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Newsline - March 2, 2001




PUTIN, HANOI DECLARE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

In Hanoi on 1 March on the second stop of his Asian tour, President Vladimir Putin and his Vietnamese hosts declared that their two countries are strategic partners, Russian and Western agencies reported. They agreed to step up development of offshore oil near Vietnam's southern coast and to build new power plants in that Asian country. They also agreed on a schedule for Vietnam to repay its debt to Moscow. And Putin pushed the Vietnamese to purchase new weapons. "Vietnam wants and can afford to buy new weapons," he said. PG

SPECIAL CABINET SESSION FOCUSES ON ECONOMY

At a special two-day cabinet session beginning on 1 March, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called for putting in place reforms that will keep the economy growing, that will enforce strict budgetary discipline, and that will allow Moscow to find the funds necessary to pay its debts to the Paris Club of creditors, Russian agencies reported. An article in "Vremya MN" on 1 March suggested that the meeting was critical because Kasyanov and his colleagues know that they "need to show some evidence of progress soon." At the session, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that it is "premature" to speak about a return of high inflation, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN TO LAUNCH ADMINISTRATION REFORMS THIS MONTH

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said in St. Petersburg on 1 March that President Putin intends to present a program of administrative reforms later this month, Interfax reported. He said that the core goal of the reforms would be to improve efficiency by clearly delineating responsibilities of various institutions. PG

PLUSES AND MINUSES OF FOUR POSSIBLE PREMIERS

"Argumenty i Fakty," no. 9, features an article comparing the advantages and disadvantages of four men who have been frequently suggested as possible future Russian prime ministers: Volga Federal District envoy Sergei Kirienko, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin, and presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Kirienko served briefly as premier in 1998 and Stepashin was prime minister for three months before being sacked in August 1999. All four are "salivating at the chance," the paper said, but in the end one or none of them may get the job. PG

PUTIN VERY POPULAR DESPITE RELATIVELY FEW ACHIEVEMENTS

A report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Stsenarii," no. 2, noted that President Putin's popularity rating is practically back to the same extraordinarily high level as a year ago. "Three quarters of Russians approve of Putin's activities," the journal said, [but] only 47 percent are willing to vote for him and only 45 percent answer in the affirmative the question whether he has justified their hopes since he has become president." After surveying what Russians say has improved in the last year, the journal notes that "it is not a very impressive list of achievements," adding that Russians apparently feel that Putin at least is active and has begun to stop the decline of the last decade. PG

FSB SAID TO MEET DEMANDS OF THE TIME

Lieutenant General Valentin Vlasov, the chief of the Academy of the Federal Security Service of Russia, said that the current structure of the FSB reflects "the basic demands of the times" and can be quickly adapted to new challenges, Interfax reported on 1 March. He said that frequent and unexplained structural changes in the security agencies inevitably undercut the effectiveness of these bodies. Vlasov added that relations between the Russian population and the FSB have improved because "we have become more open, our activity is strictly regulated by laws, and these laws are published. When a normal healthy minded individual sees and reads this then he will have an adequate reaction." PG

GUSINSKY RESIGNS AS RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS HEAD

Embattled oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky on 1 March resigned as the head of the Russian Jewish Congress, saying that his legal and political battles were keeping him from doing that job, Russian and Western agencies reported. Congress leaders accepted his resignation and named Yukos deputy chief Leonid Nevzlin as acting president. Meanwhile, the congress's leadership noted that while the level of anti-Semitism in Russia compares with that in advanced democracies, the percent of Russians prepared to combat manifestations of anti-Semitism is far lower than in those states. In Western Europe, more than 50 percent of the population will speak out against anti-Semitism, the Jewish congress said, while in Russia, the percentage of people willing to do so does not exceed 10-11 percent, Interfax reported. PG

PROSECUTORS EXPAND INTERNATIONAL CONTACTS

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General is expanding its contacts with prosecutors in other countries not only on major cases that are discussed in the media but also on far more numerous confidential issues as well, the office's public information officer, Leonid Troshin, told Interfax on 1 March. PG

SPS TO COOPERATE WITH UKRAINIAN PARTY AGAINST PRO-USSR GROUPS

Russia's SPS and Ukraine's Reforms and Order Party agreed in Kyiv on 1 March to coordinate their activities in order to form a counterweight to leftist groups in both countries who at present "'have monopolized Ukrainian-Russian relations and speak about the return of the USSR." PG

NIKOLAEV SAYS MILITARY REFORM HASN'T HAPPENED

Duma Defense Committee Chairman (Peoples' Deputy) Andrei Nikolaev said on 1 March that Russia has not yet had any genuine military reform, Interfax reported. He said the steps that had been taken so far often were either poorly coordinated or even contradictory. He specifically criticized general staff chief General Anatolii Kvashnin whose ideas, Nikolaev said, President Putin had been forced to correct in many areas. PG

KOKOSHIN CALLS FOR NEW ANTI-PROLIFERATION MECHANISM

Andrei Kokoshin, the director of the Institute of Problems of International Security at the Academy of Sciences and a Duma member, told Interfax on 1 March that Russia must work with other countries to develop a political mechanism for preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He said that threats by one country or another do not work and that Moscow must take the lead in pushing for political cooperation to make an anti-proliferation regime work. PG

MOSCOW DENOUNCES U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM...

