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Newsline - February 20, 2001




KASYANOV MEETS DEPUTIES ON BUDGET...

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met with representatives of the factions and parties in the Duma to discuss the proposed changes in the 2001 budget law, Russian agencies reported. After the meeting, he said that the government is inclined to support the compromise variant of changes as proposed by the Duma budget committee "even though it does not meet all the tasks which stand before the government." Kasyanov added that "we want to be certain that a majority in the parliament will support this and is prepared to help the government." Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry directed Vneshekonombank to pay the Paris Club approximately $500 million, and a government source told Prime-TASS that Moscow will pay approximately 40 percent of its total scheduled payments in February. PG

...BUT FEW MINDS CHANGED

After the meeting, Duma deputies generally reasserted the positions they had taken earlier, Russian agencies reported on 19 February. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the government's course is "unacceptable" because it wants to pay foreign creditors out of the pockets of Russians. Duma Economic Policy Committee chairman (Communist) Sergei Glaziev said he will urge deputies to vote down the proposal, while Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said that the Duma will consider the compromise draft on 22 February. PG

PUTIN ORDERS KASYANOV TO MODIFY TARIFF RULES

President Vladimir Putin told Prime Minister Kasyanov on 19 February to improve existing tariff regulations rather than increase state interference with them, ITAR-TASS reported. In other comments, Putin said that the government must focus on what to do with deserted Soviet-era military towns and begin developing plans to ensure that there will not be a heating crisis again next winter. In another move, at the recommendation of the Council for Entrepreneurship, Putin and Kasyanov agreed to consult with businessmen before each foreign trip they undertake, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

KUDRIN SAYS G-7 BACKS RUSSIAN MEASURES

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told ITAR-TASS on 19 February that the finance ministers of the seven industrialized countries support what the Russian government is doing to maintain stability and promote macroeconomic growth. He said what while at the recent Palermo meeting of G-7 countries, he had bilateral conversations with the finance ministers of the U.S., France, Italy, and Germany. PG

TRADE MINISTER IN BEIJING TO STUDY CHINESE MODEL

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref arrived in Beijing on 19 February to study "China's experience in economic development [and] everything that is connected with the sphere of credit-lending, investments, and the reorganization of enterprises," he told ITAR-TASS. Gref and his delegation will also visit Shanghai. PG

KASYANOV PREDICTS 'DECISIVE' BANK REFORMS

Prime Minister Kasyanov said on RTR's "Zerkalo" program on 18 February that the government will move to a "decisive reformation" of the country's banking system. He said that laws will be changed to bring them in-line with international standards as required by the IMF. PG

MORE HEADS ROLL IN PRIMORSKII KRAI...

The prosecutor for Primorskii Krai, Valerii Vasilenko, has offered his resignation, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported on 19 February. Vasilenko said he was resigning because he cannot agree with the methods of work proposed by his boss, the prosecutor for the Far East Federal District, Yurii Chaika. Commenting on the resignation, Prosecutor- General Vladimir Ustinov told Interfax that he sees no basis for Vasilenko to resign and that he will insist that he remain in his post. According to ITAR-TASS, some 60 department heads in the regional administration have also resigned. On 15 February, Interfax carried an interview with Sergei Knyazev, head of the krai's election commission, who said that President Putin has offered former Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko the post of chairman of the State Fishing Commission; however, officials at Kremlin and the commission have refused to confirm this, according to "The Moscow Times" on 16 February. JAC

...AS NEW CRISIS PREDICTED FOR NEXT WINTER

Meanwhile, on 16 February, Vladivostok's deputy mayor, Vladimir Kapronov, told reporters that the situation with heat and electricity supplies in his city has stabilized. A local Emergencies Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 19 February that heat supplies have been largely restored in the krai although there are still 27 housing units in one raion that are without heat, affecting some 1,649 people. Rosuglesbyt Chairman Georgii Krasnyansko told "Nezavisimaya gazeta-politekonomiya" on 17 February that the fuel deficit that caused this winter's energy crisis in Primorskii Krai is likely to worsen next winter and plunge the region into yet another crisis. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS GAIN MORE STAFF

"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 17 February that the long-planned reorganization of the Main Territorial Administration (GTU) within the presidential administration is underway with the dismissal of department head Sergei Samoilov on 16 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). According to the daily, which cited only unnamed Kremlin sources, the administration will lose 40 personnel, 28 of whom will be transferred to the headquarters of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts. Twelve will be transferred to the presidential administration's legal department. According to the daily, the envoys earlier requested that their staff be increased to 230 each, a request which the GTU was resisting. The daily also reported that the GTU and the envoys have been battling since last August, in part because as "one senior Kremlin official" put it, the envoys were actually trying to usurp power (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 31 January 2001). JAC

GOSPLAN'S RE-CREATION URGED

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Politekonomia," no. 3, called for re-establishing a post-Soviet version of Gosplan to coordinate economic activities and promote growth. The call came on the 80th anniversary of the creation of Gosplan by the Soviet leadership. PG

ENVIRONMENTALISTS PICKET DUMA

Environmental activists from throughout the Russian Federation picketed the Duma building in Moscow on 19 February as legislators debated the second reading of a bill (it was passed on first reading in December) that would allow Russia to earn billions of dollars by serving as a burial site for spent nuclear fuel, AP reported. Duma deputy (Yabloko) Igor Artemev told the demonstrators that the government-backed bill "can only be described as a national humiliation." PG

DUMA TO URGE PUTIN TO LIFT IRAQ SANCTIONS

Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Party), the chairman of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 19 February that he will ask the Duma to pass a resolution calling on President Putin to unilaterally lift sanctions on Iraq in response to the U.S.-U.K. bombing last week of military installations near Baghdad, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that it is "virtually impossible" for Russia or anyone else to raise the issue of U.S. and British air strikes in the UN Security Council, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Chairman and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky left for Iraq in a show of support for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko said that lifting sanctions unilaterally is "impermissible," Interfax reported. PG

DUMA GROUP PUSHES FOR HIGHER WAGES

The interfaction deputies' group "Solidarity," which includes 23 members of parliament, is preparing draft legislation calling for the stable growth of wages, Duma labor, and social policy, the committee's deputy chairman, Andrei Isaev, told Interfax on 17 February. PG

DUMA DELAYS CONSIDERATION OF PARTIES LAW

Duma Social and Religious Organizations Committee chairman (Communist Party) Viktor Zorkaltsev said on 19 February that the Duma will consider -- on second reading -- draft legislation on political parties no earlier than April, Interfax reported on 19 February He said the extra time is needed to consider the various amendments to it that have been offered up to now. Zorkaltsev said that once passed, the bill could lead to the formation of 15 parties, a number that would likely decline to two or three over the next decade or so. PG

DUMA RECOMMENDS RUSSIANS NOT TRAVEL TO 29 COUNTRIES

Oleg Naumov (SPS), who heads a subcommittee of the Committee for the Defense of Compatriots Abroad, told Interfax on 19 February that the Duma has confirmed a list of 29 countries and regions that it recommends Russian citizens not visit for their own security. PG

