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Newsline - February 5, 2001




SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY WARNS OF NEW ARMS RACE

In a speech to a NATO security conference in Munich on 4 February, Sergei Ivanov said that "the destruction of the ABM treaty will result in the annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability and create the prerequisites for a new arms race including in outer space," Reuters reported. But if the U.S. stays within that treaty's limitations, Ivanov said, Moscow is prepared to negotiate even deeper cuts in strategic arms. In other comments, Ivanov said that the Taliban currently maintains 30 training camps for "terrorist commandos from Central Asian, Arab, and European countries." He also called on Western countries to "demonstrate understanding" for Russia's calls for debt rescheduling. "By refusing to waive part of one's profit today," Ivanov warned, "tomorrow one may get results which may turn out to be much more expensive -- and not only from the point of view of economics. As we all know, politics has to be paid for." PG

U.S. AID WORKER FREED IN CHECHNYA

Federal forces launched a successful operation late on 3 February to free Kenny Gluck, the Medecins sans Frontieres staffer abducted in Chechnya on 9 January, Russian agencies reported. Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich told journalists in Grozny on 4 February that the FSB had been keeping track of Gluck's whereabouts for several days before mounting the operation to free him. Zdanovich said that operation involved "no shooting" and that Russian forces incurred no losses, but also failed to apprehend those responsible for the kidnapping. Zdanovich said no ransom was paid for Gluck's release. Gluck for his part said his abductors had treated him "well enough." On 5 February, Caucasus Press quoted Chechen military commander Aslan Maskhadov as accusing the FSB of having kidnapped Gluck in order to discredit the Chechen fighters. LF

PUTIN 'SATISFIED' WITH INTERIOR MINISTRY

President Vladimir Putin told the leadership of the Interior Ministry on 2 February that the ministry's performance is satisfactory, Russian agencies reported. But he noted that "fairly well-known figures who have committed crimes are still at large." Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told the ministry leadership that they must combat organized crime, protect the interests of business owners, and fight drug trafficking. At the same time, he warned the ministry against taking sides in economic disputes: "Any business can be presented as an illegal enterprise," AP quoted him as saying. Kasyanov also said that the use of masked agents in raids had brought the police disrespect, with Russian entrepreneurs now calling such raids "mask shows." In response, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said that the number of crimes committed in Russia declined by 2 percent from 1999 to 2000 and numbered 2,952,000 last year. Rushailo added that there was no discussion at the 2 February meeting of personnel changes at the top of the ministry. PG

PUTIN, MINISTERS MEET ON ECONOMY, AS CHANGES EXPECTED

President Putin met on 3 February with senior members of the government to discuss the "debureaucratization of the economy and the liberalization of foreign exchange legislation," Interfax reported. In advance of that meeting, "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 2 February reported that rumors in Moscow suggest that Putin plans to launch some radical economic reforms within the next few months, cutting spending on agriculture and industry but not on defense. The paper said that not everyone expects that to happen, quoting Federation Council Yegor Stroev as saying that such suggestions are "purely a propaganda move by the Presidential Administration, aimed at pleasing the West." Meanwhile, the Unified Energy Systems (EES) board adopted changes which if approved by shareholders will put that enterprise and its director, Anatolii Chubais, under tighter government control, Interfax and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 February. PG

RUSSIA TO ELIMINATE CHEMICAL WEAPONS?

In advance of a visit on 5 February by Jose Bustani, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 February that Russian officials are now preparing to live up to their commitments to destroy such materials. President Putin recently told the Russian Security Council that Moscow will have to do so. But as the newspaper noted, "Russia has not taken any action since signing the convention in 1993" and lost assistance from the United States last year for such projects when it became apparent that Moscow was not using that aid for its intended purpose. The paper added that this year, the ammunition agency has been put in charge of the project and that funding has been increased "sixfold." PG

PUTIN'S DRAFT PARTIES LAW SAID UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Lawyers and politicians in the Independent Expert Legal Council said that President Putin's draft bill on political parties "is thoroughly and consistently unconstitutional," "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 2 February. The experts said that regional membership requirements ignored variations in populations among the federation subjects and thus precluded party registration for many groups. The draft does not include a paragraph on general principles or "forbid ideologies of supremacy based on racial, ethnic, social, religious, or other grounds." Moreover, its vague wording about "disbanding" parties "opens the door to political tyranny." Despite these problems, the experts said, the Duma will almost certainly pass the bill. "The Kremlin's desire to establish total control in the political arena is understandable," the paper said. "What isn't clear is how can other politicians possibly fail to notice this." PG

VOLOSHIN TO MONITOR PROSECUTORS

Aleksandr Voloshin, the head of the presidential administration, named Nazir Khapsirokov as his aide on 1 February, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the following day. This will allow Voloshin to exercise greater supervision over prosecutors, the paper suggested, although it may also increase tensions between prosecutors and the Kremlin, as Khapsirokov was fired last summer from the prosecutor's office on suspicion of taking a $1 million bribe for dropping charges against Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Petrov. PG

MEDIA CASES CONTINUE

A Moscow court on 2 February postponed until 28 February a hearing on Media Minister Mikhail Lesin's libel suit against NTV and Media-MOST deputy chief Igor Malashenko, Interfax reported. Another Moscow court delayed until 4 April its hearing on a suit by the tax inspectorate seeking to liquidate NTV. Meanwhile, a Media-MOST suit against Deutsche Bank and Gazprom continued to be heard in a London courtroom, ITAR-TASS reported. Media-MOST seeks to change an agreement between the bank and the Russian gas giant on the sale of foreign shares. PG

BORODIN REPORTED ILL

Lawyers for Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin said that they are seeking to arrange consular monitoring of the detained official's health -- he has diabetes -- Interfax reported on 3 February. Meanwhile, a poll of Russians found them divided almost equally as to whether Borodin's arrest was legal or a political act. PG

PATRIARCHATE DENIES RELIGION LAW DISCRIMINATES

Viktor Malukhin, a spokesman for the patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, denied on 2 February in a statement to Interfax that the Russian law on religion discriminates against non-Orthodox faiths. He said it is entirely "normal" that 30 percent of the country's religious organizations had been denied reregistration. PG

PROGRESS REPORTED IN DEBT TALKS WITH GERMANY

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin told Interfax on 2 February that the Russian-German working group on exchanging Soviet-era debts for investments in Russian firms made some progress last week. "We've reached a general understanding on the most basic principles for carrying out" such conversions, he said. Further consultations are to continue in Berlin on 11 February. PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER DETAINED IN DUBAI

Aleksandr Popov, who represents Rostov in the Federation Council, was arrested in Dubai on 30 January after his car ran over a young girl, but he was released the following day after Russian diplomats intervened, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 3 February that it will press for Popov's quick return to Russia. ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February that Popov will have to pay a fine of $41,000 in the case. PG

MIRILASHVILI OFFICIALLY CHARGED

Prosecutors in St. Petersburg have officially charged Mikhail Mirilashvili, a businessman and Jewish community activist, with conspiracy to commit abduction, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 2 February. Mirilashvili was detained on 23 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2001). PG

