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Newsline - March 21, 2001




PUTIN CONSULTS ON BLOCKING SPREAD OF ANIMAL DISEASES TO RUSSIA

President Vladimir Putin met on 20 March with Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev to discuss how to prevent the spread into Russia of animal diseases now ravaging Europe, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian medical and veterinary services said they have taken additional steps to prevent any influx, but warned that it might still occur. PG

PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS TO FOCUS ON ECONOMICS

A report in strana.ru on 20 March said President Putin's upcoming address to the Russian parliament will focus on economics and outline what the website said is a "radically liberal" economic plan. The site added that Putin's speech is expected to stress "state political control with a maximally liberal, debureaucratized economy." In addition, it said, Putin will speak about the need to downsize the Russian military while upgrading its equipment. PG

BUSINESSMEN PRESSED TO PAY FOR PUTIN PALACE

According to a report in Britain's "Electronic Telegraph," which cites "Vedomosti," Russian businessmen are still being pressed to come up with more than $150 million to restore the Konstantinovskii Palace in St. Petersburg as an official residence for President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). One businessman expressed his unhappiness with this proposal: "we need this about as much as a goat needs an accordion." PG

DRAMATIC FALL IN INFLATION PREDICTED

First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told Interfax-AFI on 20 March that inflation will fall significantly by the middle of 2001 and should slow down by the middle of the year so that the annual rate of inflation will not exceed the 12-14 percent annual rate set by the budget. While he acknowledged that such a decline seems improbable, he recalled that such a pattern has held in all recent years except 2000. Meanwhile, Russian and Western experts at a conference in New York offered a variety of assessments of Russia's future economic performance, Reuters reported on 20 March. But an article carried on strana.ru on 19 March gave perhaps the most upbeat appraisal: It suggested that the Russian stock market might be just the safe haven Western investors are now looking for. PG

MANY PRIVATIZATION TASKS STILL AHEAD

First Deputy Property Relations Minister Aleksandr Braverman told the Duma that 60 percent of enterprises -- some 130,000 in all -- still have not been privatized, even though many are operating at a loss, "Vremya MN" reported on 20 March. One firm that does not want further privatization is Unified Energy Systems, its head Anatolii Chubais said in Moscow on the same day, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 March that some people in Saratov are considering the renationalization of the Saratov Aviation Factory to solve the company's debt and back wages problems. But the paper said that at present, officials there doubt the state has the money to help much even if it renationalized the enterprise. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS THERE IS LITTLE MORE TO STEAL

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said in an interview published in "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 19 March that "there is virtually nothing left to steal" and thus there are no longer the grand thefts of state assets that took place in the early and mid-1990s. Stepashin said the rules of the game are now clear and that law enforcement agencies are working more efficiently. But he added that the struggle to ensure the lawful and rational use of budget resources continues. PG

CHINESE SAID LOBBYING IN AMUR OBLAST ELECTION

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, is concerned by the efforts of Chinese officials and businessmen to influence the outcome of the 25 March gubernatorial elections in Amur Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 March. PG

PARTIES, FACTIONS OUTLINE TACTICS

Following its conference on 17 March, the Union of Rightist Forces will oppose the Kremlin "if and when the president abandons democratic institutions in favor of authoritarianism," "Segodnya" reported on 19 March. On 20 March, the People's Deputy faction received its official registration from the Justice Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. That faction's leader, Gennadii Raikov, said his group will submit proposals by 20 April for restructuring the Duma. Two deputies -- Igor Lisinenko of the Fatherland-All Russia group and Vladimir Semenkov of the Zhirinovsky Bloc -- have announced their intention to join the Unity faction, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Unity excluded deputies Konstantin Sevenard and Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov from its ranks. People's Deputy also excluded two deputies, Oksana Dmitrieva and Yevgenii Ishchenko, from its group, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW STEPS UP CRITICISM OF WASHINGTON

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 March said that statements by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz made in an interview published in London's "Sunday Telegraph" on 18 March reflect the views of the Cold War rather than current realities, Russian agencies reported. In the article, Rumsfeld branded Russia an "active proliferater" whose exports of rocket and nuclear knowledge is forcing the U.S. to build a national missile defense shield. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov attacked the criticism some American officials have made of Russian-Iranian cooperation on atomic energy and weapons sales, Interfax reported on 20 March. And Duma deputy (Yabloko) Aleksei Arbatov said the U.S. has too large a presence in the Pacific region, although he added that Moscow "is not interested" in a complete American withdrawal, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The Russian media also gave extensive coverage to the departure from Washington of Vladimir Frolov, whom American media have suggested was a Russian intelligence officer who served as a contact for accused Russian spy and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen. "Izvestiya" pointedly noted that it has no plans to hire Frolov, who it said is not a professional journalist even though he has worked in the Russian Embassy's press office. PG

RUSSIA, U.S.

CLASH ON SPACE TOURIST. Russian officials ordered cosmonauts training in the U.S. to resume their activities despite American objections to Russian plans to send the world's first space tourist, American millionaire Dennis Tito, to the International Space Station, Russian and Western agencies reported. Tito has paid Moscow $20 million for allowing him to make the flight, but American space scientists do not believe he is ready to go into space. Meanwhile, in a commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Nauka," No. 3, Yurii Karash argued that "Russia needs a space race," for the benefits it would bring not only to science but also to the economy. PG

NEW GROUP TO PROMOTE RUSSIA-BELARUS-UKRAINE UNION

Russian Duma deputy (Unity) Sergei Apatenko, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's Committee for CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots Abroad, said that his visit to Kyiv this week will lead to the formation of a new group of parliamentarians from the three Slavic countries to promote their union, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. More than 90 Ukrainian deputies are among its supporters, Apatenko said. PG

RUSSIANS ABROAD SEEN PROMOTING REINTEGRATION OF SOVIET SPACE

In an interview published in the 20 March "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Aleksandr Svistunov, the president of the Russian Movement of Ukraine, said that ethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics can help promote Moscow's interests and the integration of those countries with Russia. He said Russian officials are beginning to understand and support the possibility, noting that "behind all the integration processes in the CIS, in Belarus, in Moldova, stands the Russian factor." He added that "I am certain that in the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Central Asia in the next five or six years they will also contribute to movements toward rapprochement with Russia." Svistunov concluded, "if earlier the power of Russia, to use the words of Lomonosov, grew by virtue of Siberia, now it will grow because of the diaspora." With regard to Ukraine, an article in "Segodnya" the same day suggested that the Ukrainian political crisis could ignite ethnic and regional tensions there, leading to the disintegration of the country. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS LATVIAN VETERANS' MEETING

