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Newsline - March 8, 2001




UNITY BACKS AWAY FROM NO-CONFIDENCE POSITION...

In the face of mounting criticism -- including statements from the Kremlin's representative in the Duma, business leaders, and its own chairman, Sergei Shoigu -- of suggestions that it will back the Communist-proposed no-confidence motion to force new elections, the Unity leadership said that it will announce its decision reportedly only on 13 March, to allow for "consultation with the party's regional branches," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. Shoigu said that "our position on the question of no-confidence in the government is not identical [to that of the communists], but opposite." He added that "we are trying to show with all our actions that there is nothing behind the Communists' initiative except their political and rating interests." PG

... AS ZYUGANOV GIVES MIXED SIGNALS

Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 7 March that he is looking forward to meeting with President Vladimir Putin and that he does not expect there will be a need for a second no-confidence vote because Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov would be replaced before it could take place. That scenario would preclude any need for new elections. But on the same day, Zyuganov also said that efforts to block a first no-confidence motion could mean that Communist protests "may spill" into the streets," Western agencies reported on 7 March. PG

POLLS, CEC POINT TO ELECTION UNCERTAINTIES...

If the no-confidence motions nonetheless pass, and parliamentary elections are held later this year, polls provide few clues as to who would win the vote, and Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov predicted problems with the election itself. A monitoring.ru poll suggested that Unity would win, but another poll released the same day said the Communists would finish in first place, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Veshnyakov said that any elections would cost 1.5-2 billion rubles ($450-800 million) not included in the budget, that they would take place in the summer when people are on vacation, and that in such situations, "as a rule, extreme forces win." PG

... AND SOME BLAME PUTIN FOR CONFUSION

The confusion and even chaos in the Moscow political scene has led some analysts to suggest that it reflects President Putin's absence of a firm hand, or conspiracies by his staff. Writing in the 7 March "Vedomosti," Vitalii Portnikov said "Putin's lack of clarity is behind the chaos." Putin, he argued, still has not defined his goals and intentions," and until he does, "Russian politics will see many more senseless, illogical, poorly planned and ultimately farcical situations." An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the same day suggested that Putin will revamp the cabinet but not sack Kasyanov as prime minister, while one in "Novye Izvestiya" said that Putin will eventually fire Kasyanov as well, but is basically pleased with him now and will not do so in the near future. PG

PUTIN PROMISES TO PROMOTE MORE WOMEN

At a meeting of business leaders in the Kremlin on 7 March, the day before International Women's Day, President Putin "on behalf of all the men of the country" greeted Russian women on the occasion of this holiday, which he characterized as having been earlier politicized but is now a day for respecting women, Russian agencies reported. He said that are too few women in senior government positions and promised to promote more of them. PG

PUTIN 'WITH A HUMAN INTERFACE'

Much of the Russian media on 7 March celebrated President Putin's online interview, but "Vedomosti" suggested it was not really a chat, as it was mediated by three journalists, and that "Putin online is no different from the usual Putin." Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced a competition until 12 April to design a website for the president, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN ISSUES DECREE GIVING MOSCOW MORE REVENUE FROM LAND SALES

President Putin on 7 March signed a decree that calls for Moscow to share in the proceeds from sales of government land, Interfax-AFY reported. Earlier, money from such sales had gone to the regions and the localities. Putin also signed laws on amending the accord with the International Monetary Fund, on paying pensions to those living abroad, and on the struggle against attacks on ships and sea platforms, Interfax reported. PG

IS PUTIN THE GORBACHEV OF TODAY?

An analysis of recent articles in the Russian press by wps.ru on 7 March highlighted a debate between those who believe that President Putin resembles his Soviet predecessor Mikhail Gorbachev and those who do not. An article in "Itogi," the analysis said, suggested that "just like Gorbachev, Putin has no clear plan of action and has only a vague idea of the ultimate goal of the changes he is making." Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov, the analysis said, has a different view. Writing in "Komsomolskaya pravda" recently, Nemtsov said that "unlike his predecessor, Putin is a rather cautious person." He sometimes asks too many people for advice and "is afraid of making decisions." But according to the wps.ru analyst, the personal differences between Putin and Gorbachev may matter less than the differences in the country. In an interview with "Vechernyaya Moskva," Expert Institute head Yevgenii Yasin suggested that "the biggest problem in Russia today is trust. The government doesn't trust the people, and the people don't trust the government... In their hearts, the people expect no good from the government. And the government expects no good from the people -- it expects they will steal and conceal." PG

SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY TO GO TO WASHINGTON

Citing "reliable sources in the American capital," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March that Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov is likely to visit the U.S. next week to discuss outstanding issues. Meanwhile, Duma Deputy (Yabloko) Aleksei Arbatov said he believes President Putin will meet his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush in the near future, the news agency said. PG

MOSCOW DECRIES CONSEQUENCES OF U.S., U.K. STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 7 March released a statement noting that since December 1998, American and British airstrikes against Iraq have killed 420 people and wounded more than 1,000 civilians, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA APPROVES NEW-OLD ANTHEM

