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Newsline - February 7, 2001




RUSSIA SEEN ADMITTING DEFEAT ON DEBT TALKS

Even as Russian officials met with IMF leaders in Moscow on 6 February, Russian politicians, including Duma Budget Committee chairman Aleksandr Zhukov, said that Moscow will undoubtedly have to pay its debts in full this year but may be able to reschedule outyear payments and get some debt relief as well, Interfax reported. An article in "Kommersant-Daily" the same day went further. It suggested that "[Deputy Prime Minister] Aleksei Kudrin has no way to avoid admitting defeat in talks with creditors and [Prime Minister] Mikhail Kasyanov no way to avoiding doing the same as to his polemics with presidential economics advisor Andrei Illarionov." But financing the payments is going to be difficult: Kudrin has promised that the budget won't be sequestered, but at the same time the government wants to redistribute the budget to allow for payments, something the paper said the government is unlikely to allow. That leaves only monies raised from additional privatization sales or domestic borrowing from the Central Bank as options once continuing talks proves impossible, the paper concluded. PG

MORE LEADERSHIP CHANGES AHEAD?

President Vladimir Putin's firing of two senior officials on 5 February has sparked speculation throughout the Russian media that more departures and administrative changes are imminent. "Izvestiya" suggested that among those who may be dismissed soon are presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin and Prime Minister Kasyanov, as well as other cabinet ministers. Meanwhile, both "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 5 February and Interfax on 6 February suggested that a reorganization of the government is near, one that will result in fewer but larger ministries and fewer than the present six deputy prime ministers. PG

CHUBAIS'S FUTURE IN DOUBT

Although Duma deputy Boris Nemtsov (Union of Rightist Forces) said that President Putin indicated on 5 February that he has "no plans" to dismiss Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatolii Chubais, EES board member Boris Fedorov, who was at the same meeting, told "Segodnya" on 6 February that Putin gave Chubais and his team a warning signal and that he, Fedorov, hopes that Chubais will be out of that job in the near future. PG

PROSECUTORS SEARCH MEDIA OFFICES

Prosecutors on 6 February conducted searches at Media-MOST, TNT, and a bank holding Media-MOST accounts, Russian agencies said. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov said on ORT that his investigation of these media outlets is not about politics. "I investigate criminal cases," Kolmogorov said, adding that "there are no political cases here in Russia -- that's stated by federal law." PG

TERRORIST ACTS INCREASE IN RUSSIA

Major General Valerii Beev, the chief of the main criminal police department of the interior ministry, said on 6 February that 135 acts of terrorism took place in Russia in 2000, 6.5 times more than during 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. But he added that the police prevented 318 other acts of terrorism, rendered harmless 26,450 explosive devices, and confiscated 11,188 tons of explosives during 2000. PG

INFLATION RATE UP SHARPLY

Consumer price inflation rose to 2.8 percent during January 2001, up from 1.6 percent in December 2000, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that electricity tariffs rose on average 25 percent in Moscow beginning 1 February. But the Central Bank of Russia was cited by "Vremya MN" on 6 February as guaranteeing the stability of the ruble until summer. PG

BANKERS URGE FIGHT AGAINST MONEY-LAUNDERING

The Association of Russian Banks on 6 February sent a letter to President Putin calling on him to push for the passage of laws against money-laundering, Interfax reported. They noted that "Russian banks have come across open and concealed discrimination on foreign markets" because Russia has not passed anti-money-laundering legislation or ratified the Council of Europe convention against such transactions. PG

DUMA ANGRY AT CENTRAL BANK

"Izvestiya" reported on 6 February that Duma deputies are angry at the leadership of the Central Bank for failing to be responsive to their requests. The deputies may impose tighter controls on the bank as a result, the paper said. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko may soon retire and be replaced by his senior assistant Tatiana Paramonova. PG

PRIMAKOV OUTLINES TWO POSSIBLE WORLD TRENDS

In a speech to the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, former Prime Minister and current Duma deputy Yevgenii Primakov said that there are two possible paths for international development over the next several years, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 February. Under the first, NATO will take in new members and the United States will act increasingly in a unilateral manner. That will drive Russia into working with India and China. Under the second, Primakov said, the United States will behave in an isolationist manner, not interfering but not helping either. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER LASHES OUT AT NATO IN BOSNIA

Igor Sergeev said in Tuzla on 6 February that NATO is working in Bosnia to "gradually" split the Republika Srpska "into several parts," an approach he said would delay any resolution of the conflict, Interfax reported. In other comments, he said that Belgrade must be included in the Kosova peace process. PG

POLAND WON'T INTRODUCE VISAS ON RUSSIANS QUICKLY

Visiting Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski on 6 February told his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov that Warsaw will not introduce a visa requirement on Russians in the near future, Interfax reported. The two agreed to continue discussions on gas pipeline options between Russia and Western Europe. Ivanov also said that President Putin had accepted Warsaw's invitation to visit Poland later this year. PG

