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Newsline - March 23, 2001




MOSCOW PROTESTS EXPULSIONS BY U.S.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, security officials, and politicians protested on 22 March the U.S. decision to expel four employees of the Russian Embassy in Washington, Russian and Western agencies reported. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on ORT that Washington's decision can "only be viewed with regret" and that any problems could have been solved through existing channels. "Unfortunately," Ivanov said, "Washington chose another path and therefore took a step which can only be described as political." He expressed the hope that "common sense" will ultimately prevail in the matter. Meanwhile, security officials and Duma deputies suggested that Russia's response should be "adequate and proportional," with some calling for the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia and others for forcing Russian citizens working for American diplomatic posts to quit their jobs. Ivanov spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said that the U.S. considers the matter "closed" and that Moscow should not expel any U.S. diplomats in response. But Ivanov later said on CNN that Moscow will retaliate by expelling as many American diplomats as Washington sends home from the United States. On 23 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it is expelling four Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS U.S. CONTACT WITH CHECHENS...

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 22 March said that official American contacts with pro-independence Chechens are "an explicitly unfriendly act toward Russia" and that these meetings "are raising questions about the true motives of the American side," ITAR-TASS reported. As a result, the ministry statement concluded, these sessions "cannot but affect the climate of Russo-U.S. relations." Other Russian politicians were even harsher: People's Deputy leader in the Duma Gennadii Raikov said the announcement of these meetings was intended to show that Washington has adopted a harsher course toward Russia but in fact it demonstrated that the United States is supporting terrorists rather than fighting them, Interfax reported the same day. PG

...BUT ANALYSTS SAY CHECHNYA MAY GAIN INDEPENDENCE

According to an article in "Itogi," No. 11, "the actual scale of the withdrawal [of Russian forces from Chechnya] is nowhere near as great as the publicity it is receiving," a situation that reflects that neither the Kremlin nor the security structures "is ready to admit defeat" in the conflict there. Meanwhile, Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute of the U.S. and Canada, said in an article carried by strana.ru on 21 March that the are likely to seize a city and declare their independence on television. The Americans, he said "gave us one year to put an end to this affair. We failed." Because the Americans and others in the West understand this, Kremenyuk said, that is why they are now talking to the. "Why did Clinton declare in 1994 that Chechnya was a purely Russian internal affair?" Kremenyuk asked rhetorically. "Because there was still faith that a strong democratic regime was in the making in Moscow, that the process had to be helped, that one should even close one's eyes to excesses like the shooting of parliament or Chechnya," he answered. But now, "after much time, the United States has a different attitude toward Russia." PG

MARCH INFLATION ESTIMATED AT ABOUT 2 PERCENT

The State Statistics Committee on 22 March predicted that inflation in March will total 1.7 to 2.0 percent, Interfax reported. Committee experts said the rate of inflation has fallen in the course of the month, but that inflation for the first quarter of 2001 is likely to total 6.9 to 7.2 percent. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS 90 PERCENT OF PRIVATIZATIONS VIOLATED LAWS

Speaking in Yekaterinburg on 21 March, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said there were legal problems with at least 90 percent of the privatizations in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CABINET APPROVES 10-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The cabinet on 22 March approved a 10-year plan for social and economic development of the country and also a mid-range plan for the period up to 2004, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said, according to Russian agencies. The new plan calls for increases in per capita incomes and also fewer state subsidies for services. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR REVIVING MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Noting that Russian military production has fallen more than two-thirds since 1992, President Vladimir Putin on 22 March told a meeting of the State Council Presidium that Moscow must devote its efforts to reviving that sector of the economy, Russian agencies reported. He said Moscow must define the priorities and that it must not be swayed by any lobbying by regions or branches to try to affect the central government's plans. PG

'MIR' DEATH WATCH CONTINUES

The Russian media on 22 March was full of reports on the history of the "Mir" spacecraft, with many expressing regret that it would burn up when it reentered the atmosphere on 23 March. But only 23 members of the Duma voted for a Liberal Democratic Party of Russia resolution calling for saving the "Mir." PG

SERGEEV HASN'T APPLIED FOR EXTENSION YET

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 22 March told Interfax that, despite news reports to the contrary, he has not yet applied to President Putin to allow him to remain at his post for an additional year beyond the normal retirement age for military personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). He said that "I have not handed in the report; it is still early." But the news agency reported that Sergeev remains active: On 22 March he issued a reprimand to the commander of the Siberian Military District for leaving the district without Sergeev's permission as required by the rules. PG

RAKHIMOV FORESEES DEMISE OF FEDERATION COUNCIL

Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said on 22 March that the Federation Council is likely to cease its existence in a year or so because the Muscovites who sit on it cannot perform the role that federation subject heads did in the past. He also suggested that the State Council cannot serve as a replacement because it is not a constitutionally mandated institution; that regional officials should have a voice in the selection of police chiefs since the regions pay most of their salaries; that nonworking factories should be closed and the subordination of those that remain be clearly specified; and that President Putin should force ministers to work full days, as they did in the past, but which they do not do today. Moreover, Rakhimov said that he wants his republic to be part of the Urals federal district rather than the Volga one because it has more ties to units in the former than the latter. PG

