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Newsline - February 14, 2001




PUTIN PROMISES FLAT TAX TO REMAIN IN PLACE

Speaking at a Kremlin meeting on 13 February with tax officials, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia needs to maintain a stable tax policy to encourage investment, that the 13 percent income tax introduced this year will remain in place for many years, and that tax inspectors must not interfere with legitimate businesses, Russian and Western agencies reported. At the same time, he called on officials to take action to improve tax collection. Other speakers noted that the tax authorities will now audit wealthy taxpayers annually, that back taxes owed to the state now amount to 920 billion rubles ($34 billion), and that tax collections which increased 60 percent last year to 1.7 trillion rubles -- or 20.7 percent of GDP -- are expected to rise again in 2001. PG

MOSCOW ENDS HOPES FOR DEBT RESCHEDULING THIS YEAR...

The Russian government's Information Department said that Moscow does not expect to reach an agreement on debt rescheduling in 2001, Interfax reported on 13 February. The Russian government, however, is continuing contingency discussions with the IMF. Meanwhile, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said in Berlin on the same day that Moscow has decided to service Russia's foreign debt in full, ITAR-TASS reported. Gref added that Moscow will set up an investment agency to attract foreign investment to the country. PG

...AS GOVERNMENT SENDS BUDGET CHANGES TO DUMA

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 13 February told ITAR-TASS that his government has approved amendments to the budget that would allow Moscow to service its foreign debt. He said that if extra budget revenues are not used to pay the debt, serious inflation could result and that in turn could threaten the macroeconomic stability of the country. "Inflation may go out of control, bank lending rates will spiral up, industry will have no credit opportunities, and a rise in wages will have no impact on the population," he said. But the proposed budget modifications may face a difficult time in the parliament. Duma Budget Committee chief Aleksandr Zhukov said he is skeptical of the proposals, Interfax reported, and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov said his faction would not support the reordering of budgetary priorities. PG

PUTIN SEES RUSSIAN-GERMAN PARTNERSHIP EMERGING

At talks with visiting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on 13 February, President Putin said that partnership between Moscow and Berlin is taking on "a tangible and noticeable shape," Russian agencies reported. "The two countries are close in their views on certain international issues," Putin continued, "while on others they are in agreement." Meanwhile, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told Fischer that NATO is "a serious player" in European security "but not the only one," ITAR-TASS reported. For his part, Fischer said that "in the end, I believe that Russia will accept negotiations on NMD [the national missile defense system]." PG

MORE PUTIN MEETINGS SET

President Putin will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on 25 March in Irkutsk, with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in St. Petersburg on 11 April, and probably with U.S. President George W. Bush in advance of the G-7 plus Russia meeting in Genoa in July, Russian and Western agencies reported on 13 February. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is slated to meet U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 24 February in Cairo, agencies reported. PG

STEPASHIN RUMORED TO BE NEXT PREMIER

An article in the 13 February "Segodnya" said that Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin is an increasingly likely candidate to become the country's next prime minister. Stepashin served as premier for some three months before being dismissed by then-President Boris Yeltsin on 9 August 1999. The paper said that the fact that he is an officer and from St. Petersburg and that he has been saying "what the prime minister should say" all point in that direction. Only a day earlier, Communist leader Zyuganov told Interfax that there must be a complete or partial replacement of what he called Russia's "helpless, weak-willed, inefficient, and not very responsible government," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, however, the current Prime Minister Kasyanov dismissed rumors that he will be dismissed, the news agency said. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS COST OF CHECHEN WAR 'ENORMOUS'

Speaking on NTV on 12 February, Stepashin said that the costs of the war in Chechnya have been so great that the money involved could have covered much of Russia's debt to the Paris Club of creditors. He said he knows precisely how much the war has cost but that the figures on that are "classified at the moment." "Izvestiya" reported on 13 February that the Audit Chamber will be examining what was done with the 88 percent of the 14 billion rubles ($500 million) officially budgeted for Chechnya in the immediate future. PG

PRIMAKOV CALLS FOR SEPARATION OF PROPERTY AND POWER

In an extensive interview published in the 13 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta," former Prime Minister and leader of the Fatherland-All-Russia faction in the Duma Yevgenii Primakov said that the country will be able to move ahead if President Putin succeeds in separating property and power. Indeed, he said, is a precondition for the creation of a civil society in Russia. And he said that the country's foreign policy must be subordinated to the tasks of protecting its territorial integrity, promoting economic development, and guaranteeing national security. PG

PUTIN SIGNS BILLS INTO LAW

President Putin on 13 February signed into law several bills providing guarantees to former presidents, reorganizing legislative and executive power in federation subjects, ratifying an agreement with the U.S. on protecting space technology, joining the international conventions on judicial documents, modifying the pension fund, as well as a number of other acts, Russian agencies reported. PG

NEW ACTING GOVERNOR IN FAR EAST GIVEN 10 DAYS TO RESTORE HEAT

Acting Governor Valentin Dubinin told reporters on 13 February that he has accepted seven of the 12 resignations of his fellow deputy governors, including former acting Governor and First Deputy Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. According to the correspondent, Dubinin said that other personnel changes in the krai's power structures, particularly in the local prosecutor's office, will be forthcoming. Dubinin also revealed that the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern region, Konstantin Pulikovskii, has given krai authorities 10 days to restore heat supplies to freezing cities and villages. Asked whether he plans to run in upcoming gubernatorial elections, Dubinin said that he has not yet thought about it. On 19 February, legislators in the krai's Duma are expected to announce the date for new gubernatorial elections, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 13 February. JAC

