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Newsline - March 9, 2001




ZYUGANOV MEETS PUTIN, BUT DOESN'T CHANGE PLANS...

Late on 7 March, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov met with President Vladimir Putin to discuss Zyuganov's campaign for a no-confidence vote in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Russian agencies reported on 8 March. Zyuganov said their discussions were "very thorough and mutually beneficial" and that Putin is "extremely worried by the situation in the country," but the Communist leader said he has not changed his mind and will continue to press for a no-confidence vote. Just prior to meeting with Putin, Zyuganov said he hoped to convince Putin to dismiss Kasyanov, but if that did not happen, the Communists are ready for new elections. PG

...AND KASYANOV MAY IN FACT BE IN TROUBLE

An ITAR-TASS commentary released on 8 March said Prime Minister Kasyanov may be in trouble not only because of the no-confidence motion in the Duma scheduled for a vote on 14 March, but because of doubts in the Kremlin about his government. The commentary pointed to what it said was "a significant fact" that calls into question the government's studied lack of nervousness about developments. It said that when "asked by the ITAR-TASS correspondent to specify Kasyanov's schedule of foreign trips for March and April, one of Kasyanov's closest advisers -- who is usually known to be balanced and even-tempered -- snapped nervously: 'Everything depends on the president now.'" PG

WOMEN'S PROBLEMS SEEN AGGRAVATING DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS...

The Russian Academy of Sciences marked International Women's Day on 8 March by releasing a report saying that increasing drug use, prostitution, and declining health among women of childbearing age is exacerbating the country's demographic decline, ITAR-TASS reported. The report said the number of deaths nationwide among young women aged 15 to 19 has grown from 406 in 1997 to 4,634 in 1999, and it said that such losses are contributing to the continuing decline of the country's birthrate, which now stands at 1.3 children per woman. PG

...AS COMMUNISTS DEMAND MORE SOCIAL SPENDING...

Representatives of two rival communist groups staged rallies in Moscow to demand that women be given more opportunities in the workplace and that the authorities spend more on their health needs, AP reported. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported that Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has promised to improve the lives of women with young children, but the agency said he gave no details as to how this might be accomplished. PG

...AND POLLSTERS REPORT FINDINGS ON WOMEN'S ISSUES

Almost as common on International Women's Day as roses are reports by polling organizations of their findings concerning the status of Russian women, their attitudes and expectations, and the attitudes and expectations of men about them. According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 8 March, 45 percent of Russians believe that men have more opportunities than women, 35 percent consider that men and women have equal chances, and 14 percent are convinced that women have greater opportunities. The poll also found that 56 percent of Russians believe that women should be more actively involved in politics, while 35 percent of those sampled said that "politics is not a woman's business." According to a second poll taken by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, 53 percent of men and 53 percent of women consider the ability to run a household to be an essential quality in a woman. PG

PUTIN CONVENES SESSION ON PENSION REFORM

Late on 7 March, President Putin met with Prime Minister Kasyanov, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, and other ministers to discuss preparations for a meeting of the National Council on Pension Reform, Interfax reported on 8 March. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS EU ACCORD ON KALININGRAD

During a visit to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on 8 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he wants to reach a long-term agreement with the European Union to ensure Kaliningrad will benefit from EU expansion, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said Moscow seeks to have "binding, legally formulated solutions with our European partners" on this point. Moreover, Ivanov said, "for us, Kaliningrad is an inseparable part of the Russian Federation and of its internal market; it is our frontier post on the western borders of the country." PG

EU MAY HELP RUSSIA WITH BALTIC SEA POLLUTION

European Investment Bank (EIB) President Philippe Maystadt told Reuters on 8 March that European Union heads of government are likely to decide this month whether to provide assistance to Russia to help reduce pollution in the Baltic Sea. Wastewater from St. Petersburg is currently the largest pollutant of that body of water, he said. If EU leaders agree at their meeting in Stockholm on 23 March to go ahead with a loan for this purpose, it would be the first time the EIB has given credits to Moscow. PG

PUTIN, CHIRAC DISCUSS MACEDONIA

During a lengthy telephone conversation late on 7 March, President Putin discussed with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac the situation in Macedonia and Kosova, as well as their preparations for the upcoming summit in Stockholm between EU leaders and Putin on 23 March, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCE SAYS NO TUNNEL EXISTED UNDER RUSSIAN MISSION IN U.S.

RIA-Novosti quoted a senior Russian counterintelligence source as saying there has never been a tunnel under the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. and suggesting that American officials had floated the rumor in order to increase the charges against former FBI officer Robert Philip Hansen, who is accused of spying for Moscow, Reuters reported on 8 March. The Russian counterintelligence source told RIA that the U.S. utilized underground telephone cable lines and sewage pipes to conduct their spying, rather than building a tunnel just for espionage. PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT HAS EVIDENCE ABOUT TALIBAN TERRORIST CAMPS

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze said on 7 March that Moscow has confirmed evidence of the presence of a highly developed network of Taliban-controlled bases and camps where international terrorists are being trained, Interfax reported. He said the Russian government has precise information on the locations of these camps and also on the names of the instructors. He stressed that such camps violate demands by the UN Security Council that the Taliban stop supporting international terrorism. PG

MOSCOW READY FOR CONSTRUCTIVE TIES WITH NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Moscow looks forward to constructive ties with the new government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Interfax reported on 8 March. The statement said the breadth of parties in the coalition not only means the new cabinet has broader support in the Knesset than had its predecessors, but that it could pursue peace. PG