DUMA CLOSES OUT SESSION WITH BUSY DAY

Prior to the break in its sessions until the beginning of April, the Duma on 22 March decided not to take up on second reading a bill that would permit the import of nuclear waste into Russia. (Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled against activists seeking a referendum on the matter, but a Duma committee found that Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov has violated a variety of laws.) But the deputies approved on second reading several tax measures and approved legislation eliminating restrictions on pension income, Russian agencies reported. The parliament also approved resolutions calling for international "respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia and suggesting that the legal basis for the detention of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin in New York is "doubtful." PG

THREE PARTIES GAIN FROM NO-CONFIDENCE FIASCO

An analysis in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 11, said that the big losers in the failed no-confidence effort were Prime Minister Kasyanov, the Unity faction, and the Communists, while the big winners were the smaller centrist and right-wing parties -- Fatherland-All Russia, Yabloko, and the Union of Rightist Forces -- which used the opportunity to advance their ideas and demonstrate their principled commitment, and which can now expect to gain from the redistribution of Duma committee assignments. An article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 22 March agreed, saying that the Communists will certainly lose their predominant position as leaders of key committees. But the paper said that Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who has worked hard to cooperate with the Kremlin, will remain at his post. PG

BORDER TROOPS REDEPLOYED TO NORTH CAUCASUS

Colonel General Nikolai Reznichenko, the chief of staff of the Federal Border Service, said in an interview published in "Rossiiskie vesti" on 22 March that his forces are being cut in most places but increased by 15 percent in the North Caucasus and also along Russia's border with Kazakhstan. PG

RUSSIANS LOOK TO EUROPE, NOT THE U.S.

An experts roundtable on "The European Reorientation of Russia" on 22 March in advance of President Putin's departure for the 23 March European Union summit in Stockholm reached a consensus that Russians are increasingly looking to Europe, rather than the United States, as a model and partner, Interfax reported. Public Opinion Foundation Director Aleksandr Oslon said that a recent poll by his organization found that 51 percent of Russians questioned want to develop closer ties with Europe, while only 11 percent favor doing so with the U.S. At the same time, he said, 59 percent of Russians would like to see their country in the European Union, with only 19 percent opposed to such a step. PG

PUTIN, MORI MAY CONFIRM 1956 KURILES DECLARATION

Russian diplomats preparing the joint declaration for the Russian-Japanese summit to take place in Irkutsk on 25 March told Interfax on 22 March that President Putin and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will confirm the validity of the 1956 Soviet declaration that suggested that two of the Kurile Islands would be returned to Japan after the signing of a peace treaty. Japan has long sought such a declaration, but even now in making it, Russian officials said that their understanding of what it meant and Japan's still diverge . PG

NMD SEEN ELIMINATING RUSSIA'S SUPERPOWER STATUS

Writing in "Literaturnaya gazeta," No. 12, commentator Mikhail Urusov said that one of the reasons Moscow is so concerned by U.S. plans to build a national missile defense is that it would make "Russia's sole remaining superpower attributes all but worthless." PG

UIGHUR MILITANTS SAID HEADING FOR CHECHNYA

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 March, Indian officials have detained a group of Uighur Islamist militants from China who were trying to make their way to fight in Chechnya. The detained Uighurs said that they were trained in Pakistan by the Lakshar-I-talib Islamic organization. PG

MOSCOW PROPOSES SPACE WEAPONS BAN

Russian Ambassador Vasilii Sidorov told the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on 22 March that the Russian government looks forward to working toward a ban on weapons in outer space at an 11-14 April Moscow conference, Reuters reported. PG

ATTEMPTED ATTACKER OF U.S. EMBASSY SENTENCED

Aleksandr Suslikov, a Moscow sculptor who attempted to fire a grenade at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1999, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on 22 March by a Moscow court, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

PROSECUTOR SAYS POLICE NOT REPORTING CRIME ACCURATELY

Vladimir Kolmogorov, the deputy prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation, said in an interview published in "Rossiiskie vesti" on 22 March that Russian police are failing to provide an accurate picture of the number of crimes in the country or of the successes authorities have in resolving them. The crime rate is declining, he said, but not as much as some officials report, and the rate of solving crimes "is improving only according to official statistics." In other comments, Kolmogorov said that corruption "is increasing in all strata of society and in all branches of the state." PG

TOBIN TO APPEAR IN COURT IN APRIL

Russian police officials told AP on 22 March that the investigation into the case of John Tobin, an American graduate student in Voronezh accused of drug possession, is nearly complete and that his court case may begin in early April. Tobin may also be charged with drug distribution. If convicted, he faces a possible 10 years in prison. PG

MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS NOW WANT CENSORSHIP

A poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 57 percent of all Russians questioned think that censorship should be reintroduced in Russia, 8 percent greater than the findings of a November 2000 sample, Interfax reported on 22 March. Women are more in favor of censorship than men, with the young and educated more opposed. PG

KLEBANOV INSISTS 'KURSK' TO BE RECOVERED THIS YEAR

Reacting to an article in "Izvestiya" on 21 March that questioned Moscow's commitment to raising the "Kursk" submarine that sank in August 2000, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 22 March that "neither the president nor the government has cancelled" plans to raise the submarine this year, Russian and Western agencies reported. He added that the operation to raise the "Kursk" will begin at the end of August. PG

TOP ENERGY MANAGERS INVOLVED IN HEATING CRISIS LIKELY TO GO

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 March that four top managers of Unified Energy Systems who were involved in the energy crisis in the Russian Far East last winter are likely to leave their posts at a meeting of the company's board of directors on 26 March. PG

