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Newsline - February 8, 2001




DUMA GIVES PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO PARTIES BILL

By a vote of 280 for and 109 against with four abstentions, the Duma on 7 February approved in the first reading the Kremlin's draft of the political parties bill that will require parties to have at least 10,000 members, at least 100 in each of more than half of Russia's regions, and to field candidates regularly, Russian and Western agencies reported. The measure must still pass two additional readings before being sent to the Federation Council and then President Vladimir Putin. Communist party leader Gennadii Zyuganov led the opposition to the bill, and reformist groups also criticized the measure. The Union of Orthodox Christians, a lay religious group, announced its opposition because of the measure's ban on parties based on religious or ethnic groups, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 February, the Kremlin has not yet decided on which party it should rely. A poll reported by "Vremya MN" the same day suggested that most Russians are largely indifferent to the measure: 23 percent of those questioned prefer a one-party system, 22 percent want a two-party arrangement, 21 percent back three, and 15 percent support a large number of parties. But the poll also showed, the paper said, that respondents believe that "political parties have not done Russia much good." PG

PLANNED ENERGY COMMISSION RAISES NEW QUESTIONS ABOUT CHUBAIS'S FUTURE

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told the Duma on 7 February that the government plans to set up in the near future a permanent fuel and energy commission, ITAR-TASS reported. He said later on "Ekho Moskvy" that the government will soon draw conclusions about the role of Unified Energy Systems (EES) in the heating crisis, the Russian agency reported. Meanwhile, EES chairman Anatolii Chubais directed his first deputy Leonid Melamed to prepare a reorganization plan for that body, Interfax reported the same day. Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said in Orel on 7 February that the energy crisis was the result of strategic mistakes by the government over the last several years, Interfax reported. PG

SOME REGIONAL RESIDENTS STILL FEELING COLD DESPITE HEAT ON CHUBAIS

Following criticism by President Putin of its handling of the energy crisis in the Far East, Chubais's Unified Energy Systems (EES) is creating a special anti-crisis headquarters for the provision of fuel to power stations in Siberia and the Far East, Interfax reported on 7 February. In addition, EES is preparing proposals to stabilize the energy supply in these regions. Meanwhile, in Siberia, Tomskenergo told the agency that its enterprises have enough coal to last for only another two or three days, and in Yakutia some 770 residents had to be evacuated after a fire at a power station left homes in the village of Deputatskii without heat. In the Central district in Lipetsk Oblast, heat to apartments has been reduced in the city of Yelets by about 30 percent; in one neighborhood the inside temperatures in apartments is 8 degrees Celsius, RFE/RL's Lipetsk correspondent reported. The city owes its local power supplier some 3.109 million rubles ($110,000). JAC

NAZDRATENKO EXPECTING TRANSFER TO MOSCOW

In an interview with the Vladivostok newspaper, "Novosti," former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko claimed that during his recent telephone conversation with President Putin, Putin invited him to come to Moscow to continue his work in the capital, "Interfax-Eurasia" reported on 7 February. He did not provide details about the exact nature of his responsibilities, but said that he "will work together with the president." Nazdratenko also revealed that there was only one reason why he resigned: "the whole country was hearing simply too much noise about the region's crises, scandals and conflicts." Meanwhile, Acting Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein announced that 4362 residents remain without central heating, but since 27 January heating has been restored to more than 11,000 residents. On 7 January, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that work on the heating system in the krai can be transferred from the emergency category to a more routine category. JAC

BEREZOVSKY OFFERS LOANS TO MEDIA-MOST

Embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky on 7 February said that he wants to assist the even more embattled Media-MOST group through loans, Russian and Western agencies reported. Media-MOST spokeswoman Yelena Bruni said that the company would welcome the infusion of cash. But she noted that Berezovsky's offer may have prompted the authorities to launch another search of Image Bank where Media-MOST kept its funds. PG

MOSCOW MAY REOPEN MABATEX CASE IN EXCHANGE FOR BORODIN'S RETURN

"Kommersant-Daily" speculated on 7 February that Russian prosecutors may be prepared to reopen the Mabatex case in exchange for an agreement by the Swiss to drop demands for the extradition of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin from the United States. Meanwhile, "Argumenty i fakty" reported the same day that some members of the Russian elite are nervous about such a possibility. "Kommersant-Daily" reported that on 6 February five people joined LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky in a protest outside the American embassy in Moscow. The protesters carried signs saying "If Borodin is a thief, then he is our thief and ought to serve his sentence in Russia." PG

CENTRAL BANK HEAD SEES NO BANKING CRISIS AHEAD

Viktor Gerashchenko said on 7 February that there is no threat now of a systematic banking crisis in Russia, Interfax reported. In other comments, he said that audit checks on the bank will take place as planned. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Gerashchenko has asked banks throughout the country to provide information about their forward currency contracts just before the August 1998 crash. The paper said that this request could lead to the bankruptcy of 10 percent of the country's banks. PG

MOSCOW WORKS TO RESOLVE DEBT ISSUE

The Duma Budget Committee will consider on 19 February a government plan to reallocate funds within the 2001 budget to allow for making payments to the Paris Club of creditors, Interfax-AFI reported on 7 February. Unity said it will support the government's plan, Interfax reported. "Izvestiya" the same day pointed out that ending capital flight would allow Russia to solve its debt problems. Meanwhile, talks continued with the International Monetary Fund delegation in Moscow, and the World Bank approved both a strategy for dealing with Russia and a $60 million loan to Moscow to improve municipal transport. PG