NEW FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBERS DENY BEING CUT OFF FROM REGIONS

Mikhail Margelov, the new representative of Pskov Oblast in the Federation Council, said that suggestions that the Moscow-based new members of that body are cut off from the regions they represent is nonsense, Interfax reported on 18 February. He said that he frequently travels to his region and that he is linked to it by "family traditions." He said the situation of others is similar. PG

YAVLINSKY DECRIES CREATION OF 'BUREAUCRATIC POLICE STATE'

In an interview published in "Obshchaya gazeta," no. 7, and in a statement issued to Interfax on 19 February, Grigorii Yavlinsky and the Yabloko party he heads said that Russia now has "an imitation democracy and is moving backwards." The Yabloko declaration said that the group will use all legal means to fight what it said are efforts to create "a bureaucratic police state" in Russia. PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES BRITISH COUNTERTERRORISM LAW

Grigorii Karasin, Russia's ambassador in London, told Interfax on 19 February that Moscow welcomes Britain's new counterterrorism law and believes it can be used to close down groups in the United Kingdom supporting anti-Moscow groups in Chechnya. PG

SERGEEV IN OSLO AS NORWEGIANS DEBATE DEFENSE

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev arrived in Oslo on 19 February to discuss security, Russian agencies reported. While there, Russian agencies said, he indicated that Moscow would expand its defensive capabilities if the Baltic countries are included in NATO. But Norwegians are now engaged in a debate over whether Russia remains a threat. The Norwegian government had decided to cut its military significantly, but an article by Russia's northern fleet commander, Admiral Motsak, in "Voennaya mysl," arguing that Norway is a threat to Russia, has sparked debate in Oslo, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 17 February. PG

COMMISSION TO LOOK AT IMPACT OF NATO'S USE OF DEPLETED URANIUM IN YUGOSLAVIA

At the initiative of the Atomic Energy Ministry, the Russian government has set up an interagency expert group to explore the possible consequences of the use of depleted uranium shells in Yugoslavia by NATO forces, Interfax reported on 19 February. Meanwhile, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the main administration for international cooperation at the Defense Ministry, called for the multinational peacekeeping force in Kosova to move quicker to disarm illegal armed groupings, the news service said. PG

NORTHWEST DISTRICT TO HAVE INVESTMENT COUNCIL

The deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Lyubov Sovershaeva, said that a coordinating council for economic development and investment will be set up there attached to the envoy's office, Interfax reported on 17 February. PG

LUZHKOV CALLS FOR GRADUALISM, COMPROMISE

At the presentation of his new book, "With Faith in Myself and in Russia," Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 17 February called for a gradualist approach to change and for compromises on budgetary and other issues, Interfax reported. He said that Russia had only suffered when it had tried to make radical shifts and when parties opposed to any compromise gained power. PG

ROSNEFT PROFITS AT $1 BILLION

Rosneft President Stepan Zemlyuk said on 19 February that his company made a profit of $1 billion in 2000, ITAR- TASS reported. He said his company currently is exploring new ties with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Libya, and Algeria, and considering talks with Iran, Iraq, and Norway. PG

USTINOV CLEARED OF CHARGES

The presidential administration said on 19 February that an investigation had cleared Prosecutor-General Ustinov of charges that he had used his position illegally to obtain an apartment in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001), Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

DEFENSE FIRMS NOW SUING DEFENSE MINISTRY

Russian defense enterprises are "flooding the courts" with suits against the Defense Ministry to recover some 32.5 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) the ministry owes them, "Vedomosti" reported on 16 February. PG

ARBITRAGE COURTS INCREASINGLY ACTIVE

Russia's arbitrage courts considered 634,363 suits in 2000, 9 percent more than the year before, Interfax- AFI reported on 19 February. Among the additional cases are a 5,000 percent jump in the number of tax cases. PG

SUPREME COURT JUDGE CRITICIZES JUDICIAL REFORM PLANS

In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 19 February, Supreme Court judge and chairman of the Council of Judges Yuri Sidorenko said that he opposes the creation of a judicial chamber because it is unclear what such a body would do, that he believes there is no reason to change rules on bringing judges to trial, and that efforts to shorten the tenure of judges will reduce judicial independence. PG

PROSECUTORS BAN USE OF SPECIAL UNITS

Prosecutor-General Ustinov has issued a decree increasing prosecutorial supervision over searches and seizures and banning the use of special masked units designed to intimidate during these activities, Interfax reported on 19 February. PG

RUSSIA SEEN FORFEITING INTERNATIONAL INFO WAR

Writing in "Vek," no. 7, Stanislav Tarasov said that one of the key reasons why Russia's international image has fallen in recent years is that after 1991, Russia dismantled its international propaganda effort while the West did not. He argued that Moscow must rebuild its propaganda machine and "counterattack." The same issue of "Vek" also carries an interview with Armen Oganesian, the chairman of Russian State Radio. He said that the station has been asked by its listeners to give more information about the Kremlin's views and less about the views of others. In other comments, Oganesian said that Russia was stepping up its broadcasts to CIS countries to counter what he called "the geopolitical wars" launched by the West. And he said that Russian broadcasting -- if its funding is "stable" -- can penetrate the American market. PG

CEC WANTS TO HOLD MEDIA LEGALLY RESPONSIBLE

Central Elections Commission member Sergei Bolshakov on 17 February called for the introduction of new legislation that would hold the mass media responsible for violations during election campaigns, Interfax reported. Otherwise, he said, the media will treat different candidates differently and thus make free and fair elections impossible. "Journalists must finally understand," he said, "that electioneering is one thing and free speech something else." PG

WORLD MEDIA GROUPS CALL FOR PRESERVING NTV'S INDEPENDENCE

The Group for the Support of Freedom of the Russian Press, which includes the International Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Periodical Press, the International Press Institute, and the World Committee on Press Freedom, on 19 February called on the Russian government to do everything possible to preserve the editorial independence of NTV, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Yabloko central council issued a statement declaring that the government's moves against NTV and other media outlets were driven by "political motives," the Russian agency reported. PG

PRIEST RESTRICTED FROM CHURCH SERVICE AFTER ELECTION

The Russian Orthodox eparchate of Siberia has prohibited Father Aleksandr Yurkovskii, who had been working in the Altai region, from conducting church services following his election as a rural council deputy, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 17 February. Yurkovskii was elected in March, but the church only acted now in fulfillment of a 1997 church council decision on the incompatibility of government service and priestly obligations. PG

ESTIMATES OF CHINESE IMMIGRANTS VARY WIDELY

"Argumenty i fakty," no. 7, reported that Russian estimates of the number of Chinese immigrants in the Russian Federation varies from 200,000 to 5 million. The weekly said that the Russian Far East is "on the brink of a demographic catastrophe" and that more Chinese are likely to arrive to fill jobs for which there currently are not any Russian applicants. On 17 February, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" featured an article on the spread of Chinese organized crime throughout the Far East. PG

