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Newsline - March 29, 2001




MORE DETAILS ON GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE...

In addition to three new ministerial appointments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001), President Vladimir Putin on 28 March also named Deputy Finance Minister Lyubov Kudelkina as deputy defense minister, the first woman in such a high Russian defense post. In addition, Putin appointed a new head of the federal tax police, Mikhail Fradkov. Fradkov was deputy secretary at the security council, Aleksandr Moskovskii was appointed deputy defense minister in charge of armaments and procurement. Several senior military commanders were also shifted. PG/JAC

...POLITICIANS, MARKETS TAKE CHANGES IN STRIDE...

Putin stressed that the 28 March dismissals of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo did not reflect any loss of confidence in their abilities. Rushailo was named to replace Sergeev's successor Sergei Ivanov as Security Council secretary, while Sergeev was named a presidential advisor. Moreover, Putin made it clear that he had consulted Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov about the changes, Interfax reported. Russian political figures from virtually all groups welcomed Putin's moves, seeing them as likely to give a new impulse to change and putting civilians clearly in charge of the most importance force ministries, Russian and Western agencies reported on 28 March. Meanwhile, Russian agencies noted the same day that the Russian equities markets had reacted calmly to the news as well. PG

...BUT ARE MORE CHANGES AHEAD?

President Putin on 28 March was quoted by a Kremlin spokeswoman as saying that there are more changes ahead that will "attract the attention of society," Reuters reported. But ITAR-TASS the same day quoted "a high-ranking Kremlin official" as saying that there will not be any more "super-serious changes" in the government anytime soon. PG

MOSCOW, WASHINGTON AGREE TO MOVE BEYOND SPY SCANDAL

In a telephone conversation on 27 March, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov agreed to move beyond the spy scandal that has chilled relations between the two capitals, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 28 March, however, Ivanov expressed "regret" that the U.S. used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution that would have sent UN observers to Palestinian areas, Interfax reported. but he said that Moscow will continue to consult closely with Washington about the Middle East. PG

RUSSIA FACING ONE MILLION AIDS DEATHS BY 2010

Vadim Pokrovskii, the head of the Federal Center on the Prevention and Struggle with AIDS, said that the center's projections show that the number of AIDS deaths in Russia will reach one million by 2010, Interfax reported. Pokrovskii added that the true number of HIV-infected persons in Russia is some 650,000, more than six times the official number. He noted that the largest number of HIV infections are in the Moscow region, the city of Moscow, Irkutsk, and St. Petersburg, but he pointed out that there are now HIV cases registered in 86 of the country's 89 regions. PG

'FEDERATION' ORGANIZES, OUTLINES PLANS

Articles in "Segodnya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March said that the pro-Kremlin "Federation" group in the upper chamber of parliament has created two commissions -- for judicial and military reform -- and plans to set up an experts council to help draft legislation and advise the members of the Federation Council. But members of "Federation" said that their organization may soon embrace virtually all the members of the Council and consequently it may be dissolved when the body consists entirely of "new senators" rather than of the heads of regions and republics. PG

$250 BILLION TAKEN OUT OF RUSSIA IS NOW IN FOREIGN BANKS

Aleksandr Babichev, the deputy chief of the interagency anti-money-laundering center, said in an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 28 March that some $250 billion taken out of Russia is now sitting in foreign banks and helping the economies of other countries. He noted that this figure is five times the annual state budget of Russia. He said his center has already been able to return $300 million of illegally exported cash. PG

TAX RECEIPTS UP 70 PERCENT YEAR ON YEAR

Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Motorin said on 28 March that Russian income tax collections in January-February 2001 were 70 percent higher than during the same period a year earlier, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, in an interview published in "Argumenty i fakty" on 28 March, Taxation Minister Gennadii Bukaev said that his institution has set up a special system to check on those with high incomes or large amounts of property to ensure that they pay their taxes. PG

MOSCOW CITY TENSE...