MOSCOW TO INVENTORY TROPHY ART

Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi will oversee an interagency council that over the next 18 months will catalogue the 225,000 museum items of trophy art seized by Soviet forces during World War II. The action is seen as the first step to negotiating the possible return of the art to its original owners, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 March. PG

TAX MINISTER OBJECTS TO SUPPORTING CHURCHES

Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev said on 22 March that the constitutionally established separation of church and state means that it would be inappropriate for the government to share tax revenues with religious organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. His comments came in reaction to a proposal this week by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2 001). PG

PERM MAYOR SOLVES MOSQUE DISPUTE

Perm Mayor Arkadii Kamenev has settled the competing claims by two Muslim groups to the cathedral mosque in that city by turning over control of the facility to the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims for one year, "Izvestiya" reported. The paper said the two groups, the Perm muftiate and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the European Part of Russia in Perm (DUMER) have been fighting over occupancy for some time. PG

TULEEV SAYS NATIONAL IDEA MUST GIVE PRIORITY TO INDIVIDUALS

Federation Council member and former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev said in a long essay published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 March that a new Russian national idea must be based on the priority of the individual rather than the state. He said Russia's misfortunes in the past arose from the fact that "traditionally our population has served as an instrument for the solution of the tasks of the state and not the other way around." PG

DIVERTING SIBERIAN RIVERS TO CENTRAL ASIA?

For almost the first time since Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev abandoned the plan, a Russian newspaper printed an article suggesting that Moscow should consider diverting the water of some Siberian rivers to the Central Asia, which suffers a chronic water shortage. The article, carried by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 March, suggested that the people of Central Asia cannot survive long without water from Siberia and argued that it is "possible that the project rejected long ago will be reborn." PG

POWER LINE THIEVES SET NEW RECORD

"Vremya MN" reported on 22 March that thieves in Buryatia have set "a unique 'record'" by stealing all at once 26 kilometers of powerline. Until now, no one in Russia has stolen more than 20 kilometers of power line in one go. Thieves routinely cut down lines in order to sell the copper they contain for scrap. PG

PASKO TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN

The retrial of Grigorii Pasko, the former military journalist turned environmental activist, has been postponed until 4 June, one of Pasko's defense lawyers told AP on 22 March. According to the agency, neither Judge Sergei Volkov nor the prosecutors showed up in court. A jury foreman for the case told Interfax that the postponement was necessary because the defense lawyers have not completely familiarized themselves with the case. The trial is being held in a Pacific Fleet military court in Vladivostok. Pasko faces charges of state treason for having disclosed information about the hazardous environmental practices of the Pacific Fleet. He was first arrested in 1997 and was acquitted of charges of treason in 1999. However, last November, the Supreme Court ordered him to face a new trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2000). JAC

INCUMBENT TO LOSE POSITION RIGHT BEFORE ELECTION?

Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev is up for re-election in a ballot scheduled for 8 April, but his term is due to expire before that -- on 23 March 2001, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 March. Sergei Kharitonov, the chief federal inspector in the Central federal district for Tula Oblast, told the local newspaper "Molodoi Kommunar" earlier that President Putin will issue a decree assigning responsibility for Tula's governorship soon. However, local observers are wondering whose name will be on the decree. Extending Starodubtsev's term could be seen as interference in the gubernatorial campaign on the side of the incumbent. And, the Kremlin has given little indication that it wishes to support Starodubtsev, a Communist. The newspaper therefore speculates that the Kremlin will likely name some "neutral" figure to fill in until elections are over. Losing his official position this close to the election date could hurt Starodubtsev, who is neck and neck with two other contenders, and a second round is already considered likely. JAC

BRYANSK POLICE ACCUSED OF UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS

State Duma deputy (Communist) Vasilii Shandybin has accused law enforcement officers in Bryansk Oblast of beating up two of his assistants, Interfax reported on 21 March. Shandybin said that he and his assistants have been targeted because of criticisms he has made of the conduct of the police force and the prosecutor-general and that he is constantly receiving threats orally and in written form. Shandybin explained that he has always defended "simple citizens" from arbitrary actions of the police. For example, he has helped a local woman in a law suit against the police; she is seeking "moral damages" in connection with the death of her husband, which she claims they caused. JAC

RUSSIA RULES OUT PACE ROLE IN INVESTIGATING CHECHEN VIOLATIONS

Speaking on the second day of a joint meeting in Moscow of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation and the State Duma's Commission on Chechnya, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 22 March ruled out a role for the PACE in investigating allegations of crimes against civilians and other human rights abuses in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. "If we need assistance we shall not be ashamed to ask for it, but we do not need it now," the agency quoted him as saying. Ustinov said his office has opened investigations into 200 separate cases of who disappeared after being detained by Russian troops, stressing that "no offense or human rights violation" will escape notice. He added that he has taken under his personal control the investigation into the murder of several dozen whose bodies were found in a mass grave on the outskirts of Grozny in late February. Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Kislitsyn told the same session that his staff are investigating 62 crimes committed by Russian servicemen against Chechen civilians, according to Interfax. LF




ARMENIAN LEFTIST LEADER CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO 'PLAY FOR TIME' IN KEY WEST...