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 March condemned the gathering of Latvian veterans of the German Waffen SS and said the Latvian government is supporting the meeting, Russian and Western agencies reported. The ministry's statement said "those who struggled against fascism on the side of the anti-Hitler coalition, not Nazi accomplices, should enjoy the state's patronage." A Latvian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Latvian government had nothing to do with the meeting, adding that "to talk about the revival of fascism in Latvia is simply absurd." Meanwhile, a commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the same day suggested that the Latvian authorities were "clever," by allowing the veterans to meet but preventing them from staging a march as they have in the past. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS MACEDONIA

After a stop in Kosova where he repeated Moscow's view that the problems of that republic can be solved only within the context of a federal Yugoslavia, Igor Ivanov flew to the capital of Macedonia to consult with officials about the deteriorating situation there, Russian agencies reported. PG

CHUVASH HEAD SAYS RUSSIA TO FACE MORE COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICISM

In an interview published in the 20 March "Izvestiya," Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov said Moscow must be prepared to receive more criticism from the Council of Europe in 2002 "if there is not fundamental progress in guaranteeing the constitutional rights of citizens." Fedorov said efforts to increase central control over the regions by giving presidential envoys expanded budgetary powers over the regions -- something presidential envoy to the Central federal district, Georgii Poltavchenko, said that he favors in an interview in "Segodnya" on the same day -- would represent "the destruction of the constitutional order." Meanwhile, "Obshchaya gazeta," No. 11, said Russian presidential Human Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov does little but "flirt with the West" and is "harmless" as far as the Kremlin is concerned. PG

MOSCOW PROVIDES JAPAN WITH DATA ON JAPANESE POWS IN USSR

In advance of the Russian-Japanese summit in Irkutsk on 25 March and on the occasion of the publication of a new book, "POWs in the USSR, 1939-1956," Russian officials said that Moscow has provided Tokyo with information on the burial places of 38,000 Japanese POWs who died while in Soviet prison camps, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. PG

GAZPROM BACKS AWAY FROM SELLING NTV

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev has reversed himself and said that his company has no plans to sell NTV off to foreign investors once it takes complete control of that station, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March. PG

SECURITY INCREASED IN MOSCOW

In the wake of the hijacking of a Russian plane to Saudi Arabia last week, Russian officials have increased security in the Moscow metro and at airports, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and Interfax reported on 20 March. "Vremya MN" said the same day that security around President Putin is "now more severe" than it ever was around former President Boris Yeltsin. PG

MOSCOW CITY'S ANTI-NAZI LAW SAID CONSTITUTIONAL

Experts told members of the Moscow city Duma's law and security committee that the city's legislation against Nazi symbols corresponds to the "spirit and letter" of Russian legislation, "Vremya MN" reported on 20 March. The law appears likely to be tested. On 15 March, Yevgenii Proshechkin, the head of Moscow's Anti-Fascist Center, said "fascism up to now is manifested in the activity of extremist organizations including those in Moscow," Interfax reported. Israel's Ambassador to Russia Natan Meron bemoaned the fact that "when Saddam began to threaten Israel, not a single Russian politician found in himself the courage and principles to speak out in defense of Israel," the Russian news agency reported on 19 March. "Izvestiya" on 17 March reported the conclusion of a study of the U.S.-based National Council for Soviet Jews that "the growing power of the special service under President Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian instincts are assisting the development of anti-Semitism in Russia." PG

SELEZNEV SAYS HEALTH A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE

Speaking to officials at the Health Ministry on 20 March, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev was among those who insisted that the health of the population is "one of the main factors of the security of the state," Interfax reported. Seleznev called for providing free medical education, the creation of an obligatory medical insurance system, and well-funded struggles against drugs, AIDS, alcoholism, and tuberculosis. (One measure of the seriousness of the tuberculosis situation is a report on the same day that the incidence of TB in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast is increasing by 20-30 percent a year.) In other comments, Seleznev suggested that Moscow should adopt a protectionist policy to protect domestic medicine producers. PG

PENSION PLAN SPARKS DEBATE

The government's announcement on 9 March of a new pension plan to guarantee a minimum income to the country's elderly has already sparked debate. Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for the introduction of personal retirement savings accounts, Interfax reported on 20 March. "Kommersant-Daily" the same day gave its opinion of the plan by titling its commentary "It is necessary to die at the workplace." Meanwhile, articles in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Politekonomiya," No. 5, highlighted poverty among the elderly across the country, with one of the articles entitled "It's possible to survive on a pension but it isn't possible to live." PG

CONTRACT MURDERS DOWN, ORDINARY MURDERS UP

Aleksandr Kiroshev, an investigator at the Interior Ministry, said on 20 March that the number of suspected contract murders fell from 591 in 1999 to 386 last year, AP reported. But he added that there were 7.4 percent more ordinary murders in the first two months of 2001 than in the same period a year ago. Kiroshev also said that he believes there is a 60 percent chance that the murder in November 1998 of Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova will be solved, but he held out less hope for solving the 1995 murder of ORT General Director Vladislav Listev. LF

MOSCOW PLANS FOR 70 MILLION PHONES, 26 MILLION INTERNET USERS IN 10 YEARS

The Communications and Information Ministry has adopted a 10-year investment plant to increase the number of ordinary telephones from 31.2 million to 47.7 million, the number of mobile telephones from 2.9 million to 22.2 million, and the number of Internet users from 2.5 million to 26.1 million by 2010, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 March. PG

FORMER KALININGRAD POLICEMAN SMUGGLED ARMS

An arms-smuggling group led by a former Kaliningrad policeman who had worked in the regional Anti-Organized Crime unit was broken up by local security forces, AP reported on 20 March. PG

A $3 BILL FOR THE CIS ANNIVERSARY?

A commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 March suggested that the mints of Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States countries should consider issuing a $3 bill on the 10th anniversary of the creation of the CIS. Pictured on the bill, the paper said, would be the three cosigners of the accords that spelled the end of the USSR and the formation of the CIS -- Russia's Boris Yeltsin, Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk, and Belarus's Stanislav Shushkevich. PG

'NONE OF THE ABOVE' LEADS POLLS IN FAR EASTERN REGION...