TAX POLICE EARNS ITS WAY

For every ruble the government spent on the Federal Tax Police Service in 2000, that body returned 22 rubles to the federal treasury, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 2 February. In the course of last year, the paper said, the tax police identified 33,800 tax violations, up from only 4,200 such determinations in 1998. PG

OFFICIAL SAYS AUDIT CHAMBER NOW UNDER KREMLIN CONTROL

Yurii Boldyrev has decided not to seek reappointment as deputy head of the Audit Chamber because that body no longer is independent but rather is effectively under Kremlin control, "The Moscow Times" reported on 2 February. "The State Duma that backed the Audit Chamber in the past as a controlling body independent of the executive powers of the president does not exist anymore," he was quoted as saying. PG

FOREIGN MINISTRY TO HAVE OFFICES IN FEDERAL DISTRICTS

"Izvestiya" reported on 2 February that a branch office of the Foreign Ministry will soon be opened in Yekaterinburg to handle international relations and foreign trade for the subjects which are part of the Urals Federal District. If the cabinet approves, the paper said, similar offices will be established in the six other federal districts, thereby depriving the federation subjects of direct access to foreign countries and companies. PG

U.S.-RUSSIA TRADE GREW 36 PERCENT IN 2000

The Foreign Trade Ministry said on 2 February that trade between the United States and Russia reached $10.2 billion in 2000, 36 percent more than in 1999, strana.ru reported. It added that Russia currently enjoys a $6 billion trade surplus with the U.S. At the same time, the ministry said, trade between the two countries and American investment have not yet reached their "real potential," the website reported. Meanwhile, Russian Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 2 February that Moscow expects to be able to export up to 3 million tons of grain in 2001, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA MARKS 58TH ANNIVERSARY OF STALINGRAD VICTORY

On 2 February, Russians celebrated the 58th anniversary of the Soviet victory over German forces at Stalingrad with a laying of wreaths at the Moscow memorial to the Hero City of Volgograd, as Stalingrad is now known, and with thousands of people assembling at the Mamaev hills in that city where one of the fiercest engagements of that 1943 battle was fought, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, officials in Vladivostok announced preparations for a commemoration in 2004 of the centennial of the Russo-Japanese war, the Russian agency said. PG

FAR EAST GOVERNOR'S FUTURE PONDERED

Federation Council Chairman Stroev told reporters on 2 February that he does not exclude the possibility that Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko may be the first regional leader removed from his post by President Putin because of that region's prolonged energy crisis, Interfax reported that day. However, Stroev said that he does not think the situation in the krai was so simple that only Nazdratenko should be blamed. The next day, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu commented that he supports the idea of dismissing those governors who fail to avert energy crises like the one in Primore. Shoigu added that the president as well as the government believes that removal of an elected leader is "a serious weapon" and it should be used cautiously, or as a last resort. Meanwhile, Nazdratenko has been transferred from the intensive care unit to the cardiological wing at a local Vladivostok hospital, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 February. JAC

INCUMBENT GOVERNOR JOINS INTERESTING CAST OF CHARACTERS IN TULA RACE

Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev has announced that he will seek re-election in the ballot in that oblast scheduled for 8 April 2001, Interfax reported on 2 February. Starodubtsev, a Communist, is perhaps best known for his role in the 1991 coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. So far, Starodubtsev will compete against Andrei Nechaev, a former Economics Minister under Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, Tsentrgaz General-Director Viktor Sokolovskii, Leninskii raion head Andrei Samoshin, former priest Aleksandr Luganskii, and possibly Andrei Brezhnev, the grandson of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Supporters of Brezhnev, who is general secretary of the All-Russian Communist Public Political Movement, are still gathering signatures to support his candidacy, according to ITAR-TASS. Luganskii, who unsuccessfully tried to run for president of Russia, is consider a bit "unbalanced," having cut off one of his little fingers with a kitchen knife at a press conference on 1 February. JAC

MORE POLITICAL OPPRESSION REPORTED IN KALMYKIA

The Yabloko press service reported on 2 February that opposition candidates running for seats on the city council of Elista, the capital of the republic of Kalmykia, have received death threats, Interfax reported. These candidates, who have criticized not only the policies of the city's leadership but also the policies of Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, have been receiving death threats by phone almost every day. The callers reportedly mention the fate of Larisa Yudina, a journalist who was slain for her investigations of official corruption in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 June 1998). Some opposition candidates have also been dismissed from their jobs, while others, such as Vladimir Kolesnik, who "according to public opinion polls would make the most realistic candidate for mayor of Elista," have been unable to register to participate in the elections scheduled for 4 February, according to the party's press service. JAC

NORTH OSSETIANS CALL FOR UNIFICATION

Unidentified public movements in North Ossetia have appealed to that republic's President, Aleksandr Dzasokhov, and to Lyudvig Chibirov, president of Georgia's unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, to ensure that the planned Russian-Georgian treaty on friendship and cooperation creates conditions for the Ossetian people to live as a single undivided ethnic group, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 2 February. The unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1990. Sporadic negotiations in recent years have failed to yield an agreement between South Ossetia and the central Georgian government on the region's formal status within Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 4, 26 January 2001). LF

RUSSIANS BECOMING MORE OPTIMISTIC

A poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center and reported by Interfax on 4 February found that the percentage of Russians saying that "everything is not so bad and life is quite tolerable" rose from 9 percent in January 2000 to 13 percent in January 2001. At the other end of the spectrum, the number who said they cannot stand the misery of their situation fell from 35 percent to 25 percent over the same period. PG

NUMBER OF RUSSIAN MOBILE PHONE USERS SOARS

The State Statistics Committee said on 2 February that the number of mobile phone subscribers in Russia at the end of 2000 was 3.7 million, 2.6 times more than a year earlier, Prime-TASS reported. Cellular telephone service is now available in 79 of the subjects of the Russian Federation, but nearly half of all subscribers -- 1.8 million -- are in Moscow and the Moscow region. PG

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: RUSSIA WILL HAVE 130 MILLION RESIDENTS IN 2015

World Health Organization officials said in Moscow on 2 February that they think the population of Russia might drop by 15 million over the next 15 years, ITAR-TASS reported. At a meeting with Russian Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko, they pointed to lifestyles, nutrition, and stress as probable major causes for the anticipated decline. PG

UP TO 300,000 RUSSIANS SAID HIV INFECTED

Mark Danzon, the European bureau chief of the World Health Organization, told ITAR-TASS on 2 February that AIDS is an increasing problem for Russia. While the Russian authorities put the number of HIV infected at 75,000, Danzon said, the real figure may be as high as 300,000. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said that over the last six weeks, the number of Russian soldiers becoming infected with HIV has come close to two per day, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 2 February. Most of those new cases result from drug abuse. PG

CRIMES IN MILITARY UP DRAMATICALLY

Crimes in the military increased 150 percent during 2000, far more than the 7 percent crime rate in the civilian sector, Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Kislytsin told "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" no. 3. He said that "every tenth crime in the armed forces is committed by a drunken serviceman, and every ninth by an officer." PG