Former Armenian presidential national security adviser Ashot Manucharian told journalists in Yerevan on 22 March that President Robert Kocharian risks triggering political destabilization if he agrees during the upcoming Key West talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict that runs counter to Russia's interests, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manucharian, who is believed to have close links to Russian security agencies, warned that Moscow has the necessary leverage to "destabilize" Armenia. He predicted that if Armenia agrees to a Karabakh settlement forced on it by the U.S. as part of a bid to increase the West's influence in the South Caucasus, it could find itself encircled by pro-Turkish states. Arguing that "we have now come to the crucial crossroads," Manucharian said the best thing Kocharian could do in Key West is "to play for time," Noyan Tapan reported. LF

...AS KARABAKH PRESIDENT SAYS ENCLAVE MUST HAVE SAY IN SETTLEMENT

In an interview published on 22 March in "Golos Armenii," the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) Arkadii Ghukasian warned that while the series of direct talks between presidents Kocharian and Aliyev is important, "no issue of any importance" in the Karabakh conflict can be resolved without the NKR's participation. Also on 22 March, NKR parliament speaker Mushegh Ohanjanian told RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent that Ghukasian told the enclave's legislature the previous day that the peace options currently being discussed by Aliyev and Kocharian are "more acceptable" than earlier variants. LF

U.S. GENERAL VISITS ARMENIA

Visiting Yerevan on 21-22 March, General Carlton Fulford, who is deputy commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in Europe, met with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and senior Foreign Ministry officials to discuss bilateral military cooperation, regional security, and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. Fulford told journalists in Yerevan on 22 March that he hopes a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict will be found soon, noting that such a solution is in Turkey's interests. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS MEASURES TO STABILIZE GALI...

Speaking at a cabinet session in Tbilisi on 22 March, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze ordered the Interior and National Security Ministries to take immediate steps to stabilize within the next few days the situation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. "There will be no peace between Georgia and Abkhazia as long as innocent people from both sides perish," Shevardnadze said, in a clear reference to the landmine that killed a bus driver near the Georgian village of Khurcha the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). He added that the Georgian force ministries should not hesitate to call on the Russian peacekeepers stationed on both sides of the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia for assistance if such is needed. Caucasus Press reported the same day from the west Georgian town of Zugdidi that Khurcha has been subjected to sporadic artillery fire from Abkhazia for two days. Meeting on 22 March in Sukhum with Major General Tim Ford, adviser on military affairs to the UN secretary-general, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba complained that despite the signing in Yalta one week earlier of an Abkhaz-Georgian agreement on the nonresumption of hostilities, terrorist acts in Abkhazia are continuing, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...FIRES PRIVATIZATION MINISTER

At the same 22 March cabinet session, Shevardnadze publicly fired Privatization Minister Mikhail Ukleba for his failure to curb corruption within his ministry, Caucasus Press reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office and the Audit Chamber had both criticized a report submitted by Ukleba on his ministry's anticorruption activities, accusing him of ineffectiveness. Responding to Shevardnadze's accusation that "it is in your ministry that everything is being sold off and corruption is flourishing" and that he had sought to play down extent of corruption, Ukleba told journalists after the session that "I did everything I could," according to AP. Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili argued at the session that the law should be amended to empower his agency to confiscate and return to state ownership property that has been illegally privatized, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili has postponed a visit to the U.S. scheduled for 3-12 April because of the imminent launch of Shevardnadze's new anticorruption program, which he is to spearhead, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISCOUNTS WARNING OF IMMINENT UPRISING

Gia Karkarashvili, who served as Georgian Defense Minister in the early 1990s, has rejected as overstated predictions made at a press briefing on 22 March by opposition Union of Traditionalists leader Akaki Asatiani, who served in 1990-1991 as parliament speaker under Zviad Gamsakhurdia, "Akhali taoba" reported on 23 March. Asatiani argued that the current situation in Georgia is reminiscent of that in the early 1990s, and predicted that a new national leader may emerge and head a spontaneous popular revolt against the Georgian leadership. Also on 22 March, "Dilis gazeti" published extracts from an unpublished work by the late Akaki Bakradze, one of Georgia's most respected literary critics and political commentators. Bakradze said that Georgia has degenerated into a country without a cohesive society, and such a country is unable to resolve the problems it faces. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT CONTINUES DEBATE ON MEDIA LAW AMENDMENTS...

The Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) on 22 March approved draft amendments to the Law on the Media that would impose fines on newspapers, Internet sites or electronic media that propagate information that is demonstrably false or cannot be proven to be true, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The amendments also cut drastically the volume of foreign radio and TV programming that may be retransmitted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Information and Culture Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev said those restrictions are intended to reduce the preponderance of Russian programming. U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones has expressed reservations with regard to the amendments which must now be approved by the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament. LF

...AS PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER RESIGNS AS MEDIA-HOLDING DIRECTOR

President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha announced in Astana on 21 March her decision to quit as director of the Khabar News Agency, the country's largest and most influential media holding, which she helped to found in the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day. LF

WOMEN STAGE PROTEST ON BEHALF OF ARRESTED ISLAMISTS IN KYRGYZSTAN

Some 30 women picketed the local police department in the town of Kara-Suu in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh Oblast on 21 March to protest the arrest of seven men on charges of distributing materials for the unregistered Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic party, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. Police refused to release the men, arguing that only a court can rule on whether they are innocent or guilty. At least five presumed Hizb ut-Tahrir activists were reported to have been arrested in Osh Oblast alone in December and four more in January. LF

