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Newsline - March 27, 2001




PUTIN ASSESSES NORTH CAUCASUS, OTHER ISSUES

President Vladimir Putin on 26 March chaired a meeting of security officials to discuss how to react to the bombings in the North Caucasus, Russian agencies reported. The same day, he also met with Duma leaders and judicial officials to discuss improving the criminal code, and he signed legislation endorsing treaties with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CAPITAL FLIGHT, MONEY LAUNDERING WORRISOME

A Duma hearing on capital flight heard testimony from various officials that the amount of capital that has been illegally exported from Russia and not returned now totals $70 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. One of the most important money-laundering centers for Russian firms is now Cyprus, where up to $12 billion are laundered each year, other witnesses said. Some witnesses called for tighter controls, but former Russian Central Bank official Lyubov Kizilopova said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 26 March that both the government and the banks need to understand how capital flows rather than trying to restrict it in violation of economic laws. PG

ILLARIONOV, GREF AGAIN CLASH ON ECONOMY

In an interview published in London's "Financial Times" on 26 March, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said Russian economic growth this year will be lower than the planned level of 4 percent, but Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said he sees no reason to revise the earlier prediction, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Gref's ministry said the economy was 4.2 percent larger in the first quarter of 2001 than in the same period one year earlier, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW BANS MEAT IMPORTS FROM EUROPE

In an effort to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and BSE, the Russian government on 26 March imposed a 21-day ban on meat imports from the European Union, East European countries, and the Baltic states, ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow's chief veterinary inspector, Aleksandr Tunik, said on Ekho Moskvy the same day that Russia will purchase meat and meat products during that period only from countries which are "free of quarantine diseases." PG

MOVES IN THE DUMA

The Liberal Russia Movement told the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) that the Duma should not seek to subject its members to new elections until the adoption of a new law on parties, Interfax reported on 26 March. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 March that the communists have included in their shadow government two "surprising names" -- Mikhail Delyagin, who heads the Globalization Institute, and Dmitrii Savelev, an SPS deputy who is deputy chairman of the Duma's Energy Committee. And "Segodnya" suggested on 24 March that a redistribution of Duma committee chairmanships is now unlikely, but that Fatherland-All Russia Chairman Yevgenii Primakov may become leader of the People's Patriotic Union. PG

PAVLOVSKY URGES EARLY VOTE, SEES NO CADRE SHIFTS

At a Moscow press conference on 26 March, Gleb Pavlovsky, the head of the Effective Policy Foundation, said that he favors early elections to the Duma but does not believe that major personnel changes in the government are imminent, Interfax reported. In other comments, Pavlovsky said that President Putin now leads a serious center-right coalition which should allow him to make important reforms. In other assessments of Putin's first year, "Obshchaya gazeta," No. 12, said that Putin has no program but reacts to situations, sometimes too late. And "Nezavisimaya gazeta" carried an article suggesting that Putin enjoys popular support but that people now expect him to implement policies. PG

MOSCOW TO INCREASE CONTROL OF 200-MILE EXCLUSION ZONE

Vladimir Ismailov, the deputy chief of the State Fishing Committee, announced on 26 March that the Russian authorities intend to increase their efforts to control the 200-mile economic exclusion zone on Russia's coasts, Interfax reported. PG

YASTRZHEMBSKII BLAMES WAHHABIS FOR EXTRADITION DELAYS

The office of Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS on 26 March that Wahhabi leaders are doing their best to prevent Saudi Arabia from extraditing the men who hijacked a Russian plane from Turkey to that country on 15 March. PG

SHAIMIEV RE-ELECTED IN TATARSTAN

Incumbent President Mintimer Shaimiev on 25 March won 79.8 percent of the vote in his bid for re-election to a third term, Russian agencies reported. On claiming victory, he said that he will continue to promote both Tatarstan's interests and ties with Moscow, and vowed not to run for a fourth term. PG

YAROSLAVL GOVERNOR WANTS FEWER FEDERAL SUBJECTS

Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 March as saying he believes that there should be fewer and larger subjects of the federation, suggesting that 50 might be an ideal number. Meanwhile, the paper ran the latest in its series of articles on the presidential envoys to the federal districts, this time focusing on Konstantin Pulikovskii. PG

STATE COUNCIL CHANGES MAKE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL REFORM MORE LIKELY

The recent renewal of the membership of the presidium of the State Council may make reforming the military-industrial complex more likely, according to an article in "Kommersant" on 23 March. This is because none of the complex's strongest supporters are now represented in that body, the paper said. PG

RUSSIAN MISSILE SEEN SUPPORTING EUROPEAN DEFENSE

"Antei" military-industrial concern chief Yuri Svirin said in an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 26 March that his company's Antei 2500 could serve as the foundation for a European anti-missile defense system. Svirin said that the missile produced by his plant is superior to the most advanced U.S. Patriot missile. PG

MORE SECRET PROTOCOLS IN LATVIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS

"Kontinent," No. 12, reported that the Russian side has demanded that records of conversations between Russian President Putin and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga be classified, something Latvia has never done in the past. This suggests, the journal said, that the two leaders must have agreed on things that at least the Russian side does not want its citizens to learn of anytime soon. PG