By a vote of 345 to 19 with one abstention, the Duma on 7 March approved the Kremlin-backed version of the words prepared by Sergei Mikhalkov for the new-old Russian anthem, Interfax reported. Three alternative versions received little support, with only 27, 23, and 63 deputies voting for them, far less than the 226 needed. The refrain of the new-old anthem begins: "Glory to our free fatherland, age-old union of fraternal peoples, common wisdom given by our forebears, glory to the country! We take pride in you!" PG

DUMA TO COOPERATE WITH EUROPE, CONFRONT VATICAN

The Duma on 7 March passed a resolution calling on the government to work more closely with the European Commission on Democracy Through Law in order to improve ties between Moscow and Europe, Interfax reported. But at the same session, deputies issued without a vote protocol assignments to Russian ministries to adopt a more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the Vatican in order to obtain the return of an icon, to oppose Catholic missionary activities in Russia and neighboring states, and to prepare a government response to a possible papal visit to Ukraine, the news agency reported. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS ALBANIAN EXTREMISTS

The Russian Foreign Ministry, the Duma, and Russian diplomats at the United Nations on 7 March all condemned the actions of Albanian fighters along the Macedonian border, ITAR-TASS reported. They called for the immediate disarming of these groups, the convening of a UN Security Council session, and the establishment of a buffer zone along the border. PG

STROEV WARNS AGAINST FACTIONS IN FEDERATION COUNCIL

Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev on 7 March repeated his warnings against the formation of factions among members of the Federation Council, Russian agencies reported. He was reacting to plans announced by Unity to form a supporters' group, to be called Federation, in the upper chamber (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 March 2001). "I want to warn that this is harmful for the house itself, for presidential power, and in the final analysis, such destructive efforts will lead to the ruin of the chamber itself." PG

NEW OLIGARCHS SEEN FOLLOWING PATH OF OLD

The new industrial oligarchs are likely to lead the country into the same blind alley as the old financial oligarchs did in August 1998, according to Mikhail Delyagin of the Globalization Problems Institute, writing in the 7 March "Izvestiya." He said that they will be driven to it by selfishness, and he said that their efforts to lift all restrictions on foreign currency exports could prove disastrous, leading to inflation, default, and crisis in 2003, when Russia must make large payments on its foreign debts. PG

PROSECUTORS FIND NO CRIMINAL ACTIONS BY BORODIN

A spokesman for the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General said Russian investigators have not found any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Pavel Borodin, the former Kremlin property manager, who is being held in New York on a Swiss extradition request, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 March. The spokesman said "not one of the questions put to us by our Swiss colleagues remains unanswered." PG

INTERIOR MINISTER DEMANDS MORE SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES OF MILITARY CASUALTIES

At an expanded meeting of the interior troops' military board, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo demanded that the board immediately work to solve problems of providing payments to "widows, children and mothers of servicemen who have been killed," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. He said that problems in this area have increased recently, rather than declined. PG

NIZHNII NOVGOROD JOURNALIST DISAPPEARS FOLLOWING PHONE THREATS

Gennadii Grigoriev, a journalist for the TNT television channel in Nizhnii Novgorod, has disappeared following an interview he aired with presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, RFE/RL's correspondent in Nizhnii Novgorod reported on 7 March. During the interview, Kirienko sharply criticized Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Ivan Sklyarov, saying that "if it were up to me, I would dismiss him." Shortly after the program was aired, the station began receiving telephone threats directed at Grigoriev and his colleagues, RFE/RL's correspondent reported. Grigoriev has not been seen by anyone for several days, and his station's chief, Alena Makarova, announced on the air on 7 March that if Grigoriev is not found by that evening the station will reveal the names of the people who made the threats. JAC

REGIONS COPY MOSCOW IN REPRESSING THE MEDIA

Naum Nim, the editor of "Index/Dossier on Censorship" of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, told AP on 7 March that "our regional political elite has always imitated the federal one," and seeing that Moscow is oppressing the media, they believe that "this kind of behavior has been endorsed." Meanwhile, financial backers have pulled the plug on the Moscow newspaper "Vremya MN," "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 March. The last issue of the one-year-old daily will appear on 24 March. PG

KAMCHATKA RESIDENTS PROTEST ELECTRICITY HIKES

Some 300 residents in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii continued for their second day protests against the sharp increase in electricity tariffs, RFE/RL's correspondent there reported on 7 March. In compliance with a recent order of Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, rates were doubled as of 1 March. The rate is now 2 rubles ($.07) per kilowatt hour, compared with the rate in Moscow of 63 kopeks per kilowatt hour. Kamchatka is just one of the regions in Russia experiencing sharp hikes in electricity rates. Electricity rates in Primorskii Krai were also raised some 10 percent on average as of 1 March (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 March 2001). JAC

GUBERNATORIAL RACE TURNS UGLY IN EVENK?