MALE MORTALITY RATES NOW LIKE IN WAR- TIME

Health Ministry doctor Gennadii Onishchenko said in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 February that falling life expectancy among Russian men resembles war-time figures. He blamed much of the decline on increasing alcoholism. He urged that the government take all possible measures to shift drinkers from vodka to beer. And he said that banning alcohol ads on television is necessary to prevent young people from drinking more. PG

POVERTY HITS ACROSS THE COUNTRY

In its no. 3 issue, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Politekonomiya" details the increasingly harsh situation Russia's poor find themselves in outside of Moscow. In Novogorod Oblast, for example, the minimum income could feed five cats for a month. In Karelia, one-quarter of the population now lives in poverty. And in the extreme north, rising prices and stable or declining incomes are driving people to leave regions they had lived in for many years, the supplement said. PG

RUSSIA LESS AND LESS ABLE TO FEED ITSELF

Academician Ivan Shatilov of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences told Interfax on 19 February that the decreasing fertility of Russian soils means that Russia is ever less able to feed its own population. He noted that Russia risks falling from 72nd place in the world in the level of its ability to provide food to the population to "one of the very last places." In the 1980s, he said, the Soviet Union ranked seventh according to this measure. PG

1,500 PIECES OF 'MIR' TO FALL TO EARTH

Yuri Koptev, the director of the Russian Aircraft and Space Agency, said on 19 February that up to 1,500 pieces of the "Mir" spacecraft will reach the earth's surface in an area of the south Pacific 200 kilometers wide and 5- 6,000 kilometers long, ITAR-TASS reported. Koptev said his agency is doing everything it can to ensure that these will not hit urban areas. PG

CRACKDOWN ON 'TELEPHONE TERRORISTS' BEGINS

The transport police said that in 2000 there had been 258 anonymous calls threatening explosions in the country's transport network, Interfax reported on 18 February. This number grew from the year before, but constitutes only a small portion of the 83,500 crimes that were committed on the transport network last year. More of those responsible for both telephone threats and other crimes are now being brought to justice, a spokesman for the transport police said. PG

ARE RUSSIAN FORCES CLOSING IN ON FORMER CHECHEN PRESIDENT?

A Russian brigade backed by some 500 pieces of armor has completely sealed off the village of Galson-chu in Nozhai-Yurt Raion, where former Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is believed to be staying, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 19 February citing the Chechen agency Nokchi. LF




ARMENIA REJECTS TURKISH OFFER OF KARABAKH MEDIATION

The Armenian Foreign Ministry on 19 February rejected Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem's 17 February proposal that Turkey host talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian said that Turkey cannot act as a mediator because of its "explicitly one-sided position" favoring Azerbaijan. She also pointed to the absence of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan as a further obstacle to such talks. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER'S PARTY SECURES PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE CHAIR

After intensive lobbying by senior members of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), its candidate, Gagik Minasian, was elected on 19 February to head the parliament's Finance and Economy Committee, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Minasian, who is close to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, garnered 63 votes compared with 42 for rival Vahram Baghdasarian. In the previous vote on 7 February, Baghdasarian, also a member of the majority Miasnutiun bloc, received 54 votes and Minasian 42. Minasian's appointment is a badly-needed victory for the HHK which has been weakened by the recent defection of several of its most prominent members (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). LF

ARMENIAN TRADERS STAGE STREET PROTEST

Some 10,000 street traders marched to the Armenian parliament building in Yerevan on 19 February to protest a government ruling requiring them to introduce cash registers as of 21 February in a bid to stamp out tax evasion, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The traders, who are supported by the Orinats Yerkir parliament faction, have demanded an emergency debate on the issue. The introduction of cash registers was originally scheduled for last fall but postponed after protests. The traders oppose any change to the present arrangement under which they pay tax at a fixed rate determined by the size and location of their market stalls. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE BATTLE WAR INVALIDS...

Some 20 police were injured on 19 February in street fighting in Baku with some 500 members of the Society of Karabakh War Invalids, Reuters and AFP reported quoting Azerbaijani Interior Ministry officials. Hundreds of invalids and their supporters had staged several short marches in the city during the day and blocked traffic on main streets, but returned each time after 20 minutes to the society's headquarters. Police did not attempt to disperse those marches, but clashed with the invalids in the late afternoon as the latter were converging on the venue for a planned rally. Police beat seven of the invalids. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov earlier on 19 February accused the invalids of breaking the law. On 20 February, some 500 police surrounded the invalids' Baku headquarters, and other police detachments used force to disperse a large group of invalids and their mothers, detaining or beating dozens of people, Turan reported. LF

...AS BAKU MAYOR OFFERS THEM JOBS

Hajibala Abutalibov, who was appointed mayor of Baku last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001), has launched a crackdown against illegal trade in the capital, but at the same time has reserved 10,000 vacancies in legal retail stores for Karabakh war invalids, other veterans, and their family members, Turan reported on 20 February. LF

AZERBAIJANI TV LAUNCHES ITS VERSION OF RUSSIA'S 'KUKLY'

Last week Azerbaijan state television aired the first in a new series modeled on the Russian "Kukly" (Puppets), which parodies politicians and public figures, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 17 February. Many viewers expressed displeasure that, unlike "Kukly," only opposition politicians are in the Azerbaijani program. But its producer, Vugar Garadagly, assured viewers that future programs will feature "all political titans, including President Aliev." LF

RUSSIA RESUMES GAS SUPPLIES TO AZERBAIJAN...

Russia's Transneft resumed gas supplies to Azerbaijan on 17 February, Turan reported two days later quoting the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR. Transneft had halted deliveries on 14 February due to what was subsequently termed "a misunderstanding." Also on 19 February, SOCAR issued a press release announcing that Azerbaijan and Iran will shortly sign an agreement on supplies of Iranian gas to Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. Implementation of that agreement would necessitate reconstruction of the Soviet-era Gadjikabul-Astara pipeline and construction of a 46 kilometer extension to the pipeline from Khoi in Iran to Djulfa. LF

GEORGIAN CURRENCY LOSES VALUE, THEN STABILIZES

After months of stability, the Georgian lari slid from about 1.96 in recent weeks to 2.065 on 15 February and is now trading at 2.085 to the dollar, Caucasus Press reported on 20 February. The daily "Dilis gazeti" on 20 February quoted unidentified financial experts as suggesting an unannounced monetary emission may have contributed to the lari's loss in value. LF

EXILED POLITICIAN SUGGESTS NEW APPROACH TO RESOLVING ABKHAZ CONFLICT

Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile that comprises the Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991, on 19 February proposed twin-track talks aimed at resolving the Abkhaz conflict. He suggested that he should meet with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, whom he has repeatedly accused of condoning genocide and ethnic cleansing, while Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze should consult with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. After arguing for years that Russia was behind Georgia's defeat in the 1992-1993 Abkhaz war, Nadareishvili suggested last July that as Russia and Georgia both face the loss of chunks of their territory, they should seek to improve bilateral relations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000). LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY FORCES STAGE PROTEST TO DEMAND WAGE ARREARS

The third brigade of the Georgian Interior Ministry troops, which comprises some 400 men, most of them displaced persons from Abkhazia, staged a protest in Tbilisi on 19 February to demand unpaid wages for the past 13 months, Caucasus Press reported. Interior Ministry troops commander Giorgi Shervashidze told the protesters he cannot promise to comply with their request. LF

SIX DEAD IN KAZAKH HELICOPTER CRASH...