The Foreign Ministry said that Moscow will not tolerate either the tone or the content of criticism of Russian practices by the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report, Russian agencies reported. The ministry release was especially critical of U.S. findings about threats to freedom of speech. It said that "in Russia, no one is afraid to speak aloud about still existing problems." And the release suggested that Americans should not be so critical given the problems in their own political system revealed by last year's presidential elections. PG

...BUT HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN SAYS FORCES SEEKING HIS DISMISSAL

Oleg Mironov, the Russian human rights ombudsman, said in an interview published in "Rossiiskie vesti" on 1 March that a powerful campaign has been organized against him in the media and is intended to drive him from office. He did not name those he believed are responsible but said the effort could reflect either disagreements with his actions and statements or simply the desire on the part of current Duma members to be able to choose their own ombudsman. Mironov was selected by the preceding convocation of the Duma. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER WELCOMES NUANCE IN BUSH SPEECH

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Interfax on 1 March that he had noticed a nuance in U.S. President George W. Bush's state of the union address this week. Ivanov said that he and his fellow Russian diplomats "had devoted attention to the fact that when he was speaking in the Congress about anti-missile defense, President Bush did not employ the term 'national.' Such a change in terminology may be an opening," Ivanov said. PG

MOSCOW DISAVOWS GENERAL'S THREATS

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 1 March reprimanded Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Romanov, the head of the National Center for Reducing Nuclear Threats, for saying on 28 February that the U.S. was in violation of the 1987 INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Accord and that Russia might retaliate if the U.S. withdraws from the ABM Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). A Foreign Ministry spokesman also said that the general's remarks do not reflect official policy. PG

LESIN WANTS COMPETITION FOR BEST PROPAGANDA IDEAS

Media Minister Mikhail Lesin on 1 March announced that a competition among advertising agencies for the best plan to project a positive image of Russia in the U.S. will not begin earlier than September, Interfax reported. But Vladimir Kulistikov, the head of RIA-Novosti, was quoted by "Izvestiya" on the same day as saying that he had doubts about the effectiveness of any such effort: "Trying to change the minds of the U.S. Congress, the American people or journalists is a waste of time. I think Russia's image will change only when Russia itself has become a European democratic state, with a truly liberal economy. And at that time, we will not have to spend money on propaganda efforts." PG

TOBIN REMAINS UNDER INVESTIGATION

John Tobin, the American arrested on 27 February on drug charges in Voronezh, remains in detention and has refused to answer the questions of police investigators, Interfax reported on 1 March. Russian officials said that his refusal to do so will prolong the case. PG

SOUTH KOREA DENIES OPPOSING U.S. NMD

The South Korean Foreign Ministry on 1 March said that it has not decided to oppose U.S. plans for National Missile Defense (NMD) as some Russian media outlets had suggested during President Putin's visit to Seoul earlier this week, Reuters reported. The Korean government, the statement said, "is still carefully reviewing its position on NMD and has not voiced any opposition to it." PG

RUSSIANS OPPOSE ATTACKS ON IRAQ

A poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion and reported by Interfax on 1 March showed that 58 percent of Russians are upset and angry about the air attack on Iraq by U.S. and British planes. Only 2 percent of those polled approved of the action, the news service said. PG

RUSSIA CRITICIZES TALIBAN FOR DESTROYING BUDDHIST SHRINE

The Russian Foreign Ministry, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, and the head of Russia's Buddhists, Pandito Xambo Lama, also known as Damba Ausheev, on 1 March each protested the destruction of a Buddhist shrine in Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. PG

ORT SHARES FOR OIL EXPORTS DEAL DESCRIBED

"Novaya gazeta," no. 14 (26 February-4 March), describes in detail the way in which Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and oligarch Roman Abramovich purchased media mogul Boris Berezovsky's stake in ORT and then gave it to the government in exchange for obtaining the export business of the government-controlled Slavneft company. PG

NO CHARGES YET ON SIXTH ANNIVERSARY OF LISTEV MURDER

Police have not yet arrested anyone for the 1 March 1995 murder of the first General Director of ORT and well-known television journalist Vladislav Listev, but prosecutors told Interfax that it is "still early" to talk about the case being hopeless. PG

FEDERAL NOTARY CHIEF KILLED

Anatolii Tikhenko, the president of the Federal Notary chamber, was murdered in Moscow, Interfax-Moscow reported on 1 March. He was shot five times as he entered his house. The police believe it was a contract killing. PG

RUSSIAN EXPORTS OF CONVENTIONAL ARMS FALL

Nikolai Svirin, the press secretary for the Russian Conventional Arms Agency (RAV), told ITAR-TASS on 1 March that Russia's export of conventional weapons and other goods produced by Russia's weapons factories declined by 17.5 percent from 1999 to 2000. PG

CHECHEN PROSECUTOR REJECTS CLAIMS OF FILTRATION CAMP ON RUSSIAN BASE

Following a 1 March inspection of the Russian base at Khatuni, in southern Chechnya, by Russian human rights commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov and Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov, a spokesman for Chernov's office told ITAR-TASS that claims by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya that Chechen civilians are being held in pits at a filtration camp on that base are untrue. Politkovskaya was detained at that base a week ago, and described the brutal treatment to which she was subjected there in an article published in "The Guardian" earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 26 and 27 February 2001). LF

KREMLIN SPOKESMAN DENIES CHECHEN LEADER CONTROLS ALL FIGHTERS

Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 1 March rejected as "nonsense" claims by Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov that all Chechen field commanders are subordinate to him, ITAR-TASS reported. Maskhadov said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the previous day that the various Chechen detachments "fight together under a united command" against the Russian forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). Yastrzhembskii claimed that a recent poll of the Chechen population showed that less than 2 percent believe Maskhadov is still in power. He again ruled out the possibility of peace talks with Maskhadov, saying that "he does not represent anyone." LF

RUSSIANS BLAME LOCAL OFFICIALS FOR POWER PROBLEMS

A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Fund and reported by Interfax on 1 March found that 50 percent of Russians blame officials, mostly local ones, for the recent energy crisis in Primorskii Krai. It said that 37 percent of those queried blamed former Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko for the crisis. Only 6 percent blamed Unified Energy Systems (UES) and its leader, Anatolii Chubais. PG

SIBERIAN COAL MINERS TELL UTILITY TO PAY UP...