Sergei Stepashkin, chairman of Evenk Autonomous Okrug's election commission, told ITAR-TASS on 7 March that he has observed a number of violations of election regulations during the lead-up to 8 April gubernatorial elections there. For example, he pointed out that people are distributing anonymous leaflets in which one side is apparently trying to discredit the other. According to Stepashkin, there are two obvious leaders at this point, YUKOS executive Boris Zolotarev, and chief federal inspector for Taimyr and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs, Yevgenii Vasiliev. According to "Izvestiya" on 23 February, YUKOS has displayed a strong interest in the region, having recently acquired 68 percent of the share of the East Siberian Oil and Gas Company. That company has a large, highly prospective hydrocarbon deposit in the area, but significant investment would be required to develop it, since currently there are no decent roads, let alone pipelines, leading up to it. JAC

CENTRAL BANK PRESIDENT HAS NO PLANS TO QUIT...

Viktor Gerashchenko said in an interview published in the 7 March "Kommersant-Daily" that he has no plans at present to resign as president of Russia's Central Bank. PG

... AS CHUBAIS RETAINS EES POSITION

In what several papers described as another example of his luck, Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatolii Chubais was supported for re-election to that company's board by the Russian government, despite earlier suggestions that the authorities might seek to oust him, Interfax-AFI reported on 7 March. Company officials said that a vote on his chairmanship could not be held because it was not on the agenda. But the board did call for those EES officials who had been responsible for the fuel crisis in the Far East to submit their resignations within two weeks. PG

AIRCRAFT COMPANY PROTESTS EXPAND, NORILSK STRIKE POSSIBLE

Approximately 40 people from Russia's aviation industry joined Communist Party officials to picket in front of the Russian government building in Norilsk on 7 March, Interfax reported. The picketers, who had earlier demanded that the Duma force the government to buy only Russian-produced planes, are now demanding a reversal of the privatization of some firms in the sector. Meanwhile, workers at Norilsk Nickel said they may go out on strike on 14 March if their wage demands are not met, Russian agencies reported. PG

INTELLECTUAL PIRACY FUNDS CRIMINAL GROUPS

A 6 March seminar organized jointly by the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General and the European TACIS program in Moscow found that the theft of intellectual property is a major source of income for criminal groups, Interfax reported. According to experts in the Prosecutors' Office, the amount of illegal video products is now equal to approximately 80-85 percent of the amount legally sold each year in Russia. As a result, the Russian economy as a whole is estimated to be losing up to $1 billion a year. PG

HARVEST MAY NOT EXCEED LAST YEAR'S LEVEL

Despite earlier projections that the Russian harvest will increase over last year's 65.4 million tons of grain, Duma Agriculture Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Plotnikov said the 2001 harvest will be considered more or less a success if it equals the 2000 figure, Interfax reported on 6 March. Like their counterparts in the Agriculture Ministry, Plotnikov and his colleagues point to machinery and energy shortages as the primary reasons for the failure to improve the situation. PG

RUSSIAN PUBLISHING REBOUNDS

Book production in Russia increased 12.3 percent in 2000 over the year before, and magazine growth increased more than 32 percent, "Vremya MN" reported on 6 March. More than 50,000 book titles with a total print run of 404 million copies were issued. This growth from the early 1990s brings Russia's printing industry back to where it was in the mid-1970s. Publishing continues to be concentrated in the capital cities, with Moscow and St. Petersburg responsible for 77 percent of the book titles issued, and more than 93 percent of the total print runs. PG

PUTIN SUPPORTS MONUMENT TO RUSSIAN CALIFORNIA

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 March published a 20 February letter from President Putin expressing his support for a group in California seeking to erect a monument to the explorers and colonizers of Russian California and their descendents. PG

FUGITIVE SHIP STILL HASN'T BEEN FOUND

Despite a massive air and sea search, Russia naval forces have not been able to locate the fugitive ship that fled from a Japanese harbor on 4 March after being pursued there by Russian coastal guards, Interfax reported on 7 March. PG

PILGRIMS FROM DAGHESTAN CAN'T COMPLETE HAJ

Because they could not obtain Saudi visas, approximately 1,500 residents of Daghestan were unable to complete the pilgrimage to Mecca this year, Interfax reported. PG

YELTSIN BETTER, SAYS HE'LL SUE THOSE WHO DENY IT

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin is better and may soon leave the hospital where he has been undergoing treatment since the end of January, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 March. His aides said he is considering legal action against those who exaggerated the seriousness of his illness. PG

MORE THAN A TASTE FOR BEER

Because he likes Russian beer so much, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka invited the head of the Baltika brewery to visit Minsk to discuss setting up a brewery there, "Izvestiya" reported on 7 March. But Lukashenka's invitation may have had to do with more than taste: his invitation could allow brewers to avoid health regulations they oppose in Russia, by relocating to his country. PG

EXPECTATION GAPS ON WOMEN'S DAY

Fifty percent of Moscow men plan to give Moscow women roses on International Women's Day, but only 31 percent of Moscow women prefer that kind of flower, a poll reported by Interfax on 7 March found. Meanwhile, the Public Opinion Foundation found that Russian parents care far more about their daughters finding a good job than a good husband, compared to only a few years ago, the news agency said. The fact that Russian women outlive Russian men by an average of 12.5 years is leading to an ever larger number of widows, for whom society has not provided necessary support, the agency added. PG

