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Newsline - February 19, 2001




DUMA BUDGET COMMITTEE APPROVES COMPROMISE BUDGET CHANGES

The Duma's budget committee on 16 February approved a modified 2001 budget reflecting both the ideas of deputies and of the government, Russian agencies said. But heated words were exchanged. Deputy speaker (Unity) Lyubov Sliska sharply criticized the Finance Ministry, and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the actual debt from Soviet times was $95-96 billion and not the $30 billion some deputies claimed, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 February. He also said he will meet with deputies to discuss the matter on 19 February. PG

G-7 TELLS RUSSIA TO PAY ITS DEBTS...

In a statement, the G-7 countries on 17 February called upon Moscow "to implement a credible program of reform and create the essential market infrastructure for sound growth" in order to be in a position to meet its financial obligations in full, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 16 February that the U.S. has increased its pressure on Russia to repay its foreign debts. PG

AS MOSCOW-IMF TALKS MAKE PROGRESS

Representatives of the IMF ended their current round of talks with Moscow on 16 February but said that the IMF may approve a 12-month program for Russia in April, Interfax reported. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the two sides have agreed on the steps Moscow must take to get the disbursement of a precautionary loan this year, Russian agencies reported. PG

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS U.S.-U.K. AIRSTRIKES AGAINST IRAQ

Vladimir Putin was quoted by his spokesman on 17 February as saying that "such unprovoked actions [as the airstrikes against Iraqi installations] do not help settle the situation regarding Iraq," Russian and Western agencies reported. The Foreign Ministry the same day released a statement saying that "these unprovoked actions signal that Washington and London continue relying on the use of force," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, academician Vladimir Petrovsky said that the strikes should not lead to a breakup between Moscow and NATO, ITAR-TASS reported. But LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for Moscow to unilaterally lift the sanctions regime on Iraq, Interfax said. PG

RUSSIA STAGES MULTIPLE MISSILE TESTS

Russian forces on 16 February fired test rockets from Russia's Plesetsk range, a submarine in the Barents Sea, and a Tu-95MS bomber, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

PUTIN MAKES ADMINISTRATIVE APPOINTMENTS

President Putin on 16 February named Aleksandr Kosopkin to head the presidential administration's domestic policy department and Andrei Popov to head the main territorial department in place of Sergei Samoilov, Russian agencies reported. In another move, Putin named Georgii Kutovoi to be head of the Federal Energy Commission in place of Andrei Zadernyuk. PG

IVASHOV SAYS U.S. WAGING 'INFO WAR' AGAINST RUSSIA

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry's International Defense Cooperation Department, said on 16 February that the Bush administration has launched "an information war" intended to soil Russia's reputation and lower "Russia's role on the international scene," Russian agencies reported. Ivashov also said "nobody in the world" believes that a U.S. national missile defense system (NMD) would be about only "rogue states." In other comments, he criticized the West for ignoring Belgrade in trying to reach a settlement in Kosova. And, in advance of NATO Secretary-General George Robertson's visit to Moscow on 20 February, Ivashov said that the pace of restoring ties between Moscow and NATO will depend on the Western alliance's willingness to meet Russian national interests. An article in "Vremya novostei" on 16 February titled "Thanks, Donald" said that new U.S. assertiveness as contained in statements by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is helping the Russian military to get more money for advanced systems. PG

SECURITY SERVICES DENY ANONYMOUS DENUNCIATIONS ARE SIMILAR TO THOSE IN STALIN ERA

An FSB spokesman on 16 February said that Russian security agencies do use anonymous denunciations, but they denied that such use resembled in any way the pattern of the 1930s, Interfax reported. The spokesman said that the security services do everything they can to identify those making such charges. PG

MEDIA-MOST TO SUE GOVERNMENT

Media-MOST announced on 16 February that it plans to sue the Russian Finance Ministry to recover $300 million lost in 1997-98, Interfax said. Meanwhile, Gazprom-Media suggested that Media-MOST is breaking Russian law by holding a stockholder meeting in Gibraltar, the news service said. PG

GOVERNMENT CUTS PRIVATE BANKS OUT OF ARMS DEALS

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said that the Russian government has ordered that Russia's private banks can no longer participate in the financing of arms export purchases, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 16 February. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS UN ACCORD ON NON- PROLIFERATION OF ROCKETS

Russian officials said on 16 February that Moscow plans to raise at the UN the issue of creating a global system to prevent the proliferation of rockets and rocket technologies, Interfax reported. Experts from 70 countries discussed the idea in Moscow on 15 February, the news service said, but unlike last year, when 48 countries took part in such discussions, the U.S. did not. PG

IS GERMANY RIGHT ON CHECHNYA, CENTRAL ASIA?

The Russian media on 16 February gave extensive coverage to a report in Germany's "Die Welt" the day before reporting that the German intelligence service BND had concluded that conflicts in the North Caucasus and Central Asia could destabilize Russia. "Segodnya," for example, cited the report's finding that Moscow still has 40,000 troops in Chechnya, a figure that Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrei Nikolaev confirmed. The paper asked rhetorically "can the Germans see what we cannot?" PG

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD BLAMES PRESIDENT FOR PRECIPITATING NEW WAR

In an appeal to the Chechen people released on 16 February, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov blamed Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov for precipitating the second Chechen war by his failure either to counter the spread of radical Islam or to prevent the August 1999 invasion of Daghestan by field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, Interfax reported. But the weekly "Kommersant-Vlast" printed in issue no. 6 an interview with former Start Bank head Supyan Taramov, who returned to Chechnya in 1999 and succeeded in neutralizing the field commanders' influence in his native town of Vedeno. In that interview, Taramov blames Kadyrov for the spread of militant Islam in Chechnya, noting that in his official position as mufti he complied with requests by Basaev and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to introduce Islamic law and to declare a holy war against Russia. LF

ANOTHER CHECHEN LOCAL OFFICIAL MURDERED

Lema Temirgeriev, the local administrator of the village of Agish-Bitoi in Vedeno Raion, was shot dead in his home by an unidentified gunman on 14 February, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 February. On 17 February, the building housing the Bachi-Yurt local police headquarters was destroyed by an explosion but no one was injured. LF

MOTHERS WHO LOST SONS IN CHECHNYA GIVEN $22 EACH

The mothers of 869 families who lost a son in the Chechen conflict were given 638.04 rubles ($22) each by the Mother's Rights Foundation, "Segodnya" reported on 16 February. The presentation was made by two members of the Duma who were challenged to explain what they had done to make peace in Chechnya. But despite what the paper called "their aggressiveness" toward these officials, the mothers told the paper that they were glad to get at least this much attention, having failed on many occasions to receive any from other government bodies. PG

80 PERCENT OF IMMIGRANTS SAID TO BE ILLEGAL

Illegal immigrants now form as much as 80 percent of the total number of migrants into Russia, "Segodnya" reported on 16 February. Moreover, officials told the paper, the situation may get worse as employers seek to avoid the law and those who would enter legally from CIS countries must obtain a visa (a requirement added in October). Many of the illegals from Asia come via Kazakhstan, "Izvestiya" reported the same day, but many come through Ukraine as well. And the Interior Ministry estimates that the number of illegal Chinese immigrants in the Russian Far East is from 400,000 to 700,000, two to three times the number of Chinese living there legally. In its informal daily poll, "Segodnya" reported that 1,148 respondents would like to see the country's demographic crisis overcome through a stimulation of the birthrate, while only 235 want to attract more in- migration, as the government has suggested. PG

