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Newsline - March 5, 2001




MOSCOW TO PROMOTE ECONOMIC GROWTH BY REMOVING BARRIERS

After a special two-day cabinet session, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 2 March that his government plans to promote economic growth by simplifying the registration of corporations, reducing state interference in economic activity, and limiting the number of activities for which government approval must be obtained, Russian agencies reported. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that these measures would remove a 167 billion ruble ($60 billion) burden on the economy, Interfax reported. Moscow State University scholars told the news agency that this would represent a savings for each family in Russia of 500-550 rubles ($17-19) a month. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 3 March that his agency will work to simplify conditions for ties between Russian and foreign firms. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES U.S. AGAIN ON NMD

On the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union's successful anti-missile test on 4 March 1961, Russian officials criticized the U.S. for thinking that it could set up a national missile defense (NMD) system beyond the capacity of Russia to counter, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, on 2 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the U.S. to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CNTBT) that both Moscow and Washington have observed since 1996 but which the U.S. has not ratified, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

WORLD BANK TO HELP MOSCOW FIGHT CORRUPTION

The World Bank will help the Russian government to identify centers of corruption in Russia so that they can be eliminated, Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref said on 2 March, Interfax reported. On the same day, prosecutors said that they plan to again turn to the U.S. for legal help concerning malfeasance by past and current senior Russian officials, the news agency said. PG

MOSCOW PAYS OFF FEBRUARY PARIS CLUB DEBT IN FULL

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 2 March that Russia paid all of the $1.3 billion it owed to Paris Club countries in February and that it plans to pay half of the $298 million which was due but not paid in January 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the Russian government is working to develop a concept for creating a single system for managing Russia's national debt. Also on 2 March, the World Bank announced that it will provide Russia with $500 million in loans this year, Interfax reported. PG

DOLLARIZATION SEEN RETURNING

Oleg Vyugin, the chief economist of the Troika-Dailog Bank, said that the period of heightened demand for the ruble which began after the August 1998 crisis is passing and that the dollarization of the Russian economy is increasing again, Interfax-AFI reported on 2 March. He said that if the government lifts export controls on foreign currency and also on the obligatory sale of part of earnings in such currencies, then capital flight at the annual level of $25-30 billion is "guaranteed." PG

GORBACHEV SAYS RESTORING USSR 'REACTIONARY' SLOGAN

In an interview with Kyiv's "Fakty" newspaper on 2 March, which was also his birthday, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said that he is "decisively against the slogan of the restoration of the USSR. This is a reactionary slogan; it can blow apart those processes which are proceeding even with difficulty." In other comments, Gorbachev told the BBC on 3 March that he supports President Vladimir Putin's approach in Chechnya. He added that he will work to create the Social Democratic Party but does not seek any posts for himself. PG

PAVLOVSKII SAYS WEST PUSHING RUSSIA INTO 'ETERNAL POST-SOVIET GHETTO'

Gleb Pavlovskii, who serves as a political adviser to President Putin, said in an interview published in "Vek," no. 9, that "the West is benevolently pushing us into a kind of eternal post-Soviet ghetto," but that Putin is helping Russia to return to its rightful status as a great power. In other comments, he said that talk of a political crisis in Moscow is now "a form of greeting, something like 'how do you do?'" But an article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" the same day said that Pavlovskii is harming both Putin and Russia by his contempt for democracy and his preference for behind-the-scenes actions. PG

UNION OF RIGHTIST FORCES AND YABLOKO TO COOPERATE IN MOSCOW CITY ELECTIONS

The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko have begun joint preparations for cooperation in the upcoming Moscow city and oblast Duma races set for the end of 2001, Interfax reported. They reportedly plan to agree on a list of candidates and also on campaign themes. PG

HEAT AND ELECTRICITY TO POWER MINISTRIES TO BE GUARANTEED

Deputy Prime Minister Kudrin announced on 2 March that the government has set up a special interagency working group to develop a new mechanism to guarantee the supply of heat and power to the facilities of power ministries, Interfax reported on 2 March. PG

USE OF ANONYMOUS DENUNCIATIONS DECRIED

The National Movement for Human Rights has appealed to the Russian Supreme Court to ban the newly-restored use of anonymous denunciations by Russian police and security agencies, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 2 March. The group said that under the current conditions, "an informer is absolved of all responsibility" for what he says and that as a result "anyone at all in Russia can easily become a suspect if they have enemies." PG

PROSECUTOR SAYS POLICE SYSTEM WORKS, DOESN'T NEED REFORMS

Vladimir Kolesnikov, an adviser to the prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation, told Interfax on 2 March that current plans to reform the country's legal system are defective and do not reflect an understanding that "the law enforcement organs of Russia in their current form are optimal for the resolution of all juridical problems." He said that Russian police solve more crimes than American police do, a fact he attributed to the "many centuries of tradition on which justice in Russia is constructed." PG

SECURITY COUNCIL CONCERNED BY SHORTCOMINGS IN HARMONIZATION EFFORT

The Security Council's interagency commission on constitutional security on 2 March expressed concern at the fact that a number of legal acts by federation subjects still have not been brought into line with federal law, Interfax reported. At the same time, the commission acknowledged that there are gaps in federal legislation that must be filled in order to create a common legal space across the Russian Federation. PG

CONFUSION OVER GROZNY MASS GRAVE PERSISTS

Six days after the discovery of a mass grave on the outskirts of Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 1 March 2001), it was still unclear on 2 March how many bodies had been recovered, who the dead were, and when they were killed, Russian agencies reported. AP quoted Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov as saying that investigators had found 48 bodies, killed over a period of one year, and that to judge by the uniforms they wore, most of the dead were Chechen fighters. But an unidentified Chechen administration official said that there were some 70 bodies, including women and children. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER COMMENTS ON CHECHEN INSPECTION TRIP

Russian human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, told journalists on 2 March that his 1 March inspection of the Khatuni Russian base in southern Chechnya showed that, contrary to claims by Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, there is no filtration camp there for Chechen fighters, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Kalamanov admitted that he saw at the base five pits, in which Politkovskaya claimed detained Chechens were held, but he added that the camp's commander had explained that they were used for other purposes. Russian Prosecutor-General Chernov, who accompanied Kalamanov on his tour of the Khatuni camp, said on 2 March that "we found nothing resembling what the journalist described," according to Interfax. Russia's chief military prosecutor, Mikhail Kislitsyn, told Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles on 1 March that his office has begun an investigation of Politkovskaya's claims and will announce its findings by 8 March. LF

CHECHEN FIGHTERS DETAINED, RELEASED

Federal Security Service (FSB) forces detained 13 Chechens armed with anti-tank mines, arms, and explosives on 2 March in the village of Dzhalka on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts, but released six of them for lack of evidence after some 100 people staged a demonstration in Gudermes to protest the detentions, Interfax reported. LF