UZBEKISTAN SEEKS TO LURE MORE FOREIGN INVESTMENT

The Uzbek government has approved a list of 38 major state-owned enterprises for partial privatization over the next two years, Interfax reported on 22 March. Stakes in those enterprises, which include the Almalyk iron and steel complex, the Chkalov aviation plant, and chemical and oil industry enterprises, will be offered for sale by tender to foreign investors. In addition, Germany's Commerzbank has been chosen as adviser in the sale of a 51 percent stake in the national telecommunications operator Uzbektelekom. Foreign investors have been voting with their feet and leaving Uzbekistan in recent years to protest the government's continued delay in implementing its promises to make the national currency convertible. LF




BELARUSIAN WOMEN APPEAL FOR NONVIOLENT OBSERVANCE OF FREEDOM DAY

Some 30 women, primarily wives and mothers of missing or persecuted opposition activists, have appealed to the Belarusian authorities not to resort to "provocations, armored personnel carriers on the streets, dogs, mass arrests, and violence" on 25 March, when the opposition is planning to mark Freedom Day, Belapan reported on 22 March. The Belarusian opposition every year observes 25 March as the anniversary of the creation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918. Belarusian riot police arrested some 500 demonstrators, including 40 journalists, in Minsk on 25 March 2000. As was the case last year, the Minsk authorities did not allow the opposition to stage a march in the city center. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN PASSES BILL ON PROPORTIONAL ELECTION SYSTEM

The parliament on 22 March voted 284 to nine to pass a new bill on the introduction of a proportional party-list system in parliamentary elections, taking into account 23 out of the 38 changes proposed by President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. The bill stipulates that only parties supported by no less than 4 percent of voters nationwide can be represented in the parliament. Kuchma vetoed the previous bill, arguing that it limited citizens' constitutional right to elect their representatives to the parliament by shifting a majority of election process prerogatives to political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). JM

WORLD BANK PLEDGES $120 MILLION TO EXPEDITE UKRAINE'S LAND REFORM

Deputy Agricultural Minister Roman Shmidt told journalists on 22 March that the World Bank will give Ukraine a preferential loan of $120 million to speed up the process of land reform in the country, Interfax reported. Shmidt said the money will help finance the issuance of documents certifying private property rights on land lots and the creation of a registration system for real estate rights. Shmidt noted that one of the main conditions for the loan is the adoption of a new Land Code, which is expected to be discussed in the parliament soon. Currently, only 900,000 out of a total of 6.4 million farmers have received certificates documenting the private ownership of their plots. JM

MORE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTIONS IN ESTONIA

The fourth no-confidence motion in the Tallinn City Council against Pro Patria Union Mayor Juri Mois failed on 22 March when it received only 24 votes, BNS reported. To pass the motion required a minimum of 33 votes in the 64-member council. The no-confidence motions in November, February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001), and earlier this month gathered 23, 26, and 26 votes, respectively. Mois did not attend the session because he was visiting St. Petersburg. The opposition Center Union placed another no-confidence motion against Mois even before the vote and has already gathered 20 signatures in the parliament for a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Mart Laar. Since the parliament has no sessions next week, the motion against Laar can be put to a vote at the beginning of April at the earliest, but is expected to fail due to the ruling coalition's comfortable majority. SG

OSCE MINORITIES COMMISSIONER MAKES FAREWELL VISIT TO LATVIA

Prime Minister Andris Berzins thanked OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel on 22 March for his cooperation in Latvia's successful naturalization activities, LETA reported. While praising the fact that the number of naturalization applications was not falling, van der Stoel suggested that the Latvian language test be coordinated with requirements of the naturalization test so an individual would not be required to take two examinations. Van der Stoel also held talks with Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka, Naturalization Board head Eizenija Aldermane, and Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, but cancelled a scheduled meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga the next day in order to travel to an emergency meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. This is likely van der Stoel's last trip to Latvia as high commissioner, as he will be replaced by Rolf Ekeus on 1 July. SG

LATVIA TO SHIFT TO DAYLIGHT-SAVING TIME

Departing from an agreement made by the Baltic prime ministers last year not to implement daylight-saving time, Latvia has decided to follow a European Union directive and will move its clocks forward one hour on 25 March, LETA reported. Thus there will be a one hour time difference with its neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, which will not be implementing daylight-saving time changes. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS LABOR LAWS

The parliament, by a vote of 69 to 47 with seven abstentions, on 22 March passed amendments to the laws on Employment Contract, Wages, Holidays and Trade Unions, which are aimed at liberalizing the labor market and reducing illegal labor, ELTA reported. The amendments provide wider opportunities for an employer and employee to agree on employment terms, but reduce by three times the compensation an employer is required to pay when dismissing a worker. Businesses on the verge of bankruptcy would often retain workers on their payrolls because they did not have the funds to pay the required compensations, and would then seek a pretext to fire them and avoid having to provide compensation. The amendments also diminished the role of trade unions by requiring employers to get their approval only for firing union representative and not all workers as before. SG