According to an opinion poll conducted in four cities and two villages in Primorskii Krai, almost 32 percent of 1,200 respondents intend to vote against all candidates in the 27 May gubernatorial election, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 20 March. The poll was conducted from 9-13 March. Former Vladivostok Mayor and current State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Viktor Cherepkov was second in the poll with 17.6 percent of the vote. The candidate the Kremlin allegedly backs, Admiral Igor Kasatonov, had only 3.1 percent support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). JAC

...AS NEW BLACKOUTS LOOM OVER VLADIVOSTOK

Meanwhile, the krai's electricity utility, Dalenergo, announced on 20 March that the situation regarding payments for heat and electricity in the krai is "catastrophic." The company's press service said the "heads of municipal organizations have neither the desire nor the possibility of extinguishing their debt which has accumulated over many years." The same day, the utility announced that as of 22 March heat and hot water will be turned off to all four maternity homes in Vladivostok, three birth-control dispensaries, the city's psychiatric hospital, the emergency service center, and the House of Children, Interfax-Eurasia reported. As of 30 March all of the city's cultural, health, science, and education institutes will also experience shutoffs. JAC

EMERGENCY PATIENTS TOLD TO BRING THEIR OWN GAS

Ambulances in Chkalovskii raion in Nizhnii Novgorod are out of gas, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported on 17 March. The service is asking patients to either buy gas for the ambulance or to call and order a taxi for the emergency staff. According to the correspondent, the daily supply of gasoline has been lowered from 50 to 30 liters a day. And, at the end of last month, doctors whose gas supply had been used up were late in arriving to assist a woman who had had a heart attack. Lev Terentev, a doctor at the raion's hospital, told RFE/RL that in the past 30 years of his employment there, there had never before been such a dearth of funds as there is today. Another doctor, who preferred not to be identified, told the correspondent that the oblast's government apparatus has been financed at a level of 118 percent of the oblast's 2000 budget, while the raion's hospital received only 28 percent of its budget funds last year. JAC

U.S. TO ESTABLISH DIPLOMATIC CONTACTS WITH MASKHADOV LEADERSHIP

The Bush administration plans to establish diplomatic contacts with the Chechen leadership headed by Aslan Maskhadov, Reuters reported on 20 March. Foreign Service Director-General Marc Grossman told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that those contacts will be "at the assistant secretary level" and may take place as early as this week. LF

WOMEN IN CHECHNYA STAGE PROTEST AGAINST CIVILIAN DEATHS...

Several hundred women blocked the main north-south highway through Chechnya to Daghestan near Gudermes on 20 March to demand an end to the killings by the Russian military of Chechen civilians and the "mopping-up operations" in which Chechen civilians are detained at random and then held indefinitely in filtration camps, AFP and Interfax reported. The women appealed to the Chechen leadership and mufti to condemn such practices, and demanded that those responsible for them be punished. The protest was triggered by the 16 March killings of eight local residents. In an appeal to the protesters, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating those deaths. LF

...AS MORE KILLINGS REPORTED IN GROZNY

At least seven people have been shot dead in Grozny in the past few days, Reuters and Interfax reported on 20 March. Five of the dead were elderly Russian women. Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov said the deaths may have been the work of a Chechen sniper. Russian military spokesmen and Russian Human Rights Commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov similarly blamed the killings on Chechen fighters. But Chechen leader Maskhadov accused the Russian military of perpetrating the killings and demanded a full investigation, Reuters reported. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER DENIES HE HAS BEEN CAPTURED

Abdul Malik Medzhidov, whose capture by federal forces on 19 March was reported by Russian agencies the same day, is still at liberty, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 20 March quoting Kavkaz-Tsentr. "I have not been arrested by anybody. I've no idea why the Russians are lying," the website quoted Medzhidov saying. LF

CONGRESS OF PEOPLE OF INGUSHETIA HOLDS SESSION

Meeting on 19 March, the Congress of People of Ingushetia, which functions as the upper chamber of the republic's parliament, appealed to Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to dismiss Ingushetian Prosecutor-General Magomed Belkhoroev, whom deputies accused of corruption and failure to ensure due respect for the law, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 March. The congress also criticized the work of the republic's Supreme Court, but did not adopt a formal condemnation of judge Daud Albakov as the administration of President Ruslan Aushev has already appealed to the Russian Supreme Court to replace Albakov. In his annual address to the congress, President Aushev denied that plans are underway to merge the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya into a single federation subject (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000 and 17 January 2001). The congress appealed to the Russian government to take steps to expedite the repatriation of Ingush forced to flee the interethnic fighting in North Ossetia's Pridorognyi Raion in late 1992. Aushev had warned Moscow that tensions between Ossetians and Ingush in the region still persist. LF




ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS WASHINGTON

Vartan Oskanian met in Washington on 20 March with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to discuss bilateral relations, the Karabakh conflict, and plans for the April talks in Key West between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, Noyan Tapan and an RFE/RL Washington correspondent reported. Powell will attend the first day of the Key West talks, according to Reuters. LF

NEW ARMENIAN OPPOSITION BLOC OUTLINES AIMS...

In a "founding declaration" made public on 19 March and at a press conference in Yerevan the following day, leaders of the left-wing parties aligned in the newly formed National Accord Front (AHCh) stated that the group's aim is to lobby for policy changes, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Specifically, they will draw up a comprehensive anticorruption program and seek to mobilize popular opposition to the imminent privatization of power utilities. But they did not list forcing the resignation of President Kocharian as their primary objective. Nor, contrary to expectations, have Armenia's two most influential left-wing parties, the Communist Party of Armenia and the People's Party of Armenia, formally committed themselves to membership of the alignment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Observers suggest that, at least for the moment, they prefer to avoid a direct confrontation with the president. LF

...AS NATIONALIST PARTY WARNS AGAINST CONCESSIONS ON KARABAKH

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) issued a statement in Yerevan on 20 March warning President Kocharian against making major concessions to Azerbaijan during the Key West talks on Karabakh, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "Any agreement on the settlement of the Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] issue must recognize Artsakh's reunification with Armenia, or at least Artsakh's independence," the statement said. It also said Armenia and Karabakh must be linked by a common border, rather than the demilitarized land corridor envisaged in earlier OSCE draft peace proposals, thus underscoring the party's opposition to the return to Azerbaijani control of the Kelbadjar district that lies between the disputed enclave and the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. The statement called on the U.S. to "remain meticulously impartial and avoid attempts to interfere in Azerbaijan's favor," and cautioned the OSCE Minsk Group, which is trying to mediate a solution of the Karabakh conflict, against setting "artificial deadlines" for the signing of a settlement document. LF

