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Newsline - February 9, 2001




PUTIN OUTLINES NEW SECURITY THREATS...

In an interview with Vienna's "Neue Kronen-Zeitung" reported by Interfax on 8 February, President Vladimir Putin said that the main threats to European security today are "non-military by nature." He identified these threats as including "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, aggressive separatism, organized crime, drug trafficking and ecological disasters, which might seriously upset strategic security as a whole." He added that Russia will scrupulously observe all strategic and conventional arms accords. PG

...DESCRIBES PLANS FOR RUSSIA...

In comments about Russia itself, Putin told "Neue Kronen-Zeitung" that Russia is working hard to build a market economy and promote democracy. He said that Moscow must "defend property rights, provide equal conditions for competition and make simple and high quality laws" and that it must debureaucratize the economy as much as possible. Concerning democratic changes, Putin said that "Russia has walked a hard path to democracy, and things that are gained at a high cost are usually prized highly." But he insisted that thanks "to a large extent to first Russian President Boris Yeltsin," Russia now has "a real market economy, an independent press, and free and open elections." He also expressed his conviction that foreign policy should be as open as possible, Interfax reported. PG

...AND SAYS REGIONS TO DECIDE ON LAND OWNERSHIP

People's Deputy group leader in the Duma Gennadii Raikov told Interfax on 8 February that President Putin told him the day before that the regions should be given the chance to decide land issues, including the highly sensitive issue of buying and selling land. PG

PUTIN HOPES FOR COMMON LANGUAGE WITH BUSH

President Putin said on 8 February during an interview with Austrian journalists in advance of his trip to Vienna that he hopes to find a common language with U.S. President George W. Bush on a variety of issues, including NMD, Russian agencies reported. He said that he is "confident that we will be able to work positively on joint decisions and not get into deadlocks." PG

PUTIN SENDS CONGRATULATIONS TO SHARON

On 8 February, President Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon both promising cooperation and expressing Putin's hope that the peace process will continue, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

PUTIN MEETS WITH AUSTRIAN LEADERS

President Putin met with Austrian President Thomas Klestil and other Austrian leaders in Vienna on 8 February, stressing that Moscow continues to place "great value" on Austria's neutrality, Russian agencies reported. The Russian leader also used the occasion to reiterate his view that Moscow remains "worried" about the expansion of NATO to the east "since Russia is not being invited into NATO." Officials accompanying Putin said that Russia would like to repay its roughly $3 billion in debts to Vienna with products, including aviation equipment, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PUTIN NAMED 'LEADER OF THE WORLD' BY MARTIAL ARTS GROUP

The world council of grand masters of martial arts has named Russian President Putin "the leader of the world," Interfax reported on 8 February. The head of the Russian martial arts federation said the initiative for this move "came not from us but from the Americans," adding that "Putin is the only president in world history who combines statesmanship and professional martial arts. Therefore the title is unique. There will hardly be another president like him." PG

CABINET PREPARES BUDGET CHANGES TO SERVICE DEBT

In order to meet Russia's debt payments to international lenders, the Russian cabinet on 8 February decided against changing the main outlines of the budget but decided that all additional revenues will be devoted to debt repayments, ITAR-TASS reported. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said after the meeting that there will be one exception to that: 27 billion rubles ($1 billion) will be devoted to increasing salaries in the public sector by 20 percent. The new plan calls for sellling off additional state assets (a move that will require the lifting of restrictions on privatization), borrowing on the domestic market, and the release of rubles in federal treasury accounts for debt repayments. The cabinet will make a final decision on the plan 13 February before sending it to the Duma, which must approve all these measures. PG

MORE TRADE FIGURES REPORTED

Russia's trade surplus grew to $69 billion in 2000, up from $42.6 billion in 1999, the State Customs Committee Interfax on 8 February quoted the State Statistics Committee as reporting. Exports grew to $102.8 billion while imports increased to $33.8 billion, the committee said. Almost half of this surplus -- $29.145 billion -- came from the sale of oil and gas abroad. One area where imports fell was in foodstuffs, down 16 percent from 1999 to 2000. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" suggested on 7 February that the Russian government has been forced for economic reasons to consider reducing the export tariffs on oil from 48 to 22 euros per ton. PG

NEARLY HALF OF ECONOMY IN THE SHADOWS

Vladimir Makarov, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's economics crime department, said that up to 45 percent of the country's goods and services are part of the shadow economy, AP reported. He also said that more than 40 Moscow banks are currently involved in what he called "serious" shady deals, Interfax said. Makarov's comments were echoed by Duma Security Committee chairman Aleksandr Kulikov, who told RIA-Novosti the same day that the treasury receives only 50 percent of taxes owed because of operations in the shadow economy. PG

DUMA MOVES TO BAN TOBACCO ADS

The Duma voted on 8 February 258 to 75 to ban tobacco advertising in the print media, on billboards, and in public transport. Legislators said they had voted to do to promote public health and because many people find the ads irritating. PG

DUMA GROUP VOTES TO LIMIT CENTRAL BANK'S POWERS

The working group which is drafting a law on the Central Bank on 8 February voted to strip that institution of the powers to set bank auditing standards, a move that would severely limit its influence over other banks, Interfax-AFI reported. The working group also voted to define the central bank as a federal state institution, a move that could introduce confusion on the status of bank as opposed to state indebtedness. PG

UNITY LEADER DENIES RUMORS ABOUT PUSH FOR PARTY DIVISION IN FEDERATION COUNCIL

Mikhail Margelov, a member of the presidium of the pro-Kremlin "Unity" party, was cited by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 February as rejecting rumors that a plan exists to try to reorganize the upper house of the parliament on party lines. PG

UNITED SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TO TAKE PART IN FUTURE POLLS

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said in Yekaterinburg on 8 February that his United Social Democratic Party will take place in future parliamentary and presidential elections, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that he will not run himself but that the party has "worthy candidates" it can nominate. PG

PUTIN SAID STRIVING FOR ONE-PARTY STATE...