FOUR KILLED IN GROZNY MARKET PLACE BOMBING

Three police officers and one women died when a bomb concealed in a sack exploded in the Grozny market late on 3 March, Russian agencies reported. LF

NTV SUPPORT ACTIONS BEGIN IN ALTAI

The Yabloko branch in Altai Krai on 2 March announced the beginning of actions in support of NTV, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The action, which the group hopes to spread across Russia, includes the organizing of pickets and the collection of signatures in support of the independent channel. PG

RUSSIANS BACK KUCHMA AGAINST ATTACKS

Premier Kasyanov said on 2 March that Moscow is ready to back Ukraine in the restructuring of its debts, Russian agencies reported. Party leaders in the Duma -- including pro-Kremlin "Unity" head Boris Gryzlov and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov -- criticized U.S. threats to cut off aid unless Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma pushes for greater democratization and economic liberalization, Interfax reported on 2 March. Meanwhile, Duma Foreign Relations Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin said that the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is being used to try to prevent a rapprochement between Ukraine and Russia, Interfax reported. He said that if Gongadze had been murdered on Kuchma's order, "the body would never have been found in the woods." PG

U.S., NATO SEEN STRIVING FOR WORLD DOMINATION

Aleksandr Anastasin, the deputy chief of the Center for Military-Strategic Research of the Russian General Staff, said on 2 March that the military doctrines of the U.S. and NATO are directed at achieving unqualified domination in the world, Interfax reported. He said that this fact "illustrates the basic difference of our doctrine from Western ones." PG

U.S. CRITICISM ON EXPORT CONTROLS SEEN AS SELFISH

Oleg Chernov, the deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, said on 2 March that American criticism of Russia concerning the export of high-end technology goods is driven by the desire of American firms to keep Russian companies out of these markets, Interfax reported. PG

KOVALEV DOUBTS MOSCOW PAID HANSSEN MILLIONS

Nikolai Kovalev, the former head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), said on 2 March that "Russia would simply not be able to pay" the more than $1 million that the accused Russian spy, former FBI agent John Philip Hanssen, reportedly received, AFP reported. Kovalev added that "this Hanssen case is just being used for propaganda...[the kind] of thing we would never get involved in ourselves." PG

AMERICAN FACES 10 YEARS FOR DRUG USE

John Tobbin, an American exchange participant in Voronezh, faces up to 10 years in jail for illegal possession of drugs, prosecutors told ITAR-TASS on 2 March. Meanwhile, investigators said they would like to obtain background information on Tobbin from two U.S. government training facilities where Tobbin studied in the past, Interfax reported the same day. PG

BORODIN HEARING MOVED UP TO 9 MARCH

For the second time, judges in New York have agreed to advance a bail hearing for detained Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, Russian and Western agencies reported on 2 March. It will now take place on 9 March. Meanwhile, Russian Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev reaffirmed that Borodin will remain in his current job, Interfax reported. PG

NAZDRATENKO FOE TO SEEK OFFICE IN PRIMORSKII KRAI

State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) and former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov announced on 2 March that he will participate in the 27 May gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai, Interfax reported. Cherepkov attempted to run in the previous election in the region in December 2000 but his registration was invalidated. Cherepkov and other candidates have until 21 April to gather the necessary 15,000 signatures in order to register. Six other candidates, including local Communist legislator Vladimir Grishukov, have officially declared their plans to run so far, according to the krai's election commission. When asked about the recent announcement of former Black Sea Fleet Commander Igor Kasatonov that he plans to run, Cherepkov commented that "the Kremlin has still not indicated which candidate it supports." JAC

FAR EAST PRODUCES ONE-THIRD OF COUNTERFEIT VODKA

Deputy Minister for Taxes and Duties Sergei Veryovkin-Rakhalskii said that one-third of the counterfeit vodka produced in Russia -- approximately 30 million bottles a year -- comes from the Far East, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. Some of the illegal production is diverted from legal producers to others who then sell it and some of it arises when the legal producers pay their workers in vodka rather than in cash. PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY EXPLAINS HIS ROLE

In an interview with Russian Television on 4 March, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko said that he and his fellow envoys function as "instruments of change" in Russia's system of power. He added that "if a situation [in a region] gets out of control, then the federal center must intervene. However, [overseeing] an anti-crisis administration should not be the presidential envoy's constant work." Kirienko concluded that the introduction of the envoys has already prevented "the disintegration of the country into separate principalities" and has "weakened the influence and diktats of the oligarchs." The reform of "vertical power," according to Kirienko, has also eliminated the discrepancies between regional and federal laws, thus laying "a basis for the creation of a single economic field." Kirienko's name has been cited by many sources as a possible candidate to succeed Prime Minister Kasyanov, should he be dismissed (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 5 March 2001). JAC

KOMI REPUBLIC TO REINTRODUCE FIVE-YEAR PLAN

The government of the Komi Republic plans to again base its social and economic policies on five-year plans, Interfax reported on 4 March. Komi Republic head Yurii Spiridonov told reporters that the return to a five-year plan is necessary in order to achieve economic stabilization and growth in the republic. He added that "planning work on the basis of one or two years means to live without a future." JAC

LIABILITY INSURANCE SET UP FOR 'MIR' DEORBITING

Rosaviakosmos General Director Yurii Koptev told ITAR-TASS on 3 March that Moscow has arranged for liability insurance to compensate third parties for any damages as the result of the deorbiting of the "Mir" space station. PG

MOSCOW WORRIED BY WESTERN ROLE IN ARCTIC

Unidentified Russian military-diplomatic sources told Interfax on 2 March that Moscow is concerned by the efforts of Western countries in general and Norway in particular to become involved in the Northern Sea Route north of Russia. PG

MOSCOW UNCONCERNED BY NORTH KOREAN MISSILES

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said in Hanoi on 3 March that Moscow is not concerned by North Korea's missile program, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the failure of the U.S. and North Korea to "improve a dialogue" is their problem and not Moscow's. PG

HAJ PILGRIMS FROM RUSSIA STOPPED AT IRAQ-SAUDI BORDER

Some 2,000 Muslims from the Russian Federation have been prevented from entering Saudi Arabia because they do not have visas, Russian agencies reported on 2 and 3 March. Russian diplomats are trying to resolve the problem. PG

ROGUE FISHING BOAT LEAVES JAPAN

The STM-7 fishing boat which fled from Russian border guards two weeks ago has now left the Japanese port of Wakkanai for an unknown destination, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. PG

EXPORTS OF SCRAP METALS RESTRICTED TO RUSSIAN PORTS

The state tariff committee on 2 March issued an order specifying that scrap metal can be exported only through Russian ports, Interfax reported. PG