IDEA OF APPOINTED GOVERNORS DRAWS FIRE

Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said on 13 February that appointing governors rather than electing them would violate the constitution, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov predicted that any effort to pass such a law would face stiff opposition, the Russian agency said. And Aleksandr Kotenkov, the presidential representative in the Duma, seemed to point to the demise of the project when he said on the same day that President Putin will not support the bill. But at the same time, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax that the Duma is likely to revisit the recently passed legislation allowing governors to be re-elected for a third term. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG DOCUMENTS FURTHER CRIMES BY RUSSIAN MILITARY IN CHECHNYA

Human Rights Watch on 13 February released a new 10-page report detailing further instances of arbitrary brutality by Russian troops against Chechen civilians. The report called on the EU to pressure Moscow to investigate those crimes and punish the people responsible. LF

CHECHEN POLITICIAN REFUSES TO COMMENT ON ESPIONAGE ALLEGATIONS

Malik Saidullaev, who is chairman of the Moscow-based Chechen State Council, on 13 February dismissed as "nonsense not worth reacting to" allegations by the Russian translator of a book by former British secret service agent Richard Tomlinson that the MI6 recruited Saidullaev as an agent in 1996, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). Saidullaev is currently in London on a business trip. In Moscow, Russian Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich commented that the allegations against Saidullaev should be "thoroughly verified" by Russian counterintelligence. LF

MANY IN DUMA OPPOSE PAYING PARIS CLUB

Duma deputies from the National Patriotic Union of Russia, which is an umbrella group including communists and other left-wing groups, declared on 13 February that paying Russia's debts to the Paris Club would be "immoral and unacceptable," Interfax reported. Other deputies, including Yabloko leader Vladimir Lukin, said that the Russian government has not yet used up all of its "political possibilities" to gain restructuring. The Duma is scheduled to discuss a resolution on the debt on 15 February. PG

NIKOLAEV CALLS FOR ALTERNATIVE SERVICE LAW

Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy), the chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, was quoted in "Krasnaya Zvezda" newspaper on 13 February as saying that he favors the adoption of a law on alternative service as part of the military's reform program. PG

PACE DELEGATION SEE PROGRESS IN RUSSIA

A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) led by David Atkinson said in Moscow on 13 February that Russia has made significant progress over the last six years toward reaching European standards of democracy and human rights, Russian agencies reported. At the same time, Atkinson told Interfax that the level of freedom and independence of the media in Russia has "still not reached the level of other member countries of the Council of Europe." He said that this is particularly true of the electronic media. PG

NO COOPERATION WITH KYIV ON MILITARY ROCKETS

Security Council Secretary Ivanov said on Russian television on 12 February that Moscow has ruled out any cooperation between Russia and Ukraine in the production of rockets capable of delivering nuclear weapons, Interfax reported on 13 February. PG

MOSCOW, ANKARA TO COOPERATE ON FIGHTING TERRORISM

The interior ministers of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Rushailo and Sadettin Tantan, agreed in Ankara on 13 February to work together to fight international terrorism, Interfax reported. During his visit to the Turkish capital, Rushailo denied reports that Kurds are being trained at camps in Russia. PG

DEPUTY SAYS MEDIA IS FREE...

Konstantin Vetrov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), the chairman of the Duma's Information Policy Committee, was quoted in "Izvestiya" on 13 February as saying that "nothing extraordinary has happened yet" concerning modification of the media law. With regard to media freedom, Vetrov said that "the president is out to establish constructive and mutually acceptable relations with the media. I do not think that he plans to deprive it of its freedom. As for those who think that we do not have free speech in Russia now, I can recommend opening a newspaper or a magazine." PG

BUT SAYS JOURNALISTS MUST BE ABLE TO PROTECT THEMSELVES

At the same time, Vetrov suggested that journalists should have the right to an effective means of self-defense in the case of threats against them and that they cannot do their work "without serious support from the government," "Izvestiya" reported on 13 February. Meanwhile, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 February that a telephone poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy had found that 60 percent of respondents had said that foreign journalists are more objective in their coverage of events, while 40 percent insisted that Russian journalists are. PG

GUSINSKY LAWYERS APPEAL TO DUMA

Lawyers for Vladimir Gusinsky appealed to the Russian parliament to protect freedom of speech and stop prosecutors from pursuing him, Reuters reported on 13 February. They called on the deputies to form a joint committee to demand that prosecutors report on what they are doing. "Freedom of speech and independent information are being murdered before your very eyes," the appeal said. At the same time, prosecutors continued to search Media-MOST offices on 13 February, Interfax reported. And the U.S. State Department spokesman said that Washington "is very much concerned" by official actions against Media-MOST. "We believe that freedom of the press in Russia is very important for the future of this country and for the status of Russian democracy," Richard Boucher said. PG

FSB TO AGAIN STUDY ANONYMOUS DENUNCIATIONS

"Segodnya" reported on 13 February that the FSB and other Russian government security agencies plan to exploit anonymous denunciations sent to them by citizens as part of the investigative process. The plans were outlined, the paper said, in a recent instruction on how to use such anonymous declarations. PG

TROIKA-DIALOG SAYS RUSSIAN ECONOMY IN TROUBLE

Oleg Visyugin, vice president and senior economist for the Troika-Dialog investment firm, said in an interview published in the 13 February "Rossiya" that real economic growth had virtually ceased in 2000, that Russian goods are becoming less competitive abroad, that the banking system remains unstable, and that inflation appears likely to become a serious problem in the year ahead. PG

RUSSIAN IMMIGRATION URGED, FEARED

Yevgenii Gontmakher, the head of the government's department of social development, was quoted in "Trud" on 13 February as saying that Russia must actively promote the in-migration of ethnic Russians from the post-Soviet states to address what he said was a looming demographic disaster. But an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day said that solving the country's need for qualified personnel in this way could create additional problems. The paper noted that Moscow has failed to meet its obligations to those who have returned to Russia and pointed out that while Germany spends 968 marks ($500) to support every ethnic German abroad, Russia spends only 0.25 kopecks ($0.01). PG