PUTIN ORDERS PENSION CHANGES

President Putin on 7 February said that Russia's current "pension system has outlived itself. We are spending what we collect," Interfax reported. He said that "part of pensions should be guaranteed and not depend on salary or length of time worked," but that another part should depend on "a person's concrete activity." Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was named to head a national council on pension reform, the news service said. But both "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that there remain serious disagreements over what direction the reforms should take. PG

ANTHEM APPROVAL AGAIN PUT OFF

At the request of Duma Culture Committee Chairman Nikolai Gubenko, the parliament has put off debate on which of two versions of lyrics for the national anthem should be approved, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February. The paper said that the debate over whether to use the Kremlin-backed language or that provided by satirist Vladimir Voinovich will now not take place before 22 February. PG

MOSCOW HOPES NEW ISRAELI LEADER WILL CONTINUE PEACE PROCESS

The Foreign Ministry on 7 February issued a statement saying that Moscow "expects the new Israeli government to be formed by Ariel Sharon to work for overcoming the crisis situation in the Middle East and to maintain continuity of the peace process," Russian agencies reported. Duma Deputy Chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) said he expects more tensions in the short term but serious talks over the longer haul. And Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said that he expects Palestinian-Israeli talks to resume in May. But Russian orientalist Vladimir Isaev said that Sharon's victory is likely to lead to "an impasse, the way out of which will lie through blood and shooting." PG

MOSCOW WANTS TO DISCUSS BALKANS WITH U.S. BUT CRITICIZES WASHINGTON

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 7 February that the Russian government hopes to discuss the situation in the Balkans with the new American administration in the near future, Interfax reported. But on the same day, the Russian military's environmental safety head said that American suggestions that the use of depleted uranium in Yugoslavia does not pose a health risk "are absolutely unfounded," the Russian agency said. PG

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is also the current OSCE chairman, met in Moscow on 7 February with his Russian counterpart Ivanov to discuss issues related to the OSCE and bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS and Romanian media reported. Ivanov said Russia agrees to the renewal of the OSCE mission to Chechnya, as proposed by Geoana, but the mission will be able to return to the region only after a number of "technical problems" had been solved. The mission is to be headed by Romanian ambassador Alexandru Cornea, who accompanied Geoana on his visit. Geoana said that the "consensus principle" has been and must remain the cornerstone of OSCE activity. The sides agreed that economic and other relations must improve and must not be affected by the pending negotiations on the basic treaty between their countries and that a "pragmatic" approach must prevail in their relations. MS

U.S.-RUSSIA COOPERATION ON NMD PROPOSED

Major General Vladimir Belous, a professor at the Academy of Military Sciences, told ITAR-TASS on 7 February that the two countries could work together to create defenses against missiles launched by third countries. Meanwhile, an article in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," no. 43, pointed out that Russia has lost ground compared to the U.S. in virtually all areas of strategic defense. PG

MOSCOW DOWNGRADES CIS BUT TO INTERVENE MORE IN BELARUS

In a commentary on Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov's presentation to the Munich international security conference last weekend, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said on 7 February that Russia welcomes increased bilateral arrangements with Commonwealth of Independent States but does not want to be tied down by any multilateral arrangements. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Vlast," no. 5, said that Moscow is seeking to replace Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has already interviewed possible replacements, and will impose its choice through the use of its overwhelming dominance of the electronic media environment in Belarus. PG

PUTIN SAYS UKRAINIAN TIES HAVE IMPROVED

In an interview with Ukrainian television in advance of his meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 12 February, Russian President Putin said that the two of them "managed to do the main thing last year -- we changed the quality of relations. Frankly speaking," he continued, "I think this was one of the main achievements of Russian diplomacy last year," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

ENVOY ASKS IF CANADA WANTS DIPLOMAT SHOT

In a letter published in Ottawa's "National Post" on 7 February, Russian Ambassador to Canada Vitalii Churkin defended Moscow's decision not to waive diplomatic immunity for a Russian diplomat who was involved in a fatal automobile accident, Reuters reported. He said that Russian courts would handle the case, adding "surely you do not expect us to 'shoot the perpetrator on the spot' as some letters we have received at the embassy suggest?" PG

TOKYO STILL WANTS KURILES BACK

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori led a rally of 1500 government officials and senior politicians in Tokyo on 7 February to demand that Russia resolve the dispute between the two countries over the four Kurile islands Moscow seized at the end of World War II, AP reported. Mori said that resolving that dispute would promote "peace and security" throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Demonstrators outside police lines carried signs reading "Return Our Islands." PG

KARAGANOV DIVIDES THE WORLD INTO THREE PARTS

In a report to the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, council chairman Sergei Karaganov said that the world has now divided into three groups of states: advanced industrial societies lead by the United States, a second group including China and India whose members have made progress thanks to democratic reforms, and a third group including the poorest countries of Africa and Asia and most of the post-Soviet states, strana.ru reported on 6 February. He said that Russia is located between the first and the second of these groups. Karaganov predicted that the U.S. will remain the world's "leader" for another 15 to 20 years and said that Moscow must deal with that reality, Interfax reported on 7 February. PG