REVISION OF LITHUANIAN BORDER TREATY 'OUT OF THE QUESTION'

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 8 March in Kaliningrad that a revision of the agreement on the state border between Russia and Lithuania is out of the question, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the government will submit the agreement to the Duma for ratification, but he declined to say when the legislature might approve it. PG

QUESTIONING OF TOBIN TO RESUME AFTER HOLIDAYS

Investigators in Voronezh told Interfax on 8 March they would resume the questioning of U.S. citizen John Edward Tobin, who has been under detention there since 1 March for alleged drug use with other charges possible. The investigators said they hope to complete their work by the end of March. PG

LAWYERS PREPARING FOR BORODIN HEARING

Lawyers for detained Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin prepared for a 9 March hearing by a New York court on their petition for Borodin's release on a bail bond, Interfax reported. His lawyers said the U.S.-Swiss extradition agreement permits releases on bond. They suggested that the court might impose a bond of $200,000-$300,000 as well as other conditions. Meanwhile, a Spanish court on 8 March postponed for a week an extradition hearing in the case of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, the news agency said. The Russian authorities seek his forced return in order to try him on a variety of charges. PG

MOSCOW SUPPORTS UN SANCTIONS AGAINST LIBERIA...

Arguing that Liberian actions threaten the stability of Africa, Russia voted along with other members of the UN Security Council to impose sanctions, including an arms embargo, on Liberia, Interfax reported on 8 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the 7 March Security Council resolution on this point is "an adequate reaction of the international community to the support by the Liberian leadership of an anti-government armed group in Sierra Leone and to attacks by armed groups from Liberian territory against Guinea." PG

...AND WANTS UN TO ENFORCE ITS WILL IN MACEDONIA

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 8 March said the UN Security Council must take "necessary measures" to "put an end to the provocative actions of Albanian extremists" in northern Albania, Interfax reported. On 7 March, the Security Council had adopted a declaration condemning the actions of the extremists. But Russian military officials said Russian soldiers will not take part in actions against these groups, the agency said. Meanwhile, Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, said Foreign Minister Ivanov will visit the Balkans in the near future to try to promote peace, Interfax reported on 8 March. PG

EAST EUROPEAN ATTITUDES SEEN AS MOSCOW OPPORTUNITY

A report released by the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy entitled "The Interests of Russia in Northern Europe" said the fact that more than 80 percent of the populations of East European countries do not view Russia as a military threat gives Russian foreign policy room to "widen its influence in the northwestern direction," "Vremya MN" reported on 7 March. PG

NAZDRATENKO IN VLADIVOSTOK FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who now heads the State Fisheries Committee, would be flying to his former residence of Vladivostok for the holidays, Interfax reported on 8 March. PG

SARATOV'S VERSION OF QUEEN FOR A DAY

Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov arranged for 140 women from his region to make a one-day visit to Paris in advance of International Women's Day, Interfax reported on 8 March. Ayatskov said he wished he could send more but "of course, I cannot send all 1.5 million Saratov women to Paris even though I'd very much like to do so." PG

MIR CONTINUES ITS DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The orbit of the Mir spacecraft fell another 1.8 kilometers over the previous 24 hours, Russian controllers told Interfax on 8 March. The descent puts Mir on track to be deorbited on 20 March. Once the craft reaches an orbit of approximately 220 kilometers above the earth's surface, scientists will be able to predict with some precision where any debris may land. On 7 March, Russian officials said three insurance companies have agreed to insure Moscow against any damage the estimated 1,500 pieces of space junk thought likely to reach the earth's surface might cause. PG

COMPUTER CRIMES INCREASE IN RUSSIA

Viktor Kudinov, the first deputy head of the Interior Ministry's high-tech crimes unit, told ITAR-TASS on 8 March that there were 436 cases in Russia involving computer crimes in 2000, four times as many as in 1999. He said the crimes included unauthorized access to databases, the spreading of computer viruses, and fraud. The number of such crimes has increased by 20 times over the past three years, Kudinov said, but he noted that the authorities are having increased success in arresting, charging, and convicting those involved. PG

PAVLOVA'S ASHES WON'T RETURN TO RUSSIA

DPA reported on 8 March that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has vetoed plans for the reburial of the ashes of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in Moscow's Novodevichy cemetery. Pavlova's remains have been abroad since her death in 1931, and cemetery officials in London had suggested that they had reached an agreement on returning her urn to Russia. According to the German news agency, the British press was filled with speculations that the rivalry between St. Petersburg, where Pavlova made her career, and Moscow may be the reason the reburial plan was suddenly cancelled. The only official Russian comment came from Russian ambassador to Great Britain Grigorii Karasin, who said the plan should be put off "until all delicate sides of the question are completely clarified," Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW POLICE FORESTALL TERRORIST ACT BY LEFTIST YOUTH

Police arrested Aleksandr Danilov, 18, in Moscow on suspicion of preparing a terrorist act when they found bomb-making materials in his residence, "Segodnya" reported on 6 March. Danilov identified himself as part of the Communist youth movement "The Vanguard of Red Youth" (AKM), but leaders of that organization said that they had no knowledge of his actions -- although they pointed out that there are many disgruntled young people who share that organization's views. PG

NO FOOTBALL ON RUSSIAN TV FOR SECOND YEAR

For the second consecutive year, Russian Premier League football will not appear on Russian nationwide television when the season begins on 10 March, Reuters reported on 8 March. Russians will not be able to watch their favorite teams on state channels because champion Spartak Moscow has reached a deal with private Ren-TV and advertisers have been reluctant to support a deal with other channels if games with Spartak cannot be shown. PG