CUSTOMS CRACKDOWN LEADS TO DELAYS, HIGHER PRICES

An ongoing Russian campaign to enforce tariff laws has led to delays in the delivery of imports and rising prices for those goods, even though it has meant that the average duty collected per declaration has risen from $4,609 in January 2000 to $7,426 one year later, AP reported on 16 February. PG

SOLDIERS ARRESTED FOR THEFT OF RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS

An officer and two soldiers were arrested at a base in Kamchatka for stealing helicopter devices containing strontium-90, NTV reported on 16 February. Officials said that the materials are extremely dangerous and have been used by assassins. PG

KASYANOV SAYS ECONOMY NOT AS GOOD AS IT APPEARS

Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 17 February that "for a number of reasons, the current situation in the Russian economy is not as stable as it appears," ITAR-TASS reported. One-third of GDP growth last year, he said, reflected higher oil and gas prices, a trend that may not last. In 2000, Russia earned $11.3 billion from the export of oil products, 2.4 times more than in 1999, Interfax reported on 19 February. Kasyanov also said that the government intends to adopt a three-year plan for the economy in the near future. PG.

FOREIGNERS SEEN NOT INVESTING IN RUSSIA

Most of the money classified as foreign investment in Russia last year was in fact Russian money that was earlier sent illegally abroad to avoid taxes, according to Aleksandr Livshits in the 16 February "Izvestiya." That means that the official reports about an 18 percent increase are less meaningful than they appear, he said, adding that "direct investment has not increased since 1999." Livshits listed several reasons why foreigners are not investing in Russia: Moscow's effort to avoid repaying loans, the continuing flight of domestic capital, an unstable tax regime, and the absence of sufficient legal protection for investors, especially those with only a minority stake. Meanwhile, however, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced on 16 February that it plans to increase investments in Russia to one billion euros ($910 million) annually, AP reported. PG

DUMA CONSIDERS NATIONALITY POLICY...

On 16 February, the Duma began consideration of a draft state nationality policy law prepared by the Duma nationalities committee headed by Anatolii Nikitin (Agrarian-Industrial Group), Interfax reported. Deputies focused primarily on two issues: paragraph 18 -- which defines the status of the Russian people -- and paragraphs having to do with the right of nationalities to national/cultural self-determination. Paragraph 18 says that "The Russian people, one of the native peoples of the Russian Federation [RF], is the mainstay of Russian statehood and bears responsibility for the development of the Russian state. The state of international relations in the RF to a large degree is defined by the national feelings of the Russian people. The Russian people cannot be considered as a national minority on the territory of any of the subjects of the RF." PG

...WHICH IS CAUSING PROBLEMS

"Segodnya" reported the same day that this provision has already sparked controversy and that officials at the federation and nationalities ministry already have had to deny that this provision, developed by them, puts the Russians in a special position. The other issue sparking discussion concerns the draft laws guarantee of national/cultural self-determination for all ethnic communities living in the federation. The draft explicitly says that the creation of such non-territorial autonomies "is not the basis for changing the status of national republics, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous okrugs as enshrined in the constitution of the RF." Some deputies are disputing one or another part of the draft, but Oleg Mironov, Russia's human rights ombudsman, argues that no single nationality policy is either desirable or even possible, "Segodnya" reported. PG

PUTIN PROPOSES NEW REFORM OF COMMUNAL SERVICES...

On a two-day tour of Siberia during which he traveled on an overnight train from Tomsk to Omsk, President Putin addressed the issue of the heating and electricity outages that have been plaguing the region this winter. In Tomsk on 16 February, Putin declared that "people don't understand why they should have to pay higher and higher prices for worse and worse service. For dirty entranceways to their buildings, for electricity that shuts off all the time," Reuters reported. According to ITAR-TASS, in Tomsk Putin also proposed a set of measures to reform the housing and public utilities system in Russia. He proposed that the system be "demonopolized," allowing private businesses to access the housing and private utilities market. Second, he suggested that investment be attracted to the sector by making financial transactions more transparent and rescheduling debts. And, third, he proposed increased energy and water use efficiency, noting that "unlimited consumption of gas, water, and central heating are still our reality." JAC

...AND MAKES MOST OF PHOTO OPS IN SIBERIA

At one point in Tomsk, Putin appeared to spontaneously accept -- in front of television cameras -- an offer to visit the home of one old woman in the crowd; however, Reuters reported that provincial authorities had informed reporters in advance that it was a pre-arranged invitation and visit. Putin enjoyed thick slices of fruit pie in the kitchen of Maria Korenkova and later bought 100 grams of pork brisket at a local shop. In Omsk on 17 February, Putin told reporters that he sought to meet ordinary people during his numerous trips within Russia for two reasons. One, he said, "talking to citizens" helps me "compare the results of our work with the way it is received by rank and file citizens. And now, let me be completely honest," he continued, "I must confess to you that I like it. People give me a very warm reception, and I respond in kind." JAC

COMMUNISTS, YABLOKO BOTH TO BE COOPERATIVE OPPOSITION GROUPS

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 16 February that his party will remain in opposition but will cooperate with the government when possible, strana.ru reported. Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Yabloko Central Council in Moscow on 17 February, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky said that he welcomes the chance for dialogue with the government but will continue to oppose it on many issues, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, he said that he plans to organize a Democratic Assembly in May to promote civil society and that Yabloko has no plans to merge with the Union of Rightist Forces. PG

GREF CALLS FOR ANTI-DUMPING MEASURES AGAINST CIS STATES

Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref on 16 February called for stepping up measures to prevent foreign countries from dumping goods onto the Russian market, Interfax reported. He said that CIS countries like Ukraine are more frequently guilty of this practice with respect to Russia than are other states. PG

RUSSIANS, BELARUSIANS CAN'T AGREE ON BORODIN STATEMENT

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Russian-Belarusian Union failed to agree on a statement about Union secretary Pavel Borodin, who is being held in New York pending extradition to Switzerland. PG

HARD LINE ON ESTONIA, SOFTER ONE ON LATVIA

Duma International Relations Committee chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said on 16 February that Estonia's inclusion into NATO would lead to a breakdown in relations between Tallinn and Moscow, Interfax reported. "If Estonia becomes a border point between NATO and Russia," Rogozin said in the Estonian capital, "I remind you that this city is only a two-hour march from St. Petersburg, and the Baltic republic ought to remember that the northwest [military] district will be much strengthened." He added that an Estonia in NATO would find its "bridges, airports, electricity stations, ports, and administrative buildings" the target of Russian "nonstrategic rockets and long-range artillery." Meanwhile, Russian officials were upbeat about Latvia, saying that the meeting between Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and President Putin in Austria had given a new "impulse" to improved relations, Russian agencies said. PG