RYZHKOV SAYS DAVOS HIGHLIGHTED RUSSIA'S ISOLATION

Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), who was a member of the Russian delegation to the world economic forum in Davos, said that this year's meetings highlighted Russia's isolation from the world, "Argumenty i fakty" reported on 7 February. He said that Russia was discussed at only three of the 313 sessions and that the failure of President Putin to attend only "strengthened the main impression" that Russia is lagging behind the rest of the world. PG

SUTYAGIN LOSES APPEAL

The Supreme Court on 7 February rejected an appeal by accused spy Igor Sutyagin to order the court of first instance to compel those who organized the case against him to appear in court, Russian and Western agencies said. Sutyagin's attorneys told AP that the authorities are trying to avoid any specifics about the case because "every time we get specific details, the case starts falling apart." PG

METRO BOMB RENEWS QUESTIONS ON 1999 EXPLOSIONS

Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said on 7 February that terrorism is one of the possible explanations his officers were considering in their investigation of the bombing on 5 February of a Moscow metro station, Russian agencies reported. Police indicated that they had increased security throughout the metro system. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 February asked "why can't the police find the criminals responsible for bombings in Moscow?" and it pointed out that investigations into the August 1999 apartment blasts there for which the authorities blamed the Chechens have not resulted in any convictions yet. PG

PUTIN NAMES NEW SPACE CENTER HEAD, AS ZYUGANOV PLEADS FOR MIR

President Putin appointed Aleksandr Medvedev to head the Khrunichev State Research and Production Center in place of Anatolii Kiselev, who had asked to retire for health reasons after 26 years in that post, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 February. Meanwhile, Communist leader Zyuganov dispatched an open letter to Putin on the same day asking him not to allow the deorbiting of the Mir space station in March, Interfax reported. Zyuganov said that American plans to build NMD have created a new situation to which Mir could help Russia respond. PG

MILITARY REAR SERVICES TO UNITE

Colonel General Vladimir Isakov, the commander of the military's rear services, said that he will work under a special commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov to merge as much as possible the rear services of all security services by 2005, "Vremya MN" reported on 7 February. PG

ST. PETERSBURG COULD BECOME CAPITAL IN FUTURE

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said on 7 February that the Russian capital could move to his city but that "many years will have to pass" before that can be accomplished, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he welcomes proposals to build an interparliamentary center there for the Russia-Belarus Union and noted that the city is already the seat of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly. PG

TATARSTAN'S LATINIZATION PLANS CRITICIZED

"Izvestiya" on 7 February noted that Tatarstan's plans to introduce a Latin-based script in place of the Cyrillic-based script could isolate that republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000 and 9 January 2001). The paper said that a Duma delegation which appeared to approve the idea when its members were in Kazan denounced it on their return to Moscow. The paper added that only 9.9 percent of Tatar parents want their children to study only the Tatar language. PG

MINERS WIN A CONTRACT

ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February that the Mining and Metallurgical Workers' Union has become the first labor union in Russia to negotiate an agreement with employers on "a minimum sectoral and social welfare standard." It also calls for increasing pay to miners. PG

MILITARY FORCED TO PAY DAMAGES

For the first time and in a move that may become a precedent, the Russian military was forced to pay compensation for damages it inflicted in Chechnya during its military campaign there, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 February. The paper said that the relatively small damage award -- 1.235 million rubles ($55,000) -- could be the first of many. PG

MORE HAZING, DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NORTH CAUCASIANS ACROSS RUSSIA

"Vremya novostei" reported on 5 February that conscripts from the North Caucasus have become targets for revenge while serving elsewhere in Russia. Meanwhile, "Argumenty i fakty" on 7 February noted that tensions between migrants from the Caucasus and local residents exist in most major Russian cities. PG

SMIRNOV WILL GIVE SHARES TO STATE TO KEEP NAME IN RUSSIA

Boris Smirnov, who runs a Moscow distillery of that name, said on 7 February that he will give his shares to the state rather than allow a firm to buy them which might transfer rights to the name to an American company which also produces Smirnoff vodka, AP reported. He said that the struggle over the vodka's name is "a battle for national dignity." PG

MOSCOW, KAZAN AT ODDS OVER RELATIVE ANTIQUITY

An article in "Argumenty i fakty" on 7 February noted that Kazan is already seeking to celebrate its millennium as a city even though in the 1980s it had asked the CSPU Central Committee's Politburo for permission to celebrate that city's 800th anniversary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Meanwhile, Moscow now wants to take pride of antiquity, the paper said, with archaeologists arguing that the city is at least 1100 years old, even though the Russian capital marked its 850th anniversary three years ago. PG




COMMISSION UNVEILS PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO ARMENIAN CONSTITUTION

The presidential commission for constitutional reform established in July 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1999) unveiled its proposals in Yerevan on 6 February, AFP and Noyan Tapan reported. Commission and Constitutional Court member Feliks Tokhian said that if adopted, the proposals would change almost half the articles of the present constitution to bring them into line with international standards. Specifically, the proposed changes give greater independence to the government and the judiciary and guarantee the neutrality of the armed forces. Tokhian said that as some political forces are likely to object to some of the proposed changes, it is unlikely that the amendments will be put to a nation-wide referendum before the end of the year. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA REACH AGREEMENT ON ENERGY DEBTS

Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian said in Yerevan on 7 February that during recent talks in Moscow he reached agreement with the Russian side on a new schedule for the repayment of Armenia's total $23 million debt for natural gas and nuclear fuel for the Medzamor atomic power station, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). Under that agreement, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry will resume shipments of nuclear fuel for Medzamor in 5-6 months. Medzamor is to shut down for two months for scheduled maintenance in late May or early June 2001. LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS TURKISH INTERVIEW WITH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT

In a statement published in the "Turkish Daily News" on 8 February, the Azerbaijani embassy in Ankara criticized as "pro-Armenian propaganda" an interview with Armenian President Robert Kocharian published in that newspaper on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). The Azerbaijani embassy castigated the Turkish journalist who conducted the interview for failing to ask Kocharian "why he was pursuing a policy of occupation, why he has not withdrawn from Azerbaijani soil and why he has turned Armenia into a giant arsenal." The statement further noted that while "Turkey has always been well-intentioned" towards Armenia, Armenians "are constantly hostile towards Turkey." It also claimed that Armenia has bought from Russia S-300 missiles that are targeted on Turkish cities. LF

IRAN AGAIN DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN MURDER OF AZERBAIJANI HISTORIAN

Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 6 February, Iranian Ambassador Ahad Gazai denied any Iranian involvement in the murder four years ago of historian Zia Buniatov, Turan reported. The Iranian Embassy in Baku had issued a similar denial last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). Seven men identified as members of an Iranian organization named Vilayet al-Fagikh Hizbollah went on trial in Baku late last month for that killing. LF

SOME AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALIDS END HUNGER-STRIKE

Most of the 2,000 veterans of the Karabakh war who joined a mass hunger-strike in towns across Azerbaijan to demand an increase in their pensions have ended that protest, Turan reported on 8 February. The chairman of the society representing the invalids, Etimad Asadov, said that they interpret the 7 February statement by Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov that those allowances may be raised subject to an increase in budget revenues as a concession, and have ended the strike to avoid charges that they are pressuring the authorities. Some 60 invalids are, however, continuing their strike in the society's Baku headquarters to demand the creation of a commission to assess their demands. LF

NEW PROTEST AGAINST POWER OUTAGES IN GEORGIA

Hundreds of people staged a street protest in Tbilisi on 7 February against ongoing electricity shortages, calling on President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign if he is unable to guarantee uninterrupted power supplies, AP reported. Also on 7 February, the Russian-Georgian "Kavkasioni" power line that connects the two countries' power grids was blown up in Abkhazia's Kodori gorge, Caucasus Press reported. A spokesman for the Georgian Ministry of Fuel and Energy said the saboteurs are demanding a large sum of money from local officials in return for allowing engineers to repair the damage. LF

EMBATTLED GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS

Djamlet Babilashvili formally asked on 8 February to be released of his duties as prosecutor-general, one month before the expiry of his term in office on 5 March, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament deputies launched a campaign late last year to impeach Babilashvili for overstepping his official powers (see upcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO DRAFT OIL, GAS EXPORT STRATEGY

Kazakhstan's First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov told journalists in Almaty on 7 February that the country will draft by the end of June a strategy determining how much natural gas and oil is to be exported between now and 2010 and to which countries, and how much is needed for domestic consumption, Interfax reported. Addressing representatives of domestic and foreign oil companies the same day, Akhmetov said the Kazakh government hopes to persuade foreign companies to use domestic rather than imported goods and services. He further criticized the Chinese National Oil Corporation for violating the terms of its agreement with the Kazakh government by hiring Chinese rather than Kazakh specialists to work at the AqtobeMunaiGaz oil complex. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April and 16 August 2000). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADERS CRITICIZE OSCE

Azamat Party chairman Petr Svoik and National Congress Party deputy chairwoman Gulzhan Ergalieva held a joint press conference on 7 February in Almaty at which they criticized the OSCE mission for the conduct of two roundtable discussions of the political situation in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. They said the most recent of those discussions, which focused on the election laws, was inconclusive (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 2 February 2001). They also called for the resignation of Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zaghipa Balieva. LF

NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN

Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service has brought further criminal charges against former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 7 February. Kulov is accused of abuse of his official position and financial mismanagement while serving as governor of Chu Oblast in 1995. Those charges were previously brought against Kulov in 1997, but the Chu Oblast administration appealed to the Constitutional Court to drop them. Kulov was sentenced last month to seven years imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST APPLIES FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM IN AUSTRIA

Albert Korgoldoev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 7 February that he applied for political asylum on his arrival in Austria the previous day. Korgoldoev said criminal charges of hooliganism have been filed against him in Kyrgyzstan in connection with his monitoring of demonstrations in Djalalabad Oblast in October-November 2000 to protest the falsification of the outcome of the 29 October presidential poll. LF

TURKMEN PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE TREATED WITH PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS

Shageldy Atakov, a Baptist who is serving a four-year sentence on what are believed to be fabricated charges of swindling, is being subjected to treatment with psychotropic drugs at a labor camp in northern Turkmenistan, Keston News Service reported on 8 February. LF

UZBEK-SOUTH KOREAN AUTO JOINT VENTURE TO INCREASE PRODUCTION

The joint venture UzDaewooAvto will increase production of light automobiles by 70 percent, from 30,700 in 2000 to 51,400 in 2001, company board deputy chairman Akhmadzhon Khakkulov told journalists in Tashkent on 7 February. The joint venture had slashed production last year from 58,300 cars in 1999 as a result of Daewoo's financial problems. LF