DAGHESTAN BRACES FOR NEW CHECHEN INCURSION

The chairman of Daghestan's parliament, Mukhu Aliev, told Interfax on 7 March that the republic's leadership fears incursions by small groups of Chechen fighters and has therefore placed Interior Ministry and volunteer units on high alert (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Aliyev said Chechen fighters have been observed congregating on the Chechen side of the border along Daghestan's Novolak, Botlikh, Kazbek and Tsumada raions, but that it is not possible to estimate their total strength. He said even if the Chechens are not strong enough to launch an invasion comparable to that of August 1999, they could still engage in hostage-taking or acts of terrorism. Aliyev rejected Russian military claims that the situation in Chechnya is stable, and said it will not become so until the Russian Defense and Interior ministries and the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership coordinate their activities directed at wiping out the remaining Chechen fighters. LF




RUSSIA SEEKS TO MEND TIES WITH ARMENIA'S MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

A Russian government delegation arrived in Yerevan on 6 March to assess the prospects for restoring ties between the two countries' military-industrial complexes, which were ruptured following the demise of the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Delegation head Vladimir Simonov told RFE/RL that Russia is particularly interested in the "Mars" enterprise, which is headed by People's Party of Armenia leader Stepan Demirchian. Although the Russian delegation was officially said to have been invited to Yerevan by the Armenian government, political analyst Andranik Markarian said at a lecture in Yerevan that it traveled to Armenia on Russian President Vladimir Putin's initiative. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION RALLY CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN

Several hundred people attended a protest demonstration in Tbilisi on 7 March, the ninth anniversary of Eduard Shevardnadze's return to Georgia to head the country's provisional leadership, Caucasus Press and AP reported. Speakers blamed Shevardnadze for precipitating the loss of Georgian control over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and called on him to resign before he destroys the country completely. The protest was jointly organized by supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Revival Union and "Industry Will Save Georgia," which are the second- and third-largest parliament factions, and the Labor Party. Those parties are considering either forming a new alliance, or working together to force the president and government to step down and the dissolution of parliament. LF

RUSSIA CONDEMNS ABKHAZ LOCAL ELECTIONS, ATTACKS ON PEACEKEEPERS...

Moscow "has always supported" Georgia's territorial integrity and for that reason will not recognize as valid the local elections to be held in Abkhazia on 10 March, Interfax reported on 7 March quoting unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry officials. Also on 7 March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko expressed "extreme concern" both at the upsurge in attacks by Georgian guerrillas on Russian members of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in western Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 9, 2 March 2001), and at allegations in the Georgian press that members of the peacekeeping force have engaged in reprisals and genocide against the Georgian civilian population of Abkhazia. Yakovenko noted that the Georgian government has signed several protocols undertaking to curtail the guerrillas' activities, but has taken no concrete measures to do so. LF

... AS GEORGIA ACCLAIMS UKRAINIAN MEDIATION IN ABKHAZ CONFLICT

After meeting in Tbilisi on 7 March with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko, President Shevardnadze characterized Kyiv's participation in international efforts to resolve the Abkhaz conflict as equally important as those of the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General" group of countries, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that during their talks Zlenko had made "interesting proposals" on how to resolve the conflict. Zlenko said that during its chairmanship this month of the UN Security Council, Ukraine will devote special attention to the Abkhaz conflict, to which a special session will be devoted on 21 March. Shevardnadze further expressed appreciation for Ukraine's willingness to host a confidence-building meeting between Abkhaz and Georgian delegations in Yalta on 16-18 March. After his meeting with Shevardnadze, Zlenko traveled with UN Special representative for Abkhazia Dieter Boden to Sukhum, where the two met with Abkhaz Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba. LF

RUSSIAN ENVOY VOICES OBJECTIONS TO KAZAKHSTAN'S PARTICIPATION IN BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE

Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who is Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and presidential envoy for the Caspian, told journalists on 6 March that he opposes Kazakhstan's plans to export oil via the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2001). Kalyuzhnyi said that instead, Moscow and Astana should work out a common transit policy, noting that such a policy would obviate the need for Kazakhstan to use the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. Also on 6 March, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev said that when Baku-Ceyhan first goes into operation (which is scheduled to be in 2004), Kazakhstan could export some 10 million tons of crude per year via that route. Nazarbaev repeated that his country remains committed to the use of multiple export pipelines. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES CAPITAL LEGALIZATION

The lower house of Kazakhstan's bicameral legislature on 7 March approved in the first reading a draft law that would waive punishment for persons who legalize illegally exported capital, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). Under the draft, capital accumulated in Kazakhstan is not subject to tax, while a 12 percent tax would be imposed on capital brought back to Kazakhstan from abroad. If that capital is subsequently deposited for one year in a Kazakh bank, the tax is reduced to 6 percent, and after two years the initial 12 percent tax would be refunded. LF

CHARGES AGAINST INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ PAPER DROPPED

Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor general has closed the criminal case brought against the independent Kyrgyz newspaper "Delo Nomer" in November 2000 on charges of divulging state secrets, the paper's editor, Viktor Zapolsky, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 7 March. The case had been brought at the insistence of the National Security Service, which argued that the paper had divulged state secrets in its coverage of the trial last summer of former National Security Minister Feliks Kulov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). LF




EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY TROIKA SEES NO IMPROVEMENT IN BELARUS

A delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 7 March wound up its visit to Minsk. "A free and democratic conduct of [this year's presidential elections] would contribute to ending the international isolation of the country," the delegation said in a statement. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin told journalists he currently sees no grounds for changing the European troika's official stance voiced during the Belarusian parliamentary elections last October, when it said the situation in Belarus was undemocratic and did not allow free elections to be held. "One specific change that has taken place in Minsk since the last time I was here, is that this time I met [opposition lawmaker Uladzimir] Kudzinau for breakfast instead of visiting him in prison," PACE representative Terry Davis commented. JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS TO CEASE PUBLICATION NEXT WEEK?