SOVIET DESTRUCTION OF FARMERS CONTINUES TO HAUNT RUSSIAN AGRICULTURE

The systematic destruction of farmers and farming traditions "was, is, and will remain the main cause" for failures in Russian agriculture, according to a survey of counterclaims by various Russian and foreign analysts discussed in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Politekonomiya," no. 4. PG

JOURNAL BANNED BY STALIN RELAUNCHED

"Pedologiya," a journal of child science suppressed by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1936 because its IQ findings offended his Marxist beliefs, has now resumed publication under the editorship of Aleksandr Asmolov, "Literaturnaya gazeta" reported in its 28 February-3 March issue. PG

1,100 TREES FOR 1,100 YEARS

Pskov Oblast officials on 8 March announced plans to plant 1,100 trees in the region in the runup to the celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Pskov, which is to be marked in 2003, Interfax North-West reported. An alley of chestnut trees was planted in April of last year in honor of soldiers from Pskov who died in Chechnya. PG

MERCHANDIZING MATRIOSHKAS

Invalids and others involved in producing wooden dolls known as matrioshkas are often making good incomes, "Kultura" reported in its 1-7 March issue, but only at the cost of national traditions. Now, among the best-sellers are matrioshka dolls in the form of American football or baseball players, characters from "The Simpsons" or "South Park" television shows, or political figures from Russia or other countries, the article said. PG

200 ROSES STOLEN ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Thieves broke into a Kaliningrad enterprise and stole more than 200 roses on the eve of International Women's Day, Interfax North-West reported on 8 March. Giving flowers is traditional on the holiday, although polls show that men choose roses despite the fact that many women prefer other kinds of flowers. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). PG

ANOTHER GROUP OF FAR EAST RESIDENTS SEEK INTERVENTION BY PUTIN

For the past several weeks, despite freezing temperatures, a group of voters in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii have continued picketing the Kamchatka Oblast administration building, "Novaya gazeta" reported in its most recent issue, No. 16. The picketers, who are protesting the results of recent gubernatorial elections, are carrying signs saying "Governor, give bank your stolen votes" and "President, check up on Kamchatka!" The declared winner on that ballot, local Communist Party leader Mikhail Mashkovtsev, believes that he won by a 4,000 vote margin; however, several participants in an election recount give another figure, a Mashkovtsev victory by just three votes, and insist that the victory is therefore questionable. According to the weekly, the picketers are hoping that Mashkovtsev will be forced to resign in the same manner as former Primorskii Krai Governor Nazdratenko (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 February 2001). JAC

REPUBLIC'S ELECTRICITY NETWORK WEARING THIN...

Approximately one-fifth of Bashkortostan's electricity network is badly worn out and in a critical state of disrepair, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 7 March. A decade ago, Bashkirenergo was adding 1500 kilometers of lines a year; now it is supplementing its network with only 100 kilometers a year. According to utility officials, the problem is sometimes compounded when local representatives attempt repairs on their own. JAC

...AS BLACKOUT THREATENS ST. PETERSBURG...

Meanwhile, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 7 March that St. Petersburg has only enough fuel at its nuclear power plants to last three days. In Leningrad Oblast, the situation is even more critical, as municipal enterprises have not paid for their electricity in four months, and Lenenergo plans to start turning off supplies. JAC

...AS MOUNTING ELECTRICITY BILLS LEAVE TVER BANKRUPT

Tver Oblast Deputy Governor Aleksandr Zatvan has proposed declaring the city of Tver bankrupt because it cannot pay for its electricity and heat supplies, the East-West Institute's "Russian Regional Report" reported on 7 March. Last year, Tver Mayor Aleksandr Belousov signed an agreement with Unified Energy Systems to pay off the city's debt within 18 months, so he could ensure that the city's hot water would not be turned off during the lead-up to his re-election campaign. However, according to Zatvan's analysis, the city is now behind on its payments to Tverenergo and Tverregiongaz to the tune of some 127.7 million rubles ($4.5 million). The oblast government intends to impose external monitoring of the city's budgetary flows and hopes to transfer some 155.6 million rubles earmarked for energy use in the city budget to the oblast budget. According to the weekly, regional governments across Russia have been trying to expand their financial control over local governments; however, there is no provision in Russian law for declaring a municipality bankrupt. JAC

RUSSIAN GENERAL REAFFIRMS THAT PARTIAL TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM CHECHNYA IS IMMINENT

Lieutenant-General Valerii Baranov, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya, said on 8 March that the gradual withdrawal from Chechnya of Russian units that have completed their tour of duty there will get underway before the end of this month, Russian agencies reported. Baranov said a schedule for that withdrawal has already been drawn up. It is not clear precisely how many of the estimated 80,000 Russian troops will be pulled out. Defense Ministry troops account for approximately half of that total. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said last month that none of his ministry's forces will be withdrawn from Chechnya. LF




ARMENIA, GREECE, IRAN MOVE AHEAD ON PIPELINE PROJECT

Meeting in Athens on 8 March, the foreign ministers of Armenia, Greece, and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at promoting closer cooperation in the energy sector, economic affairs, trade, technology, tourism, industry, transport, and communications, AFP reported. Iran and Armenia pledged to continue to cooperate in construction of a pipeline to export Iranian natural gas to Armenia. Greece has just completed a preliminary feasibility study for that pipeline, which Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the EU may help subsidize. Speaking after the meeting, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said trilateral cooperation "is becoming deeper and more concrete," adding that there are "no political differences" between the three countries, AP reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO INCREASE MILITARY SPENDING...

