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Newsline - March 26, 2001




24 KILLED BY 3 CAR BOMBS IN NORTH CAUCASUS...

Twenty-four people were either killed outright or died later from injuries received when three car bombs exploded on the morning of 24 March in Yessentuki, Mineralnie Vody, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Russian agencies reported. A total of 143 people were injured, 25 of them seriously, according to Yurii Tyrtyshov, chairman of the commission established to cope with the aftermath of the bombings. Tyrtyshov told Interfax on 25 March that one suspect has already been detained. LF

...AS MOSCOW PUTS THE BLAME ON CHECHENS

Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin down on 24 March put the blame on the Chechens for the bombings the same day in the North Caucasus, Russian and Western agencies reported. Several suggested that these acts of terrorism make the U.S. decision to receive a Chechen emissary at the official level even more indefensible. Russian officials increased security in the wake of the bombings and launched an investigation to find those responsible. Security officials told Russian agencies that this was part of an expected Chechen spring offensive, but Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov suggested that until Chechens have "a chance to work" and earn money, Moscow "can hardly hope" that such people will stop turning to bombing if offered even small amounts of money, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March. PG

PUTIN SEES SPY SCANDAL HAVING LITTLE IMPACT

President Putin said on 23 March after Moscow announced plans to match the American expulsions of Russian Embassy officials with expulsions of American diplomats that "I do not think [this event] will have big consequences," ITAR-TASS reported. ("Izvestiya" on the same day even suggested that all the United States was doing by the expulsions was "exchanging old Russian spies for new ones.") But Security Council Secretary Ivanov said the spy charges and countercharges will lead to a suspension in ties between the intelligence services of the two countries, and Vyacheslav Soltaganov, the head of Russia's tax police, called off a visit to Washington, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Sergeev said Russia may go to international arbitration to force the U.S. to pay more in rent for Spaso House, the residence of the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, than it currently does as a result of the massive devaluation of the ruble over the last decade, AP reported on 23 March. Former Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 23 March that he reduced the number of spies in Russian embassies in the early 1990s, but that their number now appears to again be at Cold War levels. PG

PUTIN MAKES LITTLE PROGRESS AT EU SUMMIT...

Russian President Putin did not get the two things he sought at the European Union summit in Stockholm on 23-24 March, Western agencies reported. Putin was unsuccessful in getting the EU to end its imposition of restrictions on Russian steel under an antidumping accord, and he did not get the additional loans he had asked for, AP reported. At the same time, Putin put the best face on the situation in an interview published in "Svenska Dagbladet" on 23 March, saying that Russia "has always viewed itself as an integral part of European civilization," and that the EU is Moscow's "key partner in talks about accession to the World Trade Organization." PG

...OR AT JAPANESE ONE

President Putin on 25 March met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Irkutsk, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two did agree on the validity of earlier declarations, including a 1956 promise by Moscow to return two of the Kurile Islands once a peace treaty has been achieved, but they did not agree on what that statement actually means nor make any breakthroughs in talks about such a treaty, although both professed to be pleased with progress on that issue. PG

PUTIN INTERVIEW PARSED

"Segodnya," one of the media outlets that was not included in President Putin's group interview last week, on 23 March noted that the papers that were allowed to participate did not report the text of his remarks either consistently or completely. It noted that the four papers diverged in how they reproduced Putin's words about "the road to hell being paved with good intentions," and it pointed out that one of the papers -- "Moskovskii Komsomolets" -- dropped Putin's remarks about the withdrawal from Chechnya. PG

PUTIN'S SUCCESSES OPEN WAY FOR CRITICISM

Because Putin has been so successful in his first year as Russian president, an article in the 23 March "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued, "it's high time that we pointed out the drawbacks of his policies and his own shortcomings." At present, these "drawbacks do not outweigh the merits of himself and his policies," the paper continued, but they may "carry the risk of defeat" not only for his re-election but also "for everything Putin has initiated in Russia." PG

CORRUPTION COSTING RUSSIA $15 BILLION A YEAR

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told a law enforcement conference on 23 March that "every year the damage sustained by Russia as a result of corruption amounts to $15 billion," ITAR-TASS reported. In addition to these losses, Ustinov said, Russia also loses $20-25 billion a year from illegal capital flight. And he said that about 40,000 Russian enterprises, including more than one-third of the country's banks, are controlled by criminal groups. PG

GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC POLICY A COMPROMISE

An article in "Izvestiya" on 23 March suggested that the long-term economic strategy announced by the government in a 260-page document on 23 March reflects a compromise between proposals from German Gref's pro-reform Economic Development and Trade Ministry and a working group of the State Council, which wants to have more state regulation. The paper said that the compromise is reflected in the call for both a new social contract and the modernization of the economy. Meanwhile, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry announced that Moscow will set up a state investment agency to attract more investments from abroad, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. PG

STATE COUNCIL TAKES UP MILITARY INDUSTRY REFORM AFTER DEADLOCK ELSEWHERE

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March suggested that "it's no coincidence that the concept of the reform of the military-industrial complex is being discussed by the State Council." That body has had to be used because of irreconcilable conflicts among bureaucracies within the government. But, the paper added, the attitude of regional leaders who want to maintain their control over arms exports may block real reform in this venue as well. PG

INTERIOR TROOPS WON'T BECOME NATIONAL GUARD

Colonel General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, the commander of Interior Ministry troops, said that his forces will not become national guards as some have proposed, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 March. He said that "we have to consider our resources. If we change the signboard and call the Interior Troops the National Guards, it will cost 200 million rubles ($7 million)." PG

GOVERNMENT EXPANDS DEFINITION OF CONTRABAND

The Russian government has approved a draft amendment to the Criminal Code that would expand the definition of contraband to include not only the illegal export of controlled technology but also "the illegal fulfillment of work or offering of services to a foreign organization" if the latter could use it to build weapons systems, "Vremya MN" reported on 23 March. On the same day, the paper reported, the government also confirmed a statute on licensing of the production of explosive devices. PG

GOVERNMENT PLANS TO DOUBLE MILITARY PAY, EXPAND BENEFITS

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said in Krasnoyarsk on 23 March that the government plans to double military pay at the beginning of 2002 and also to increase a variety of benefits paid to soldiers and officers, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivanov said in Kaliningrad on 24 March that military reform will prove to be "stillborn" unless there is "a clear social policy," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CONFLICTING REASONS FOR MUSLIM BREAK WITH UNITY

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March, Unity leaders believe that the Muslim Refakh movement broke with them because their leaders "frequently travel abroad, primarily to Muslim countries, and in the name of the faction make business contacts for financing the structures they head." Refakh leader Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, however, said that the break arose after Refakh adopted its pro-Palestinian position. PG

KREMLIN SEEKS COMPLIANCE WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECISIONS

Since 1995, only 10 of the 156 decisions of the Constitutional Court have remained without implementation, "Vremya MN" reported on 23 March. But Dmitrii Medvedev, the first deputy head of the presidential administration, said that the Kremlin believes that there needs to be a more "severe mechanism" to ensure compliance. He said that such a compliance mechanism would include a body with representatives of the president, the procuracy, other courts, and the Justice Ministry. PG