A shooting near the Russian parliament, a car bomb explosion, the seizure of explosive devices in the suburbs, and reports, later proved to be false, about bombs planted elsewhere kept the Russian capital on edge on 28 March, Russian agencies reported. For his part, Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that Moscow remains a prime target for terrorists and as a result the city must remain at a high state of alert, Interfax-Moscow reported. Meanwhile, federal Interior Ministry officials said that they have averted 100 terrorist actions across the country since 19 March, Interfax reported. PG

...AND SEEN LOSING ITS SPECIAL STATUS

An article in "Vremya Novostei" on 28 March suggested that the city of Moscow is losing many of its traditional special privileges and arrangements because of the falling out between Mayor Luzhkov and the Kremlin. The paper noted that the city is being forced to give up some of its special legal arrangements and to be harmonized just like any other urban area in the country. But on the same day, Interfax-Moscow reported that deputies in the city Duma have acquired legal immunity, something they did not have in the past. Moreover, the city Duma passed legislation allowing private citizens to set up public order protection groups, the news agency said. PG

POSSIBLY INFECTED MEAT SEIZED IN BRYANSK

"Tribuna" reported on 28 March that meat imported from France has turned up in Bryansk. The paper said that authorities have seized the meat, are testing it for animal disease infections, and are trying to find out how the meat arrived there given Moscow's ban on importing meat from European Union countries. PG

NEW JAPANESE INVENTION MAY COST RUSSIA EXPORT REVENUES

"Izvestiya" reported on 28 March that an invention by Japan's Honda corporation that allows it to make catalytic converters without the use of expensive metals may send prices for palladium and platinum plummeting and cost Russia significant export revenues. Over the last several years, demand for these rare metals has skyrocketed as have prices for them, and Russia as a major supplier has been the major beneficiary. But now that may be about to change, the paper suggested. PG

GOVERNMENT ANGERED BY PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY'S COMMENT

Aleksei Volin, the deputy head of the government's apparatus, told Interfax on 27 March that suggestions by Presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko about Russia's supposed "chaotic economy" were his "personal point of view since they do not relate to his area of competence." Volin added that Poltavchenko cited a variety of outdated thinkers in support of his views, including Karl Marx, and commented that economic science "has made at a minimum several steps forward from the times of Karl Marx." PG

REGIONAL LEADERS GENERALLY POSITIVE ON PUTIN

According to Interfax on 27 March, most heads of Russia's regions and republics now have a positive view of the actions of President Putin. The service cited positive comments by Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Lipetsk Governor Oleg Korolev, and Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, but it also noted that Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev is "more reserved in his assessments" of Putin. PG

RUSSIAN TACTICS SAID FAILING IN CHECHNYA

Writing in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," no. 10, MIkhail Khodarenok argued that federal forces are failing to defeat pro-independence Chechens. He noted that the federal troops have killed many Chechens and occupied a great deal of land, but that Russian forces lack the doctrine or the flexibility to counter the rebels. He said that coordination among the various units is bad and that approval requirements often mean individual officers must lie and cannot respond in a timely fashion. As a result, he said, "not a single strategic goal has been achieved in Chechnya." Because monthly losses there now exceed those suffered in Afghanistan and because Russian troops are "morally exhausted and physically incapacitated," Moscow will have to change how it conducts operations there or face the prospect that it "will have nothing to show" for its efforts in the end. PG

TATAR NATIONALIST GROUP OPPOSES SENDING TATAR POLICE TO CHECHNYA

The Tatar Public Center opposes sending members of the republic's police force to serve in Chechnya, "Segodnya" reported on 28 March. Meanwhile, in a discussion of draft evasion reported in "Vremya MN" on 27 March, Moscow military commissar Lieutenant General Mikhail Sorokin said that he cannot say how many of those drafted in Moscow will serve in Chechnya. "I don't have such data," he said, noting that "none of the agencies provide us with [such] information." PG