Coal miners in Krasnoyarsk Krai have halted deliveries of coal to Krasnoyarskenergo because that company's debt to them has reached 180 million rubles ($6.3 million) since the beginning of 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March citing Krasugol head Viktor Guskov. Guskov added that there is no sign that Krasnoyarskenergo intends to pay up. According to Interfax the same day, Krasnoyarsk's power plant currently has some 70,000 tons of coal, and an emergency situation will occur when that supply dips to 65,000 tons. Aleksandr Puzanov, head of the krai's administration for the fuel and energy complex, told the agency that the krai does not have adequate financing to pay 100 percent of its energy bills. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that he will appeal to UES head Chubais and Rosyglesbit head Filaret Galchev if the conflict between Krasugol and Krasnoyarskenergo is not resolved. JAC

...AS ANOTHER CRIMINAL CASE TO BE BROUGHT AGAINST ELECTRIC COMPANY

Meanwhile, in Tomsk Oblast, local prosecutor Yurii Sukhoplyuev announced that he is prepared to launch criminal proceedings against the head of Tomskenergo for his decision to turn off electricity and heat to deadbeat customers, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 1 March. Sukhoplyuev made his announcement in response to a query from Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress. According to the agency, electricity curtailments have affected not only agricultural regions but also the residents of the city of Tomsk, where residences are without electricity. At night only one-third of the street lamps are lit, which will allow the city to save around 5 million rubles a year ($175,000). JAC

SAKHALIN KOREANS PROTEST JAPANESE GOVERNMENT'S PROGRAM

Members of "Repatriation," a public organization of Koreans living on Sakhalin Island, picketed the Japanese consulate in the capital of that oblast, Yuzho-Sakhalinsk, on 1 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Repatriation is protesting against a Japanese government program for repatriating Koreans to their historic homeland. Kim Su Yen of Repatriation told the agency that Koreans in Sakhalin Oblast were brought to the island by the Japanese military some 50 years ago for forced labor, and under the current program only older Koreans are being offered the opportunity to return -- not their children or their grandchildren. In addition, according to Kim, most of the Korean diaspora on the island wants to remain there, and the Japanese government should instead offer compensation for the material, physical, and moral damages caused by forced migration. JAC

NEW ASSISTANCE PLANNED FOR THOSE LEAVING FAR NORTH

The Russian government on 1 March decided to allocate 500 million rubles ($17 million) to the regions to help provide housing and other resettlement costs for those people who are leaving Russia's Far North, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW MORTALITY RATE RISES

From 1999 to 2000, the number of deaths per 1,000 people in Moscow increased from 14.8 to 15.1, Interfax-Moscow reported on 1 March. At the same time, Moscow medical officials reported that there hadhave been more than 4,800 new cases of HIV infections in the city in 2000. PG

KALININGRAD A MAJOR DRUG ENTRY POINT

According to law enforcement agencies, up to 24 tons of illegal drugs entered Russia through Kaliningrad in 2000 with officials able to seize only a small portion of the drugs, Interfax/BNS reported on 1 March. Meanwhile, the Russian Interior Ministry said that the number of crimes connected with the use of hard drugs increased by 250 percent over the last five years, Interfax reported the same day. PG

ACADEMICIAN CALLS FOR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CENTER

Vladimir Fortov, the vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said on Ekho Moskvy on 1 March that the Russian government must help to set up an interagency center for information technology. Such a center would help to ensure that new ideas spread through the economy and contribute to growth, he said. PG

EURASIAN TELEVISION ACADEMY LAUNCHED

A Eurasian television academy opened in Moscow on 1 March to help promote cooperation among television employees of all types in the CIS and Baltic countries, Interfax reported. PG

NEW CATHEDRAL NEEDS $16 MILLION IN REPAIRS

The recently completed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow already needs some 500 million rubles ($16 million) in repairs and reconstruction, "Segodnya" reported on 1 March. If the Moscow city Duma agrees to that figure, it will amount to almost half of all the money to be spent this year on repairs and reconstruction in the Russian capital. PG

RUSSIANS REMAIN DIVIDED ON GORBACHEV

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 1 March, 49 percent of Russians have a neutral opinion of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, 31 percent have a poor opinion of him, and 16 percent have a good opinion. Those who want to know more about Gorbachev current activities can go to a website opened by the Gorbachev Foundation at http://www.gorby.ru PG

RUSSIAN PUPILS TO BE TAUGHT TO MAKE CHOICES

The Education Ministry has approved the introduction of a new curriculum for middle schools that includes a 12-hour course designed to teach students how to make independent choices in any situation and then to take responsibility for those choices, "Segodnya" reported on 1 March. PG