MOSCOW CONSULTS WITH LIBYA ON SANCTIONS

Foreign Minister Ivanov spoke by telephone with his Libyan counterpart Abdurrahman Shalgham on 6 February to discuss ending sanctions after the conclusion of the Lockerbie trial, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Russian agency reported, Libya's Ambassador in Moscow Saleh Abdallah Saleh has given the Russian Foreign Ministry a personal message from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi for President Putin. PG

GORBACHEV GREETS REAGAN ON 90TH BIRTHDAY

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on 6 February sent a message of congratulation to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan on the occasion of the latter's 90th birthday, ITAR-TASS reported. Gorbachev said in his missive that "today our two nations live in a world without the Cold War and pervasive hostility," adding that "I am happy to say that this was our common achievement, which has been duly appreciated by our people." PG

MOSCOW TO USE MARKET MECHANISMS WITH CIS STATES

In a commentary on the Munich international affairs conference over the weekend, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 6 February stressed that Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov made it clear that Moscow has decided to make a fundamental change in its relations with the CIS countries, dealing with them more on a bilateral basis than a multilateral one and relying on market mechanisms rather than inter-governmental accords to promote Russian national interests. PG

ASSESSMENTS OF NMD DEBATE DIVIDE

Interfax-West reported on 6 February that one member of the Russian delegation at the Munich international affairs conference over the weekend, Duma International Relations Committee chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, was extremely pleased with the sessions for another reason. According to him, discussions in Munich showed how tired European countries have become with what he said was the "constant diktat" from Washington. But an article in "Segodnya" on 5 February carried a different assessment. It suggested that its sources have found that "nobody in Washington or the European capitals believes in Russia's ability to compete with the United States" and that Moscow will be forced to agree to ABM modifications. PG

MOSCOW SATISFIED WITH UKRAINE'S LANGUAGE POLICY

Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi told ITAR-TASS on 6 February that the Russian government finds Kyiv's approach to Russian language use in Ukraine quite acceptable. He made the remarks in the Ukrainian capital where he had discussed developing "language cooperation" between the two countries with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. PG

'UNITY' DENIES POPOV TO REPLACE STROEV

The press service of Unity has denied that Sergei Popov, the chairman of Unity's executive committee, is in line to replace Yegor Stroev as Federation Council chairman, as rumors last week had suggested, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 February. Meanwhile, the new leadership of the Union of Communist Parties rejected a statement by that party's control-revision commission that elections on 20 January that had placed Russian Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov at the head of that entity were illegitimate, the same paper reported. PG

DUMA'S ROLE NOW SAID LESS THAN UNDER NICHOLAS II

Writing in "Segodnya" on 6 February, political observer Leonid Radzikhovskii said that "today the Duma plays a significantly smaller role than under [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin or Nicholas II." There is no opposition in the parliament or in the population, Radzikhovskii suggested, and as a result, "the Kremlin orders" and the Duma complies. Ivan Rodin made a similar point in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day. He suggested that the current Duma differed from its predecessors in that it is not prepared to initiate legislation but merely acts on bills proposed by the Kremlin. PG

GOVERNMENT FINALIZING LAND CODE DRAFT

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 February that the government will consider on 9 February the basic principles of the land code. Prime Minister Kasyanov told his deputy prime ministers on 5 February, the paper said, that the draft code must be ready to submit to parliament by the end of February. In other comments to his deputies, Kasyanov said that the government will also focus on pension reforms and on taxation of enterprise profits. PG

GERMAN FIRM SEEN GAINING CONTROL OF TV-6

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 February that the resignation of TV-6 founder and director Eduard Sagalaev, which was announced on 5 February, foreshadows the company's acquisition by Germany's Kirsch Media Group, which is purchasing 75 percent of the shares in that enterprise. PG

MOSCOW EXPECTS GRAIN IMPORTS TO FALL

Russian agricultural official Viktor Maksimov told PRIME-TASS on 6 February that Moscow expects Russian grain imports will decline from 15 to 20 million tons annually during the past several years to 5 million tons in 2001. Fodder will make up the bulk of these imports, he said, but the need for grain imports in the Far East will continue as well. PG

WORKPLACE ACCIDENTS STRAINING INSURANCE SYSTEM

Mikhail Dmitriev, the first deputy economics minister, said that 6,000 Russians died in industrial accidents in 2000 and that 500,000 workers collected payments after injuries on the job, "Vremya MN" reported on 6 February. Because many of them receive sums "which exceed their working incomes," he said, the insurance funds are under enormous strain and their rules need to be changed. PG

AIDS CRISIS CONTINUES TO WORSEN

Health Ministry officials said on 6 February that almost 46,500 new HIV cases were registered in 2000, 2.9 times the number in 1999, and almost 1.5 times the total number of cases registered during all of the last 12 years, Interfax reported. The officials called for the development of a federal anti-HIV/AIDS program for 2002-2007. PG

RUSSIA'S MIDDLE CLASS UNLIKE ITS WESTERN COUNTERPART

Leonid Grigoriev of the Bureau of Economic Analysis was quoted in "Vremya MN" on 6 February as saying that a middle class now exists in Russia, but it is smaller (20-25 percent of all households), more recent (less than a decade old), and more insecure (many small firms are failing) than its Western counterparts. He added that the Russian income pyramid is more like that of Latin America, where income inequality is very high, than elsewhere in the West. PG

