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Newsline - February 22, 2001




MOSCOW PLAYS DOWN SPY CASES IN U.S. AND SWEDEN...

Boris Labusov, the head of the press bureau of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), said on 21 February that spy scandals like the one involving the arrest of FBI officer Philip Hanssen in the United States, "must not cast a shadow on government-to-government relations," Interfax reported. Former FSB director Nikolai Kovalev said that media speculation about that case and others is overblown, the Russian news service said. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" said the same day that the unmasking of Hanssen may have been linked to the defection of Russian diplomat Sergei Tretyakov in New York last fall. Duma Foreign Relations Committee chairman (Peoples Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin said that what he called "a trivial" spy scandal is being played up by Washington for its own political goals, including distracting attention from its attack on Iraq. He told Interfax that the spy case in Sweden is intended to cast a shadow on President Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit there in March. PG

PLAYS UP SUCCESS OF SOVIET SPIES

On 21 February, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) released a book about the successes of Soviet intelligence operations against the United States in the past, Russian and Western agencies reported. Entitled "They Stole the Bomb for the Soviets," the book includes documents and reminiscences of Soviet agents who penetrated the U.S. Manhattan Project during World War II. One of the authors, Nikolai Dolgopolov, told journalists that "these are people who worked not for the fun of espionage. These people worked to maintain the parity of the world's two superpowers. They were able to do this, and many thanks to them for this. You and I are alive. Parity was maintained." Another author, Yuri Sokolov, said that agents he has trained during the last ten years have had "certain positive results." PG

PUTIN ORDERS LAND CODE PREPARED

President Putin told the State Council on 21 February that the government must propose a draft land code by 1 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that the draft law must be prepared with extreme care so as not to take land from those who most need it, and it must recognize regional and local needs. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that only Putin's "authority" could make the introduction of such a code possible: "three years from now, it will already be too late," he added. Supporters and opponents of the free sale of land immediately began to restate their positions, Russian media reported. PG

RUSSIAN DEBT DETAILED

Finance Ministry officials said that Russia's current foreign debt is approximately $148.7 billion, of which about $103 billion is Soviet-era debt, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. He added that the internal state debt will be 610.5 billion rubles ($21.6 billion) by the end of the year. "Tribuna" suggested the same day that the government is not making enough use of other Russian assets -- including gold reserves and property abroad -- to pay on the debt. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the Emerging Markets Debt Trading Association is pressing for the restructuring of Russia's debt to the Paris Club lest failure to do so hurt not only the Russian economy but the economies of all other emerging markets. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS RETURN OF RUSSIAN SHIP THAT FLED

Russian officials have asked the Japanese to return a ship that fled on 20 February from Russian waters, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russian coast guard vessels fired on the ship as it fled, and Russian officials said they would bring charges against the captain. PG

PUTIN CHAIRS MEETING ON EXPORT CONTROL

President Putin chaired a session of the Russian Security Council late on 21 February to discuss measures to tighten export controls, Interfax reported. Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov gave the main report, but the news service reported no additional details. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said in St. Petersburg on 21 February that Russia currently loses some $5 billion every year as a result of the theft of information from its computer networks and that the government must improve security in that area, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin directed the government and the Central Bank to draft a program for liberalizing hard currency exchanges, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

PUTIN THANKS ORGANIZERS OF SOCIAL MILITARY FUND

President Putin on 21 February thanked the social, religious, and economic supporters of the new fund set up to help those who have suffered during military actions and while fulfilling their official duties, Russian agencies reported. He said that the government's ability to help is limited and therefore "we could not deal with the situation without the help of society, religious confessions and business circles." Leading Russian businessmen have pledged to collect 1.5 billion rubles ($53 million) this year alone. PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES U.S. RESPONSE TO NON-STRATEGIC MISSILE DEFENSE PLAN

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 21 February after his meeting with his Irish counterpart Brian Cowan that Moscow welcomes the "constructive approach" of the U.S. toward Russian proposals to build a European non-strategic missile defense system, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov added that the Russian proposals are only "one of the ways" to solve the problem and could be subject to discussion. PG

COMMUNISTS HAVE SIGNATURES FOR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

As of 21 February, communist and other left-wing deputies had collected 93 signatures on a petition for a no-confidence vote in the government, three more than needed to do so, Russian and Western agencies reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told "Kommersant-Daily" in an interview published on 21 February that this step simply fulfills the will of the voters: 82 percent of Russia's citizens feel that over the past year they have begun to live more poorly than before, he said. Many deputies, including those from Yabloko, said they might vote for the no confidence measure, but Russian newspapers were unanimous that the vote would fail and that the fate of Prime Minister Kasyanov would be decided in the Kremlin and not in the Duma. PG

DUMA RATIFIES TAJIKISTAN BASING ACCORD

The Duma on 21 February unanimously (with 374 voting in favor) ratified a treaty with Tajikistan on the status of Russian military bases there, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, "Krasnaya zvezda" carried an interview with Maksim Peshkov, the Russian ambassador in Dushanbe, in which he said that Central Asia remains in Russia's sphere of influence. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" carried an interview with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in which he reaffirmed that for Tajikistan, "Russia is our chief strategic ally." PG

DUMA VOTES TO HALT DEORBITING OF 'MIR'

On a vote of 298 for, three against with one abstention, the Duma passed a resolution calling on President Putin to halt the government's decision to let the 'Mir' space station crash into the Pacific Ocean in March, Russian agencies reported. The resolution was introduced by deputies Svetlana Savitskaya (Communist) and Vitalii Sevastyanov (Communist), two former cosmonauts. But most deputies based their vote on the need to maintain a platform capable of responding to the U.S. decision to build NMD, Reuters reported. PG