U.S. ASSURES GEORGIA OF SUPPORT

Meeting in Washington on 20 March with visiting Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, U.S. Secretary of State Powell assured Tbilisi of Washington's support in the face of Russian pressure, Reuters reported quoting State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Powell also reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, which will traverse Georgian territory. Menagharishvili expressed thanks for Washington's support for Georgian independence and for the country's efforts to build a civil society, and denied that Tbilisi allows Chechen fighters to use Georgian territory. The two men also discussed the unresolved conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION ESTIMATE PROFITS, LOSSES FROM SMUGGLING

Only one-third of the fuel and 20 percent of the wheat and flour imported into Georgia enter the country legally, Caucasus Press reported on 20 March, quoting Customs Office data. The value of goods smuggled across the border between North and South Ossetia alone amounts to 2.5 million laris (just over $1 million) per day, according to the Georgian Tax Ministry special police. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 20 March, Giorgi Gachechiladze, who heads Georgia's Green party, claimed that the volume of contraband is even larger, and that the primary beneficiary is the Georgian leadership. He claimed that the authorities derive $650 million per year from the smuggling of wheat and flour, $300 million from contraband dairy products, and $214 million from oil and petroleum. He claimed the annual profit from smuggled kerosene is $60 million, which is one reason why the Georgian leadership does not take more resolute steps to ensure uninterrupted supplies of electricity and gas. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS CRITICISM

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 March taking issue with the findings of the U.S. State Department's annual survey of human rights worldwide, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 20 March. The Foreign Ministry statement said that the section of the report devoted to Kazakhstan "distorts and gives an arbitrary interpretation to" developments in Kazakhstan over the past year, and "ignores any positive developments in democratization and human rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan," while emphasizing negative aspects. On 19 March, the leaders of Kazakhstan's Civic Party and Agrarian Party, both of which are loyal to the country's leadership, convened press conferences at which they too criticized what they termed the "biased" U.S. assessment. Interfax on 20 March quoted U.S. Ambassador to Astana Richard Jones as characterizing the report as "tough, but honest and accurate." LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES DRAFT LAW ON OMBUDSMAN

The Legislative Assembly, the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament, on 20 March approved the main points of President Askar Akaev's proposed law on a national ombudsman, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Under that draft, the People's Assembly, the upper chamber of parliament, would elect the ombudsman, who must enjoy popular respect and have a legal background, for a period of seven years. Deputies rejected an alternative draft by lawmaker Tursun Bakir Uulu, which proposed that the Legislative Assembly should elect the ombudsman as it has a larger number of deputies than the People's Assembly. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT APPEALS TO POPULATION TO REJECT RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM

In a 20 March address to the Tajik people to mark the Novruz spring holiday, President Imomali Rakhmonov characterized Tajikistan as a country in transition to a democratic, law-governed secular society, Russian agencies reported. Rakhmonov expressed concern at the publication in Tajikistan of materials of "dubious moral value," and at what he termed "subjective" reporting by foreign journalists that harms the country's international reputation. In a clear allusion to the presence in Tajikistan of numerous members of the clandestine Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, he appealed to the population to reject "religious extremism and fanaticism which has nothing in common with true Islam." LF

TAJIK ECONOMY CONTINUES TO RECOVER

During the first two months of 2001 Tajikistan's GDP increased by 6.4 percent compared with the same period the previous year, Interfax reported on 20 March. GDP growth for 2000 amounted to 8.3 percent, while industrial production grew by 10.3 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). LF




U.S. OFFICIALS URGE BELARUS TO RESPECT CIVIC RIGHTS

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jon Purnell and Greg Perett, head of the State Department office for Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, wrapped up their three-day trip to Minsk on 20 March. "The government of Belarus must take a number of concrete steps to bring it back into compliance with commitments each of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community has made concerning the civic and political rights of its citizens," AP quoted Purnell as saying. Purnell said he warned Belarusian authorities against taking any steps that would restrict the opposition's participation in this year's presidential elections. Purnell criticized President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent decree providing for state control over foreign donations to the nongovernmental sector (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 March 2001). JM

SPRING PLANTING SEEN AS TEST BEFORE ELECTIONS IN BELARUS

President Lukashenka told his ministers on 20 March that this spring's planting campaign will be a major test for the government before the upcoming presidential election campaign, Belarusian Television reported. He pledged to create "normal conditions" during the presidential election campaign not only "for the presidential candidate who is in power today." Lukashenka said he will personally oversee the progress of the spring planting and promised to hold a traditional "dispatching conference" at a later date in order to set tasks for the planting. He denied rumors that he has changed his mind about the agricultural sector and reassured his ministers that he will not abolish the collective farm system in Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION JOURNALIST SENTENCED TO THREE MONTHS IN JAIL

A Minsk district court on 20 March sentenced opposition journalist and human rights activist Valery Shchukin to three months in jail for hooliganism, Belapan reported. Police officers charged Shchukin with attempting to force his way into Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau's news conference on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Shchukin said he scuffled with the ministry's guards because they were carrying out an illegal order not to admit him to the news conference in violation of the journalist's rights. Since 1997, Shchukin has received nine prison sentences, spent 84 days in jail, and been fined for a total of $3,925 for his involvement in opposition activities. JM

GERMAN EXPERTS SAY BODY IS NOT JOURNALIST'S

German genetic experts from Munich have said tissue and blood samples of a corpse found near Kyiv last fall does not belong to missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian agencies reported on 20 March. The experts made their conclusion after testing three samples: a fragment of the corpse's tissue (provided by journalist Olena Prytula), a dry bloodstain that Gongadze accidentally left on a medical card in 1993, and a blood sample from Gongadze's mother. Oleksandr Lavrynovych, head of the parliamentary ad hoc commission for the Gongadze case, said the results of the German testing will be accepted by the commission, but added that he doubts whether the tissue sample taken to Germany for DNA tests actually came from the corpse found near Kyiv, which was officially recognized as Gongadze's following genetic tests in Russia. JM