BELARUS SOFTENS STANCE ON OSCE MISSION

Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou met on 6 February with Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, Belapan reported. According to the ministry's press release, "the sides agreed that in the context of the OSCE Permanent Council's resolutions and the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group mandate regular consultations in search for mutually acceptable solutions represented an optimal way of further productive cooperation between Belarus and the OSCE." The meeting signals official Minsk's withdrawal from its policy of confrontation with the OSCE. Last month President Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused the OSCE of training 14,000 terrorists to destabilize Belarus (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 January 2001), while Belarusian Television called Wieck a "German spy" in its smear campaign in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). JM

EAVESDROPPING ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CONFIRMED

Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets said on 7 January that the investigation into the tape scandal found that President Leonid Kuchma's office was bugged and that some of the secret recordings were incorporated in the tapes publicized by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Interfax reported. Bahanets said the president, presidential staff chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko confirmed that some of the disclosed conversations actually took place but denied "some fragments." Bahanets noted that the 14 episodes on the so-called Moroz tapes are "compiled, that is, falsified." Bahanets added that, according to experts, it was impossible to bug Kuchma's office in the way described by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, that is, on a digital recorder placed under a sofa. Meanwhile, the authenticity of Melnychenko's tapes was confirmed by lawmakers Taras Chornovil and Oleksandr Turchynov who recognized their voices on the recordings. JM

IMF UNLIKELY TO GIVE MONEY TO UKRAINE IN MARCH

IMF official John Odling-Smee said on 7 February that it is "very unlikely" that the IMF will disburse a further tranche of its $2.6 billion loan to Kyiv by the end of March. According to Odling-Smee, the IMF mission he heads and the Ukrainian government have failed to conclude talks on four issues: the gas sector, restructuring the banking sector, privatization, and writing-off of debts and unpaid taxes by the government. The IMF resumed lending to Ukraine in December 2000 after a 14-month break. Kyiv was counting on $187 million from the IMF following Odling-Smee's current visit. JM

ESTONIA'S INFLATION GROWS BY 1.3 PERCENT IN JANUARY

The Statistical Office announced that the consumer price index increased by 1.3 percent last month and by 5.8 percent compared to January 2000, BNS reported. In January, the price of goods rose by 0.4 percent (the cost of food increased by 1.0 percent while that of manufactured goods fell by 0.3 percent) and of services by 3.0 percent. Beginning in January 2001, the Statistical Office changed how it calculates the price index by adding 39 new goods and services to the list of items in the price index, thereby raising their number from 470 to 509. SG

BALTIC STATES, BELARUS, RUSSIA SIGN ENERGY PACT IN VILNIUS

The heads of Lithuania's Lietuvos Energija, Latvia's Latvenergo, Estonia's Eesti Energia, Belarus's Belenergo, and Russia's Unified Energy Systems signed a five-party agreement in Vilnius on 7 February on the parallel operation of a common energy system, ELTA reported. The signatories agreed to a Lithuanian request to set up a working group that would add a clause to the agreement stipulating that if one of the parties withdrew from the pact, it would not be liable for any losses that may result from this move. Lithuania had refused to sign a similar pact in 1999 (which the other parties signed), saying that it could hinder Lithuania's integration into the Western European energy system. The lack of such an agreement has prevented Lithuania from exporting electricity to Western Europe through Belarus. SG

LEADER OF POLAND'S NEW LIBERAL GROUP UPBEAT ON ELECTION PROSPECTS

Andrzej Olechowski, who formed the liberal Citizens' Platform (PO) along with Maciej Plazynski and Donald Tusk, said on 7 February that the PO can obtain 25 percent of the vote in this year's parliamentary ballot, PAP reported. Olechowski noted that the PO should primarily represent Poland's middle class, adding that "because the electorate seems to be quite focused in terms of ideology and program, it is not necessary to produce programs for everybody." Olechowski said the PO's intention is to prevent the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) from obtaining a ruling majority in the next parliament. A late-January poll by OBOP found that the PO is supported by 17 percent of voters, being well behind the SLD (39 percent) but ahead of the Solidarity Electoral Action (13 percent), the Peasant Party (9 percent), and the Freedom Union (5 percent). JM

CZECH PRESIDENT PRAISES RELEASED DETAINEES

President Vaclav Havel received Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik on 7 February and praised them for having attempted to help human rights activists in Cuba. Havel said "they deserve our admiration... not so much for the time they suffered in prison, as for wanting to do whatever was in their power to express solidarity with these people," CTK and Reuters reported. He said Pilip and Bubenik might serve as example for Czech politicians who rarely care about others. On his own attempts to contribute to their release, Havel said : "I am, as is well known, a person who does not belong to [Fidel] Castro's favorites, though we know each other. That is why I did not act in any overt manner." He said he had been in contact with several heads of state and had written to Pope John Paul II to enlist their help in bringing about the two Czech citizens' release. MS

SENATE CHAIRMAN TO RUN FOR CZECH PRESIDENT?