Defense spending in Azerbaijan in 2001 will amount to 539.5 billion manats ($111 million), which is equal to 13 percent of all budget expenditures, Caucasus Press reported on 9 March, quoting the head of the parliament budget commission. The source said the increase in military spending has been made possible by a rise in budget revenues. LF

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER DESCRIBES ARMENIA AS 'GREATEST ENEMY'...

In a 7 March interview with the private TV station ANS TV cited by Groong, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel-General Safar Abiev said the country's defense doctrine categorizes Armenia as Azerbaijan's "greatest enemy." He declined to name other countries that are classified as foes, saying only "anyone hostile to Azerbaijan is our enemy." LF

... AND HIS PREDECESSORS DISAGREE OVER ARMY'S COMBAT READINESS

Abiev was quoted on 6 March by Bilik Dunyasi as saying that the Azerbaijani army is ready to carry out military tasks "at any time" should President Heidar Aliyev issue such orders as commander-in-chief, according to Groong. The same agency also quoted retired Major-General Dadash Rzaev, who served as defense minister from February-June 1993, as saying that the army has attained a high level of combat readiness and could embark on a full-scale attack and liberate the seven districts currently controlled by Armenian forces "in a short period of time." But retired Major-General Tacaddin Mehdiev, who served as defense minister from December 1991 until mid-February 1992, said that at least six months of preparations would be needed before an offensive could be launched. He dismissed as "groundless" claims that a new war could be won "within 15 days or two months." LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DENIES SECURITY OFFICIALS ASSIST CHECHEN FIGHTERS

President Eduard Shevardnadze has rejected as slander the claim by former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani that some Georgian National Security Ministry officials are accepting money from Chechen fighters in exchange for helping them transfer arms from Turkey via Georgia's Pankisi gorge to Chechnya, Glasnost North Caucasus reported on 8 March. Kitovani also repeated his previous claim that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev is spending the winter encamped in the Pankisi gorge with a detachment of 800 men. LF

IS GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN PLANNING TO RESIGN?

Citing "confidential sources" within the Georgian legislature, the internet publication gazeta.sng.ru claimed on 8 March that Georgian parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania plans to resign, Caucasus Press reported. The Russian publication suggested that Zhvania may have been pressured to do so because his outspoken anti-Russian rhetoric has created problems for President Shevardnadze and a rift between the two men. Alternatively, the rumors of Zhvania's impending resignation may have been circulated deliberately in order to signal to the West that any openly anti-Russian Georgian politician is in danger, and that "the young Georgian state is the victim of Russia's imperial ambitions." "Akhali taoba" on 9 March discounted the Russian report, noting that Zhvania has more than once professed his loyalty to Shevardnadze and will not embark on "political games" directed against him. Zhvania has not commented on the rumors, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service. LF

GEORGIAN CURRENCY STILL IN DOLDRUMS

After falling to a rate of 2.085 laris to the U.S. dollar on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 February 2001), the Georgian currency gained slightly in value, trading at 2.015 to the dollar on 28 February, but it has since fallen again to 2.09 to the dollar on 9 March, Caucasus Press reported. A poll of some 851 people conducted by the weekly newspaper "Kviris palitra" and reported in its 5 March issue revealed that 61 percent of respondents believe the lari's decline is to be attributed to speculation on the foreign currency exchange, while only 12 percent believe that it is a reaction to economic trends either in Georgia or abroad. LF

KAZAKH AUTHORITIES PLANNING FURTHER REPRISALS AGAINST CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER?

Municipal authorities in the southern city of Shymkent are preparing to close a private market owned by Temirtas Tleulesov, independent Kazakh journalist Nuri Muftah told RFE/RL's Almaty bureau on 8 March. Tleulesov is the author of two books detailing corruption among local officials in Shymkent city and Oblast. He was sentenced last month in absentia to two years' imprisonment on charges of hooliganism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February and 2 March 2001). LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT KYRGYZSTAN

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation from his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev to visit Kyrgyzstan in the next few months, but no date for that visit has yet been set, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 8 March. Among the topics to be discussed during the visit is Kyrgyzstan's $150 million debt to Russia, which Bishkek would like to pay by offering Moscow part ownership of Kyrgyzstan's 20 largest industrial enterprises. LF

INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ PAPER OFFERS RIVAL'S JOURNALISTS COLUMN SPACE...

The independent Kyrgyz paper "Res Publica" has published in its 9 March issue numerous articles by journalists from a second independent paper, "Asaba," which is under threat of closure, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 8 March. The Uchkun publishing house has been warned by a Bishkek district court not to print further issues of "Asaba" until its owner pays a total of 8 million soms (about $160,000) from three separate fines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2001). LF

...AS INTERNATIONAL WATCHDOG CONDEMNS REPRESSION OF PRINT MEDIA

The Paris-based "Reporters sans Frontieres" wrote on 8 March to President Akaev condemning as "a brutal decision" the forced closure of "Asaba," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The organization expressed concern over "permanent attacks on press freedom" in Kyrgyzstan, adding that the use of court proceedings and massive fines "is asphyxiating all independent information." LF