DIPLOMAT INVOLVED IN CANADIAN ACCIDENT CHARGED IN MOSCOW

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General announced on 16 February that it has opened a criminal case against Andrei Knyazev, a Russian diplomat who was involved in a fatal car accident in Canada last month, Interfax reported. If convicted under the charges the prosecutors have brought, Knyazev could be imprisoned for up to three years. PG

IRANIAN PRESIDENT SAID COMING TO MOSCOW A WEEK EARLY

Iranian sources told dpa on 16 February that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will begin a three-day state visit to Moscow on 12 March, one week earlier than planned. Khatami, who is also scheduled to go to the Caspian Sea littoral summit in Turkmenistan on 8 March, may go to Moscow directly from there, the news service said. PG

MOSCOW CAN'T PAY FOR RAISING OF 'KURSK'

An accord to raise the "Kursk" submarine scheduled to be signed by the Rubin Design Bureau and an American-Dutch-Norwegian consortium on 15 February was not signed when the Russian government failed to come up with its $25 million commitment, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. PG

TUBERCULOSIS HITS EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS IN RUSSIA

More than one Russian in a thousand now suffers from tuberculosis, and more than one in five of those infected will die of the disease, medical academician Mikhail Perelman said on 16 February, Interfax reported. He said that these rates constituted an epidemic, and he placed most of the blame for them on what he described as "the worsening social- economic conditions" in the country. PG

TIME-BASED PHONE CHARGES INCUR NEW CRITICISM

Members in the Greater Urals interregional economic association sharply criticized on 16 February the introduction of per/minute telephone charges, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. One member, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, said that the measure will lead to a decline in living standards, force pensioners to discontinue their telephone service, and slow the use of the Internet in the country as a whole. Last month, Rossiya Molodaya, a public movement made up of a number of organizations representing interests of veterans, invalids, and indigent groups in Kazan, Tatarstan, launched a protest against the introduction of time- based charges for local telephone use, charging that the new system violates citizens' constitutional rights and has been introduced through a monopoly's diktat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2001). JAC

RUSSIANS FACING A NEW PROBLEM: FINDING A NANNY

"Izvestiya" reported on 16 February that ever more Russians are looking for nannies and discovering how difficult it is to find one. The paper said that fewer and fewer grandmothers are available to play this role and that more and more parents are looking for professional replacements, often at a salary of up to $250 a month in Moscow. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" the same day reported another problem ever more urban Russians face: providing security for their apartments. Not only is this becoming more expensive, but the Interior Ministry body responsible is overwhelmed and ever less effective, the paper said. PG




POPE RECALLS ARMENIAN 'MARTYRDOM'

In an apostolic missive made public on 17 February to mark the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity, Pope John Paul II noted the "unheard of violence" to which Armenians were subjected to in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Reuters and AP reported. The Pope observed that "the whole Armenian culture and spirituality has been pervaded by boldness characterized by the supreme sign of giving one's life in martyrdom." The following day, the Pope presided over a mass to mark the anniversary and stated his "great desire to make a pilgrimage of hope" to Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUMS UP PRESIDENTIAL VISIT TO FRANCE

Speaking to journalists at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport on 16 February, President Robert Kocharian characterized his official visit to France last week as having raised bilateral ties to "a qualitatively new level," according to Snark as cited by Groong. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian similarly said the five-day visit was very successful" and "crucial in several respects," Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian said the visit contributed to the further development of bilateral economic ties and the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. "Hayots ashkhar" on 17 February quoted Oskanian as saying that French President Jacques Chirac did not present "detailed written proposals" on resolving the conflict during his talks with Kocharian, but that the two presidents and Azerbaijani Heidar Aliyev had discussed "general principles" for doing so in Paris last month that Oskanian said could yield "serious progress." Oskanian said that expanded Armenian- French relations could serve as "the main driving force" towards stronger ties between Armenia and the EU. LF

GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT DELEGATION VISITS ARMENIA...

A Georgian government delegation headed by Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili held talks in Yerevan on 17 February with senior Armenian officials, including President Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a joint statement, Arsenishvili and Markarian expressed satisfaction at the general level of bilateral relations, but called for more intensive economic cooperation, especially in the spheres of transport and energy. Most of Armenia's external trade is conducted via Georgian Black Sea ports. Also discussed was the repayment of Georgia's $25 million debt to Armenia. LF

...AS FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY WARNS AGAINST JEOPARDIZING TIES

The administrators of two districts in Georgia's southern Djavakheti region whose population is predominantly Armenian accompanied the Georgian government delegation to Yerevan. Some members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun recently called for those districts to be given autonomous status within Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). The former ruling Armenian Pan- National Movement has issued a statement condemning such calls as "inflammatory and provocative," Noyan Tapan reported on 17 February. The statement expressed understanding for the aspiration of the region's Armenian population to preserve their ethnic identity and said the Armenian leadership should help them do so, but in such a way as to avoid jeopardizing Armenian-Georgian relations. LF

ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER STATION BACK ON LINE

The nuclear reactor at Armenia's Medzamor atomic power station resumed operation late on 15 February, some 24 hours after it was shut down following damage to an external power line, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). The plant's deputy director, Slava Danielian, told RFE/RL on 16 February that the accident did not involve any leakage of radiation, and there was no damage to the environment. Armenian Nuclear Radiation Authority official Vladimir Kurghinian said that the shutdown ranked as zero on the International Atomic Energy Agency's seven-point scale for evaluating the seriousness of accidents at nuclear power stations. LF

TURKEY PROPOSES TRIPARTITE TALKS WITH ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

Speaking on 17 February at an Istanbul conference on stability in the South Caucasus, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem proposed that Ankara chair a meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani officials to discuss how to reach a solution to the Karabakh conflict, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. But Armenian Foreign Ministry official Samvel Mkrtchian, who attended the conference, expressed reservations, saying he thinks such a meeting unlikely before "first steps are taken" in Armenian-Turkish relations. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Yigit Alpogan stressed that the Turkish initiative is intended to complement, rather than undercut, the ongoing Karabakh mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, of which Turkey is a member. Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh welcomed Cem's proposal. LF

AZERBAIJAN CREATES COMMISSION ON WAR INVALIDS

As previously announced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001), the Azerbaijani authorities created a special commission on 16 February to address the problems faced by war invalids, Turan reported. But no members of the Society of Invalids of the Karabakh War, who began a nationwide hunger-strike last month to demand an increase in their pensions and allowances, were included in the commission. Some 19 invalids are continuing a renewed hunger-strike that they began on 15 February. LF

SUPPORTERS DENY FORMER AZERBAIJANI POPULAR FRONT LEADER IMPLICATED IN FINANCIAL SCANDAL

Fazil Gazanfaroglu, who is a leading member of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), on 16 February dismissed as untrue media reports that the Front's deceased chairman, Abulfaz Elchibey, was involved in the illegal transfer of funds to secret bank accounts belonging to Turkish National Movement Party leader Alparslan Turkesh, Turan reported. Gazanfaroglu said the media reports constitute a smear campaign by the Azerbaijani authorities and the rival, reformist wing of the AHCP. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES 'ZERO OPTION'