POLISH PREMIER REGRETS VETO ON PROPERTY RESTITUTION BILL

Jerzy Buzek on 22 March said he regrets that President Aleksander Kwasniewski vetoed the property restitution law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). "The president quoted social justice and the country's economic development [to justify the veto]... Justice means that we should return to people the property of which they had been robbed, and the country's fast development requires from us the regulation of ownership-related questions," PAP quoted Buzek as saying. Meanwhile, Miroslaw Szypowski, head of the Warsaw-based OPOR group lobbying for property restitution, compared the presidential veto to a "seal of approval" for communist-era expropriations. "It is an example of the atavistic dislike of private property [and of] tendencies towards socialism and nationalization," dpa quoted Szypowski as saying. JM

POLAND TO HELP SLOVAKIA IN NATO MEMBERSHIP BID

Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski on 22 March assured his Slovak counterpart Jozef Stank that Poland will share with Slovakia its experiences from the period when Warsaw was aspiring to become a NATO member, PAP reported. Komorowski and Stank agreed to prepare by May a proposal for setting up a Polish-Slovak military unit that would participate for peacekeeping missions and cooperation with NATO troops. JM

NEW CZECH SCANDAL AFFECTS KAVAN, FOREIGN MINISTRY

The Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Committee on 22 March decided to demand from Foreign Minister Jan Kavan a written report on the running of the Czech House building in Moscow, and police said its special unit for organized crime is investigating whether the case involves corruption, CTK reported. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 20 March wrote that Kavan and Foreign Ministry staff had incurred serious losses to the state by signing a contract under which the Hotel Cesky Dum company from Rakovnik, central Bohemia, runs the Czech House in Moscow. The daily said the contract violates international treaties forbidding private businesses from being run on diplomatic premises. The accounting for Hotel Cesky Dum, the daily said, is conducted in the Czech Embassy's building and, moreover, goods sold by the company in Moscow are imported custom-free items intended for diplomats that are then sold on the market, thus avoiding Russian duties. MS

TEMELIN RECONNECTED TO POWER GRID

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was reconnected on 22 March to the power grid, AP reported. The agency cited a plant spokesman, who said the reactor was now running at 40 percent of capacity. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC POSTS 3.1 PERCENT GROWTH IN 2000

The Czech Republic's GDP grew 3.1 percent in 2000, surpassing most projections by experts, dpa reported on 22 March, citing data released by the National Statistics Office. Optimistic predictions foresaw a 2.8 percent growth. The figures put an end to three consecutive years of negative growth. Citing CTK, dpa said the government is credited with having created a favorable investment climate through numerous incentives and tax breaks. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER IN SLOVAKIA

Kavan, on a one-day visit to Slovakia, on 22 March told journalists after talks with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan that relations between the two countries are "above standard." There are "no disagreements, no points of friction, not even different nuances" in the way the two countries see bilateral relations, CTK and AP reported. The two foreign ministers said the EU must not worry about a possible influx of labor from their countries after they accede the union, with Kavan saying such fears are "absurd." Kavan also said his country will support Slovakia's efforts to join the EU and NATO. He said he will ask Czech television to broadcast more programs in Slovak because young Czechs and young Slovaks "begin not to understand each other's language," a trend which he said is to be deplored. Kavan also met with President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. MS

HUNGARIAN POLITICIANS IN SLOVAKIA CONDEMN VANDALISM

The parliamentary group of the Hungarian Coalition Party on 21 March issued a statement deploring and condemning the recent vandalization of Hungarian monuments and the painting of anti-Hungarian inscriptions in Bratislava and Kosice, Hungarian media reported. The group called on Slovak politicians and opinion leaders to publicly dissociate themselves from the acts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 March 2001). MS

SLOVAK SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP GROWING

Slightly more than half of Slovaks support the country's accession to NATO, according to an opinion poll conducted by the private Polis institute, CTK reported on 22 March. At the end of 2000, polls showed that 41 percent of the population was in favor of accession, with 40 percent opposed. The proportion of opponents has since dropped to 35 percent, while 14 percent have no opinion. The poll shows NATO membership is backed mainly by supporters of the current coalition and opposed primarily by those supporting opposition parties. Nearly two out of three Slovaks (66 percent) said the available information on NATO accession is insufficient. MS

SLOVAKS OPPOSE ABORTION BAN

Most Slovaks oppose a ban on abortions, which is being sought by the Christian Democratic Movement, AP and CTK reported on 22 March. Nearly two out of three Slovaks (64 percent) believe that pregnant women, not the law, must decide for themselves whether or not to have an abortion. About one out of five Slovaks (21 percent) are against abortion, but would allow for it in special circumstances such as pregnancies caused by rape, while 11 percent are opposed to abortion under any circumstances. The poll was conducted by the Slovak Statistical Office's Institute for Public Opinion Research in February and March. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CONSIDERS THE BOROS CASE CLOSED

After meeting with Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 22 March, Viktor Orban told reporters that he considers the matter of keeping Minister for Phare Funds Imre Boros at his post as "closed" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 March 2001). Orban said he is prepared to make changes in the cabinet "only on a professional basis," and not upon requests that derive "from the ongoing infighting within the FKGP." Torgyan said differences of opinion continue between him and Orban regarding the recalling of Boros, but these will not influence the survival of the coalition. Torgyan said Boros can no longer be regarded as a minister representing the FKGP, and thus the FKGP is entitled to nominate another minister in the cabinet. MSZ