An analysis in "Itogi," no. 5, said that the debate on the parties law is essentially irrelevant because President Putin is overseeing the restoration of "a single party system." ("Segodnya" suggested on 8 February that Putin is preparing the People's Deputy group as a "reserve party of power," should "Unity" falter.) Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta," no. 8, suggested that the scandals around NTV and the media show that Russia has "an intelligence officer rather than a politician running the country." PG

...AS CLANS SAID TO FIGHT OVER GOVERNMENT REORGANIZATION

"Segodnya" suggested on 8 February that two "clans" -- which it called "the liberals" and "the family members" -- are squabbling over government restructuring and new personnel assignments, even as the third clan, based in the force structures, stands aside, confident in its ability to run things through the Russian Security Council. PG

DEPUTIES, ANALYSTS CRITICIZE CIA ASSESSMENT OF RUSSIA

State Duma Deputy Chairman (Yabloko) Vladimir Lukin on 8 February took issue with a report by U.S. CIA director George Tenet about Russia and Russian-American relations. Lukin said that Tenet's statement is "of a political rather than an analytical nature" and that the two countries do not have the strongly opposed interests Tenet suggested. Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman (Yabloko) Aleksei Arbatov said that if the U.S. wants stability in the world, a strong Russia "is in the interests of the United States." And Russian political analysts, including the United States and Canada Institute's Sergei Robov said that Tenet's statement contains "nothing new" but rather reflects a continuing Cold War approach to relations. PG

MOSCOW PROMISES NOT TO SELL WEAPONS-GRADE PLUTONIUM ABROAD...

First Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Valentin Ivanov said that Russia will not sell weapons-grade plutonium abroad but instead will seek international assistance to denature and store it, Interfax reported on 8 February. PG

...AND RECOMMITS TO DESTROYING CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told visiting Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Jose Bustani that Russia is committed to destroying its stocks of chemical weapons but "expects" help from abroad. PG

KHAPSIROKOV APPOINTMENT CRITICIZED

Duma Security Committee chairman (Yabloko) Yuri Shchekochikhin on 8 February sent a letter to President Putin sharply criticizing the appointment of Nazir Khapsirokov as an assistant to the head of the presidential administration, Interfax reported. Shchekochikhin said that this was "odious" and "an insult to public opinion" and that the duma's organized crime committee has repeatedly asked the Audit Chamber and prosecutors for "complete information about N. Khapsirokov's activities." PG

BEREZOVSKY'S NTV BAILOUT PLAN MET WITH SCEPTICISM

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told Interfax on 8 February that Boris Berezovsky's offer to bail out NTV with new loans, an offer he explained in an open letter published in "Kommersant-Daily," are unlikely to work out. But NTV general director Yevgenii Kiselev told that paper that he would rather work with Berezovsky than with others who have been named as possible buyers. Meanwhile, prosecutors staged another raid on the Image Bank where NTV and other media groups under investigation have kept most of their money, Russian agencies reported on 8 February. That raid was criticized on the same day by the U.S. State Department, Reuters reported. Gazprom- Media and NTV disagreed as to whether the station was making a profit, Russian agencies said. And prosecutors told Interfax that they may soon summon Berezovsky to testify in the Aeroflot corruption case. PG

ORT STAKE RESOLD TO PRIVATE COMPANIES

Media Minister Lesin told Interfax on 8 February that "the companies that owned the shares [in ORT} have sold them to other companies" and that "Roman Abramovich is not a member of those companies." What is important, Lesin said, is that the stake once owned by media magnate Boris Berezovsky is not owned by the state but by private shareholders. PG

SHABDURASUDOV SAYS RUSSIA NOW HAS NO INDEPENDENT MEDIA

Former ORT general director Igor Shabdurasudov said in an interview published in "Vek" on 8 February that "there are now no mass media outlets which can say about themselves that they are independent, that they don't need the money of others, that no one supports them, that they earn their own way," Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES RFE/RL FOR NORTH CAUCASUS BROADCAST PLANS

Media Minister Lesin said on 8 February that what he called Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's plan to broadcast in Chechen and other languages of the North Caucasus is a mistake and "very improper," Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that "this action pursues fairly serious political goals" and warned that Moscow "will follow the situation and the observance of [Russian] legislation by Radio Liberty," adding that "if the radio station commits any legal offenses, appropriate steps will be taken." Lesin added that "this is a challenge, albeit a minor one. One cannot understand why it is needed." The same day, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi expressed doubts in an interview with Interfax that RFE/RL broadcasts in Chechen, Avar and other North Caucasus languages will stabilize the situation there. Meanwhile, People's Deputy group leader in the Duma Gennadii Raikov said also on 8 February that President Vladimir Putin had rejected suggestions that there was no media freedom in Russia, Interfax reported. Raikov cited Putin as saying that Western mass media, including Radio Liberty, enjoy in the words of Interfax, "absolute freedom in this country." PG

BUSINESSMAN KILLED, MOBSTER CONVICTED

Valerii Kravchuk, 57, the chairman of the board of Baikal Technologies, was murdered in St. Petersburg, and officials there have opened a criminal investigation, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February. Police suspect he was killed during a robbery. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tatarenko, 47, was sentenced by a Greek court to 14 years in prison for weapons possession and carrying forged documents, AP reported the same day. Russian authorities have charged that Tatarenko was a mobster involved in numerous contract killings, and these officials said that they will seek his extradition after he completes his sentence in Greece. PG

LUZHKOV TAKES CHARGES OF METRO BLAST PROBE

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has directed city officials to complete their investigation of the bomb blast in the Moscow metro within two days, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 February. Luzhkov also ordered compensation to be paid to the victims. He asserted that he is confident that the 5 February blast did "not have a Moscow nature" and thus was not related to other problems in the city, Interfax reported. PG