A BUSY DAY IN THE DUMA

In other actions on 21 February, the Duma repassed the law liberalizing the country's criminal policies which the Federation Council voted against in January, adopted modifications of the pension laws, ratified an agreement with Belarus on the introduction of a single currency, and ratified unanimously an accord on search and rescue operations in the Black Sea, Russian agencies reported. Also on 21 February, it rejected in first reading a draft law on personal documents and refused to take up a resolution sponsored by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia calling on President Putin to unilaterally lift sanctions on Iraq. It also asked the parliament's Ethics Committee to discuss comments by Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov directed against Communist deputies, Interfax reported. PG

DRAFT CENSUS LAW READY FOR DUMA

Vladimir Sokolin, the chairman of the State Statistics Committee, said on 21 February that his agency had completed the drafting of a bill on the census for Duma consideration, Interfax reported. He said that the law is required by the 24th paragraph of the Constitution and is needed to begin organizing for the next census now planned for October 2002. He added that almost 500,000 people will be involved in collecting data on the population at that time. PG

CONSOLIDATION OF COMMUNICATIONS FIRMS URGED

Communications Minister Leonid Reiman was quoted by "The Wall Street Journal" in an article printed on 21 February as saying that Russian communications companies should be consolidated into seven regional bodies in order to attract additional Western investment and increase efficiency. In a speech in St. Petersburg the same day, Reiman said that the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States must increase their agreement on all issues of international affairs, Interfax reported. PG

MEDIA MINISTRY UNDERMINES ITS OWN CREDIBILITY

An article in the 21 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the media ministry and the Russian government have once again disowned a statement by a ministry official, this time a suggestion by Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigorev that Moscow plans a one-year moratorium on issuing licenses for media outlets. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). Such frequent "trial balloons," none of which are ever implemented, have called the ministry's credibility into question, the paper said. PG

SPECULATION GROWS ABOUT BORODIN'S ARREST

Now that Russia-Belarus Union state secretary Pavel Borodin has been in detention in New York since 17 January, Russians are advancing ever more theories to explain his arrest, "Argumenty i Fakty" reported on 21 February. The paper reported on five basic explanations ranging from simple law enforcement to an effort by President Putin to get rid of officials from the Yeltsin period to possible American interest in seizing Russian funds illegally exported to the United States or in concealing relations between Russian and American groups involved with this money. Borodin's next extradition hearing is now scheduled for 30 April. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ARAFAT

Igor Ivanov has telephoned Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to say that Russia will make "energetic efforts" to promote a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. Also on 21 February, presidential special representative for the Middle East Vasilii Sredin called for reducing tensions on the Israeli-Lebanon border, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW TO PUSH RUSSIAN LANGUAGE ABROAD

The Foreign Ministry collegium on 21 February directed Russian diplomats to work to strengthen the position of the Russian language around the world, Interfax reported. The ministry called for particular attention to be devoted to the use of Russian in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. PG

RUSSIA TO BEGIN CONSTRUCTION OF SECOND REACTOR IN IRAN

Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Reshetnikov said on 21 February that Russia will begin this year the construction of a second reactor at the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

FSB SAYS NATO CAN QUICKLY THREATEN KALININGRAD

Georgii Sotnikov, the chief of the FSB administration in Kaliningrad, said that NATO can mobilize within 20 days sufficient forces to overwhelm the Russian group of forces there, Interfax and BNS reported on 21 February. He said that Polish and Lithuanian military units are already increasing their presence near the Russian border and that Western "special services did not reduce the level of their activities" in the Russian exclave during 2000. PG

RUSSIAN JOURNALIST DETAINED IN CHECHNYA

Russian troops detained Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist with "Novaya gazeta," on 21 February in Chechnya's southern Vedeno Raion for traveling without the requisite documents and failing to register with the press center of the North Caucasus Group of Forces, Reuters and Interfax reported. A spokesman for Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that Politkovskaya will be flown to Mozdok as soon as weather conditions permit. LF

CHECHNYA BRACES FOR ANNIVERSARY ATTACKS...

Security measures in Chechnya have been intensified in anticipation that field commanders will stage terrorist acts on 23 February, the anniversary of the mass deportation of the Chechen and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944, Interfax reported on 21 February quoting the Chechen administration press service. In a televised address on 20 February, administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said the militants plan to try to seize the towns of Gudermes and Kurchaloi and his native village of Tsentoroi on 23 February, but expressed confidence that those attacks will fail. LF

...AS PREMIER, DUMA DEPUTY CALL FOR GREATER FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov was quoted by "Novaya gazeta" on 19 February as advocating that the curfew in Chechnya be lifted, that the number of road-blocks be reduced, and that air and rail transport be made more efficient, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported. Ilyasov said he believes it will be possible to secure the agreement of the military for lifting the curfew. Speaking in Moscow on 21 February, Chechen administration head Kadyrov and Duma deputy for Chechnya Aslanbek Aslakhanov similarly called for a reduction in the number of roadblocks. Aslakhanov had told Interfax two weeks earlier that no Chechen field commander has ever been detained at a road block, and that the "cold, hungry and lice-infested" servicemen who man such posts are engaged solely in taking bribes, and making the local population nervous. Aslakhanov said that dispensing with the road blocks would "help stabilize the situation in the republic," according to ITAR-TASS. Kadyrov similarly said the road-blocks are "no longer necessary," and their number should be cut by 70 percent. LF