TUBERCULOSIS REACHES EPIDEMIC PROPORTIONS IN OMSK

According to doctors in Omsk, the incidence of tuberculosis infections in that region now far exceeds epidemic notification levels, ITAR-TASS reported. They said that the rate is now 80 per 100,000 residents, 30 more than the level required to declare an epidemic. In the region's prisons, the doctors said, the rate is now 2,800 per 100,000, 50 times the rate of a decade ago. PG

KALININGRAD-PETERSBURG TRAINS TO BYPASS LATVIA

In response to Latvia's decision to require that Russian citizens obtain transit visas if they are passing through that Baltic republic, officials at the Kaliningrad railroad announced on 28 March that they will reroute trains between that Russian exclave and St. Petersburg to bypass Latvia, BNS reported. The trains will run via Lithuania and Belarus, and the length of the journey will increase three to four hours, the officials said. PG

BUNDESBANK OFFERS TO HELP RUSSIA SHIFT TO EURO

Representatives of Germany's Bundesbank reportedly are interested in helping the Russian Central Bank and the Sberbank to introduce the euro as a major currency in Russian dealings with the West, "Vremya MN" reported on 28 March. Meanwhile, Germany Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told visiting Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev that Germany wants to promote Russia's economic development and will annually invest up to 5 billion Deutsche marks ($2.5 billion) "if Russia forms a favorable investment climate." PG

KLEBANOV SEES RUSSIA BECOMING SECOND LARGEST ARMS DEALER

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 28 March that Russia may become the world's second largest arms seller within two to four years, ITAR-TASS reported. In other comments, he denied reports that Russian officials paid large bribes to senior Indian officials to secure New Delhi's agreement to purchase Russian arms, Interfax reported. He said that such allegations are being made by those who wanted these contracts for themselves. PG

RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS BUILDING SUPERCOMPUTER

Vladimir Fortov, the vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said on 28 March that Russian scientists have built a computer capable of 600 billion operations a second and expect to have one by mid-summer that will conduct one trillion operations per second, Interfax reported. PG

PATRIOTIC EDUCATION MAY BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

A survey of 1,276 young people and adults reported by "Vremya MN" on 27 March found that "the overwhelming majority of young Moscovites think that no state directives and measures will 'make' an ordinary, psychologically normal individual a patriot, an atheist or an internationalist." Instead, they suggested spending money on such a plan may have just the oppose effect. In support of that view, those in the survey pointed to the ways in which atheistic education in the USSR promoted interest in God and internationalist training contributed to interethnic hostility. PG

GROWTH IN NUMBER OF ORTHODOX BELIEVERS HAS STOPPED

After increasing during most of the 1990s, the percentage of Russians who say that they consider themselves to be Orthodox believers fell from 54 to 52 percent between 1999 and 2000, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii," no. 6, reported. PG

YOUNG PEOPLE COMMIT ONE CRIME IN TEN

Aleksandr Bigunov, the official in the Office of the Prosecutor General responsible for following youth crime, said on 27 March that during 2000, young people committed approximately 178,000 crimes, some 10 percent of the national total, Interfax reported. He said that young people are especially likely to be involved in prostitution and pornography. Among the causes for this increase in youth crime, Bigunov said, are increases in the number of unsupervised children and children deserted by their parents. Meanwhile, a United National Human Rights commission report issued a report on 28 March noting that sexual exploitation of children is widespread in Russia, AP reported. PG

RUSSIA SEEN NEEDING ONE MILLION IMMIGRANTS A YEAR

Zhanna Zyonchkovskaya, the head of the laboratory for the analysis and prediction of migration of the Institute of Economic Forecasting, said in an interview published in "Segodnya" on 28 March that Russia will need to attract more than a million immigrants a year in order to forestall economic decline. She said that ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics are neither numerous enough nor willing to return. In 1991, she said, there were 22.5 million Russians living in these states, of whom 3.5 million have now returned. But most of those still abroad live in Ukraine "and our investigations show that Russians will not come from there." She said that Kazakhstan is also unlikely to be a good source and suggested that Russia will likely have to look to China for such influxes of population. PG

