, and the country has signed a range of human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a member of the OSCE it is also committed to respect human rights.

Turkmenistan's violations of religious liberty have been carefully documented by a range of institutions, including the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, Keston Institute based in Oxford, UK, and Amnesty International.

The world is beginning to take notice. OSCE chairwoman in office Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on President Saparmurat Niyazov to free Atakov when she visited Ashgabad last May, but her appeal fell on deaf ears. In December 2000, Amnesty International chose Atakov as a featured prisoner, while campaigning group Christian Solidarity's Austrian branch also focused on Turkmenistan. The World Evangelical Fellowship has also campaigned on the country. Adventists throughout Russia and Central Asia observed a day of prayer and fasting on 23 December "in response to ongoing persecution of Adventists and other religious groups in Turkmenistan".

But only pressure from the United States is likely to lead to greater success. Although in September 2000 Turkmenistan escaped being labelled one of the US State Department's "countries of particular concern," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is urging that Turkmenistan be designated as such. The Commission likens the Niyazov regime to Stalin's.

Many believe the illusion that the situation in the region is improving should be dispelled. "We look at the year 2000 as the decisive turning-back point - the point at which it should be clear to everyone around the world that these countries are not engaged in democratic transition," declares Cassandra Cavanaugh, a researcher on Central Asia for Human Rights Watch. "They are engaged in a transition to authoritarianism."

Some say Turkmenistan's move to authoritarianism requires drastic action, such as expulsion from the OSCE. But Gerard Stoudmann, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, argues that expelling any member for failing to meet up to its human rights commitments would not help. "You can't solve these problems by closing the door on a state's ability to participate in the Organization," he reasoned

For Turkmenistan's religious minorities, this authoritarianism has brought them to the brink of official extinction. Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran and Armenian Christians cannot legally meet. Bahais, Jehovah's Witnesses and Jews are likewise denied the right to meet to practice their faith peacefully. Felix Corley is editor of Keston News Service (www.keston.org)


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