RUSSIA'S BAD REPUTATION ABROAD SEEN HELPING RUSSIA

Writing in the 2 February "Izvestiya," Aleksandr Arkhangelskii and Semen Novoprudskii said that the scandals involving Pavel Borodin and other Russians abroad have harmed Russia's international reputation but that in the end, that might work to Russia's advantage. That would happen, they suggested, if Russians now living abroad were forced to come home and to bring their money with them. And if they do return home, the two authors said, "they will have to develop the country for their children; otherwise there is no point in making a fortune." PG

ZHIRINOVSKY SPEAKS AFTER IRAN TRIP

Speaking in Moscow on 2 February on his return from Tehran, Duma deputy speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that Russia could gain as much as $2 billion a year by cooperating with Iran, Interfax reported. He suggested that the visit of President Mohammad Khatami be shifted so that the Iranian leader will not have to be away from home on the Muslim new year. He also suggested that Iran could be helpful in fighting drug trafficking. "They execute drug couriers there right at the border, while we frisk them," Zhirinovsky said. Such traffickers "should be sawn in half right at the railway stations." In other comments, Zhirinovsky said that the dismantling of the USSR was "the most terrible mistake" made by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Regarding media freedom in Russia, Zhirinovsky said that Russian journalists "have nothing to say" as they've "said it all." He suggested that "let's take a break for around 10 years, and when we are bored, we will talk again." PG

ONE-THIRD OF RUSSIANS SUFFER 'PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDERS'...

The Russian Health Ministry estimates that more than one-third of all Russians now suffer from "psychological disorders" of varying degrees of severity, "The Chicago Tribune" reported on 1 February. That figure is roughly 20 percent higher than in Europe and the United States. In 1999, the last year for which statistics are available, some 3.5 million Russians were treated for these illnesses. PG

...BUT PSYCHIATRISTS TOO ARE NOW AT RISK

"It's a rare year that passes without a forensic psychiatrist being killed" in Russia, Tatayana Dmitrieva, the director of the once-notorious Serbsky Institute, told AP on 2 February. She added that the 400 forensic psychiatrists working in the regions are particularly at risk from those who disagree with their findings about the competence of particular individuals to stand trial. PG

POLITICAL PARTY SEEKS UPBEAT TV SCRIPTS

The Union of Rightist Forces has put up $120,000 toward a top prize of $200,000 in a competition for films and television scripts showing Russia in a positive way, "Variety" reported on 1 February. The winning film script will be produced by the Culture Ministry, and the winning television idea will be shown on RTR. PG

RUSSIANS DIVIDED ON BEST NATIONAL SYMBOLS

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 3 February found that 18 percent of Russians believe that Foolish Ivan would serve as the best symbol of Russia, while an equal percentage believed that the "Bear" would be the best. The news service said that what was especially interesting is that managers and others with higher educations named Foolish Ivan, a happy-go-lucky figure who outwits his older and more deserving brothers, more often than did other respondents. PG




ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT COMMISSION REVIEWS NEW ANTI-CORRUPTION MEASURES

An ad hoc commission comprising Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and the Armenian interior, national security, justice, finance, and foreign ministers met for the first time on 1 February to discuss new measures aimed at targeting corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. Commission members agreed to expedite the drafting of new legislation to eradicate bribery and cronyism, to implement a radical reorganization of the state and government apparatus, and to simplify bureaucratic procedures to eliminate red tape. LF

ARMENIA, WORLD BANK AGREE ON TERMS FOR NEW LOAN

Armenian Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian and a senior World Bank representative signed a joint memorandum on 2 February whereby the Bank will disburse a $50 million Structural Adjustment Credit that will cover just over half of this year's anticipated budget deficit, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That loan is contingent on privatization within the energy sector, measures to improve the investment climate, and reform of the Armenian state pension system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2000). LF

WIFE APPEALS ON BEHALF OF DETAINED ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN

Yelena Vartanian, whose husband Arkadii was detained last October and charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership, told journalists in Yerevan on 2 February that his health is deteriorating daily, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "I believe the Armenian authorities are committing the deliberate, collective murder of my husband," she said. Arkadii Vartanian was transferred from a detention prison to a hospital on 22 January with heart problems. On 31 January, the National Security Ministry asked a Yerevan court to prolong Vartanian's pre-trial detention for another month. LF

TURKEY CLOSES ITS AIR SPACE TO ARMENIAN AIRCRAFT

Turkish officials on 2 February refused an Armenian aircraft permission to enter Turkish air space on a flight from Yerevan to Athens, AFP and ITAR--TASS reported the following day. No reason was given for the refusal. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS FRENCH RECOGNITION OF ARMENIAN GENOCIDE...

Parliament deputies voted unanimously on 2 February to adopt a statement protesting the French parliament's recognition last month of the 1915 Armenian genocide, Turan reported. The Azerbaijani resolution warned that the French move could "aggravate" the situation in Turkey and the South Caucasus. But the pro-government parliament majority rejected calls by opposition deputies for economic sanctions against France and for convening a debate on whether France should be stripped of its co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group, as Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cen has proposed. That group is engaged in trying to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Asim Mollazade, deputy chairman of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, had argued that Germany should succeed France as the third Minsk Group co-chair as the Armenian diaspora in that country is less influential than that in France, and Germany has no oil interests in Azerbaijan, according to the news agency Bilik Dunyasi on 2 February as cited by Groong. LF

...WHILE PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS ITS IMPORTANCE

Addressing a youth forum on 2 February, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev rejected as "dilettantism" the opposition's calls for France to be replaced as Minsk Group co-chairman, Turan reported the following day. Aliyev argued that the French parliament's resolution condemning the Armenian genocide has no bearing on that country's role within the Minsk Group, and that President Jacques Chirac personally "controls" France's Minsk Group representative. As for economic sanctions, Aliyev said those would inflict greater damage on Azerbaijan than on France. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S FINANCE MINISTER SAYS HE CANNOT RAISE WAR INVALIDS' PENSIONS

Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 2 February, Finance Minister Avaz Alakbarov said that it is not within his competence to increase the pensions and other allowances due to Karabakh war invalids, Groong reported on 4 February, citing ANS. Several hundred invalids in towns across Azerbaijan declared a hunger-strike on 22 January to demand a 300 percent increase in their pensions and allowances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January and 2 February 2001). The Baku headquarters of the society representing the invalids is still cordoned off by police, Turan reported on 5 February. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CHECHEN MINORITY

Eduard Shevardnadze traveled on 4 February to the Pankisi gorge in northeastern Georgia to meet with representatives of the district's estimated 7,000 strong Chechen minority, ITAR-TASS reported. Several days earlier, Vakhtang Shamiladze, the chairman of the Georgian parliament subcommittee for relations with peoples of the North Caucasus, had advocated repatriating to the Russian Federation some 7,500 Chechen refugees who have taken refuge in the Pankisi gorge over the past 18 months. He reasoned that doing so would stabilize the situation in the region, improve Georgian-Russian relations, and thwart putative plans by the Chechens to declare the Pankisi gorge an autonomous region, according to "Vremya novostei" and "Kommersant-Daily." Chechen ideologue Movladi Udugov immediately denied that any such plans exist. LF