BLOKHIN DENIES PLANS TO CUT NUMBER OF REGIONS

Aleksandr Blokhin, the minister for the affairs of the federation and national and migration policy, said in Yekaterinburg on 23 March that there are no plans to reduce the number of federation subjects by combining existing ones, Interfax reported. But he said that his ministry is working on measures that would help resolve existing border disputes among 32 of the subjects of the federation. PG

BORODIN'S FORMER COLLEAGUES REMEMBER HIM

Yakutsk residents were scheduled to begin a campaign on 24 March to collect signatures in support of imprisoned Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin, Interfax reported on 23 March. Borodin is a former mayor of Yakutsk who went on to serve as head of the facilities directorate at the Kremlin. The signature campaign will continue through 28 March, after which residents in Irkutsk will gather signatures. According to Borodin press spokesman Ivan Makushok, some 150,000 signatures will be collected and then presented to U.S. authorities asking them to free Borodin. JAC

MOSCOW URGED TO CUT COSTS OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION

Zinovii Pak, the general director of the Russian Agency for Weapons Control, said in an interview published in "Vek" on 23 March that the Russian government must take steps to reduce the costs of destroying chemical weapons by 30 to 50 percent. Pak noted that Russia still has not begun to destroy the weapons as required by international agreement, but will have to reduce the costs of doing so if it is going to achieve its goals. PG

MOSCOW BLAME U.S. FOR CURRENT BALKAN CRISIS

One day in advance of the second anniversary of what the Russian government calls "NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia," the Russian Foreign Ministry called for international cooperation to stop the spread of terrorism and extremism in the Balkans, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 March. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told his visiting Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek that the two share the view that the world community must work together in the Balkans, Interfax reported. But Kasyanov said that Russia is now considering providing military assistance to the Macedonian armed forces, the news service said. PG

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS TO EXPAND TIES

Gennadii Zyuganov and Petr Simonenko, the leaders of the Communist parties of Russia and Ukraine, respectively, met in Moscow and announced their intention to work more closely together, Interfax reported on 23 March. Simonenko said this is especially important because of the political crisis in Ukraine. "The problem of [Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma depends not only on internal, but to a greater degree on external factors. And it is becoming evident that the pro-Western direction conducted by the authorities in Ukraine in foreign policy and the complete dependence of Ukraine especially in economics on the financial structures of the West has led to a catastrophic situation," he said. On 10 March, a Communist leader in Udmurtia acknowledged that the Russian Communist Party had funded the recent election campaign of the Moldovan Communist Party, Udmurtia Press reported. PG

BELARUS RESELLING RUSSIAN ARMS ABROAD?

"Moskovskie novosti," No. 11, reported that there are rumors that Belarus is purchasing Russian arms and then reselling them to other countries, frequently in competition with Russian arms dealers. PG

KALININGRAD MUST NOT BE 'A BESIEGED FORTRESS'

Security Council Secretary Ivanov said in Kaliningrad on 24 March that the exclave must not become "a besieged fortress" after the expansion of the European Union in 2003, ITAR-TASS reported. In other comments, he noted that the region is poor already and reiterated his statements that Russia has no nuclear weapons there now, but nothing prevents it from putting them there in the future. PG

'MIR' IS DOWN, LONG LIVE 'MIR-2'

Prime Minister Kasyanov and Security Council Secretary Ivanov both said that the successful deorbiting of "Mir" on 23 March highlights Russia's accomplishments in space, ITAR-TASS reported. Communist leader Zyuganov, however, reiterated his view that the bringing down of "Mir" was "the greatest tragedy" since the current Russian government took office, Interfax reported the same day. Meanwhile, Russian space officials said they will insist on allowing American space tourist Dennis Tito to fly because he is "practically a professional cosmonaut," AP reported. And Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said that Russia will create a new "Mir-2" after about 15 years, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 March. PG

POWER CUTS LEAD TO MEDIA BLACKOUTS

Communications Workers Union President Anatolii Nazeykin told Interfax on 23 March that power cutoffs to radio and television stations for nonpayment of bills has resulted in many people in the Far East being unable to watch television or listen to the radio in recent weeks. He said that the problem arose because those who owe money to the stations have not paid them and, as a result, the stations cannot pay their bills. PG

ANTI-RADIATION PROGRAMS NOT BEING FUNDED

The Audit Chamber reported on 23 March that the government provided only 44 percent of planned funding in 2000 to programs intended to overcome radiation accidents and the consequences of nuclear testing, Interfax reported. PG

A MEASURE OF PROGRESS ON EDUCATIONAL FRONT

Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said in Kemerovo on 23 March that educational conditions are improving in that region, ITAR-TASS reported. "Only two years ago, specialists were afraid of visiting this region, where social tension was high," Filippov said, "whereas now they long to arrive here to study new techniques in working with children." PG

TUBERCULOSIS INFECTION RATE STABILIZES

Doctors at the Ministry of Health said on 23 March that the rate of new tuberculosis infections has stabilized in Russia, Interfax reported. In contrast to increases in earlier years, the rate in 2000 was the same as in 1999 -- 17.9 per 100,000 population. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported the same day that Russian officials are warning about the widespread distribution of illegally produced medicines. PG

OFFICERS FORCING SOLDIERS INTO PROSTITUTION

An article in "Segodnya" on 21 March said that officers are forcing young draftees into male prostitution to earn money for the officers. As a result of this development and related problems, the paper said, one in every eight crimes now being committed by conscripts is connected with what the paper called "nontraditional sexual relations." PG

FOREIGN STUDENTS TARGETED IN ANOTHER RUSSIAN CITY

Foreign students in the city of Tver protested on 23 March the killing of a 20-year-old Tunisian medical student, labeling the act "racist," Reuters reported. Ashish Dadwal, a medical student from India, told Reuters by telephone that hundreds of foreigners studying there had blocked a street in the town's center to protest the killing. A Tver police spokesman confirmed the killing and that dozens of students had gathered to protest the death. RFE/RL's Voronezh correspondent reported earlier in the month that foreign students at the state university there have been the victims of a series of attacks and have also threatened to block a street in the city as a protest (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 March 2001). JAC

DAGHESTAN'S MAFIA SAID TO MONOPOLIZE MOSCOW GUN TRADE

An article in "Segodnya" on 23 March said that a criminal group from Daghestan now dominates illegal gun trade in the Russian capital, largely because -- unlike other criminal groups -- it does not bring guns into the city until after a deal is made. PG

SUMMER TIME SAVES

Russian officials announced two days in advance of the shift to daylight-saving time on 25 March that the move will save Russia more than 2 billion rubles ($85 million), Interfax reported. PG

OFFICIAL CHARGED FOR ILLEGAL HUNTING BY HELICOPTER

Vasilii Sidorkin, the head of the Yenesei district in Khabarovsk Krai, has been charged with abuse of his official position after he ordered a helicopter to take him on a hunting expedition and then attempted to cover it up by saying the flights were for medical evacuations, "Segodnya" reported on 23 March. PG