ARMENIAN MINISTRY EVACUATED AFTER BOMB ALERT

The staff of the Ministry for State Revenues was evacuated on 1 March after an anonymous telephone caller warned that a bomb had been planted in the building, but a police search failed to locate any such explosive device, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Minister Andranik Manukian, who was named to that post four months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2000), termed the scare "a provocation aimed at disrupting the work of our ministry." He said he considers unlikely any connection between the bomb scare and the murder two days earlier of a senior ministry official. LF

ARMENIA SETS DEADLINE FOR ENERGY PRIVATIZATION

The winners of the international tender to privatize four energy distribution networks will be made public no later than 24 March, the Armenian government announced on 1 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Three Western companies have bid for those networks. Completion of the privatization, which has been postponed several times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 20 October 2000), is a precondition for the release of a $50 million World Bank Structural Adjustment Credit that will cover just over half this year's anticipated budget deficit. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN-IN-OFFICE VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Romanian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Mircea Dan Geoana met in Baku on 1 March with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev to discuss the Karabakh conflict, Turan ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev told Geoana that the Azerbaijani leadership is committed to finding a political solution to the conflict even though many Azerbaijanis want a new war to bring Karabakh back under Baku's control. As he has done several times in the past, Aliyev criticized the failure of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen to come up with an acceptable peace plan. Aliyev also said that his talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian have failed to yield any progress because Armenia "is trying to legalize the present situation" and demands "considerable compromises." Quliev, for his part, told Geoana that he hopes the OSCE will follow the principle of territorial integrity in its future efforts to mediate a solution to the conflict. LF

ONE MILLION PEOPLE WANT GEORGIAN PRESIDENT TO RESIGN

The Mdzleveli political organization, whose chairman Avtandil Djoglidze polled less than 1 percent in the Georgian presidential election in April 2000, has collected one million signatures over the past year on a petition calling on President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign, Caucasus Press reported on 27 February. LF

BOMB EXPLOSION REPORTED IN WESTERN GEORGIA

A homemade bomb caused minor damage to the former regional administration building in Zugdidi on 1 March, Caucasus Press reported. No one was injured as the staff were at lunch. Two people were killed and the building was badly damaged by an earlier bomb explosion in August 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1998). LF

THOUSANDS OF HOMES IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL UNSAFE?

Over 2,000 buildings in Tbilisi, which house over 100,000 people, are unsafe for human habitation, according to the daily "Rezonansi" on 1 March. Repairs will cost an estimated one billion laris ($490 million), but the city budget for this year allocates only 3.7 million laris for that purpose. The municipal council has asked the Georgian government to draft a five-year program to repair the 50 buildings that are in the greatest danger of collapse. LF

MEMORANDUM ON OIL PIPELINE SIGNED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Georgian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Kazakh, and U.S. officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Astana on 1 March "On the Transport of Oil on the route Aktau-Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan," Reuters reported. That document could theoretically serve as the foundation for extending the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline, insofar as it provides the legal foundations for foreign companies extracting oil in Kazakhstan to use that export route. But Kazakhstan has made no firm commitment to export a specific amount of crude via Baku-Ceyhan, and Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said Kazakhstan would prefer to export oil via Iran. Kairgeldy Kabyldin, who is vice president of KazTransOil, told Interfax on 1 March that construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be economically viable only if a minimum of 20 million tons can be transported through it annually. LF

CANADIAN OIL COMPANY OUTLINES FUTURE INVESTMENTS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons Ltd. plans to invest $280 million in projects in Kazakhstan over the next two years, Interfax quoted Marlo Thomas, who is president of the company's subsidiary in Kazakhstan, as telling journalists in Almaty on 1 March. Some $30 million of that sum will be invested in construction of a gas-fired power station that will be fueled by gas from the Kumkol oil and gas field in southern Kazakhstan, according to Interfax on 27 February. Hurricane Hydrocarbons extracted some 3.3 million tons of oil in Kazakhstan last year, almost one-third more than in 1999, and plans to increase output in 2001 to 4 million tons. LF

BREAD, UTILITY PRICE HIKES ANNOUNCED IN FORMER KAZAKH CAPITAL

The price of a loaf of bread in Almaty has been increased from 25-27 tenges to 30 tenges ($0.20) as of 1 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Housing utilities are to be increase by 10 percent beginning next month. LF

ANOTHER DEMONSTRATION IN SUPPORT OF KAZAKH CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER BANNED

The city authorities in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, refused permission for a demonstration in the city center in support of Temirtas Tleulesov, author of two books detailing high-level official corruption in the city and Shymkent Oblast, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 1 March. It was the second time within two weeks that permission for such a demonstration was refused (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). Tleulesov went into hiding after a court sentenced him in early February to a two-year imprisonment on a charge of hooliganism. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Meeting in Almaty on 1 March, the defense ministers of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Sat Toqpaqbaev and Esen Topev, signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation, including between their respective military-industrial complexes, and agreed to exchange information on a regular basis, Interfax reported. They also agreed that their countries' armed forces will conduct joint maneuvers later this year, and that Kyrgyz servicemen will continue to receive training at military colleges in Kazakhstan. Toqpaqbaev said after the talks that he does not perceive any threat at present to either country' security, but added that Kazakhstan is ready to assist its neighbor in the event of a renewed incursion into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON SENIOR GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS

Altai Borubaev, speaker of the People's Assembly (the upper house of the Kyrgyz parliament), told journalists in Bishkek on 1 March that the assembly has amended its regulations and in future will put to a formal vote the candidacies of senior government officials proposed by President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The posts in question include those of premier, Supreme Court chairman, and prosecutor-general. Previously, the assembly approved candidates to those posts by a simple show of hands. LF

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS FRANCE

During recent talks in Paris, Talbak Nazarov discussed with his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine the possibility of expanding bilateral relations, including the opening of a French diplomatic representation in Dushanbe, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 March. Vedrine said the EU plans to resume its assistance to Tajikistan within the framework of the TACIS program. Nazarov also met with heads of UN organizations and aid agencies. LF

TAJIK DISTRICT OFFICIAL ESCAPES ASSASSINATION

Ismaildzhon Gulov, the district administration head in Kofarnihon, east of Dushanbe, escaped injury early on 1 March when three men opened fire on his car, Russian agencies and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. His bodyguard was severely injured. Gulov is a member of the People's Democratic Party headed by President Imomali Rakhmonov. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO ARREST SPIES...