ADZHAR OBDURACY JEOPARDIZES PLANNED NATO MANEUVERS

The leadership of Georgia's autonomous Republic of Adjaria has refused to host NATO maneuvers scheduled to take place in late June at the Gonio training ground near Batumi, "Segodnya" reported on 1 February. That facility is currently used by the Russian military base in Batumi. The Georgian government is assessing the possibility of holding the manuevers, in which some 4,000 servicemen from the U.S., Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Sweden, and Azerbaijan will participate, near the Black Sea port of Poti. LF

ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE DENIES ISSUING FAKE DOCUMENTS

The Interior Ministry of the Abkhaz government in exile that represents the Georgian population who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war has denied issuing false passports or identify cards to those displaced persons, Caucasus Press reported on 2 February. The Georgian Control Chamber had accused the ministry of issuing forged identity cards which had been used to claim the allowances due to displaced persons. The Control Chamber had registered 90 cases of misappropriation of such allowances totaling 850,000 laris ($430,000) between 1996-2000. Criminal proceedings have been initiated against 150 people, of whom 70 are state employees. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ADDRESSES EDUCATION SECTOR WORKERS

Speaking on 2 February at a congress in Almaty of teachers and university faculty members, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that budget funding for education has been raised from 15 billion tenges ($100 million) in 2000 to 19 million tenges in 2001, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev argued that private and public universities should coexist, and that both should concentrate on training experts for those sectors of the Kazakh economy where they are most needed. Nazarbaev also criticized the low standard of textbooks used in state schools. But rather than import new and better textbooks, he called for creating a system for training personnel to compile such teaching aids, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. LF

NEW ASIAN SECURITY ORGANIZATION TO MEET IN KAZAKHSTAN THIS FALL

The first summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia is to take place this autumn in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 2 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999). Kazakhstan's ambassador has presented an invitation to attend that gathering to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. Formed on the initiative of Kazakh President Nazarbaev, the OSCA has 16 members (Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Palestine, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan). A further five countries have observer status. LF

BP SELLS STAKE IN KAZAKH OIL CONSORTIUM

British Petroleum has announced that it plans to sell its 9.52 percent stake in the OKIOC consortium to TotalFinaElf, which already has a 14.29 percent stake in that group, dpa reported on 3 February. The two oil companies, together with fellow OKIOC members Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, and Agip, are competing for the rights to manage operations to exploit the vast Kashagan offshore oilfield in the northern Caspian. President Nazarbaev appealed to the consortium members last month to expedite a decision on the project operator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001). LF

MUSLIMS IN ALMATY SEEK TO OUST KAZAKHSTAN'S MUFTI

A group of leading clerics in Almaty is calling for the replacement of Absattar Derbisaliev, who was named Mufti of Kazakhstan's Muslims last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2000). DerbisAliyev is an Arabist and oriental scholar and a former faculty member at Kazakhstan's State University. His detractors argue that he has never studied theology at an Islamic institute of higher learning, nor was he chosen as mufti by Kazakhstan's Muslims. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S LAWYERS APPEAL SENTENCE

Lawyers for jailed former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov lodged a formal appeal with the Bishkek Military Court on 1 February against the seven-year sentence handed down to Kulov last month, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 2 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

KYRGYZSTAN ADOPTS CODE OF ETHICS FOR GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL

Kyrgyz President Akaev last month endorsed a code of ethics for civil servants and government personnel that forbids them from engaging in business or employing their relatives, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. On 31 January, a Kyrgyz Finance Ministry official told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that Akaev's 25-year-old son Aidar has been appointed an adviser to Finance Minister Temirbek Akmataliev. The government daily "Kyrgyz Tuursu" suggested on 5 January that Aidar Akaev may at some point succeed his father as president. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH IMF REPRESENTATIVE

Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 2 February with an IMF delegation let by Tapio Saavalainen to review implementation of the three-year $51 million anti-poverty program agreed upon last year, Asia Plus-Blitz reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). That program is being jointly funded by the IMF and the World Bank. LF

ACCIDENT DISRUPTS GAS SUPPLIES TO TURKMEN CAPITAL...

Gas supplies to Ashgabat were suspended on 4 February after an accident damaged the Tedzhen-Ashgabat-Buzmein pipeline some 40 kilometers from Ashgabat, ITAR-TASS reported. Repairs to the pipeline, which is 40-50 years old, were expected to be completed on 5 February. LF

...AS UZBEKISTAN RESUMES DELIVERIES TO KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzgas General-Director Turgunbek Kalmurzaev announced on 2 February that the damage to the natural gas pipeline that supplies Kyrgyzstan with natural gas from Uzbekistan has been repaired, and that Tashkent has resumed deliveries that were expected to reach Bishkek the following day, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Uzbekistan had suspended deliveries on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Kulmurzaev said that the pipeline had been ruptured in Uzbekistan's Bukhara Oblast as a result of severe frosts. He added that Kyrgyzstan has paid off $1.6 million of its total $2 million debts to Uzbekistan since 31 December. LF




BELARUS, IRAN PLEDGE TO BOOST TRADE

Minsk and Tehran are planning to intensify their economic cooperation and increase bilateral trade turnover to $100 million annually, Belapan reported on 2 February. This statement was made by Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou following talks with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazzi, in Minsk on 1-2 February. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said after his meeting with Kharazzi that Belarus is going to trade with Iran in all goods of mutual interest and "nobody has the right to interfere in these issues." Minsk has sent some Belarusian tractors to Iran for tests in the hope of creating joint tractor production capacities there if the tests are positive. JM

BELARUSIAN CHIEF BANKER TO STABILIZE CURRENCY WITHOUT RUSSIAN CREDIT

National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich on 2 February told journalists that his bank will maintain the stability of the Belarusian ruble without money from Russia's Central Bank, Interfax reported. According to Prakapovich, the Belarusian bank's hard currency reserves of $150 million are sufficient to ensure "the necessary exchange rate [of the Belarusian ruble] as long as you please." Last year Russia's Central Bank allocated 4.5 billion Russian rubles ($150 million) to Belarus. Prakapovich said all technical questions between the two central banks were already settled but Minsk has not yet received the first tranche of the credit since the credit deal was not ratified by both states' legislatures. JM

UKRAINE DISMANTLES LAST TU-160 STRATEGIC BOMBER

Ukraine's last Tu-160 strategic bomber was cut to pieces at the Pryluky air base near Kyiv on 2 February, Reuters and AP reported. The dismantling took place under a U.S.-Ukrainian Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, with the attendance of a U.S. military delegation. Ukraine in 1991 inherited the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal, including 130 SS-19 missiles, 46 SS-24 missiles, and 44 strategic bombers. Ukraine agreed to destroy its Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers by its ratification in 1994 of the START-1 nuclear disarmament treaty. Ukraine still has four Tu-95 bombers, but the Defense Ministry said it plans to destroy them all by May. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE SAYS VOICES AUTHENTIC, TAPE FALSIFIED?