After a five-hour debate, parliament deputies voted on 16 February by 127 to one to ratify the so-called "zero option," whereby Tbilisi forfeits any claim on the assets of the former USSR in return for the rescheduling of its debt to Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had warned the previous day that refusal to ratify the "zero option" would lead to economic collapse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). Some 30 opposition deputies left the parliament chamber to protest the vote. LF

OFFICIALS DENY COMMISSIONING OF KAZAKH PIPELINE WILL BE DELAYED

Sergei Gnatchenko, the director-general of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, said in Moscow on 16 February that the schedule for launching the consortium's Tengiz-Novorossiisk oil pipeline remains unchanged, Interfax reported. Speaking in Almaty, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko similarly affirmed that "the first stage of the CPF pipeline will be launched as planned" on 30 June. Consortium official Zinon Abdrakhmanov had said the previous day that the date for the pipeline to become operational could be delayed up to six weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). It is planned to begin filling the pipeline with oil in March. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION BEGIN ROUND-TABLE TALKS

The planned round-table discussion between representatives of the Kyrgyz authorities, political parties, media, and NGOs began at the presidential residence in Bishkek on 17 February in the presence of President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Reviewing the implementation of resolutions adopted at the first such roundtable in June 2000, State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov said Kyrgyzstan needs political stability following last year's controversial parliamentary and presidential elections. Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev called for consolidation to overcome "social tensions." Kyrgyz Human Rights Movement chairman Tursunbek Akunov appealed to the Kyrgyz government to release jailed opposition leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September and 5 December 2000), while Emil Aliyev of the opposition Ar-Namys Party asked Akaev to ensure that the jail sentence handed down last month on the party's leader, Feliks Kulov, is fairly reviewed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). Police dispersed some 20 Kulov supporters who attempted to picket the presidential residence shortly before the roundtable began. LF

KYRGYZ PAPER PRINTS INTERVIEW WITH JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER

The independent daily "Asaba" published an interview with Kulov on 16 February in which he said that the rationale behind the new criminal cases filed against him was that the international community has cast doubt on the legality of the seven-year sentence he received on charges of abuse of his official position, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov accused President Akaev of having a personal interest in "finishing him off," adding that he had learned from "a reliable source" that the Kyrgyz authorities are hoping that his health will deteriorate and he will die before completing his sentence. Kulov also criticized as illegal the sentence handed down last September on TurgunAliyev for allegedly plotting to assassinate Akaev. LF

TAJIK NGOS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF AFGHAN FUGITIVES

An unspecified number of Tajik NGOs have appealed to the international community to provide urgent medical assistance for the more than 13,000 Afghans who fled to the Afghan-Tajik border to escape ongoing hostilities between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 February. At least 40 of the displaced persons have died since October of disease or wounds. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SETS DEADLINE FOR LEAVING OFFICE

Saparmurat Niyazov, whose presidential term was extended for an indefinite period in December 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1999), told the annual session of the Turkmen legislature on 18 February that he will leave office no later than 2010, when he will turn 70, Reuters and Interfax reported. He said open elections should then be held in which several younger candidates would contest the presidency, but that only persons who have held public office for 5-10 years and whose candidacy is approved by parliament will be eligible, according to Interfax. In addition, candidates must have lived in Turkmenistan for 10 years prior to the presidential ballot, a restriction that rules out former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev, who currently lives abroad. The parliament duly approved a law on holding presidential elections in 2010. Niyazov had told foreign ambassadors on 16 February that legislation on the election of regional administrators and the president will be passed in 2008. LF

TURKMENISTAN, RUSSIA CONCLUDE NEW GAS SALES AGREEMENT

The Turkmen government and the ITERA energy corporation signed an agreement in Ashgabat on 16 February whereby Turkmenistan will sell Russia 10 billion cubic meters of gas in 2001, the same amount as last year, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia will pay $40 per thousand cubic meters compared with $36-38 last year, of which half will be paid in hard currency and half in commodities. Also on 16 February, President Niyazov said Turkmenistan will conclude a long-term agreement on the sale of natural gas to Ukraine "very soon," ITAR-TASS reported. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DECREES 'ALL- BELARUSIAN CONGRESS' IN MAY

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 16 February signed an edict ordering the holding of "Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress" in Minsk on 18 May, Belapan reported. Under the edict, the gathering is to be attended by some 2,500 people and will discuss a program of Belarus's socioeconomic development in 2001-2005. Lukashenka charged Prime Minister Uladzimir Yarmoshyn and Presidential Administration head Mikhail Myasnikovich with the task of preparing the congress. A similar gathering was convened by Lukashenka in 1996, before the controversial constitutional referendum. JM

BELARUSIAN, RUSSIAN LAWMAKERS ENDORSE 2001 UNION BUDGET

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia on 16 February approved a 2001 draft union budget in the first reading, Belapan reported. The budget amounts to 2.36 billion Russian rubles ($82 million): Russia will contribute 1.54 billion, while Belarus's share will be 820 million. The budget will finance 35 joint programs (the 2001 union budget provided for the financing of 56 joint programs). JM

CENTRIST UKRAINIAN PARTY CALLS FOR PRESIDENT'S DISMISSAL

The Sobor Party held its congress in Kyiv on 17-18 February and re-elected Anatoliy Matviyenko as its chairman, Interfax reported. The congress demanded that President Leonid Kuchma be immediately dismissed, saying Kuchma "bears direct political and moral responsibility for crisis in the country [and] for Ukraine's slide to authoritarianism." The congress also demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov, Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, and National Security and Defense Council head Yevhen Marchuk who, according to the congress' resolution, "have ultimately discredited themselves as human beings and state officials." JM

UKRAINIAN PICKETERS DEMAND OUSTER OF POTEBENKO, RELEASE OF TYMOSHENKO

Some 1,000 people picketed the Prosecutor-General's Office in Kyiv on 16 February, demanding the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko and the release of former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail, Interfax reported. The protesters accused Potebenko of delaying the investigation of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and of ordering Tymoshenko's arrest because of political motives. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SEES NO NEED TO DISMISS YUSHCHENKO

President Kuchma told journalists on 16 February that he is not going "to raise the issue" of Premier Viktor Yushchenko's dismissal, Interfax reported. "He is still young. Let him work," Kuchma said about the 46-year-old Yushchenko. Kuchma also said he will veto the recently adopted bill on a proportional party-list system in parliamentary elections. Kuchma noted that the bill contradicts the constitution. JM

IMF WITHHOLDS LOAN TRANCHE TO KYIV

IMF official Thomas Dawson said in Washington last week that "Ukraine will not qualify to receive the next tranche from the IMF as planned for March because the government failed to fulfill its obligations to increase tax payments to the budget in the form of 'cash' from electricity consumers," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 19 February. Dawson added that the Ukrainian government must also apply more transparent practices in the sale of state-owned property. JM