Six people were killed and one seriously injured when a helicopter belonging to the Kazakh border guard service crashed near the Chinese border on 17 February, Reuters reported on 19 February. Kazakh Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Sat Toqpaqbaev received minor injuries when a helicopter of the same model crashed in southern Kazakhstan in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

...AS DEFENSE MINISTRY PLANS UPGRADE OF EQUIPMENT, ARMS

Kazakhstan's deputy defense minister, Gosman Amrin, told journalists in Astana on 19 February that Kazakhstan plans to spend "tens of millions of dollars" on upgrading weaponry beginning in 2002, Russian agencies reported. He said the country's new military doctrine envisages the installment of a new air defense system and other measures to reinforce the country's borders. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT SWORN IN

The new cabinet of Kurmanbek Bakiev was sworn in by the People's Assembly, the upper chamber of parliament, on 19 February, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. President Askar Akaev attended the ceremony. LF

SENIOR KYRGYZ OFFICIAL WITHDRAWS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER

Presidential Administration head Misir Ashyrkulov said in Bishkek on 17 February that he plans to withdraw the libel suit he brought against the newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda v Kyrgyzstane," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Ashyrkulov had demanded 3.2 million soms (some $65,000) from the paper's editor, Arkadii Gladilov, for damages for a 1 December interview accusing the Kyrgyz Security Ministry of fabricating criminal cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2000). Ashyrkulov headed that ministry from 1998 to 1999. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES WAGE ARREARS

Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov chaired a cabinet session late last week to assess the volume of salary arrears in the public sector, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 February. The total wage backlog amounts to 26.3 million somonis ($11.2 million), of which 11.5 million is owed to employees in Khatlon Oblast, 9.3 million in Sughd Oblast, and 2.8 million in Dushanbe. Almost half the debt (12.6 million somonis) is to workers in the agricultural sector. The cabinet noted that in Djirgatal, Darband, Gharm, Tajikabad, and Tavildara money earmarked for paying salaries was used for other purposes. LF

TAJIKISTAN REGISTERS GDP GROWTH

Tajikistan's GDP grew by 9.1 percent year-on-year in January 2001, while industrial production increased by 14.4 percent over the same period, Interfax reported. Consumer goods production was up 41.5 percent over last year's figure. The number of registered unemployed as of 1 January was 43,200, 13.2 percent fewer than a year earlier. The average monthly wage in January was 15.99 somonis ($6.80). LF

TAJIK POLICE ARREST MORE ALLEGED ISLAMIC RADICALS

Police in Dushanbe have arrested four putative members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization over the past three days, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 February. Two of the men were identified as citizens of Tajikistan and one as an Uzbek national. Banned religious literature was confiscated from the three men and from a fourth arrested separately. Those arrests raise the number of Hizb-ut- Tahrir activists apprehended in Tajikistan since 1999 to over 110, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




BELARUSIAN YOUTH LEADER FINED FOR VALENTINE'S DAY MARCH

A Minsk district court on 19 February imposed a fine of some $450 (150 minimum wages) on Pavel Sevyarynets, leader of the Youth Front, for organizing and leading an unauthorized march on Valentine's Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. A police officer told the court that Sevyarynets violated the law also by waving a European Union flag during the march. "This is the regime's response to St. Valentine's Day and [our] action 'Love! Freedom! Changes!' -- one should not expect any love, freedom, or changes in Belarus," Sevyarynets said about the court verdict. JM

FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER'S SON CHARGED

The authorities have charged Alyaksandr Chyhir, son of former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, with "secret thefts of property made repeatedly in a group on a particularly large scale," Belapan reported on 19 February. Alyaksandr was arrested last week on suspicion of selling stolen car parts. His father said after the arrest that the accusation is "absurd" and constitutes a "political provocation" to discredit him as a possible candidate in this year's presidential elections. Police tried to disrupt Mikhail Chyhir's meeting with 600 people in Barysau, Minsk Oblast, on 19 February by repeatedly searching for a bomb allegedly planted in the meeting room, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Neither Chyhir nor his listeners left the room during the search. JM

BELARUSIAN PARTY URGES EXILED LEADER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

The opposition Conservative Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front has appealed to its exiled leader, Zyanon Paznyak, to run in this year's presidential elections, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Paznyak left Belarus in April 1996 -- fearing that the regime might seek his liquidation -- and obtained political asylum in the U.S. It is not clear whether he may be registered as a presidential candidate. The 1996 constitution stipulates that a presidential candidate must "permanently live in the Republic of Belarus no less than 10 years directly before the elections." Paznyak's Conservative Christian Party does not participate in the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which unites four other major opposition parties. JM

KUCHMA SAYS NO CRISIS IN UKRAINE...

President Leonid Kuchma said on 19 February that he "cannot agree with the opinion that is being insistently imposed [on us] that there is a political crisis in Ukraine," Interfax reported. "The parliament and the government are remaining in their places and functioning despite all difficulties," he noted. Kuchma said the atmosphere among Ukraine's top leadership is characterized by "mutual understanding [and] closeness of positions." He added that mutual understanding also "dominates" in relations between the central and regional power bodies. "If someone thinks the crisis is in the excessive activity of some deputies who assumed the role of permanent revolutionaries, this is of course sad, but not lethal," Kuchma told students at Kyiv National University. JM

...PLEDGES TO TAKE 'RESOLUTE ACTION' AGAINST CURRENT UNREST

Kuchma said the current situation "obliges the authorities to take active and resolute actions" as well as "all legal means" to avert threats to Ukraine's national security and stability. He added that he does not consider "those who are shouting in tent cities" constitute a "serious political force." Kuchma said the exit of his current opponents from the political scene "is only a question of time," adding, however, that they will not agree to quit that scene of their own will. "They have neither political principles, nor moral norms, nor anything sacred at all," Kuchma said about his opponents. (See "End Note" below.) JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WITHOUT PRO- KUCHMA MAJORITY?

Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, told the parliament on 19 February that the pro-government parliamentary majority "does not exist anymore," Interfax reported. He added that his caucus is ready to form a "new realistic majority that would be able to protect democratic reforms and do everything possible to overcome the socioeconomic and political crisis." Asked by speaker Ivan Plyushch if his statement means that the Fatherland Party is quitting the parliamentary majority, Turchynov said "we cannot quit the majority because it does not exist." The Ukrainian parliament currently has 448 deputies. The pro-government majority, formed a year ago, consisted of 278 deputies, including 32 from the Fatherland Party. Following the sacking of Yuliya Tymoshenko from the cabinet last month, the Fatherland Party has begun to oppose presidential policies. JM

CALL FOR SPEEDY REFERENDUM IN ESTONIA ON EU MEMBERSHIP

The board of the Pro Patria Union on 17 February decided to call for holding the referendum on Estonia's joining the European Union before and not after the signing of the accession agreement, ETA reported on 19 February. The proposal's author, Mart Nutt, explained that since the Estonian Constitution does not foresee referenda concerning international agreements, the government should learn the public's opinion before signing it. The board suggested that the referendum be held on 28 June 2002, the 10th anniversary of the referendum on the constitution. Prime Minister Mart Laar met with members of the parliament's European Affairs Committee on 19 February who agreed that the committee should be responsible for initiating the referendum. SG

LATVIAN EXPORTS AND IMPORTS GREW 12.2 PERCENT IN 2000

The Central Statistics Office announced on 17 February that last year both imports and exports rose by 12.2 percent over 1999, BNS reported. Exports increased by 123 million lats ($198 million) to 1.131 billion lats and imports by 210 million lats to 1.934 billion lats. The leading export products were timber and timber products (37.4 percent), textiles (14 percent), metals and metalwork (13.4 percent), and chemical products (6.4 percent). The major import products were machinery and electric equipment (20.7 percent), mineral products (12.9 percent), chemical industry products (10.6 percent), and metals and metalworks (8.4 percent). Exports of food and agricultural products rose by 1.4 million lats or 2.1 percent, while imports fell by 0.5 million lats or 0.4 percent. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Accompanied by Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and a delegation of businessmen, Valdas Adamkus arrived in Dubai on 18 February and met with United Arab Emirates (UAE) Finance and Industry Minister Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Maktoum, ELTA reported the next day. They discussed bilateral relations and opportunities to boost the transit of UAE goods to Europe through Russia and Klaipeda. Lithuania currently has a favorable balance of trade with the UAE. On 19 February, Adamkus met with the director-general of the Dubai Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Abdul Rahman al Mutaiwee, but a scheduled meeting between Lithuanian businessmen and UAE entrepreneurs was a failure because the latter did not appear for the scheduled meeting. Later that day, Adamkus flew to India where he began the first ever official visit to the country by a Lithuanian head of state. SG

FORMER POLISH PRESIDENT'S AIDES INVESTIGATED FOR ALLEGED BRIBERY

Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski, who is also Poland's prosecutor-general, has ordered an investigation into whether two aides of former President Lech Walesa accepted bribes to urge him to pardon a suspected gang leader. A Polish Television report on the investigation alleged that Walesa's two aides, whose names have not been released, accepted some $150,000 in 1993 for doing a favor for Andrzej Zielinski, who is currently on the run from police. "The evidence is sufficient. It would be a crime if I did not open the investigation," Kaczynski commented, adding that his decision is not a part of a "political struggle against Walesa." JM

POLAND, GAZPROM REPORTEDLY REACH AGREEMENT ON YAMAL GAS PIPELINE

The Polish government and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev have reached an agreement on EuroPolGaz, the company that runs the Polish section of the Yamal gas pipeline, Polish Radio reported on 19 February. The station, however, did not provide details of the deal. The Polish Oil and Gas Extraction Company (controlled by the Polish government) and Gazprom each have a 48- percent stake in EuroPolGaz. Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Steinhoff said that the Polish government will continue talks with Gazprom about the controversy around the fiber optic cable that runs along the Polish section of the Yamal gas pipeline (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). JM

CZECH REPUBLIC'S TEMELIN TO GO BACK ON- LINE...

Milan Nebesar, spokesman for the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, on 19 February told Reuters that the faults that had led to the plant's temporary shut down have been all repaired and Temelin will be brought back on-line later this week. MS

...AS FAGAN STARTS STRUGGLE AGAINST IT

On the same day, U.S. lawyer Ed Fagan, who had announced one day earlier that he will represent the opponents of Temelin, said in Wullowitz, on the Austrian-Czech border, that he will "cause pain in the senior management ranks" if the U.S.-based Westinghouse company fails to produce documentation attesting to Temelin's safety by 20 March. Fagan also called on the Czech utility company CEZ, which owns Temelin, to submit proof as to the plant's safety. "If you fail to do so, the world will know you are cheating," AP cited him as saying. In response, CEZ said it will not provide the documentation, which is regarded by Westinghouse as a business secret. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky, cited by CTK, said Fagan had no right to demand such documents. MS

PRAGUE EQUIVOCAL ON IRAQ ATTACK

The Foreign Ministry, reacting to the air strike against targets in and near Baghdad by U.S. and British airplanes on 16 February, said on 19 February that the Czech Republic "is not an advocate of a military solution or the use of force, and prefers a political solution." Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil added that Prague had "taken note of the considerations that had led to a military action." He said "stability in the region can only be achieved if Iraq accepts all UN resolutions and demands." MS

ODS AGAINST WITHDRAWING 'TRANSITION PERIOD' REQUESTS...

The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on 19 February criticized the cabinet led by Milos Zeman for having partially withdrawn requests for "transition periods" in the accession parleys with the EU, CTK reported. The ODS Executive Council said these concessions are "completely unexpected" and were not discussed prior to the government's announcement. ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer told journalists his party is "concerned" that the negotiations with the EU are being conducted "outside public and parliamentary control." MS

...AND WANTS TO LEARN ABOUT CSSD INTENTIONS ON 'OPPOSITION PACT'

The ODS Executive Council also called on its leadership to immediately start talks with the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on the future of the so-called opposition agreement between the two formations. ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus said his party has "noticed a change in the views" of some prominent CSSD politicians as of late but declined to tell journalists whether the ODS wants the agreement prolonged or abolished. "This is more than we can or want to tell you," he said. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SEEKS UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY CHAIRMANSHIP

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan is seeking the UN General Assembly chairmanship for 2002 or 2003 and the probability of a successful bid is "high," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told CTK on 19 February. Kavan has received promises of support from virtually every country from which he sought it, Pospisil said. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT RECEIVES DEATH THREAT

A letter signed with illegible signatures and threatening Vaclav Havel with death unless the president pardons contract murderer Jiri Kajinek was recently received at the presidential office, the daily "Pravo" reported on 19 February. Kajinek was found guilty in 1998 of two contract murders and sentenced to life imprisonment . He claims he is innocent. In October, Kajinek escaped from a prison in Mirov, northern Moravia, but was recaptured in Prague in December. In other news, doctors said on 19 February that Havel was responding well to the new medication and no longer has a fever. MS

CZECH THANKS SLOVAKIA FOR HELPING IN CUBAN RELEASE

Former student leader Jan Bubenik, whom the Cuban authorities held in prison in January together with deputy Ivan Pilip, on 19 February thanked Slovakia for having contributed to his liberation. In a lecture in Bratislava, Bubenik said he is "not fully informed" about what the Slovak Foreign Ministry did on the matter, but knows that Slovak diplomats delivered the letter written by Czech Senate chairman Peter Pithart to Cuban authorities. Bubenik said he believes the situation in Cuba would improve if the sanctions against that country were "revised" and the U.S. embargo against it became "more sophisticated" to "hit the nomenklatura, and not the population as a whole." The embargo, he said, is "the last pillar supporting [President Fidel] Castro." MS

CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER EXPLAINS BORDER SITUATION TO SLOVAKS

Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross on 19 February told TASR that he would personally welcome relations between the two countries remaining "above standard" but that the situation might change if the Czech Republic becomes a member of the EU ahead of Slovakia. Such a situation, Gross said, would require that the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia be transformed into a "EU external border." Prague, he said, would then have to apply the Schengen agreement and abolish the visa-free travel that citizens of the two countries currently enjoy. MS

SLOVAKIA TO REDUCE NUMBER OF COURTS OF JUSTICE

Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky on 19 February told journalists in Kovacova, central Slovakia, that in order to save costs, the number of regional courts of justice is to be reduced from eight to four and that of district courts from 55 to 45, CTK reported. He said the step would save some 180 million crowns (about $3.7 million) annually. Carnogursky said the government must decide on the measure by April for it to be implemented by early 2002. MS

SLOVAK UNION LEADER CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT OVER UNEMPLOYMENT

Ivan Saktor, chairman of the Confederation of Slovak Trade Unions, on 19 February said the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda has not respected promises to cut unemployment, has cut welfare spending, and is considering even more cuts, CTK reported. Saktor said he doubts the government will succeed in reducing unemployment from the current 18 percent to 16-17 percent by the end of the year. He said an 18 percent rate means half-a-million people are jobless. In some regions, he said, the unemployment rate is as high as 40 percent, despite the cabinet's measures which created good conditions for foreign investors and Slovak businessmen. MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS FIGHT FOR AUTHORITY WITHIN SMALLHOLDERS

Independent Smallholders' (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 19 February convened an unscheduled steering board meeting where the party membership rights of parliamentary group leader Attila Bank were suspended with immediate effect. For his part, Bank, who is also the party's chief attorney, envisaged disciplinary proceedings against Torgyan, saying that Torgyan is not entitled to make any statements at FKGP meetings. Bank has sent a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orban declaring that Torgyan is no longer authorized to represent the FKGP. Hungarian Radio quoted Bank as saying that Torgyan wants to quit the governing coalition. MSZ

HUNGARIAN, SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS NATO ISSUES

Slovak Defense Minister Jozef Stank and his Hungarian counterpart Janos Szabo met in the Hungarian town of Gyor on 19 February and discussed Hungary's experience of preparing for NATO membership. Szabo said it is in Hungary's interest that Slovakia becomes a NATO member, and the Hungarian Defense Ministry would therefore develop more intense cooperation with the Slovak side. Stank thanked Szabo for the support and said that cooperation between the two countries will develop both on the bilateral level and within the Visegrad Four group. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES ROMA

In a message to a conference assessing the state of the Roma in Hungary, Ferenc Madl asked the Romany population not to allow themselves to be isolated as "a caste to be pitied," Hungarian media reports on 20 February. Madl said the only "natural, desirable, and successful solution" for Roma is to emerge as equal members of the nation and equal citizens of the society. He also urged those who might consider emigrating to stay home, and invited back those who have been "seduced by the false hope" of living an easier life abroad. Florian Farkas, chairman of the National Romany Authority, said that he "had never heard ministry representatives speak in such a human tone." MSZ




HAGUE'S DEL PONTE CALLS FOR 'CONCRETE SIGN'

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, followed up her recent criticism of Belgrade's lack of cooperation with the court by calling on the Serbian authorities to "transfer" General Ratko Mladic or other unnamed Bosnian Serbs to the tribunal, even if Belgrade is not prepared to quickly extradite former President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). Speaking in Brussels on 19 February, Del Ponte stressed that "no political expediency, no fear of destabilizing Serbia should allow a reprieve to the transfer of such persons to The Hague. On the contrary, Serbia and the deepening of its democratization process will only benefit," Reuters reported. PM

WILL EU HELP CONVINCE SERBIA OF NEED TO COOPERATE?

In Brussels on 19 February, Del Ponte also appealed to EU Commission President Romano Prodi, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana, and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson to encourage Belgrade to work with The Hague, Reuters reported. Solana promised to write EU foreign ministers about her concerns. Prodi agreed with her that it is time for Belgrade to show a concrete sign that it is willing to cooperate, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica recently cited remarks by Prodi and EU Stabilization Pact chief Bodo Hombach, as well as by unnamed U.S. officials, to the effect that it is not necessary for Belgrade to cooperate with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). U.S. President George W. Bush and Congress are to rule by 31 March whether Belgrade is cooperating sufficiently to receive an additional $100 million in U.S. aid. PM

SERBIAN LEGAL MEASURES ON HAGUE COULD TAKE 'MONTHS'

In her remarks in Brussels on 19 February, Del Ponte noted that other Yugoslav republics, including Croatia and Montenegro, are cooperating admirably with the court, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported. In Podgorica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic stressed the importance of his republic's work with the tribunal, "Pobjeda" reported. But in Belgrade, Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said that it might take "several months" for legislation on cooperating with the court to be drafted, sent to the parliament, and passed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). He noted that the new laws might actually require Milosevic and others to be tried in Serbia before they could be sent abroad, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic noted that the new legislation might not be what The Hague wants. "I'm not optimistic, since not all members of the federal government want to pass the law on cooperation with The Hague Tribunal," AP quoted Batic as saying. PM

SERBIA SEEKING TO PROD NATO INTO KOSOVA CRACKDOWN?

Kostunica has telephoned Bush to urge the holding of a special session of the UN Security Council to discuss recent violence in Kosova and the Presevo Valley, the BBC Serbian Service reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). (The Milosevic regime also frequently called for Security Council meetings in response to violence in Kosova.) Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade that NATO could be more tough with the unnamed people responsible for the violence, but that the alliance is "afraid that the Albanian terrorists will perceive them as adversaries," the "Financial Times" reported. NATO's position is that it is doing what it can and that the parties directly concerned must solve their problems in negotiations. 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

WHO OR WHAT IS BEHIND LATEST VIOLENCE IN KOSOVA, PRESEVO?

Unnamed "NATO sources" told Reuters on 19 February that there has been an increase in coordinated attacks on Serbs in Kosova since the new government took office in Belgrade in October, the agency reported from the Serbian capital. The sources added that "the Presevo and Kosovo extremists have overlapping agendas but not necessarily the same." Other Western sources have identified as many as three different Albanian groups operating in southwestern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). PM

PRESEVO FIGHTERS SAY SERBIAN POLICE KILLED BY OWN MINES

In Lucane, commander Shefket Musliu of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) said on 19 February that Serbian forces killed an Albanian commander recently in response to the death of three Serbian police in an explosion. Senior commander Sami Azemi denied that the UCPMB had anything to do with either that explosion or the one that destroyed a bus near Podujevo recently. Azemi condemned both attacks against Serbs, AP reported. On 20 February, "Koha Ditore" carried a statement by commander Vullnet Ibishi, saying that "the Serbian policemen ran into mines they had planted themselves. The incident occurred 500 meters behind Serbian positions where it was impossible for us to enter," Reuters reported. He added that the recent violence undermined attempts at a negotiated solution, "which we have favored from the beginning." PM