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 2 February passed to Interfax a rather enigmatic statement on the official investigation of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the audiotapes provided by Mykola Melnychenko, former bodyguard of President Leonid Kuchma. The office said all cases are being investigated professionally and objectively. According to the office, Melnychenko's tapes were "compiled from separate words and fragments, which is essentially a falsification." At the same time, the office said the tapes include Kuchma's authentic conversations with law enforcement officials on the country's crime situation, adding that some of those conversation were taped in secret. The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinskaya pravda" commented that this statement actually confirms the authenticity of Melnychenko's recordings. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES SLOW DEVELOPMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE

In a speech on the 81st anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and Soviet Russia, Lennart Meri on 2 February criticized the country's slow progress in the development of national defense, BNS reported. Noting that NATO will decide next year on the admission of new members, he said that Estonia must show real deeds today in fulfilling the promises it has made. Meri declared that the Estonian defense forces must be brought into line with NATO standards and doing so would demonstrate the armed forces' capability to cooperate with the defense forces of other countries. SG/AB

ESTONIAN-NATO SOCIETY CREATED IN TALLINN

An Estonian-NATO society, a non-profit organization, was established in Tallinn on the initiative of 39 public figures to promote the alliance's goals and educate the population about the benefits of NATO membership, BNS reported on 2 February. The society also elected an 11-member council on Friday chaired by Ambassador Kalev Stoicescu. AB

RUSSIA'S COMMUNIST LEADER PLEDGES HELP TO COMPATRIOTS IN ESTONIA

Gennadii Zyuganov, chairman of the Russian Communist Party, charged that the Estonian government is carrying out an ongoing "policy of destruction of the republic's northeast, mostly populated by Russians" and called on the Russian government to use "economic methods, in particular Russian cargo transit "to protect the national interests and the interests of Russian compatriots," ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. Zyuganov made the remarks in a meeting in Moscow with an Estonian-Russian delegation from the Russian Party of Unity. AB

LATVIA HAS BUDGET SURPLUS IN JANUARY

The press secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Baiba Melnace, announced on 2 February that the national budget had a surplus of 7.56 million lats ($12.3 million) in January, LETA reported. The budget revenues of 63.06 million lats, moreover, were greater than those in any month in 2000. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins said that the greater revenues indicated that the work on boosting tax administration launched last year was successful. SG

LASCO LIABILITIES THREATEN PRIVATIZATION EFFORT

A High Court in Great Britain on 2 February ruled that the Latvian shipping company LASCO and its subsidiary Latreefers, owe some $30 million to the Gdansk shipyard in Poland for breach of contract, BNS and LETA reported 2 February. The ruling may endanger the current effort to privatize 68 percent of the shares of the state-owned monopoly. Janis Naglis, the head of the Latvian Privatization Agency, had announced that a sufficient number of bids had been received by the 1 February deadline. The government on 13 February is expected to narrow the field to the five best companies, which will be allowed to bid in the auction scheduled for 11 May. This is the fourth attempt since 1995 to privatize LASCO. The last attempt triggered the collapse of the government last spring. AB

TOP LATVIAN OFFICIALS WANT TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

After a meeting with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, and parliament speaker Janis Straume on 2 February, President Vaire Vike-Freiberga told reporters that the establishment of friendly relations with Russia should be made a key foreign policy priority, LETA reported. She declared her readiness to meet with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and she said she is waiting for a signal on this from Russia. SG

NATO EXPERTS END REVIEW IN LITHUANIA

A NATO team of 20 experts ended its four-day visit in Lithuania to review the country's NATO preparedness, ELTA reported on 2 February. The team's report will be issued in the spring and will affect Lithuania's candidacy at the next NATO summit meeting in 2002, BNS reported. The experts visited the Karmelava Regional Airspace Surveillance Center, a training regiment in Rukla, and the Grand Duke Algirdas motorized infantry battalion. Special attention was also given to Lithuania's effort to create, organize, and manage its security systems for computer data. The NATO officials found the latest public opinion surveys on civilian support for the country's NATO candidacy encouraging. A December 2000 poll showed 48.9 percent of residents support Lithuania's aim to become a NATO member, while only 22.3 percent are against it with the remaining balance undecided. AB

LITHUANIAN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE INCREASES

The Lithuanian Labor Exchange announced on 2 February that the unemployment rate increased by 0.5 percent in January to 13.1 percent on 1 February, ELTA reported. At the beginning of the month there were 235,100 registered unemployed, which is 22.7 percent more year-on-year. The highest unemployment rates were in the regions of Druskininkai (29.2 percent), Akmene (24.4 percent), and Pasvalys (23.7 percent), with the lowest in the regions of Anyksciai (7.3 percent), Kedainiai (8.7 percent), and Trakai (8.7 percent). In the major cities, the rates were 9 percent in Vilnius, 9.1 percent in Kaunas, 9.9 percent in Klaipeda, 16.4 percent in Siauliai, and 17 percent in Panevezys. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES 2001 BUDGET

The Sejm on 3 February voted by 247 to 202 with one abstention to pass a 2001 budget bill, Polish media reported. The budget sets revenues at 161.1 billion zlotys ($39.7 billion) and spending at 181.6 billion. Average annual inflation is to fall to 7 percent from 10.1 percent last year, while the unemployment rate is expected to be 15.4 percent, compared with 15 percent at the end of 2000. The bill projects GDP to rise 4.5 percent. The Sejm vote removed the threat of the parliament's dissolution by the president and a prospect of early parliamentary elections. "[The vote] means Poland's political and economic stability," Premier Jerzy Buzek commented. "It is a grim day for Poland. This budget means great unemployment, low economic growth, and little spending on welfare," Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller, the country's potential next premier, told Reuters. JM

POLAND'S CITIZENS' PLATFORM COMES SECOND IN POLL

The private PBS polling center found in a late-January poll conducted for the daily "Rzeczpospolita" that the newly-created Citizens' Platform of Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Plazynski, and Donald Tusk is supported by 17 percent of respondents. The Citizens' Platform remains well behind the Democratic Left Alliance (46 percent), but is ahead of the Solidarity Electoral Action (14 percent), the Peasant Party (10 percent), the Freedom Union (5 percent), and the Labor Union (5 percent). JM

PITHART FAILS TO CONVINCE CASTRO TO RELEASE CZECH PRISONERS

Czech Senate chairman Petr Pithart on 3 February met for six hours with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro but failed to secure the liberation from prison of deputy Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik, CTK and AP reported. On his return to Prague on 5 February, Pithart said he is "more optimistic" now than he was when he left for Cuba and that he was convinced Pilip and Bubenik will not be sentenced there. "Mr. Castro is a realist and knows nobody in this country is responsible for the acts of Mr. Pilip and Mr. Bubenik," Pithart noted. In a speech delivered on 2 February, Castro insisted that Cuba was "telling the truth" and that the Czech Republic "must apologize." He also said the Czech Republic embassy in Havana is "a nest of spies" that "has been spying on Cuba for 10 years." MS