TRIAL OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES RESUMES

After a two-year break for investigations into the group's religious beliefs, the trial of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow resumed on 6 February, AP reported. Moscow city prosecutors are attempting to outlaw the Moscow branch, even though branches of the denomination operate in more than 350 other Russian cities. John Burns, a Canadian human rights lawyer representing the Jehovah's Witnesses at the trial, said that "we're dealing here with a return to something that was in the Middle Ages," when one group was denounced as heretical by another and punished as a result. PG

MORE DETAILS ON MOSCOW METRO BLAST

Moscow police said on 6 February that the explosion in the Moscow metro on 5 February which injured 15 people was caused by a timebomb, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, visiting U.S. FBI Director Louis Freeh offered the services of his organization to the investigation. PG

MOSCOW WANTS TO BRING FORWARD MILLENNIUM CELEBRATION

Although Moscow marked its 850th birthday just three years ago, talk about Kazan's plans to celebrate its 1,000th anniversary in 2005 has prompted Moscow archeologists to argue that the Russian capital should celebrate its millennium earlier, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 3 February. The schedule for the celebration could be moved up, the city's archeologists argue, if excavation finds and not just chronicle records are taken into account. PG

ST. PETERSBURG TO MARK 300TH ANNIVERSARY

President Putin on 6 February met with the commission preparing for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that two-thirds of the means budgeted for restoration and reconstruction of cultural sites across the entire country are to be sent to St. Petersburg for this jubilee. One of the proposed plans is to create a new square in honor of Peter I. PG

ST. PETERSBURG CONTAINER PORT IN TROUBLE

"Izvestiya-Peterburg" reported on 6 February that there are serious difficulties at the container terminal in St. Petersburg and that these have been complicated by customs regulations that limit the ability of port workers to move goods through that port quickly. As a result, costs are rising, and companies are having to bear greater risks. PG

MOSCOW READY TO DISCUSS KALININGRAD

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 6 February that the Russian government looks forward to discussions with the European Union in Moscow on 15 February about Kaliningrad and other issues, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Sergei Frank told President Putin on 6 February that his ministry has decided to develop a ferry link to Kaliningrad to improve ties between that Russian exclave and the Russian Federation as a whole, Russian agencies said. PG

SAAMI CELEBRATE

The Saami ethnic community, whose 2,000 people live in the Kola peninsula, are celebrating their national holiday this month, one they share with Saamis in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, ITAR-TASS reported. Murmansk Governor Yuri Yevdokimov sent a message pledging that the regional authorities will do everything possible to preserve Saami "culture and national identity." PG

BURYATS, MONGOLS TO COOPERATE ON GOLD PRODUCTION

Mongolia and the Republic of Buryatiya have agreed to begin cooperating in the production of gold, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February. They will jointly exploit deposits in the Selenga Aimak (district) in Mongolia. PG

FAMILIES OF SERVICEMEN KILLED ON DUTY TO GET $5,000

The fund set up by 27 major Russian businesses at the urging of President Putin on 24 January will begin to distribute nearly $5,000 to the families of every serviceman killed on duty, and $2,000 to every wounded serviceman, Arkadii Volsky of the Russian Union of Businessmen and Entrepreneurs was quoted by "Segodnya" on 5 February as announcing. PG

GROMOV TV TO START THIS YEAR

Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov told reporters on 6 February that Moscow Oblast Television Company will start broadcasting programs to all parts of the oblast at the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. The programs will be available both over the air and via cable. According Gromov, funding for the development of the television broadcasting system in the oblast will be provided from extrabudgetary funds. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 February, the oblast also plans to build a waterpark and a safari park. JAC

MAYORS APPEAL TO PUTIN FOR HELP

Members of the Union of Russian Cities and Congress of Municipal Organizations have appealed to President Putin for a meeting in February or March of this year, according to the web site, regions.ru. Khabarovsk Mayor Aleksandr Sokolov, who heads the organization, told reporters on 6 February that presidential and government structures have not paid enough attention to the problems of local organs of self-rule. According to Sokolov, municipal authorities are responsible for resolving all problems with city dwellers' basic life necessities, such as heat, transportation, water, etc., but municipal governments are given no financial resources to do this. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 February, the mayors made a similar appeal to Putin in June of last year. JAC

TATARSTAN PRESIDENTS NO LONGER HAVE TO SPEAK TATAR

Tatarstan's legislative assembly, the State Council, has decided that it will not dispute a 2 February verdict of the republic's Supreme Court dropping the requirement that presidential candidates in the republic know both Tatar and Russia, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 6 February citing Tatarinform. The Supreme Court made the ruling as part of the broader effort to make the republic's constitution comply with the federal constitution. However, one of the council's deputies said that court's decision changes little since the constitutional requirement was not being enforced. Presidential elections in the republic are now scheduled for 25 March 2001. JAC




FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER, ALLIES QUIT RULING COALITION PARTNER

Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian and former Yerevan mayor Albert Bazeyan have announced their intention of forming a new "conservative opposition organization," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 6 February. Sarkisian also announced his resignation from the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), one of the two components of the majority Miasniutiun parliament coalition. Bazeyan had quit the HHK last week to protest its board's refusal to take up his recent dismissal with President Robert Kocharian. In a written statement released on 6 February, the two men accused Prime Minister Andranik Markarian of becoming "the appendage of a vicious government" which by its "total neglect of the rule of law" had diverged from the principles of the HHK's founder, Sargsian's murdered brother Vazgen. Eight other former HHK members who left that party last year to form the Hayastan parliament faction said the same day they will align with Sargsian's new opposition formation. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT CALLS FOR DISSOLVING PARLIAMENT

Self-Determination Union founder and chairman Paruyr Hairikian told journalists in Yerevan on 6 February that he hopes President Kocharian will "find the courage and help the people get rid" of the present Armenian parliament and call new elections, Noyan Tapan reported. Hairikian said dissolving the legislature would be an appropriate symbol of spiritual renewal to mark the tenth anniversary of Armenia's independence and the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion. LF

ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION

Ashot Safarian, who served as industry minister under then President Levon Ter-Petrossian from 1991-1997, has been charged with large-scale embezzlement of public funds, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 6 February quoting law enforcement officials. Safarian is accused of having illegally written off a Georgian chemical company's $6.2 million debt to the Armenian government. LF

CORDON AROUND AZERBAIJAN WAR INVALIDS' HQ REINFORCED

On 7 February some 200-300 Interior Ministry troops joined the police who last week cordoned off the Baku headquarters of the Society of Karabakh War Invalids, several hundred of whom began a hunger-strike on 22 January to demand an increase in their pensions and allowances, Turan reported. Meanwhile opposition party leaders and prominent members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia are continuing to visit the hunger-strikers to pledge support for their demands. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DENIES ARRANGING RUSSIAN FUNDING FOR 1999 ELECTION CAMPAIGN...

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 6 February, Zurab Zhvania denied Georgian press reports that the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) received $1 million from Russia to fund its October 1999 parliamentary election campaign, Caucasus Press reported. Zhvania said he will resign if those allegations are proven to be correct. He admitted that the SMK invited "two or three" unnamed Russian experts to advise on the conduct of the campaign, but argued that other political parties had done likewise. Interfax had quoted Georgian papers as reporting that Zhvania had travelled to Moscow several months before the parliamentary ballot to meet with an unnamed Russian deputy prime minister who agreed to finance the services of 12 Russian spin-doctors. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had told journalists on 5 February that Zhvania had hired Russian spin-doctors to advise SMK parliamentary candidates, but added that he does not know who paid those advisors and how much they received. LF

...SAYS GEORGIA SHOULD PAY PENSIONS BEFORE FOREIGN DEBTS

Zhvania told a session of the Georgian parliament bureau on 6 February that he is "surprised" that the government should give priority to repaying the country's foreign debts rather than to wages and pensions, Caucasus Press reported. Last month the Social Fund did not receive any money for pensions from the central budget, as a result of which pensions were funded by only 43 percent. Georgia's foreign debt currently amounts to some $2 billion. But pensioned police officers who had been picketing the Georgian parliament since late last month to demand 11 months' pensions arrears began receiving those payments on 6 February. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS SPANISH HOSTAGES IN DANGER

Caucasus Press on 6 February quoted Kakha Targamadze as telling "Moscow News" that the plight of the two Spanish businessmen abducted near Tbilisi on 1 December has deteriorated since their relatives began trying to ransom them. He said the kidnappers, who are believed to be holding the two men in the Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgia, are demanding a $3 million ransom, while the families of the two men can pay only $300,000 for their release. Targamadze had complained last month that relatives of the two men had embarked on their own mediation with the kidnappers, thereby creating problems for the Georgian police trying to mediate the Spaniards' release. But relatives of the two Spaniards later denied having established any contact with the kidnappers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 January 2001). LF

KAZAKH CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER SENTENCED IN ABSENTIA

The Shymkent City Court on 5 February sentenced Temirtas Tleulesov, author of a book on corruption among the Shymkent municipal authorities, to two years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Tleulesov is currently in hiding, and a nation-wide search for him is underway. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES INTERCEDE FOR JAILED OPPOSITION POLITICIAN

Eight deputies to Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (the upper chamber of the legislature) appealed on 6 February to the Supreme Military Court to release former Vice President Feliks Kulov until the appeal against his seven year sentence has been heard, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They also asked that Kulov be allowed to participate in a round-table between members of the government, the opposition, the media and NGOs that is scheduled for later this month. The Military Court passed sentence on Kulov last month on charges of abusing his official position while serving in 1997-1998 as National Security Minister, having acquitted him on the same charges last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000 and 22 January 2001). Also on 6 February, some 20 Kulov supporters staged a picket in Bishkek to demand Kulov's acquittal and release. LF