CONGRESS OF JEWISH COMMUNITIES CALLS FOR UNITY

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the naming of Adolph Shaevich as the chief rabbi of Russia, the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations of Russia called for cooperation among all of Russia's Jewish groups, Interfax reported on 13 February. But among those who did not sign the appeal was Rabbi Berl Lazar, who heads the Khabad Lubavich movement. PG

MOSCOW CITY POLITICS HEAT UP

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov on 13 February officially rejected the candidacy of Viktor Shvidkin to head the Interior Ministry administration in his city, Interfax-Moscow reported. Also on 13 February, Luzhkov called for more parks to allow city residents to walk their dogs, and his administration announced that it had pulled down 13,500 illegal garages in the city last year. Meanwhile, Luzhkov got some good news: an American court threw out a suit against him brought by the relatives of Paul Tatum, the manager of Moscow's Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel who was murdered in 1996. PG

YELTSIN IMPROVED, REMAINS IN HOSPITAL

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health is improving but not so much that he can be released from the hospital, where he has been under treatment for a viral infection since 30 January, his doctors told Interfax on 13 February. PG

NEW OLIGARCH/GOVERNOR TO BATTLE WITH LEBED?

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 13 February, former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, who was elected governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug last month, talked about his future plans for that region. He said that he will not name his predecessor, Gennadii Nedelin, to represent the okrug at the Federation Council. When asked where he planned to live, in Moscow or the remote territory of Taimyr, Khloponin said that he will live wherever "he can work most effectively, be that Moscow or Novosibirsk." Novosibirsk is the capital of the Siberian federal district in which Taimyr is located. Khloponin officially left his post as general-director of Norilsk Nickel on 12 February, according to Interfax. On 2 February, former Norilsk Deputy Mayor Nikolai Goncharov told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that he is expecting Khloponin to pursue a path independent of neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai, of which the okrug is formally a part. According to the bureau, Khloponin has already informed businesses registered in the okrug to pay their taxes there rather than in Krasnoyarsk. JAC

COSSACKS OPPOSE SALE OF LAND

A 13 February meeting in Rostov-on-Don of atamans of the Don Cossacks appealed to President Putin not to allow the buying and selling of land and of natural resources, Interfax reported. PG

PROTESTERS DECRY PLANS TO CLOSE MOSCOW'S GORBUSHKA MARKET

Demonstrators picketed to protest plans by Moscow city authorities to close the Gorbushka Park market, Interfax-Moscow reported on 13 February. Hundreds of vendors set up stalls in Gorbushka on weekends to create an open-air market where the latest blackmarket copies of CDs, computer software, and movies are sold. PG

RUSSIAN SKINHEADS BEAT UP GERMANS

A Russian skinhead gang, described by "Segodnya" on 13 February as "Russian nazis," beat up three Germans in St. Petersburg last weekend. The police have arrested 23 Russians suspected of involvement in the attack reportedly driven by hatred of Germany for its blockade of the city during World War II. PG

BUS TOURS BEGIN OF IMPERIAL FAMILY'S MURDER SITES

"Izvestiya" reported on 13 February that a bus in Yekaterinburg now takes visitors on tours of the sites connected with the murder by the Bolsheviks in 1918 of Nicholas II and the imperial family. PG

WAS KING ARTHUR A RUSSIA PRINCE?

ITAR-TASS and other Russian media outlets on 13 February gave extensive coverage to a report by British historian Howard Reed, who says that King Arthur was related to the tribes living in the Sarmatian steppes in southern Russia. Reed based his conclusion on commonalities between symbolism used by the Sarmatians and that used in Arthur's own court. PG

RUSSIAN ASTROLOGER SEES LOVE FOR MOST ON VALENTINE'S DAY EVE

Aleksandr Zaraev, the president of the Russian Astrological School in Moscow, told Interfax on 13 February that those born under the majority of the signs of the zodiac will have success in love in 2001. PG




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF SOWING DISCORD

Arshak Sadoyan, a leading member of Vazgen Manukian's center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), told journalists in Yerevan on 13 February that while he sympathizes with other AZhM members who recently quit the party to protest its cooperation with the present Armenian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001), he will not do likewise, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. Sadoyan said that his defection would further weaken the AZhM and thus play into the hands of Armenian President Robert Kocharian who, Sadoyan charged, is seeking to sow discord within the opposition ranks in order to strengthen his hold on power. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY EXPELS SECOND PARLIAMENT DEPUTY

The Musavat Party has expelled Shirzad Eyubov from its ranks for participating in the work of the parliament elected last November, Turan reported on 13 February citing the party's newspaper "Yeni Musavat." Musavat is one of several opposition parties that decided to boycott the new legislature to protest the falsification of the ballot. Poet Vagif Samedoglu has already been expelled from Musavat for defying that decision (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 5, 2 February 2001). LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Visiting Baku on 13 February, Irakli Menagharishvili met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Quliev and with President Heidar Aliev, Turan and Caucasus Press reported. Issues discussed included cooperation within the GUUAM alignment, to which both countries belong together with Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova, the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, and how to promote peace and stability in the South Caucasus. Menagharishvili stressed that the latter objective cannot be achieved without Russia. He also briefed Aliyev on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's visit to Turkey in late January. Aliyev is scheduled to travel to Ankara in early March for further talks on the Baku-Ceyhan project, Turan reported on 13 February. The Azerbaijani daily "Millet" reported on 10 February that Aliyev will also undergo a medical examination at the Turkish military hospital in Ankara where he was treated in 1999 and 2000. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL

By a vote of 185 to seven, parliament deputies confirmed Gia Meparishvili as Georgia's new prosecutor-general on 13 February, Caucasus Press reported. Meparishvili, who is 41, is a trained lawyer and member of the Georgian Constitutional Court. He was elected to parliament in October 1999 on the ticket of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia party. During the confirmation hearings, he said that his office will not yield to political pressure, and he pledged to embark upon "serious reforms" in mid-May. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN MILITARY REPRESENTATIVES SEEK TO NARROW DIFFERENCES

A Russian Defense Ministry delegation headed by International Military Cooperation Department chief Colonel General Leonid Ivashov held talks in Tbilisi on 12-13 February with Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze and other senior officials, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides agreed on the need for closer defense cooperation, and drafted a brief program for such cooperation this year. They also undertook to exchange information regularly concerning the situation in Georgia's Pankisi gorge, where Moscow believes some Chechen fighters are hiding. Tbilisi rejected, however, a Russian request to waive the entry visa requirement in the case of Russian military personnel stationed in Georgia and their families. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Burduli reasoned that it was Russia, not Georgia, that had first imposed a visa requirement for travel between the two countries, and that insisting that Russian military personnel have visas to travel to Georgia constitutes the sole leverage Tbilisi can bring to bear on Moscow, Caucasus Press reported on 14 February. LF

UN REPRESENTATIVE MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PRESIDENT...

Dieter Boden, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Georgia, met in Sukhum on 13 February with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba to brief him on last month's Security Council discussion of the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). Boden said the Security Council urged both sides to break the deadlock in the negotiating process and embark on a discussion of the future relationship between Georgia and the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia. Boden has drafted a document on the division of powers between the two sides that is intended to serve as a basis for negotiations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 48, 3 December 1999 ). Ardzinba responded that Abkhazia's status as an independent state is already enshrined in its constitution. He added that the informal group of "Friends of the UN Secretary-General for the Abkhaz conflict" should endeavor "to promote understanding between the two sides and not interfere in [Abkhazia's] domestic affairs." Boden pointed out that no other state has recognized Abkhazia's proclaimed independent status, and that the situation in the South Caucasus will remain unstable as long as the Abkhaz conflict is unresolved. LF

...AS DISPLACED PERSONS PRESSURE GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP

Also on 13 February, some 100 Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war staged a protest outside the Georgian parliament building to demand an immediate debate on the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Speaker Zurab Zhvania assured the demonstrators that Abkhazia will be discussed during a plenary session in mid-March. The displaced persons also demanded that they be given priority in the allocation of credits provided by the international community for the development of small- and medium-sized businesses. Zhvania ordered the creation of a special commission that is to draft within 10 days the appropriate procedures for allocating credits to displaced persons. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PROPOSES QUOTAS FOR REPATRIATION IN 2001

Mukhit Izbanov, who is the deputy chairman of Kazakhstan's State Committee on Migration, told RFE/RL on 13 February that his agency will propose that 600 Kazakh families be allowed to resettle in Kazakhstan this year within the framework of the repatriation program begun in 1991. Of that total, some 400 families are ethnic Kazakhs currently domiciled in Uzbekistan. LF

JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ABANDONS HUNGER-STRIKE

Former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov ended on 13 February the hunger-strike he had begun four days earlier to protest being refused permission to consult with his lawyers, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was sentenced last month to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position during his tenure as National Security Minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). The Board of the Bishkek Military Court will hear Kulov's appeal against that sentence on 22 February. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTIES MULL BOYCOTT OF PLANNED ROUNDTABLE...

Representatives of seven opposition parties, including Ar-Namys and the Agrarian-Labor, Socialist, Communist, and Social-Democratic Parties, disapprove of the proposed format for the 17 February round-table discussion of the socio-economic situation, Communist Party chairman Absamat MasAliyev told Interfax on 13 February. MasAliyev said that the presence at that discussion of 21 representatives each from the Kyrgyz leadership, the opposition, and the NGOs would give the authorities an unfair advantage. He also argued that the agenda should be broadened to encompass the political situation. He said that the seven parties will attend the discussion only if the number of participants is reduced to nine from each category. LF

...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES CONDEMN OPPRESSION

Ten members of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (the upper chamber of the parliament) released a statement on 13 February accusing the Kyrgyz authorities of jailing opposition politicians to prevent them from participating in politics and of oppressing the independent press, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They cited the cases of opposition party leaders Kulov, Topchubek Turgunaliev, and Daniyar Usenov, and of Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev and the legal action brought against the newspapers "Asaba," "Res Publica," and "Delo Nomer." LF

TAJIKISTAN REJECTS RUSSIAN REPORTS OF SITUATION ON AFGHAN BORDER

Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 14 February that a Russian TV report the previous day claiming that renewed fighting in northern Afghanistan between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces is a threat to the lives of thousands of fugitives congregated along the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan is not true. He said that Russian media have recently aired several such reports on the situation on the Afghan-Tajik border that "infringe on the interests of the republic of Tajikistan." Sattarov said that Dushanbe has provided logistical help to humanitarian organizations engaged in transporting aid to those displaced persons, and has invited Russian and international journalists to monitor that process. LF




LUKASHENKA SEES NO NEED FOR REFORM IN AGRICULTURE

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 February discussed the situation in the agricultural sector with his ministers, Belarusian Television reported. According to Lukashenka, the sector does not need radical reform but "improvement." He said the country has a sufficient workforce, amount of machinery, and finances to see growth in agricultural production, adding that it lacks only "responsibility and discipline." Lukashenka noted that 50 percent of agricultural enterprises can operate without state support, while another 25 percent can work with "a little help" from the state. As regards the remaining 25 percent, the president said they need to be "radically reconstructed," but did not elaborate. Lukashenka stressed that large collective farms --kolkhozes, sovkhozes, and agro-industrial "complexes" -- will remain "the foundation" of agricultural production in Belarus. JM