NO REASON SEEN FOR RUSSIAN SPY SCANDAL IN BRITAIN

Mikhail Lyubimov, a veteran intelligence officer who was expelled from London in 1965, told Interfax that there is no reason to expect a Russian spy scandal in Britain anytime soon. He said that such scandals emerge only after one or more arrests and that there have not been any such arrests in the United Kingdom recently. Interfax interviewed Lyubimov after the publication of a report in London's "Sunday Times" on 25 March that British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Russian President Putin in Stockholm last week that London would react quickly to any increase in Russian espionage activities in the U.K. PG

BORODIN EXTRADITION INCREASINGLY PROBABLE

Lawyers for Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin said on 26 March that the chances that a U.S. court will decide not to extradite him to Switzerland "exist, but that they are slim and getting slimmer every day," ITAR-TASS reported. Lawyer Genrikh Padva said that this is especially true because "political relations between Russia and the U.S. are deteriorating." Meanwhile, Interfax the same day reported that Borodin's health is getting worse as well. PG

GUSINSKY RELEASED PENDING HEARING

Spain's High Court on 26 March released Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky on $5.38 million bail while he awaits the final disposition of a Russian government request that he be extradited, Russian and Western agencies reported. Gusinsky had been free on his own recognizance until 12 March, when a lower Spanish court ordered him detained. In related developments, Aleksei Venediktov, the chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, told the Madrid newspaper "ABC" in an interview published the same day that if the Spanish court returns Gusinsky to Russia, Russian journalists will have to engage in self-censorship in order to avoid his fate. Also on 26 March, spokesmen for NTV said that a planned 3 April shareholders meeting by Gazprom to consider taking control of Gusinsky's Media-MOST holding company is illegal, AP reported. In support of both Gusinsky and NTV, the leaders of the Union of Journalists of Russia, SPS, and Yabloko announced plans to stage a demonstration in support of freedom of the press on 31 March, Interfax reported. PG

MORE ON 'MIR'

Russian space scientists on 26 March said that they did not announce how great the risks involved in the deorbiting of the "Mir" spacecraft actually were to avoid sparking panic, ITAR-TASS reported. They also said that the total cost of the entire history of the "Mir" system was $4.3 billion. "Izvestiya" reported the same day that people around the world are already being offered parts of the deorbited station as souvenirs, while Interfax reported that a group of self-described "Gagarinites," a reference to the first Soviet cosmonaut to orbit the earth, held a meeting in Yaroslavl to mourn the end of "Mir," Interfax North-West reported. PG

RUSSIAN COURTS OVERWHELMED WITH CASES

According to a report in "Izvestiya" on 26 March, the typical Russian court now hears an average of 500 cases per year, or more than two every working day. The paper said that more than 8 million cases now pass through the country's court system -- 1.5 million criminal cases, 4 million civil cases, and almost 4 million administrative cases -- and that as a result, many courts are now so clogged they cannot hear cases in a timely manner. PG

TOBIN, OTHERS MAY FACE ADDITIONAL CHARGES

Voronezh prosecutors said on 26 March that they may bring additional charge of drug dealing against American exchange student John Tobin and that they may bring charges against people now in the U.S. who are involved in the case, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN, U.S. POLICE CLOSE DOWN CHILD PORNOGRAPHY OPERATION

Police from Russia and the United States arrested nine people behind a Russian website that had been selling child pornography videotapes worldwide, Russian and Western agencies reported on 26 March. The site itself was shut down in December 2000. PG

ISRAEL THINKS RUSSIAN MAFIA MONEY MAY BE BEHIND TELEPHONE COMPANY PURCHASE

Israeli officials on 26 March said they are investigating the possibility that an Israeli businessman used money from Russian organized crime to purchase a 20 percent stake in Israel's telephone company, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The Israelis said they suspect that the money came from companies controlled by Mikhail Chorny, who made a fortune as a middleman in the export of aluminum and other raw materials in the mid-1990s. PG

A NEW STATUS FOR KALININGRAD?

Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Kozik said on 26 March that Kaliningrad Oblast could be transferred in the future to the jurisdiction of the Russia-Belarus Union state, Interfax-West reported. That would simplify imports and exports from the Russian exclave and contribute to its economic development, Kozik said. PG

EES CLEANS HOUSE, ANNOUNCES DIVIDEND

Unified Energy Systems (EES) Deputy Board Chairman Anatolii Kopsov was relieved of his post on 26 March for his role in last winter's energy crisis in the Far East, ITAR-TASS reported. But officials made clear that his removal from this post does not mean that he will cease to be an employee of the energy giant. In other actions, the EES board announced that it will recommend dividends for holders of both its ordinary and preferred shares, the news service said. PG

BORDER CONCEPT DRAFT APPROVED

The Russian Security Council interagency commission on 26 March approved a draft concept on border protection, ITAR-TASS reported. The council's press service said that "this document should determine the main areas of activity for the Russian Federal Border Guard Service and other federal bodies of executive power which perform their functions on the state border." Meanwhile, Russian officials closed a border crossing between northern Finland and Karelia on 26 March after Finnish officials turned off power to the Russian side of the border for nonpayment of energy bills, AP reported. PG

FOREIGN WORKERS OUTNUMBER RUSSIAN WORKERS ABROAD

According to the department of foreign labor migration at the Ministry for Federation Affairs and Nationality and Migration Policy, the number of foreigners coming to work in Russia -- 212,293 -- is now almost six times higher than the number of Russians seeking work abroad -- 45,760 -- according to "Inostranets," No. 9. More than one-third of foreign workers come to Moscow or other areas of central Russia. PG