"We will arrest and jail spies. If they work under the cover of an embassy, we will expel them. No matter which [embassy will be in question], the U.S. one or some other," Interfax quoted Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying on 1 March. The Belarusian president was commenting on the previous day's television program devoted to the activity of CIA spies in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). Lukashenka said "several people have already provided evidence" of the activity of foreign special services in Belarus. He added that he promised to release those people in exchange for the information they gave to the KGB. JM

...PREDICTS 'BORING' PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...

Lukashenka noted that foreign special services are incapable of influencing this year's presidential elections in Belarus in any significant way. He said the elections will be held in strict accordance with the constitution, "in a quiet and boring way," from the viewpoint of journalists. "There will be no electoral bacchanalia," he added. JM

...WELCOMES MOLDOVA'S PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

"The elections in Moldova turned out perfectly well. The winners were the same political forces as those that won in Belarus several years earlier. They are centrists," Lukashenka commented on the recent sweeping victory of Moldova's Communists. He said he will accept "with [all his] heart and soul" the idea of Moldova's accession to the Union of Belarus and Russia. He added that the possible accession of Moldova may prompt Kyiv to revise its view of the Belarus-Russia Union, including President Leonid Kuchma's "wary attitude" to this alliance. JM

U.S. WARNS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON AID

The U.S. has reminded Leonid Kuchma that he must obey the rule of law in order to keep receiving U.S. aid, Reuters reported on 1 March. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual delivered an oral message to Kuchma from President George W. Bush two days ago. "There is no change in our aid program at this point but the message that we delivered made quite clear that our ability to help them in the future depends on their ability to abide by the constitution and abide by their commitments to the rule of law," Boucher told a news briefing. Boucher said the U.S. regrets that police broke up a tent camp of anti-Kuchma protesters in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). "We call upon the Ukrainian authorities to observe their international commitment to freedom of assembly," Boucher added. JM

SOROS CALLS ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO STEP DOWN

In an article published in the 2 March "Financial Times," International financier George Soros urged Leonid Kuchma to stand down pending an inquiry into his alleged role in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "If Mr. Kuchma cares about Ukraine's survival as an independent democratic state, he must take responsibility for his actions and hand over his duties to the prime minister," Soros noted. Soros also urged the West to take a clear position by denouncing Kuchma's behavior and discontinuing doing business with the Ukrainian president until an impartial investigation has been completed. Soros, who gave more than $100 million in support to Ukraine through his Ukrainian Renaissance Foundation, said he was watching with dismay as Kuchma pressurized independent media and used "questionable methods" during the last presidential campaign. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PREFERS DIALOGUE TO FORCE

Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in London on 1 March that as long as the possibilities to reach a "sensible compromise" have not been exhausted, the use of force against opponents of the government is "premature and inadmissible," Interfax reported. Yushchenko was commenting on the dismantling of the tent camp on Khreshchatyk Street in downtown Kyiv earlier the same day. Meanwhile, Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest, said the authorities will be given an "adequate response" to their tearing down of the tent camp. Lutsenko said a mass protest rally will be held on 9 March, but he did not elaborate. The authorities on 2 March released all 44 protesters who were detained during the dismantling of the camp. Some of them were fined by courts. JM

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT IN KYIV

President Leonid Kuchma and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian agreed in Kyiv on 1 March to increase economic cooperation and develop trade transit routes between the two countries, AP reported. "It's very important for Ukraine to transport its goods through Armenia to Iran and vice versa," Kuchma said. The presidents signed a joint statement and several agreements, including one on economic cooperation for 2001-2010. Kocharian said he sees some hope for settling the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave during a meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev on 4-5 March in Paris. JM

COALITION PARTY CALLS ON ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO STEP DOWN

Coalition Party Chairman Mart Kubo on 1 March urged Prime Minister Mart Laar to resign because of the confusion over the privatization of Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway), BNS reported. Kubo said that Laar's statement that the decisions by Transport and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson are backed by the will of the whole government showed that it and not only the minister was responsible for the abortive privatization of the state-owned railroad. A recent popularity poll indicated that Jurgenson had the worst rating of all the cabinet members. His performance was judged poor or very poor by 61 percent of respondents while only 18 said that it was good or very good. SG

LATVIA'S PAREX BANK READY TO FINANCE BUILDING TUNNEL UNDER RIVER IN RIGA

Parex Bank President Valerijs Kargins declared on 1 March that the bank is prepared to take part in the financing of the construction of a tunnel under the Dauguva River in Riga, BNS reported. He said that the costs of the project that foresees three lanes of traffic in each direction are estimated at 150 million euros ($139 million), but could reach even 200 million euros. Kargins noted that no single Latvian credit organization could grant such a loan and that Parex is ready to take a leading role in setting up a consortium of Latvian and foreign financial institutions. The tunnel is expected to be completed by 2005 and no fees are foreseen for its use. SG