INCUMBENT LEADS IN FAR EAST ELECTION

According to preliminary reports on 25 March, incumbent Amur Oblast Governor Anatolii Belonogov was leading in gubernatorial elections held that day. According to Interfax-Eurasia, Belonogov had 46.72 percent of the vote with some 45 percent of the ballots counted. He would need a victory of over 50 percent in order to avoid going into a second election round, according to the agency. State Duma deputy Leonid Korotkov (People's Deputy) was in second place with some 20 percent of the vote. Belonogov has been expected to hold onto his seat (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 March 2001). JAC

CHECHNYA'S DUMA DEPUTY CALLS FOR TALKS WITH RANK AND FILE

Aslanbek Aslakhanov told Interfax on 23 March he favors talks with Chechen fighters who are ready to expel radical field commanders from Chechnya as a prelude to peace. But Aslakhanov said that "bloody leaders" should be excluded from any such talks. He was speaking after a Moscow conference on measures to resolve the Chechen crisis and restore peace. LF

FORMER PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN MOSCOW

Yakub Deniev, a former acting head of the Chechen civil administration, was snatched by unidentified men in Moscow's Mitino Raion on 23 March, Interfax reported. The kidnappers subsequently demanded a $500,000 ransom for his release. Former Russian envoy in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman described Deniev as "a pro-Russian politician who actively opposed illegal armed formations" and who worked systematically to resolve the social problems of the civilian population. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES KARABAKH CONFLICT WITH POLITICAL PARTIES

President Robert Kocharian met on 24 March first with the leaders of parties represented in the Armenian parliament, and then separately with members of the Yerkrapah Union of War Veterans and with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun to discuss the Karabakh peace process prior to the talks in Key West between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He held a similar meeting the previous day with the Kayunutiun parliament faction, according to Noyan Tapan. Participants said after the 24 March meetings that they received the impression that the two presidents will not discuss or sign in Key West any formal document resolving the conflict. Albert Bazeyan of Yerkrapah said he believes Kocharian is sympathetic to Yerkrapah members' insistence that there must be "no subordination of Karabakh to Azerbaijan" under any peace deal. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES TO CREATE NEW FACTION

Some 12 deputies plan to form a new faction that will lobby for the passage of legislation favoring the industrial and agricultural sectors, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 March. The new faction will be headed by Vladimir Badalian, a member of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK). Most of the other prospective members are independent deputies. Badalian told RFE/RL he will quit the Majority Miasnutiun faction, of which the HZhK is a member, but remain aligned with the HZhK. He said the HZhK does not object to a new parliamentary force concerned primarily with lobbying the interests of domestic industry and agriculture. Badalian's exit will leave Miasnutiun with only 46 members in the 131-strong parliament. LF

ARMENIA POSTS RISE IN TAX REVENUES

Officials of Armenia's Ministry for State Revenues announced on 24 March that tax revenues and other duties this month will amount to up to 14 billion drams ($26 million), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That figure is 40 percent more than during the same period last year, and 15 percent higher than the total for February 2001, and increases the likelihood that this year's target of 167 billion drams in tax revenues will be met. Moreover, official data show the Armenian economy expanding by 12 percent in the first two months of the year. Speaking on 24 March at a meeting with the ministry's staff at which the March figures were unveiled, President Kocharian praised State Revenue Minister Andranik Markarian and denied rumors of his imminent dismissal. But Kocharian also criticized the tax authorities for creating administrative hurdles for Armenian exporters. The criticism apparently reflected grievances of the local mining industries that export copper and other nonferrous metals. They have long complained that the government regularly delays payment of the value-added tax rebate to which they are entitled under Armenian law. LF

AZERBAIJANI MINISTERS CALL FOR TURKISH, NATO BASES IN SOUTH CAUCASUS...

During talks in Baku on 23 March with U.S. General Carlton Fulford, who is deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, and while meeting with journalists the following day, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev said NATO should establish a military base in the South Caucasus in order to "strengthen peace and stability" in the region, Turan and Interfax reported. Abiev described Armenia as the main destabilizing factor in the region and said the presence of a Russian military base and Russian border guards in Armenia make a mockery of claims that Armenia is an independent state. On 24 March, Foreign Minister Viliayat Quliev similarly told journalists that Azerbaijan should host either a NATO or a Turkish military base in order to create a balance of forces in the South Caucasus and strengthen its security, according to ITAR-TASS. But he added that Baku has not yet formally made such a proposal to either Ankara or NATO. LF

...WHILE PRESIDENT'S SON ARGUES AGAINST DOING SO

Turan on 24 March quoted President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham as saying he is "categorically against" any foreign military presence in Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliyev further criticized the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group for what he termed their "inadequate" measures to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and expressed satisfaction that Russia "wishes to strengthen its presence in the region." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY'S KARABAKH PROPOSALS MET WITH APPROVAL

At a roundtable discussion in Baku on 23 March, participants expressed support for the seven-point program for resolving the Karabakh conflict proposed by the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHChP), Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 11, 16 March 2001). AHChP reformist wing Chairman Ali Kerimov stressed that resolving the Karabakh conflict necessitates creating a system of national security that provides for the establishment of a military doctrine and the protection of the integrity and sovereignty of the state. The roundtable participants agreed on the need for military action to liberate seven Azerbaijani raions currently occupied by Armenian forces. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON BASE CLOSURES

At the sixth round of talks between Georgian and Russian government officials on the closure of the four Russian military bases in Georgia, which took place in Moscow on 24 March, the Russian delegation reaffirmed its readiness to withdraw from the Vaziani and Gudauta bases by the 1 July deadline, Caucasus Press reported. The schedule for withdrawing from Gudauta may, however, be amended if agreement is reached that the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia will take over that facility, according to Interfax. Agreement was also reached that Moscow will have continued use of the Russian military air base at Vaziani, ITAR-TASS reported. But the two sides failed to reach any agreement on withdrawal from the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases. Moscow wants to retain those facilities for a further 15 years, while Tbilisi has offered a three-year extension. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL SETS DEADLINE FOR CHECHEN REFUGEES TO RETURN HOME

Vakhtang Shamiladze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's committee for relations with peoples of the Caucasus, told Interfax on 25 March that the estimated 7,000 refugees from Chechnya currently living in Georgia's Pankisi gorge must return to Chechnya before the end of this summer. He said the present situation in Chechnya is "relatively stable," and that the continued presence of the Chechen refugees in Georgia would only create problems for the Georgian authorities. LF

TWO GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS FOUND SHOT DEAD

The bodies of two Georgian frontier guards were found at a control post on the Akhaltsikhe sector of the Georgian-Turkish border late on 25 March, Caucasus Press reported the following day. The two men, who had failed to return from a routine patrol, had been shot, and their machine guns were missing. LF

10 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTIES TO JOIN FORCES

Representatives of some 10 Kyrgyz opposition parties agreed on 23 March to align into a new bloc to be named the People's Patriotic Movement, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A special working group is currently drafting the founding documents for the movement. On 17 March, leading members of the Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, Kairan-El, Liberty, Communist, Republican, and People's parties reached agreement on joining forces to defend human rights and work for establishing the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT APPROVES BILL ON OMBUDSMAN IN FIRST READING