NO CIVIL SOCIETY YET FOR RUSSIA'S CHILDREN

A conference entitled "A Civil Society for Russia's Children" found that Russia is leaving its youngest members behind, "Literaturnaya gazeta," No. 12, reported. Conference participants noted that even though there are 4.4 million fewer children in Russia than five years ago, 10 times as many young people are infected with tuberculosis. There are now one million homeless children, and 100,000 new orphans are registered each year, 90 percent of whom have been abandoned by their parents. PG

30,000 RUSSIANS DIE FROM TB IN 2000

Health officials in Novgorod Oblast told Interfax on 26 March that approximately 30,000 Russian residents died from tuberculosis in 2000 and that an additional 120,000 became infected with the disease during the same period. PG

RUSSIAN MARKET FOR ILLEGAL DRUGS EXPANDING

"Versty," No. 30, reported that Russia now has between three and 10 million drug users, making it an increasingly attractive market for drug dealers. In 1993, a survey found that only 10 percent of St. Petersburg residents had tried illegal drugs; now the figure is 18 percent, the journal said. Meanwhile, "Zavtra," No. 12, reported that some $7-8 billion worth of drugs now enters Russia each year, with approximately one-quarter being sold there and the rest sent on to Europe and the United States. PG

KHABAROVSK LEADS IN BUYING UP CITIZENS' GUNS

According to "Segodnya" on 24 March, the police in Khabarovsk Krai are "going for the record" in the buying up of guns and ammunition from the population. Beginning one year ago, police there have purchased both legal and illegal guns from the population under an amnesty arrangement. PG

PENSIONERS CAN NOW USE ATMS

Sberbank has issued cards to pensioners that will allow them to go to automatic teller machines instead of the bank for their monthly incomes, "Segodnya" reported on 26 March. PG

TAX RESISTANCE GETS SERIOUS

The owner of a firm selling tents in Moscow on 26 March threatened to set himself on fire in order to block tax inspectors from entering his establishment, Interfax-Moscow reported. Police were called and the owner was subdued, thus permitting the tax authorities to do their work, the news service said. PG

RUSSIAN ICE SCULPTORS TRIUMPH IN ALASKA

Russian competitors from the Far East won two gold medals at this year's ice-sculpting competition in Fairbanks, Alaska, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 26 March. PG

CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. OFFICIAL

Ilyas Akhmadov met for three hours in Washington on 26 March with John Beyrle, acting U.S. special adviser for the NIS, to discuss the human rights situation in Chechnya and the prospects for talks between Moscow and the Chechen leadership, Reuters reported. Akhmadov said there is "no sign" that Moscow is prepared to end the war in Chechnya, and deplored Russia's haste in blaming the 24 March North Caucasus car bombings on Chechens. He said the Chechen leadership abjures such violence against civilians. Prior to the meeting, Vladimir Yelagin, the minister for cooperation of federal agencies in the restoration of the Chechen Republic, on 26 March denounced the U.S. reception of Akhmadov, ITAR-TASS reported. Yelagin said that such a meeting might be regarded as "a challenge to Russia" and that the 24 March explosions show that "it is absolutely hopeless to talk with those people." In other comments, Yelagin said that elections in Chechnya should not take place earlier than 18 months to two years from now. LF/PG

MOSCOW DIASPORA RAISES RANSOM FOR ABDUCTED CHECHEN OFFICIAL

Moscow's Chechen diaspora has raised the $500,000 ransom demanded by the unknown persons who kidnapped former official Yakub Deniev on 23 March, Interfax reported on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001). But the abductors have not yet given instructions on how that ransom is to be paid, according to presidential representative Shamil Beno. LF

FORMER RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR STATE OF EMERGENCY IN CHECHNYA

State Duma deputy and former Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov told NTV on 26 March that a state of emergency should be imposed on Chechnya and the neighboring North Caucasus republics, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that unless this is done it will prove impossible to bring the "antiterrorist" operation in Chechnya to a successful conclusion. Kulikov said a draft law on the state of emergency will be considered at a plenary session of the Duma on 4 April, and that he is certain it will pass. LF

NEW CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST RADUEV

The office of the Russian prosecutor-general has brought additional charges against maverick Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, whom Russian forces apprehended one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 March 2000). Raduev has been charged with the mass hostage-taking in Kizlyar in December 1996; two railway station bombings in the North Caucasus in 1997; and 10 further counts of terrorism, hostage-taking, kidnapping, premeditated murder, and other crimes. Also accused are Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, a close associate of Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, and Aslanbek Alkhazurov, who like Raduev are currently being held at Moscow's Lefortovo prison. LF




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN DENIES HE IS IN LINE TO BECOME PREMIER

Nationalist "Right and Accord" parliament faction leader Artashes Geghamian told journalists in Yerevan on 22 March that rumors that he will become Armenia's next premier are "exaggerated at the present time," Noyan Tapan reported the following day. Last summer, Geghamian was reported to have held talks with Stepan Demirchian, chairman of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), the junior partner in the Miasnutiun parliament majority bloc, on creating a new parliamentary alignment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000, No. 34, 24 August 2000 and No. 41, 20 October 2000). Geghamian also told journalists he believes the parliamentary majority should relinquish its right to form the government in order to open the way for a new government based on the principle of "national solidarity." LF

AZERBAIJAN ANNOUNCES NEXT STAGE OF PRIVATIZATION

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has given the go-ahead for the privatization of over 100 state-owned enterprises in the chemical, machine-building, and fuel and energy sectors, Turan reported on 23 March. He ordered the government to rule on what approach is to be adopted in privatizing fuel and energy sector enterprises; some of the remainder will be privatized though open auctions, whereas in the case of others 15 percent of the shares will be offered in closed subscription to staff of the enterprises concerned, according to Interfax. LF