CHECHEN CLERGY, FORMER PREMIER ENDORSE KADYROV

More than 40 members of the Chechen clergy have addressed an open letter to President Putin affirming their support for Chechen administration head Kadyrov, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. Arguing that no other aspirant to the role of Chechen leader is capable of replacing Kadyrov, the signatories urge Putin "to continue to back Akhmed Kadyrov in his difficult and courageous effort" to revive Chechnya. They further express their gratitude to the Russian president for his "wisdom and foresight" in selecting Kadyrov for the post of administration head. Presidential aide Yastrzhembskii greeted the open letter as a sign of "consolidation" among the various Chechen clans. Also on 21 February, former Chechen Prime Minister Doku Zavgaev, who is now Russia's ambassador to Tanzania, praised the appointment of Kadyrov who, Zavgaev said, showed courage in rejecting the "criminal ideology" espoused by President Aslan Maskhadov and field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, Interfax reported. LF

GENERAL COMPARES CHECHNYA TO POST-1945 BALTIC RESISTANCE

In an interview published in "Obshchaya gazeta," no. 7, Major General Vladimir Dudnik said that the conflict in Chechnya is not a guerrilla war. Instead, he said, it resembles the resistance Soviet forces encountered in the Baltic states after 1945. "The Baltic region was conquered only in 1956," he said. "We finally conquered the Baltics and then let them go in 1991." He said that the Russian army "will never obey the Chekists" whom President Putin has put in charge of the operation, and he suggested that it is Putin, not Russia, "who needs this war." "Is the price not too high?" he concluded by asking. PG

RUSSIAN BANK-OWNED COMPANY BUYS MARK RICH FIRM

Crown Resources, a Swiss company owned by the Russian financial concern Alpha Group said on 21 February that it had reached final agreement to purchase the Marc Rich investment trade corporation, ITAR-TASS reported. Rich was recently pardoned by former President Bill Clinton in a case that has sparked controversy in the United States. PG

TASTE FOR SWEETS CAN LEAD TO DRUG ABUSE

Yakov Marshak, a Russian specialist on narcotics use, said on 21 February that an unusual craving for candies can lead to drug use among the young, Interfax reported. He said that 20 percent of all Russian drug abusers are schoolchildren, and most of them come from well-to-do families. PG

WAGE ARREARS INCREASE IN JANUARY

Wage arrears in Russia increased by 1.8 percent in January 2001, Interfax reported on 21 February, citing the State Statistics Committee. Now employers in that country owe a total of 32.264 billion rubles ($1.16 billion) to their workers. PG

URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE AT 'EDGE OF CATASTROPHE'

"Argumenty i Fakty" on 21 February said that the entire urban infrastructure is "at the edge of catastrophe," with the number of breakdowns per 100 kilometers of pipes and wires having risen to 70 compared to a rate of only 15-20 annually in the early 1990s and a rate of under ten in European countries. PG

RUSSIAN DRAFTEES STILL FEAR BEATINGS IN ARMY

"Argumenty i Fakty" on 22 February reported that 78 percent of new Russian draftees fear that they will be beaten by more senior soldiers, a practice known as "dedovshchina." The paper said they have good reasons for such fears: crime in the military rose 30.6 percent from 1999 to 2000. PG

CRIME UP IN MOSCOW, MORE ILLEGAL RESIDENTS EXPELLED

Moscow police officials said on 21 February that some 15,000 people from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States live in Moscow illegally, Interfax reported. The officials said that approximately 150,000 foreigners in the Russian capital violated residence rules in 2000 and that about 4,000 of them were expelled from the city. In addition, officials reported, the number of crimes in the Russian capital jumped by 23.4 percent between January 2000 and January 2001. Also on 21 February, Moscow city deputies voted not to agree to the assignment of Viktor Shvidkin as head of the city administration responsible for the police, Interfax-Moscow reported. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH SAYS TAX NUMBERS NOT SIGN OF ANTI-CHRIST

A meeting of senior Russian Orthodox churchmen said on 21 February that the use of tax numbers is no sin and that the chance appearance of 666 in the sequence of 12 numbers every Russian tax payer will be assigned is not the mark of the anti-Christ, Russian agencies reported. PG

MORDOVIA HEAD FINDS NOVEL SOLUTION TO UNPAID WAGE PROBLEM

Mordovia Republic head Nikolai Merkushkin has signed a decree which requires workers in local self-rule bodies to pay their own wages only after those of state sector workers have been paid, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 February. Unpaid wages to state sector workers such as teachers and doctors remains a chronic problem in some Russian regions, and in Mordovia the backlog of unpaid wages has reached three months and totals 17 million rubles ($592,000). In municipalities where there is an existing salary backlog, the decree defines the percentage of revenues that should be directed towards the wages of budget workers. Under the decree, the republic's finance ministry is empowered to suspend the wages to local government officials who violate the decree. JAC

POLITICAL OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO FACE HARASSMENT IN KALMYKIA

The political opposition to Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov intends to oppose a third term for that leader, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 February. Ilyumzhinov recently announced that he will seek a third term during elections scheduled for 2002. Tamara Marlaeva, member of the movement, "People Against the Regime of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov," charges that Ilyzumzhinov's rule has been "ruinous" for the local population. She told RFE/RL that the unofficial level of unemployment in the republic is more than 23 percent and the average wage is only a little more than 50 percent of the average wage for Russia as a whole. While gathering statistical information about the republic, Marlaeva and her sister, Gulnara, were beaten by unknown men in masks who demanded that they stop such activities. Former editor of the opposition newspaper "Sovetskaya Kalmykiya" Gennadii Yudin told RFE/RL that Ilyumzhinov has taken over the publication, which recently published 15 photographs of Kalmykia's president on the occasion of his birthday. JAC

KUZBASS CANDIDATE COMES OUT AGAINST NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 21 February and an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the previous day, former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev spoke out against legislation that will allow the import of spent nuclear fuel into Russia. That legislation was passed by the State Duma in its first reading last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000). Tuleev told "Izvestiya" that "apparently, the market for nuclear waste is the only market" which in the near future will be completely ours: "we will face no competition." He continued that the "civilized West" no longer has the headache of what to do with its nuclear waste, "since there is Russia, which is volunteering to take foreign poison." According to Tuleev, the area around the Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk Oblast which processes spent nuclear fuel has radiation levels ten times higher than normal. Tuleev recently resigned from office and intends to run again in elections scheduled April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2001). JAC




ARMENIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT FACTION PLEDGES FAIR TRIAL IN 27 OCTOBER KILLINGS

The Miasnutiun parliament faction issued a statement on 20 February pledging to do all in its power to ensure that the 13 men accused of perpetrating the 27 October parliament shootings receive a fair trial, Noyan Tapan reported. The leaders of Miasnutiun's two constitutent parties, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, died in that attack. LF

NEW ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL APPOINTED

President Robert Kocharian on 21 February named Yerevan City Prosecutor Aram Tamazian as prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Tamazian, who is 49 and has spent his career in the law enforcement sector, succeeds Boris Nazarian, who stepped down earlier this month for reasons that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). "Azg" claimed on 22 February that Nazarian did not expect that Kocharian would accept his resignation. The paper expressed approval of Tamazian, saying that he has a "clean professional background." LF

EU TROIKA CONTINUES TOUR OF SOUTH CAUCASUS

EU chair and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, EU Foreign and Security Policy High Representative Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten held talks in Tbilisi on 21 February with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. Lindh told journalists the talks focused on stability in the South Caucasus and resolving conflicts in Georgia. She said the EU is ready to help Tbilisi in the search for a solution to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in implementing reforms. But she warned that it is still too early to speak of the possible accession to the EU of the three South Caucasus states. Solana similarly avoided giving a direct answer when asked to comment on Georgia's chances of joining NATO, ITAR-TASS reported. From Tbilisi, the EU officials flew to Baku for talks the same day with President Heidar Aliev, Russian agencies reported. Aliyev affirmed his country's intention of seeking EU membership but did not specify when. He rejected Lindh's proposal, which echoed earlier suggestions by Armenian President Kocharian, that economic cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan could expedite a solution to the Karabakh conflict. As he had done previously, Aliyev said a solution to that conflict is a precondition for any such economic cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2000). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION WARNS AGAINST 'DEFEATIST' KARABAKH PEACE

At least three Azerbaijani opposition party leaders have rejected the OSCE Minsk Group's draft Karabakh peace proposals, which were published for the first time in the Azerbaijani press on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). Their publication has been widely construed in Azerbaijan as indicating that Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian will sign a peace agreement at their upcoming meeting in Paris, Turan reported on 21 February. Liberal Party chairwoman Lala-Shovket Gadjieva said all three published Minsk Group proposals require "an unconditional surrender" by Azerbaijan, while Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar said at least one of those proposals violates the Azerbaijani Constitution. Ali Kerimov, the chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, said all three drafts run counter to Azerbaijan's national interests. LF

SEVEN SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF AZERBAIJANI HISTORIAN

Azerbaijan's Supreme Court on 21 February passed sentence on seven men in connection with the murder of prominent historian Zia Buniatov four years earlier, Turan and Reuters reported. Two men charged with committing the killing were sentenced to life imprisonment, while the remaining five received prison terms ranging from ten to 14 years. The man believed to have masterminded the assassination remains at large. The court affirmed a connection between the accused and the Vilayati Hezbollah-al-Fagikh terrorist organization and claimed that they had undergone training in Iran. Iran's ambassador to Baku has repeatedly denied any Iranian involvement in Buniatov's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000 and 8 February 2001). LF

GEORGIAN CURRENCY'S DOWNWARD SLIDE CONTINUES

Georgia's lari lost another 3.8 percent against the U.S. dollar on 21 February, slipping from 2.0825 to 2.165 to the dollar, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). Georgian National Bank officials, however, downplayed the lari's downward slide which they attributed to "seasonal factors" and the deterioration in the balance of payments resulting from increased fuel imports. They said the bank will not intervene even if the lari loses further in value, and predicted that the currency will stabilize in two to three weeks. LF

ABKHAZ REPRESENTATION DENIES REPORTS OF PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

The Abkhaz representation in Moscow has formally denied Georgian media reports that President Vladislav Ardzinba has stepped down and his duties have devolved on Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 February. The representation noted that under the Abkhaz Constitution, it is the vice president who takes over the presidential duties should the president resign or become incapacitated. Georgian papers have repeatedly claimed in recent weeks that Ardzinba is suffering from Parkinson's disease. LF

U.S. AMBASSADOR AFFIRMS CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR KAZAKHSTAN

Ambassador Richard Jones told journalists in Almaty on 21 February that proceeding from "national interests," the new U.S. administration will continue to give high priority to relations with Astana, Reuters reported. Jones said the U.S. wants to help Kazakhstan develop its energy resources, adding that Washington hopes Astana's choice of pipeline routes for its Caspian oil coincides with U.S. interests. Jones said the OKIOC consortium was within its rights in selecting Italy's AGIP to operate that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001), but admitted that the U.S. had hoped Exxon-Mobil would be chosen for that role. Jones said that the U.S. supports Kazakhstan's planned military reform, noting that stability in Central Asia will facilitate the unimpeded export of hydrocarbons. He added that Washington will provide $4 million in 2001 to help Kazakhstan reinforce its borders, Interfax reported. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PAPER HALTS PUBLICATION

The editorial board of the opposition weekly "Res Publika" said on 21 February that publication of the paper has been suspended, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The publishing house Uchkun has been ordered not to print further issues of "Res Publika" until the paper pays a fine of 200,000 soms ($7,000 at the 1999 exchange rate) imposed two years ago for publishing an open letter by employees of State Radio and Television criticizing that body's chairman, Amanbek Karypkulov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April and 3 May 1999 and 18 January 2000). LF