BELARUSIAN TELEVISION AIRS MORE ANTI-U.S. PROPAGANDA

Belarusian Television on 7 March aired a program in which Syarhey Navoyeu, a former journalist of the independent daily "Narodnaya volya," accused the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of taking money from the U.S. Embassy. "Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy gives us no money... Appropriate services, following reports, have checked [Navoyeu's allegations] more than once and found nothing," Independent Trade Union leader Viktar Babayed told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. Alyaksey Karol from the opposition Social Democratic Party commented on Belarusian Television's recent anti-U.S. programs as follows: "The general trait of all dictatorships is to create the image of an enemy. In accordance with the Soviet tradition, the enemy is the Americans. And we have [this stereotype revived] once again before the elections... The U.S. is the enemy, and here are their agents. A democratic [presidential] candidate will be branded as a spy, agent, or imperialist." JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE CLASH WITH ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS

Some 200 people demonstrating against President Leonid Kuchma were beaten back by riot police in Kyiv on 9 March, Reuters reported. Police officers used batons to force the crowd to retreat from a park where Kuchma was laying flowers at a statue of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko. Kuchma arrived earlier than expected, laid the flowers, and quickly left the area. "We cannot allow these people to prevent the president from carrying out his duties in a state ceremony," Yevhen Marchuk, head of the Council of National Security and Defense, told the agency before the event. Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko said 200 police troops were involved in the action. Witnesses estimated that at least 2,000 police and some 400 anti-riot police troops sealed off the park, while water cannon trucks were parked nearby. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON NATION TO HELP FLOOD VICTIMS

President Kuchma has called on authoritative bodies, political and public organizations, and all citizens to help the residents of Zakarpattya (Transcarpathia), which has been flooded by the rising rivers Tysa and Latorytsya, Interfax reported on 8 March. The flood inundated some 200 settlements, forced nearly 13,000 Ukrainians to leave their homes, and killed six people. Some 40,000 people on both sides of the Ukrainian-Hungarian border are working to repair damage and prevent the situation from worsening. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS LEADERSHIP

Parliament re-elected Toomas Savi of the Reform Party to his seventh consecutive term as chairman on 8 March by a narrow vote of 51 to nine, with 38 ballots declared invalid, BNS and ETA reported. Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria Union and Peeter Kreitzberg of the opposition Center Party were elected deputy chairmen, receiving 44 and 36 votes respectively, with 18 ballots declared invalid. Since Kelam gathered more votes, he became first deputy chairman, a post he has held since 1992. The Center Party supported Kreitzberg instead of the incumbent Siiri Oviir because the party's council on 3 March had chosen Kreitzberg over Oviir by a vote of 68 to 34 as the party's official candidate for Estonia's presidency. Savi and Kelam are also likely presidential contestants, but the three promised that this would not interfere with their parliament work. SG

LATVIAN NURSES RALLY FOR HIGHER PAY

Some 1,000 nurses gathered outside the federal building in Riga on 8 March demanding higher pay, BNS reported. Prime Minister Andris Berzins appeared and spoke briefly with representatives of the protesters. He later told reporters that he believes that nurses' wages are too low, but since their pay is determined by individual hospitals it is not correct to speak about a unified remuneration system and average salaries. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins also held talks with the protesters and declared that it is impossible to find the 14 million lats ($23 million) in the national budget for immediately increasing the nurses' salaries, LETA reported. About 300 local nurses also rallied for higher wages in Daugavpils and similar protests were planned in Aluksne, Cesis, Saldus, Liepaja, Rezekne, and other cities. The nurses are also considering a strike, whose scale and duration may be determined on 29 March. SG

OIL SPILLS AT LITHUANIAN FLOATING TERMINAL

While loading the Norwegian tanker "North Pacific" during a storm on the evening of 6 March, the lines harnessing the ship to the Butinge oil platform broke away and some oil was spilled before the filling hose was automatically closed, BNS reported the next day. Mazeikiai Oil officials initially announced that about 5 tons of oil were spilled, but later reduced the estimate to 300 kilograms. Special ships were sent out to collect the oil, but were only partially successful and some oil entered Latvian waters. Latvian Premier Andris Berzins called on Lithuania to conclude an agreement on compensations in the case of ecological catastrophes as soon as possible. "Lietuvos rytas" on 9 March reported that three new oil slicks were created the previous morning when oil was spilled from the platform. SG

EU COMMISSION CHIEF URGES POLAND TO DO MORE FOR EU ENTRY

Romano Prodi encouraged Polish leaders in Warsaw on 8 March to stick with reforms to ensure that the country achieves its EU membership by 2004, Reuters reported. Speaking to parliamentary commissions dealing with European integration, Prodi said Poland poorly implements the EU-compatible laws it passes. Prodi urged Warsaw to accept the wish of some EU states, led by Germany, to temporarily limit the right of Eastern European workers to work in other EU countries, comparing the proposal to Poland's own desire to block foreigners from buying up cheap Polish land. Prodi said Poland faces its toughest challenge in meeting EU environmental standards and bringing its overstaffed and underfunded agriculture sector in line with EU norms. JM

POLISH LEFT-WING PARTIES SIGN ELECTION ACCORD

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the extraparliamentary Labor Union (UP) on 8 March signed an agreement with the National Party of Pensioners and Disabled (KPEiR) on running KPEiR candidates on the joint SLD-UP lists in this year's parliamentary elections, PAP reported. The SLD and the UP signed a deal to that effect earlier. JM

CENTRAL EUROPEANS CRITICIZE 'ALBANIAN EXTREMISTS'

The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, in a joint statement published on 8 March, sharply criticized attacks by "Albanian extremists" on the border region between Macedonia and Kosova and demanded that these attacks "cease immediately." Jan Kavan, Janos Martonyi, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, and Milan Kukan welcomed the fact that ethnic Albanian leaders in Macedonia condemned the attacks and called on other Albanian politicians to follow their example. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC SUPPORTS NATO ON KOSOVA BORDER DECISION