HUNGARY, POLAND END AGRARIAN TARIFF WAR

Negotiations on 22 March between Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and visiting Polish Agriculture Minister Artur Balazs ended with unexpected success in closing a two-year dispute between the two countries over tariffs on the export and import of agricultural products. Martonyi said restrictions mutually imposed by the two countries will be eased considerably beginning 15 April, and withdrawn completely from 15 November. The announcement came as a surprise, as Poland had announced one day earlier that it had suspended reduced tariffs on Hungarian imports, and imposed further restrictions on the import of Hungarian corn, wheat, poultry, and pork. MSZ




MACEDONIA CONTINUES OFFENSIVE

Macedonian forces continued their offensive against the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) outside Tetovo on 22 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). In Skopje, the EU's foreign affairs chief, Chris Patten, warned Kosovar Albanians that they must take a clear stand against the UCK's violence lest they turn international opinion against them. He stressed that there is no place in Europe "for terrorism and extremism," which are the Macedonian government's terms for the UCK. PM

ALBANIA DEPLORES KILLING OF CIVILIANS IN MACEDONIA

The Albanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 22 March that it is concerned about the escalation of violence in Macedonia. The ministry in particular expressed regret at the killing of two ethnic Albanian civilians by police in Tetovo, dpa reported. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council that Tirana urges Macedonian Albanians to solve their problems through political means only. "We have made it clear that problems related to national rights should always be resolved through political means," Milo said. PM

GERMAN KFOR ARREST FIVE ON BORDER

German peacekeepers arrested three Kosovars and two men from Tetovo on the Kosova-Macedonian border as the five were attempting to cross into Macedonia, Hina reported on 22 March. The five are suspected of attempting to supply the guerrillas. PM

U.S. SENDING OBSERVATION AIRCRAFT TO KOSOVA-MACEDONIAN BORDER

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley told reporters in Washington on 22 March that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has signed a deployment order dispatching a unit of Air Force Predator unmanned drones to the border area, AP reported. The unit consists of two or three planes and about 80 support troops and will arrive "in the next week or so," Quigley added. The Predators can feed real-time photographic images not only to U.S. commanders in the area but also to the Pentagon, the news agency noted. It is not clear where the planes will be based. Meanwhile in Paris, the Defense Ministry said that it will dispatch between 10 and 15 drones to monitor the border. PM

SERBIAN MINISTER BAITS ALBANIANS ON EVE OF TALKS

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade that talks with local Albanian leaders from Presevo will begin in Merdare on 23 March. He added: "I expect that the talks will quickly lead to the withdrawal of Albanian terrorists from the Ground Safety Zone and the return of our forces," dpa reported. It is not clear how he came to this conclusion, since the local Albanians -- and not just "terrorists" -- do not trust the Serbian forces, which are commanded by the same individuals who led the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosova. PM

SERBIAN PREMIER'S VISIT TO U.S. INCONCLUSIVE

Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told reporters in Washington on 22 March that the U.S. government still "needs time" before deciding by 31 March on whether to extend the rest of a $100 million aid package to Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Djindjic stressed that he met with a wide range of people from public life, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. A State Department spokesman said that Powell "welcomed the steps that have been taken [by Belgrade] since their last meeting and stressed the importance of continued progress. The administration has not taken a decision on certification [on whether Belgrade meets Washington's conditions]. We expect to address the issue next week," Reuters reported. Djindjic faced tough questions during his visit. These included: Is the Serbian government really so busy that it cannot arrest one man -- former President Slobodan Milosevic -- and put him on a plane? Another question was: Why does Serbia continue to have an indicted war criminal -- President Milan Milutinovic -- as head of state? PM

SERBIAN MINISTERS CALL HAGUE COURT 'HARSH REALITY'

Returning from a visit to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac and his Serbian counterpart Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 22 March that the court is "a reality, maybe a harsh reality, but something that cannot be ignored," AP reported. The two men appealed to those indicted to surrender to the court voluntarily so they can receive "much better treatment" than if they are arrested. Elsewhere, Milosevic received a delegation from the Russian State Duma that praised his "struggle against the [alleged U.S.] policy of dominance" in the world. PM

SECURITY COUNCIL SLAMS HERZEGOVINIAN CROAT PLANS

The council issued a statement in New York on 22 March in which it said that plans by the Herzegovinian-based Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to establish a so-called "Croatian self-administration" are in violation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). The HDZ argues that the current constitutional arrangement in Bosnia puts the Croats into a position inferior to those of the Serbs and Muslims. Critics charge that the HDZ refuses to accept a loss of power and fears an investigation of its leaders' business dealings. PM

ROMANIAN COUNCIL CLEARS PRIBOI OF SUSPICION OF 'POLITICAL POLICE' ACTIVITY...

The National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) on 22 March said Ristea Priboi, who was recently appointed head of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Romanian Intelligence Service, did not engage "in activities of political police" though he was a member of the Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate. Priboi's designation as the head of the commission has stirred protest among opposition parties and in the media. The CNSAS added that its conclusions are based on information provided by the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and noted that the current legislation stipulates that "some categories of documents are kept for a limited time span only." MS

...BUT CLEARANCE MEETS PROTESTS

CNSAS member Mircea Dinescu told RFE/RL that he left the CNSAS meeting "in protest." Dinescu said that since the CNSAS itself established that Priboi was engaged in "monitoring RFE/RL" at a time when those writing to the station faced arrest and persecution, that alone is reason enough to regard him as having been a member of the "political police." MS