Following his success in bringing about the release of Pilip and Bubenik, Senate chairman Petr Pithart is now willing to admit that he may run for Czech president in 2003, CTK reported on 8 February, citing the dailies "Zemske noviny" and "Ceske slovo." The dailies quote Pithart as saying that he considers calls that urge him to run a "recognition of my readiness to risk." Pithart also said that "searching for a successor to Vaclav Havel will be a traumatizing experience," reminiscent of the search for a successor to Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. He said the January 2003 presidential elections will offer political parties "the chance to present to public opinion something else than their position on taxes" before the parliamentary elections of 2002. The Czech president is elected by the parliament. MS

IFJ PUBLISHES REPORT ON CZECH TELEVISION CRISIS

The International Federation of Journalists on 7 February released a report on the crisis at Czech Television, CTK reported. The agency says the report was "deliberately released" on the eve of a special session of the parliament that will select a new director for Czech Television. The report says the strike at Czech Television and the "political confrontation" triggered by that strike were the result of attempts to "control information that have no place in a modern democratic society." The crisis "reflected the growing mistrust in the public media in a region where, despite superficial changes of rules, the old approach of interference by political elites still prevails." Echoes of the crisis in countries such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria, are "ample proof that the struggle for public broadcasting is far from having ended in this part of the world," the report says. MS

PREMIER PLEADS FOR AMENDING SLOVAK CONSTITUTION

Addressing the parliament on 7 February, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the proposed amendments to the Slovak constitution will enhance national sovereignty. Dzurinda said joining the EU and NATO is "a basic, vital interest of Slovak citizens" and the amendments are intended to promote that goal, as well as to "enhance the quality of public life," CTK reported. He said he cannot comprehend criticism from the opposition and emphasized that in order to be a "convincing candidate" for EU and NATO membership, Slovakia must display domestic political stability. Jan Cuper, a deputy representing the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, described the speech as an "exercise in rhetoric." He said the speech can be compared with "the speeches of [Czechoslovak communist leader] Klement Gottwald when he promoted 'the country's integration with the USSR,'" CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA INCREASES MILITARY SPENDING

The government decided on 7 February to add 469 million crowns ($10 million) to the Defense Ministry's budget to boost preparations for NATO membership, AP reported. The extra funding will also be used for planning defense strategies in the next few years. The increase brings the ministry's 2001 budget allocation to some $44 million. MS

PREMIER CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTRY...

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 7 February that he doubts whether the present leadership of the Agriculture Ministry, headed by Independent Smallholders' Party chairman Jozsef Torgyan, can "solve significant tasks," such as settling land property issues. Orban said the coalition treaty signed by FIDESZ and the FKGP was concluded "by parties and not by persons," and that a party chairman can also "work outside the cabinet." According to unidentified FKGP and FIDESZ sources, Torgyan and his political state secretary Bela Szabadi will have to resign soon. MSZ

... AND STRESSES NECESSITY FOR A STRONG STATE

"Hungarian society in the future will have to rely on the three pillars of study, work, and order," Orban said on 7 February. Addressing a conference assessing the work of the Interior Ministry, he said a strong state is needed to effectively assert the country's interests in the EU. Orban said he is satisfied with the performance of the police, and that the underworld's vilification of Interior Minister Sandor Pinter means that the police are working well. MSZ

HUNGARIAN AIRFORCE USED URANIUM SHELLS

A report examining the health impact of the use of depleted uranium shells says Hungarian MiG-29 fighters have used such missiles during military exercises in Poland, "Magyar Hirlap" reports on 8 February. The report also said that armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium were stored at the U.S. military air base in Taszar in 1999, but Hungarian soldiers came into no contact with them. Laszlo Sved, head of the military health office, said that five Hungarian soldiers on peace-keeping duty in the Balkans have died, but there was no link between their deaths and the uranium shells. MSZ




BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT BLOCKS NATIONALIST PRIME MINISTER CANDIDATE

The lower house of the joint parliament did not approve the candidacy of Martin Raguz for the post of prime minister on 7 February. He is from the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community and has the backing of the joint presidency. The non-nationalist Alliance for Changes has the largest bloc of votes in the legislature and has nominated Professor Bozidar Matic to become prime minister. Ante Jelavic, who is the Croatian member of the joint presidency, has said he will not agree to any Alliance-backed candidate becoming prime minister, Reuters reported. PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER DENIES PLAN TO EXPEL U.S. ENVOY

Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the joint presidency, denied on 7 February having called for the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller for allegedly interfering in internal politics, Reuters reported from Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Radisic claimed that he was only speaking in general terms about "these pressures, these attempts to interfere in cadre politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and mentioned the American ambassador. We mentioned no names then...but we said that the presidency can raise the issue of credentials [of individual diplomats], depending on [the individual's] behavior." Muslim presidency member Halid Genjac told Reuters that he sees no reason to discuss such an issue as expelling diplomats. Jelavic, who is the ethnic Croat representative, said that it would be untimely to withdraw the accreditation from any Western diplomat. Jelavic added, however, that he has sometimes been unhappy with the ambassador's "behavior and political actions." PM

CROATIAN COURT WANTS GENERAL INVESTIGATED FOR WAR CRIMES

State Prosecutor Boris Hrast has called for the arrest of retired General Mirko Norac and his deputy Milan Canic in conjunction with a massacre of Serbian civilians in Gospic in 1991, "Novi List" reported from Rijeka on 7 February. Norac was commander in Gospic at the time of the alleged atrocity. AP reported that this is the first time that a Croatian prosecutor has called for the arrest of such a high-ranking official. Police have meanwhile arrested Canic, but Norac is believed to be abroad. PM

BELGRADE RULES OUT AUTONOMY FOR PRESEVO

The much-discussed Serbian government plan for a peaceful reduction of tensions in the Presevo region explicitly rules out any autonomy, AP reported on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). "Any solutions that include any kind of autonomy [and a] special status of change of borders of Serbia and Yugoslavia [with Kosova] are unacceptable," the government said in a statement. Among the many grievances of the local Albanians is the parliamentary voting system that effectively prevents their parties from sending deputies to the national legislature. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS SET CONDITIONS FOR TALKS