GREENPEACE CHARGES ADAMOV WITH CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The Russian branch of the environmental group Greeenpeace said on 2 March that Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov has a conflict of interest concerning the import of nuclear wastes into Russia because he earns $15,000 a month from front companies he established to work in this sector, AP reported. The group urged the Duma not to vote for such imports when the bill authorizing them comes up for a second reading on 22 March. PG

NUCLEAR SPILL REPORT PROMPTS RUN ON LIQUOR STORES

Reports of a minor leakage at the Rostov nuclear power plant caused thousands of Russians to line up to buy vodka and red wine -- which many there believe are effective antidotes to radiation -- "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 March, according to AP. Meanwhile, spokesmen for the plant said that the press reports about the leak were a provocation by opponents of nuclear power, Interfax reported on 2 March. PG

MIGRATION CONTROL POST TO BE TESTED

The Moscow city committee for migration told Interfax on 3 March that they are setting up an experimental migration post at the Riga railroad station in the Russian capital this month. The post will examine the documents of those people coming to the city to see if the papers are in conformity with the law. PG

ARMY OFFICERS SEEN LESS WILLING TO WEAR UNIFORMS OFF BASE

According to a report in "Nezavismoe voennoe obozrenie," no. 8, Russian army officers appear increasingly ashamed to wear their uniforms when they are not on duty and on base. The article said that this is evidence of decay in the military and contrasted the feelings of military officers with those in the Ministry for Emergency Situations who reportedly wear their uniforms proudly. PG

COMPUTER SECURITY EXPERTS TO BE TRAINED AT STATE UNIVERSITY

Chelyabinsk State University has set up a program to train computer security specialists, "Vremya MN" reported on 2 March. Up to now, the paper said, such specialists have been trained in Russia only at the FSB academy, but it added that the FSB will play a role in supervising the work of students at Chelyabinsk "from the very first days" of their instruction. PG

RUSSIA WARNED AGAINST ISOLATIONISM

Speakers at the ninth assembly of the Russian Council for Foreign Defense Policy warned on 3 March against any turn to isolationism by the Russian government and society, ITAR-TASS reported. They noted that "Russia has little time left to fit into modern civilization and the concept of global development." PG

RUSSIA SEEN CAUGHT BETWEEN INSTINCTS FOR EMPIRE AND FOR FREEDOM

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 March, Rafail Khakimov argued that Russia today is caught between its "great-power traditions" and a desire for democracy. He said that President Putin exploited the "imperial instinct" to attract support in the wake of the Soviet collapse but that the "instinct of freedom" remains strong. Khakimov said that empires exhausted themselves in the 20th century and that efforts to turn back the clock are doomed. At the same time, he suggested that there are limits: "It is possible to imagine Russia without Kyiv but it is impossible to imagine it without Kazan." PG

RUSSIANS BELIEVE THEIR WOMEN THE PRETTIEST

A monitoring.ru poll found that 59 percent of Russians now believe that a woman could be president of Russia, while 32 percent disagreed, Ekho Moskvy reported on 2 March. The same firm found that 55 percent of Russians do not believe that President Putin has been able to escape from the influence of oligarchs, Interfax reported the same day. And monitoring.ru reported in advance of International Women's Day on 8 March that 73 percent of Russians believe that the most beautiful women in the world live in Russia. PG




ARMENIA 'CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC' ON EVE OF PARIS KARABAKH TALKS...

Armenian President Robert Kocharian told journalists at Yerevan airport late on 3 March that there is "a real chance" of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, adding that after his talks in Paris on 4-5 March with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev "our statements and actions will become more concrete," Interfax reported. But he added that it is "premature" to speak of "new approaches" to resolving the conflict. OSCE Chairman-in-Office Mircea Dan Geoana had told journalists in Yerevan last week that "it is obvious that there is a true dialogue going on [between the two presidents.]" But he warned that "we should not expect any major breakthroughs any time soon." In an interview published on 1 March in the independent daily "Golos Armenii," Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that what is currently under discussion are general principles agreed between French President Jacques Chirac and the U.S. and Russian presidents. Those three countries co-chair the OSCE's Minsk Group that has been trying to mediate a solution of the conflict since 1992. Oskanian said that if Kocharian, Aliev, and the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic accept those principles, they could serve as a basis for a settlement document and for further negotiations, according to Noyan Tapan. LF

...WHILE AZERBAIJAN ANTICIPATES NEW ARMENIAN PEACE PROPOSAL...

Azerbaijani President Aliyev told journalists on 3 March prior to his departure for Paris that he is ready to continue meeting with Kocharian "two, three or four times if that is necessary to achieve peace in Karabakh," Interfax reported. But Aliyev added that he will not make any new peace proposals. The previous day, police in Baku broke up demonstrations outside the parliament building, the constitutional court, and the French, Russian, and U.S. embassies to protest the Azerbaijani leadership's alleged "defeatist" approach to resolving the conflict. Up to 70 people were detained, including leading members of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, which jointly organized the protest. LF

...AND AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SON SAYS PEACE NOT LINKED TO SUCCESSION

In an exclusive interview with Azerbaijan's Space TV on 2 March, a transcript of which was circulated by Groong, President Aliev's son Ilham denied speculation that his father intends to make concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh in return for guarantees that Ilham will succeed him as president. Ilham Aliyev said such rumors are spread by international powers that are dissatisfied with his father's strength of character and independent policies. He noted press reports suggesting that those countries wish to see Heidar Aliyev replaced with a leader who would be more amenable to pressure from them. He said those powers have selected as the party most amenable to pressure the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, but did not specify which of that party's two rival factions he meant. Turan the following day quoted Ilham as saying that Azerbaijan should be prepared to wage a new war to win back control of Karabakh. LF

AZERBAIJAN REJECTS U.S. REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev said in Baku on 3 March that Azerbaijani officials have expressed verbally their disagreement with the annual U.S. State Department assessment of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, but will not lodge a written protest, Turan reported. Quliev said the report is not impartial and does not reflect the real situation. Presidential administration official Novruz Mammedov similarly described it as "tendentious and biased." The report notes corruption and inefficiency among the police and judiciary, the use of beatings and torture by police, violations during the November 2000 parliamentary elections, and restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and the media. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS ABKHAZ LOCAL ELECTIONS

The Georgian parliament adopted a statement on 2 March condemning as illegal the local elections to be held in the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia on 10 March, Caucasus Press reported. The statement added that any further polls to be held in that republic before a settlement of the conflict and the return of "hundreds of thousands" of displaced persons to their homes will also be considered illegal. Also on 2 March, the head of the Gali district administration, Ruslan Kishmaria, denied Georgian media reports that the Abkhaz authorities are pressuring Abkhaz voters to participate in the poll. A total of 192 candidates, 20 of them women, have registered to contest 136 posts. LF