ST. PETERSBURG PROPOSES DISCOUNTED VISAS

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said on 8 February that cutting the price of visas for short-term visitors to the region from the Scandinavian countries would lead more people to visit his city rather than the Estonian capital of Tallinn, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that such tourists, especially those coming on tour ships, spend as much as $400 a day and thus help the region's economy. PG

PIPELINES SEEN RESTORING USSR RELATIONS

"Izvestiya" argued on 8 February that this week's accord among the three Baltic countries, Belarus and Russia on the use of pipelines was part of a larger phenomenon in which pipelines were tying back together the republics of the former Soviet Union. PG

CUSTOMS CATCHES UP WITH CONTRABAND TURTLES

Russian customs officials discovered 184 contraband turtles on a train entering Kaliningrad, AP reported on 7 February. The turtles involved were from Central Asia and are thought to be an endangered species, officials said. PG

IS DUELING MAKING A COMEBACK IN RUSSIA?

A professor at the Far Eastern State University had challenged the rector of the Far Eastern State Technology University to a duel over which institution is the oldest but has not yet received an answer, "Vremya MN" reported on 8 February. He reportedly offered his opponent a free choice of weapons. Meanwhile, a militia officer in Stavropol challenged one of his colleagues to a duel, but his opponent did not show up at the agreed upon time and place. PG

GOVERNOR SAYS NO THANKS FOR ENVOYS

Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak criticized President Putin's presidential envoys to the seven federal districts in remarks to reporters on 7 February, Interfax reported. Prusak said that envoys "are needed in the North Caucasus, where there is an unstable situation, and in the Far East, where because of the severe cold people are freezing, and possibly, the envoys could be of some help there." He continued, "But as regards the Northwestern district, I am convinced that an envoy is not necessary. None of us, unlike in the Volga district, violate federal laws." (Novgorod along with the republics of Karelia and Komi, Arkhangelsk, Vologda, Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Murmansk, and Pskov Oblasts, the city of St. Petersburg, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug comprise the Northwestern district.) Prusak added that he is glad that Putin recently signed a decree subordinating the envoys to presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February 2001). Last year Prusak criticized plans to reduce the size of the Main Territorial Administration within the Kremlin which has battled the envoys for influence. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN OBSERVES THE RIGHT TO A WARM APARTMENT

Several Russian human rights organizations offered negative assessments of the human rights situation in the republic of Bashkortostan at a recent conference in Ufa, according to RFE/RL's "Weekly Review from Bashkortostan" on 8 February. The conference was organized by the St. Petersburg-based humanitarian-political center Strategiya, the expert council of the office of the Russian Ombudsman, the republic's presidential administration and the republic's legislative assembly. One representative of the presidential administration, Amir Yuldashbaev, commented that the human rights issue should not be valued formally, and that the main human right, the right to life, is duly provided in the republic since people are not hungry and do not live in cold apartments. JAC

NORTH OSSETIA TO MONITOR FRONTIER REGIME

North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told that republic's Public Security Council on 8 February that a public commission has been created to investigate violations of the regulations on passage across the border with Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. He deplored the failure to establish "due order" at the border crossing points of Verkhnii Lars and Nizhnii Zaramag, and criticised red tape and bureaucratic indifference that results in "people queuing for hours to fill out the necessary forms." Dzasokhov said that in January 2001 the Federal Border Service had thwarted 12 attempts to smuggle arms into the Russian Federation from Georgia, and exposed 324 forged Russian visas. Russia has imposed a visa requirement for Georgian citizens that took effect on 5 December. LF




ARMENIAN COURT EXTENDS BUSINESSMAN'S PRE-TRIAL DETENTION

A Yerevan court on 8 February extended for a further month the pre-trial detention of businessman Arkadii Vartanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vartanian was taken into custody on 30 October following a march by his supporters to the presidential palace in Yerevan, and subsequently charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. He was hospitalized last month with heart problems. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES CALL FOR FAIR VERDICT IN KARABAKH TRIAL

To date, 68 Armenian parliament deputies have signed an appeal to Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to ensure that the trial and verdict on 15 people charged with attempting to assassinate him last March is fair, according to Snark on 6 February as cited by Groong. The appeal notes that evidence has emerged during the trial that casts serious doubts on prosecutors' claims that the assassination bid was masterminded by former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2000 and 31 January 2001). The appeal was initiated by Kim Balayan (Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun). LF

ARMENIAN JUSTICE MINISTER REFUSES TO REREGISTER OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER

The future of the daily newspaper "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun," (Republic of Armenia), whose founders are the Armenian parliament and the paper's editorial staff, is in doubt following a 1 February government decree on its closure, Noyan Tapan reported. The initial reason cited for the paper's closure was its failure to comply with a provision of the Civil Code requiring all media outlets to reregister with the Ministry of Justice by 31 December 2000. But on 7 February Justice Minister David Harutiunian told parliament that the documents submitted during the reregistration process had implied that the paper is a commercial enterprise, and the constitution forbids the parliament to undertake commercial activity. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S WAR INVALIDS COMPLAIN AT LACK OF SUPPORT FROM RELIGIOUS LEADER

Representatives of Azerbaijan's Karabakh war invalids met on 8 February with the country's senior Muslim clergy, Turan reported. The invalids expressed displeasure that, unlike many opposition politicians and members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia, the North Caucasus Religious Board failed to express its support for their protest action. The leader of Azerbaijan's Muslims, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, pointed out that Islamic law bans suicide. But he also condemned as "a great sin" Azerbaijan state television's biassed coverage of the hunger-strike. More hunger-strikers abandoned their fast on 8 February, leaving only some 60 continuing their protest in Baku. LF

DISPLACED PERSONS STAGE PROTEST IN AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL

Some 50-60 displaced persons from the Kelbadjar district of western Azerbaijan blocked traffic in one of Baku's main thoroughfares on 8 February to protest the cutoff of electricity four days earlier to the building where they are currently housed, Turan and ANS reported. The protesters clashed with police who tried to persuade them to disperse. LF

GUUAM SUMMIT POSTPONED

The summit of GUUAM member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) scheduled to take place in Kyiv on 6-7 March has been postponed sine die at the request of Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, Interfax reported on 8 February. That decision was reached during telephone conversations between Lucinschi, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, the agency added. Turan, however, had reported the previous day that it was Aliyev who asked Kuchma for the meeting to be rescheduled. The Azerbaijani agency also reported, citing unidentified "diplomatic sources," that a visit to Baku by Ukrainian parliament speaker Ivan Plyushch scheduled for 21-23 February has likewise been postponed. Meanwhile the GUUAM member states will hold a conference on small and medium business in Brussels on 27 February in an attempt to encourage foreign investment, Caucasus Press reported on 9 February. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FAVORS PROPOSED NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL

Both majority and opposition parliament deputies on 8 February expressed their approval of the candidacy of their fellow deputy Gia Meparishvili for the post of prosecutor-general, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevarnadze had proposed Meparishvili earlier that day to succeed Djamlet Babilashvili, who submitted his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Shevardnadze described Meparishvili as "extremely erudite," while parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania termed him " a decent candidate and a true reformer." Irakli Batiashvili of the opposition "Industrialists" faction predicted that Meparishvili will succeed in completing the ongoing reform of the legal system. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IMPLICATED IN1998 ABKHAZ FIGHTING

Opposition parliament deputy Irakli Batiashvili, a former national security chief, on 7 February accused Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze and unnamed members of the Abkhaz parliament and government in exile of instigating the fighting in Abkhazia's Gali raion in May 1998, Caucasus Press reported. Batiashvili said that the hostilities were the work of Russian intelligence, working in cooperation with officials in Tbilisi. He offered to conduct an investigation into the fighting, or to give evidence if the prosecutor-general's office launches such a probe. Targamadze responded by questioning Batiashvili's sanity, according to "Akhali taoba" on 8 February, while Abkhaz parliament in exile chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili dismissed the accusations as "unfair," arguing that Targamadze acted during the fighting as "a hero" and saved the lives of numerous civilians. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT APPROVES STATE LANGUAGE PROGRAM

Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a new ten-year state program on language policy on 8 February, Interfax reported. The program defines strategic priorities and objectives and how they should be implemented. Although Kazakhs account for just 53.4 percent of the country's population, the current language law defines Kazakh as the state language, while Russian is accorded the status of an official language. The law requires official bodies to complete the majority of their documentation in Kazakh, and stipulates that at least 50 percent of all TV and radio broadcasting should be in Kazakh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 1999). LF

KAZAKH OFFICIAL PROPOSES SELLING STAKE IN STRATEGIC COMPANIES...

National Securities Commission chairman Azamat Dzholdasbekov has proposed selling up to one third of the shares in two key state- owned companies, KazTransOil, which operates the country's 6,000 kilometer pipeline network, and the uranium-mining and trading concern KazatomProm, Interfax reported on 8 February. But he added that those shares should be sold only in small packages and to the largest possible number of investors. Last August, President Nazarbaev had listed among state-owned properties that cannot be privatized oil pipelines and mineral resources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2000). LF

...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES QUESTION FATE OF PHOSPHOROUS PLANTS

Parliament deputies representing southern Kazakhstan's Zhambyl Oblast have written to Prime Minister Qasymshomart Toqaev asking him to clarify the situation of the region's phosphorous and chemical plants, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Since being initially privatized seven years ago, several of those enterprises have changed hands several times without the conditions of those sales being made public. Some of those plants are bankrupt, and thousands of workers are owed back wages. LF

KYRGYZ ENERGY SHORTAGE PERSISTS

Power outages are continuing in Kyrgyzstan as consumers are forced to rely on electric power as a substitute for gas, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The anticipated resumption of gas supplies from Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001) has apparently been delayed both by technical problems in Uzbekistan and new disputes over debts. Kyrgyz parliament committee chairman Taiyrbek Sarpashev told RFE/RL that Kyrgyzstan owes Tashkent $500,000 in cash and goods to the value of $3.8 million for earlier gas supplies, while Kyrgyzenergo Director-general Bakirdin Sartkaziev said that Uzbekistan owes his company some $18 million. LF

KYRGYZSTAN DRAFTS NEW PRIVATIZATION PROGRAM

The Kyrgyz government has drafted a new three-year privatization program that provides for the sale of several industrial giants, including Kyrgyzenergo, Kyrgyztelecom, Kyrgyzgaz and the Kyrgyz national airline, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. It is hoped the sell-offs will raise some $200 million. LF

TURKEY OFFERS TO HELP UZBEKISTAN COMBAT TERRORISM

Turkey's new ambassador to Uzbekistan, Resit Uman, told journalists in Tashkent on 8 February that Ankara wants to develop "an active political dialogue" with Tashkent and is prepared to share its expertise in fighting terrorism, Interfax reported. "We have common interests in fighting religious extermism and terrorism. Any terrorist activities against Uzbekistan are activities against Turkey," the Russian agency quoted Uman as saying. During a visit by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer to Tashkent last fall, he and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed an agreement on cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION STILL UNDECIDED ON SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which represents Belarus's four major opposition parties, has postponed the discussion of a single opposition candidate for two weeks, Belapan reported on 8 February. Viktar Ivashkevich told the agency that the council wants to prevent the establishment of several presidential election teams to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Ivashkevich noted that the council prefer Syamyon Domash as a single candidate but there is a threat that Mikhail Chyhir and Uladzimir Hancharyk may choose to run without coordination, thus weakening the election chances of a democratic candidate. JM