GEORGIA RENEWS CLAIM TO RUSSIAN MILITARY ASSETS

Georgia has no intention of abandoning its claim to a share of former Soviet assets, including part of the Black Sea Fleet, according to Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, as quoted by Caucasus Press on 26 March. Georgia first advanced those claims during the early 1990s. Also on 26 March, Menagharishvili announced in Tbilisi that Georgia has completed the first draft of a proposed new framework treaty with Russia that will be presented to Moscow in late April. That accord is intended to replace the one signed in 1994 but never ratified by the parliament of either country. LF

GEORGIA EXPRESSES APPROVAL FOR NATO BASE IN AZERBAIJAN

Foreign Minister Menagharishvili also told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 March that Azerbaijan, like any other country, has the sovereign right to decide whether or not to host military contingents or to deploy arms belonging to another country, ITAR-TASS reported. Menagharishvili was referring to statements by his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Quliev and by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev that Azerbaijan should host a NATO base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001). LF

FIRST OIL PUMPED INTO KAZAKHSTAN'S CASPIAN PIPELINE

In the presence of Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, on 26 March the first oil was pumped into the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's export pipeline at Atyrau, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. The process of filling the 1,580 kilometer pipeline is expected to last 100 days, and the first tanker will leave Novorossiisk in June. Initially the pipeline will transport 10,000 tons of crude per day. The largest (24 percent) single stake in the CPC belongs to the Russian government; Kazakhstan owns 19 percent; and Western, Kazakh and Russian companies own the remainder. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REFUSES TO EXTRADITE CONVICTED 'SEPARATISTS' TO RUSSIA

Kazakhstan's Prosecutor-General's Office has again rejected a request from its Russian counterpart that eight Russian citizens sentenced last year on charges of planning to overthrow the authorities in East Kazakhstan Oblast be allowed to serve their sentences in Russian prisons, "Segodnya" reported on 22 March, quoting Interfax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2000). Three other Russian citizens who received suspended sentences in the same case have already left Kazakhstan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN MULLS ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

Justice Minister Igor Rogov told a conference on "Conceptual Problems of Legal Development" in Almaty on 26 March that Kazakhstan may eventually abolish capital punishment, but doing so will be a gradual and lengthy process, Interfax reported. Kazakh law does not at present make provision for life imprisonment, but will be amended by 2003 to do so, Rogov said. He added that two special prisons are now under construction to house persons sentenced to life imprisonment. LF

LAWYER APPEALS ON BEHALF OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST

Lyubov Ivanova, who represents imprisoned Kyrgyz opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov, on 26 March filed an appeal with Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court calling for Kulov's acquittal and release, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 9 March, the Kyrgyz Military Court board upheld the 22 January verdict of the Bishkek Military Court sentencing Kulov to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister in 1998-1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 12 March 2001). LF

MORE PROTESTS IN KYRGYZSTAN AGAINST SENTENCE ON ISLAMISTS

Some 80 supporters of the unregistered Hizb ut-Tahrir party, including some citizens of Uzbekistan, staged a further picket on 24 March outside the local police department in the town of Kara-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2001). The picketers were protesting the detention on 18 March of 13 Hizb ut-Tahrir activists, seven of whom have been charged with inciting inter-religious hatred. LF

MARKET TRADERS STAGE STRIKE IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL

Some 400 traders in the Osh bazaar, Bishkek's largest market, launched a strike on 25 March to protest the city administration's decision to ban street trading as of 1 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

ASSASSINATION BID TRIAL OPENS IN TAJIKISTAN

The trial began in Dushanbe on 26 March at Tajikistan's Supreme Court of two men charged with attempting to kill Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev in February 2000, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Ubaidulloev escaped uninjured when a car bomb explosion killed his driver and Deputy Security Minister Shamsullo Djobirov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2000). LF

IMPRISONED TURKMEN BAPTIST'S FAMILY PRESSURED

The wife and children of imprisoned Baptist Shageldy Atakov have been ordered by the local mullah and district officials in their home town close to the Turkmen-Iranian border to convert from Christianity to Islam, Keston News Service reported on 26 March. Atakov's wife Artygyul was also warned that her home will be confiscated if it continues to be used as a meeting place for Christians. On 27 March, Keston News Service reported that Atakov has been transferred from the Seydy prison camp in northeastern Turkmenistan to a closed prison in the town of Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk) on the Caspian coast. LF




MINSK FREEDOM DAY OBSERVERS ON TRIAL...

Minsk's Central District Court on 26 March sentenced Dzmitry Chabatarenka to 10 days in jail for violating public order during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 26 March 2001). Lyudmila Hraznova, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, was fined 20 minimum wages (some $90) for the same offense. The court will try nine other people who were detained during the rally -- including opposition leader Vintsuk Vyachorka and human rights activist Ales Byalatski -- in the coming days. "All trials that take place today are political. In my opinion, this is understood by both judges and policemen who draw reports oriented toward appropriate articles [of the Code of Administrative Offences]... When the head of the Lukashenka administration or the interior minister supervises the dispersal of a demonstration, it is obvious that trials [of detained demonstrators] are political," Vyachorka told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM

...WHILE TELEVISION PORTRAYS OPPOSITION AS WARMONGERS

Meanwhile, Belarusian Television said the same day that the Freedom Day rally in Minsk was staged by opposition leaders only to vent to their "malice and hatred of Russia." The station reported that the rally culminated in the burning of a Russian flag, adding that this act will not prevent the "cynical" Belarusian opposition from "looking for money in hateful Moscow" for this year's presidential election campaign in Belarus. "With similar cynicism these activists are now seeking to draw Belarus into some bloody turmoil. The national-radicals are not happy with the president's policy, when none of the Belarusian boys are shedding blood in hot spots. And now imagine how many Belarusian boys will die to satisfy political ambitions of the extremists if they come to power," the Panarama newscast said in its idiosyncratic style. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TIES TALKS TO KUCHMA'S RESIGNATION...