Presevo Albanian leaders met in Veliki Trnovac in the demilitarized border zone, saying that they are willing to talk to the Belgrade authorities under certain conditions, AP reported from Belgrade on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). One is that international representatives must be present at any negotiations. Another is that Serbian forces withdraw from the area and be replaced by an international force, preferably one of U.S. troops, AFP reported. The ethnic Albanian leaders also agreed on a nine-member delegation, including three members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). One of the Albanians' goals is for the region to be "reunited" with Kosova, which, the Serbs have said repeatedly, is unacceptable to Belgrade. PM

NATO WANTS MEDIATOR FOR PRESEVO

NATO's Admiral James Ellis said in Prishtina on 7 February that the international community or UN should try to find a "facilitator" to help resolve differences between the two sides in Presevo, Reuters reported.. "I think these types of challenges are best dealt with by international agencies that are appropriately configured for the task," Ellis told reporters. "I would hope that...one would come forward to assume that responsibility." He did not elaborate. Ellis commands NATO's Allied Forces South wing, which recently took over lead responsibility for the more than 40,000 NATO-led troops in Kosova. In related news, Serbian police said on 8 February that UCPMB gunners fired during the night on a Serbian position near Vranje, AP reported. There is no independent confirmation of the police account. PM

WARM SERBIAN RECEPTION FOR RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER...

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica met with visiting Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev in Belgrade on 7 February, "Vesti" reported. (See Kostunica's views on protocol regarding Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). Kostunica's office issued a statement saying that the marshal backs Belgrade's efforts to "defend the integrity of the country with all democratic means...and thus help preserve peace and stability in the Balkans," AP reported. The statement added that "Russia is fully in accordance with the Yugoslav initiative to change provisions regarding the [Presevo] Ground Security Zone" by reducing the size of or eliminating the zone, Reuters reported. Yugoslav Defense Minister Slobodan Krapovic said that he and Sergeyev "had a meeting as traditionally good friends and as partners with much [of] common interest." They signed an agreement on "military-technical" cooperation between the Russian and Yugoslav armies but provided no details (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). PM

...WHO EXPRESSES HIS VIEWS

In Belgrade on 7 February, Sergeev charged that the U.S. and its NATO allies have "avoided their responsibility" by not providing more economic aid to Belgrade. He gave his full support for Yugoslavia on the Kosova question. The marshal nonetheless expressed his concern to Yugoslav General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the General Staff, that the Yugoslav military is being "hasty" about moving towards membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, "Vesti" reported, citing its own unspecified sources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH CALLS FOR EU TO LINK SERBIAN AID TO HAGUE COOPERATION

Holly Cartner, an executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on 7 February that "there can be little hope of a clean break with the past unless the indicted architects of ethnic cleansing are brought to justice," Reuters reported from Belgrade. Human Rights Watch called on members of the EU delegation that was slated to arrive in Belgrade on 8 February to link any assistance to Serbia to its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). Upon its arrival, the delegation, which was led by EU foreign affairs coordinator and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, was met with anti-Solana protests by nationalist supporters of the former regime. PM

YUGOSLAV MINISTER WANTS KOSOVA CONFERENCE

On a visit to Berlin to seek German economic help, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said on 7 February that Germany holds the "key to the future of the Balkans," "Vesti" reported. Svilanovic added that he wants an international conference on the model of the 1995 Dayton gathering to decide on and guarantee the political future of Kosova, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. When he first launched the idea in December, Svilanovic admitted that such a conference "would amount to stacking the deck against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority," which wants only independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). PM

FOR WHOM DOES VEDRINE SPEAK ON MONTENEGRO?

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said in Paris on 7 February that "as far as I know, no European or American official is in favor of the eventual independence of Montenegro, and I don't think neighboring countries favor it, either." It is not clear on what authority he made this statement. Slovenian President Milan Kucan, for one, is a strong supporter of the Montenegrin leadership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2000). Vedrine made his remarks after speaking with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, dpa reported. For his part, Rupel said that "Slovenia believes it will be ready to join NATO in 2002 and the European Union in 2003," AFP reported. PM

SERBIA TO SET UP CUSTOMS BORDER WITH MONTENEGRO?

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 7 February that his government rejects a recent demand by Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic that Montenegro raise its customs duties to the same level as those of Serbia. Vujanovic added that the Belgrade leaders suggested that Serbia will levy duty on goods coming in from Montenegro if Podgorica does not agree to the demand. Montenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic instead called on Belgrade to bring Serbian import duties in line with the recommendations of the WTO, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Montenegrin leaders have repeatedly said that they want an open border with Serbia even if the two republics become completely independent. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO PROMULGATE CONTROVERSIAL LAW

President Ion Iliescu said on 7 February that he will promulgate the law on Local Public Administration once the parliament ends the approval process. He said the article in the law allowing national minorities to use their languages in localities where they make up 20 percent of the population "is correct from all points of view" and "in line with the spirit of the constitution." Members of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) parliamentary group in the Senate have voiced misgivings about the article, and the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) is opposed to approval of the law because it contains that provision. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY OPPOSES HUNGARIAN DEMAND