UKRAINE, IRAN TO MULL JOINT GAS TRANSIT PROJECT

Government spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna said on 8 February that Ukraine and Iran will set up a working group to study the possibility of transporting Iranian gas to Europe via Ukraine, Interfax reported. Zarudna was commenting on Premier Viktor Yushchenko's recent talks with Iranian First Vice-President Hassan Habibi in Tehran. Zarudna added that Iran is also interested in supplies of Ukrainian equipment for extracting oil and gas. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SENDS MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES ABROAD

Legislator Serhiy Holovatyy said on 8 February he has sent the "original recordings" made secretly by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office to the International Press Institute in Vienna, Interfax reported. Holovatyy said he had transferred Melnychenko's recordings onto compact disks. Legislator Viktor Shyshkin added that one set of Melnychenko's recordings will remain in the possession of parliamentary commission for the examination of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, while another will be handed over to the Prosecutor- General's Office. JM

ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS DECLARE READINESS FOR TALKS

Yuriy Lutsenko, a coordinator of the Ukraine Without Kuchma protests, told journalists on 8 February that the protesters are ready to begin talks with the authorities about the conditions on which President Leonid Kuchma would be prepared to resign, Interfax reported. Lutsenko added that Kuchma has so far not responded to the proposal to discuss his exit. "Our positive program [includes] the building of a democratic European state with parliamentary democracy, freedom of expression, and guarantees of all human rights," Volodymyr Chemerys, another anti-Kuchma protest leader, told journalists. Meanwhile, a founding group of the "Forum of National Salvation" public initiative begun discussing the state of Ukrainian democracy in the parliamentary building on 9 February. The group includes a number of lawmakers and Ukraine Without Kuchma protest activists. JM

ESTONIA INTRODUCES HARSHER PENALTIES FOR DRUG CRIMES

The Estonian Parliament on 8 February by an unanimous vote of 75 votes introduced significantly harsher punishments for drug crimes with special emphasis on drug dealers rather than users in an attempt to cut down the import of and trade in narcotics, ETA reported the next day. Prison sentences for the production of narcotics were more than doubled in some cases (from two to five years and from three to seven) and a totally new article concerning the smuggling of drugs into prisons was passed. Police now detain only 5 per cent of drug dealers and addicts, while the number of drug-related crimes is growing fast.The number of drug- related crimes in Narva grew from 32 in 1999 to 665 in 2000 while in Tallinn their number in the same period grew by more than five times. SG

LATVIA, IMF AGREE ON BUDGET DEFICIT

During talks with Finance Minister Gundars Berzins in Riga on 7 February, an International Monetary Fund mission agreed that the maximum deficit in Latvia's state budget will be 1.75 percent, BNS reported. The IMF agreed that funds raised from the sale of the third mobile communications operator's license would not have to be used to cover the national debt and reduce the budget deficit as it had initially wanted, but could be used for investment projects which have clear and transparent plans. No agreement was reached on pension law amendments. The IMF had proposed that Latvia lift the restrictions limiting the monthly pensions received by employed pensioners to 60 lats ($97), raise the retirement age, and make some other changes, but Berzins opposed making any more amendments, noting that the public has already lost confidence in pension reforms. After meeting with Prime Minister Andris Berzins on 8 February, the mission said that no more problems remained and Latvia and the IMF could approve a new cooperation memorandum in April. SG

LATVIA'S INFLATION GROWS BY 0.6 PERCENT IN JANUARY

The Central Statistics Office announced that the consumer price index increased by 0.6 percent last month and by 1.3 percent compared to January 2000, BNS reported on 8 February. In January the price of goods rose by 0.6 percent and of services by 0.7 percent. Food prices increased by 1.7 percent with the costs of vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy products rising by 9.8, 5.3, 2.4, and 1.2 percent, respectively. The costs of water supply, sewerage, and postal services increased by 4.9, 5.3, and 25 percent, respectively. The prices of garments and footwear, fuel, and used automobiles fell by 0.9, 1.5, and 1.9 percent, respectively. SG

GEORGIA AND LITHUANIA SIGN DEFENSE CO-OPERATION AGREEMENT

Georgian and Lithuanian Defense Ministers David Tevzadze and Linas Linkevicius signed a cooperation agreement between their ministries on 8 February in Vilnius, ELTA reported. The two ministries will exchange information on defense budget planning, the training of peace-keepers, and the relations between civilians and the armed forces. Lithuania will help Tbilisi speed up the withdrawal of Russian troops from four military bases in Georgia by providing information accumulated during the withdrawal of Russian troops from Lithuania by September 1993. In the agreement Georgia expressed support for Lithuania's efforts to gain NATO membership. The ministers noted that this was the first agreement between their defense ministries and expressed the hope for closer cooperation in the future. SG

POLISH STEELWORKERS PROTEST JOB CUTS

Some 2,000 steelworkers demonstrated in Katowice on 8 February, protesting job cuts in their sector and demanding debt relief for their enterprises, PAP reported. "We will not allow this strategic sector to be ruined because of the incompetence and indifference of state clerks..., We are ready to go to Warsaw to fight for the fulfillment of our demands," Solidarity activist Wladyslaw Molencki told the rally. Poland's steelworks and coke plants employed 147,000 people in 1990; in 2000 their number was cut to 38,000. Under restructuring plans, the number of steelworkers is to be reduced by an additional 30,000 in the next three years. JM

TWO MAJOR POLISH COMPANIES TO AXE JOBS

Fiat Auto Poland, the country's biggest automaker, is planning to lay off 750 employees, PAP reported on 8 February, quoting an anonymous Solidarity activist. According to the activist, Fiat Auto Poland argues that the layoffs are necessitated by rapidly declining car sales on the Polish market. The company's two plants, in Bielsko- Biala and Tychy, made 292,500 cars last year. The company employs 7,500 people. Meanwhile, Polar SA, a maker of electric household appliances, said it plans to cut its staff by 560 people as part of a reorganization scheme. Polar SA, which has a 42 percent share in the Polish market of electric household appliances, is 84.37 percent owned by the French-Italian concern Brandt. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE SELECTS TV INTERIM DIRECTOR GENERAL