NEW REGIONAL GROUP EMERGES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT

A new deputy caucus called Ukraine's Regions (Rehiony Ukrayiny) has been registered in the parliament, Interfax reported on 21 March. The group is led by Donetsk Mayor Volodymyr Rybak and includes five former lawmakers from Revival of Regions, four from Labor Ukraine, and two from the Popular Democratic Party. Revival of Regions leader Oleksandr Volkov commented that the creation of the Ukraine's Regions group is the beginning of a "real breakup" of the pro-government majority. The current array of parliamentary forces is as follows: the Communist Party -- 112 lawmakers; the Social Democratic Party (United) -- 34; Fatherland -- 31; Rukh (Kostenko) -- 23; the Popular Democratic Party -- 18; the Greens -- 17; Rukh (Udovenko) -- 16; Left Center (Socialists) -- 16; Reforms-Congress -- 15; Yabluko -- 14; Labor Ukraine -- 46; Revival of Regions -- 30; Solidarnist -- 24; and Ukraine's Regions -- 16. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER READY TO BACK CABINET CHANGES

Viktor Yushchenko on 20 March said he is ready to discuss cabinet replacements with parliamentary groups if new candidates turn out to be "more rational and constructive" than the current ministers, and if the reshuffle "cements" the pro-government parliamentary majority, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, lawmaker Yaroslav Kendzor from Rukh (Udovenko) told the parliament the same day that "vigorous preparations" are under way to oust Yushchenko's cabinet and install an "oligarchic-leftist regime" in Ukraine. Yuriy Kostenko, leader of another Rukh faction, warned that "the attempts of oligarchs and communists to start off the government's dismissal are a full-scale plan to destabilize Ukraine." JM

GAZPROM ACCUSES UKRAINE OF CONTINUING GAS THEFT

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev on 20 March said Ukraine is still siphoning off Russian transit gas, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 21 March. Vyakhirev noted that Ukraine has not yet paid for supplied gas, adding that Kyiv's gas debt to Russia now totals $2 billion. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES PENSIONS FOR ELDERLY

The government on 20 March decided to raise pensions for the elderly from 1,552 to 1,602 kroons beginning on 1 April, ETA reported. The Finance Ministry opposed the increase, which Social Affairs Minister Eiki Nesto had promised, arguing that the pension insurance budget has a deficit of 30 million kroons ($1.8 million) and the deteriorating international economy might decrease tax receipts. Finance Minister Siim Kallas, however, decided to support the increase, which is expected to cost about 110 million kroons, claiming that recently gathered data on the number of pensioners shows there are several thousand less than had been estimated when drafting the budget. The cabinet, moreover, deemed that the deficit from the pension increase could be covered by transferring funds from other parts of the budget. The cabinet also decided to form by 2005 a rapid reaction unit, Estbat, which will be able to participate in NATO operations. SG

LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS CANADA

Following a brief visit to the U.S., Girts Valdis Kristovskis on 19 March discussed with his Canadian counterpart Arthur Eggleton NATO expansion in general and Latvia's movement to the alliance, as well as the country's relations with Russia, BNS reported the next day. The defense minister also met with Canadian Parliament Defense Committee Chairman David Pratt. Kristovskis on 20 March visited a training center in Campborden where Latvian officers are studying. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW BANKRUPTCY LAW

The parliament passed a new bankruptcy law on 20 March by a vote of 85 to one, with 14 abstentions, ELTA reported. The law, which will go into effect on 1 July, will allow a company to declare bankruptcy when its debts exceed 50 percent of the balance value of its assets, as opposed to the 100 percent currently required. Under the new law, priority in fulfilling creditors' claims will be given to holders of collateral (banks), followed by claims by employees and agricultural producers, and then claims connected with the state budget, state social insurance, and other creditors. According to data from the Economic Ministry, 406 companies declared bankruptcy last year, but under the new law the number is likely to increase to around 1,000 this year. The parliament also overwhelmingly rejected proposals for the spring session made by deputy Julius Veselka to declare that Lithuania is a neutral country that does not want NATO membership, and to annul the law adopted by the previous parliament demanding compensation from Russia for damages incurred during the Soviet occupation of the country. SG

SINGAPORE WANTS POLAND TO LINK WITH ASIAN MARKETS

Singaporean Premier Goh Chok Tong paid an official visit to Poland on 19-20 March, meeting with top state officials, PAP reported. Goh Chok Tong said he visited Poland to "test the ground" for future investments. In his opinion, Poland, as a country aspiring to the EU, should maintain contacts with other regions, specifically countries in emerging Asian markets. JM

LAWYER EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR CZECH NUCLEAR PLANT DOCUMENTS

Ed Fagan, who represents Austrian and Czech opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant, on 20 March said he is extending by one month the deadline for receiving documents attesting to the plant's safety from CEZ, the utility company that owns Temelin, and Westinghouse, which supplied the plant with safety technology. Fagan made the announcement after Temelin management reversed an earlier decision and allowed the American lawyer to visit the plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2001). Fagan said he is determined to get the documents, and that the two companies will be forced to hand them to courts of justice in the U.S. and the Czech Republic, CTK, AP and dpa reported. A spokesman for CEZ accused Fagan of attempting to harm's CEZ's reputation before the company's privatization. MS

CZECH PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION TO MEET DETAINED SECRET SERVICE OFFICIAL

Jan Klas, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' commission monitoring the activity of the Security Information Service (BIS), on 20 March said the commission wishes to meet with former BIS officer Vladimir Hucin, who is currently in custody. Klas spoke after the commission met with the BIS leadership. Hucin was dismissed from the BIS in February for having refused to reveal the identity of his informants. Hucin was arrested on 7 March and charged with disobeying orders and bearing arms without permission. Police also suspect Hucin of having masterminded explosions in Prerov, northern Moravia, several years ago. Hucin, who as an anti-Communist dissident organized a bomb attack on an StB agent's house, says the BIS wants to get rid of him because of his successful work against extreme-left groups and because he drew attention to former Communist officials employed in the civil service and the armed forces in defiance of legal provisions. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'RESOLUTE' SOLUTION TO MACEDONIAN CONFLICT

President Rudolf Schuster on 20 March told journalists that the international community is unnecessarily procrastinating in dealing with the Macedonian conflict and that there is a danger the conflict will spread to other republics in the former Yugoslavia, CTK reported. "We have the experience of previous conflicts there, which began similarly. I am in favor of a resolute solution preventing the spread of the conflict to include all of the former Yugoslavia," Schuster said. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES INTENTION TO FIRE CHIEF OF STAFF