RUSSIA OPPOSES ESTONIA'S JOINING NATO

At a Russian-Estonian roundtable in Tallinn on 16 February, Russian Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin declared that Estonia's accession to NATO would ruin its relations with Russia, BNS reported. At the advice of Russia's Tallinn embassy, he withdrew from the speech a list of military steps Russia might take against Estonia if it were accepted into NATO (see Russia section in Part 1 for some of these steps), but still devoted half of his speech to the influences of NATO's Eastern expansion, ETA reported. Rogozin asserted: "Our neighboring states joining NATO presents a direct danger to Russian interests." He also did not forget to mention the economic consequences, noting that Russian transit made up an important part, according to some estimates up to 30 percent, of Estonia's gross domestic product. SG

NATO OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIAN OPPOSITION WILL NOT AFFECT EXPANSION

Concluding a three-day visit to Riga to assess Latvia's preparations for joining the alliance, the NATO secretary-general's second assistant for security issues, Holger Pfeiffer, said on 16 February that Russia's critical position toward NATO enlargement would not affect the admission of new members, BNS reported. He asserted that NATO member countries will make the decision on expansion using objective criteria and Russia's attitude will not play a crucial role. This was clearly shown by the admission of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary into NATO despite Russia's expressed opposition. SG

LITHUANIA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY MORE POPULAR

A poll of more than 1,000 people conducted by the Vilmorus Research Center on 8-12 February indicated that the popularity of the Social Democratic Party (LSDP) increased after the Democratic Labor Party merged with it in January. The LSDP would gain the support of 31.5 percent of respondents if elections were held today, far ahead of the Liberal Union, New Union/Social Liberals, and Conservatives, which would get 10.3, 9, and 6.2 percent, respectively, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 17 February. Former President and LSDP Chairman Algirdas Brazauskas was named as the politician who best represented their interests by 31.4 percent (an increase of 2 percent from a similar poll in January) of respondents. Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas was second with 15.8 percent (a drop of 0.8 percent), Parliament chairman Arturas Paulauskas third with 14.4 percent (a drop of 0.3 percent), while President Valdas Adamkus fell 3.6 percent to 11.1 percent. SG

POLISH POLICE REMOVES PROTESTING FARMERS FROM MINISTRY

Police used force on 16 February to remove farmers occupying the office of the treasury minister in a protest against the sale of Polish sugar plants to foreign investors, PAP reported. Lawmaker Gabriel Janowski, who participated in unsuccessful talks between the protesting farmers and Treasury Minister Andrzej Chronowski, has remained in the ministry, saying he will not leave the building until decisions favorable for the farmers are made. Owing to his parliamentary immunity, Janowski cannot be removed by force. A priest served a mass on 18 February "specially" for Janowski in the minister's office, the agency reported. "I cannot get anything to eat in an official way. This is an encroachment on my rights," Janowski complained. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT'S CONDITION WORSENS

Czech President Vaclav Havel will remain in the hospital for another week, due to the worsening of his condition, CTK and AP reported on 18 February. His personal physician said the president developed fever overnight on 17-18 February and the functioning of his right lung had deteriorated. His medication had to be changed and his release from hospital on 19 February is no longer under consideration. Havel was hospitalized last week on his return from a visit to the Middle East which he had to interrupt due to his recurrent respiratory illnesses. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said a visit to Prague by Slovak President Rudolf Schuster scheduled for 1 March may be postponed. MS

CZECH PREMIER ACCUSES HAVEL OF INTRIGUE...

In his report to the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) National Conference in April, Milos Zeman writes that Havel has been trying to "create fifth columns" in the Czech political parties and to "win over agents" for himself in these formations, the daily "Pravo" reported on 19 February. Zeman says Havel does not fulfill the role of a link between parties and civil society, and "antagonizes civil society as a whole rather than unifying it." He also says the CSSD must strive to elect as president one of its members when Havel's mandate ends in January 2003. MS

...WHILE DREAMING OF A OF 'FEDERAL EUROPE'

"My dream is a federal Europe," Premier Zeman told a conference of the European Association of Social Democratic and Social Youth in Vienna on 16 February. He said the joint policy of the "European commonwealth" should cover areas such as defense, social and foreign affairs, and the environment, in addition to the union's joint economic policies. Zeman said the main European value is "variety" and that "Enlargement means to bring new books in the joint European library." He said he does not fear a negative reaction in EU countries as a result of the envisaged enlargement, stressing that "Prague is geographically in the West and Vienna in the East," CTK reported. MS

CONTROVERSY OVER CSSD ILLEGAL FINANCING GROWING...

Zdenek Skromach, former CSSD deputy chairman, on 16 February said the money received by the CSSD from businessman Karl-Heinz Hauptmann in 1997-1998 was not a donation but a loan which in the meantime has been "almost entirely repaid." The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 16 February said Barbora Snopkova, an adviser to former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda, had helped Hauptmann's Europa Capital Management (ECM) sell its building in Prague to the National Security Office. It said the sale violated tender regulations. Zeman said in reaction that he is "not interested" in the details of that sale and ECM rejected allegations that the sale was illegal. MS

...AS DO SUSPICIONS OVER SECRET SPONSOR

Hauptmann figures in the police and secret services files of many countries, the dailies "Zemske noviny" and "Ceske slovo" reported on 17 February. Citing a police source, the dailies wrote that Hauptmann was accused in 1986 of tax evasion in Germany, but was neither prosecuted nor convicted. The information was dismissed by Hauptmann's media representative, Jiri Hrabovsky, who said that in 1986 Hauptmann lived and worked in London as a senior bank official. According to the two dailies, the secret services of several countries list Hauptmann in files on the activity of Romanian entrepreneur Nicolae Ghiuri, a former Ceausescu secret service agent. Hauptmann says he has never heard of Ghiuri. MS

DESIGNATED SOCIAL DEMOCRAT HEIR DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM ZEMAN POLICIES

CSSD Deputy Chairman and likely Zeman heir Vladimir Spidla on 17 February said that when the CSSD enters the 2002 electoral race, it will be "free and without commitment." Spidla said the so-called opposition agreement between the CSSD and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) had been an "instrument" aimed at providing "a concrete solution to a concrete situation." He also said that "There are limits to compromising" and that if the CSSD wants to win the 2002 elections, it must "stubbornly defend its values, which is not always doing now." MS

CZECH FOUR-PARTY ALLIANCE LEADER ON FUTURE SHADOW CABINET

Cyril Svoboda, leader of the opposition Four-Party Coalition, on 17 February said that "trustworthiness, professionalism, political competence, and teamwork capability" are the main criteria on which the members of the planned shadow- cabinet will be selected. Svoboda spoke at a meeting of the Freedom Union, a member of the Four Party Coalition, in Podebrady. In line with the agreement between them, the Freedom Union is to have seven shadow-ministers, the Christian Democratic Party four, the Civic Democratic Alliance two and the Democratic Union one. Freedom Union chairman Karel Kuehnl earlier on 17 February said the union regards the portfolios of foreign affairs and finance as "key portfolios" for itself in the shadow cabinet. MS