Yury Budzko, director of the private printing house Magic, which prints the independent newspapers "Nasha volya," "Nasha svaboda," "Rabochy," and others, told Belapan on 7 March that these newspapers may cease to appear as of 12 March. In January, Magic's printing equipment was confiscated by authorities following a court ruling. Magic has been fulfilling its contracts for printing independent newspapers by leasing a printing machine from the firm Znamenie. But Znamenie has recently said without giving an explanation that it will annul the lease as of 12 March. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS CABINET REMAINS LOYAL TO PRESIDENT

Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 7 March that his cabinet "has no ministers opposing the presidential course," Interfax reported. Yushchenko said the cabinet constructively cooperates with the president and implements the "directives and political concepts that were laid down by the president in his annual message [to the parliament] last year." Yushchenko seems to have reacted to President Leonid Kuchma's demand that all state officials publicly renounce ties to the opposition or leave their posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). The same day, Yushchenko introduced to the cabinet Stanislav Stashevskyy, the new energy minister appointed by President Kuchma to replace Serhiy Yermilov. Yermilov said no one has told him why he was dismissed JM

AUTHORITIES SWEEP AWAY SECOND ANTI-KUCHMA TENT CAMP

Ukrainian authorities on 7 March dismantled a tent camp set up by students calling for Kuchma's resignation over allegations that he is linked to the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001), Interfax reported. The five tents were pitched in a park housing a statue of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, where Kuchma is to lay flowers on 9 March. Last week police removed an anti-Kuchma protest camp of 50 tents from Kyiv's main street (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). JM

RALLY DEMANDS RELEASE OF FORMER UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER

Some 1,000 activists of the political association "Ukrayinska pravytsya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001) staged a rally at a Kyiv prison on 8 March to demand the release of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, and "all political prisoners," Interfax reported. "Yuliya Tymoshenko has proved through her life that she is capable of leading the country and even taking a solitary stand against the criminals that have divided the country among themselves," lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov from Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party told the crowd. Tymoshenko was placed in solitary confinement on 13 January, and is facing charges of bribery, smuggling, tax evasion, and document forgery. The day of 8 March, International Women's Day, is a Ukrainian state holiday. JM

PROJECT TO MAKE ESTONIA AN INTERNET WORLD LEADER

The executives of seven major Estonian enterprises, including Hansapank, Uhispank, Estonian Telephone, and Estonian Mobile Telephone, signed an agreement in Tallinn on 7 March pledging to donate 250 million kroons ($14.8 million) over three years for the "Look at the World" project, ETA reported. The goal of the project is to make Estonia the world's No. 1 country in using the Internet by 2003. Finland currently boasts the highest Internet penetration in the world, with 54 percent of its population aged 15-74 having used it during the last six months. Estonia was the leading country in Eastern Europe, with Internet penetration of 31 percent in December. The project will finance public Internet access facilities, the training of the public, and more favorable terms for purchasing computers. It aims to increase the population's access to the Internet and enhance its user-friendliness, make public sector services more readily available online, and to help the private sector promote Internet use for obtaining information and services. The enterprises will also donate the specialized skills of approximately 1,000 volunteer workers. SG

BELARUSIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS LATVIA

Vladimir Yermoshin discussed economic issues as well as the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus with his Latvian counterpart Andris Berzins in Riga on 7 March, BNS reported. Berzins said Latvia is willing to sign the agreement on the readmission of illegal immigrants prepared in 1993 and called on Belarus to work more actively in marking the border with Latvia. While Belarus officials described his visit as a "working visit," Latvia viewed it as a "private" one in accordance with the practice of EU countries of not recognizing the regime of Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the illegal dismissal of the republic's parliament in 1996. The official purpose of Yermoshin's visit was to open the Belarus EXPO-2001 fair in Riga. He began his visit to Latvia on 6 March in Daugavpils, where he met with Mayor Aleksejs Vidavskis and businessmen. SG

EU DEMANDS SETTING DATE FOR CLOSING LITHUANIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

Chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party and former President Algirdas Brazauskas told a press conference in Vilnius on 7 March about his talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen the previous day in Brussels, BNS and ELTA reported. He said that "in a very direct manner and with no reservations" Verheugen informed him that Lithuania will have no chance of being among the first wave of new EU entrants if it does not set a date in 2002 for closing the second reactor at the nuclear power plant in Ignalina. Lithuania has promised to close the first reactor by 2005 and planned to determine the fate of the second in 2004, when it will draft a new national energy strategy. Brazauskas also claimed that Verheugen has not given a straight answer to Brazauskas's comment that the $220 million accumulated in the decommissioning fund was too small to solve the foreseen technical, social, and energy problems. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES PROPERTY RESTITUTION BILL...