GUNMEN OPEN FIRE ON GEORGIAN SOLDIERS

Masked gunmen opened fire on 3 March on a jeep carrying four Georgian army officers and four soldiers in the outskirts of Tbilisi, wounding one of the servicemen ITAR-TASS reported. The attackers escaped. The officers and soldiers are members of the army's model Kodori battalion. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT MAKES FIRM COMMITMENT TO EXPORTING SOME OIL VIA BAKU-CEYHAN

Meeting on 2 March in Astana with the U.S. special presidential representative for the Caspian, Elizabeth Jones, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said that the first oil extracted from the giant Kashagan field will be exported via the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is scheduled for completion in 2004, and the OKIOC consortium engaged in developing Kashagan is under contract to begin exporting oil from that field in 2005, according to Interfax. OKIOC has completed drilling of its second exploratory well in Kashagan, Interfax reported on 2 March. In his traditional Monday radio address, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 5 March that Kazakhstan will sign "the main documents" pertaining to construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline in June, after which it will become "a fully-fledged participant" in that project, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN CONVICTS TAJIK DIPLOMAT ON DRUGS CHARGES

Three citizens of Tajikistan, including a former counselor at the Tajik embassy in Kazakhstan, have been sentenced by an Almaty court to between 10 and 15 years in prison on charges of smuggling drugs, Interfax reported on 2 March. The three men were arrested last May, after a search of an embassy car and the diplomat's apartment and garage yielded 86 tons of heroin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 May 2000). LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS

President Askar Akaev chaired a session of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council on 2 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Addressing that meeting, Defense Minister Esen Topoev warned that Uzbek Islamic militants may invade Kyrgyzstan earlier this year than they did in 1999 and 2000, on a larger scale, and from a different direction. He said troops in southern Kyrgyzstan are being supplied with "everything necessary" to repel a new attack, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 2 March, Kyrgyzstan's deputy military prosecutor, Kubanychbek Alyshbaev, told RFE/RL that Bishkek has opened criminal cases against two of the leaders of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Djuma Namangani and Tahir Yuldash. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TO CENTRALIZE GOLD PRODUCTION

Under a Kyrgyz government directive dated 2 March, all companies engaged in gold mining are to be subordinated to the state-run Kyrgyz-altyn company, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That directive applies to the Kara-Balta gold refining complex and to the Kyrgyz government's stake in gold-mining joint ventures. LF

TAJIK POLICE UNEARTH NEW AMMUNITIONS CACHE

Police in southern Tajikistan on 3 March discovered an underground arsenal containing several machine-guns, grenades, and ammunition together with two kilograms of marijuana, ITAR-TASS reported. The weapons are believed to have been hidden by supporters of rebel Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev. It was the 10th such secret arms dump to be discovered in Tajikistan so far this year. LF

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TURKMENISTAN

Kamal Kharrazi met in Ashgabat on 1 March with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss bilateral relations, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's upcoming visit to Turkmenistan, and possible exports of Turkmen gas to Iran, Interfax reported. Five days earlier, Iranian energy sector officials had asked their Turkmen counterparts during talks in Ashgabat to increase the amount of Turkmen gas exported to Iran this year, according to ITAR-TASS. They also discussed the possibility of raising the throughput capacity of the Korpedzhe-Kurt-Kui gas pipeline first to eight billion cubic meters and eventually to 13 billion cubic meters per year. LF

TURKMEN AUTHORITIES STRIP SEALED BAPTIST CHURCH

The local authorities in Ashgabat's Niyazov district on 2 March broke the seals they had placed on the doors of the country's last functioning Baptist church on 17 February and removed everything from inside, Keston News Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). They refused a demand by the church's pastor to show authorization for their actions. The pastor had been summoned to the Committee for State Security on 28 February and warned not to meet in future with other Baptists. LF

UZBEKISTAN GIVES GO-AHEAD FOR RAILWAY PRIVATIZATION

President Islam Karimov signed a decree on 2 March on "gradually" transforming the state-owned Uzbek Railways into an open joint-stock company, Interfax reported. The decree underscores the importance of attracting foreign investment for the renovation and modernization of both the passenger and rail freight sectors. The Asian Development Bank last year approved a $70 million loan to Uzbekistan towards modernization of the rail link between Samarkand and Bukhara (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SETS TASKS FOR AMBASSADORS...

Last week all Belarusian ambassadors came to Minsk to be briefed on their tasks, Belarusian Television reported. Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the ambassadors on 2 March that Belarusian diplomacy now faces four priorities: to provide informational backing to the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus through diplomatic channels; strengthen the Belarus-Russia Union; invigorate Belarus's foreign policy in the "Western direction;" and to promote the country's economic interests. JM

...OBJECTS TO UNION MONEY PRINTING BY RUSSIA ALONE

Lukashenka also said Russia's Central Bank cannot be the single money printing center of the Belarus-Russia union. "If Russia's Central Bank, in its current form, is proposed to us as the single money printing center of the union state, we will not [even] discuss such a center," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. Lukashenka denied allegations that Belarus may lose its sovereignty if the Chamber of Representatives ratifies the agreements on the introduction of a single currency and a single money printing center for Belarus and Russia. JM

OSCE WANTS TALKS ON ELECTIONS BETWEEN BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION

Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, has sent a proposal to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to begin negotiations between the government and the opposition on the conditions for holding presidential elections in Belarus this year, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 2 March. JM

OPPOSITION APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR UKRAINIAN DEMOCRACY

The "Ukraine Without Kuchma" Public Committee and the Forum for National Salvation have called on the world's democratic communities, parliaments, and governments to support democracy in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 2 March. A joint statement accuses Ukrainian authorities of the failure to conduct a civilized dialogue with society; "grave crimes against man and humanity;" as well as corruption and embezzlement of state property. The statement notes that President Leonid Kuchma is "the obstacle upon Ukraine's path to democratic Europe [and] the free world." Addressing the Ukrainian people, the anti-Kuchma opposition appeals to them to "create structures of resistance in every town and village, on every plant and at home." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ON RESTRUCTURING FOREIGN DEBT

Viktor Yushchenko on 2 March said he believes there is a good chance that the Paris Club of creditor nations will decide to restructure Ukraine's debts, AP reported. Yushchenko added that Ukraine sent a restructuring proposal to the Paris Club on 1 February for the country's $1 billion debt to that group. Ukraine's foreign debt now stands at $10.35 billion. Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development told Yushchenko that Kyiv will receive money to complete the construction of nuclear reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy power plants only after it comes to terms with the Paris Club on a debt restructuring plan, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 5 March. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER PREDICTS MOUNTING CRISIS