PUTIN MARKS 225TH ANNIVERSARY OF BOLSHOI

President Putin on 28 March attended a gala evening performance of the Bolshoi ballet to mark that institution's 225th anniversary, Russian agencies reported. He said that the Bolshoi is "more than a theater; it is a symbol of Russia, its culture, and a mark of its high artistic taste." PG

VOA DENIED REBROADCASTING LICENSE ON TWO AFFILIATES

The Russian Media Ministry on 28 March rejected an application by the Voice of America for a license to rebroadcast on Russian stations in Volgograd and Ufa, Interfax reported. Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said that the United States should demonstrate reciprocity and allow Russian stations to rebroadcast in the U.S. if it hopes to have its government-owned station broadcast locally in Russia. PG

ONE-THIRD OF MUSCOVITES PREFER NTV

Asked by monitoring.ru which television channel they would turn to if they had free time, one-third of the Muscovites polled said that they would select NTV, Interfax reported on 28 March. Eighteen percent said they would watch ORT, 10 percent chose RTR, with the remaining networks garnering 4 percent or less. Ten percent said they would prefer to do something other than watch television during their free time. PG

BOOKSTORES CLOSING ACROSS RUSSIA

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March, ever more bookstores are closing across Russia because of an end to rent subsidies, declining demand, and higher taxes and other costs. In major cities, such closures are hardly noticeable yet, the paper said, but in smaller cities and towns, the closure of one bookstore may be a local tragedy. PG

ARMS MUSEUM WORKERS TRY TO SELL ARMS

The head of the exposition section of the Central Museum of the Armed Forces was caught, along with two accomplices, trying to sell swords from the museum's collections of nineteenth and twentieth century armaments, Interfax-Moscow reported on 28 March. PG




ARMENIAN ENERGY PRIVATIZATION RESULTS POSTPONED

The Armenian government commission to oversee the international tender for four electricity- distribution networks said on 28 March it will delay for three weeks announcing the outcome of that tender, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Energy Ministry spokeswoman Zhasmena Ghevondian explained that one of the three foreign firms involved, AES Silk Road, has requested more time to study the bid specifications (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001). The outcome of the tender will now be made public on 19 April. LF

ARMENIAN MILITARY COMMANDERS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF JAILED KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER

Several senior Armenian veterans of the Karabakh war, including popular General Arkadii Ter-Tadevosian, on 28 March appealed for the release of former Karabakh Defense Minister and army commander Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Babayan was sentenced last month to 14 years' imprisonment on charges of masterminding the March 2000 attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 27 February 2001). The signatories to the appeal argue that even if the charges against Babayan are true, he deserves clemency in the light of his past role in the military victory over Azerbaijan and the role he could still play in the event of renewed hostilities. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER LISTS PRIORITIES

Speaking in Baku on 28 March, Azerbaijan's National Security Minister Namik Abbasov listed four factors that, he said, should influence the work of the country's security bodies over the next decade, Turan reported. The first is the possibility that Azerbaijan will become the venue for a struggle for influence between various major powers. The second is the country's potential role as a transit country and center for investments, which requires efforts to prevent illegal migration, money-laundering and the use of Azerbaijani territory for the burial of nuclear waste. The third is the need for information security. And the fourth is globalization, which requires that the work of Azerbaijan's security services conforms to new international legislative norms and standards. LF

ARMENIA, GEORGIA SEEK TO STRENGTHEN BILATERAL, REGIONAL COOPERATION

On a one-day working visit to Yerevan on 28 March, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili met with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and President Robert Kocharian to discuss bilateral ties, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Menagharishvili told journalists after those talks that agreement was reached on coordinating the two countries' activities in international, and particularly European organizations. According to an Armenian Foreign Ministry press release, Oskanian and Menagharishvili acknowledge that the relationship between their two countries serves as a stabilizing factor in the South Caucasus, and that their views on what the basic tenets of the planned South Caucasus security pact should be are very similar. Markarian assured Menagharishvili that while Yerevan has no intention of encouraging the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia's southern Djavakheti region in its bid for greater autonomy, it is nonetheless concerned by adverse socio-economic conditions in the region and is prepared to help alleviate them. Menagharishvili expressed his appreciation of that offer. LF