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER BACKS SERBIA IN PRESEVO

Ljubco Georgievski said in Belgrade on 19 February that he supports Serbia's new plan to stabilize Presevo, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 February 2001). He added that he opposes unnamed "extremist forces without political support who want to jeopardize peace in the whole region." Georgievski said that the violence must stop if essential foreign investment is to flow into the region. PM

PROTECTION OF MINORITIES: KFOR'S NEW GOAL

Norwegian General Thorstein Skiaker, who will take over command of KFOR on 6 April, said in Copenhagen on 19 February that "to establish safe and secure conditions for all ethnic groups in Kosovo is today the absolutely most important but also the most difficult task," AP reported. He added that KFOR's "assignment looks different today with the new [government] in Belgrade... The chances of having to defend Kosovo from an attack from the outside are now very [few]," he added. "From what I have learned from military reports, KFOR has roughly the strength needed to solve its problems," Skiaker noted. PM

STRIKE AT SERBIAN TELECOM

An unspecified number of workers at Serbian Telecom went on strike on 19 February to demand payment of outstanding wages, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Postal workers staged a sympathy strike. In related news, Italian authorities in Turin are investigating the possibility that Italian Telecom paid large sums in kickbacks in conjunction with its acquisition of shares in its Serbian counterpart in 1997, "Pobjeda" reported on 20 February, citing "La Repubblica." PM

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON REFERENDUM

On 19 February, the legislature passed a measure stating that voting in the upcoming referendum on independence is open to all Montenegrin citizens who have lived in the republic for at least two years, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The measure will pass if a simple majority of those voting approve it. Legislators from the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) and the People's Party walked out to protest the decision. They want the referendum to be approved only if a majority of registered voters cast their ballots for it. The SNP also wants voting open to Montenegrins living in Serbia. Recent polls show a clear majority of Montenegrins favoring independence. PM

ANTI-NATIONALIST PROTEST IN CROATIA

Up to 10,000 persons gathered in Zagreb on 19 February for a rally with the themes "My Vote For Justice" and "One Hour For A State Based On The Rule Of Law." The demonstration was in support of the government's cooperation with The Hague and its willingness to bring all war criminals to trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). PM

SLOVENES RIDICULE AUSTRIAN 'HABSBURG' PROPOSAL

The Ljubljana daily "Delo" has criticized a recent Austrian proposal to establish a Central European Strategic Partnership, starting with a conference of regional foreign ministers, "Die Presse" reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). The Slovenian daily suggested that Austria's motives are selfish and economic rather than beneficent and political. "Delo" charged that Austrian politicians have behaved arrogantly toward their eastern neighbors since that country joined the EU and noted that Carinthian Governor Joerg Haider has frequently tried to bully Slovenia. PM

IMPRISONED ROMANIAN MINERS' LEADER MAKES DEATH THREAT

Miron Cozma, who was sentenced in February 1999 to 18 years in prison for his role in the riots that brought down the government headed by Petre Roman in September 1991, on 19 February threatened political scientist Stelian Tanase with death. Tanase told "RFE/RL Newsline" on 20 February that the call was placed from the prison where Cozma is serving his sentence. Tanase said Cozma had apparently interpreted a remark made in a television program hosted by Tanase as being directed against efforts of his supporters to bring about the reversal of the sentence. Tanase says the remarks were triggered by such dubious recent judicial decisions as that of suspending the sentences passed against generals Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac. He has launched a criminal complaint with the police and the Prosecutor-General's Office. MS

ROMANIAN OFFICERS CONVICTED FOR KILLINGS DURING 1989 REVOLUTION

The Supreme Court of Justice on 19 February convicted two generals and a captain of "negligent manslaughter" in connection with the death of 50 conscripts at the Bucharest Otopeni airport during the 1989 revolution, AP reported. On 22 December 1989, the unit defending the airport opened fire on another unit that had responded to its call for reinforcements. The court ruled that General Dumitru Draghin, former commander of the airport defense forces, and General Grigore Ghita, head of airport security forces, should have ensured that the two units were aware of each other's position, and sentenced them to eight and six years, respectively. Captain Ionel Zorila was sentenced to four years on similar charges. The court ruled that the defense and interior ministries must pay 37.5 billion lei ($1.3 million) in compensation to relatives of the deceased. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS MOTION TO DEBATE MINORITY-FRIENDLY LAW

With a vote of 81 against, one for, and one abstention, the Senate on 19 February rejected a motion of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) to debate the recently-passed Local Public Administration Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PRM senators walked out before the vote, protesting the decision to reject the motion on grounds of unconstitutionality. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said after the vote that his party had "achieved its purpose" to "demonstrate that the PRM is the only opposition party represented in the legislature." Tudor said that the law, which allegedly makes Hungarian Romania's second official language, "can be passed by the parliament but will never be passed by the [Romanian] people." MS

ILIESCU STILL OPPOSES HUNGARIAN UNIVERSITY

In an interview with the Budapest daily "Magyar Hirlap," President Ion Iliescu on 20 February says he continues to oppose a separate Hungarian-language university in Romania, as this "may lead to segregation." He expressed hopes that following the implementation of favorable regulations on church properties and the use of minority languages, other claims of the Hungarian minority can be resolved once Romania's economy can afford it. In the interview, Iliescu also criticized the Hungarian government for failing to guarantee parliamentary representation for ethnic minorities. MSZ

RAPPORTEUR SAYS ROMANIAN REFORMS HAVE EU BACKING

Baroness Emma Nicholson, European Parliament rapporteur on Romania, said after talks with President Ion Iliescu, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and other officials on 19 February that the EU "fully backs" the reform program of the Romanian cabinet, state television reported. She said the reforms aimed at improving the conditions of abandoned children, in which she is particularly interested, "already show signs of bearing fruit." Nicholson also said Romania needs "significant foreign investment." MS

ROMANIA'S RULING PARTY BANGS ON SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL DOOR

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 19 February designated Adrian Severin as "envoy to the Socialist International" to promote its effort to be accepted as a member of that forum, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The former foreign minister and current chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is known to have numerous ties to the Socialist International. The negotiations for the PDSR's merger with the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) are at an advanced stage and the two formations are likely to be merged under the name of Social Democratic Party. The PSDR is a Socialist International member and the merger is likely to facilitate membership in the international, which the PDSR sought unsuccessfully in the past. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REACHES AGREEMENT WITH UNIONS, EMPLOYERS

The government on 19 February signed a "social pact" with representatives of the main trade unions and the organization representing Romanian employers, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The one-year agreement stipulates that the unions will not undertake labor action in exchange for the government's pledge to raise real wages by 4 to 4.5 percent in 2001, raise minimum wages by at least 10 percent, and to cut unemployment to under 10 percent from the current 11 percent. Under the agreement, the cabinet pledged to raise the GDP by between 4 and 4.5 percent and cut inflation to 27 percent from the over 40 percent registered in 2000, while keeping the deficit under 4 percent. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S MOLDOVAN VISIT POSTPONED...