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on 2 March that Ukraine is now at "a turning point in its national history" and may either move toward a criminal dictatorship or become a democratic state. Moroz said President Kuchma has blocked reforms in the economy, cultivated an authoritarian political style, and actively interfered in the country's national and religious life. According to Moroz, the current political crisis in Ukraine, which was provoked by the recent outcry over the disappearance last year of Kuchma critic Heorhiy Gongadze, will peak in late spring or early summer, with public participation in demonstrations growing and with the parliament becoming evermore assertive. Moroz, who visited the U.S. last week, said he was not seeking to have the U.S. and other countries stop their assistance programs to Ukraine, but rather to change their Ukrainian partners and build cooperation with non-governmental groups. JM

UKRAINE'S CHIEF TAX INSPECTOR GOES INTO POLITICS

At its congress on 3 March, the Party of Ukrainian Regions elected State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov as its chairman, Interfax reported. The Party of Ukrainian Regions, which until the 3 March congress bore the name of the Party of Regional Revival-Labor Solidarity of Ukraine, was created in November 2000 in a merger of five smaller parties. Azarov said after the congress that his party opposes the recently voiced proposal to create a "coalition government" and supports dialogue between the government and the opposition. Audio tapes published by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko implicate Azarov in blackmailing kolkhoz managers over unpaid taxes to muster support for Kuchma during the 1999 presidential elections. JM

ESTONIA TO BUY AIR SURVEILLANCE RADAR FROM LOCKHEED-MARTIN

The Estonian government on 2 March decided to purchase air surveillance radar for Baltnet, the Baltic airspace surveillance project, from the U.S. firm Lockheed-Martin, BNS and ETA reported. The radar, which will cost about 200 million kroons ($12 million), will be able to detect flying objects at a distance of 300 kilometers and be used for the air force and civilian air traffic control. The radar will be set up in the village of Laekvere in Laane-Virumaa. The French firm Thales, Italy's Alenia Marconi, and Great Britain's British Aerospace also submitted bids for the tender, which lasted more than a year. SG

LATVIA TAKES STEPS TO KEEP FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE AWAY

National Veterinary Service Director Vinets Veldre announced on 2 February that all passengers arriving at Riga International Airport from London's Heathrow will have the soles of their footwear disinfected in order to prevent foot-and-mouth disease from spreading to Latvia, BNS reported the next day. Passengers will be required to walk across special mats saturated with disinfectant that were installed at the airport. SG

LITHUANIA'S ONLY RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE DAILY CEASES PUBLISHING

"Ekho Litvy," which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, was not published on 2 March due to financial problems, BNS reported. The paper, which has a press run of 5,000-8,000, had been the Russian-language publication of the Lithuanian Communist Party until it was privatized by its staff in the early 1990s. The paper's director-general, Raisa Stankeviciene, said the financial difficulties were caused by the ongoing simultaneous negotiations between three shareholders with potential buyers, whose identities were revealed. The paper's staff believed the publication had stopped only temporarily and would resume in "maybe 20-30 days." SG

POLAND'S REPRIVATIZATION BILL BOGS DOWN OVER ELIGIBILITY DISPUTE

Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski on 2 March delayed a final vote on the reprivatization bill that is intended to partly compensate people whose property was seized by the Communist regime from 1944 to 1962. The Sejm voted in January to pay 50 percent of the value of lost assets to those former owners or their heirs who held Polish citizenship until the end of 1999. Later the same month, the Senate decided to extend the scope of the bill's beneficiaries by removing the citizenship clause, thus allowing many emigres to file restitution claims, notably Jews who emigrated from Poland and lost or gave up their Polish citizenship. The government and the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) parliamentary caucus support the Senate's amendment, but some maverick AWS deputies oppose it, threatening to vote down the entire bill. JM

POLAND'S LARGEST STEEL PRODUCER TO AXE 1,400 JOBS

Poland's largest steel producer, Huta Katowice SA, is planning to sack 1,400 of its 5,700-strong workforce in 2001, PAP reported on 4 March. Employment at Huta Katowice SA has decreased fourfold since 1996 when some 20,300 workers were employed. The company's annual production capacity is estimated at 5 million tons. The company seeks external financing sources and a strategic investor after talks with the British-Dutch steel concern Corus failed last year. Six investors declared their interest in the privatization of Huta Katowice SA. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT TELLS RUSSIA DIFFERENCES MUST NOT HINDER COOPERATION

Vaclav Havel and Russian Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev on 3 March agreed that differences over NATO enlargement must not hinder the improvement of economic cooperation between their countries, CTK reported, citing Czech presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. Stroev said Russia is interested in offering incentives to Czech investors, and that some regions may go as far as to agree to a 50 percent cut in taxes. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC HOSTS LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER

On 2 March, President Havel discussed NATO enlargement, the plans for the organization's Prague summit of 2002 and European security with visiting Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, CTK reported. Valionis said he hopes the summit will decide to invite his country to join NATO. According to presidential spokesman Spacek, Havel said he considers NATO enlargement to be "the guarantee for European security." During his two-day visit to Prague, Valionis also met with Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, opposition leader Vaclav Klaus, and other officials. MS

CZECH LOWER HOUSE CIRCUMVENTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULING

Only five days after the Constitutional Court ruled that an amendment to the law on political parties approved by the Chamber of Deputies in September 2000 was unconstitutional, Czech legislators on 2 March passed a new version of the law that is only slightly different, CTK reported. Instead of the previous state subsidy of 1 million crowns ($26,702) per parliamentary seat, to which President Havel had objected as being discriminatory to smaller and non-parliamentary formations, the chamber approved a version providing for a subsidy of 900,000 crowns per parliamentary seat. The vote was 123 for and 9 against. The new law also provides for parties to receive 200,000 crowns (instead of the previous 100,000 provision) per each tenth of 1 percent received at ballots above 3 percent, up to a maximum of 10 million crowns, rather than 5 million as previously provided for. MS

CZECH FREEDOM UNION SELECTS CANDIDATES FOR 'SHADOW CABINET'

A two-day National Conference of the Freedom Union, a member of the opposition Four Party Coalition, on 3-4 March selected 14 candidates for the seven "shadow ministerial portfolios" to which the union is entitled according to the agreements reached in January, CTK reported. The "shadow cabinet," to be headed by Christian Democrat Cyril Svoboda, is to be set up at the end of the month. The conference expressed confidence in Svoboda, but Freedom Union leader Karel Kuehnl warned that for the coalition to function properly, all agreements reached among the partners must be respected. Observers said this was a hint that the union insists on having the foreign affairs portfolio allotted to Kuehnl himself. The conference rejected the proposal made by Christian Democratic Party leader Jan Kasal that the four formations merge into a single political party. MS