GEORGIA DENIES IT PLANS TO HOST NATO BASES

Menagharishvili also told journalists in Yerevan on 28 March that media reports that Tbilisi plans to host a NATO military base are "groundless rumors," Russian agencies reported. He said the Georgian government is currently concerned with ensuring the closure of the Russian military bases in Georgia, and that "stationing any other military units in Georgia is out of the question." LF

EDITOR OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PAPER WARNED AGAINST 'UNLAWFUL' PROTEST ACTIONS

Melis Eshimkanov, who owns the embattled opposition newspaper "Asaba," was warned on 28 March by Bishkek City Prosecutor Tologon Albanov that he will be held responsible for any "unlawful" actions during the protest planned for 30 March against the authorities' systematic reprisals against his paper, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Also on 28 March, an official from the Prosecutor-General's office informed Eshimkanov that Turdakun Usubaliev, former first secretary of the Communist Party of Kirghizia and currently a parliament deputy, has filed a new libel suit against Eshimkanov and is demanding the confiscation of his property. LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIALS BELIEVE NEW ISLAMIST INCURSION IMMINENT

An unnamed Kyrgyz National Security Service official told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 28 March that his agency has information indicating that Djuma Namangani, a leading member of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has returned from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and that his fighters are currently congregating close to the Tajik-Kyrgyz border in preparation for a new incursion into Kyrgyzstan. Also on 28 March, the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry announced that it will stage military exercises in the south of the country during the first two weeks in April. LF

JAPAN ALLOCATES DROUGHT RELIEF FOR TAJIKISTAN

The Japanese government will give its Tajik counterpart $3 million to purchase food for citizens of Tajikistan hardest hit by last summer's severe drought, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT WANTS ECO TO FOCUS MORE ON ECONOMY

Meeting on 29 March in Dushanbe with Abdurahim Guvohi, the visiting secretary-general of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov expressed the hope that ECO will in future devote greater attention to promoting economic cooperation and ties between its members, especially in the sphere of banking and finance, instead of concentrating its attention on science, education and culture as it has recently done, Asia Plus-Blitz reported quoting presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov. Rakhmonov and Guvohi agreed that resolving the Afghan conflict would facilitate such enhanced economic cooperation within ECO. LF

COMMUNIST PARTY OF TAJIKISTAN REPORTS INCREASE IN MEMBERSHIP

Some 1,200 people applied last year for membership of the Communist Party of Tajikistan (CPT), and a further 40 have done so over the past two months, CPT Central Committee secretary Tuygun Bagirov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 29 March. The CPT's total membership is estimated at 65,000. LF

UZBEKISTAN BANS MEAT IMPORTS FROM NEIGHBORS

A special government commission has banned the import of meat and dairy products from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in a bid to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease into Uzbekistan, Reuters reported on 28 March quoting an Uzbek Health Ministry official. Cases of the disease have been reported in all three countries, and some 90,000 cattle in border areas of Uzbekistan have been vaccinated against it. The last reported case of foot-and-mouth disease in Uzbekistan was in 1989, Interfax quoted Agriculture Ministry official Ruslan Ten as saying. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REPLACES DEFENSE MINISTER

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 28 March dismissed Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakou and replaced him with Lieutenant General Leanid Maltsau who held that post in 1995-96. Chumakou succeeded Maltsau after the latter had been fired "for appearing in public in a state of intoxication." Belarusian Television said Chumakou was discharged at his own request. Lukashenka explained Maltsau's appointment by the need to implement "a new stage of transformations" in the army. Former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski, who held that post from 1991-1994, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Chumakou was unpopular in the army and Lukashenka appointed Maltsau to curry favor with servicemen before this year's presidential elections. JM