CZECH PREMIER REJECTS CUBAN APOLOGY DEMAND

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 4 February said he is convinced that there are "no reasons" for his country to apologize to Cuba over the activities of Pilip and Bubenik, CTK reported. He said the government did not "send" them to Cuba and is not even aware of the charges against them. Zeman said Cuba first announced it was going to try them on "subversion" charges but has now apparently decided to try them for an "alleged economic crime." On 3 February, AP reported that the charges had been changed to "threatening Cuban economic interests," for which the two could be sentenced to between three and eight years, rather than 20 years in jail under the previous charge. Lucie Pilipova and Martin Bubenik, the wife and brother of the two prisoners, said on 2 February that they have contacted lawyers and are prolonging their stay in Cuba. MS

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE

Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 2 February met in Prague with President Vaclav Havel, Premier Zeman, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, and parliament chairman Vaclav Klaus, CTK reported. Havel invited President Vladimir Putin to visit the Czech Republic and Zeman conveyed a similar invitation to his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov. Ivanov said Russia is "not enthusiastic" about the NATO enlargement but he agreed with Havel this must not constitute "an obstacle" to bilateral relations. He and Kavan agreed that relations have been "cooling off" and must be improved. Kavan said there is "good will" on both sides to solve pending economic problems, including the clearing of a $3.7 billion Russian debt to Prague. Ivanov also discussed that debt with Zeman, who proposed that it be cleared to cover the large trade deficit of the Czech Republic in trade with Russia. MS

ZEMAN TO BECOME HONORARY PARTY CHAIRMAN?

Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Deputy Chairman and Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla on 4 February told journalists that Zeman should be offered the position of honorary CSSD chairman after he retires at the CSSD National Conference in April. Spidla, who is the most-likely candidate to replace Zeman at the head of the party, said the offer should be made to Zeman in recognition of his merits as CSSD leader. Zeman said several times he will retire as party chairman in the spring but will stay on as premier till the end of his mandate in 2002. MS

CZECH TV MANAGEMENT SAYS JANUARY WAGES WILL NOT BE PAID

Acting Czech Television manager Vera Valterova and acting Financial Manager Jindrich Beznoska, both of whom were appointed by Jiri Hodac during his brief tenure as TV director, on 2 February informed the staff that their wages for January will not be paid because of the continued labor action. The letter said salaries will be paid only to those employees who will openly distance themselves from the strike, CTK reported. TV Union head Antonin Dekoj described the letter as "psychological blackmail." Also on 2 February, Jan Matejka, a legal expert from the State and Law Institute, wrote to the striking staff at Czech Television that Valterova's mandate as acting manager has in fact ended with Hodac's resignation. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW JUSTICE MINISTER

President Havel on 2 February officially appointed Jaroslav Bures as the country's new Justice Minister, CTK reported. Bures was proposed as Otakar Motejl's successor by Premier Zeman last month. Motejl resigned in September 2000 and has since been elected as the country's first ombudsman. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky has filled the position on an interim basis since October. MS

CZECH, AUSTRIAN EXPERTS REACH AGREEMENT ON TEMELIN ISSUES

At a meeting in Vienna attended by EU representatives, Austrian and Czech experts on 2 February reached a number of agreements related to the safety of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported. The experts refused to provide details except to emphasize that the agreements were in line with the protocol signed by Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel at their meeting in Melk, Austria, in December 2000. They also said new meetings will take place in Prague and at Temelin itself in March to solve outstanding problems. A mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit Temelin in the second half of this month to establish whether the plant can now be safely be put into operation. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER ENDS U.S. VISIT

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 3 February ended a four-day visit to the U.S., CTK reported. Dzurinda said that at meetings with the publishers of "The Wall Street Journal" and "Business Week," he presented Slovakia's progress in political and economic reforms. He also said Citygroup Inc. is distributing Slovak securities on world markets and helping to improve Slovakia's economic credibility. The company will also organize at the end of this month a tour of the U.S. by Ivan Miklos, deputy premier in charge of the economy. Addressing the New York-based Council for Foreign Relations during his visit, Dzurinda said he "cannot imagine" Slovakia outside NATO and "would not rest" before that aim was achieved. He also told leading New York Jewish community representatives that Slovakia wants to "complete" the restitution of Jewish properties confiscated by the Nazi and the communists. MS

HUNGARIAN SLOVAK PARTY WANTS 'NATIONAL STATE' REPLACED

Bela Bugar, chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), told an SMK congress in Bratislava on 4 February that his party wants the pending constitutional amendment to reflect Slovakia's being a "multinational" and "civic" -- rather than a "national" -- state, the Hungarian MTI agency reported. Premier Dzurinda, who attended the gathering, said he hopes the SMK will collaborate with his own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union in the next ruling coalition as well. Dzurinda said the only alternative to the present governing coalition is nationalism and populism. MS

KOSICE MAYOR FACING IMPRISONMENT

Kosice Mayor Jozef Sana is facing imprisonment after he violated the terms of a six-month suspended sentence for drunken driving, CTK reported on 2 February. The agency said the court may decide to "send him behind bars for the rest of his term." Sana insists he is innocent. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES DISMISSAL RUMORS

Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), on 3 February denied reports that he has been given an ultimatum by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to either resign as Agriculture Minister or to be dismissed from the cabinet. FIDESZ chairman Laszlo Kover told reporters after a meeting of his party's steering board that FIDESZ "wants to avoid a minority government and early elections," and that Orban will not dismiss Torgyan "for now." Several FKGP politicians admitted, however, that Torgyan has asked them whether they would leave the cabinet if he had to go, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 5 February. MSZ

MARTONYI OUTLINES HUNGARIAN-ROMANIAN BILATERAL AGENDA

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 3 February told the Bucharest-based Hungarian-language daily "Magyar Szo" that Budapest was "shocked" by the recent electoral performance of the extremist Greater Romania Party, but was encouraged by the agreement reached by the governing Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. Martonyi said Hungary seeks to open new consulates in Miercurea Ciuc and Constanta, encourage Hungarian investments in Romania, and improve cooperation in environmental protection. MSZ




POWELL: U.S. TROOPS TO STAY IN BALKANS

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 4 February that U.S. troops are likely to remain in the Balkans for some years to come, Reuters reported. "There is no exit date for the whole force either in Bosnia [or] Kosovo. Those will be long-term commitments. Although we would like to see all of the troops come out, ours and others, this is not going to be the case in the immediate future," Powell said. Speculation that the U.S. would greatly reduce or eliminate its Balkan ground forces in the near future led in recent months to expressions of concern among U.S. allies in Western Europe and in the region, as well as to rising expectations in Belgrade and Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2000). PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON HAGUE IN WASHINGTON...