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil on 8 March said his country backs the NATO decision to allow Yugoslav soldiers to enter part of the demilitarized zone between Kosova and southern Serbia, in the area bordering Macedonia, CTK reported. Pospisil said the Czech Republic has advocated "for some time" a review of the security arrangements in that region, which are no longer necessary "now that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is out of the scene." President Vaclav Havel, in a telephone conversation with his Macedonian counterpart Boris Trajkovski, also welcomed the NATO decision, according to presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek, CTK reported. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CRITICIZES POSITION ON CUBAN RESOLUTION

Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Deputy Jiri Payne, in a letter to Foreign Minister Kavan, on 8 March attacked the Czech initiative to include criticism of sanctions against Cuba in the resolution submitted by the Czech Republic to the UN Commission on Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). Payne said the Czech Republic is "committed to taking into account the interests of our NATO allies, stemming from our NATO membership. This does not imply an obligation to always actively support their policies, but [does include] the obligation to at least refrain from submitting proposals that are against their interests." MS

CZECH 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT' PARTNERS TO EXAMINE FUTURE COLLABORATION

Leaders of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the ODS are meeting on 9 March to assess the implementation of the so-called "opposition agreement" under which the ODS is backing in parliament the CSSD minority government, AP and CTK reported. ODS leader Vaclav Klaus said before the meeting that two of the main conditions stipulated by the agreement -- constraints on the budget deficit and constitutional reform -- have not been implemented and that "if the conditions are not met, there is no reason to keep the pact alive." But observers say neither side is interested in early elections, while the rest of the opposition lacks sufficient parliamentary strength to bring down the CSSD cabinet. MS

TEMELIN SHUT DOWN FOR 'REPAIRS'

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was again shut down on 8 March. The plant will remain closed for "some six days," Temelin spokesman Milan Nebesar said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2001). It is unclear whether the plant will be able to go into full operation in May, as previously announced. MS

POPULAR CZECH POLITICIAN ASSAULTED IN PRAGUE

Former Industry and Trade Minister Vladimir Dlouhy was attacked and injured in central Prague on 7 March, CTK reported on the next day. Dlouhy was hospitalized with a broken cheek bone and an injured kneecap, police sources said. The three assailants -- two men and a woman -- were detained shortly after the attack. Dlouhy's media adviser said the attack had "no political context" and was carried out by drunk people who first assaulted Dlouhy's son and turned on the Civic Democratic Alliance politician when he attempted to defend him. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS EXPEL FORMER GROUP LEADER

Attila Bank, former parliamentary group leader of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), on 8 March was expelled from the party for "deliberately disrupting party unity," FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan told Hungarian media. Bank said the ruling of the party's Steering Board is not valid, since as party attorney he had long suspended Torgyan from duty. Speaking after the meeting, Torgyan also declared that interim Agriculture Minister Imre Boros cannot continue as minister, because he allegedly was a Communist Party official at the Hungarian National Bank. Torgyan showed reporters a photo in the 1983 copy of the bank's publication, on which Boros appears with late communist leader Janos Kadar. MSZ

POKORNI WILL REPLACE KOVER AS FIDESZ CHAIRMAN

Laszlo Kover, chairman of the ruling FIDESZ, on 8 March told reporters that the party's Steering Board proposed Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni to succeed him. Last week Kover said he does not intend to run again for the position of FIDESZ chairman, but noted that he would be willing to manage the FIDESZ's campaign in the runup to the 2002 elections. Hungarian media report, however, that Kover was criticized by his fellow FIDESZ politicians for being "too confrontational." Kover himself recognized that Pokorni has "better communication skills" than anybody in the party. The new FIDESZ chairman will be elected by the party's congress in May 2001. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS REACT TO ASYLUM FOR ZAMOLY ROMA

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said the ministry is "unaware" of the content of the rulings issued by the French Refugee Office that has granted asylum to two Romany families from the Hungarian village of Zamoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). Horvath said the French decision cannot be interpreted as criticism of the Hungarian government's minority policies, and does not affect France's assessment of Hungary's EU accession efforts. Janos Bathory, chairman of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities said "it is too soon to presume" that France considers that minority rights are not respected in Hungary. Roma rights activists say, however, that the ruling shows "France does not believe Roma people are safe in Hungary," Reuters reported. MSZ




YUGOSLAVIA'S KOSTUNICA BLASTS NATO

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica slammed NATO's record in Kosova and grudgingly agreed to the alliance's decision to readmit up to 2,000 Serbian paramilitary police and border guards into the Kosova border security zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). Speaking in Belgrade on 8 March, he said that "the latest offer to squeeze our forces into a narrow, 5 kilometer-wide zone means that KFOR is abandoning the protection of the borders with Macedonia, and is placing our forces between the two fires. The Yugoslav forces will, of course, work to correct [NATO's] mistakes. All this is a result of years of wrong [NATO] policies... Simply said, the results of NATO policies in Kosovo are catastrophic," AP reported. Kostunica added that the alliance has "incited terrorism" and supported the idea of a "Greater Albania." He charged that NATO behaves like a "humanitarian organization... Instead of protecting the population of Kosovo, NATO is protecting its own skin there." NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told the BBC that Kostunica's remarks are "unhelpful and rather poor politics." PM

NATO'S ROBERTSON SAYS SERBS WILL BE 'SENSITIVE'

Commenting on the Atlantic alliance's decision to allow Serbian forces into the safety zone, Robertson said in Washington on 8 March that "we were given assurances by the Serbs that they will show moderation and sensitivity," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Before leaving for Washington, Robertson said in a statement in Brussels that the alliance's decision is "a first step in a phased and conditioned reduction of the [zone]" and the readmission of Serbian forces. The paramilitary police, which former President Slobodan Milosevic built up as his own Praetorian guard, are under the command of General Sreten Lukic, who commanded the well-armed police in Kosova during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign. PM

IS SERBIA HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS?