EU CHAIRMAN PRAISES SLOVAK PROGRESS TOWARD EU MEMBERSHIP

European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi on 2 March told journalists after meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda in Brussels that "Slovakia is doing very well" in its efforts to gain EU membership, but that Bratislava had "started later [than the main candidates]" and "we are trying to speed up." Prodi added that the main problem "is not the speed challenge, since these are not the Olympic games; the problem is to do it well." He said he had discussed with Dzurinda the Roma minority in Slovakia, adding that although Slovakia "has certain problems in this respect," they are also shared with other Central European candidate countries and "also pose a broader democratic problem for the EU" itself. MS

ROMANY PARLIAMENT MEETS IN BRATISLAVA

The first meeting of the World Romany Union Parliament in Bratislava on 3 March decided to set up a Romany Court, which will rule in matters affecting the Romany communities and do so in line with the Romany tradition, CTK reported, citing Radio Twist. Union Chairman Emil Scuka said the court will sit only over cases of "moral offenses" involving members of the communities. He commented that he considered lies, rude behavior and theft to belong to these category of offenses. The judges will not deliver jail sentences, but could exclude offenders from the communities or sentence them to fines. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT 'UNDERSTANDS' PROTESTING UNIONS

President Rudolf Schuster, reacting to the blockage of five border crossings by members of unions representing engineering and metallurgy workers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2001) said in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, that the cabinet should have "long ago listened" to the unions and opened negotiations with them, CTK reported on 2 March. Schuster said the unions had been forced into an "extreme action" that "benefit none of us, and particularly not the government." Schuster said he cannot support demands that are "unjustified," a definition that can only be established at the negotiating table. Labor Minister Peter Magvasi said the government is not a party to the labor dispute and the unions must negotiate with the employers. MS

HUNGARIAN ROMANY GROUP ENCOURAGED BY RUSSIAN SECRET SERVICES?

According to a report by "Jane's Intelligence Digest," the group of Hungarian Roma from Zamoly currently seeking political asylum in France have been encouraged by the Russian secret service to claim they are persecuted and their human rights violated in Hungary, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 3 March. According to the British publication, the aim of the operation is to discredit Hungary during ongoing EU accession talks. Hungarian Secret Services Minister Ervin Demeter neither confirmed nor denied the news. Jozsef Krasznai, spokesman of the Zamoly group, told a press conference in Paris that he was unaware of any "Russian friends" and said Hungary's National Security Office itself is behind the "information." A Russian diplomatic source in Moscow described the report as "not serious." MSZ




THREE MACEDONIAN TROOPS KILLED...

Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim said on 4 March after three Macedonian soldiers were killed that Skopje will demand an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to seek measures for securing its border with Kosova, dpa reported. The soldiers died in two separate incidents on 4 March, two of them after their vehicle drove over a mine. Kerim said after meeting with the UN administrative head in Kosova, Hans Haekkerup, and the commander of the NATO-led KFOR troops in Kosova, General Carlo Cabigiosu, that Skopje will insist on the creation of a demilitarized zone on the Kosovar side of the common border. For his part, Haekkerup said after the Skopje meeting with Kerim that there is "no definite proof that the events on the border were provoked from Kosovo," implying that ethnic Albanians from Macedonia are responsible for the violence. PB

...AS FIGHTING BETWEEN MACEDONIAN TROOPS, ETHNIC ALBANIANS SPREADS

Ethnic Albanian rebels fired rockets at Macedonian soldiers manning the Kodra Pura and Malina checkpoints on the morning of 5 March, AP reported. Police said government troops are now battling some 200 ethnic Albanians in two villages -- Tanusevci and Malina -- and the nearby Kora Pura mountaintop. Macedonia closed off all border crossings with Kosova on 4 March, though they later allowed some Macedonians to enter the Serbian province. Hamdi Hasani, mayor of the Kosovar border village of Debele, called the fighting "a real war." He said sporadic gunfire and some heavy weapons had been used. The Macedonian Defense Ministry said it had responded with "all of its weaponry" on 4 March. PB

MACEDONIA UNHAPPY WITH NATO RESPONSE

NATO reassured Macedonia that the alliance is taking measures to calm the situation on the country's border with Kosova, though Macedonian officials appear unsatisfied with the response, Reuters reported on 3 March. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said he remains "in close contact with the Skopje government and [I] spoke with [Macedonian] President [Boris] Trajkovski on the telephone again today." Robertson reiterated that the alliance is taking strong measures to increase security on the Kosova side of the border. KFOR commander Cabigiosu said "KFOR will intensify surveillance of the border in close cooperation with Macedonian forces." But Nikola Dimitrov, security adviser to President Trajkovski, chided a statement by Robertson's deputy assistant, Daniel Speckhard, to refrain from seeking a military solution: "It is a matter of great difficulty to use political means when you [are dealing] with terrorists in defending your territory," Dimitrov said. "This is very irresponsible on behalf of NATO." Russia's presidential office reported on 5 March that Trajkovski had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin the previous evening, ITAR-TASS reported. PB

ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADERS CALL FOR AUTONOMY IN PRESEVO REGION...

Riza Halimi, the political leader of the some 60,000 ethnic Albanians living in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, said on 3 March that his organization is demanding broad autonomy in the area and insists on foreign mediation in resolving the conflict, AP reported. Halimi outlined his call for autonomy, saying that ethnic Albanians should have their own "legal system with state bodies, police, and judiciary." He added that all peace talks with Belgrade must take place outside of the country and with the participation of leaders of the rebels fighting against Serbian security forces -- a condition that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has ruled out. Serbian Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said the previous day that he expects a ceasefire to be declared this week, as well as a "narrowing of the buffer zone...with the help of our real partners, from NATO." Fighting between ethnic Albanians and Serbian security forces were reported throughout the weekend. PB

...AS BELGRADE RULES OUT INTERNATIONAL PRESENCE

Yugoslavia's secretary of state for the Defense Ministry, Milovan Coguric, said on 4 March that the problem in the Presevo Valley "cannot be internationalized," AFP reported. Coguric said "there will be no new Rambouillet [peace talks between Yugoslavia and Kosovar in France] or Dayton." Coguric said the conflict with ethnic Albanians fighting for autonomy will be settled as "an internal Yugoslav issue." PB

UNHCR WARNS OF INSTABILITY AROUND BUFFER ZONE

Rudd Lubbers, who heads the UNHCR, said in a statement addressed to NATO in Geneva on 2 March that reducing the size of the buffer zone and admitting Serbian forces into the area could lead to instability in the region, Reuters reported. Lubbers argued that "any rapid change of the situation in the Ground Safety Zone could destabilize the area and cause further displacement of ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia into Kosovo. This could have a negative knock-on effect on the already precarious situation of Kosovo's vulnerable ethnic minorities." PM