The Sejm on 7 March approved a bill providing for the partial compensation of people whose property was seized by the Communist regime from 1944 to 1962. Under the bill, 50 percent of the value of lost assets is to be paid to those former owners or their heirs who held Polish citizenship until the end of 1999. The Sejm rejected the Senate's amendment that extended the scope of the bill's beneficiaries by removing the citizenship clause. The bill will probably be vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, whose economic adviser Marek Belka said that the restitution measure is "dangerous" to the Polish economy. "This is an anti-Jewish act and an outrage," Arye Edelist, president of the Association of Polish Jews in Israel, was quoted by dpa as saying in regard to the bill. The citizenship clause disqualifies some 40,000 people, mostly Holocaust survivors and their heirs, from seeking compensation for lost property in Poland. JM

... AND ELECTORAL LAW FAVORING SMALLER PARTIES

The same day, the Sejm voted by 236 to 170 with 15 abstentions to pass a new parliamentary election law. The law retains the requirement that a party must obtain at least 3 percent of the vote to win seats in the parliament. Seats will be distributed according to the proportion of the vote received, but provisions for calculating the exact division (a modified St. Lague method) are seen as favoring parties that win relatively small percentages. The new law abolishes the so-called national list, meaning that all deputies will be elected by voters in constituencies. It also restricts donations for parties from private persons to 11,000 zlotys ($2,900) for a single party annually, and forbids contributions from companies. The bill was opposed by the Democratic Left Alliance, which can count on some 40 percent of the vote according to polls. JM

U.S. OPPOSES CZECH DRAFT ON CUBAN HUMAN RIGHTS INFRINGEMENTS

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 8 March said his country is "having difficulty" with a Czech-drafted resolution on human rights infringements in Cuba, because the resolution also criticizes sanctions against the country, CTK reported. Powell told the House of Representatives' Foreign Relations Committee that the struggle over the wording in the resolution submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission "is going to be very, very tough." Because of the condemnation of the sanctions, Poland has refused to submit the resolution jointly with the Czech Republic, as it had done the year before. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said that the resolution does not reflect any "deal" with Cuba, as it was submitted before the detention and eventual release of Freedom Union Deputy Ivan Pilip and former student leader Jan Bubenik in Cuba last January. MS

CZECHS DEPORTED TO SOVIET UNION TO BE COMPENSATED?

The opposition Christian Democratic Party and the Freedom Union on 7 March submitted to the Chamber of Deputies a draft law providing for compensation for citizens of former Czechoslovakia who were sent to forced labor camps or detention camps in the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1953, CTK reported. Under the bill, the deportees are to receive 12,000 crowns ($319) for each month spent in the USSR and relatives of those who are no longer alive would receive a one-time 120,000 crowns compensation. About 1,000 Czechoslovak citizens were deported, of whom only 150 returned. Most of them were Russian emigrants who had gained Czechoslovak citizenship after 1918 and were deported for alleged activity against Soviet interests. MS

SLOVAK CIVIL SERVICE REFORM ENDANGERED BY COALITION RIFT

Civil service reform, aimed at promoting EU membership, is endangered by the resurgence of a rift between the Slovak Hungarian Coalition (SMK) and the rest of coalition partners, CTK reported on 7 March. SMK representatives left negotiations on 2 March, after failing to convince the other coalition members to accept the SMK's main demand that a new district be set up in the southern region of Komarno, which is mainly populated by Hungarians. The Civic Understanding Party wants to preserve the present eight districts, which were established under former Premier Vladimir Meciar. Other coalition members agree to the provision to set up 12 districts, but oppose the SMK demand on Komarno. SMK parliamentary group leader Gyula Bardos said his party still believes an agreement is possible, but is not ready to forfeit its main demand. MS

FORMER HUNGARIAN AGRICULTURAL STATE SECRETARY ACCUSED OF MISUSE OF FUNDS

Interim Agriculture Minister Imre Boros on 7 March launched criminal proceedings against the ministry's former political state secretary, Bela Szabadi, for misuse of funds. Boros launched the proceedings after Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in interview with Hungarian Radio the same day that Boros should either launch proceedings or "shut up" if he cannot prove his allegations. Boros's complaint also implicates former Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan, charging that Torgyan approved measures that allowed Szabadi to misuse funds. Boros also claims that Szabadi destroyed many official documents during his last days in office. MSZ

TWO HUNGARIAN ROMA FAMILIES RECEIVE ASYLUM IN FRANCE

The French refugee office in Strasbourg on 7 March notified two Roma families from the Hungarian village of Zamoly that they have been granted political asylum, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The families include eight persons, among them Andras Krasznai, the son of the Roma group's spokesman, Jozsef Krasznai. Krasznai said the other members of the group will probably be granted asylum as well. Currently there are 39 Romany from Zamoly seeking asylum in France. They left Hungary in July 2000, claiming they were persecuted and discriminated against by Hungarian authorities. MSZ