Defense Minister Jozef Stank on 20 March denied media reports that the government intends to dismiss Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky, CTK reported. Stank said he "never heard" of that intention and that "Premier Mikulas Dzurinda did not ask me to dismiss him, nor was the question ever discussed." The reports said Cerovsky had been criticized at a recent meeting of the National Defense Council in connection with the army's preparations for NATO accession. Stank also said it was necessary to enlist more support from career soldiers for joining NATO and revealed that only 65 percent of officers presently back the accession. He said Slovakia intends to reduce its forces from the current 38,500, to 30,000 by the end of 2001. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS DECIDE TO RECALL MINISTER

The Steering Board of the Independent Smallholders' Party on 20 March approved party Chairman Jozsef Torgyan's suggestion to recall Imre Boros, currently serving as interim Agriculture Minister, from his post as Minister for Phare Funds. "Nepszabadsag" comments that Torgyan "forced his will" on the board after Boros ordered an investigation of the situation within the Agriculture Ministry, previously led by Torgyan, and raised the issue of Torgyan's political responsibility. Torgyan told reporters that a letter on the board's decision has been sent to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Torgyan argued that according to the coalition agreement, Orban "has no option" but to dismiss Boros, as he was nominated to his ministerial post by the Smallholders' Party. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CABINET TO FULLY COMPENSATE FLOOD VICTIMS

The government decided on 20 March to fully compensate residents of both private and local council-owned buildings in flood-affected regions along the Tisza river. Cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai said the implementation plan is expected to cost 20-25 billion forints ($70-85 million). According to data released by an interministerial committee, some 2,100 homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 1,300 people became homeless during the recent floods. In other news, the Romanian-Australian "Aurul" mining company, which caused the cyanide pollution in the Tisza river last year, has refused to seek an out-of-court settlement with Hungary, saying the Hungarian government's claim of 28.6 billion forints ($97 million) is "exaggerated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2001). MSZ

CABINET APPROVES DRAFT BILL ON ETHNIC HUNGARIANS

The government approved a draft bill on granting special status to ethnic Hungarians abroad, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told reporters on 20 March. Nemeth said he estimates that some 800,000 ethnic Hungarians will claim certificates entitling them to social benefits and allowances in education, transport, and health. One of the preconditions for such benefits is that the claimant should have no intention to settle in Hungary and should not represent any national security risk, Nemeth explained. According to the bill, ethnic Hungarian families with at least two children will receive a minimum annual benefit of 20,000 forints ($70), if they send their children to Hungarian-language kindergartens or schools. MSZ




MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT DECLARES CEASE-FIRE, ISSUES ULTIMATUM

The Macedonian army issued a statement on 20 March declaring a unilateral cease-fire that was to run until midnight the following day. The army gave the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) until that deadline to leave Macedonia or face a combined ground and air offensive, Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service reported. The Macedonian authorities claim that the UCK consists primarily of "terrorists" who have infiltrated from Kosova. But Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 20 March that the UCK has its base of support in ethnic Albanian rural communities in Macedonia near the border with Kosova. The leadership is also primarily from Macedonia. Fighters from Kosova are present as well, the daily added. The BBC interviewed an Albanian who is a former officer in the Macedonian army and who has deserted to the UCK. He said that many of his fellow ethnic Albanian officers may follow his lead. The Macedonian conscript army is estimated to be about 40 percent Albanian, "The Guardian" reported. PM

ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS REJECT ULTIMATUM?

Reuters on 20 March quoted an unnamed UCK commander in Tetovo as saying that the guerrillas reject the ultimatum. He warned that the UCK will bring its fight from the hills into the city streets if the government does not negotiate with it. Similar reports were carried by dpa and Deutsche Welle. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTIES CALL FOR PEACE

Arben Xhaferi, who heads the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), and Ymer Ymeri, who leads the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), signed an agreement in Skopje on 20 March after meeting with EU security affairs chief Javier Solana. The PDSH and PPD pledged themselves to peace and called on the UCK fighters to lay down their arms and go home, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Xhaferi added that his party will leave the governing coalition if the government fails to end the crisis. He denied, however, that PDSH members boycotted a recent cabinet meeting, saying that the politicians in question were busy "in the field" trying to end the violence, dpa reported. PM

NATO MEMBERS IGNORING PLEAS FOR MORE TROOPS?

London's "The Guardian" reported on 21 March that "not a single NATO government has responded to urgent requests from their hard-pressed military commanders in Kosovo for reinforcements to help deal with ethnic Albanian extremists infiltrating neighboring Macedonia, NATO sources disclosed last night... It emerged yesterday that [Secretary General] Lord [George] Robertson...asked 10 days ago for two extra battalions -- about 1,400 soldiers -- in the light of increasing incursions of rebel Albanians across the Kosovo-Macedonia border. His request followed an appeal from [General] Carlos Cabigiosu, Italian commander of the 42,000 KFOR troops in...Kosovo. 'Military commanders need more troops. Basically, they are overstretched. But we have had no offers,' said an alliance official." PM

U.S. PRESIDENT 'CONCERNED' ABOUT MACEDONIA

President George W. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said on 20 March that "the president is concerned about the actions taken by Albanian extremists, and that's another reason why the president and NATO authorized stepped-up patrols of...KFOR" along Kosova's border with Macedonia. "The president is concerned about the level of violence there," he added. National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said the government is "looking at nonmilitary actions" that will enable Washington to help, stressing that "we support the Macedonian government's efforts to defend their border," Reuters reported. PM

GERMANY, FRANCE BACK MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT'S 'OPEN POSITION' TOWARD ALBANIAN MINORITY

Meeting in Herxheim-Hayna in western Germany on 20 March, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac agreed that "the territorial integrity of Macedonia should be called into question by no one, certainly not Albanian terror groups," Reuters reported. "We appeal to those involved to end the violence. We support the Macedonian government in its efforts to find a political solution, and we welcome the fact that the Macedonian government has taken an open position toward its Albanian minority," Schroeder added. PM

DIFFERENCES OVER MACEDONIA AT UN?