The Legislative Assembly, the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, on 23 March passed in the first reading a draft bill presented by President Askar Akaev's administration on creating the post of national ombudsman, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Some 30 representatives of NGOs picketed the parliament during the session, protesting that the bill allows for the appointment to that post of a person fully under the influence of the Kyrgyz authorities. Under the draft, the president nominates a candidate for ombudsman and the People's Assembly, the upper chamber of the legislature, approves that candidacy, as it also does in the case of the prime minister, the Supreme, Constitutional and Arbitration Court judges, and the prosecutor-general. The Legislative Assembly rejected two alternative draft laws that would have given it the right to appoint the ombudsman. Murat Mukushev, who heads the legal department of the presidential administration, told Interfax that if the Legislative Assembly is empowered to name the ombudsman, the ombudsman "will become dependent on political factions and will not be neutral and independent." LF




BELARUSIANS MARK FREEDOM DAY WITH ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLIES

Some 5,000 people participated in a march and a rally in Minsk on 25 March to mark Freedom Day, which is observed by the Belarusian opposition on the anniversary of the creation of the non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Demonstrators protested against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime and demanded free and fair presidential elections this year. The unauthorized demonstration took place with the heavy attendance of riot police troops, which were commanded personally by Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau. Minsk police said 13 demonstrators were arrested after the rally. In Hrodna, some 2,000 people demonstrated to mark Freedom Day, and smaller rallies took place in other Belarusian cities. JM

BELARUSIAN KGB TO CRACK DOWN ON FOREIGNERS

KGB chief Leanid Yeryn pledged on Belarusian Television on 24 March to intensify the surveillance of foreigners in Belarus in order to prevent them from interfering in the country's domestic matters. According to Yeryn, foreign organizations and citizens, under the cover of providing humanitarian assistance or monitoring human rights, have recently stepped up their activities "to stir up the population's distrust in the current state system, the government, and the political, economic, and socioeconomic course" in Belarus. "Neither the president nor the KGB nor law enforcement bodies have any fear. It is others who fear: the CIA leadership and some State Department newcomers...who want to prove that the money spent on so-called humanitarian assistance -- and we call it humanitarian intervention in our republic -- was not wasted," Yeryn said. JM

UKRAINIAN ANTIPRESIDENTIAL OPPOSITION HOLDS 'MOURNING RALLY'...

Some 5,000 people took part in a "mourning rally" in Kyiv on 24 March to commemorate those they call the victims of President Leonid Kuchma's regime, Interfax reported. Demonstrators carried portraits of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (murdered last year), Vadym Hetman (assassinated in an apparent contract killing in 1998), and former Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil (who died in a car accident in 1999). Lesya Gongadze, mother of Heorhiy Gongadze, addressed the rally, blaming "the Kuchma regime" for the deaths. JM

...WHILE KUCHMA ORDERS PROBE INTO CHORNOVIL'S DEATH...

President Kuchma has instructed Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to launch an investigation into the death of former Rukh leader Chornovil, Interfax reported on 24 March. An investigation group will include lawmakers from the Popular Rukh of Ukraine parliamentary caucus. Some lawmakers alleged last year that Chornovil's fatal car crash had been organized by a special unit subordinate to Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). JM

...AND PRO-KUCHMA PARTY HIRES INTERNATIONAL SLEUTHS TO INVESTIGATE GONGADZE CASE

The Labor Ukraine Party has concluded a contract with Kroll Associates, a New York-based agency specializing in white-collar crime investigation and security, to probe the case of murdered journalist Gongadze, Interfax and AP reported on 23 March. Labor Ukraine leader Serhiy Tyhypko said Kuchma was told about the contract beforehand and approved it. Tyhypko, former economic minister, said it was necessary to "seize the initiative" from the opposition and make the investigation of the Gongadze case constructive. He noted that the involvement of a respected investigative company could also help Ukraine boost its image abroad. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES INTERIOR MINISTER

President Kuchma on 26 March dismissed Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and replaced him with Kyiv City police chief Yuriy Smirnov, Reuters reported, citing a presidential spokesman. The sacking of Kravchenko was one of the main demands of the opposition, which accuses the minister of having a role in the killing of journalist Gongadze. JM

ANOTHER CANDIDATE FOR ESTONIAN PRESIDENT

Chairman of Tartu City Council and former Tartu University Rector Peeter Tulviste has announced that he is willing to run for president as a candidate of the Pro Patria Union, ETA reported on 23 March. Although President Lennart Meri has never mentioned whom he favors as his successor, several politicians believe it to be the 55-year-old Tulviste. Parliament Deputy Chairman Tunne Kelam had earlier expressed his presidential ambitions and remarked that Tulviste's candidacy shows that there is democracy in the party. The Pro Patria Union Congress on 14 April will decide the union's candidate for president. SG

LATVIA TO CLOSE SEVERAL BORDER-CROSSING POINTS TO PREVENT FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE

State Border Guards head Gunars Dabolins announced on 23 March that the border-crossing points of Pededze and Aizgarsa on the Latvian-Russian border and of Piedruja on the Latvian-Belarusian border will be shut down completely beginning 2 April, BNS reported. Traffic at the Ezere and Pludoni border-crossing points on the Latvian-Lithuanian border were closed as of 26 March to all but citizens of the Baltic states who had not been outside the Baltic countries in the previous 14 days. The action was taken because the five posts do not have sanitary border inspectors to ensure that appropriate disinfecting measures are taken to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. SG

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEAKER VISITS LITHUANIA

President Valdas Adamkus presented Dennis Hastert with the Grand Duke Gediminas 1st Grade Order in Vilnius on 23 March, ELTA reported. The Republican congressman from Illinois met with Conservative Party Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and spoke about U.S.-Lithuanian relations and the latter's efforts to join NATO. Hastert later discussed with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas NATO membership and ways to increase American investments in Lithuania and help Lithuanian students to study in the U.S. The congressman also invited Paulauskas to visit Washington. Hastert later addressed the parliament, asserting: "I pledge to you that if Lithuania invests the resources necessary to meet the requirements of NATO membership, I will do all in my power to bring Lithuania into the alliance in 2002." At a ceremony at the Vilnius town hall, Mayor Arturas Zuokas presented Hastert with a medal and certificate making him an honorary citizen of Vilnius. SG

FORMER OWNERS VOW TO SETTLE RESTITUTION CLAIMS IN POLISH COURTS

Zygmunt Rakowiecki, head of the Polish Gentry Association, has said former owners of property confiscated by the communist regime will now file property restitution claims in courts, PAP reported on 23 March. Rakowiecki was commenting on President Aleksander Kwasniewski's veto on a bill that called for compensation of 50 percent of the value of confiscated assets either in kind or in bonds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). Kwasniewski said the best method of property restitution for former owners is to take their cases to court. According to government estimates, some 170,000 eligible claims would cost the state treasury some 43 billion zlotys ($10.4 billion). The government noted that following Kwasniewski's veto the value of compensation may grow to some 270 billion zlotys if claims are settled in court. JM

RUSSIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL VISITS WARSAW

Sergei Ivanov, secretary of Russia's Security Council, visited Warsaw last week and held talks with President Kwasniewski and a number of other state officials, ITAR-TASS reported 23 March. Ivanov discussed security issues and a planned visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Poland. Relations between Warsaw and Moscow have recently showed signs of warming after the mutual expulsion of diplomats on spying charges in early 2000. Russian Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev will visit Warsaw this week, and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is expected in Poland in May. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT REBUFFS 'EUROSKEPTICS'

Vaclav Havel, in an article in "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 24 March, said the Czechs will never lose their identity by joining the EU, but may do so through their own fault, CTK reported. Joining the union, Havel wrote, is not tantamount to renouncing one's national identity, only "parts of the [national] sovereignty." Identity preservation, he said, depends on "how we handle our landscape, our towns, on how we continue the rich traditions of our culture, and on how we cultivate our mother tongue." Havel said there is no need for Czechs to "long ponder" taking over European legislation, which has withstood the test of time. "If in the 1990s our legislation had been at [the] European level, we would not have lost billions of crowns through fraud," Havel wrote in an apparent hint at illicit deals made under the government of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS DUBIOUS CONTRACT LEGAL...

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil on 23 March told CTK that while the contract under which the ministry had rented the Czech House in Moscow to the Hotel Cesky dum company might have been "a bit negligent," it was still "correct and in compliance with the law" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2001). Asked to react to the decision by the police anticorruption squad to launch an investigation into the case, Pospisil said that if the squad "has any suspicion of corruption, it is its duty to do so," but added that Foreign Minister Jan Kavan has also ordered an "internal investigation." But the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 24 March wrote that despite Kavan's claims that the contract was prepared by subordinates, he had been informed of it in advance and delegated subordinates to prepare what he called in a document the "privatization" of the Czech House. MS

...AND KAVAN ADMITS INITIATING AFFAIR

Kavan on 25 March told Nova TV that his ministry will hand over documentation on the case to the anticorruption squad, while he insisted no law has been breached. Kavan admitted that he initiated the privatization of the Czech House in Moscow, but said this was in line with a law passed by the parliament in July 2000 and a 4 October decision made by the government. Kavan added that the contract signed with Hotel Cesky dum has "serious flaws" that must be corrected, and that he will take measures against those guilty for the flaws after the anticorruption squad completes its investigation. The person in charge of drafting the contract was Karel Srba, the ministry's general secretary, CTK reported. MS

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS ELECT NEW FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN

Jaroslav Kopriva, whose bid to be elected leader of the Four Party Coalition failed in January, was elected on 24 March as first deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Party. Kopriva replaces Cyril Svoboda, who was elected leader of the coalition and subsequently resigned his party position, CTK reported. MS

TEMELIN SUFFERS NEW SETBACK

The trouble-plagued and controversial Temelin nuclear power plant suffered yet another setback on 23 March when an oil leak in a pipeline at the main turbine generator was discovered, dpa and AP reported. The incident occurred only hours after tests were resumed and the plant was connected to the main power grid following a 10-day shutdown for turbine repairs. A spokesman for the plant said the new repairs will take about one month to complete, and in the meantime the reactor's output will be maintained at about 4 percent of capacity. Malfunctions twice triggered automatic shutdowns in December 2000, and the plant was temporarily shut down in January and again in March for turbine repairs. MS

CZECH JOURNALISTS CLEARED OF CHARGES

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 23 March dropped charges against "Mlada fronta Dnes" journalists Sabina Slonkova and Jiri Kubik, CTK reported. Slonkova and Kubik were charged with "obstruction of justice" because they refused to reveal the sources of information on "Operation Lead," under which an attempt was made by political rivals in the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) to discredit popular CSSD former Deputy Chairwoman Petra Buzkova. President Havel in October pardoned the two journalists, but they refused to accept the pardon, saying they wanted the investigation to continue in order to "set a precedent by once and for all deciding whether a journalist has or does not have the right to protect the sources of his or her information" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 September and 4 October 2000). The prosecution concluded that Slonkova and Kubik had not committed any criminal offense. MS

CZECH COURT REJECTS LAWSUIT OVER ANTIDISSIDENT CAMPAIGN

A Prague court of justice is refusing to consider lawsuits against five high officials during the Communist era, among them Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina, CTK reported on 26 March, citing "Ceske Slovo." The daily cited Judge Katerina Kohoutkova as saying the evidence submitted against the five by the Office for the Investigation of Communist Crimes (UDV) was "insufficient." A UDV spokesman said in reaction that it was "strange" that the judge has been able to go through the 8,000-page file "in only one week after it had been forwarded by the prosecution in early March." The UDV has already twice filed complaints against those engaged in the so-called "Asanace" (Decontamination) campaign, aimed at isolating and forcing into emigration opponents of the Communist regime. On both of those occasions, the Prosecutor-General's Office sent the files back, asking for more evidence. MS

WORLD BANK RECOMMENDS THAT CZECHS EXTEND RETIREMENT AGE...

In a report released on 23 March, the World Bank recommended that the Czech Republic extend its retirement age and the time over which insurance gives rise to pension entitlement, CTK reported. Under current legislation, retirement age is to be gradually increased to reach 62 for men and 61 for childless women in 2007. The bank says the Czech pension system faces serious financial difficulties and warns against the growing ratio of pensioners to the economically active population. Deputy Premier and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla said in reaction that citizens in the Czech Republic work an average of 40 years before they retire and consequently the bank's recommendation to extend insurance entitling pension benefits from the current 25 to 40 years would not have "any real significance." MS

...INCREASE HEALTH CARE CONTRIBUTIONS

The bank also said Czech patients should contribute more from their own pockets to help cover the costs of health care. Under current legislation, Czech employers cover most of the costs of employees' health insurance. The bank recommends merging health care and social security contributions, warning that health care costs are very high (some 7.4 percent of the GDP in 1999 and 2000), exceeding levels in countries with similar average personal incomes and age groups. A Health Ministry spokesman said no such measures are planned. Finally, the World Bank also recommended that the Czech Republic introduce tuition fees at universities and expand private universities. Education Minister Eduard Zeman rejected the recommendation. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS ANTI-HUNGARIAN VANDALISM...