The Chamber of Deputies on 9 February selected Jiri Balvin to be interim director general of Czech Television. Balvin received the endorsement of 102 out of 192 deputies present. Balvin has 25 years of experience in television, but four years ago he was fired as director of Czech TV artistic production due to bad financial management. His mandate is for up to two years, during which the parliament is to draft a new law on public broadcasting and appoint the 15-member new Radio and Television Council. The appointment of an interim director general fulfills the last remaining demand of the striking television employees, CTK reported. MS

PENDING AUSTRIAN BLOCKADE STRIRS REACTIONS IN CZECH REPUBLIC

The manager of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, Frantisek Hezoucky, said on 8 February the plant's managment is making preparations to present its conclusions on safety to a commission of EU experts at Temelin later this month. Hezoucky said he considered it "regrettable" that "internal political rivalry" in Austria prompts the "expedient abuse" of "joint efforts made by international experts from many countries." Austrian Ambassador to Prague, Klas Daublebsky, told CTK on 8 February he does not consider the planned blockade of the Wullowitz/Dvoriste crossing point by Austrian opponents of Temelin "reasonable." Daublebsky said that the time is now "ripe for talks" and for implementing as quickly as possible the agreements signed by the leaders of the two countries in Melk, Austria, last December. MS

CZECH, POLISH DIPLOMATS PREPARING NEW UN RESOLUTION AGAINST CUBA

Czech and Polish diplomats are preparing a draft resolution condemning infringements of human rights in Cuba, Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said on 8 February, in response to a question from a CTK journalist. In the past, the two countries have submitted two resolutions on this matter which were approved by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Pospisil denied that the recent detention of Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik in Cuba was connected with that initiative. "We were preparing the resolution for a long time," he said. Deputy Foreign Minster Martin Palous, who has been in Warsaw in connection with drafting the resolution, said the resolution must be so formulated as to cover not only Cuba, but also some other Latin American countries "of similar outlook." MS

SLOVAKIA TO STOP PROSECUTION OF FORMER PREMIER?

Bratislava Chief Prosecutor Michal Barila told Markiza TV on 8 February that he has halted the prosecution of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar over the illegal payment of bonuses to members of his cabinet between 1995 and 1998, CTK reported. Barila said the decision to pay the bonuses was a collective decision of the cabinet and "a collective body cannot be prosecuted." The decision to stop the prosecution must still be approved by the Prosecutor General's Office. The Interior Ministry, which launched the investigation, said it disagrees with Barila's conclusions. MS

HUNGARIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER RESIGNS

Independent Smallholders' Party Chairman Jozsef Torgyan resigned as Agriculture Minister on 8 February, saying that his position "became untenable due to attacks against my innocent son" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Prime Minister Viktor Orban accepted the resignation, saying that if Torgyan had not left of his own will, he would have initiated his dismissal. Orban said it is necessary for Torgyan to "settle his own affairs," while the ministry "needs to work on professional issues." Torgyan also announced that he is initiating the dismissal of his political state secretary Bela Szabadi. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARTIES REACT TO TORGYAN'S RESIGNATION

Opposition Socialist Party chairman Laszlo Kovacs said Torgyan's resignation is "years late." He said the country could have saved hundreds of billions of "wasted forints," the destruction of the agricultural sector and "unprecedented corruption scandals" damaging Hungary's international reputation. Kovacs said Orban is personally responsible for the damage, as he should have never agreed to have Torgyan as a coalition partner. Free Democrat chairman Gabor Demszky said Torgyan's departure was expected, as he was "professionally and morally unfit" to run the ministry. Ibolya David, chairwoman of coalition member Democratic Forum said Torgyan has made the right decision in resigning. MSZ

HUNGARY TO PROCURE NEW JET FIGHTERS

The National Security Committee on 8 February decided in favor of buying western jet fighters, thereby rejecting German and Israeli offers to upgrade Hungary's MiG-29 fighters. Officials said the German offer was too costly, and that the F-16 fighters offered by the U.S. government stand the greatest chance of being procured. The new aircraft could be deployed in 2003 at the earliest. The committee has also decided that the 27 MiG-29 fighters received from Russia in lieu of state debts owed to Hungary will remain in service until the new aircraft are deployed. MSZ




IN BELGRADE, SOLANA VOWS TO HELP YUGOSLAVIA...

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana -- who served as NATO secretary-general during the alliance's bombing campaign of Yugoslavia -- met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and other government officials in Belgrade on 8 February, Reuters reported. Solana said "it is very moving for me to be here," and that "I am committed, from the very bottom of my heart, to helping this country join Europe." Some 200 people rallied in Belgrade to protest Solana's visit. The Socialist Party of former President Slobodan Milosevic said Solana's presence is "proof of Europe's ultimate cynicism," with Solana stepping "on the soil he bombed." PB

...URGES BELGRADE TO SEND MILOSEVIC TO THE HAGUE...