UKRAINE'S TOP LEADERSHIP PLEDGES TO SUPPRESS 'DESTRUCTIVE FORCES'

President Leonid Kuchma, Premier Viktor Yushchenko, and parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on 13 February issued a joint statement pledging their determination to use "all legitimate means" to quell the current political unrest and "destructive forces" in the country, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. According to the three leaders, Ukraine is witnessing "an unprecedented political campaign with all the signs of a psychological war." They also say the recently created Forum for National Salvation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 February 2001) is not seeking salvation for the nation but "for themselves from political bankruptcy and oblivion...[and] criminal responsibility." The statement warns that "the attempts to stir up passions and use methods of provocation to deepen the split in society and prompt the use of force by the authorities constitute a real threat to national security." JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS ARREST FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER...

Ukrainian prosecutors arrested former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko on 13 February, Interfax reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod said Tymoshenko was arrested because of "new circumstances" in her criminal case: she is suspected of giving $79.6 million as a bribe to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko. Last month the Prosecutor-General's Office indicted Tymoshenko on smuggling and document forgery charges related to her job at Ukraine's Unified Energy Systems, which she headed from 1995 to 1997. President Kuchma fired her from the cabinet last month because of the indictment. JM

...WHILE SOME SAY ARREST IS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented that one of the reasons for Tymoshenko's arrest is her involvement in the opposition movement against President Kuchma, including her participation in the Forum for National Salvation. According to Moroz, another reason for the arrest is the authorities' intent to force the parliamentary caucus of the Fatherland Party, which is led by Tymoshenko, to remain in the so-called parliamentary majority. Ukrainian Popular Rukh leader Yuriy Kostenko told Interfax that Tymoshenko's arrest signals the authorities' intent to use force in dealing with the political opposition. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko expressed his doubt that Tymoshenko is in opposition to the ruling regime, adding that "the idea of opposition among people involved in big business is abstract." JM

OPPOSITION WANTS TO ANNUL KUCHMA'S ACCORDS WITH PUTIN

The Forum for National Salvation Civic Initiative will seek legislative invalidation of the agreements adopted during President Kuchma's recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dnipropetrovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 February 2001), Interfax reported on 13 February, quoting legislator Taras Stetskiv. According to Stetskiv, the Kuchma-Putin talks signaled Ukraine's "unambiguous reorientation toward Russia." "A serious step was made toward [Ukraine's] capitulation to the Russian partner, primarily in the economic sector," Stetskiv added. Legislator Oleksandr Hudyma said the Kuchma-Putin accord to couple both countries' electricity grids threatens Ukraine's "national energy security system." And parliament deputy Yuriy Kostenko noted that Putin's visit to Dnipropetrovsk intended to pull Ukraine into a "military-political union" with Russia. Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko commented later the same day that political issues were not discussed in Dnipropetrovsk. JM

EU ENVOYS DISCUSS MEDIA, GONGADZE CASE WITH UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT

An EU delegation led by Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh discussed the media situation in Ukraine and the investigation of the Gongadze case with President Kuchma on 13 February, Interfax reported. Foreign Minister Zlenko said the interlocutors agreed that it is necessary to "conclude the investigation in the Gongadze case...and focus on the search of guilty ones." Lindh said: "It is very important that conditions for the media in Ukraine are improved and that the fate of journalist and regime critic Gongadze is finally clarified. The Gongadze case must be seen as a test of the democratic development in Ukraine," AP reported. JM

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS PLAN JOINT WEAPONS PURCHASES

Meeting in Tallinn on 13 February, Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Juri Luik (Estonia) decided that the three countries will carry out joint arms and equipment purchases to save money, but did not say what they would buy, BNS reported. They also declared that they do not regard any of their countries as being more prepared for NATO membership than the others and did not think it necessary to make such a ranking. Linkevicius noted that close cooperation between the countries rather than ranking them by readiness is important for achieving NATO membership. Kristovskis added that it would be best if all three Baltic states received the invitation to join NATO simultaneously. SG

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT NAMES LEGAL CHANCELLOR CANDIDATE

Lennart Meri on 13 February sent a letter to parliament chairman Toomas Savi informing him that he is officially nominating Tallinn district judge Allar Joks as his candidate for the post of legal chancellor, ETA reported. Meri made the decision after consultations with representatives of all the parties in the parliament indicated that Joks would receive the necessary support. The post of legal chancellor, Estonia's highest independent authority, who judges whether laws passed by the parliament or local municipalities conform with the constitution, has been vacant since June, when Eerik-Juhan Truuvali ended his seven-year term. The parliament has rejected a number of candidates whom Meri has proposed. SG

BANKRUPTCY LOOMING OVER LITHUANIAN RAILWAYS

A meeting of representatives of the transport and finance ministries and the state-run company Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways) concluded that the company might have to file for bankruptcy as it is unable to repay loans for 320 million litas ($80 million) taken from international financial institutions for infrastructure and development, BNS reported on 13 February. The meeting concluded that the loans should be acknowledged as a state debt and be repaid from the state budget. Lithuanian Railways suffered a loss of 95 million litas last year because the state did not grant sufficient subsidies for passenger transportation. The company also lost 12 million litas due to an unprofitable agreement -- which was imposed on it -- with the Lithuanian oil refinery Mazeikiai Oil, currently run by the U.S. company Williams International. SG

POLISH LEGISLATION TO MEET EU REQUIREMENTS BY MID-2001?