ROMANIAN OFFICIALS CRITICIZE 'SMEAR CAMPAIGN' AGAINST PATRIARCH

President Ion Iliescu on 22 March said the allegations against Patriarch Teoctist are both "irrelevant" and display "a lack of decency." The daily "Libertatea" the previous day accused Teoctist, on the basis of what is claimed to be his Securitate file, of being a member of the fascist Iron Guard, a Securitate informant, and a homosexual (for the CNSAS reaction see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). Culture and Religious Affairs Minister Razvan Teodorescu protested against the "shameless campaign based on uncontrolled and partial information" contained in files "from the Stalinist epoch." The Romanian Orthodox Church said the allegations are a "manipulation of public opinion" that "astonished" believers and clergy alike. The SRI said Teoctist had been "shadowed" by the Securitate. MS

EXTREMIST PARTY BREAKS RELATIONS WITH ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER

The Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 22 March announced it has "broken any contact" with President Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, as well as with the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania, and will not re-establish contact "until Gorj county prefect Toni Grebla" is dismissed. The PRM claims Grebla threatened and insulted PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor's wife during a telephone conversation. The incident allegedly took place following the publication of an article against Grebla in Tudor's weekly "Romania mare." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER CALLS ON SENATE TO BACK IMPRISONED SENATOR

Premier Nastase has called on the Senate to issue a declaration in support of Ilie Ilascu, who has been imprisoned by the Transdniester authorities since 1992. Ilascu became a Romanian citizen last year and was elected a senator on the lists of the PRM in November. Nastase said Ilascu's case is one affecting Romanian "national interest" and that his detention "following an unjust trial conducted by a state that is not internationally recognized" hinders the former Moldovan citizen and parliamentary deputy from taking up his seat in the Romanian Senate. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu said a draft declaration will first be discussed in the Senate's Permanent Bureau and later submitted for the approval of the chamber. MS

PASTUKHOV CRITICIZES VORONIN IN TIRASPOL

State Duma CIS Committee Chairman Boris Pastukhov criticized Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin during his visit to Tiraspol, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 22 March. Pastukhov said Voronin's decision to "start everything from scratch" in Moldova's negotiations with the Transdniester separatists is "not welcome" and said that it would be "a regrettable error" to scrap all agreements reached in the past by the two sides. Pastukhov recommended that experts from Moldova and the Transdniester region renew negotiations next week. He said he will return to Tiraspol in April, together with Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian State Commission on the Transdniester. Tiraspol Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa was cited as saying the separatists' participation in the planned OSCE meeting on the Transdniester in Bratislava "depends on [separatist leader] Igor Smirnov's decision. We shall do what he tells us to." MS

BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SETS ELECTORAL TIMETABLE

The Constitutional Court on 22 March ruled that the parliament should be dissolved on 19 April, two months ahead of the June general elections. A group of parliamentary deputies asked the court to decide on which date the parliament's term began four years ago -- 19 April, the date of the last election, or 7 May, the date when deputies were sworn in. The court ruled that the four-year term began in April 1997, BTA and Reuters reported. The ruling effectively tightens the time frame for parties and electoral alliances to register for the elections. MS

BULGARIAN CHIEF OF STAFF SAYS 'NO THREAT' FROM MACEDONIAN CONFLICT

Chief of Staff General Miho Mihov on 22 March said that Bulgaria does not intend to deploy additional troops on its western border, because "Bulgaria's territory and its airspace are not threatened by aggression," Reuters reported. In response to a journalist's asking whether Bulgaria intends to reinforce its border with Macedonia, Mihov said that "under no circumstances" should Bulgaria "add to the existing tension" by deploying its troops closer to the conflict area. MS

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL WORRIED ABOUT BULGARIA'S WESTERN ORIENTATION...

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeev, in an interview with the Bulgarian English-language "Monitor" on 22 March, voiced concern that NATO would be allowed access to infrastructure facilities built with the aid of the former Soviet Union and Russia, particularly harbors and airports. He said Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government is deliberately keeping people familiar with Russia away from public office. "Today we deal with Bulgarian officials who do not know Russia and do not speak Russian," he said, because "the selection made by the new political elite is very specific." Staff trained in the former USSR, Avdeev said, are being pushed out of administrative and military structures. MS

...SAYS BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT MUST RECOGNIZE ITS ERRORS

Avdeev also said Russia did not want to "break the political dialogue with Bulgaria" but "after several years of inadequate moves, after having destroyed cooperation with Russia, the Bulgarian government must recognize it has made major mistakes." Avdeev, who served as ambassador in Sofia in the early 1990s, said Bulgaria has failed to attract expected Western investments after turning its back on ties with Russia, and is being viewed with skepticism by Western lenders. "We reduced import tariffs for Bulgarian goods by 25 percent, but Bulgaria refused to reciprocate," he noted. MS

IJF CONDEMNS POLICE ACTION AND SACKING OF BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS

The International Federation of Journalists (IJF) on 22 March condemned the Bulgarian authorities over the escalation of the crisis at Bulgarian state radio on 19 March, when police moved into the station and barred protesting journalists from entering studios. Seven leaders of the protesting journalists have been sacked since, an IJF press release said. IJF General Secretary Aidan White said the radio's management "violates the right of journalists to protest over what they consider to be clear political interference in the country's public broadcasting service." The IJF-affiliated Union of Bulgarian Journalists and Union of Journalists in Bulgaria are holding protests on 23 March, calling on the Radio and Television Council to intervene to prevent the dismissals and to hear the protesters' demands. MS




There is no "End Note" today.





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