President Petru Lucinschi's office announced on 19 February that a "working visit" by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been postponed, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The visit should have started on 20 February. As grounds for the postponement, the presidential office mentioned the need for the two sides' teams of experts to "better prepare the summit" and particularly the planned meeting of the joint commission on Moldovan-Ukrainian cooperation. No new date was set. Infotag cites "observers" who believe the main reason for postponing the visit is the internal situation in Ukraine. MS

...AS IS OSCE BRATISLAVA MEETING ON TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT

The OSCE-organized meeting of the state commissions from Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia on solving the Transdniester conflict, planned for 20-21 February in Bratislava, has been postponed for one week, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Moldovan commission's chairman, Vasile Sturza, said one of the reasons for the postponement was the intended visit to Moldova by Ukrainian President Kuchma, which has since been postponed. Sturza hinted that another reason was the position of the Tiraspol authorities, who earlier asked that the meeting be postponed until after the 25 February parliamentary elections in Moldova. MS

MOLDOVA TO JOIN WTO

Negotiations between Moldova and the World Trade Organization have been successfully completed and Moldova's membership in the WTO will formally be approved at the next meeting of the organization's general Council, AP reported on 19 February. The agency cited Moldovan Deputy Minister of Economy and Reforms Gheorghe Gaberi as saying his country has adapted its foreign trade legislation to meet WTO rules and has made concessions in opening its markets to foreign goods and services. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGES

Dumitru Pulber and Elena Safaleru were selected on 19 February as judges on the Moldovan Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Safaleru is a deputy elected to the parliament on the lists of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc, and Safaleru is an assistant judge at the Constitutional Court. They will replace two other judges whose terms expired. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PARTIES' LAW

President Petar Stoyanov on 17 February vetoed the recently-passed Political Parties Act and sent it back to the parliament for reconsideration, BTA, cited by the BBC monitoring service, reported. Stoyanov said that as formulated, the law fails to make the necessary distinction between parties represented in the parliament separately, those represented in parliamentary coalitions, and those that are members in parliamentary groups of other parties. He said this makes it difficult to interpret the law correctly and thus to determine which parties must re-register and which formations are exempt from this requirement. MS

BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS CONTINUE PROTEST

Bulgarian radio journalists are continuing their protest against the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as new general director, BTA reported on 19 February. The agency said President Stoyanov met with radio governing board member Alexander Burzitsov, who has been acting as interim director-general since Borislavov's hospitalization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). Stoyanov said he wishes to meet with members of the radio staff to hear their views but that Borislavov's current health state makes such a meeting "inappropriate for now." National Council for Radio and Television member Svetlana Bozhilova said the council has postponed the signing of the contract with Borislavov "until he is discharged from the hospital or decides to resign." MS




WILL UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT SURVIVE?


By Jan Maksymiuk

Despite the evidence implicating President Leonid Kuchma in the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and the protests triggered by those revelations, it seems unlikely that Kuchma's political future is threatened. This month's two strongest anti- Kuchma protests gathered some 5,000 people each and both of them were held in Kyiv. There have some anti-Kuchma protests in the provinces within the past month, but they gathered several hundred people at most. As some Ukrainian commentators say, what is really wrong about Ukraine is not Kuchma's authoritarian rule or his alleged responsibility for ordering Gongadze's murder, but the fact that most Ukrainians do not care about who rules them and how.

Ukraine's current political unrest was provoked by Kuchma's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, who bugged the president's office for several months last summer and subsequently publicized the tapes allegedly proving the complicity of Kuchma and other top officials in the disappearance of Gongadze, an outspoken critic of the ruling regime, on 16 September last year.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz publicized the Melnychenko tapes on 28 November. It is now almost three months since the Gongadze case made headlines in the Ukrainian and world press, but nothing has been definitively clarified since then.

Officially, a body found near Kyiv and widely believed to be Gongadze's was identified by genetic tests as Gongadze's only "to the extent of 99.6 percent." And this means, that Gongadze is not dead from the legal point of view. As Gongadze's wife told the Ekho Moskvy radio station, "if there is no crime, then there is no perpetrator of the crime."

Officially, the Melnychenko tapes have been dismissed as a fake. The Prosecutor-General's Office -- in an enigmatic statement early this month -- said some conversations on the tapes actually took place but on the whole the tapes were "compiled from separate words and fragments, which is essentially a falsification."

Kuchma himself has flatly denied any involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze, telling the "Financial Times" that he did not even know the journalist. He said the bugging scandal was staged by a "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and capabilities," but failed to identify that force.

Some 60 lawmakers and opposition politicians set up a Forum for National Salvation earlier this month with the aim of impeaching Kuchma and transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or even parliamentary republic. But the group has so far failed to muster any significant support outside Kyiv. The authorities counterattacked by arresting former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, a prominent member of the forum, on charges of bribery, smuggling, tax evasion, and document forgery.

Kuchma has simply shrugged off the current anti- presidential protests in Ukraine, saying he does not see any "civilized" opposition to himself within the framework of "Ukraine Without Kuchma" rallies. This statement may mean, among other things, that he is now ready to use not quite "civilized" means to deal with his opponents. As for the Forum for National Salvation, Kuchma said in a written statement that the group is not seeking salvation for the nation but "for themselves from political bankruptcy and oblivion...[and] criminal responsibility." Many were shocked that this statement was also signed by Premier Viktor Yushchenko, who has so far preserved the image of an independent politician, apparently not involved in shady economic deals or dirty political games in Ukraine. The Forum for National Salvation objected that Yushchenko's siding with Kuchma "contradicts both God's and human laws." This may be, incidentally, true, but Yushchenko's decision surely does not contradict the common sense of a man who occupies a leading position and wants to remain there as long as possible. Yushchenko is now 46, and some 50 percent of Ukrainians believe he stands a good chance of becoming Ukraine's next president. If Kuchma dismissed him now, his prospects of remaining in the spotlight until next presidential elections would be rather uncertain.

How could Kuchma survive the current political unrest virtually unscathed? The answer is very simple: because neither the West nor Russia actually wants him to step down. Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent talks with Kuchma in Dnipropetrovsk signaled to many that Moscow wants to extend a helping hand to the Ukrainian president in order to seek some profits for Russia in Ukraine from the bugging scandal. The West, which has been carefully portioning its financial and moral support to Kuchma in a bid to prevent Ukraine from siding with Russia too strongly, may be somewhat baffled as to what to do now. However, the fact that there has so far not been even a hint of disapproval from major Western leaders for how Kuchma is behaving means only one thing: the West wants him to survive and continue his course.

Paradoxically, one of the victims of the bugging scandal may be Ukraine's moderate nationalist right- wing, which supports Kuchma politically in the parliament in the so-called parliamentary majority. Why "national democrats" support Kuchma is obvious, although commentators perhaps do not always dwell on the reason: because the "national democrats" traded their support for former Communist Party apparatchik Kuchma for his agreement to "Ukrainianize" Ukraine -- to establish a truly Ukrainian education system, first of all. Arguably, nobody will deny that building the Ukrainian nation not only in the corridors of powers but also in people's minds warrants some political sacrifices and compromises. But now the question has arisen: Is this one compromise too many?


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