KOSTUNICA SAYS HASTY PROSECUTION OF MILOSEVIC NOT GOOD

Yugoslav President Kostunica said in Belgrade on 3 March that efforts to bring about a speedy trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could create lasting tensions between Milosevic supporters and pro-reform officials, AP reported. Kostunica told the Belgrade daily "Danas" that "people who are in power today could tomorrow become the opposition." He added that the communist-era practice of "revolutionary justice" must stop. Kostunica's comments come amid renewed calls for Milosevic's arrest. The student organization Otpor, which played a leading role in the fight against Milosevic's regime, said on 3 March that the man "who embodied terror, dictatorship, and hate must be arrested. What more evidence is needed than thousands of dead, displaced, robbed, [and] intimidated people?" it asked in a statement. PB

WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR SKEPTICAL OF MILOSEVIC'S ARREST

UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called Yugoslav President Kostunica a man of "the past" on 3 March and said she holds out little chance that former President Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, will be sent to The Hague for trial, Reuters reported. Del Ponte, in comments to the French radio station RFI, said: "Kostunica is the past and that country needs the future, a great future." She said she will visit the UN Security Council in May and will call for punitive measures to be imposed on Yugoslavia if it fails to cooperate with The Hague tribunal. Del Ponte said that during her visit to Belgrade in January she was impressed with many reformist ministers but disappointed in Kostunica, who, she said, spent 90 minutes making "declamatory statements about Serbia and the Serbs as victims." PB

BELGRADE SAYS GOLD NOT LINKED TO MILOSEVIC

Yugoslav officials said 2 March that gold sent to Switzerland which press reports linked to former President Milosevic did not belong to the Yugoslav government and the money from its sale did not go to Milosevic, Reuters reported. Vladan Begovic, the head of Yugoslavia's customs service, said the gold "came into the country as the property of [foreign] firms and it returned to these firms." A Swiss metals trading and refining company also said the gold that it processed from Yugoslavia did not transit through "Milosevic or any individuals or companies related to Milosevic." PB

BOSNIAN CROATS DECLARE SEPARATE STATE...

Meeting in the south Bosnian town of Mostar on 3 March, the Croat National Assembly voted unanimously to establish a separate state in areas with a Croat majority. "Now is the time," said Ante Jelavic, president of the Assembly, leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), and Croat member of the Bosnian state presidency, AP reported. The declaration will go into effect in 15 days, unless international officials reverse electoral changes made before the last elections, which they say favor multiethnic parties. The self-declared state would be based in Mostar and assume judicial, legislative, and executive powers from the federation. DW

...TO PROTESTS IN BOSNIA...

The Party for Bosnia and Hercegovina, part of the multiethnic governing bloc that took power after last November's elections, said that the declaration by the HDZ-led assembly was no surprise, Reuters reported. "The HDZ has since its establishment until today carried out politics of ethnic division of Bosnia with the final goal of the secession of the so-called Croat historic areas from the country," the party said in a statement on 4 March. The main Muslim nationalist party, SDA, a former governing ally of the HDZ, also condemned the declaration as unacceptable. A change made to the electoral rules prior to the last elections, which allowed Muslims and Croats to elect Croats even in Croat-minority areas, led to the victory of multiethnic reformist parties at the expense of the ruling nationalist parties. The HDZ-led congress has pledged to follow through on the declaration if the changes are not revoked in 15 days. DW

...AND FROM CROATIA AND THE WEST

Jelavic will be held "personally accountable for provocative actions," said Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Reuters reported. Petritsch, who has the power to sack any official and ban any party, described the declaration as "a purely political act." Government officials in Croatia also condemned the declaration. President Stipe Mesic said that "Bosnia's problems must be solved through the institutions of the system in cooperation with the international community," AP reported on 3 March. Parliament speaker Zlatko Tomcic said the action could result in "negative consequences" for Croats in Bosnia and Croatia. DW

ROMANIAN MINISTER SLAMS HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS...

Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca on 2 March slammed as "unacceptable," visits paid last week by Hungarian officials to Transylvanian localities without earlier coordination of the visits with Romanian authorities, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Cozmanca said the two officials, Justice Minister Ibolya David and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth, visited the region as "tourists" but conducted talks with local officials. After being summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where he was handed a protest, Hungarian Ambassador Istvan Ijgyarto said he was "puzzled" by the protest, since the 21-24 February visit paid to Romania by Nemeth had been "official" and was "coordinated with our Romanian partners." David visited Arad in late February as a guest of the local Magyar community and met Arad Mayor Dorel Popa, with whom she discussed the possibility of restoring a statue of 13 Hungarian generals executed in 1849 by the Habsburgs. MS.

...WHILE DEFENSE MINISTERS HAVE CORDIAL MEETING

Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo and his Romanian counterpart Ioan Mircea Pascu, meeting in Satu Mare, Transylvania, on 2 March, said they are satisfied with bilateral relations between their ministries. They discussed military reforms underway in the two countries and the prospects of NATO's further expansion. Pascu and Szabo also discussed planned exercises by the joint Romanian-Hungarian peacekeeping battalion and the prospects of setting up a "humanitarian intervention unit" formed by solders from their countries, as well as Slovakia and Ukraine. Pascu said Romania "has no reason" to be apprehensive over Hungarian plans to lease F-16 aircraft from the U.S., emphasizing that "Hungary is a NATO member and we want to become a member of that organization." MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST ON NATO, 'SHADOW CABINET'

Hungary was also mentioned in a speech delivered by Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor at the PRM national council meeting on 2 March. Tudor, a known "Magyarophobe," said Romania must integrate into NATO because Hungary is a member of that organization and this is "the only way to keep an [open] eye on it." Tudor also announced that the PRM will set up a 20-member "shadow cabinet." He also warned that he will "disband" those PRM county organizations where personal struggles endanger the unity of the party as a whole. MS

ROMANIAN MINERS END STRIKE

Some 700 miners from the state-owned coal mines in Campulung and Filipestii de Padure on 4 March decided to accept a governmental offer of a 20 percent wage increase and ended a 70-hour strike during which they remained underground, AP reported. The agreement stipulates that additional wage increases will depend on raising productivity. On 2 March, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said that "the only way to get better wages is to improve work." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER REACT TO MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

In an interview with Romanian Radio, President Ion Iliescu on 2 March said the outcome of the recent Moldovan parliamentary elections was due to the population's "difficult economic situation." Iliescu said that regardless of its electoral program, the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) may soon find itself in a situation in which it will have to "do more than its ruling parties' predecessors to build a market economy, as only that option can result in economic stability." Prime Minister Nastase on the same day said that the electoral outcome in Moldova was "in some ways reminiscent" of the success the PRM registered in the November 2000 ballot in his own country. "The vote was determined by frustration and poverty," Nastase said, adding that this "must be a lesson to both Bucharest and Washington, as well as to the IMF." MS

VORONIN TO BECOME MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...