KYRGYZ ALARMED BY EXTENT OF CORRUPTION

According to a poll of 2,100 people conducted by the independent center Vox Populi, which receives some funding from the U. N. Development Program, 90 percent of respondents said they consider the police the most corrupt agency in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 21 February. Some 40 percent said the country's leadership is powerless to stem corruption, while 15.5 percent said economic reforms in Kyrgyzstan are unlikely to succeed because of widespread corruption. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MORE INTENSIVE ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA

In his 21 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" interview (see above), Imomali Rakhmonov expressed regret that the level of economic cooperation between his country and Russia has stagnated over the past three-four years. He expressed bewilderment that Russia has shown no interest in the joint development either of Tajikistan's Koni Mansur silver deposit (the world's largest) or of the country's hydropower resources, and noted that the U.K., rather than Russia, has formed a joint venture with Tajikistan to develop the country's Zerafshan gold deposit. Rakhmonov pointed out that Tajikistan is the only CIS member state to have fulfilled 99 percent of the agreements signed by CIS heads of state. LF




BELARUSIAN TRADE UNION LEADER CRITICIZES LUKASHENKA'S RULE

"The president's business is not to plow or sow but to consolidate society," Trade Union Federation leader Uladzimir Hancharyk said, commenting on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's term in office, Belapan reported on 21 February. Hancharyk credited the government for achieving relative stability in society but slammed it for giving too many privileges to "bureaucrats" and for "alcoholizing" the population. Hancharyk, who is considering running for president this year, said Lukashenka has already begun his presidential campaign on Belarusian Television despite the fact that it has not been announced officially. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO RESIGN OVER MISSING JOURNALIST CASE

Leonid Kuchma said on 21 February he will not step down because of the allegations of his complicity in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. "I won't even talk on this topic," Kuchma said during a call-in interview with readers of the Kyiv-based "Fakty" newspaper. "I want to tell people: you need to believe in your country, you need to believe your president. I am looking in your eyes and I am ready to swear on the Bible and the Constitution that I have never, under no circumstances given an order to destroy a man," Kuchma said in the section of the interview that was broadcast the same day by the ICTV television channel. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL IGNORES PARLIAMENT'S SUMMONS

Mykhaylo Potebenko on 21 February ignored a summons from the parliament to report on the crime situation in the country, including providing information on the investigation into the Gongadze case, Interfax reported. The previous day, Potebenko said Ukraine's Prosecutor-General's Office is not answerable to the parliament. Some 100 protesters outside the parliament building demanded that Potebenko be dismissed, accusing him of dragging his feet in the investigation of Gongadze's disappearance. "[It is necessary] to release the people from such persons as Mr. Potebenko," Gongadze's mother told the parliament on 22 February, adding that "I am a reflection of the society that has been created by Mr. Potebenko and Mr. President." JM

SACKED UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER FACES MORE CHARGES

The Prosecutor-General's Office has charged Yuliya Tymoshenko, former deputy premier in Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet, with "hiding hard-currency earnings, organizing the hiding of hard-currency earnings, and large-scale theft of state assets," Interfax reported on 21 February. Previously Tymoshenko was charged with bribery, smuggling, tax evasion, and document forgery. Most of Tymoshenko's alleged crimes were said to have been committed in 1996-97 when she headed Unified Energy Systems. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod said the new charges pertain to metal contracts that allowed the Unified Energy Systems to hide $181.53 million abroad in 1996-99, and to steal 14.11 million hryvni ($2.6 million) in VAT returns. JM

CRIMEAN LAWMAKERS SCUFFLE OVER BUDGET DEBATE

The prolonged confrontation between parliamentary adherents of Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn and Crimean parliament speaker Leonid Hrach triggered a scuffle on 21 February during the legislative debate on the autonomous republic's budget for this year, Interfax reported. Hrach said lawmakers need to make substantial changes in the budget draft in order to bring it in line with Ukrainian legislation. Kunitsyn, however, read a letter from Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov saying the draft fully conforms with Ukrainian legislation and the Crimean constitution. Lawmakers from both camps resorted to fisticuffs to resolve the controversy. JM

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER DEEMED RESPONSIBLE FOR SHOOTING SCANDAL

Armed Forces Commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts told the parliament's defense commission that the investigation ordered by President Lennart Meri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001) has revealed that Mart Laar participated in the shooting at a photograph of Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar at the Nursi military base in May 1999, ETA reported on 21 February. After regular target practice with an assault rifle and a machine gun, supervised by defense forces officers and during which no violations of regulations were observed, the premier's party used a handgun and a pump-action shotgun to shoot at Savisaar's photograph. Commenting that the report showed Laar in an extremely unfavorable light, Commission chairman Tiit Tammsaar called on the prime minister to resign. SG

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER INVITES RUSSIAN COUNTERPART TO RIGA

In talks on 21 February with departing Russian ambassador to Riga Aleksandr Udaltsov, Andris Berzins noted recent positive tendencies in their countries' relations and reiterated the invitation to his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov to visit Latvia, BNS reported. Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins during a visit to Moscow in January had invited leading Russian officials to visit Riga. Transportation Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs is expected to hand the written invitation to Russian government representative Aleksandr Blokhin, his co-chairman in the Latvian-Russian bilateral intergovernmental commission, at their scheduled meeting at the end of March. No exact date for the meeting of the prime ministers has been set. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS INDIA

Valdas Adamkus began his official visit to India on 20 February with a red carpet ceremony at the presidential palace in New Dehli hosted by his Indian counterpart Kocheril Raman Narayanan, ELTA reported. Adamkus participated in the signing of three inter-governmental treaties dealing with economic and technical co-operation, air transport, and cultural relations by Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis and Jaswant Singh. He also attended a meeting of Lithuanian and Indian businessmen at a conference held by the Indian Confederation of Industrialists. On 21 February Adamkus toured the city of Agra and met with opposition leader Sonia Gandhi with whom he discussed bilateral relations, Lithuania's progress in EU integration as well as Adamkus's experience in environmental work in the U.S. Adamkus will leave India on 23 February after visiting the city of Mumbay. SG