TEMELIN OPPONENTS TO BE REPRESENTED BY RENOWNED U.S. LAWYER

Ed Fagan, who became a well-known lawyer after winning cases in favor of Nazi victims, on 18 February told the Austrian APA agency in New York before departing for Vienna that he is ready to "help prevent the nuclear power plant in Temelin...from being put into full operation." Fagan told journalists he wants the U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Company to produce the documents attesting to the company's delivery of safety systems to the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. Fagan spoke of his intention to demand "damages of billions of dollars" in the name of potential "Austrian and other victims." APA, citing a person close to the anti- Temelin opponents, said Fagan said he will help the opponents without demanding a fee. About 300 Austrian and German opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant demonstrated at two border crossings on 16 and 18 February. MS

SLOVAK DEMOCRATIC PARTY ELECTS KANIK AS LEADER

In what CTK on 18 February described as a "long night of protracted and controversial deliberations," the National Conference of the Slovak Democratic Party twice elected a new leader to replace Jan Langos, who resigned as party chairman in January. The conference first elected Frantisek Sebej as leader of the party's conservative wing, with Ludovit Kanik, of the Democrats' reform wing, being elected as one of Sebej's deputies. But Sebej, who had earlier announced he will not work with Kanik, promptly resigned, whereupon Kanik was elected party chairman with the support of 116 out of 165 present delegates. The vote for Sebej had been 131 out of 215 present delegates. CTK cites political scientist Grigorij Meseznikov as saying the situation in the party is becoming "very difficult and complex." The party has six deputies in the parliament, five of whom are opposed to the new party leadership. MS

HUNGARY TO HOST NATO AIR BASE

The Taszar air base in southern Hungary is to be turned into a NATO air base, the first such base to be set up on the territory of a former Soviet bloc country, AP reported on 16 February, citing Marta Matrai, deputy chairwoman of the parliament's National Defense Committee. Matrai said NATO has "positively responded" to a request of the Hungarian government. U.S. troops first arrived at Taszar in December 1995 and used the base for logistics purposes for peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1999, the base was used by NATO bombers during the air strikes against Yugoslavia. The U.S. has spent $10 million in the past five years on upgrading facilities at Taszar. MS

MAVERICK HUNGARIAN POLITICIAN OUSTS MORE PARTY OPPONENTS...

A meeting of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) parliamentary group convened by party leader Joszef Torgyan on 16 February expelled from the group its leader, Attila Bank, and two of the deputy group leaders, Bela Horvath and Andras Varhelyi. The three had set up a "centrist" or "civic" faction within the conflict-ridden FKGP last week and Torgyan regarded the move as directed against his leadership, AP reported. Torgyan said Horvath and Varhelyi have also been "suspended" from the party, but Bank "should be given another chance." Hundreds of Torgyan opponents demonstrated outside the party's headquarters where the meeting took place, shouting "Down with the dictator." Zsolt Lanyi, the acknowledged leader of the anti-Torgyan forces, told AP that this "was just the beginning to rid the party of Torgyan." MS

...WHO ANNOUNCE THEY ARE OUSTING TORGYAN

Bank on 18 February announced he has "suspended from membership" Torgyan himself and has launched disciplinary procedures against him. Torgyan said in reaction that the move was "absurd," as under the party statutes he cannot be either suspended or removed as party leader till 60 days after the 2002 parliamentary elections, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MS

HUNGARY CONCERNED ABOUT CROATIAN DAM PROJECT

Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs on 16 February expressed serious concern over Croatian plans to build a power plant on the Drava River near the border with Hungary and Slovakia, AP reported. He said plans to divert the river for a 3.5 kilometer stretch could seriously endanger the flora and fauna along the river. MS




TENSE WEEKEND IN KOSOVA

Unidentified persons blew up a bus carrying Serbian civilians near Podujeva on 16 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which was caused by a bomb placed under the road on which the bus was traveling with a Swedish escort vehicle. KFOR arrested several ethnic Albanians on the spot. Casualties stand at seven Serbs dead and 43 injured, but local Serb leaders said they expect the death toll to rise, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. On 17 February, hundreds of Serbs staged protests in Mitrovica, on the Skopje-Prishtina road, and at some other locations in Kosova. Speakers slammed KFOR and the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) and called for the resignation of KFOR's commander, General Carlo Cabigiosu. A similar demonstration took place in Gracanica the following day. PM

PRESEVO FIGHTERS CONDEMN BUS BOMBING AMID RENEWED VIOLENCE

Jonuz Musliu, who is a spokesman for the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), condemned the bus bombing in remarks to reporters in the Presevo Valley on 18 February. He said that the incident will set back the UCPMB's efforts to resolve its problems with Serbian forces in the area, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, near Lucane, three Serbian police died when their van hit one or more anti-tank mines. It is not clear whether the van was deliberately targeted. AP reported that local ethnic Albanians denied responsibility. NATO officials say there are three groups of armed ethnic Albanian fighters present in the area without any central command. Some fighters and Serbian forces exchanged mortar and machine gun fire into the following day. Musliu said that a local Albanian commander was killed in the fighting. PM

KOSOVAR ALBANIAN LEADERS SLAM VIOLENCE

The leader of the Democratic League of Kosova, Ibrahim Rugova, issued a statement in which he strongly condemned the Podujeva attack, "Koha Ditore" reported on 18 February. He stressed that the bombing was directed "against stability, peace, and democracy in Kosova" and "undermines all efforts of the people of Kosova and the international community to built a tolerant and democratic society for all citizens of Kosova." Hashim Thaci, the former guerrilla leader who heads the Democratic Party of Kosova, issued a statement saying that "this inhumane act works only in favor of destabilizing and weakening the political position of Kosova and has been committed by dark circles who want to present Kosova as a permanent source of crisis and trouble in the region." Thaci added that the attack is "a violation of our word of honor, which we gave to the international community, and has nothing to do with Albanian tradition." Ramush Haradinaj, who is president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, called the attack "a terrorist act directed at Serbs." FS

KOSOVA'S SURROI CALLS ATTACK 'TERRORISM'

Kosovar publisher Veton Surroi wrote an editorial in "Koha Ditore" on 18 February, in which he stressed that the Kosovar Albanians must ask themselves if they want "terror" to jeopardize their relations with NATO. He also asked whether Kosovars want to implement the ethnically divisive policies of indicted war-criminal Slobodan Milosevic. Surroi argued that "the political message [of the attackers] was directed [not towards the victims but] towards the survivors. And this makes the difference between ordinary murder and terror." He added that "the messageis very simple: Kosovar Serbs cannot be citizens of Kosova." Surroi recalled that, in the past, Belgrade tried to deny the Kosovar Serbs their specific local identity, claiming that Kosova is Serbia. Now, he added, "bombs on the bus help everybody who wants to argue for a partition of Serbs and Albanians. [The bombs] help [promote] the development of [ethnically-based] enclaves and those who want to see Mitrovica divided." FS

KOSOVAR JOURNALIST WARNS COUNTRYMEN

Publisher Blerim Shala wrote in his "Zeri" on 17 February about the bus bombing that "even without knowing [the identity of] the perpetrators...[the] blame will be put on all of us. It is a blame that will call into question our potential to create a normal society and to guarantee the safety of all citizens of Kosova. It will call into question our ability to govern Kosova," Reuters reported. PM