Yugoslav parliament speaker Dragoljub Micunovic said in Sofia on 9 March that "KFOR must take its part of the responsibility and a part of the risk" for security on the Serbian border with Macedonia. He added that "we don't want to take over the obligations of KFOR. [It should] be discussed with Macedonia in detail, whose forces will guard that border," AP reported. PM

ALBANIA CALLS DECISION 'HASTY'

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in Tirana on 9 March that his government condemns the Tanusevci gunmen's "extremist acts because they are against the [real interests of the ethnic] Albanians and multiethnic existence in Macedonia," dpa reported. Milo stressed, however, that "NATO has enough forces in the region to maintain peace and stability on Macedonia's border" and does not need Serbian forces to help. "I think that this is a hasty and [poorly thought out] decision taken [in response to] the urgency of the situation," Milo said. He warned that admitting Serbian forces to the zone could promote instability in the region. PM

NATO, U.S. PLAY DOWN LATEST BALKAN VIOLENCE

NATO's Robertson said in Washington on 8 March that "we want to prevent what can be limited, localized skirmishes [from] becoming bigger or spilling over into the wider region," AP reported. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld stressed that the situation along the border between Kosova and Macedonia is now "relatively stable," adding, however, that the Balkans are "a difficult part of the world" in which to keep peace. Referring to recent shooting incidents, Rumsfeld said that "that's one of the risks of a peacekeeper. Shooting is shooting, and it has been going on throughout the period that [KFOR] troops have been there [at] one level or another, and it has been relatively minor and it remains relatively modest." PM

MACEDONIA WANTS NATO TROOPS ALONG BORDER

Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim said in Brussels on 9 March that his government stands by its previous request that NATO peacekeepers set up a security zone in Kosova on the border with Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). Asked if he will call for EU military help if NATO turns him down, Kerim replied: "Why not? I have a meeting with them later. But I still believe that KFOR will [meet] its commitments," Reuters reported. Unnamed EU diplomats said they are working closely with NATO, but concentrating on seeking a political solution to the conflict. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said recently that he does not want U.S. troops patrolling his country's borders because he regards them as ineffective against ethnic Albanian gunmen, Deutsche Welle reported. PM

MACEDONIAN OFFICIALS UNDER GUERRILLA FIRE

The Macedonian Interior Ministry announced in Skopje on 9 March that border crossings at Blace and Jazince will be closed as of 2:00 p.m. local time because of continued violence along the border with Kosova, MIC news agency reported. Only Macedonian citizens returning home, as well as KFOR and UNMIK personnel may pass through the crossings, through which supplies for peacekeepers and Kosovar civilians normally pass. The statement came after guerrillas in Brest attacked a convoy including State Secretary of the Interior Ljube Boskovski and Deputy Interior Minister Refet Elmazi, who were on a tour of checkpoints in the Tanusevci area. One driver was killed. An Interior Ministry spokesman told Reuters late in the morning of 9 March that the convoy is still under fire. The attackers are presumed to be gunmen whom U.S.-led KFOR troops helped clear out of Tanusevci the previous day, the news agency added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). PM

KOSOVAR DAILY IDENTIFIES GUERRILLA LEADERS

"Koha Ditore," which is Kosova's leading daily, wrote on 9 March that "Maliq Ndrecaj, Emrush Xhemajli, Ali Ahmeti, and Gafurr Elshani" are the former Kosovar guerrilla leaders behind the current "Tanusevci adventure," dpa reported. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 7 March that the gunmen are increasingly isolated and that their latest actions are a sign of desperation. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER BLASTS VIOLENCE

Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) participates in the government, said in Skopje on 9 March that "in urban parts of Macedonia, people are [aware of the fighting] but believe that the conflict will not escalate," AP reported. He added that some unnamed "political forces" based far from the urban centers are engaging in violence. He stressed that "we have to join all our efforts to make the Balkans democratic." Xhaferi appealed to Macedonian troops to refrain from "radical actions," adding that such moves will only encourage "extremist elements to continue their actions." PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SLAMS DEL PONTE

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 8 March that part of the war crimes trial of Milosevic can take place in Serbia, but only after he surrenders to the tribunal, AP reported. The court added in a statement that it has first priority in prosecuting Milosevic, although Yugoslav courts may also do so. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Kostunica told journalists that Del Ponte has "problems with herself and her ambitions," "Danas" reported. She recently called him a "man of the past." PM

POLITICAL STANDOFF CONTINUES IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

Hard-line ethnic Croat leader Marko Tokic told "Jutarnji list" of 9 March that the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina will go ahead with plans to set up their own "self-government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). He stressed that it is not correct to speak of a crisis, adding that the Croat leaders will pursue their goals peacefully. Tihomir Begic, who is an adviser to hard-line leader Ante Jelavic, criticized the dismissal of Jelavic by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch. Begic added that Croatian political leader Drazen Budisa's proposal for setting up cantons in Bosnia is the "only light in the darkness," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Ivo Andric-Luzanski, whom Petritsch also sacked, told "Oslobodjenje" that Croats will not respect his decision. PM