POLAND'S FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER CLEARED OF LUSTRATION LIE CHARGE

The Lustration Court on 21 February ruled that former Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Janusz Tomaszewski did not lie in his lustration statement saying that he did not collaborate with the communist-era secret services, Polish media reported. The verdict is not binding, and Lustration Prosecutor Boguslaw Nizienski said he will appeal it. Tomaszewski resigned from Jerzy Buzek's cabinet in September 1999 amid rumors that his lustration case was instigated by his party colleagues from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). "He was outmaneuvered by colleagues like [Solidarity head Marian] Krzaklewski and Co... Krzaklewski should quit leading Solidarity. He does not deserve it. He sold cheaply the colleague who built the AWS," former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa commented. Tomaszewski is the highest-ranking casualty of the 1998 lustration law. His lustration case lasted 13 months. JM

POLISH PREMIER'S ADVISER RESIGNS OVER REMARK ON AIRSTRIKES AGAINST IRAQ

Jerzy Marek Nowakowski, Premier Jerzy Buzek's adviser for foreign policy, handed in his resignation on 21 February. Commenting last week on the U.S.-British air raids on Iraq, Nowakowski said they constituted a "resolute gesture of the U.S. new administration" toward the Middle East, Russia, and its own society. Nowakowski also noted that there is "no reason for us not to have understanding for the action." He added, however, that he made that statement as an expert and that it was not an official statement of the Foreign Ministry. Nowakowski's remark apparently become the pretext for Iraq to break off trade contracts with Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). JM

POLISH JUSTICE MINISTER TO BE SUED BY FORMER PRESIDENT'S AIDES

Lech Falandysz, former President Lech Walesa's legal adviser, said he will sue Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski for abuse of power and unlawful dissemination of information about preparatory legal proceedings, Polish media reported. Falandysz said he will also sue Kaczynski on behalf of Mieczyslaw Wachowski, another Walesa aide. This week Kaczynski ordered an investigation into whether Walesa's two aides accepted bribes to urge him to pardon a suspected gang leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). Meanwhile, the leftist daily "Trybuna," quoting a repenting gangster, has accused two Walesa aides, identified as Lech F. and Mieczyslaw W., of taking a bribe of $150,000 for pardoning gang leader Andrzej Zielinski in 1993. Kaczynski denied handing over any materials about the bribery investigation to anyone. JM

NATO CHIEF CONCERNED WITH CZECH ARMY'S EFFICIENCY, NOT FIGHTERS...

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, on a two-day visit to Prague, on 21 February expressed concern with the pace of modernization in the Czech armed forces and the efficiency with which resources are applied, CTK reported. Despite reports prior to his arrival that he would take issue with the planned purchase of up to 36 new fighters, at a cost of 100 billion crowns ($2.6 billion), Robertson said that this was a decision for the Czech government. After meeting with Robertson on 21 February, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that Robertson believes that the Czech Republic could fulfill all its obligations if it allocated the money available to the Defense Ministry differently. He added that the country has fulfilled its promise to spend 2.2 percent of GDP on defense. DW

...LOOKS FORWARD TO NATO SUMMIT IN PRAGUE

After meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel in the hospital where Havel is currently recovering from acute bronchitis, Secretary-General Robertson said the NATO summit to be held in Prague in the fall would be historic, whatever its outcome, CTK reported 21 February. It will be the first to be held in a former communist country. This should "send an encouraging signal to other enlargement candidates," said Foreign Minister Kavan, adding that "the Czech Republic supports a policy of open doors," and that it is particularly interested in the admission of Slovakia to the alliance. DW

CZECH TENDER FOR FIGHTERS A FRONT?

An opposition deputy has charged that the tender the Czech government has announced for the purchase of up to 36 fighter planes may just be a show, and that it has already decided to award the contract to a British company. "It's common knowledge here [in parliament] that the...tender for the...supersonic aircraft is a mere smokescreen which is to enable the government to let British Aerospace win the tender because it has been lobbied by the company," said Jan Zahradil, shadow foreign minister for the opposition Civic Democratic Party, according to CTK on 21 February. No member of the government was willing to comment on that claim, although Foreign Minister Kavan said, "The government is certainly lobbied by all of the possible groups representing the five offers which we have." DW

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER MAY PAY FOR ARMY'S PROBLEMS

Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy may be dismissed soon based upon revelations of the poor preparedness and financial state of the Czech armed forces, CTK reported citing "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 22 February. According to a document the Defense Ministry sent to NATO and which the paper has at its disposal, the Czech rapid deployment brigade will not have modern equipment enabling it to operate outside the country until 2005, and the ministry will also not be able to purchase Patriot anti-aircraft missiles as promised. "The state of [Vetchy's] office is in such a terrible condition that it cannot be worse irrespective of who heads it," a ministry source told the paper. DW

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT ENDS CONSTITUTION BILL DEBATE

The parliament on 21 February concluded the two-week debate on a constitution amendment bill. TASR commented that following a vote in favor of closing the debate, some opposition lawmakers were "furious." The parliament is expected on 23 February to begin a "voting process" to pass the bill. Meanwhile, a poll released the same day said 43.2 percent of Slovaks believe constitutional amendments are necessary, 23.8 percent oppose them, and 33 percent are undecided. JM