ALBANIA CONDEMNS KOSOVA VIOLENCE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sokol Gjoka said in Tirana on 17 February that "such events [as the Podujeva bombing] damage the efforts of Albanian political forces trying to create "a climate of confidence, and they also damage the important [peace] processes linked to the future of Kosova." He added that the Albanian government appeals to the people of Kosova to avoid "the provocations of the extremists, including Albanians," AP reported. "These criminal acts do not serve the stability of Kosova or the region," he added. PM

SERBIA TALKS TOUGH

As officials of the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic often did, the new Belgrade leaders responded to the latest violence with criticism not only of "Albanian terrorists" but also of KFOR and UNMIK. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that "it is not permissible that such attacks continue. We demand specific decisions from the international community," AP reported on 18 February. He did not elaborate. He further stressed that the "terrorist acts" are coordinated. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in a message to NATO Secretary- General George Robertson that "it is obvious that we are dealing with well-planned, premeditated, and synchronized attacks aimed at provoking Yugoslav security forces and creating a much broader conflict. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cannot allow Albanian terrorists to kill its citizens," Reuters reported. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that his ministry is "ready to establish order and peace in that region very quickly," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN LEADERS PREPARE SECURITY MEASURES

Top government and security officials of the Yugoslav and Serbian governments met in Belgrade on 18 February for a closed-door session to discuss the current security situation. Following the meeting, President Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement that unspecified measures will be taken against "terrorism," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. He criticized KFOR and UNMIK while praising the restraint shown by Serbian forces in the face of "provocations" by ethnic Albanians. Kostunica stressed that Belgrade will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution in respect to Presevo and Kosova. Among those attending the meeting were two top officials who are carry-overs from the Milosevic regime. One is army Chief-of-Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commanded Yugoslav troops in Kosova during the 1999 crackdown. The other is Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, whom the Hague-based tribunal has indicted together with Milosevic for war crimes in conjunction with the 1998 repression in Kosova. PM

NATO'S ROBERTSON CALLS FOR DIRECT TALKS

Robertson said in a statement in Brussels on 18 February that "the problems of the region cannot be solved by violence; they can only be settled through direct negotiations between the parties. Today's events make the urgency of moving ahead with such negotiations all the more clear," Reuters reported. In Prishtina, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that the matter of providing security to all civilians in Kosova is a "delicate matter," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. She noted that UNMIK has more frequent contacts with the Belgrade authorities now than it did during the Milosevic era, and that this makes some Kosovar Albanians "nervous." PM

HAGUE'S DEL PONTE: NO COOPERATION FROM YUGOSLAVIA

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told the Athens daily "To Vima" of 18 February that the new Yugoslav government "has not done anything" in terms of cooperating with the court, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She contrasted Belgrade's behavior unfavorably with that of the governments of other former Yugoslav republics. She added that the Greek authorities have not given her any of the information she requested in October 2000 about their findings regarding the financial dealings of Milosevic and his associates. PM

SHOOTOUT ON MACEDONIAN-KOSOVA BORDER

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Macedonian Defense Ministry official told AP in Skopje on 17 February that six uniformed ethnic Albanian gunmen exchanged fire with Macedonian border troops in Tanusevci on the frontier with Kosova. The source said that at least one of the Albanians appears to have been wounded in the exchange. The intruders subsequently returned to Kosova. PM

MACEDONIAN MINISTER OFFERS RESIGNATION

Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska offered her resignation on 16 February to Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski in order to take "moral responsibility" for the ongoing scandal over alleged ministry wiretaps of top political, media, and business figures, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). It is not clear if Georgievski will accept the resignation of his close political ally, who denied any wrongdoing. Dimovska argued that "old structures" linked to the previous Social Democratic and Communist governments are trying to "politically eliminate me in the interest of foreign countries," Reuters reported. She did not elaborate. PM

ROMANIA'S LIBERAL PARTY HAS NEW LEADERSHIP

A National Liberal Party congress on 17 February elected Valeriu Stoica as the new chairman of the National Liberal Party (PNL), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stoica was endorsed by 509 delegates, more than any of his four opponents (PNL deputy chairmen Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and Crin Antonescu were endorsed by 248 and 179 delegates, respectively, while Florin Pandele, Ilfov county PNL chairman, received 11 votes). On 18 February, Antonescu and Popescu-Tariceanu were re-elected vice chairmen, alongside Dinu Patriciu, Andrei Chiliman, and Dan Radu Rusanu. Theodor Stolojan is since 17 February the party's new National Council chairman. The congress also approved a resolution to monitor for two months the fulfillment by the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) of the agreement signed with the PNL on the support of the PDSR minority government. MS

ROMANIAN NATIONALISTS RALLY AGAINST NEW LAW

Some 10,000 people attended a rally in Cluj on 16 February organized by the Greater Romania Party (PRM) against the new Law on Local Public Administration, a local RFE/RL local correspondent reported. Cluj Mayor and PRM General Secretary Gheorghe Funar read a "proclamation" which protests against the law, demands that the PDSR make public "all secret agreements" allegedly signed with the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and calls on the government to issue an ordinance for "collecting within 48 hours all arms and munitions illegally introduced in Romania with the direct support of the Hungarian government." PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said the UDMR has "obtained from the PDSR in four weeks what it was unable to obtain in four years" as a member of the 1996-2000 ruling coalition. MS

ROMANIA REACTS TO INTERNATIONAL EVENTS

The Foreign Ministry on 17 February said it is "attentively following the course of events in Iraq" after the strike by U.S. and British military craft of targets in and near Baghdad. The ministry said UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq must be "rigorously respected" as the only way to "obtain stability in the region." Also on 17 February, the Romanian government said it "firmly condemns" the Kosova incident in the wake of which seven were killed and over 40 people wounded. The Adrian Nastase cabinet describes the attack as "an attempt directed against the UN, OSCE, and the international community's efforts to help bring about a climate of tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Kosova." MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST CHIEF SAYS 'NO PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM'

Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) leader Vladimir Voronin on 15 February told journalists the PCM is against changing the parliamentary system into a presidential one, Flux and Infotag reported. Voronin said that the presidential system has led to "autocratic rule" in "many former Soviet states, with the exception of Russia." He said the PCM would, however, support a referendum on whether Moldova should return to electing its president by popular vote. Voronin said the PCM is "unlikely" to support President Petru Lucinschi for a second term and that he "does not rule out" running again himself for that position. He denied as "sheer nonsense" rumors that Russian Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov will soon come to Moldova to participate in the PCM electoral campaign. "Our legislation prohibits foreign citizens from interfering in the electoral campaign," he said. MS

TRANSDNIESTER ORGANIZATIONS CALL TO BOYCOTT MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

"Public organizations" in the separatist region on 17 February called on citizens to boycott the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Moldova, ITAR-TASS reported. The appeal said the electoral programs of all competing parties support Moldova's territorial integrity, and are thus implicitly backing the "liquidation" of the Transdniester as an independent republic. Summing up the electoral competition one week ahead of the elections, Romanian Radio said 12 political parties, five electoral blocs and 10 independent candidates are competing for seats in the 101-seat parliament. The electoral threshold for parties and blocs is 6 percent and for independent candidates 3 percent. MS

BALKAN PRESIDENTS CALL FOR END OF VIOLENCE IN SERBIA

In a joint statement published at the end of their two-day meeting in Plodviv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001), Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on 16 February called for an immediate halt to violence in southern Serbia, AFP reported. In what is obviously a pro-Serb posture, they say they "strongly condemn the violent and illegal actions by ethnically-motivated groups in southern Serbia" and call "for an immediate and complete cessation of violence." The three said they supported "a multiethnic and undivided Kosova [and] the protection of interests and rights of all communities." The statement also expressed support for "the process of democratization in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the efforts of the democratic leadership in Belgrade to redefine its strategic orientation towards integration with European institutions." MS

NEW BULGARIAN RADIO DIRECTOR HOSPITALIZED...