EBRD DELEGATION VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

A delegation from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 6 February, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. EBRD representative Fernand Pionel told journalists after that meeting that the Bank plans in future to give priority to the private sector and commercial banks when allocating loans to Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. Hitherto 65 percent of loans went to the public sector. The EBRD will establish an investment bank in Kyrgyzstan that will have initial charter capital of $7 million and will grant loans to small and medium businesses. LF

TAJIKISTAN SEEKS TO ENSURE OPTIMUM USE OF WATER, ELECTRICITY RESOURCES

At a meeting of government ministers and specialists on 6 February, Prime Minister Aqil Aqilov charged First Deputy Minister of Irrigation Musoyabsho Nazriev with drafting by 1 June a draft program on the rational use of water resources, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. A government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Qozidavlat Qimdodov has been formed to draft a broader state program on the use of both water and electricity. LF

TWO MORE TAJIKS KILLED BY LANDMINE ON BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN

Two Tajiks were killed and three more seriously injured by a land mine explosion on 6 February in the Isfara district of Sughd Oblast, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 7 February. Dozens of Tajik civilians have been killed in recent months by landmines laid by Uzbek forces along that country's borders with Tajikistan in order to deter incursions by militants from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MAKES CABINET APPOINTMENTS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Mikhail Rusy, former minister of natural resources and the environment, as agricultural minister, Belarusian Television reported on 6 February. "It is necessary to sow. As people say, die but sow grain," the newly appointed minister commented on his tasks. Lukashenka also appointed Major General Syarhey Hurulyou as chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces and first deputy defense minister, and Barys Terletski and Alyaksandr Shchurko as deputy interior ministers. JM

BELARUS'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO EXAMINE TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP FEES

Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich told journalists on 6 February that the Constitutional Court is going to look into the current procedure of collecting trade union membership fees, Interfax reported. According to reports in the state media, "a doctor of the 10th hospital in Minsk" filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court, claiming that the procedure contradicts the constitution. According to reports in the independent media, the complaint was inspired by the authorities, which want to deprive the trade union movement of financial support from workers. After Trade Union Federation leader Uladzimir Hancharyk announced his intention to run in this year's presidential race, the state-controlled media launched a smear campaign against Hancharyk and his federation. JM

PROTESTERS IN KYIV WANT UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO QUIT...

Some 5,000 people took part in an anti-presidential demonstration in Kyiv on 6 February, demanding that President Leonid Kuchma step down over allegations of his complicity in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The protesters from both left- and right-wing parties and organizations marched in downtown Kyiv, picketed the parliamentary building, and tried to storm the presidential administration building but were stopped by a police cordon and a high wall erected around the administration compound. The protesters adopted a resolution demanding the resignation of Kuchma, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Security Service chief Leonid Derkach, whom they hold responsible for the alleged murder of Gongadze. "It is impossible to live in a country where they get rid of everybody who disagrees with Leonid Kuchma," Yuriy Lutsenko, an organizer of the protest, told the crowd. JM

...WHILE KUCHMA SHRUGS OFF OUSTER DEMAND

"The president, who has been elected by the majority of Ukrainian residents, 16 million people, will not yield to the resignation demand of 2,000," presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko told the Ekho Moskvy radio station the same day. Lawmaker Serhiy Kurkin told Interfax that Kuchma voiced a similar argument the previous day during a meeting with Ukraine's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. According to Kurkin, Kuchma said the 16 million votes cast for him in 1999 constitute "the credit of trust on which I am leaning." Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz appealed to lawmakers in the parliament to pass legislation that would regulate the procedure for the president's impeachment. JM

EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER MEDIA FREEDOM IN UKRAINE

"The European Union wishes to repeat its concerns about the continuing problematic environment for the media in Ukraine and wants to stress to the Ukrainian authorities the need to ensure a safe, secure, and harassment-free environment for journalists to operate in," the EU's Swedish presidency said in a statement released on 6 February. The statement also called on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the disappearance of Heorhiy Gongadze. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Hrushko reacted to the EU statement by saying that it is "a biased opinion, a hasty measure that does not agree quite fittingly with what the initiators of this statement actually have in mind," Interfax reported. JM

RENOVATION BIDS FOR ESTONIAN POWER STATIONS REJECTED

A joint committee of Narva power stations decided on 6 February to reject the three bids submitted for the renovation of the stations because they were considerably more expensive than originally planned in the budget and urged the companies in question to submit new bids, ETA reported. The cost of the renovation was estimated at 3.9 billion kroons ($230 million), but the bids by Finnish Foster Wheeler Energia OY, U.S. Alstom Power Inc., and German Lurgi Energie und Entsorgung GmbH ranged between 4.6-5.6 billion kroons. The Narva power stations, operated by the energy monopoly Eesti Energia, will be sold later this year to the U.S. energy firm NRG Energy. The renovation should make the oil shale based power stations more environment-friendly and more effective, reducing oil shale requirements by 800,000 tons or 8 percent a year. The renovation will also cut the expulsion of sulphur into the atmosphere to nearly zero. SG