The Foreign Ministry on 23 March condemned acts of vandalism at the Hungarian Consulate in Kosice on 22 March and said "every effort will be made to find and punish the perpetrators," TASR reported. The ministry said it was "confident" that such acts cannot "affect the current good level of relations between Slovakia and Hungary." On the same day, opposition Slovak National Party Chairwoman Anna Malikova said the Slovak Coalition Party (SMK) may have been behind the acts. "It suits them to set up such a smoke screen," she said, because the SMK "does not want Slovaks to talk about those demands that are very dangerous" to "Hungarian expansionism" and which "threaten the interests of the Slovak state." SMK politicians rejected the allegations as "absurd," CTK reported. MS

...AS BLAST DISRUPTS HOLOCAUST COMMEMORATION

A blast, apparently caused by a percussion bomb, disrupted a ceremony in Poprad on 25 March commemorating the victims of the first mass deportation of Jewish girls and women to Nazi extermination camps, TASR and CTK reported. The blast interrupted a speech by Poprad Mayor Stefan Kubik, but did not injure any of the participants. Kubik called the incident "a provocation" and said he regretted that it happened in a town that prides itself on mutual tolerance among inhabitants of different nationalities and faiths. This was the first time that the annual commemoration has been marred by an incident since its inception 10 years ago. Less than 20 women and girls out of the 1,000 taken from Poprad to Nazi concentration camps on 25 March 1942 returned home, and only three of them are still living. MS

SLOVAK ROMA CALL FOR GOVERNMENT COMMISSIONER'S DISMISSAL

Eight Slovak Romany organizations, attending a 24 March meeting of the Assembly of the Romany Nation in Slovakia, called on the government to dismiss Vincent Danihel, government commissioner for Romany affairs, saying he has failed in his work, CTK reported. The organizations said Assembly Chairman Ladislav Fizik should replace Danihel. The two-day meeting of the traditionally fragmented Romany organizations was not attended by Romany Civic Initiative Chairman Gejza Adam, who is involved in a dispute with the organizers. Fizik said the Roma must follow the example of the Slovak Hungarian minority, which managed to gain parliamentary representation in 1998 after merging into a unified political party. MS

STATE SECRETARY SAYS NO PERSECUTION OF MINORITIES IN HUNGARY

Justice Ministry Political State Secretary Csaba Hende told a press conference on 23 March that neither the Roma nor any other minority in Hungary is exposed to persecution. Hende said the case of the Roma group from Zamoly currently in France began in October 1997, during the tenure of the previous Socialist-Free Democrat government. He said the group left Hungary despite the fact that they were provided with special support, police protection, and other assistance. Florian Farkas, chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, said that the emigration of the Zamoly group to France was "a bad example." He stressed, however, that the decision taken by the French authorities to grant asylum to some of the Roma was "a message that could not be ignored." MSZ

HUNGARY GIVES 200 MILLION FORINTS TO AID BALKAN STABILITY

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 23 March said at the third conference in Szeged held to promote democratization and stability in the Balkans, that 200 million forints ($670,000) in state subsidies will be allocated to the Opportunity for Stability Foundation. Martonyi and Bodo Hombach, chief coordinator of the Southeast European Stability pact, released a joint statement saying that the "Szeged process" launched in 1999 will be broadened to include Macedonia, Albania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In other news, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is the current OSCE rotating chairman, postponed by one week his visit to Budapest, scheduled for 26 March, as he must attend a meeting in Bucharest on the Macedonian crisis, Hungarian media report on 26 March. MSZ

TORGYAN MIGHT RESIGN ON HEALTH GROUNDS

Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan will have to spend two or three days in the hospital after he fainted, apparently from food poisoning, Hungarian media reported on 26 March. Earlier, Torgyan denied media reports that, in view of his poor state of health, he will soon quit public life. Torgyan insisted that he will run as a candidate in the 2002 parliamentary elections and will also remain chairman of the FKGP. In other news, by-elections in the Hungarian town of Dabas were declared invalid due to low turnout. All eight candidates will have the opportunity to run again in the second round elections on 8 April, when only 25 percent of eligible voters must cast their votes to validate the election. MSZ




MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT CLAIMS VICTORY IN OFFENSIVE

Macedonian army forces moved through the streets of Tetovo before dawn on 25 March. At 7:00 am local time, tanks and artillery launched a barrage against the guerrillas of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) in the nearby hills. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski later claimed that the offensive was a complete success, adding: "This is the first phase of the solution of the problem in Macedonia. When this action is completed, we will begin on the long road to finding a political solution," dpa reported. The authorities claim to have captured several rebel-held villages and moved their inhabitants, whom the UCK had allegedly used as "hostages," to Tetovo in a "humanitarian action," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Helicopters landed Macedonian troops behind rebel positions, but it is not clear what has happened to the fighters. A German KFOR officer said that Macedonian forces are in control of the UCK stronghold of Kale. AP reported that "hundreds" of ethnic Albanians fled from Vejce and some other communities into Kosova. Dpa added on 26 March that the Tetovo region is "relatively calm." PM

BUSH SLAMS VIOLENCE IN MACEDONIA

U.S. President George W. Bush said in a statement in Washington on 23 March: "I strongly support the efforts of President Boris Trajkovski and the Macedonian government to uphold democracy and the rule of law. We encourage the government to act with restraint and to work closely with elected representatives of the Albanian community to address legitimate concerns, while taking the necessary steps to prevent further violence," Reuters reported. Bush added that the U.S. will provide military assistance to Skopje, but stressed that the way out of the crisis is through dialogue. He added that the guerrillas are harming the long-term interests of ethnic Albanians throughout the region. Two days later, he said that he hopes the U.S. and its allies will be "able to seal off the border [with Kosova] to prevent people and arms from [going] to the rebels." PM

POWELL REASSURES MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 24 March that Secretary of State Colin Powell told Macedonian President Trajkovski in a 20-minute conversation that NATO is doing all it can to control the Kosova-Macedonian border. Powell noted that the U.S. is "ready to assist in improving [Macedonia's] military capabilities where necessary and supporting their efforts to bolster a democratic, multiethnic state," AP quoted Boucher as saying. The secretary also "deplored and condemned the actions of the extremists and applauded and supported the actions to uphold the [governing] coalition in Macedonia that includes members of all ethnic groups." PM

EU CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS

The EU summit in Stockholm gave strong political backing to the Macedonian government in its fight against the guerrillas, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 26 March. The EU offered economic help to President Trajkovski, who attended the gathering. The EU leaders nonetheless rejected a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin for international intervention against the "Albanian terrorists" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2001). The EU called for resolving the conflict through "peaceful and democratic means" and for dialogue with "moderate Albanian forces." Trajkovski conceded that there are "some problems" where rights for the 23 percent ethnic Albanian minority are concerned. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called on the Macedonian authorities to be "reasonable" in their dealings with the ethnic Albanians, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 24 March. He stressed that peace in the Balkans must not be endangered because of the actions of "a couple of hundred terrorists." PM

EU OFFICIAL: GREATER EUROPEAN 'PRESENCE' IN THE BALKANS...