The Central Committee of the PCM on 3 March nominated party leader Vladimir Voronin as the party's candidate for state president, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Following the 25 February parliamentary elections, the PCM has an overwhelming majority of 71 in the 101-seat legislature and Voronin's election, for which 61 votes are needed, is beyond doubt. Contrary to expectations, the meeting did not decide on PCM candidates for parliamentary chairman or the premiership. Voronin told the meeting that he will discuss with Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis the possibility of continuing in office and that Braghis's party will be offered one of the posts of deputy parliamentary chairman. He said the future cabinet will be "one of technocrats" but some "center-left" parties that did not gain parliamentary representation may join the cabinet "not in key positions." MS

...OUTLINES FOREIGN POLICY ORIENTATION

Voronin also said Moldova's foreign policy is likely to "undergo some modifications" but "at the initial stage, we shall continue the present foreign policy oriented toward the West, toward the East and toward the international lending organizations." He said relations with Russia are "strategic" for Moldova and that the Russian troops in the Transdniester region, whose task is to "guard the Russian arsenal there," can be withdrawn "only after the arsenal itself has been withdrawn." Voronin added that "declarations are less important than concrete steps" and told the audience that he has phoned Romanian President Iliescu, to congratulate him on his birthday. He said they had both agreed to develop "good neighborly economic, political and spiritual ties" between their countries. MS

MOLDOVAN VOTE RECOUNT CHANGES NOTHING

Central Electoral Commission Chairman Dumitru Nedelcu on 3 March announced that a recount of the nearly 41,000 votes originally declared invalid has not changed the electoral outcome. The recount was demanded by Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRCM) and by the Democratic Party, both of which fell less than one percentage short of the 6 percent electoral threshold. Nedelcu said 21,371 votes were declared valid after the recount, of which 12,386 were for the PCM, 2,300 for the PRCM, 1,241 for the Braghis Alliance, and 952 or the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD). Following the recount, the PCM has been endorsed by 50.7 percent and has 71 deputies. The Braghis Alliance garnered 13.3 percent and is represented by 19 deputies, and the PPCD, with a support of 8.24 percent, is represented by 11 deputies. MS

BULGARIA TO ALLOW FREE NATO TROOP ENTRY

President Petar Stoyanov traveled on 5 March to NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he is expected to sign an agreement allowing NATO troops to freely enter Bulgarian territory, AP and BTA reported. Under the current law, foreign troops may enter Bulgarian territory only with the express approval of the parliament, and permission is required for each individual movement of troops. Stoyanov said on 2 March that the memorandum, which will be submitted for parliamentary approval, will simplify the procedure for the entry of NATO troops. Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said the memorandum will not allow the stationing of NATO bases on Bulgarian territory. MS

BULGARIA OFFERS TROOPS TO MACEDONIA

In a telephone conversation with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, Stoyanov on 4 March said his country is willing to consider sending troops to help defend the Macedonian frontier with Kosova, Reuters reported, citing the presidential office in Sofia. On 2 March, the Bulgarian government condemned violence by "armed Albanian extremists" on that border and said it expects NATO-led peacekeepers in the area to improve border security. "The government resolutely condemns...those actions that have come at a time when Macedonia and Yugoslavia, after 10 years of effort, have sealed a border demarcation treaty, which Bulgaria welcomes as an additional factor for regional stability," the statement said. The government press office later said Prime Minister Ivan Kostov called his Macedonian counterpart Ljubco Georgievski, telling him Sofia support Skopje's efforts to find a peaceful solution and is "ready to help." MS




LUKASHENKA LASHES OUT


By Paul Goble

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has threatened to expel any diplomat who interferes in the domestic affairs of his country in advance of a presidential poll there later this year, a reflection of his increasing isolation both domestically and internationally.

Lukashenka told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS on 1 March that he will put in jail anyone Belarusian courts found guilty of espionage. Moreover, he said that he will expel any diplomat -- including envoys from Western countries -- who uses an embassy to spy on Belarus or interfere in the elections.

In addition, the Belarusian leader linked his domestic opponents to foreign donors who he said had given the dissidents cash and office equipment. Such people, he said, "openly declare their intention to turn Belarus into another Yugoslavia. But that will not go. Electing a president will be up to the people of Belarus rather than to [foreign] security services." His election, Lukashenka added, will take place without the "fuss" usually generated by journalists.

Lukashenka's latest outburst is typical of a man who has expressed admiration for the governing styles of Stalin and Hitler and who has shown little mercy to his opponents as he has moved to reestablish a highly authoritarian regime in Belarus. And his remarks come on the heels of a Belarusian state television program accusing the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency of supporting the opposition to Lukashenka's continuation in office.

The tone of that program is suggested by one of the state television officials who oversaw its production. Aleksandr Zimovsky noted that "the Americans are making a crude mistake in regarding Belarus as a playground for their spies and agents. Belarusian special services have something with which to counter their attempts to act uncontrollably in our country."

But Lukashenka's remarks this time may reflect something more than his typical bravado: they may mirror growing concerns on his part about his own isolation domestically and internationally, on the one hand, and an effort by him to counter this isolation by portraying himself as the only true defender of Belarus against shadowy forces from abroad.

Recent polls taken in Belarus show that support for Lukashenka is declining, even among his traditional rural base. And in addition to continuing Western European and American criticism of Minsk's violation of human rights, the Belarusian leader now appears to be losing support from the one place he had always expected to receive it: the Russian government in Moscow.

In recent weeks, Russian commentators have been increasingly critical of Lukashenka's performance, especially his all-too-public differences with Moscow over the proper response to the detention in New York of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin on an extradition request by Swiss prosecutors. Lukashenka wanted a hard line, Moscow a softer one, and Lukashenka left Moscow a day early over this issue during a January visit.

After that diplomatic spat, some Russian newspapers pointedly suggested that the Russian government was distancing itself from Lukashenka and was even interviewing possible replacements to head the Belarusian government. As one Moscow observer put it at the time, everyone understands that the president of Belarus "is chosen by the Kremlin rather than by the Belarusian people."

Such Russian criticism of Lukashenka only increased this week in the wake of the communist victory in the Moldovan parliamentary elections, with several Moscow analysts suggesting that taking Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union would further compound Russia's problems, just as forming the union with Lukashenka's Belarus already had.

Faced with this apparent softening of Russian support and confronting continuing criticism from both the West and the Belarusian people, Lukashenka appears to be retreating into the fortress mentality typical of authoritarian rulers when they begin to feel that they are losing their grip. Again and again, such leaders have sought to save themselves at home by attacking supposed enemies abroad.

Occasionally, such lashing out has in fact won them a respite, but more often, their threatening remarks have only highlighted just how removed from reality those who make them are. And by calling attention to that fact, their remarks cut into whatever support they may still have, thus heightening rather than solving the political problems that such leaders inevitably have created for themselves.


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