The Forum of National Salvation (FNP) on 26 March appealed to all democratic parties and organizations in Ukraine to form a single coordination center of the opposition on the principles of equal representation, Interfax reported. The FNP said it sees "roundtable talks" with the authorities as a way out of the current conflict. However, the FNP makes the beginning of such talks dependent on several conditions. According to the FNP, the authorities must recognize the forum as an opposition force and the main negotiation partner. Second, the talks should focus on reforming the power system in Ukraine, including President Leonid Kuchma's resignation and early presidential elections. Third, the FNP demands regular and live relays of the talks on state-controlled radio and television. JM

...WHILE KUCHMA SAYS TALKS ARE ALREADY UNDER WAY

President Kuchma said the same day that a dialogue to seek stability and social accord in Ukraine is already under way. Kuchma added that he is ready to talk "to those who are listening and hearing, who are seeking a constructive solution to the problem instead of raising absurd ultimatums behind which there is only a void," Interfax reported. According to Kuchma, it is difficult to consolidate the entire society "when people hardly known to anybody aspire to the role of [being] nationwide leaders not through democratic procedures, but after making several hysterical speeches on a street or a square." First Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk said talks between the opposition and the authorities will prove fruitless if the opposition continues to insist on Kuchma's ouster. JM

UKRAINIAN POLITICIANS DIFFER IN ASSESSMENT OF INTERIOR MINISTER'S OUSTER

Volodymyr Filenko, an FNP leader, said on 26 March that the sacking of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko by Kuchma "does not change the situation fundamentally," Interfax reported. Filenko said new Interior Minister Yuriy Smirnov will not change the Interior Ministry's "logic of behavior" because he is as "soiled" as his predecessor. Meanwhile, lawmaker Roman Zvarych (Rukh-Udovenko) said Kravchenko's dismissal will enable the government to partly resolve the political crisis and to diminish social tension in Ukraine. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz noted that Kravchenko's dismissal confirms the truth of the allegations that state officials had a role in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Party leader said Kravchenko was fired because investigators handled the Gongadze case unprofessionally and stalled the investigation. JM

RUSSIAN BAN TO HURT ESTONIAN FISHERMEN

The decision by Russia to forbid the import of meat, milk, fish and fish products, and livestock from Europe beginning 26 March in order to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease will create greater problems for Estonian fishermen than for the country's farmers, ETA reported. While 45 percent of Estonian agricultural exports went to Russia in 1998, that number was reduced last year to only 5 percent. However, about one-third of fish exports still go to Russia and it is not clear if efforts to find other purchasers will be successful. The ban, which will last for at least three weeks, will force the Viru Kalatoostus fishery, nearly half of whose turnover goes to Russia, to temporarily close some departments and lay off 250 people. SG

NEW RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO LATVIA MEETS FOREIGN MINISTER

Igor Studennikov told Indulis Berzins in Riga on 26 March that more active mutual political dialogue as well as greater commercial and cultural relations are needed to boost the development of Latvian-Russian bilateral relations, LETA reported. The two also discussed the upcoming meeting this week in Moscow of the co-chairmen of the intergovernmental commission, Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Aleksandr Blokhin. The officials also mulled over options for consultations between experts of the Russian and Latvian foreign ministries. Berzins described in greater detail how Latvia's laws on the naturalization of noncitizens comply with international standards. He also provided details of his travels during Latvia's current presidency of the Council of Europe. SG

LITHUANIA ASKS BRITAIN TO EXTRADITE ALLEGED WAR CRIMINAL

The Justice Ministry on 26 March sent a request to Great Britain asking for the extradition of genocide suspect Antanas Gecevicius (Gecas), who is living near the Scottish city of Edinburgh, BNS reported. The Justice Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office gave assurances in the request that Gecas would not be tried for other crimes without Britain's consent, and would not be handed over to a third country. The 85-year-old Gecas is accused of participating in the genocide of Jews and other nationalities in Lithuania and Belarus during World War II when he commanded a squad in the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion loyal to the Nazis. Soviet Lithuanian authorities had begun a case against Gecas in 1987, but dropped it due to lack of evidence in 1992. The case was resumed in 2000 when new evidence surfaced. SG

POLAND READY TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO KOSOVA

President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 26 March said Poland is prepared to send more troops to Kosova if developments in Macedonia make such a move necessary, PAP reported. "The international community cannot observe quite idly what is going on there, because a new conflict, this time an Albanian-Macedonian one, may be the beginning of turmoil in the entire region," Kwasniewski said. He did not specify how many soldiers Warsaw can dispatch, noting only that their number will depend on "our personnel and financial capabilities." Poland currently has more than 500 soldiers in the NATO-led peacekeeping force and 90 police officers in Kosova. JM