LITHUANIAN PORT CITY ELECTS MAYOR

In a secret ballot on 1 March the Klaipeda City Council elected Center Union member Rimantas Taraskevicius as the city's sixth mayor since Lithuania regained independence, ELTA reported. Taraskevicius received 22 votes, Liberal Union candidate Vytautas Grubliauskas got seven, and two ballots were spoiled. The 51-year old Taraskevicius, who has been a member of the council for 11 years, was the director of the construction department at the Western Lithuanian Industrial and Finance Corporation. Liberal Union Deputy Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas resigned as mayor to assume the duties of economy minister. While discussing whether to accept the minister office post, Gentvilas had initially set the condition that his successor in Klaipeda should be from the Liberal Union, but later withdrew it. The Liberal Union has 10 members in the council so that three of them did not support their party's candidate. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT SEALS 2001 BUDGET...

The Sejm on 1 March approved most of the Senate's proposed changes in the 2001 budget bill, which are seen as a compromise between the National Bank's calls for fiscal restraint and demands by many social groups for higher spending, Reuters reported. The Sejm overturned the Senate's decision to give an additional 84 million zlotys ($21 million) for foreign debt-servicing costs. The bill sets revenues at 161.1 billion zlotys ($39.7 billion) and spending at 181.6 billion. Average annual inflation is to fall to 7 percent from 10.1 percent last year, while the unemployment rate is expected to be 15.4 percent, compared with 15 percent at the end of 2000. The document projects GDP to rise 4.5 percent. The bill must now be signed by the president who cannot veto it. JM

...CUTS WORKING WEEK...

The Sejm also passed the Senate's amendment to the Labor Code stipulating that two out of every seven days will be days off and the working week will be 40 hours as of 2003. The reduction in workweek hours will be phased in, falling to 41 hours in 2002 and 40 hours the following year. The decision marks the end of a two-year battle by trade unions in the parliament for a shorter working week. The measure was opposed by the centrist Freedom Union, which argued that a poor country like Poland with high labor costs cannot afford to reduce working time. Andrzej Wilk of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers said the reduction in working hours will prevent employers from raising wages for a long time, PAP reported. JM

...APPROVES LATE NIGHT BEER COMMERCIALS

Also the same day, the parliament amended the country's law on preventing alcoholism by allowing beer advertisements. Under the amendment, beer commercials may be aired by television and radio stations as well as cinemas and theaters between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Legislators decided, however, that beer advertisements should not be associated with sexual attractiveness, free time, health, or success. Beer advertisements will be banned from video cassettes, youth magazines, front pages of magazines, announcement posts, and billboards. So far, the law only allows ads for non-alcoholic beer. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT 'ABSOLUTELY' SUPPORTS SLOVAK ENTRY INTO NATO

Vaclav Havel said after meeting with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster in Prague on 1 March that he "absolutely" supports Slovak entry into NATO, CTK reported. Havel said that at the next NATO summit, to be held in 2002 in Prague, other countries will be invited to join the alliance and it is "very likely Slovakia will be among them." Schuster said that Slovakia is doing its best to meet all criteria for NATO membership and that "Slovakia should be a member." DW

TEMELIN RECEIVES FAVORABLE PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT...

The Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant has received a favorable assessment from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), though the agency sees room for improvement, AP reported on 1 March. According to Temelin's technical director, Jiri Vagner, the three-week fact-finding mission "valued most the very good shape of the equipment...and our system of emergency preparedness." Though IAEA spokesman David Kyd confirmed that some elements of the assessment were positive, he said that "other areas will need improvement." This IAEA mission was the first of three phases and focused on the plant's staff and management. The second phase is scheduled for June to assess government monitoring of the plant. The third stage, concerning the plant's design and equipment, is slated for October. DW

...WHICH AUSTRIAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS LABEL 'MISLEADING'

The Austrian environmental group Global 2000 labeled the IAEA report on the Temelin nuclear power plant "misleading," and claimed the mission failed to check the plant's safety standards, APA reported 1 March. "The assessment amounts to a mere check of the general observance of operational and safety regulations, but does not say much about the safety of Temelin itself," said Global 2000 spokeswoman Corine Veithen. DW

SLOVAK TRADE UNION BLOCKS BORDER CROSSINGS OVER WAGES, UNEMPLOYMENT

The KOVO trade union of metal workers on 2 March blocked five border crossings with the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary to protest low wages and high unemployment, CTK reported. KOVO leaders said if the blockades fail to persuade the government and employers into launching talks with trade unionists, they will start sit-in strikes at selected companies. Slovakia's national unemployment rate is 21 percent, while in some regions it reaches 30 percent. JM

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS ECONOMY NEARING STABILIZATION

Mikulas Dzurinda said in Brussels on 1 March that "the Slovak economy is now in the final stage of stabilization," CTK reported. "The deficit of the state budget as well as foreign trade have been stabilized, the banking sector has improved, and the process of privatization successfully continues," the agency quoted him as saying at a conference devoted to the impact of EU enlargement on small- and medium-sized businesses. Dzurinda noted that the businesses (which employ no more than 250 people each) contribute 58 percent of the country's GDP compared with 60 percent in the EU, and that their employment share is 60 percent compared with 66 percent in the EU. JM

SLOVAK RAILWAYS IN THE RED -- AND IN THE DARK

The West Slovak Energy Company (ZSE) on 1 March cut off electricity supplies to Slovak Railways (ZSR) because of debts, TASR reported. The step disconnected some 30 ZSR stations, including part of Bratislava's Central and Vinohrady stations as well as the Trnava station. According to ZSE, supplies will be resumed after ZSR pays at least half of the 462 million Slovak crowns ($9.7 million) owed for electricity supplies, and agrees on a payment schedule for the remainder. ZSR Director Milos Cikovsky said his company will pay the debt as soon as it has the money. JM

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS' GROUP LEADER REMOVED?

Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 1 March convened a meeting of the party's parliamentary group and removed Attila Bank from his post as group leader. According to Torgyan, the meeting had a quorum, as 32 of the party's 42 parliamentary members were present. However, Bank said that the meeting lacked legitimacy, as he did not convene it, so its actions are invalid. The group elected Torgyan's candidate, Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi as leader, while the two deputy group leaders, who are Bank's supporters, were removed from their post. Speaker of Parliament Janos Ader said he hopes that by next week's parliament session it will be clear who the FKGP group leader will be. MSZ

LEGAL STATUS OF HUNGARIANS FROM ABROAD APPROVED BY MINISTRIES

A meeting of state secretaries from various ministries on 1 March approved a bill on granting special status to ethnic Hungarians from abroad and submitted the bill to the cabinet. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth discussed the issue the same day with Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania. Marko said the bill would allow ethnic Hungarians to feel at home in Hungary without relocating there. EU Ambassador to Hungary Michael Lake voiced concern over the bill, saying the EU will request further information on whether the bill is compatible with EU regulations. MSZ

HUNGARY'S GDP GROWTH HIGHEST SINCE END OF COMMUNISM

Hungary's GDP grew by 5.3 percent in 2000, the highest rate since the change of regime, and the first time in the last decade that it exceeded 5 percent, the Central Statistics Office (KSH) reported on 1 March. KSH President Tamas Mellar said the growth rate is high compared with international figures, as growth within the EU was 3.4 percent last year, and only nine of the 29 OECD member states had GDP growth rates above 5 percent. MSZ




PRESEVO TALKS BEGIN

Talks involving representatives of NATO, Belgrade authorities, and local Albanians began in Bujanovac on 1 March. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that "time and patience" will be required, "Danas" reported. Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi expressed optimism. But Covic began by rejecting several key Albanian demands, including a discussion of autonomy and moving the negotiations to Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He also rejected any participation by members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac. PM

NATO TROOPS TO PRESEVO BUFFER ZONE?

French officials have raised the question of providing NATO protection for EU monitors in the Presevo demilitarized zone, Reuters reported from Paris on 1 March. An unnamed NATO official told the news agency, however, that "an international military presence is not envisaged, period." In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted that "the buffer zone is not occupied by NATO... We've seen some reports of statements about an international military presence inside southern Serbia. That is not our intention, either. An international presence is not envisaged by us," RFE/RL reported. PM

CHIRAC BLASTS 'TERRORISM' ON MACEDONIAN FRONTIER

President Jacques Chirac told visiting Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in Paris on 1 March that "France condemns these acts, which amount to terrorism. We want a maximum number of measures to be taken to control and eradicate every form of terrorism in the region" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). Trajkovski noted that "we are opposed to the idea of creating ethnically pure regions," AP reported. In Skopje, Deputy Prime Minister Bedredin Ibrahimi, who belongs to the Democratic Party of the Albanians, called the presence of armed gangs in Tanusevci "a provocation by extremists who want to destabilize Macedonia. It's definitely against the interests of ethnic Albanians here," the "Financial Times" reported. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BORDER TREATY WITH BELGRADE

A majority of legislators voted on 1 March to ratify the border treaty with Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 and 27 February 2001). The Democratic Party of the Albanians, which belongs to the governing coalition, supported the proposal. Opposition ethnic Albanian legislators from the Party of Democratic Prosperity, as well as two independent ethnic Albanians, opposed the measure on the grounds that the Kosovars were not consulted, Deutsche Welle reported. Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said that the treaty settles once and for all any questions about the border, AP noted. He added, however, that the treaty could be re-examined and reaffirmed if Kosova's political status were to change, the "Financial Times" reported. PM

KFOR AIRPLANE UNDER FIRE?

The pilot of a KFOR light observation plane flying near the Kosova-Macedonian border believed that unknown persons shot at him on 28 February and forced him to take "evasive action," a KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 2 March, Reuters reported. PM

HAEKKERUP WANTS KOSOVA VOTE BY YEAR'S END

In an apparent modification of his previous views, Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, told the OSCE in Vienna on 1 March that holding elections for new institutions will be crucial in order to bring progress to and stabilize Kosova, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January and 27 February 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January and 23 February 2001). He now wants elections by the end of the year, provided that a legal framework for the new government is in place and the new central institutions are clearly defined by law. Haekkerup said that it will take at least six months to prepare for a Kosova-wide election. He wants to launch preparatory talks with political leaders in Kosova by 6 March. PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: NO MONEY FOR BELGRADE WITHOUT MILOSEVIC EXTRADITION

Amid Belgrade press reports to the effect that the arrest of former President Slobodan Milosevic may be imminent, Human Rights Watch said in New York on 1 March that Washington should make future aid to Belgrade contingent on the extradition of Milosevic to The Hague. Executive Director Holly Cartner said in a statement that "the U.S. government must be firmer than ever about the need to cooperate with the international tribunal. The Bush administration must send a clear message to the authorities in Belgrade that no money except humanitarian aid will flow from Washington until they start handing over indictees to The Hague," AP reported. The EU has indicated that it will not link assistance to cooperation with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 February 2001). PM