SLOVAK TRADE UNION THREATENS BORDER BLOCKADES

The KOVO trade union, which unites some 100,000 employees of steel plants and engineering companies, has threatened to stage a series of protests in early March to demand higher wages and a reduction in unemployment, CTK reported on 22 February. KOVO chairman Emil Machyna said the trade union is ready to block the 20 most popular border crossings as well as some companies' premises. "In the event that our demands are not met, we will stage long-term protests including sit-in strikes," Machyna added. JM

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDER OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR GROUP LEADERSHIP

In an attempt to remove from his post Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) parliamentary group leader Attila Bank, FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 21 February called for a screening of the group's finances. Torgyan claims that in fact he is the FKGP's parliamentary group leader, as a document was found in the party's archives allegedly proving that he was elected to the post in 1998. However, Laszlo Gyarmathy, the chief of staff of the Speaker of Parliament, says that available documents show that the FKGP elected Bank as group leader in June 1998. Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio that he "no longer can follow what is going on in the FKGP," but noted that he must ensure a parliamentary majority for the governing coalition. MSZ

HUNGARY SEEKS EXTRADITION OF ROMA FROM FRANCE

The French Justice Ministry on 21 February received a request filed by the Hungarian Justice Ministry seeking the extradition of two Roma women currently residing in Strasbourg while they seek asylum in France. The extradition of the two women, who come from the Hungarian village of Zamoly, was requested as part of an ongoing investigation into the death of a man during a scuffle between Roma from Zamoly and three youths from a neighboring village in 1999. Jozsef Krasznai, spokesman for the Zamoly Romany currently residing in France, said the extradition application is part of a campaign aimed at discrediting the group. MSZ




BALKAN SUMMIT OPENS IN MACEDONIA

Heads of state or government from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, as well as a representative from Croatia, are due in Skopje on 22 February for the opening of a two-day summit. The gathering will begin with bilateral talks between some delegations and a meeting of economy ministers. Heads of state and government are due to meet the following day. The security situation in Presevo and Kosova is expected to overshadow the meeting. PM

NATO 'ENCOURAGED' BY TALKS IN PRESEVO

A NATO "fact-finding" delegation visited the Presevo Valley on 21 February and held separate talks with Serbian and Albanian leaders. Major General Robert Dierker told Reuters that the Serbs, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and army chief-of-staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic, "want to not have any more fighting, any more people dying, and they want to solve [the problem] peacefully." The NATO delegation also met with Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi and other local Albanian officials. Shawn Sullivan, who is political adviser to KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu, said in Bujanovac that he is convinced that the two sides will soon hold talks. Representatives of the UN and EU were also present in the NATO delegation. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS READY FOR TALKS

Halimi said in Presevo on 21 February that the Albanians are "always for dialogue" but do not want "imposed solutions or ultimatums" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). He added that talks without representatives of the guerrillas would be "pointless" and that Covic's plan for the region constitutes a "starting point" for negotiations but is not the last word, AP reported. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW

Zoran Djindjic arrived in the Russian capital late on 21 February for talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that are expected to focus on economic ties between the two countries, Reuters reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Djindjic as saying that "Serbia gives extreme importance to economic ties with Russia, which is its fundamental economic partner." Belgrade has huge debts to Moscow, which have led Russia to cut off or reduce deliveries of natural gas. PM

AGREEMENT ON LINKS BETWEEN SERBIA, BOSNIAN SERBS

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch reached an agreement in Belgrade on 21 February on special links between Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska as provided for in the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The mainly Croatian and Muslim federation similarly has the right to special links to Croatia. Kostunica is a long-time supporter of the Serbian nationalist cause in Bosnia and was once close to its leadership. PM

BELGRADE SAYS SERBIAN ROLE IN IRAQI AIR DEFENSES ENDED

London's "The Times" reported on 22 February that Serbian technicians helped improve Iraqi air defenses during the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic but that the new Serbian leaders stopped such assistance immediately after they came to power. The daily added that "the part played by the Serbs in training the Iraqis to mount more effective anti-aircraft attacks on British and American jets flying over southern and northern Iraq was a crucial factor in the sudden increase in more accurate missile and artillery launches over the past six weeks." Of all foreign countries, China allegedly played the most important role in improving Iraqi defenses in violation of UN sanctions. Russia and Belarus also contributed to improving Saddam Hussein's air defenses, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. PM

SERBIAN PYRAMID-BANKER ARRESTED ON RETURN TO BELGRADE

Police at Belgrade airport arrested Jezdimir Vasiljevic, who fled the country in 1993 when his Jugoskandik pyramid-scheme bank went bankrupt, AP reported on 22 February. Vasiljevic, who arrived from Cyprus, claims that he has unspecified important "criminal evidence" against Milosevic. Speaking from Cyprus before his return, Vasiljevic said: "I have so much [criminal] evidence against Milosevic that he'll beg to go to The Hague. The Hague would be like a spa for Milosevic," when compared to Yugoslav prisons, Vasiljevic added. PM

GENERAL MLADIC NO LONGER IN SERBIA?

Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte recently told top NATO and EU officials that a Yugoslav minister said to her that he had seen indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal General Ratko Mladic in a Belgrade restaurant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). A British daily recently published the Serbian addresses of prominent war criminals, including Mladic. But Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic now says that Mladic has left Serbia and gone into hiding, AP reported on 21 February. Mihajlovic added that "As far as I know, Mr. Mladic was in Belgrade for a while, at a certain address. But he has not been at his address for some time, and we do not have information that he is in Serbia at all." Del Ponte has suggested that the Serbian authorities could quickly extradite Mladic, who is a Bosnian citizen, even if they do not want to sent Milosevic to The Hague. PM

FORMER YUGOSLAV REPRESENTATIVES MEET IN SLOVENIA

In the latest round of talks aimed at dividing up the joint assets of the former Yugoslavia, Belgrade's representatives proposed in Ljubljana that the national archives be kept intact in one place and accessible to all, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 February. Later in the day, representatives of the chambers of commerce of the successor states will discuss economic cooperation for the first time since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Slovenia proposed the meeting. PM