At the UN on 20 March, French diplomats prepared a Security Council resolution noting that the "violence has support from outside these areas and poses a threat to the security and stability of the wider region," AP reported. Speaking in Skopje the next day, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov charged that the wording is not tough enough. "Russia wants this resolution to clearly state that what is happening today in Macedonia is the result of terrorist actions" from outside (see below). He noted that Russia will submit its own resolution on "terrorism and extremism," AFP reported. PM

GERMAN GOVERNMENT DISAPPOINTED WITH RUGOVA, SERBIA

An unnamed senior "German government source" said in Berlin on 20 March that the government is "disappointed" that moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova has not taken a "clearer line" in condemning the violence in Macedonia, Deutsche Welle reported. The source added that the government also feels that the changes in Serbia since last October have not met up to Berlin's expectations. Berlin notes that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has introduced a national holiday to honor Serbians who died as a result of NATO's 1999 intervention but no holiday to honor the Albanian victims of President Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign, which was the reason for the intervention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2001). Schroeder spoke to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski on the telephone and condemned the violence. Schroeder did not discuss with Trajkovski sending German peacekeepers to Macedonia, the source added. PM

RUSSIA ALLEGES ROLE OF 'WESTERN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES' IN MACEDONIAN CONFLICT...

Foreign Minister Ivanov told Russian troops in Kosova on 20 March that the international community "is becoming aware of the fact that the conflict in Macedonia is not about national minority rights and has been provoked by terrorist organizations, in particular those based outside the country." He added that unspecified "media reports" to the effect that "Albanian terrorists" in Macedonia are backed by the intelligence services of various Western countries are very important and require checking, Interfax reported from Prishtina. PM

...CONTINUES TOUGH RHETORIC ON BELGRADE'S BEHALF...

Turning to the affairs of Kosova, Ivanov stressed on 20 March that the future of the province "cannot be resolved outside a united Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2001). The international community must "state its views on this issue loud and clear," Interfax reported. "Any ambiguity on this issue plays into the hand of separatists, who intend to set up an ethnically cleansed unit in the center of Europe," Ivanov said. PM

...CALLS FOR 'ANTI-TERRORIST PACT'

Speaking to reporters in Skopje on 21 March, Ivanov said that "passive reaction by the West to the spread of the Kosovo conflict to the Albanian-populated regions [of Macedonia]...only helps the separatists [to] go unpunished and be more radical in their actions," Reuters reported. He said that NATO intervention has failed to solve the region's problems. Ivanov called on the Balkan countries "to forge a pact under international auspices" that would make clear that borders cannot be changed and territorial integrity must be respected. He added that the Balkan states should pledge themselves to prevent use of their territory to prepare "terrorist or similar activity" against their neighbors. PM

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IN SERBIA, KOSOVA

Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo arrived in Belgrade on 21 March for talks with his Yugoslav counterpart Zoran Zivkovic, after which a working protocol is expected to be signed, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian visitor will also meet with Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic and Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic. Rushailo then goes on to Prishtina "to familiarize himself with conditions in which peacekeepers from the Russian Interior Ministry live," the report added. PM

CIVILIANS FLEE MACEDONIAN VIOLENCE

Some 6,000 ethnic Albanians and Turks have arrived in Turkey over the past two weeks, AP reported from Ankara on 21 March. "Vesti" reported that Skopje airport is "full" of mainly ethnic Albanian civilians, including young men of prime military age, waiting for flights to Western Europe. News agency reports in recent days indicate that hundreds of Macedonian citizens have fled to Greece or Albania. Exact, total figures are not available. PM

YUGOSLAV, SERBIAN MINISTERS VISIT HAGUE

Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac and his Serbian counterpart, Vladan Batic, met with chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in The Hague on 20 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Batic said Milosevic could be arrested "soon" and stressed that "the new Serbian Government has a new approach toward The Hague," which includes letting the tribunal open a Belgrade office. He added that the government will take "measures" aimed at extraditing non-Yugoslav citizens on its territory to The Hague. Del Ponte's spokeswoman recently said that the Belgrade authorities are not really cooperating with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). On 21 March, Del Ponte said she is launching investigations into alleged war crimes committed by Albanians against Serbs in Kosova and Presevo since mid-1999. PM

ITALIAN INVESTMENT IN BOSNIAN STEEL

Bosnia's BH Steel Company and Italy's Danieli signed a contract worth $24 million in Sarajevo on 21 March, AP reported. Danieli will modernize existing production facilities and install new ones. Large-scale foreign investments are fairly rare in Bosnia due to the absence of thorough economic and legal reforms. PM

BOSNIAN UPPER HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT MEETS

More than four months after the Bosnian elections, the House of Nations held its opening session in Sarajevo on 20 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Ilija Simic of the Croatian Peasants' Party was elected chairman. His deputies are the Muslim Sejfudin Tokic of the Social Democratic Party and Nikola Spiric from the Serbian Democratic Party. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT DENOUNCES 'ALBANIAN EXTREMISTS' IN MACEDONIA

The government on 21 March said it "firmly condemns the escalation of violent acts on the Macedonian-Yugoslav border due to increased military actions of armed Albanian extremists," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The cabinet said these Albanian actions are "a threat to the stability and security of the Macedonian state and to the entire southeast European region." The government said it is "firmly reiterating its support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Macedonia and for the existing borders of that state. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS NATO SECRETARY GENERAL...

Mircea Geoana met with NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson in Brussels on 20 March. After the meeting Geoana told a Mediafax correspondent that "it is highly important that Romania have the necessary resources to fulfill its obligations under the Action Program for NATO Accession, in order to prove to the organization that it has made progress when the plan is reassessed at the next meeting" between NATO and Romanian officials. A NATO delegation assessed Romania's progress in implementing the plan during a visit made to Bucharest in early March. MS

...WHILE DEFENSE OFFICIALS REVEAL FUTURE NATO ACCESSION PLANS

"Romania has wasted a lot of time in implementing NATO accession plans and is lagging 12 to 14 months behind," George Maior, state secretary for Euro-Atlantic integration in the Defense Ministry, told journalists on 21 March. Chief of Staff General Mihai Popescu said the program for the army's modernization and restructuring will be carried out in two phases, because Romania lacks the resources to implement the plan concomitantly. The first phase, to last till the end of 2003, envisages the setting up of the "structure of forces necessary for national security and defense," while the second will begin in 2004 and envisages "the modernization of military technique." This phase is to be completed between 2010 and 2015, according to a Mediafax report. Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said the ministry's total budgetary and additional resources in 2001 will be $1 billion. MS