In what looks more and more as a replay of the earlier "Czech scenario," Ivan Borislavov, whose recent appointment as new director of state radio triggered the protests of journalists, was hospitalized on 18 February after a heart attack, AP reported. His condition was said to be stable. MS

...WHILE IFJ BACKS BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS' PROTEST

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 16 February said it "shares the worries" of Bulgarian Radio journalists and of the Union of Journalists (Podkrepa) over the procedure that led to the selection of Borislavov as new director-general of Bulgarian Radio. The IFJ said journalists and media staff "should have been fully consulted" over the appointment made by the National Council of Radio and Television and that it supports the journalists' demands "for the reform" of that council to ensure that it ceases to be political and "becomes a truly independent public service broadcaster, in line with European standards" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). MS

BULGARIA TO SEEK BALKAN AIRLINES PRIVATIZATION REVERSAL

Privatization Agency head Levon Hampartsumyan on 18 February told Bulgarian Radio that the government will seek to reverse the 1999 sale of national carrier Balkan Airlines to the Israeli Zeevi Holdings group, AP reported. Hampartsumyan also said planning was under way to fly home hundreds of passengers left stranded across the world when Balkan Airlines was grounded last week at the orders of Zeevi Holdings. The Bulstrad insurance company has asked a court to open bankruptcy proceedings against Balkan Airlines, citing a $512,000 debt owed to it by the airline. Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 17 February said he expects the court to put Balkan Airlines under receivership. MS




ROMANIA'S NEW PROPERTY LAW FALLS SHORT OF FULL RESTITUTION


By Eugen Tomiuc

Romania's new restitution bill, signed into law two weeks ago by President Ion Iliescu, immediately became the target of fierce criticism from both former owners and tenants of once private property.

In general, the law provides for the restitution of state-confiscated property to its rightful owner. But some of the most valuable property nationalized by the communists -- including buildings used by public institutions -- is exempted. Former owners of such property will be compensated by either unspecified sums of money, or by goods, shares in companies, or even services. The amount of compensation to be paid will be determined in the next 18 months.

Previous owners say the new law in effect bars them from regaining property already bought by tenants under an earlier law passed six years ago. They argue that even though the new law allows for the annulment of the earlier sales, it also excepts from annulment cases in which tenants bought the houses in what the law calls "good faith."

The former owners say it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove a lack of "good faith," which is not defined in the law. Maria Teodoru, the head of a group of former owners, says the new law is even more unfair than the previous one because it legalizes abuses committed both before and after the fall of communism.

Teodoru says that under the 1995 law, former owners were able to recover just over 1 percent (3,600) of an estimated 300,000 pieces of property nationalized by the communists. At the same time, she says, almost one-third (88,000 pieces) of the property seized was bought by the tenants occupying them.

Teodoru tells RFE/RL that former owners will continue to protest the new law, which they say violates their right to own private property. If the law is not changed, she says, they will ask the help of international institutions such as the Council of Europe. Teodoru says they may also knock on the doors of foreign embassies in Bucharest, which, incidentally, are also included among dwellings whose restitution the new law bars:

"If we really come to the conclusion that we live in a country where neither the constitution nor international treaties that Romania has signed are respected -- and that we live in a jungle -- then we will go to the embassies of civilized countries and ask for mass emigration."

Under the new law, unless local authorities provide what the legislation calls "adequate" alternative housing, present tenants of property seized by the communists are entitled to remain an additional five years in houses qualifying for restitution. Most of these tenants will pay very low rentals during the five-year period.

Those who bought their homes under the 1995 legislation -- and some present tenants -- also find the new law unfair. They fear that its "good faith" provision will work against them. Eugen Plesa, an ultranationalist Greater Romania Party parliamentarian and head of a tenants' association, says the law was tailored to suit the interests of former owners or their successors. He tells RFE/RL that tenants will be "punished," while those he calls "impostors" will try to use the law to their own advantage.

"Houses should be given back to those from whom they have been taken. But it is the communists who took them who should be punished, not us [the tenants]. What do they have against us? You cannot change history, you cannot punish or destroy citizens in order to benefit someone who probably did not have any connection with the former owner," he said. But an analyst offers this example to Plesa's last claim: if a grandson did not ever see his grandfather, who was perhaps killed by the communists while in prison, would the grandson have "no connection" with the former owner of the property, who was his grandfather?

Plesa says he wants the 1995 law to be reinstated. That law was criticized by many as favoring the tenants of nationalized property, who were allowed to buy the houses at prices considerably below their market value. Furthermore, many of those who bought houses under the 1995 law, including President Ion Iliescu himself, had been members of the former communist elite -- the "nomenclatura" -- who had earlier nationalized the best housing available. Before they did so, they paid very low rents. In the eyes of the former owners, the Biblical injustice of "both killing and inheriting" had thus repeated itself.

The current law owes its inception to the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, which in 1998 urged Romania to come up with new property restitution legislation. The assembly acted after some 2,000 former owners lodged complaints at the European Court of Human Rights, an important Council of Europe organ.

The final language of the new law is considerably different from the draft bill submitted three years ago by National Liberal Party politician Valeriu Stoica, who was then justice minister. Today, Stoica himself acknowledges that the inclusion of the "good faith" clause in the current law is regrettable. But he says a better version was not possible because of the need for compromise with leftist parliamentarians.

But despite the law's shortcomings, Stoica tells our correspondent, the current law is a still big step forward.

"Compared to the previous 1995 law, this law is -- regardless of its imperfections -- a huge leap toward the reconstruction of the private property system in Romania. That is the reason why Liberals [like myself] agreed with it during debates in the Senate."

Applying the law, however, may prove difficult. Unclear compensation rules will likely sow further discord among the original owners and previous or current tenants. And more legal actions can be expected, adding to the cases already before the European Human Rights Court.

Last month, President Iliescu, a former communist, spoke out against the right to constitutionally guarantee private property, which he called "a frill." In Iliescu's eyes, the basic document's provision that "property is protected" by the states is more than sufficient. At the same time, as he has often done in the past, Iliescu praised the virtues of collective property.

Many analysts says that, whatever the virtues or shortcomings of the new law, Iliescu's remarks do not bode well for the full restitution of once private property in Romania during his four years in office.


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