EU CALLS ON LUKASHENKA TO REVOKE DECREE ON FOREIGN AID

The EU has called on President Lukashenka to withdraw his decree of 12 March introducing stiff controls on foreign gratuitous aid to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 March 2001), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 March. The EU notes that the decree seeks to impose "far-reaching restrictions" on foreign assistance to Belarus "in the field of democratization, human rights, and humanitarian aid." The EU warns that the decree may result in deepening Belarus's "self-imposed isolation." Meanwhile, Hans-Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, has notified all 55 member countries of the OSCE about possible negative consequences of the decree, saying it may impair the preparation of election monitors in Belarus by the OSCE. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS WANT TYMOSHENKO BACK IN JAIL...

The Prosecutor-General's Office has appealed against the ruling of a Kyiv district court releasing former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001), Interfax reported on 28 March. Tymoshenko is now recovering in a Kyiv clinic after spending six weeks in solitary confinement. Petro Yakobchuk, spokesman for Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, told Reuters that she is suffering from a stomach ulcer. JM

...WHILE DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS TYMOSHENKO'S RELEASE WILL REDUCE TENSION

First Deputy Premier Yuriy Yekhanurov commented on 28 March that the release of Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail will reduce political tension in the country. According to Yekhanurov, some political forces in Ukraine took advantage of Tymoshenko's imprisonment. The same day, First Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk told the German ambassador to Kyiv that the political situation in Ukraine has begun to normalize following "four months of a political scandal." Medvedchuk assured the ambassador that the parliamentary pro-government majority "exists and is working vigorously." JM

POLL INDICATES MAJORITY OF ESTONIANS OPPOSE JOINING EU

The daily "Postimees" on 28 March published the results of a poll conducted by the opinion research company EMOR in March which indicates growing opposition to European Union membership, ETA reported. Compared to a similar poll in February, the share of people against EU membership increased by 5 percent to 51 percent while that of supporters declined by 8 percent to 37 percent. The share of respondents not expressing an opinion increased from 9 to 12 percent. EMOR analyst Aivar Voog suggested that the recent decrease in support for EU membership, unlike the one in early 2000 which was prompted by the EU boycott of Austria, is probably due to the declining rating of the government. He pointed out the close connection in the last nine months between the popularity of the government and support for EU membership. SG

LATVIA HAD HIGHEST GDP GROWTH AMONG BALTIC STATES IN 2000

The Central Statistical Bureau announced on 28 March that Latvia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2000 was 2.951 billion lats ($4.69 billion) in constant prices or 4.333 billion lats in current prices, BNS reported. This was an increase of 6.6 percent compared to 1999 and was higher than the 6.4 and 2.9 percent growth in Estonia and Lithuania, respectively. Latvia's GDP was boosted by 9.6 percent growth in commerce, 7.2 percent growth in transportation, warehousing, and communications as well as 5.7 percent in processing industry and 13.6 percent in commercial services. Prime Minister Andris Berzins declared that the higher than predicted GDP growth, especially that of 8.7 percent in fourth quarter of 2000, indicates that the government is pursuing the right policy. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES POWER EXPORT DEAL

The Cabinet on 28 March approved the regulations of the draft agreement on energy export between the state-owned utility Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) and the Russian company Inter RAO UES, ELTA and BNS reported. It foresees the annual export of up to 5 billion kWh of energy to Belarus at a price of 4.4 Lithuanian cents ($0.011) per 1 kWh, and of 2 billion kWh to the Kaliningrad region at the price of 4 Lithuanian cents per 1 kWh. The prices are set for six months and may be revised subsequently. The agreement also provides for Russian permission for Lietuvos Energija to export some 250 million kWh of electricity to Poland and the Slovak Republic through Russian power lines. SG