KOSOVA PEACEKEEPERS ON ALERT AFTER CLASH WITH GUNMEN

The Macedonian Defense Ministry said in a statement on 8 March that its troops and ethnic Albanian gunmen exchanged fire that morning in the tense Tanusevci region. A spokesman for the ministry provided few details, but said no Macedonian soldiers were injured, AP reported from Skopje. Macedonian authorities have banned journalists from the area, so no independent accounts of developments are available. Across the border in Kosova, KFOR troops entered the area of Tanusevci that lies within Kosova, but found no guerrillas or equipment, AP reported. Elsewhere along the Kosova side of the border, international peacekeepers are on alert after their first clashes with armed ethnic Albanian rebels in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). KFOR troops wounded two rebels and took one of them prisoner during the fighting. KFOR subsequently took control of Mijak, a town in Kosova not far from Tanusevci, where three Macedonian soldiers died recently in exchanges of gunfire with the rebels, about whom little is known. PM/NCA

SERBIA REPORTS FIGHTING IN LUCANE AREA

There is also tension in the buffer zone between Serbia and Kosova after three Yugoslav soldiers died in a land-mine explosion on 7 March. Serbian authorities said in a statement the following day that one additional policeman was injured when he stepped on a land mine in the Lucane area and that Serbian forces and Albanian fighters exchanged fire that morning, AP reported. There is no independent confirmation of the Serbian account. Meanwhile in Sofia, Dragoljub Micunovic, speaker of the Yugoslav parliament and leader of the Democratic Center, said the danger of a new war breaking out in the Balkans is "minimal," AP reported. PM/NCA

WHAT ROLE FOR PEACEKEEPERS ON MACEDONIA'S FRONTIERS?

At the United Nations, Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim asked the Security Council on 7 March to support the deployment of KFOR peacekeepers along a stretch of his country's border with Kosova to prevent further attacks by gunmen. He wants troops deployed in a 5 kilometer-wide zone inside Kosova, from which arms, "soldiers," and "large gatherings of people" will be excluded, Reuters reported. The council issued a statement condemning the attacks by "ethnic Albanian armed extremists" and welcoming steps by KFOR to tighten security along the frontier. It did not, however, take a stand on Macedonia's request. PM

NATO TO ALLOW SERBIAN FORCES BACK INTO BUFFER ZONE

NATO foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on 8 March to allow an unspecified number of Serbian forces to return to at least part of the 5 kilometer-wide safety zone along Serbia's border with Macedonia, Reuters reported. The ministers did not specify what kinds of weapons the Serbs will be allowed to use, but the news agency said the Serbs will probably be allowed to use tanks and helicopters. This section of the zone is believed to be a source of supply for gunmen in the Tanusevci area. NATO's decision is the first step in the phased return of Serbian forces to the zone, which NATO has been discussing for some weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). Belgrade regards the move as a first step toward the return of its forces to Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). The UNHCR has warned that the return of Serbian troops to the zone could lead to instability in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2001). PM

HERZEGOVINIAN CHIEF SACKED FROM BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch fired Ante Jelavic as the Croatian representative on the joint Bosnian presidency on 7 March. Petritsch said Jelavic's recent moves aimed at setting up a Croatian "self-administration" in Bosnia-Herzegovina constitute a violation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Austrian diplomat told a news conference in Sarajevo that he "decided to remove Ante Jelavic and three other HDZ [Croatian Democratic Community] officials -- Ivo Andric-Luzanski, Marko Tokic, and Zdravko Batinic -- from their public offices, and barred them from holding any party positions." Petritsch added that the decision was not easy, but that he had "no choice" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). PM

CROATIA WITH ITS OWN PLAN FOR BOSNIA?

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 7 March that his government had previously warned Jelavic and the Herzegovinian HDZ against "hasty moves," AP reported. "Unfortunately, that's exactly what they did, and the international community reacted this way." Racan stressed that the cabinet will not discuss the Herzegovinian developments at its 8 March session because "our duty is to bring a better life for people in Croatia, and nothing will distract us from working on that." He added, however, that Croatian officials will work with all concerned for a reduction of tensions in the neighboring republic. He declined to comment on a recent proposal by his coalition partner Drazen Budisa, who suggested that Bosnia become a federation of 12 to 14 ethnically based cantons without ethnically based entities, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. "Jutarnji list" wrote on 8 March, however, that Racan has endorsed Budisa's proposal and spoke to Petritsch on the telephone about it. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW ON STATE SECRETS...