CROATIA FILES AGAINST MILOSEVIC IN THE HAGUE

Croatia has filed documents with the International Court of Justice -- which is located in The Hague but is separate from the tribunal -- demanding that the Belgrade authorities extradite Milosevic. The Croatian government charges that Belgrade is violating "the international convention on genocide by not punishing perpetrators of genocide" in Croatia between 1991 and 1995, Reuters reported. PM

MONTENEGRO SAYS STATUS QUESTION IS CHIEF PRIORITY

The government said in a statement in Podgorica on 1 March that redefining the republic's political and legal status will be its chief goal over the coming six months, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Vienna, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE David T. Johnson said that Montenegro should set higher legal thresholds for "participation and approval" in any referendum on independence. He noted that current legislation requires only 50 percent of registered voters to participate for a referendum to be valid. A simple majority among those casting their ballots is sufficient to pass the measure. PM

CRITICISM OF HERZEGOVINIAN CROATS' THREAT ON FEDERATION

A spokesman for High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 1 March that ethnic Croat leader Ante Jelavic's threat to leave the federation with the Muslims is "unconstitutional and [would] violate the Dayton agreement," Reuters reported. In Zagreb, Zdravko Tomac, who is deputy speaker of the parliament, called Jelavic's statements "not in the interests of Croats" and a "catastrophic choice," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. President Stipe Mesic charged that Jelavic and his Croatian Democratic Community want changes that would lead to a "ghettoization of the Croats" and be highly damaging to them. PM

WORLD BANK PRAISES ALBANIAN REFORMS

World Bank Director Christiaan Poortman said in Brussels on 1 March that Albania's reforms are "based on sound policies," dpa reported. He and European Commission representatives agreed, however, that Albania has much to do to improve the electricity supply, public administration, and judicial reform. PM

ALBANIA TO OPEN ANTI-SMUGGLING CENTER

Interior Ministers from Greece, Italy, and Germany said in Tirana on 1 March that they support Albania's plans to open a regional center in Vlora to combat smuggling and human trafficking, AP reported. The center, which will be located in a villa that once belonged to dictator Enver Hoxha, will be staffed by Albanian police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001). PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT BANS ENVER HOXHA PICTURES

Prime Minister Ilir Meta ruled on 1 March that pictures of Hoxha may not be displayed in government buildings, AP reported. The issue arose when the Foreign Ministry recently exhibited a picture of the late dictator, who was briefly foreign minister in 1944, among a collection of portraits of former foreign ministers. News that the picture was on display provoked outrage among former political prisoners and Tirana University students. The students were instrumental in bringing about the overthrow of communism a decade ago. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES ALL CITIZENS EQUAL

Ion Iliescu said on 1 March that all Romanian citizens are equal irrespective of their ethnic origin, Mediafax reported. Answering a question regarding the debate in the Hungarian Parliament of a law on ethnic Hungarians living abroad, Iliescu said "any discrimination imposed by international regulations is certainly not welcome." Iliescu stressed that Romanian citizens "represent a whole" and they should have "the same rights and obligations." The law on ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary could provide preferential status for ethnic Hungarians travelling to Hungary. ZsM

ROMANIA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO BOOST NATO ACCESSION CHANCES

President Iliescu on 1 March said Romania will try to convince NATO member countries that Romania's acceptance into the military alliance at the 2002 Prague summit is needed for "securing peace and stability in Southeastern Europe," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said after a government meeting that the Defense Ministry's annual budget will be raised by 33 percent. In other news, Iliescu declared the sentencing of army officials for their roles in the December 1989 change of regime "a political mistake" and judicially unfair. He added that General Victor Stanculescu should also be judged for his role in securing the victory of the 1989 revolution. Stanculescu's 15-year sentence for quashing the December 1989 revolt in Timisoara was suspended on 9 February by Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). ZsM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO CONDITIONALLY ABOLISH VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR ROMANIANS

The European Parliament in Brussels voted on 1 March in favor of abolishing visa requirements for Romanians, Romanian media reported. The deputies amended a Council of Ministers report that proposed the elimination of visas for Bulgarians, but put several conditions for eventually eliminating visa requirements for Romanians. These conditions included measures against illegal immigration from Romania and the repatriation of illegal Romanian residents in EU member countries. The EU's Council of Interior Ministers is to adopt an official visa regulation at its 15-16 March meeting. Should the ministers adopt the original version of the report, Romania would be the only candidate country whose citizens still require a visa for traveling to EU member countries. ZsM

FINAL SOLUTION IN INVESTMENT FUND CASE

The Romanian Supreme Court on 1 March rejected an appeal lodged by the state-owned CEC savings bank and the Finance Ministry in the case of the collapsed private National Investment Fund (FNI), Romanian media reported. The court thus made a final decision in admitting that the contract between CEC and the FNI, in which the CEC was to have guaranteed investments, was legal. According to the contract, the CEC should pay compensation to depositors. However, CEC announced that the decision does not oblige it to do so, as the FNI's collapse was a result of penal activities. After the court ruling, hundreds of investors ended their protest in Bucharest at which they demanded compensation. ZsM

MOLDOVAN YOUTH PROTEST AGAINST APPROACH TO RUSSIA

A small group of Chisinau high school students burned the flag of the former Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic on 1 March, Moldovan media reported. The burning was a protest against the intention of the Party of Moldovan Communists, winner of an absolute majority in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2001), to introduce Russian as the country's second official language. ZsM




There is no End Note today.





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