CZECH NUCLEAR PLANT ON, OFF-LINE AGAIN

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was reconnected on 25 March to the national power grid after a three-day shutdown, which resulted from an oil leak in a pipeline for the main turbine generator, dpa and AP reported. A spokesman for the CEZ utility company that owns the plant said Temelin's turbine will again be shut down on 26 March to evaluate tests made with the reactor running at 40 percent capacity and to "fine-tune some details." The spokesman said the outage could last "from several hours to a couple of days," and is part of the scheduled testing process. MS

CZECH COURT FINES 'MEIN KAMPF' SELLER

A Prague court on 27 March fined Vit Varak 10,000 crowns ($263) for selling copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" over the Internet. Varak was found guilty of supporting and disseminating the propaganda of a movement aimed at suppressing citizen's freedoms and rights. If Varak does not pay the fine, he will be jailed for one year. Varak pleaded not guilty, claiming he was only motivated by profit. MS

SINGAPOREAN PREMIER IN PRAGUE

Visiting Singaporean Premier Goh Chok Tong on 26 March said the Czech Republic, as a future EU member, is a country with which Singapore is highly interested in developing ties, CTK reported. He also commented that the Czech Republic meets "all preconditions" to overtake Singapore's own economic development. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said Singapore is a "gateway to Southeast Asia" for his country, and that Singaporean investors could benefit from the many advantages offered by Prague to foreign investment. Goh also met with Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik and with Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus. Goh is scheduled to meet on 27 March with President Vaclav Havel and Senate Chairman Petr Pithart. MS

PRAGUE, PYONGYANG TO IMPROVE RELATIONS

North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Hu Son, heading the highest-level delegation in Prague since the late 1980s, on 26 March met with Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his deputy, Hynek Kmonicek, CTK reported. The sides agreed that the restricted economic and political contacts between them must be improved and agreed to have experts work on agreements for the protection of investments and the prevention of double taxation. The Korean delegation expressed an interest in having Czech companies participate in the reconstruction of railways and the power industry in North Korea. Kmonicek, who described the talks as "pragmatic," said he raised with the guest the issue of "the threat posed by North Korean missiles." During a visit to South Korea earlier this month, Zeman said Prague disagreed with international economic embargoes, including the embargo against North Korea. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT PROMULGATES AMENDMENT TO ELECTORAL LAW...

President Rudolf Schuster signed into law on 26 March an amendment recently passed by the parliament that curbs the amount of money parties can spend on election campaigns, AP reported. The amendment sets a limit of 12 million crowns ($255,000) for such expenses and stiffens fines for parties that spend more than allowed, fail to fill expense reports on time, or file incomplete or inaccurate reports. MS

...AND STRESSES CONSENSUS ON NATO MEMBERSHIP

During a visit to the U.S. Steel mill in Kosice on 26 March, Schuster said that, with the exception of the Slovak National Party (SNS), no Slovak parliamentary formation challenges the country's foreign policy priorities, which are NATO and EU membership. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2002 -- which will take place at the same time as a NATO summit in Prague that could decide on the organization's enlargement -- should negatively influence Slovakia's admission to NATO, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALIST ORGANIZATION TO BE BUDGET FINANCED

Culture Minister Milan Knazko and Jozef Markus, leader of the Matica Slovenska, a nationalist organization that claims to be "cultural," on 26 March reached an agreement over the financing of the organization from the state budget, CTK reported. Matica Slovenska complained that the ministry failed to make available to it 19 million crowns set aside for this purpose in the budget provisions. The ministry said the organization's budget is "too vague" and it is not clear how it intends to spend the money. Under the agreement, Matica will promptly receive 13 million crowns for cultural projects. The remaining 6 million are to be handed over when the organization clarifies its expenditure program by 30 April. Last week, at a Matica gathering in Surany, west Slovakia, harsh anti-Hungarian statements were again made, and Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said he is considering whether to open an official investigation. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS WANT MINISTER DISMISSED

Deputies from the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the SNS on 26 March moved a motion calling on the government to dismiss Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, of the Slovak Hungarian Coalition (SMK). The motion is to be debated on 29 March. They protest against Csaky's participation, along SMK leader Bela Bugar and Christian Democratic Party deputy Frantisek Miklosko, in a ceremony in Budapest honoring late Count Janos Esterhazy. Esterhazy was the only member of Slovakia's wartime parliament to have voted against sending Slovakia's Jews to the death camps. The anti-Hungarian SNS has embraced the controversial argument of Slovak historian Ivan Kamenec, who claims Esterhazy deserves no honoring because in all other instances he supported bills against Jews. Count Esterhazy died in prison in 1947, after being convicted by a Czechoslovak court on charges of treason. MS

SLOVAKIA, EU SIGN AGREEMENT ON SAPARD FINANCING PROGRAM

EU Commissioner for Agriculture Franz Fischer, on 26 March signed in Brussels alongside Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik and Agriculture Minister Pavol Konkos the Sapard agreement for EU financing of agriculture and countryside development. To become eligible for the agreement, under which the EU finances 75 percent of development programs, Slovakia must establish a Slovak Sapard Agency. This agency will manage the EU-provided funds after the union has reviewed and approved its structure. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS AGREE TO CONVENE NATIONAL CONVENTION

Parliamentary members of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), including group leader Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi, on 26 March agreed to convene a national convention of the party before the end of April. FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan had earlier prevented a vote on such a proposal, as the party convention is the only forum that can remove Torgyan from his position. Zsolt Lanyi, leader of the "reform group" within the FKGP, noted that reformers took "all the risks" by being the first to call for a party convention, and added that now the party is behind them. In other news, Andras Vonza, Hungary's new agriculture minister, was sworn in on 26 March in parliament. Vonza is replacing Torgyan, who resigned in February. MSZ