Zoran Djindjic said in Washington after talks with Powell on 2 February that the Serbian government faces a "huge task" in preparing evidence against former President Slobodan Milosevic, Reuters reported. "In 12 years he has done many criminal things, and it will be a problem to find a point," Djinjdic said, at which to stop and say "that is enough" in order to prosecute and try the former dictator. Djindjic added that he hopes to "connect" with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal "in a few months." He also noted that extraditing Milosevic to The Hague "is not a priority" for the government, the BBC reported on 3 February (see "End Note" below). PM

...AND IN BELGRADE

Upon returning to Belgrade on 4 February, however, Djindjic said that "U.S. delegations in all international institutions -- including the World Bank [and] International Monetary Fund --will vote against our interests" unless Belgrade shows clear evidence of cooperating with The Hague by 31 March. But he suggested that the State Department would be willing to see Milosevic tried in Serbia: "We want all those who committed crimes to be held responsible, we want them to answer before our institutions...to give [a] chance to our courts because they are competent. My impression is that we have secured an understanding in the State Department," AP reported (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 23 and 30 November 2000). Djindjic added that "the new administration does not carry the burden of the mistakes of the previous administration, and it will be much easier to explain our arguments to them." PM

SERBIA'S MILOSEVIC: 'I WON'T GO TO HAGUE'

Milosevic told Rome's "La Stampa" of 3 February that Serbian voters ousted him because they feared that NATO bombing would resume if they did not, Reuters reported. He added that the new government is fabricating "lies" about him and is collaborating with the "immoral and illegal" Hague court against him. Referring to his international isolation, the former dictator said: "Western countries, or rather their governments, supported me for as long as it was in their interest to have stability in the Balkans. When they thought it would be interesting to have instability, I lost their support." PM

WHY DID POWELL NOT MEET MONTENEGRIN LEADER?

As foreign leaders assembled in Washington recently for the National Prayer Breakfast, "The New York Times" wrote on 2 February that Powell chose not to meet with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in order to signal that Washington is opposed to his independence-oriented course (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, however, that Powell did not meet with Djukanovic because the secretary "did not want to get involved in upcoming elections" in Montenegro, Reuters reported. Boucher added that the U.S. hopes to see "a democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia." Other State Department sources said that Powell did not meet with Djukanovic because "no meeting was planned," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. For his part, Djukanovic told the Paris daily "Le Monde" that it would be "irresponsible" and wrong of the international community not to maintain contacts with the Montenegrin leadership "by using the excuse that [contacts] would [amount to] support for succession." PM

'BALKAN PARTICLES' THEORY FOR KOSOVA

Powell met in Washington on 2 February with Kosovar leaders Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, and Veton Surroi, who presented the case for Kosovar independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). Boucher later told a press conference that Washington's policy is to support UN Security Council resolutions on Kosova's status. He added that Powell presented his various southeastern European visitors with a "unified theory of Balkan particles," Reuters reported. "We're talking about democracy, we're talking about integration, we're talking about the broader regional cooperation trends," Boucher added. PM

KOSOVARS MARK ANNIVERSARY

"Thousands" of ethnic Albanians held a peaceful candlelight vigil in central Mitrovica on 3 February to honor nine fellow Albanians killed by Serbs in northern Mitrovica one year earlier, AP reported. There were no speeches, demonstrations, or incidents. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS KOSOVARS' RIGHT TO STATEHOOD

President Stipe Mesic told "Der Spiegel" of 5 February that "Belgrade must...recognize that the Yugoslav republics and provinces, which received the right to secede in the constitution of 1974, still have this right -- even if Serbia meanwhile has a new constitution." Mesic added that "Kosovo must get its own government as soon as possible and then decide about its own fate." He dismissed the notion that an independent Kosovo could destabilize the region: "Why do we always [fear] the specter of a greater Albania? Why should there not be two Albanian states? Germany and Austria can exist next to each other -- why not Kosovo and Albania?" FS

BIG ENERGY PRICE HIKE IN SERBIA?

In the face of a continuing power shortage, Yugoslav National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic proposed three energy price-hikes of 25 percent each over the course of 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 2 February. PM

FEW PRESEVO ALBANIAN TAKERS FOR SERBIAN POLICE OFFER

Only six out of 50 ethnic Albanians in the Presevo valley have accepted invitations by the Serbian Interior Ministry to return to their former jobs, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service carried the report on 3 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 2 February 2001). On 4 February, Zivkovic told Hungarian Radio that Serbian troops and police are "completely prepared" to block "any advance" by ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the Presevo region. Serbian security authorities and media periodically predict "major offensives" by the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac. PM

POPE CALLS ON ALBANIANS TO STAY HOME, CHANGE SOCIETY

Pope John Paul II told visiting Roman Catholic clerics from Albania in that "many Albanians...have preserved their faith, despite the harsh oppression" under Ottoman and Communist rule, AP reported on 3 February. The Pope called on the Albanian clergy "to prepare young people to build a better future in their own country, triumphing over the temptation of emigration and the illusion of easy success to be had abroad." He appealed to the priests to fight "against the grave evils that unfortunately affect your country, among them abortion, prostitution, drugs, the spirit of the vendetta, the exploitation of women, and violence." PM

BOSNIAN COURT UNHAPPY WITH OSCE RULING

On 3 February, the Bosnian Constitutional Court challenged a recent OSCE ruling that will require members of the Bosnian parliament's House of the Peoples to be elected by all voters and not just by those of their own ethnic group, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The court ruling came in response to a complaint by the Croatian Democratic Community, which sees its own political future directly threatened by the OSCE decision. The court consists of two Serbs, two Croats, two Muslims, and three foreigners. In related news, Snjezana Savic, a Serb, succeeded Muslim judge Kasim Begic as president of the court. PM

SLOVENIA'S TOURIST YEAR OFF TO BAD START

A relatively mild winter with comparatively little snowfall for the ski slopes has led to a sharp downturn in Slovenia's usually lucrative winter tourist industry, "Dnevnik" reported on 5 February. Experts say it would be "utopian" to think that the final figures for 2001 will equal those of the 1.5 million visitors who came in 2000. PM

ROMANIAN MAYORS OPPOSE NEW LAW ON LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

The mayors of eight large Romanian towns, meeting in Brasov on 3 February, called on the government to amend the recently passed Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The mayors say the law contravenes the constitution and the provisions of the European Charter on Local Autonomy. The mayors oppose the provision in the law granting prefects the prerogative to dismiss those mayors against whom a court case has been launched, and do so even before the court has ruled on the matter. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the cabinet will examine the possibility to abolish this prerogative. The mayors also said they oppose the provision in the new law granting national minorities the right to officially use their language in localities where these minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population. MS

ROMANIAN NATIONALIST PARTY REBORN

Leaders of local branches of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), meeting in Brasov on 4 February, decided to formally withdraw from the National Alliance and reregister the PUNR as an independent political party. The National Alliance was set up by the PUNR and the Romanian National Party before the 2000 parliamentary elections but failed to gain representation. Former PUNR chairman Valeriu Tabara will head a nine-member commission that will coordinate party activity until a PUNR National Conference is convoked, Mediafax reported. Meanwhile, National Alliance leader Virgil Magureanu is engaged in contacts with the Democratic Party, which proposes to set up a new alliance called "Alternative 2004." The Democrats also invited Teodor Melescanu's Alliance for Romania to join "Alternative 2004" and Melescanu on 28 January deemed that offer "interesting." MS

'DIRTY WAR' CONTINUES IN MOLDOVAN ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN

The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) on 2 February rejected the demand of the Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRCM) to disqualify the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) from running in the 25 February electoral contest, Flux reported the next day. The PRCM said the PPCD had used "undeclared funds" to publish a booklet accusing some PRCM members of corruption. PRCM leader Mircea Snegur told the commission the "Black Book of Corruption" carries no indication as to where the booklet was printed and in how many copies, which indicates, he claimed, that the PRCM used other funds apart from those allocated by the state. The commission ruled that the PPCD specified the source of financing but asked the State Financial Inspectorate to inform it by 20 February if the party has utilized financial resources other than those specified. MS

IMF DELEGATION ENDS MOLDOVAN VISIT

In an interview with RFE/RL on 2 February, Richard Haas, head of an IMF delegation that ended a week-long visit to Chisinau, said the delegation will recommend to the fund's executive board to disburse the second $12 million tranche of a $142 million, three-year standby loan agreed on last year to promote economic growth and fight poverty. Haas said the Moldovan government has fulfilled all the conditions agreed on with the IMF. In response to a question, Haas said a communist victory in the forthcoming elections will not influence the IMF position towards Moldova, because the fund makes its decisions on "economic, not political criteria." He said the IMF is more worried by the fact that Moldova fails to attract foreign investors because it projects the image of "an extremely corrupt state." MS

OSCE PREPARES MEETING ON TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT

William Hill, head of the OSCE permanent mission to Moldova, on 2 February told journalists in Chisinau that the mediators in the Transdniester conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, and Portugal -- had ended a meeting in Kyiv to prepare for a meeting in Bratislava at the end of the month with the sides involved in the conflict. Hill said the mediators discussed the Russian proposals for the conflict's resolution presented by the delegation headed by Yevgenii Primakov. He said those proposals will serve as "a basis for negotiations" in Bratislava, with the sides being able to "freely offer their own suggestions," Infotag reported. Hill said it is "regrettable" that no Russian armaments have been withdrawn from the Transdniester "for almost a year" but added he is sure that Moscow can still meet the 2003 deadline set by the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit. MS

BULGARIA CALLS ON NATO TO ADMIT NEW MEMBERS

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, speaking at an international meeting on European security in Munich on 3 February, called on NATO to admit new members from southeastern Europe and the Baltics, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Mihailova said failure to do so would amount to replacing the old partition of Europe with "a new and unstable system of unequal security between nations." She recalled that many of the aspirant countries had assisted NATO's intervention in Kosova. The appeal was supported by Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel. MS

RULING BULGARIAN PARTY DEPUTY SUBMITS ELECTORAL BILL...

Deputy Dimitar Abadzhiev of the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 2 February submitted to the parliament a new bill on the elections due to be held later this year, BTA reported. The bill provides for a 4 percent electoral threshold, Abadzhiev told journalists. He said no political party will have a majority on the electoral commission, according to the bill's provisions. On 1 February the parliament approved a new law on political parties. Under the law, parties that would receive at least 1 percent in the 1997 elections will not be required to reregister, but those that failed to do so and formations established since then would have to register within three months to qualify for state subsidies. The bill also sets restrictions on the financing of parties by donations from corporations and individuals. MS

...AND ENDORSES STOYANOV FOR SECOND TERM

SDS Deputy Chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova on 4 February told journalists that her party "supports President Petar Stoyanov, and we have repeatedly said we shall back him to run for a second term," AP reported (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). Mihailova denied rumors that the SDS could support former King Simeon II for the presidential position. Amid speculation that Simeon might run, some 80 lawmakers from all parliamentary parties asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the former monarch can do so. The constitution requires that candidates must have lived in Bulgaria for five years before running. The lawmakers asked the court to rule whether a temporary residence in the country, as Simeon has, qualifies him for being a candidate. Simeon returned to Bulgaria for the first time in 1996 and was promptly granted Bulgarian citizenship. His permanent residence is in Spain. MS




'NOT A PRIORITY'


By Patrick Moore

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said on his recent visit to Washington that extraditing former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague is "not a priority" for his busy government. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has repeatedly used this phrase to describe his attitude on extradition, while at the same time questioning the legitimacy of the tribunal.

Hague court chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte recently turned the tables on Kostunica, saying that he is "not a priority" for her--after he used that phrase in reference to a possible meeting with her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). In the end, he did meet with her. All she received, however, was a lecture, a scenario all too familiar to many foreigners with long experience in the region, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke pointed out in his memoirs of the Dayton peace process.

At first glance, it seems that Belgrade's new leaders are like the proverbial man who was unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. Kostunica, Djindjic, and some others in top positions appear to suggest that they are too busy transforming Serbia to find the time to order the police to put one ex-dictator and a handful of his thugs on a plane bound for Holland.

Djindjic is meanwhile pressing forward with plans to try Milosevic in Serbia, lest voters see him as handing over a Serb to a Western-backed institution. But his own justice minister, Vladan Batic, as well as Ms. Del Ponte, have pointed out that the only place for Milosevic is in The Hague. It is there that he must account for his crimes against Albanians (and perhaps others) and not just for his crimes against Serbian law. The tribunal is a UN-sanctioned body, and Belgrade is under obligation to cooperate with it. Many observers argue that if Belgrade is allowed to write its own ticket and try Milosevic at home, then Croatia and Bosnia will most likely demand the same right, and the entire Hague process will come to a brutal and pathetic end.

Matters have not been helped by the recent statement European Commission President Romano Prodi that Serbia will continue to enjoy EU aid regardless of whether it cooperates with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Indeed, the international community as a whole has lost potentially valuable leverage over Belgrade by granting the new leaders early recognition before they showed that they were truly going to make a clean break with the past (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001).

Some observers have suggested that the international community carefully monitor the Belgrade leaders' progress in three key areas before extending further aid and support to them. The first is progress in cooperating with The Hague. At the bare minimum, if Serbia does not make cooperating with the tribunal a priority of sorts, then political, economic, and diplomatic backing for the Serbian leadership should not be a priority for those who take seriously the principles on which the Hague court is based.

The second area involves leaving its neighbors in peace and getting on with pressing needs at home. First and foremost, the Belgrade leadership should remove the Milosevic-era military and political irritants that are responsible for the current tensions in Presevo. It should also be careful not to further exacerbate those tensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). In addition, Serbia should let the people who live in Kosova and Montenegro exercise their rights to self-determination and majority rule if they wish to do so (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). If and when they choose to make use of those rights, Belgrade should accept their choice and not seek to make difficulties for the Kosovars or Montenegrins with the international community.

The third area is the one which those observers consider the most important for the lasting peace and stability of the Balkans. This involves what Croatian President Stipe Mesic calls the need for Serbia to experience a "catharsis." By this he means the need to examine and break with the narcissistic, self-pitying nationalism that fueled Milosevic's rise to power in the first place and eventually led to starting and losing four wars (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 1 December 2000).

Until that happens, the ideas that provided the political and ideological basis for the Milosevic regime will remain current, waiting for the right circumstances in which either Milosevic or yet another demagogue can exploit them. And then, willy-nilly, the international community may once again find that an aggressive, nationalistic Serbia has become the international community's priority.


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