OVER ONE THOUSAND HIV CASES REGISTERED IN LATVIA

Iveta Dievberna from the AIDS Prevention Center announced on 6 February that in January 64 new cases of HIV infections were registered, raising the official count of HIV infected persons in Latvia to 1,022, BNS and LETA reported. Of the new registrations, some ten of them are under age and two are intravenous drug addicts under 15. Experts estimate that the true number of HIV infected persons is at least three times higher than the officially registered total. Statistics from the AIDS center indicate that about 70 percent of the HIV carriers are intravenous drug addicts and about 10 percent were infected through homosexual contacts. More than three-fourths (788) of the HIV infected were registered in Riga with smaller numbers in Ventspils (53 cases), Jurmala (43), and Kuldiga (23). SG

KALININGRAD VICE-GOVERNOR VISITS LITHUANIA

During talks in Vilnius on 6 February, Mikhail Tsikel and Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Evaldas Ignatavicius discussed bilateral cooperation plans in the areas of energy production, economics, transport, and environmental protection, BNS reported. They also talked about implementing joint projects with Poland. Tsikel noted that the tax privileges enjoyed by the special economic zone in the Kaliningrad region, which had been abrogated by the Russian High Customs Committee, have been restored following a visit to Moscow by Kaliningrad governor Vladimir Yegorov at the end of January. SG

SOLIDARITY SENATOR FOUND TO BE 'LUSTRATION LIAR'

The Lustration Court has ruled that 59-year old Zygmunt Ropelewski, a senator of the Solidarity Electoral Action, is a "lustration liar" since he concealed the fact of his collaboration with the communist-era security services in his lustration statement, PAP reported on 6 February. Quoting documents from Ropelewski's file and testimony from a former secret service officer, the court said Ropelewski was a secret and intentional informer of the secret police in 1976-78. Ropelewski admitted that in 1976 he met twice with the officer testifying in his case but denied having been an agent. If the Lustration Court confirms its verdict on Ropelewski in the second instance, Ropelewski will lose his senatorial mandate and will not be allowed to hold public posts for 10 years. JM

DETAINED CZECHS RETURN TO PRAGUE

Deputy Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik returned to Prague from Cuba on 6 February, and thanked all those involved in efforts to release them, CTK and international agencies reported. Pilip told journalists that he would like to return to Cuba one day, but "only after the political situation has changed." He said the authorities in Cuba had believed they were trying to "draw attention to the [lack of respect of] human rights in Cuba". He also said their detention was intended to "send a message" to the new Bush administration in Washington that "this sort of support of human rights will not be tolerated." Asked about his immediate plans, Pilip replied: "I will wake up and look at the sun and the sky, because I almost forgot how they look." MS

HAVEL WELCOMES CUBA'S DECISION TO RELEASE CZECHS

President Vaclav Havel said on 6 February he learned with "great joy and satisfaction" about Pilip and Bubenik's release and is looking forward to meeting them, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel will describe the efforts to free the two men after he meets them on 7 February. Speaking in Stockholm during a visit to Sweden, Prime Minster Milos Zeman said he wishes to "thank everyone who tried hard to find a solution." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Prague that although he had been expecting the liberation of Pilip and Bubenik for "several days," he could not "be sure until the last moment" that this would indeed happen, AP reported. Kavan also said that now there is hope that a "political dialogue" will be re-established with Cuba, leading to "a renewal of economic and other relations." MS

KLAUS APOLOGIZES OVER STATEMENT ON PITHART'S MISSION TO CUBA

Civic Democratic Party chairman Vaclav Klaus apologized on 7 February for his statement two days earlier, in which he criticized and belittled Senate chairman Petr Pithart's mission to Cuba and its results. Klaus said he had made the statement based on information available to him at that time, and that information "proved wrong." Klaus also said he is glad the two are back. "It is a victory, and whoever achieved it deserves appreciation," he said. MS

SLOVAKIA CLAIMS MAJOR ROLE IN RELEASE OF CZECHS FROM CUBA

Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel on 6 February welcomed "with satisfaction" the release by Cuba of Pilip and Bubenik and said Slovak diplomacy played "a role" in the Cuban decision "as part of silent diplomacy." He said Slovakia acted as "an intermediary" between Prague and Havana, and within this framework its most important role was the "delivery" of the letter that Czech Senate chairman Pithart had written to Cuban President Fidel Castro. Defense Minster Jozef Stank, who until recently was Slovak ambassador to the Czech Republic, said the release of the two must be viewed as "a big merit of Slovak diplomacy." He told CTK that Pithart gave him the letter to Castro and "this was one of my last actions as Slovak Ambassador." The letter was delivered to Havana through Slovak diplomatic channels, he said. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATES ON AMENDING CONSTITUTION

The parliament on 6 February began debating amendments to the constitution aimed at advancing the goal of joining the EU, AP reported. The amendments would increase the independence of courts of justice and make possible other reforms that would bring legislation in line with that of the EU. It is also envisaged to create the position of ombudsman. All four parties participating in the coalition headed by Mikulas Dzurinda said they will support the amendments. The coalition has a majority of 91 in the 150-seat parliament and in order to be approved, the amendments need the backing of 90 lawmakers. MS