SAAB SUBMITS OFFER FOR FIGHTER JETS TO HUNGARY

Saab and British Aerospace, in conjunction with the Swedish government, on 26 March offered to lease 24 Gripen fighter jets to the Hungarian armed forces free of charge for at least 10 years. Hungary would only have to pay for the on-board weaponry, the retraining of pilots, and the conversion of the jets to make them NATO-compatible. The U.S. has already offered to lend 24 F-16 fighters to Hungary, but those aircraft are 20 years old, whereas the Gripen fighters are only three to four years old. The U.S. offer would also be costlier than the Swedish one, the daily "Vilaggazdasag" reports. A Hungarian delegation will soon visit both the U.S. and Sweden, before the cabinet makes its decision on the two offers. MSZ

HUNGARIAN POLICE SEARCH FOR AUTHORS OF ANTI-SLOVAK GRAFFITI

Police in the Hungarian town of Bekescsaba are searching for the persons responsible for spraying anti-Slovak graffiti on the walls of the Slovak Culture House and a Slovak school on 24 March. The graffiti read, among other things, "Fascist Slovaks" and "Hang Slovak Nazis." The leader of the Slovak minority self-government in Hungary, Jan Fuzik, said the action was a response to recent outbreaks of anti-Hungarian graffiti in Slovakia. Bekescsaba Mayor Janos Pap said the incident has not harmed good relations in the town, adding that the offenders were "probably sick in the head, rather than politically motivated." In related news, a sign denoting the local office of the SMK in Senec, Slovakia, on 26 March was painted with anti-Hungarian graffiti, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




POWELL: MACEDONIAN BATTLE FAR FROM OVER

Appearing at a press conference with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 26 March that Macedonian forces "have launched an attack and it seems they have had some success getting part way up that hill" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001) He added, however: "I don't think the battle is anywhere near over or that the crisis is yet resolved." Powell stressed that "we made the point to [Macedonian leaders in telephone conversations] that we hoped they would use proportionate military strength in order not to create an even more difficult problem...and encouraged them within this coalition government and through constitutional means to address some of the grievances that exist among the Albanian population." Vedrine said that the French position is identical, Reuters reported. PM

MACEDONIA LAUNCHING 'PROPAGANDA OFFENSIVE?'

The "Frankfurter Rundschau" wrote from Tetovo on 27 March that "assurances from the Macedonian government that its army has retaken several Albanian villages around Tetovo are at best exaggerated." One fighter of the National Liberation Army (UCK) told reporters: "We'll still be here 10 years from now!" The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Skopje that the demands by the 23 percent ethnic Albanian minority for full equality have now become more pressing than ever. The threat of a civil war not only in western Macedonia but elsewhere -- including Skopje -- remains very real. The UCK could seek to open a new front -- apart from those in Tanusevci and Tetovo -- or launch a terrorist bombing campaign. The daily concludes that a political dialogue is now the only alternative to violence. It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to continue to refuse talks before it has won a military victory, and will refuse to speak to the UCK under any circumstances. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT ON TRIUMPHAL NOTE

President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 26 March that he wants to launch a political dialogue not only with the Albanians but with other minorities. He stressed that a main point he will raise with Albanian leaders is the need to improve the social position of women in ethnic Albanian society, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" wrote that Trajkovski has become the most important politician in the government. Several times in recent weeks, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski made remarks that could be taken as anti-Albanian. He also sharply criticized Macedonia's two most important allies, the U.S. and Germany. PM

EU, NATO TAKE MESSAGE TO MACEDONIA

EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson met with top government and opposition leaders from both main ethnic groups in Skopje on 26 March. Solana said: "I would like to underline today the fact that the secretary general of NATO and the representatives of the European Union are here together. These are two organizations that your country wants to belong to," RFE/RL reported. Robertson added: "I would like to be blunt and say that I believe that there are two options for the people of this country. It is a united Macedonia or another Balkan bloodbath." He stressed that "the government of this country has acted with commendable restraint but also with determined firmness. They have said that they will continue with that policy that has been so successful up until now." Elsewhere, German General Klaus Reinhardt, who heads NATO's Central Command (Europe), told the daily "Bild" that "the Macedonian government must not simply direct its weapons at people. It has to hold negotiations to engage with the rebels." PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT TO MACEDONIA

President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 26 March that he will go to Macedonia on 2 April on a "goodwill mission," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). He told visiting Albanian President Rexhep Meidani that he will not engage in "classical mediation" but simply try to help break the ice between the two sides. Meidani replied that he supports Mesic's efforts. On 22 March, former Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told "Vjesnik" that he agrees that Mesic enjoys a good reputation in Macedonia but warned that his efforts should not be seen as "granting legitimacy" to the UCK (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 March 2001). PM

KOSOVA UN POLICE ARREST 17 ALBANIANS FROM MACEDONIA

A UN police spokesman said in Prishtina on 27 March that police have arrested 17 ethnic Albanians from Macedonia for illegal possession of arms and ammunition. Some 16 of the men were arrested in Zapluzje near the border opposite Tetovo. The remaining man was arrested in nearby Prizren, Reuters reported. Refugees entering Kosova from Macedonia told the news agency that KFOR troops checked them very carefully. PM