EXTREMIST PARTY CHALLENGES ROMANIAN LAW IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

Seventy-three deputies representing the Greater Romania Party (PRM) in parliament were joined on 21 March by a deputy from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania in challenging the recently adopted Law on Local Public Administration before the Constitutional Court. The appeal says the law contravenes the constitution because it allegedly grants the Hungarian language "the status of a second official language" in Romania. MS

DISMISSAL OF ROMANIAN PROSECUTOR PROTESTED

Members of organizations representing people injured and arrested, and relatives of those killed when miners ransacked Bucharest in 1990 and 1991 are protesting the dismissal last week of Prosecutor General's Office Military Branch chief General Dan Voinea, AP reported. Voinea, who brought about the sentencing of the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, to 18 years in prison in 1999, as well as the sentencing of generals Victor Athanasie Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac to 15 years for their role in quashing the anti-Ceausescu revolt, was removed from office without explanation by new Prosecutor General Tanase Joita. One of Joita's first measures in office was to suspend the sentences against the two generals. A PRM deputy is heading the team of lawyers demanding that Joita annul the sentencing of Cozma, while signatures on a petition demanding Cozma's release are being collected from miners in the Jiu valley. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN COMMUNIST PREMIER DEAD

Ilie Verdet, honorary chairman of the extraparliamentary Socialist Labor Party (PSM), died on 21 March, Mediafax reported. He was 76. Verdet was Romanian Prime Minister between 1980 and 1982. In 1990 he founded the PSM, and served as chairman of the party between 16 November of that year and 1 July 2000. MS

NEW MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT STARTS WORK...

The new Moldovan parliament as expected elected Eugenia Ostapciuc as its new speaker during its first session on 20 March. The 53-year-old Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary chairwoman will have Vadim Mishin of the PCM and Mihai Camerzan of the Braghis Alliance as deputies, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Mishin, an ethnic Russian, is 55 and worked for the Ministry of the Interior between 1983 and 1998. The election of Camerzan, 59, as deputy speaker triggered the first conflict in the new legislature. Ostapciuc said the Braghis Alliance, of which Camerzan is a member, has demanded the post be given to outgoing premier Dumitru Braghis, but that she refused, "because I have no political experience and want on my side people I know and trust." Camerzan said he will continue to represent the Braghis Alliance. MS

...ACCEPTS RESIGNATION OF GOVERNMENT

In the absence of members of the Braghis Alliance, who withdrew from the debate in order to consult over Camerzan's appointment as deputy speaker, the parliament voted to accept the resignation of the cabinet, which had been announced the previous day by Premier Braghis. Speaker Ostapciuc said there was "no need" to wait for the cabinet to present a report on its activities before the vote, "because we all have the written text." The cabinet will continue in office as caretaker until the appointment of a successor. The parliament also decided that the election of the new president will be held on 4 April. MS

RUSSIAN DUMA DELEGATION IN CHISINAU

Boris Pastukhov, chairman of the State Duma's Committee on CIS Affairs, on 20 March held talks with outgoing President Petru Lucinschi and with Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Pastukhov, who heads a delegation that includes all members of the Russian Special State Commission for the Transdniester conflict, said Russia is insisting that the planned OSCE meeting be held in Bratislava on 27-28 March with all sides participating. Pastukhov said the meeting must discuss different drafts for granting special status to the Transdniester region, and "whatever draft is accepted at the end, it must include all rational proposals and ideas." Pastukhov also reiterated his country's readiness to abide by the decision of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit and withdraw all troops from the breakaway region. MS

BULGARIA TO ALLOW PERMANENT ACCESS TO NATO TROOPS

Bulgaria and NATO will sign on 21 March a memorandum giving NATO troops permanent access to Bulgarian territory, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported on 20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2001). Prime Minster Ivan Kostov told journalists that the memorandum will be signed in Brussels by Defense Minister Boiko Noev and the government will submit the document for ratification by the parliament on 22 March. Approving the memorandum necessitates amending the current law, which requires the legislature to approve every individual passage of foreign troops through the country. MS

FBI DIRECTOR SUPPORTS BULGARIA IN SPY SCANDAL WITH RUSSIA...

Visiting FBI Director Louis Freeh on 20 March expressed support for Bulgaria's expulsion of three Russian diplomats suspected of involvement in a spying scandal, "Monitor" reported. Russia retaliated by expelling three Bulgarian diplomats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 March 2001). "Those individuals, whether working under diplomatic cover or otherwise, cannot be allowed to conduct such activities and must be removed from the country," Freeh said. In reference to Kostov, he added: "I certainly applaud the prime minister for his prompt reaction in this regard." Following talks with Kostov and Interior Minister Emmanuel Yordanov, Freeh said Bulgaria is "a strategic partner of the U.S." and "an oasis of stability." He also said the Bulgarian authorities recently succeeded in preventing five major Russian underworld figures from entering the country. MS

...AND BULGARIA REBUFFS RUSSIAN REACTION

The Foreign Ministry on 20 March said Russia's description (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 March 2001) of the Bulgarian decision to expel the diplomats allegedly involved in the affair amounts to interference in Bulgaria's internal affairs, Reuters and AP reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov said he was "indignant" that Russia "pretends to be in the position to determine which are Bulgaria's genuine interests and which are not." Vlaikov said Bulgaria's national interests are "formulated in a sovereign manner by its own state institutions," unlike the days when those interests were determined by Moscow. Vlaikov also said the Russian retaliation and decision to expel three Bulgarian diplomats was "not based on any evidence." MS

BULGARIAN RADIO BROADCASTS INTERRUPTED BY THIEVES

State radio broadcasts were interrupted for two hours on 19-20 March after thieves stole a section of cable linking its studios with a nearby transmission tower, "Monitor" reported. Police said they detained three suspects. Plamen Kostov, a senior radio executive, said the case was "unprecedented" and pointed out that it "coincides with the protests" by state radio journalists against the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as new radio director. Kostov said he was not accusing the protesting journalists, but the theft must have been planned by "a person familiar with this sort of equipment." Protesting journalists' leader Sylvia Velikova responded that any link between the theft and the protest amounts to "manipulation." MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN LEBANON

Petar Stoyanov and his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud on 20 March discussed conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans and ways to improve bilateral relations and to mutually attract investments. Lebanese and Bulgarian officials signed agreements on enhancing political and economic cooperation, as well as an agreement on extradition. MS




There is no "End Note today.





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