Solana was accompanied on the trip by Chris Patten, the EU's commissioner for external relations, and Anna Lindh, the foreign minister of Sweden, the current EU president. Patten said the EU officials reiterated the importance of Yugoslavia cooperating with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, AP reported. Kostunica has expressed strong opposition to sending Milosevic to The Hague, though some government officials have expressed support for doing so. Lindh said "we don't believe it will happen tomorrow, but it is important to have quick results." Patten added that between November 2000 and the end of this year the EU will have provided Belgrade with $420 million in aid. PB

...CALLS ON ETHNIC ALBANIANS IN PRESEVO TO LAY DOWN ARMS

Flying to Tirana after his visit in Belgrade, EU foreign policy chief Solana urged ethnic Albanians in Serbia's Presevo valley to stop fighting Serbian forces there because "the time of violence is over," Reuters reported. Solana's comments came one day after the rebel group Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac rejected a demilitarization plan from Belgrade aimed at ending the conflict in the area on the border with the Serbian province of Kosova. That group said it will only rest when the Presevo valley becomes a part of Kosova. Solana said "we have started a new page of our collective history in Europe and the time for violence is over." Solana met with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, Prime Minister Ilir Meta, and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo during his brief visit to Tirana. PB

FIGHTING BREAKS OUT IN PRESEVO VALLEY

Ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian police exchanged gunfire for nearly two hours in the Presevo valley near Lucane, AP reported on 8 February. A second attack occured near the mountain peak of Sveti Ilija. No casualties were reported in either incident. PB

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS POLITICAL SETTLEMENT ONLY SOLUTION FOR KOSOVA

Igor Sergeev said in Kosova on 8 February that there is no possibility for a military solution to any of the problems in the Serbian province, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev, on a visit to the Balkans that included a stop in Belgrade, said he was satisfied with the meeting he had with Lieutenant General Carlo Cabigiosu, the head of KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosova. Sergeev said KFOR troops need to bring the situation in the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica under control. Russia has more than 3,000 troops in KFOR. PB

BELGRADE ADOPTS LAW RETURNING PROPERTY, CITIZENSHIP TO ROYAL FAMILY

The Yugoslav government approved a bill on 8 February that would allow the country's exiled royal family, the Karadjordjevics, to reclaim its property and citizenship, AP reported. Yugoslav Premier Zoran Zizic said the bill shows that the country's new leadership is determined to follow a "path of truth, justice, and freedom." The legislation must be passed by the Yugoslav parliament before taking effect. The royal family were stripped of their citizenship and their property taken when the communists took power after World War II. PB

WTO TO NEGOTIATE WITH BELGRADE ON MEMBERSHIP

The General Council of the World Trade Organization agreed on 8 February to set up a committee to negotiate the terms of entry for Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. Mike Moore, the WTO director-general, said he urges the committee to "move as quickly as possible to complete its work and bring Yugoslavia into the WTO family." PB

EXPLOSION RIPS THROUGH CHURCH IN KOSOVA

A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina that an explosion severely damaged a Serbian Orthodox Church in eastern Kosova on 8 February, AP reported. The church was located in the village of Gornji Livoc, about 60 kilometers east of Prishtina. The building was not among the 150 historic sites being guarded by international peacekeepers. No one was injured in blast and an investigation is under way. PB

SLOVENIA WANTS TO JOIN NATO, EU BY 2003

Slovenia hopes to join the NATO and the EU in the next three years, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said on 7 February on a visit to Paris, AFP reported. Rupel said "Slovenia believes it will be ready to join NATO in 2002" and the EU a year later, after discussing Union membership with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici. He said he also felt his country's chances of joining the EU would probably be boosted if it is admitted to NATO. "Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all became NATO members and their chances of joining the EU improved," he said. DW

CROATIAN GENERAL SUSPECTED OF WAR CRIMES IS 'ON THE RUN'...

Croatian police have begun a nationwide search for retired General Mirko Norac, 34, the first general to be accused of war crimes in Croatia's 1991 war of independence, HINA news agency reported on 8 February. "He is on the run," said the judge investigating the case of the alleged massacre in the southern city of Gospic. Norac's close wartime aide, Milan Canic, was arrested on 7 February in Gospic, but Norac failed to turn himself in and was not at his home in Zagreb. He was one of 12 generals retired by President Stipe Mesic in September 2000 for criticizing his attempts to investigate war crimes committed by Croats. DW

...GOVERNMENT DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF SUSPECT'S WHEREABOUTS...

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan dismissed speculation that the government has information on the whereabouts of General Norac or has already turned him in to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, HINA reported. "I do not believe Norac went to The Hague of his own accord," Racan said. A spokesman for the Hague tribunal told Reuters that the tribunal has not publicly indicted Norac. "He is not in custody here," he said. The Hague tribunal is reportedly investigating the incidents involving Norac, but is prepared to let the Croatian courts handle it so that it can focus on other, higher-ranking suspects. DW

...AS PARLIAMENT, VETERANS LAUNCH PROTESTS

Opposition parties, including the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and veterans' groups have reacted with indignation and protests against the war crimes accusations against Norac. "For us this is a political case and it is high time we do something radical," said Velimir Kvesic, head of one of the veterans' groups, dpa reported 8 February. HDZ has led calls for the matter to be discussed in parliament and for Prime Minister Racan to explain the decision to charge Norac with war crimes. According to the HINA news agency, Rakic urged all parties "to act in a responsible manner. This is a test for democratic and law-abiding Croatia and it is up to us to pass it successfully." DW

MACEDONIA AND GREECE TRYING TO SETTLE NAME PROBLEM

The UN ambassadors from Greece and Macedonia met on 8 February to seek a resolution to Greek objections to the name Macedonia, AP reported. A statement released by Greek ambassador Elias Gounaris and his Macedonian counterpart Ivan Tosevsky reported no progress but an "exchange of views." Greece only recognizes Macedonia as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," and will only have dealings with Skopje when it uses that name. Athens says use of only the name "Macedonia" masks expansionist aims on the part of that country towards the Greek province of Macedonia. The ambassadors said they are determined to find a solution through UN mediation. PB

OSCE CONCERNED BY ALBANIA'S POOR PREPARATION FOR ELECTIONS

Gerard Stoudman, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said on 8 February that he is concerned by Albania's lack of progress in preparing for parliamentary elections in June, dpa reported. He said the Central Election Commission (CEC), which is paralyzed after the resignation of three of its members, needs to resume work immediately. Albanian political parties have been arguing bitterly over the composition of the CEC, voter lists, and election legislation. The opposition Democratic Party has threatened to boycott the elections. PB