Javier Solana, the EU's chief official for foreign and security policy, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 26 March that the trend in the Balkans will be for EU member countries to increase their military presence and for the U.S. to reduce its role. He added that it is a "logical development" for "the Europeans" to assume a greater responsibility for developments in their own backyard. PM

...NEED FOR BETTER INTEGRATION OF MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS

In his interview with the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 26 March, Solana stressed that the conflict in Macedonia can be contained. He pointed out that the three most important Kosovar leaders have condemned the violence (see below) and that the overwhelming majority of Kosovars voted for moderate candidates in last October's local elections. He added that the Albanian government has pledged to respect Macedonia's frontiers and that there is "no dream of a Greater Albania" in government circles. Solana stressed that the resolution of ethnic difficulties in Macedonia will not come through military means, but by improving the integration of the ethnic Albanians in national political life. He added that the Albanians are not yet fairly represented in all spheres of political life. PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS APPEAL FOR PEACE

Moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova and former guerrilla chiefs Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj signed a statement in Prishtina on 23 March in which they called for peace in Macedonia. "We, the leaders of the political parties in Kosova, call on the extremist groups that have taken up arms on the territory of Macedonia to lay them down immediately and to return to their homes peacefully," Reuters reported. Western governments have appealed to the Kosovar leadership to take an unambiguous stand on behalf of the peace and territorial integrity of Macedonia, which opened its borders to tens of thousands of Kosovar refugees during the 1999 Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign. PM

SERBIAN FORCES MOVE INTO DEMILITARIZED ZONE

Some 1,000 Yugoslav troops entered the demilitarized zone separating Serbia from Kosova on 25 March, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). Milovan Coguric of the Defense Ministry said in Merdare: "This is our territory again. Our forces are entrenching and are getting ready for their stay in this territory." Yugoslav forces also entered the security zone separating Montenegro from Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbia hopes to regain control of Kosova through cooperation with the international community. NATO agreed to let the Serbs back into the buffer zone provided that they stay out of ethnic Albanian villages and as a warning to ethnic Albanian guerrillas not to treat the zone as their own territory. Reuters reported that the parts of the zone which the Serbian forces have entered are not places where the guerrillas are active. PM

PRESEVO PEACE TALKS BEGIN

Representatives of the Serbian authorities and local Albanians held face-to-face talks near Merdare on 23 March, Reuters reported. NATO representative Peter Feith told Reuters: "This was a constructive meeting which lasted about two hours. This meeting is the first in a series...that will continue next week." "Vesti" reported that the Albanian delegation included persons close to the guerrillas of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that the main issue of the talks was the six Serbs detained by the guerrillas. PM

YUGOSLAVIA'S KOSTUNICA SLAMS ARREST, EXTRADITION OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

Speaking in Belgrade on 25 March, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that he regrets the arrest and extradition to The Hague of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Milomir Stakic by Serbian authorities two days earlier. Kostunica called the arrest and extradition an "exception that should not have been made," "Danas" reported. Kostunica argued that the legal framework for cooperating with The Hague tribunal is not yet ready, and that non-Yugoslav citizens -- such as Stakic -- should not be arrested until the relevant issues are clarified. PM

PRO-BELGRADE COALITION FORMED IN MONTENEGRO

The Socialist People's Party (SNP) and the People's Party (NS) agreed on 24 March in Podgorica to form the "Together for Yugoslavia" coalition for the 22 April parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). The Serbian People's Party (SNS) agreed to join the coalition the following day. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT SACKS 3 MORE GENERALS

Defense Minister Jozo Rados announced in Zagreb on 24 March that President Stipe Mesic has retired generals Miljenko Crnjac, Zivko Budimir, and Zvonimir Skender, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Rados added that Croatia must reduce its number of generals to between 20 and 30 if it is to meet NATO standards. The state-run news agency Hina reported that Croatia has the largest number of generals of any country in the world in proportion to the number of inhabitants and ordinary soldiers. The officer corps was a bedrock of support for the government of the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET...

The government on 23 March approved the draft law on the 2001 budget and the parliament will began debating it this week, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The budget forecasts a 4.1 percent growth, an inflation rate of 25 percent, and a 3.8 percent deficit. Neven Mates, IMF chief negotiator for Romania, told journalists after meeting Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 23 March that he has recommended that the government "make efforts to reduce inflation and set in place a transparent fiscal system, as well as reduce arrears to the budget." Mates also said "more financial discipline" is required in wage policy to avoid overburdening the budget, and stressed that privatization must be accelerated. Nastase expressed the hope that a new standby agreement with the IMF will be signed by April or May. MS

...SUSPENDS PREFECT OVER CONFLICT WITH PRM LEADER

Premier Nastase on 23 March announced he has accepted a proposal by Gorj county prefect Toni Grebla that he be suspended from office pending the findings of a governmental commission. On 22 March, Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he is "breaking contact" with Nastase and President Ion Iliescu until Grebla, who insulted Tudor's wife in a telephone conversation, is sanctioned. Nastase said Grebla's suspension was also due to his "attitude toward members of the government," and added that it is "inadmissible" for prefects to display an "uncivilized posture" regardless of whom it is directed to. MS

ROMANIAN TABLOID ATTACKS RFE/RL...

The tabloid "Atac la persoana" on 26 March said RFE/RL and Voice of America "continue to attack the Romanian nation and people." The tabloid claims that RFE/RL "continues to be part of the CIA." It said RFE/RL continues to "greatly harm Romania's real image" and that, furthermore, journalists formerly working for RFE/RL from abroad are indulging in similar activities while acting as independent journalists in Romania. It claims these journalists were placed in their new positions by their former masters in order to better "disseminate their ideology" and transform Romanians into "submissive people." On 23 March, "Romania mare," the weekly owned by PRM leader Tudor, who has numerous links to "Atac la persoana," called for the end of RFE/RL broadcasts, arguing that "the Cold War is over." MS

...IN RESPONSE TO CRITICISM OF PRIBOI'S APPOINTMENT?

Observers say these attacks may be an indirect response to criticism in Romania and abroad of Ristea Priboi's appointment as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE). Priboi was recently cleared by the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) of the suspicion of having been engaged in "political police activities" but the daily "Romania libera" on 24 March, citing "SIE sources," wrote that Priboi had personally coordinated the Securitate's actions against RFE/RL, including the bomb attack on RFE/RL's Munich headquarters on 21 February 1981. MS

CATHOLIC METROPOLITAN DISTANCES CHURCH FROM ATTACKS ON ROMANIAN PATRIARCH

Bucharest Catholic Archbishop Ioan Robu on 23 March said he wishes to express "respect and Christian solidarity" toward Romanian Orthodox Church Patriarch Teoctist and rejected "any speculation" that his church might have initiated allegations published in the daily "Libertatea," which is owned by the Catholic Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 March 2001). The daily wrote that Teoctist had been a member of the fascist Iron Guard, a Securitate informer, and a homosexual, though his church is opposed to legalizing homosexual relations. Meanwhile, the CNSAS said it has dismissed Gabriel Catalan, who provided the information to the daily, on grounds of "infringing" Teoctist's "constitutional rights" and harming his "public image," as well as having infringed rules regulating the "status of a civil servant." MS

TRANSDNIESTER SEPARATISTS REFUSE TO ATTEND BRATISLAVA MEETING...

The leadership of the breakaway Transdniester Republic refuses to attend the OSCE meeting in Bratislava, scheduled for 28-29 March, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 24 March. The separatists say the meeting must await the election of Moldova's president on 4 April. They also say that separatist leader Igor Smirnov, currently visiting Moscow, had "not instructed" them on whether to participate or not. Reports attributed to anonymous sources said Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian State Commission for the Transdniester conflict, warned Smirnov in Moscow that Tiraspol must adopt a "more flexible" position and said his visit to Tiraspol in April is conditional on the separatists' participation in the Bratislava summit. MS

...PROMPTING HARSH WORDS FROM PASTUKHOV

State Duma CIS Commission Chairman Boris Pastukhov was cited on 23 March by RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau as saying that Moscow's patience with Tiraspol "is running out" and that the continuation of the conflict suits its leadership because "uncertainty daily drips money into their pockets." He said these leaders are "kings in a lawless kingdom where common sense no longer works" and that Moscow "will no longer tolerate stupidity, incompetence, arrogance and theft." MS

VORONIN SPEAKS ON THE TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT...

Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Chairman Vladimir Voronin on 23 March welcomed Pastukhov's statement and said it was "very good" that the "decision-making factors in the Russian Federation begin to understand the gravity of the Transdniester problem," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the problem cannot find a solution without Russia, and "if those factors take a position similar to Pastukhov's, a solution will soon be found." He said the conflict had its roots in Chisinau's own "confused internal and foreign policy" and it would be "a mistake" to believe that the solution must address only the problem of "territory unification." No less important, he said, is to make "joint efforts" to overcome the present economic crisis on the two sides of the Dniester River, from which "one of the river's banks draws a lot of profit." MS

...OFFICIALLY SUBMITS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY

The ad hoc parliamentary commission in charge of the 4 April presidential elections on 23 March officially registered Voronin's candidacy for that post, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The candidacy is supported by 42 PCM deputies. Commission Chairman and Parliamentary Deputy Speaker Vadim Mishin told journalists that if the Braghis Alliance will not submit a rival candidacy, the PCM may submit the name of a second candidate to avoid a legal deadlock. The law stipulates that candidacies must be supported by at least 15 deputies, but makes no stipulation for a single candidacy. The Braghis Alliance is the only formation in the parliament apart from the PCM that has more than 15 deputies. MS

OUTGOING MOLDOVAN PREMIER BRIEFS VORONIN ON BUDGET DEFICIT

Outgoing Premier Dumitru Braghis on 23 March told Voronin -- likely the next Moldovan president -- that the deficit in 2002 will reach its peak, with the country having to serve $170 million in external debts, of which only some $70 million can be covered by revenues, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Braghis said that due to the government's efforts, the 2000 foreign debt had been restructured and Moldova had to service only $57.3 million instead of $75 million. He said foreign debt servicing for 2001 amounts to $81.3 million and after the 2002 peak, the debt will drop in 2003 to $95.8 million. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER WARNS COUNTRYMEN AGAINST INVOLVEMENT IN MACEDONIA

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 23 March told the parliament that Bulgaria must avoid all forms of involvement in Macedonia because any suspicion of participation could bring about attacks inside Bulgaria itself. He said any Bulgarian interference in the conflict is conceivable "only together with the international community, under the auspices of the UN." Kostov warned that "rumors of Bulgarians taking sides in the conflict could spark anti-Bulgarian sentiments in Albania and Kosova, which could lead to eventual terrorist attacks in Bulgaria," Reuters reported. On 24 March, Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and his Bulgarian counterpart Boiko Noev, meeting in Plodviv, agreed that Macedonia's neighbors must not take the lead to settle the crisis, but should instead help the international community find a solution. MS

EXPELLED RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS LEAVE BULGARIA

The three Russian diplomats ordered out of Bulgaria on suspicion of spying left the country on 23 March, AP reported. Military attache Vladimir Lomakin, his deputy Sergei Vlasenko, and counselor Boris Smirnov left by air, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Sofia said. One of the three Bulgarian diplomats expelled in retaliation told journalists upon arriving in Bulgaria's capital that he had been presented "neither written nor verbal charges that I have been involved in spying activities." Russian Ambassador Ilyan Vasiliev told Interfax he hoped the mutual expulsions "have put an end to the affair." MS

BULGARIA CANCELS HYDROPOWER DEAL WITH TURKEY

The government on 23 March canceled a concession granted to Turkey's Ceylan Holding last year for a $300 million hydropower project in Bulgaria, Reuters reported. A governmental statement said the Turkish firm has not proved its financial and technical abilities to carry the project through. The project envisages the rehabilitation of existing dams along the Arda River, near the border with Turkey. Ceylan's Bank Kapital is among Turkey's troubled financial institutions and has been put under administration by Turkey's Banking Supervisory Board in October 2000. MS




MR. IVANOV COMES CALLING


By Patrick Moore

Russian President Vladimir Putin's Cold War Revival has come to the Balkans. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has just visited Serbia, Kosova, Macedonia, and Albania in a trip that was long on rhetoric but short on substance. This should come as no surprise, because Russia does not have much to offer the countries of the region and has little influence outside Serbia. Even in Belgrade, most of the leadership is aware that their country's future lies in Euro-Atlantic integration, and that other paths -- such as an "Orthodox bloc" -- are an illusion. All Russia has to offer are political support, arms sales, and natural gas -- and where the gas is concerned, it drives a hard bargain. Not much magnanimous Slavic solidarity here, even for Serbia. But this is what Russia's policy toward the Balkan countries has always been through the years, namely a hardheaded pursuit of Russian interests, irrespective of what sentimental orators may say about special ties. Moreover, Russia's current Balkan policy, like former Soviet policy in the Middle East, is less than effective because it is widely seen in the region as completely partisan toward one side. This further limits Moscow's clout in the region, because Belgrade and Skopje know that Russia has virtually no influence in Tirana or Prishtina, let alone with the Macedonian Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) or the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). Finally, if German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt had a point two decades ago when he called the Soviet Union "Upper Volta with rockets," the comment seems even more appropriate for today's Russia, which lacks much of the empire and resources that the USSR had. This point is well appreciated in the western Balkan region.

To hear some of Ivanov's remarks in recent days, one would think that the Golden Age of "Mr. Nyet," the late Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, had returned. Ivanov said in Belgrade after talks with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on 19 March that "the world community must state in clear terms that the developments in the south of Serbia and in Macedonia [constitute] aggression by international terrorists, who must be resolutely rebuffed if we are against destabilization and an explosion in the Balkans... The time has come for each state and for the international community to decide which side they are on: those who would like to build a peaceful, prosperous, and multiethnic Yugoslavia, or those who are sowing the seeds of ethnic enmity and death in Yugoslavia," Interfax reported. This recalls the black-vs.-white approach of Soviet ideology, against which Mikhail Gorbachev's "New Thinking" was supposedly directed.

Another time-honored component of Soviet thought, namely the belief in the omnipresence of Western agents and conspiracies, emerged as well. 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 called "very important" unspecified "media reports" to the effect that "Albanian terrorists" in Macedonia are backed by the intelligence services of various Western countries. He added that such reports "require checking," Interfax reported.

And like the diplomats of Gromyko's school, Ivanov knows how to float a "proposal" for purely propagandistic purposes. Speaking to reporters in Skopje on 21 March, he 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 it 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.

Words like "terrorist" and "separatist" are, of course, Belgrade's code words regarding Albanians, and not necessarily only those who take up arms. Ivanov accordingly did not emphasize such rhetoric during his stop in Tirana, stressing instead that "the situation [in Macedonia] has reached the point where a great deal of caution is needed to prevent the conflict from turning into an ethnic conflict." He called on Albania to help find a peaceful solution to the crisis. But some Albanians remembered his remarks from the first stops of his trip and greeted him with protests and pro-UCK songs.


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