National Liberal Party (PNL) First deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica, in an interview on Romanian Radio on 7 February, said the PNL will oppose the demand of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania to amend the constitutional provision that defines Romania as a "national state." Stoica said the "myth of the national state" is the "corner-stone of the modern world" and "its dismemberment would also mean the dismemberment of that world." He said that "any myth has a beneficial and a harmful side" and "one must not emphasize the harmful aspect alone" because of its influence on "some excesses in the last century." A PNL-PDSR team began negotiations on amending the constitution on 7 February. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON RESTITUTION LAW

The Constitutional Court on 7 February rejected the appeal of 78 PRM parliamentarians against the approval in January by the Chamber of Deputies of the law on restitution of real estate property, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Senate has already approved the law and the court said President Iliescu can now promulgate it. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS NEW INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF

A joint session of the two houses of the parliament on 7 February voted 374 to 28 in favor of the appointment of Radu Timofte as the new Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) director, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PNL opposed the appointment, on grounds of insufficient time to debate controversial statements made by Timofte in the past and allegations that Timofte was a KGB agent. Former SRI chief Virgil Magureanu said the same day there are no grounds to believe Timofte ever worked for the KGB, but added he doubts Timofte has the necessary skills to run the SRI. MS

COMPLAINTS REJECTED AGAINST PREMIER'S ALLIANCE IN MOLDOVA

The Central Electoral Bureau (CEC) on 7 February rejected as "unfounded" complaints launched against the Braghis Alliance by communist leader Vladimir Voronin, Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRAM) chairman Mircea Snegur and Democratic Party leader Dumitru Diacov, Infotag reported. The three leaders had asked the CEC to disqualify the Braghis Alliance from running in the elections. The commission ruled that the three leaders failed to produce "convincing evidence" that the alliance headed by the premier is using governmental resources in its electoral campaign. It ruled that the alliance has produced "convincing proof" that members of the cabinet engaged in the electoral campaign have been "temporarily suspended from official duties". It also said that existing legislation does not require the premier to resign during the election campaign period. MS

MOLDOVAN PARTY'S ELECTORAL SPENDING TO BE CHECKED

The CEC on 7 February also decided to ask the Chief Tax Inspectorate to investigate how the National Liberal Party (PNL) is using funds allocated from the budget for its electoral campaign. Mihai Busuleac, a commission member, was quoted by Infotag as saying the private Catalan TV company, which is backing the PNL, is providing "fairly expensive gifts" on that party's behalf. The Inspectorate is to verify whether the funds come from the money allocated to parties for the election campaign. The law stipulates that no formation can spend more than 1 million lei (about $79,000) for this purpose and no funding is permitted from other sources. MS

SNEGUR SAYS RUSSIA MUST BE FORCED OUT THE TRANSDNIESTER BY THE OSCE

PRAM leader Snegur told journalists in Chisinau on 7 February that Russia will not withdraw its troops from the Transdniester of its own free will and only international organizations of which the Russia is a members can force it to do so, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Chief among these, the former Moldovan president said, is the OSCE, which must increase its involvement in the conflict. He said back in 1994, former premiers Andrei Sangheli and Viktor Chernomyrdin signed an accord for the withdrawal of the troops that was never ratified by the Duma, and later Russia did not respect the pledge made to the Council of Europe to evacuate its troops. "At present Moscow knows too well it has no intention of respecting the decisions of the [December 1999 OSCE] Istanbul summit," Snegur said. MS

BULGARIAN RADIO JOURNALISTS THREATEN TO LAUNCH STRIKE

The staff of Bulgarian national radio said on 7 February they will start legal procedure required by the law to begin labor action if Ivan Borislavov, who was recently appointed general director of the radio, does not resign, Reuters and AP reported. In a declaration released to the media, the staff said their motivations are not political but stem from Borislavov's lack of professional credentials. A radio presenter cited by Reuters said the journalists are prepared to "go to the very end, like colleagues in the Czech Republic." The protesting journalists also demanded that the National Radio and Television Council, which appointed Borislavov, resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). MS

MILITARY INDUSTRY WORKERS DEMONSTRATE IN SOFIA

Some 4,000 workers in the military industry on 7 February demonstrated in Sofia against the government's neglect of the problems of that sector. They said the cabinet lacks a clear-cut plan to deal with the debt-ridden industry. The protesters also said wages have not been paid for several months. Most of the demonstrators work in the VMZ plant in Spot, some 150 kilometers east of Sofia. A local union leader cited by AP said the future of the whole area depends on the fate of the company. The government has slated the VMZ for sale in March 2000, but investors have shown little interest. The company has run up a 68 million leva ($32.7 million) debt to the state budget. MS

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CONCERNED OVER BULGARIANS' LIBYAN TRIAL

Amnesty International on 7 February said it is "concerned" over Libya's handing of the six Bulgarian health workers charged with deliberately infecting children with the HIV virus in a Benghazi hospital. Jurgens Carsten, who is in charge of the Middle East in the organization, told Reuters that the Bulgarian medics "were detained two years ago, and had spent one year without legal or medical help." He said that Amnesty's "major concern is that Libya has not investigated allegations of use of torture against the medics" during the year-long pre-trial period. Libyan lawyer Osman Byzanti said two of his clients told him they had confessed under duress. In June 2000, Bulgarian Justice Minister Teodossyi Simeonov said the medics had been tortured during the investigation and the nurses among them were pressured to convert to Islam. MS




There is no end note today.





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