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PARIS

Meeting with his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine in Paris on 8 February, Romanian Foreign Minister and OSCE chairman-in-office Mircea Geoana discussed priorities in 2001 and bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. Vedrine said France continues to support Romania's quest to gain EU and NATO membership. Geoana said Romania "is proud" to have "privileged relations" with France, which is also the largest foreign investor in his country. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON PROPERTY RESTITUTION

One day after the Constitutional Court rejected the Greater Romania Party's appeal against the law, President Ion Iliescu on 8 February promulgated the bill on the restitution of some properties confiscated by the communist regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As approved by the parliament in January, the bill stipulates the restitution of houses and other real estate to former owners, but exempts from restitution buildings currently used as public institutions and property sold to tenants after 1990. In these cases, former owners are to receive financial compensation from the state. The size of that compensation must be determined within two years. Tenants are given a five year grace period before they can be evicted. Associations representing former owners, as well as those representing tenants, said they oppose the bill as passed by the parliament. MS

ROMANIAN LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION BILL TO UNDERGO CHANGES

The government on 8 February decided to amend the bill recently passed on local public administration, deleting from it the provision allowing prefects to dismiss mayors if a judicial case is underway against them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). The bill is to be amended when the commission mediating differences between its Senate and Chamber of Deputies' versions meets. Also in connection with that bill, Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, in an interview with Romanian Radio on 8 February, said President Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase "betrayed" Romania when they agreed to introduce into the bill the stipulation allowing the use of minority languages in localities where they make up 20 percent or more of the population. Tudor announced that PRM will move in the parliament a motion to debate that article in the law once more. MS

LASZLO TOKES CLEARED OF SUSPICION OF COLLABORATION WITH SECURITATE...

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes has been cleared of the suspicion of having been an informer of the communist secret police, AP reported on 9 February. The agency cites Gheorghe Onisoru, chairman of the National Commission for the Study of the Securitate Archive, as saying "Any statements taken from him by the Securitate were [given] under pressure." The Bucharest-based Hungarian language daily "Kronika" as cited by Mediafax wrote that the commission has verified 15 interrogation records of Toekes, who in the past admitted that he had been forced to sign a pledge to collaborate. Commission member Horia Roman Patapievici told "Kronika" Toekes "always acted as a believer...which cannot be said by the then Reformed Bishop, Laszlo Papp." Toekes is suing AP journalist Alison Mutler for reporting in 1998 he had admitted to having collaborated. MS

...AND FORMER SECURITATE OFFICIAL APPOINTED CHAIRMAN OF SENSITIVE PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION

Party of Social Democracy in Romania deputy Hristea Priboi, who was elected on 7 February as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service, is a former high official of the Securitate, the daily "Ziua" writes on 9 February. The daily says that Priboi was deputy director of the secret police's Foreign Intelligence Directorate and was in charge of launching intimidation attempts and ordering physical attacks on journalists working for the then Munich-based Radio Free Europe. According to "Ziua", Priboi is "blacklisted" by all Western intelligence service and his election as the commission's chairman "sends a catastrophic message to NATO and the EU." MS

SIXTEEN CANDIDATES FOR EACH MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SEAT

No less than 1,672 candidates are competing for the 101-seat Moldovan parliament in the elections due to be held on 25 February. Ten of these are running as independent candidates and the rest on party lists. Seventy-three candidates are deputies in the outgoing legislature, of whom 32 are running on the lists of the party of Moldovan Communists. There are 294 women candidates, and 131 candidates are under 30 years old, Infotag reported on 8 February. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO BE LARGELY RESHUFFLED

The mandates of four out of the six judges on the Moldovan Constitutional Court end on 23 February, and one of them is the court's chairman, Pavel Barbalat, Infotag reported on 8 February. In line with procedure, the court has submitted to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy a list of candidates, including the present deputy chairman of the court, George Susarenko, and one of the sitting judges, Ion Vasilati. Barbalat, as well as judge Nicolae Kiseyev, are not on that list, since they are reaching retirement age (65). Two out of the four new judges are to be appointed by the council and two by the parliament. MS

BULGARIAN RADIO JOURNALISTS SHUT OUT CHIEF

Several dozen journalists working for the Bulgarian state radio prevented new director Ivan Borislavov from entering the building on 8 February , Reuters reported. Also on 8 February, the Promyana trade union, which is the country's largest, said the decision by the National Radio and Television Council to appoint Borislavov was "obviously based on pre-electoral considerations rather than professional competence." It is expected that the radio will play an important role in the parliamentary and presidential elections due later this year. MS

BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT BARS FORMER KING FROM PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST

The Constitutional Court on 8 February ruled that former King Simeon II cannot run in the presidential elections, whose date is yet to be established. The ruling was delivered at the request of 75 lawmakers from different political parties. The court said the constitutional requirement that candidates be residents in Bulgaria for at least five years before running is not met by the former monarch, who lives most of the time in Spain and has only temporary Bulgarian residence, Reuters reported. According to media speculation, King Simeon intended to run in the contest and rally around his candidacy a number of smaller political formations. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GREECE

"Greece will always be at Bulgaria's side on its course for integration with the EU and NATO," Foreign Minister George Papandreou told journalists after talks in Athens with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nadezhda Mihailova. Mihailova said relations with Greece are of "strategic importance" to her country, dpa reported. The two ministers also discussed bilateral economic and political relations and the current situation in Yugoslavia. Mihailova is also scheduled to meet parliamentary chairman Apostolos Kaklamanis and the leader of the main opposition New Democracy party, Kostas Karamanlis. MS




There is no End Note today.





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