INDICTED CROATIAN GENERAL UNDER ARREST

Former General Mirko Norac (33) surrendered to police in Zagreb in the evening of 21 February, hours after an announcement by Del Ponte that he will be tried in Croatia and not in The Hague, "Jutarnji list" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). It appears that he was in the capital for most of the two weeks that he was on the run from police, the daily added. Police say that Norac will be sent soon to Rijeka, where he was indicted in connection with the killing of dozens of Serbian civilians in Gospic in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Norac has denied the charges, saying that he did not attack civilians while "defending his homeland." The young ex-general is widely regarded in Croatia as a hero for his role in the defense of Gospic, but President Stipe Mesic cashiered him last year after Norac signed a petition against the government's policy on prosecuting suspected war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2000). PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT INVITES SERBS TO RETURN

Speaking in Vienna on 21 February, Mesic said that the indictment of Norac proves that Croatia is now a state based on the rule of law, "Die Presse" reported. He criticized many of the protesters who have demonstrated on behalf of Norac, charging that they are simply interested in protecting their privileges acquired during the years that the late President Franjo Tudjman was in power. Mesic suggested that a reconciliation with Serbia might be possible if that country undergoes a "catharsis" of its nationalistic political culture. He called on Serbian refugees from Croatia to come back to their former homes, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

UN'S KLEIN SLAMS LOCAL CROAT AUTHORITIES

Jacques Klein, who is the UN's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Banja Luka on 21 February that unnamed local authorities in Croatia have tried to harass returning Serbs and "embarrass" the Croatian government by arresting some 34 Serbian returnees over the past two years, AP reported. Klein suggested that the local authorities in question have ties to the former Tudjman "infrastructure." Klein called on the Croatian government to "send a clear signal to those officials that what they are doing undermines Croatia's credibility in Europe." PM

HUNGARY PLEASED WITH BUCHAREST'S SUPPORT FOR MINORITY LANGUAGES

Zsolt Nemeth, the state secretary at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, said after talks with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana in Romania on 21 February that Budapest is pleased with the Romanian government's support for minority languages, Hungary's Duna TV reported. Nemeth said the new Romanian law on public administration is of "great significance" for Hungarians in Romania and that it is an encouraging sign for building better bilateral relations. PB

ROMANIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO FIND MONEY TO COMPLETE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Adrian Nastase said on 21 February that the government will earmark 1 trillion lei ($3.7 million) in this year's budget for continued work on the second reactor of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant being built in southeastern Romania, Romanian Radio reported. Nastase, who made his comment after a visit to the plant site, said that some $700 million is still needed to complete the project. He added that some of that total will be provided by Canada and European countries, and that work will be done by such companies as Siemens and the Italian-based consortium ANSALDO. PB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT GIVES U.S. AMBASSADOR HIGHEST HONOR

Ion Iliescu bestowed the "Star of Romania" award upon departing U.S. Ambassador to Romania James Rosapepe in Bucharest, AP reported on 21 February. Iliescu praised Rosapepe for learning about Romanian culture and promoting foreign investment during his tenure. Rosapepe was active in socieity and initiated a community program to reduce local bureaucracy, awarding prizes to the towns that improved their business climate. PB

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION VISITS MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER

A congessional delegation led by U.S. Representative Curt Weldon (Republican, Pennsylvania) visited Moldova on 21 February and met with outgoing President Petru Lucinschi and parliamentary representatives, Basa-Press reported. Members of the delegation expressed their support for Moldova's "territorial integrity" and their concern that "no essential progress" has been made by Russia in withdrawing its troops and weapons from Moldovan territory, as it pledged to do by 2002 at the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul. DW

RFE/RL EXPANDS BROADCASTS TO MOLDOVA

RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine announced 19 February that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is dramatically increasing its broadcasts to Moldova. Dine said RFE/RL has been the only international broadcaster with a program dedicated to Moldova since the Romanian Service opened a bureau in Chisinau in 1997 and began broadcasting 25 minutes a day of special programming for Moldova. This will now increase to one hour a day, five days a week, and the Romanian Service will now be known as the Romania-Moldova Service. DW

BALKAN AIRLINES HEADING TOWARDS BANKRUPTCY

The Sofia city court put the Israeli-owned Balkan Airlines under receivership on 21 February, BTA reported. Balkan Airlines spokesman Victor Melamed said the move -- which puts the company's assets and bank accounts under the control of two people designated by the court -- "is the beginning of bankruptcy proceedings against Balkan." The court's decision was based on an $11 million claim against the airlines by the Bulgarian insurance company Bulstrad. The airlines has been grounded for one week. The Israeli Zeevi Holdings Group bought the airlines in 1999 for $150,000 and pledges to pay off Balkan's $120 million debt and also to invest $100 million in the company over a five-year period. PB

BULGARIAN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE INCREASES

The National Employment Office said that unemployment in Bulgaria in January reached 18.54 percent of the workforce, BTA reported on 21 February. This marks a slight increase over the previous month. The highest unemployment rate is in Turgovishte, in the northern part of the country, which has 34.96 percent unemployment. The lowest rate is in Sofia, which has about 4.77 percent. PB

TURKISH INTERIOR MINISTER IN BULGARIA

A Turkish delegation led by Saadettin Tantan arrived in Sofia on 21 February on a three-day visit to focus on bilateral efforts to battle illegal drug and human trafficking as well as organized crime, BTA reported. Tantan is scheduled to meet with the chairman of the National Assembly, Yordan Sokolov, and with his Bulgarian counterpart, Emanuil Yordanov. PB




There is no End Note today.





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