HUNGARIAN POLICE ORDERS PROBE IN TORGYAN SON'S CASE

The National Police's Directorate for Combating Organized Crime on 6 February ordered an investigation into the so-called "cassette case," in which Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan's son is accused of illegally receiving 3 million forints ($10,400) from a non-profit company owned by the Ministry of Agriculture. The same day Torgyan told a cabinet meeting that the charges are false. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week that the charges will entail serious legal consequences if substantiated. In other news, the five "reformer Smallholders" who left or were expelled from that party, met FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer and agreed that they will continue to support the government's program as independent parliamentary members. MSZ




MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT: UNION WITH SERBIA WILL SLOW REFORM PROCESS

Milo Djukanovic said in New York on 6 February that "Serbia evidently prefers a joint state, a state which will constitute a single international entity. For us this is unacceptable because this implies returning to the former status. We believe that we have made considerable progress compared to Serbia in terms of economic and democratic reforms and any return into a federation and such a joint framework would entail slowing down such processes." Djukanovic added that "we fear that the new leadership remains prey to a historic view from Serbia of Montenegro. I would liken this to an attitude of an elder to a younger, smaller brother. Quite simply, Montenegro no longer feels the need for that excessive love," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 23 January 2001). PM

DJUKANOVIC DENIES LINK BETWEEN MONTENEGRIN, KOSOVA QUESTIONS

The Montenegrin president also said in New York on 6 February that it is wrong to link the question of Montenegro's political future with that of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 February 2001). "We are being requested to give up our own interests to continue being victims and hostages to the resolution of the Kosovo problem. And all this without any prospect that if Montenegro gives up its national interests that will help resolve the Kosovo problem," RFE/RL quoted Djukanovic as saying. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT: SERBIA MUST HAND OVER WAR CRIMINALS...

Stipe Mesic told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 7 February that the Serbian authorities must send all indicted war criminals to The Hague in order to establish individual guilt for war crimes. If Belgrade does not do this, Serbia's neighbors will be likely to assign collective guilt for war crimes to the entire Serbian people. The extradition of guilty parties would be part of a long-overdue "catharsis for the Serbian population" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000 and 6 February 2001). Mesic noted that Serbia must come to regard Serbian minorities in neighboring countries as "bridges...and not as outposts for aggression." PM

...AND NOT RECEIVE AID UNTIL IT DOES

Croatian President Mesic also told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 7 February that "if the international community is serious about [prosecuting war criminals], then it must not give Serbia financial and material assistance until it is clear that [Serbia] will cooperate with The Hague." Mesic noted that former President Slobodan Milosevic "did not want either a federal or a confederal Yugoslavia. He wanted an ethnically cleansed Greater Serbia. That's why he went to war. And now everybody, everywhere understands that." Mesic added that the main flaw facing the former Yugoslavia was that "there were too few integrating forces" to hold it together. He argued that a peaceful separation on the Czechoslovak model would have been possible had it not been for Milosevic's aggressive policies. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT: BOSNIA MUST REMAIN UNITED

President Mesic further told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 7 February that one of the main accomplishments of the post-Tudjman Croatian leadership is that it convinced the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina that they must seek solutions to their problems within that republic and not in Croatia. He noted that the time for changing borders is past, and that "Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be divided up any more than Switzerland can." PM

MILOSEVIC MINISTER FOUND DEAD

Zoran Sokolovic, who was Milosevic's last federal interior minister, was found dead in his Lada Niva car on 6 February in his home village of Lepen near Knjazevac. The 68 year-old had a pistol in his hand. The Serbian Interior Ministry said in a statement that they feel that the death is "most probably" a suicide. The former minister was already close to Milosevic at the start of his meteoric rise to power in 1987 and stayed with him to the end. Sokolovic's power and influence were well known, but he preferred to keep a low profile and stay out of the political limelight, Hina reported. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT PARTY BLAMES OLD REGIME FOR CAR ATTACK

The Democratic Party said in a statement in Belgrade on 6 February that the fire that recently destroyed the jeep of a government political leader was a "deliberate terrorist act, targeting democratic and economic reforms undertaken in Serbia" by the new authorities," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001). PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TO TALK TO 'TERRORISTS'?

In an apparent reversal of a long-standing policy not to acknowledge the existence of or talk to the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 6 February that "if Albanians believe that terrorists are their adequate representatives, then talks are possible" with the UCPMB, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001). "Terrorists and separatists" are the terms that the Milosevic regime used and the current authorities employ to describe ethnic Albanian fighters in the Presevo region. Elsewhere, AFP quoted a Presevo Albanian political spokesman as saying that local Albanian leaders have met in Prishtina and worked out a joint negotiating position. It is not clear if the meeting included the UCPMB. PM

U.S. DIPLOMATS UNDER FIRE IN SOUTHWEST SERBIA?