Former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, who heads the parliamentary committee for European legislation, told the Brussels-based "Le Soir" that from the legal point of view Poland will be ready for EU membership by the end of June 2001, PAP reported on 13 February. "In the last four months of 2000, we managed to adjust 40 laws to EU legislation. We count on adjusting another 60 during the next six months. Thus the job will be completed," Geremek said. Meanwhile, Premier Jerzy Buzek told his Belgian counterpart, Guy Verhofstadt, in Warsaw the same day that by mid-2001 Poland would like to conclude talks with the EU in the 11 areas currently under discussion and start negotiating farming, budget, public finances, and regional policies. JM

AUSTRIA TO REVIVE EMPIRE WITHIN EU?

Austria has officially invited the foreign ministers of neighboring countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Poland -- to discuss in Vienna on 6 June an Austrian proposal for the establishment of the Central European Strategic Partnership, CTK reported. The partnership would be aimed at defending the joint interests of the region and of smaller states in the EU. Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the model for the partnership is that of the Benelux countries. She said the partnership could be launched immediately, but would become fully effective only after all its members had joined the EU. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC, AUSTRIA AGREE ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY

Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer and Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan announced in Vienna on 13 February that they had reached "full agreement" on the environmental impact study that is to allay the Austrian safety concerns over the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. Prague has pledged to view the study's findings as binding, Reuters reported. Earlier, CTK reported that the two ministers agreed that tests at the plant are to be carried out on the basis of Austrian, German, and European Commission recommendations and will be overseen by a four-member commission. The commission's members will be Czech but Austria and Germany can also be represented if they wish. The findings are to be published in June 2001. Austrian and German opponents of Temelin criticized the agreement, saying time was too short for the assessment to be seriously carried out. MS

CZECH, LUXEMBOURG'S PREMIERS SAY RELATIONS 'BRILLIANT'

Visiting Czech Premier Milos Zeman and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists after their meeting on 13 February in Luxembourg that political, economic, and cultural relations between the two countries are "brilliant," CTK reported. Zeman said relations "had reached such a level that if the premier [Juncker] were to speak in French, which I do not understand, I would still agree without waiting for the translation." Juncker said candidate countries to EU membership must be judged according to their own merits and performances and not as groups. "The Czech Republic has nothing to fear in such a test," he said. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS NATO, EU ARE MECIAR ANTIDOTE

President Rudolf Schuster, in an interview with Reuters on 13 February, said Slovakia's membership in NATO and the EU is likely to ensure that former Premier Vladimir Meciar does not return to power. Schuster said that "everybody realizes that if we want to get into NATO and the EU, this must be granted by certain personalities" and people know Meciar must be ruled out. He said that even if the former premier's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia wins the next general elections, its parliamentary support will be short of forming a coalition and no party would want to ally itself with Meciar, knowing he had been the main obstacle to Slovakia's accession to NATO and the EU. MS

NATO OFFICIAL IN SLOVAKIA

A NATO team headed by Deputy Secretary-General Klaus Klaiber arrived in Slovakia on 13 February to examine the country's preparations for joining NATO. The team is to draft a report summing up the progress made towards integration since last year, when a similar report was rather negative. Ratislav Kacer, Defense Ministry secretary in charge of NATO accession, told CTK that Bratislava would welcome it if the report "concluded that we are a reliable partner," and if NATO members could learn from it "what our plans are [as well as] our capability to accomplish them." He said Slovakia was ready to prove that its plans have the necessary funding. MS

MOST SLOVAKS DISAGREE WITH ABORTION BAN

A public opinion poll conducted by Polis shows that two proposals for amending the Slovak Constitution do not have a majority of support within the population. The proposal by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) that abortions be constitutionally banned is supported by 28 percent and rejected by 68 percent of Slovaks. Slovaks are also in disagreement with the Hungarian Coalition Party proposal to change the constitutional preamble now speaking of "We, the Slovak nation" into "We, the citizens of Slovakia." This amendment is supported by 19.6 percent and opposed by 49.9 percent, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZIS, ANTI-FASCISTS COMMEMORATE BUDAPEST SIEGE

Some 1,200 people representing anti-fascist organizations and political parties on 13 February commemorated in Buda Castle the 56th anniversary of the end to the siege of Budapest, thus preventing neo-Nazis from staging their annual rally at the site of the World War II battle between German and Soviet troops. The 30 members of the unregistered extreme-right Hungarian National Freedom Party (MNSZP) staged their rally at another site. "When will Hungary get to the level of democracy where people can freely practice their religion, express their views, and stand up for national feelings without it being a crime?" Gyorgy Kemal Ekrem, leader of the MNSZP, asked at the rally. MSZ

IFJ CRITICIZES HUNGARY'S PUBLIC MEDIA

Aiden White, secretary general of the International Federation of Journalists, said on 13 February that the condition of Hungary's public service media is "extremely serious." White said that responsibility for the stalemate in the public media boards, where opposition parties are not represented, "rests with all political parties." He added that journalists are also responsible for the present situation, as "common ethical norms are absent and professional solidarity is lacking." He warned that Hungary's accession to the EU could be hindered unless the condition of the media changes. MSZ




KOSTUNICA WANTS REVISION OF KOSOVA PEACE AGREEMENTS

Speaking at a Belgrade press conference on 13 February, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica again called for a revision of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the Kosova conflict and established a demilitarized zone on southwest Serbia's border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). He said that "if NATO and KFOR are still reluctant about abolishing the buffer zone, we can narrow [the zone in Serbia] and extend it across the boundary into Kosovo and have joint patrols there by KFOR and our army," Reuters reported. He added that Yugoslav officers could be stationed at the U.S. Camp Bondsteel base in Kosova. Kostunica apparently did not mention how he would deal with the ethnic Albanians, who do not trust Belgrade and its security forces. It was in their interest that the zone was set up in the first place. In December, Predrag Simic, who is Kostunica's foreign policy adviser, wrote two articles in the weekly "NIN" in which he outlined plans for how Belgrade could re-establish its authority in Kosova with the cooperation of the international community. PM