DECENTRALIZATION IN CROATIA

Meeting in the port city of Rijeka, the government announced on 8 March that local elections will take place throughout Croatia on 20 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A package of seven laws aimed at promoting the decentralization of government will take effect in June. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER RECOMMENDS AMENDING STATE SECRETS LAW

Only one day after the approval of a government-sponsored bill on state secrets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001), Prime Minster Adrian Nastase on 9 March said President Ion Iliescu should consider sending the bill back to parliament, Mediafax reported. Nastase said there are some "ambiguities" in the bill and the cabinet "by no means intends for journalists to be damaged" as a result of provisions in the legislation. Nastase also said parliament should pass a bill on free access to public-interest information in the near future. MS

THIRD CANDIDATE EMERGES IN ROMANIAN PARTY CONTEST

Senator Simona Marinescu on 8 March announced she would run for the position of chairwoman of the Democratic Party at that formation's Extraordinary National Convention scheduled for May. Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu announced last month that he will challenge incumbent Petre Roman for the party's chairmanship at that convention. Marinescu said she decided to run after realizing that both Roman and Basescu are "moving the party further and further away from Social Democratic positions," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 8 March and in response to Roman's recent call for former party leaders to return to the fold of the Democratic Party, Adrian Severin said Roman's initiative is "wise, legitimate, and necessary" but that the party can "restore unity only within the framework of a unified Romanian Social Democratic spectrum." MS

PROMINENT ROMANIAN POLITICIAN RESIGNING FROM PARTY

Alliance for Romania (APR) Bucharest branch Chairman Doru Viorel Ursu on 8 March announced that he and a group of followers are resigning from the APR but will ask the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal to recognize them as the legitimate holders of the party's name and insignia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Ursu said he was resigning in light of protests against the recent decision by the extraparliamentary party's leadership "to abandon the party's doctrine and embrace instead Social-Liberalism." The APR leadership said in reaction that it has "taken note" of Ursu's intention to resign, which "clearly shows he wanted the APR to be absorbed in the emerging Social Democratic Party." The leadership also said Ursu and his followers' demands to be recognized as the APR successors contravene legal provisions. MS

ROMANIAN POLICE TO BE DEMILITARIZED

The cabinet on 8 March approved a draft bill on the demilitarization of police. Under the bill, those serving with police would be considered "civil servants with special status" who are "entitled to bear arms in line with legal stipulations." Police forces would be subordinated to local administration authorities. The cabinet will request that parliament debate the bill "in urgency procedure." MS

BULGARIA SENDING 'HUNDREDS OF TONS OF MUNITIONS' TO MACEDONIA

Defense Minister Boiko Noev on 8 March said Bulgaria is sending "hundreds of tons" of munitions to Macedonia to help halt incursions by ethnic Albanian militants from Kosova. He said the shipment does not include tanks, AP reported. Earlier on 8 March, the parliament unanimously approved in a closed-door session a secret agreement between the two countries' defense ministries on the aid. Speaking in Skopje after talks with his Macedonian counterpart Ljubco Georgievski, visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said the aid to Macedonia is worth $8 million, and the first shipment some $400,000. "I am here to express Bulgaria's support to Macedonia: moral, political and military," Kostov told journalists. Additional aid to Macedonia will come from Greece, which announced in a 9 March Defense Ministry statement that Athens is sending "five military trucks, [and an unspecified quantity of] radios, medical supplies, and bulletproof vests" under a current bilateral military agreement, AP reported. MS

BULGARIA, GREECE, BOTH AGAINST DEPLOYING TROOPS IN MACEDONIA

Greece and Bulgaria on 8 March agreed there should be no deployment of foreign troops to neighboring countries, even if the Macedonian government requested that troops be dispatched, dpa reported. In a telephone conversation, Greek Premier Kostas Simitis and Bulgarian Prime Minister Kostov agreed that the present crisis must be "handled exclusively through diplomatic and political means" and its solution must be based on "UN decisions." According to an AP report, Prime Minister Kostov also discussed the crisis in a telephone conversation with Albanian Premier Ilir Meta, who assured him that his country recognizes the border with Macedonia. Meta said he intends to invite to Tirana leaders of the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia to discuss the crisis. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told EU ambassadors to Sofia that NATO and KFOR forces must become more involved in diffusing the conflict. MS

BULGARIA TO LIBERALIZE ENERGY MARKET

Deputy Premier Petar Zhotev on 8 March told journalists that the cabinet on the same day had approved draft amendments to current energy bills "aimed at liberalizing the market, in line with our agreement with the IMF and the EU," Reuters reported. The liberalization is to go into force in 2002, after the parliament has approved the bills and after this year's elections. Zhotev said the amendments will be sent to parliament by 16 March, thus meeting the deadline set by the IMF as a condition for the final disbursement of funds under an $800 million three-year agreement with the fund, which expires in June. Under the amendments, local consumers will be able to sign contracts for electricity supplies with private producers as of 1 January 2002, thus doing away with the monopoly by the state's National Electricity Company. MS

BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL JUDGES RESENT BEING INVESTIGATED

Constitutional Court Chairman Hristo Danov on 8 March said the demand by Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev to check judges' reports on their income amounts to an infringement of the judges' immunity, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported. The daily said it is not clear why Filichev wanted to check whether the Constitutional Court judges had accurately reported on their income and property, in line with legal provisions. Magistrates have repeatedly accused Filichev of conducting a "witch-hunt" after he launched a number of investigations against senior members of the bench. Danov told private radio Darik that prosecutors should divulge suspicions concerning the Constitutional Court's judges before requesting from the authorities access to their income and property declarations. MS




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