The two chambers of the parliament, meeting in joint session, on 7 March approved a law on the protection of state secrets, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the law is in line with the NATO requirement that member states pass legislation to safeguard NATO secrets, but critics say the provisions are open to controversial interpretation and that the law could negatively impact freedom of information and of expression. Under the bill, anyone found guilty of publishing state secrets can face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and those trying to procure state secrets can be sentenced to up to seven years. The law makes the guarding of state secrets the "civic duty" of all citizens and an expression of their "national fidelity." The Romanian Intelligence Service is entrusted with overseeing respect of the law. MS

... AND LAW ON STATUS OF FOREIGNERS

Parliament also approved a law on the status of foreigners in Romania. Among the more controversial articles in this law is one reminiscent of the Ceausescu legislation, which requires that Romanians notify police if they have foreign guests staying with them for longer than 15 days. Nastase said the law is in line with EU requirements aimed at combating illegal immigration. The law also makes it illegal for foreign citizens to set up, or be members of, Romanian political parties or to "initiate, organize, or participate in demonstrations or public meetings affecting public order or national security." MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES BACK NATO MEMBERSHIP QUEST

Leaders of all the parties represented in parliament on 7 March issued a joint declaration backing the government's quest to secure access to NATO membership, making that quest a priority of Romanian foreign policy while pledging to increase funds allocated to the military to continue reforms and make the army compatible with NATO requirements. Nastase said Romania must step up efforts to join the alliance in 2002, and should "under no circumstances miss this chance," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER RECEIVES NATO DELEGATION

Premier Nastase on 8 March received a NATO delegation led by the organization's deputy secretary-general, Edgar Buckley. The delegation has been in Romania for two days and has reviewed Romanian military reforms and preparation for NATO accession. According to Mediafax, Buckley told Nastase that Romania has made progress, adding that progress must also be evaluated in terms of the country's legislation on security and information protection, as well as in terms of its economic capability to sustain membership. Nastase told the guests that Romania can be a "reliable NATO partner" and is ready to participate "within its resources and capabilities" in solving regional crises. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.K.

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana is meeting on 8 March in London with his British counterpart Robin Cook, Romanian Radio reported. On 7 March, Geoana met with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Chairman Jean Lemierre, urging the launching of new projects financed by the bank in his country. Geoana told a Romanian Radio reporter that the U.K. has been Romania's "most solid partner" in helping the country's military undergo NATO-required reforms. In response to a journalist's question on the negative reactions in his country to the controversial appointment of Ristea Priboi as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Geoana replied that "11 years after the fall of communism, such matters should be evaluated with some detachment." MS

PUTIN REACTS TO MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

During his first online press conference on 6 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001), Russian President Vladimir Putin said the victory of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in the February elections is "above all, an internal affair" of a "friendly state that is member of CIS." He said he can only "welcome" the friendly attitude displayed by the PCM toward Russia, and that the Russian-Belarus Union "is open to all countries that agree to the union's objectives and statutes." The decision to join the union or not, he commented, is however, "largely Moldova's own domestic affair." MS

MOLDOVAN PARTY LEADERS RESIGN

The leadership of the Moldovan National Liberal Party (PNL) on 7 March resigned, following the poor performance of the PNL in last month's parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The party garnered only 2.8 percent and failed to gain parliamentary representation. On similar grounds, National Peasant Party Christian Democratic leader Valeriu Muravschi, whose formation was backed by 1.7 percent, submitted his resignation on the same day. PNL leader Mircea Rusu said a party congress will be conveyed within three months to elect a new leadership, but did not rule out that the outgoing leaders may run again. Rusu also said the PNL will initiate negotiations with "anti-communist formations" to create an "anti-communist alliance." He said the party's urging to do so before the elections had not been heeded, and that such an alliance would have polled 15 percent in the February ballot. MS

BULGARIA DISPATCHES MILITARY HARDWARE TO MACEDONIA

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, speaking in the parliament on 7 March, said Bulgaria will supply military hardware to Macedonia to help it halt incursions by ethnic Albanian militants from Kosova, AP and AFP reported. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman later clarified that the supplies will consist of munitions. Kostov also said he is traveling to Macedonia on 8 March for a two-day visit to discuss the situation with the neighboring country's leaders. He told lawmakers that the "destabilization of Macedonia and its government is completely unacceptable for Bulgaria and creates risks for our interests," calling on NATO and KFOR forces to "block the terrorists' supplies of munitions and armed forces." The premier also called on the Macedonian government to "use all means" to solve the conflict, "which can have no military solution." MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO REVISE POLITICAL PARTIES LAW

The parliament on 7 March voted 103 to 78 in favor of accepting President Petar Stoyanov's veto of a new law on political parties, the English-language service of the Sofia daily "Monitor" reported. Stoyanov vetoed the law, saying it would curb pluralism and allow dubious funding of politicians. He particularly objected to an article in the law under which parties would be disbanded if they failed to run in two consecutive elections. The president also called for the abolishment of the requirement that parties garnering less than 1 percent of the vote must renew their legal registration after the elections and prove they are backed by at least 500 supporters. He also urged legislators to ban anonymous donations, saying the provision opens the door to "funding of dubious origins." The parliament has not yet established when the law will be debated again. MS

BULGARIA TOUGHENS NATURALIZATION LAWS

"Monitor" also reported on 7 March that the parliament passed on first reading legislation toughening rules on acquiring Bulgarian citizenship by naturalization. Under the new law, acquiring Bulgarian citizenship will be conditioned on renouncing one's previous citizenship. Foreign citizens of Bulgarian origin who wish to restore their citizenship will be exempt from this provision. The new legislation also toughens requirements for refugees to acquire Bulgarian citizenship. The changes are aimed at bringing legislation in line with that of the EU. MS




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