Cars carrying U.S. Balkans envoy James Pardew, Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery, and Yugoslav officials in the troubled region turned back from the village of Lucane on 6 February after gunfire was heard, a U.S. embassy spokesman said. He did not comment on official Serbian reports that Albanian fighters had shot at the convoy, AP reported. PM

KOSOVARS TO IDENTIFY BODIES FROM BELONGINGS

The OSCE and ICRC have compiled a book of 750 photographs of personal belongings found in mass graves of Kosovar victims of the 1998-1999 conflict. Families of missing persons from all ethnic groups will have access to the book to help them identify relatives on the basis of those belongings, AP reported from Prishtina on 6 February. PM

ALBANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY SPLITS

Genc Pollo, who heads the Democratic Party Reform Movement, said in a press statement in Tirana on 6 February that his group will soon formally split from the Democratic Party led by his combative former mentor, Sali Berisha. Pollo will head the party led by a five-member Secretariat and 22-member presidency. Two prominent members of the Secretariat are former Tirana Mayor Albert Brojka and reformist parliamentary faction leader Nard Ndoka. Deshamir Shehi's Movement for Democracy and Petrit Kalakulla's Right Democratic Party will merged with the new party. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS, CROATS UNITE AGAINST U.S. AMBASSADOR

Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, said in Banja Luka on 6 February that he wants U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Thomas Miller and Ambassador Robert Barry--a U.S. diplomat heading the OSCE mission to Bosnia--expelled for interfering in domestic politics. Ante Jelavic, who is the Croatian member of the presidency, endorsed Radisic's proposal. Muslim Halid Genjac disagreed, saying that such expulsions would cause serious damage to Bosnia's relations with the U.S., AP reported. PM

WASHINGTON DEFENDS ITS BOSNIAN REPRESENTATIVE

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said on 6 February that "the U.S. has full confidence in Ambassador Miller." The spokesman argued that Miller's activities are "completely compatible" with those carried out by ambassadors in all countries, adding that Radisic was engaging in domestic "political maneuvering" by criticizing Miller. In Sarajevo, Luke Zahner, who is Barry's spokesman, said that the Bosnian presidency members "should be engaged in the real issues concerning Bosnians and not play games like this." It is not clear whether High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch has the authority to overrule any decision by the presidency to actually expel the two diplomats, AP reported. PM

CROATIAN COURT ORDERS WAR CRIMES RETRIAL

The Supreme Court ordered the Zagreb district court to hold a retrial of six Croats charged with the killings of several dozen ethnic Serbs in the Pakrac and Gospic areas in 1991, "Jutarnji list" reported. In 1999, the district court found four of the six not guilty and gave the other two short sentences. Critics at the time charged that the court ruling was the result of interference by the government of then-President Franjo Tudjman, which allegedly sought to cover up evidence of war crimes committed by Croats against Serbs. PM

U.S. JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS PROTEST AGAINST NEW ANTONESCU STATUE

In a letter to President Ion Iliescu, the leaders of three large U.S. Jewish organizations have protested the recent decision by the Bacau municipality to erect a statue in memory of Romania's wartime Nazi ally Marshal Ion Antonescu, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported on 6 February. Abraham Fox, Daniel Mariaschin and Shulamith Bahat said that statues erected in the memory of the marshal "as well as plaques and street-naming in his honor" are tantamount to "paying homage to one of the darkest periods in Romania's past." They also wrote that they "would like to be able to support" Romania's quest for NATO membership but "for this to occur...Romania needs to make a clear break with the Antonescu legacy." MS

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN RESIGNS BANK POSITION

Senate chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu resigned on 6 February from the post of president of the Romanian Bank for Investment and Development, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He also resigned his membership on that bank's administrative board. MS

ROMANIA 'SATISFIED' WITH EU PRELIMINARY REPORT ON VISA LIFTING

The Foreign Ministry on 6 February said it is "satisfied" with a preliminary report by the European Commission on Bucharest's fulfillment of conditions for lifting visa requirements on Romanian citizens traveling to the EU. The report lists both obligations fulfilled and those that are on the way to being met. The final version of the report will be presented by the EU commission to the European Parliament on 30 June. MS

BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST NOMINATION OF NEW RADIO CHIEF

In a declaration read over state radio, journalists working for that institutions on 6 February protested against the nomination of Ivan Borislavov earlier that day as director of Bulgarian Radio, AP reported. Borislavov, a poet and a translator, was appointed to the position by the National Council on Radio and Television and the journalists said the appointment was politically motivated (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). The council's members are nominated by the government, the president and the parliament and the vote in Borislavov's favor was 7 to 2. The protesters called for a staff meeting on 7 February and in a move reminding of the protests at Czech television one month earlier they said they will bar Borislavov from entering the building. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER REJECTS CABINET RESHUFFLE OVER SURGING CRIME

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 6 February told an emergency session of the legislature called to discuss the raising tide of criminality that he has no intention of reshuffling the cabinet months ahead of the general elections, AP reported. Opposition leaders had called on the premier during that debate to fire unnamed members of his cabinet. Opposition parties later walked out of the session and announced they will move a no-confidence motion in the cabinet. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER HINTS NATO DEVELOPMENTS IN OFFING

Prime Minister Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova met on 6 February with President Petar Stoyanov, discussing with him Bulgaria's relations with NATO. After the meeting, Kostov said there will "soon be developments" in this area, but refused to divulge any details, Bulgarian radio, cited by the BBC monitoring service, reported. MS




There is no end note today.





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