SERBIAN POLICE ARREST SEVEN MILOSEVIC CRONIES

Police arrested seven prominent members of the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic on 26 March for fraud or abuse of office, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DEL PONTE CONTRADICTS YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT

Following remarks by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica that the arrest and extradition of a war crimes suspect to The Hague was "an exception," the tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in Banja Luka on 26 March that "it is not an exception. It is the first step. It was a beginning." She added that she had discussed the move with Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac during his recent visit to The Hague, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT LAUNCHES ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Speaking in Niksic on 26 March, Milo Djukanovic said that independence is a necessary precondition for completing the reforms that his government has begun, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He argued that his government had been an ally of the Serbian opposition during the Milosevic years, but that now some of those same people have joined with individuals from the old regime against the Montenegrin authorities. The opening rally of the campaign for the 22 April parliamentary elections was attended by "several tens of thousands of people," Beta news agency reported. PM

CROATIA TO AX THE DRAFT?

Defense Minister Jozo Rados has prepared a draft law abolishing conscription and establishing a professional army, "Jutarnji list" reported on 27 March. He said that he has the support of Prime Minister Ivica Racan. Mesic has also called for abolishing the draft. In Serbia, there is strong popular pressure for at least reducing the length of military service. The authorities in Belgrade have promised to cut the length of service as part of an overall military reform, but do not appear to be as confident of quick action as is Rados. PM

ROMANIAN CLERGYMAN CONFESSES TO HAVING BEEN INFORMER

In an open letter published in the daily "Evenimentul zilei," Romanian Orthodox priest Eugen Jurca confessed that he acted as an informer for the communist secret police, AP reported. Jurca, a theology professor at the Orthodox Faculty in Timisoara, said he signed the pledge to become an informer out of "fear, cowardliness, ignorance, and despair." He wrote that "national reconciliation is not possible without exorcising the moral ambiguity in which we have been vegetating." The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives is currently examining the files of leaders and prominent officials of the state-approved religious denominations during the Ceausescu regime. MS

ROMANIAN PYRAMID SCHEME MASTERMIND SENTENCED

Ioan Stoica, who between 1992 and 1994 headed the Caritas pyramid scheme, was sentenced on 26 March to 22 months in prison and ordered to pay damages to 256,000 plaintiffs. As Stoica has already served an earlier sentence for the same offense, he must serve only 15 days and it is unclear whether he will be able to pay any damages, since his bank accounts and assets were frozen long ago, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.. MS

OUTGOING MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONTEMPLATES COMEBACK

President Petru Lucinschi said he is not ruling out the possibility of returning to political life at a later date, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. "I am a supporter of centrist ideas, and if the centrist forces unite following their defeat in the last elections, I could support such a serious organization," Lucinschi said. For the immediate future, his intention is to "have some rest, and stay with my family and my grandchildren, to whom I shall be able to devote more time now," Lucinschi said. Eventually, he added, he may set up a foundation focusing on "strategic programs for Moldova's development." MS

BULGARIA, FINLAND URGE MACEDONIA TO SILENCE HEAVY GUNS

Visiting Finnish Premier Paavo Lipponen and his Bulgarian counterpart Ivan Kostov on 26 March urged the Macedonian government to stop using heavy guns against the Albanian rebels and seek a political solution with the participation of the country's ethnic Albanian parties, AP reported. Lipponen said the Macedonian government's use of force is "legitimate," but added that "this should be proportionate to the threat." The Finnish premier said he does not believe in a "military solution" and added that "it is absolutely essential to protect the multiethnic character of Macedonian society." Kostov said the main risk Macedonia faces now is the possible collapse of the governing coalition, of which one ethnic Albanian party is a member. The Macedonian government, Kostov commented, must focus on the political, rather than the military, aspect of the conflict to prevent Macedonian society from splitting along ethnic lines. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY NOMINATES MAIN PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 25 March nominated 24 of its members for the top spots on the Pro Bulgaria leftist coalition lists that will run in the June parliamentary elections. The list has 50 candidates. Coalition partners have seven candidates placed on the list in positions that are considered safe seats, and 14 on the remaining places, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported, citing the daily "Trud." MS

BULGARIAN DISSENTERS LEAVE RULING PARTY

The Conservative Environmental Party led by Hristo Boserov formally left the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 25 March, "Monitor" reported, citing the daily "Trud." Hristo Boserov, a former senior SDS member, was recently expelled and formed a new party. The new formation's leadership accused the SDS of having turned into a "group of personal interests, kin-assignments, and [illicit] privatization deals." The party said it wants former King Simeon II to enter politics and run in the forthcoming elections. Meanwhile, a poll published by the daily "24 Chasa" showed that Simeon's popularity has risen to equal that of President Petar Stoyanov. Both enjoy a 59 percent backing. According to the poll, a party headed by the former monarch would garner 18 percent in the elections, more than the BSP (14 percent) and only three percentage points less than the SDS (21 percent). MS

IMF APPROVES BULGARIAN TRANCHE

The IMF on 26 March approved the disbursement of a $66 million tranche of the three-year $864 million loan agreed on with Bulgaria in September 1998, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The fund said the disbursement was due to the country's "prudent economic policy." Thus far, Bulgaria has drawn $664 million from the loan approved in 1998. IMF Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer praised Bulgaria's ability to control inflation in the midst of robust economic growth. Fischer noted, however, that the privatization pace and the restructuring of the country's energy sector are lagging behind. MS




There is no End Note today.





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