NATO SKEPTICAL OF KOSTUNICA'S PROPOSAL

In Brussels, unnamed NATO officials told Reuters on 13 February that it is "highly unlikely" that the Atlantic alliance will agree to joint patrols with the Yugoslav military. The sources noted that there is no mention of joint patrols in their copies of Belgrade's proposed plan for easing tensions in the Presevo valley (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). In Prishtina, unnamed KFOR sources said that they fear that Belgrade will use any changes in the Kumanovo agreements and the status of the zone to launch a fresh crackdown on local ethnic Albanians (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001). Albanian leaders in Kosova have repeatedly made it clear that any return of Serbian forces to the province is unacceptable following the repression and ethnic cleansing of 1998-1999. PM

KOSTUNICA RULES OUT TALKS WITH ALBANIAN 'TERRORISTS'

The Yugoslav president also said at his Belgrade press conference on 13 February that "we are not going to have talks [or] negotiations with terrorists," in an apparent reference to the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). He argued that the guerrillas were wrong to take up arms "when everything has changed in this country, in the region." The fighters therefore cannot be regarded as "legitimate" representatives of the local Albanians, he added (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001). Kostunica nonetheless held open the possibility of talks involving the UCPMB's "political representativesas has been done in Northern Ireland," by which he presumably meant Sinn Fein's role as a stand-in for the IRA. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SAYS COOPERATION WITH HAGUE 'NOT IN NATIONAL INTEREST'

Kostunica said at his 13 February Belgrade press conference that cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal "is not [in] our national interest," "Vesti" reported. He argued that many international officials have made it clear that they do not require Belgrade to work with The Hague as a prerequisite for receiving aid (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). Kostunica mentioned the EU's Romano Prodi and Bodo Hombach, as well as "many [unnamed] American officials." The president argued that "only extremists in the foreign but more so in the domestic public" insist on cooperating with the war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). He chided those Serbs who support working with The Hague, suggesting that they probably regarded NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbian targets as in "our national interest." Elsewhere during his press conference, Kostunica said that his government will seek to improve ties to the Republika Srpska as provided for in the Dayton agreements, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. PM

RUSSIA WANTS HAGUE COURT ABOLISHED

Russian envoy Sergei Lavrov told the UN Security Council on 13 February that the Hague-based tribunal should be shut down "as soon as possible" because "there is still prejudice -- including anti-Serb bias -- in the tribunal's work, and you can see this first and foremost in the activities of tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte," Reuters reported. PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE TELLS CROATIA TO COOPERATE WITH HAGUE

Walter Schwimmer, who is the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said in a statement in Strasbourg on 14 February that the Croatian authorities should try to prevent any further "dangerous display of nationalism" in support of General Mirko Norac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 February 2001). Schwimmer added that "while one can understand the harsh economic and social realities that may encourage such protests, they should not be used as a pretext for not respecting international obligations," AP reported. He called on the Croatian authorities "to maintain their firm commitment to cooperate" with the war crimes tribunal. PM

FUGITIVE CROATIAN GENERAL DENIES KILLING CIVILIANS

Norac told "Slobodna Dalmatia" of 14 February that he is ready to appear before a Croatian court but only once he has absolute assurance that he will not be extradited to The Hague. He denied that he killed any civilians. Norac expressed appreciation for the support he has received from many people, adding that he attended the recent rally in Split in disguise but carrying a sign reading "I am Mirko Norac." Prime Minister Ivica Racan has already ruled out making any deal with Norac as a precondition to his surrendering. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO MEET GENERAL

President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 13 February that Norac contacted him and asked for a meeting. Mesic added: "Norac is willing to report to the court [in Rijeka]. He is not fleeing the court, nor is he wanted by the Hague war crimes tribunal. He asked that I receive him and I will, maybe as early as tomorrow," Reuters reported. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN LEADER WALKS OUT OF BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY

Ante Jelavic, who is the ethnic Croat member of the joint presidency, walked out of that body's meeting on 13 February in Sarajevo after his Serbian and Muslim colleagues agreed to nominate non-nationalist Bozidar Matic as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). Jelavic said that the move violates the "vital interests" of the republic's Croats, some 90 percent of whom voted for candidates of Jelavic's nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in the last elections. He added that the nomination is a violation of the Dayton agreement and demanded a new international conference to revise Dayton and set up a Croatian entity on par with Muslim and Serbian ones. In related news, the offices of the high representative and the OSCE warned the HDZ against setting up parallel government institutions in areas where it controls the local administration, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN-YUGOSLAV BORDER TALKS A DEAD LETTER?

The ongoing Macedonian-Yugoslav border delineation talks are unlikely to produce a lasting solution because they do not include Kosovar representatives, the Albanian-language Macedonian daily "Fakti" reported on 13 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Jakup Krasniqi of the Democratic Party of Kosova added that under current international agreements, Belgrade's authority does not extend to Kosova's frontier with Macedonia, MIC news agency reported. PM

KOSOVARS AMBUSH SERBIAN CONVOY, SERBS RIOT

Ethnic Albanians opened fire on a Serbian civilian convoy between Ferizaj and Shterpce on 13 February, killing one Serb and wounding three individuals, AP reported. Peacekeepers arrested five ethnic Albanians. Up to 700 angry Serbs then rioted in the dead man's hometown of Shterpce, burning three UN jeeps and destroying three additional KFOR vehicles. Some 200 peacekeepers from Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Greece, and the U.S. brought the riot under control. PM

KOSOVA ELECTIONS ON HOLD?

Jean-Marie Guehenno, who is UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, told the Security Council in New York on 13 February that it will take at least eight months to prepare general elections for Kosova, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2001). PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT SCRAPS MEDIA LAW

The legislature voted on 14 February to scrap the 1998 press law that the previous regime used to stifle the non-state and foreign media, AP reported. On 13 February, parliament voted to restrict the rights and privileges of former presidents. Among other things, the new legislation limits former presidents to only one state-supplied bodyguard. It abolishes former presidents' rights to additional security personnel, a secretarial staff, and an official car, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

U.S. URGES MONTENEGRO TO STAY WITH SERBIA

U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery told Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Podgorica on 13 February that Washington supports a "democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 January and 13 February 2001). Montgomery added that Montenegro must bear responsibility for whatever it decides. He noted, however, that the leaders in Podgorica have a greater understanding for their situation than do people in Washington, "Pobjeda" reported. PM

CAMERA-SHY YUGOSLAV LEADER?

Montenegrin Television reported on 13 February that it has issued three invitations to Kostunica in the space of one month to appear in a joint broadcast with Djukanovic but has not received a reply from Belgrade to any of them. PM

'PRIBOI SCANDAL' CONTINUES IN ROMANIA

Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) General-Secretary Cosmin Gusa told journalists on 13 February that the PDSR leadership had been informed by Ristea Priboi about his activity as an officer in the former Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate and that this had "nothing in common" with the Securitate's activity "as a political police," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. One day earlier, the National Liberal Party's (PNL) parliamentary group leader in the Senate, Radu F. Alexandru, called the appointment of Priboi as chairman of the commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service "a provocation and a lack of responsibility" towards Romania's NATO aspirations. At a press conference later on 13 February, Priboi denied involvement in any Securitate activities against Radio Free Europe. His car slightly injured a journalist after the press conference and left the scene. Neither the driver nor Priboi stopped to apologize, though the PDSR "suspended" the driver. MS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER REACTS TO PARTY DEFECTIONS

Greater Romania Party (PRM) chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 13 February said the setting up of "the so-called Socialist Party of National Revival (PSRN)" by PRM defectors is a PDSR "maneuver to create in the parliament a new majority," Mediafax reported. He said the PSRN was "nothing but a politically aborted fetus molded in the likeness of similar provocations conceived by [President Ion] Iliescu's advisors. ...Shame on you, Mr. Iliescu! Isn't it sufficient that you stole the elections from me, do you now want to also steal from me my party?" Tudor commented. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS 'EXPLAIN' IRAQI VISIT

Returning from Iraq on 14 February, PDSR deputy Nicolae Sersea said he visited that country "as a businessman who worked in Iraq in 1987 in oil affairs." Sersea said he does not believe his visit "damaged Romanian or the PDSR's interests." Sersea said he had not informed the parliament or his party ahead because "I went there on my own free time" and the PDSR can count the visit as "vacation." He admitted having conducted talks with Iraqi officials but said those were organized by the Romanian Chamber of Commerce "and I participated in them as a businessman, not as a member of the parliament." PRM Senator Mihai Lupoi said his party had entrusted him with "the mission to verify with the Iraqi authorities ways of recuperating the $1.7 billion debt" owed by Iraq to Romania. MS

ROMANIAN PROSECUTORS STOP PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ILIESCU CRONIES

The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered a halt to the proceedings launched against Viorel Hrebenciuc, former secretary-general of the cabinet headed by Nicolae Vacaroiu, his deputy Mihai Unghianu, and Nicolae Fruntelata, chief of the Department for Public Information in the Vacaroiu cabinet. The three had been charged in September 2000 with "abuse of office" and "acting against public interest" in connection with money-laundering in the affair masterminded by the French-Romanian businessman Adrian Costea in 1994. No explanation has been offered for the decision to stop the proceedings, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

POLL PREDICTS COMMUNIST VICTORY IN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

A public opinion poll conducted by the Romanian Center for Opinion and Market Studies (CSOP) polling institute predicts that the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) will win the 25 February elections but its majority will not be sufficient to elect the country's next president, Reuters reported on 13 February. The poll shows the PCM will be backed by 39.2 percent, followed by the pro-presidential Braghis Alliance (10.2 percent). Since seats in the parliament are proportionally distributed, this result would give the PCM 52 out of 101 seats -- enough to form the cabinet by themselves but short of the 61 votes needed to elect Petru Lucinschi's successor. MS

MAJORITY OF MOLDOVANS WANT TO LEAVE COUNTRY

The CSOP poll also shows that 36 percent of Moldovans would like to leave the country and make money abroad for some time, while 26 percent want to leave "for good," Infotag reported. Almost 50 percent believe that corruption is to be found among the top echelons of the country and 40 percent say that "corruption is everywhere." MS

MOLDOVA WANTS EU ASSOCIATE STATUS

Unidentified Foreign Ministry sources on 13 February told Infotag that Moldova is striving to obtain associate status in the EU. A EU delegation headed by security chief Javier Solana, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, and Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten begins a visit to Moldova on 14 February. Deputy Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca told journalists that Moldovan officials will discuss with the guests ways of overcoming political, economic, and social difficulties with EU help. They will also discuss Moldova's quest to become a member of the Balkan Stability Pact and of the World Trade Organization. MS

BULGARIA, ISRAELI INVESTOR SET TO CLASH

Privatization Agency head Levon Hampartsumyan on 13 February said the government may start bankruptcy proceedings against the national carrier Balkan Airlines after its Israeli owners filed a $230 million claim against Bulgaria with the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, AP reported. The Israeli consortium that acquired a 75 percent stake in Balkan Airlines is now accusing the government of defaulting on the privatization contract. In turn, Hampartsumyan accused the company's management of failing to preserve its status as a national carrier, concealing "dozens of millions of dollars of its liabilities," and raising aviation fees several times right after buying the company. MS




There is no end note today.





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