POLISH CENTRAL BANK AGAIN CUTS KEY INTEREST RATES

The National Bank on 28 March decided to cut three key interest rates by 1 percent for the second time in a month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). The intervention rate was reduced to 17 percent, the discount rate to 19.5, and the Lombard rate to 21 percent. "The basis of our decision was not only that inflation has fallen more than expected since [the Monetary Policy Council meeting on 28 February], but that certain factors fostering declining inflation have strengthened," National Bank chief Leszek Balcerowicz told journalists. JM

DENMARK WANTS POLAND IN EU AS SOON AS POSSIBLE

Danish Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft said after a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, in Warsaw on 28 March that Denmark is for "the soonest possible enlargement of the European Union by possibly a large number of countries, including Poland," PAP reported. Lykketoft believes that Poland's membership negotiations with the EU should be finalized in the second half of 2002. "We support Poland's aspirations to conclude it earlier," he added. Such a development could theoretically allow Poland to join the EU by its target date of 1 January 2003, but some EU officials doubt that the country can make all the necessary changes to its laws and economy by then. JM

CZECH SENATE COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS RETURNING ELECTORAL LAW TO LOWER HOUSE

The Senate's Constitutional and Legal Committee on 28 March recommended that the Senate return to the Chamber of Deputies for reconsideration the bill on party financing, CTK reported. Committee Deputy Chairman Edvard Outrata said the lower house should give more consideration to the Constitutional Court's ruling against the version of the law initially approved by the Chamber of Deputies. The court ruled in February that the stipulation in the law increasing state subsidies from 500,000 to 1 million crowns ($26,000) for every seat a party has in the parliament is unconstitutional and discriminates against extraparliamentary formations. Only days later, the Chamber passed the law again, reducing subsidies per seat to 900,000 crowns. The committee recommends that if the bill is nonetheless approved, it should be in force only till the end of 2001. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE REJECTS 'SHADOW GOVERNMENT' LINEUP PROPOSAL

The Political Council of the Four Party Coalition on 28 March rejected a draft submitted by Cyril Svoboda, leader of the alliance, on the lineup of its "shadow cabinet," CTK reported. The discussions on the lineup are to continue. The Four Party Coalition earlier set 31 March as the deadline for presenting the "shadow cabinet." MS

CZECH REPUBLIC APPOINTS COMMISSIONER FOR NATO SUMMIT

Alexandr Vondra, Czech ambassador to the U.S., was designated on 28 March government commissioner for the 2002 NATO summit, which the Czechs believe will be held in Prague, CTK and AP reported. President Vaclav Havel told journalists that the government unanimously selected Vondra at a meeting that Havel also attended. If the summit is held in Prague, it will be the first such meeting in a former communist country. Vondra, a dissident under communism, was appointed ambassador to the U.S. in 1997. Havel said Vondra's candidacy was proposed by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who told journalists that the commissioner's office will have a staff of 13 and benefit from "considerable sums." But Havel urged ministers to "control themselves" in budgetary requests made in connection with the summit. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT URGES MILITARY TO STOP USING 'MUMBO JUMBO TERMINOLOGY...'

President Havel, commenting on his meeting one day earlier with Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy and Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001) said no one can comprehend the army's strategic plans because they are written in "military mumbo-jumbo terminology." He urged the country's military leaders to present the plans to the public "in just a few, comprehensible pages." Havel declined to respond to a journalist who asked him whether he has discussed with Vetchy the possibility of the latter's resignation from the cabinet in connection with public criticism of the Defense Ministry's financial and personnel management. MS

...WHILE PILOTS BEGIN TRAINING FLIGHTS IN NEW PLANES

Czech air force pilots on 28 March began training in the Czech-made subsonic L-159 planes, CTK reported. The training is to last six months, during which assessments will be made on whether changes introduced in the plane correspond to the needs of the air force. Out of the 72 planes ordered, only 12 have been delivered so far. Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Michael Zantovsky, currently on a visit to the U.S., said on 28 March that in talks with him U.S. officials criticized the Czech Army's insufficient transformation and failure to meet its goals and the obligations undertaken when the Czech Republic joined NATO. Those officials told Zantovsky that the decision on whether to proceed with NATO enlargement will depend on the evaluation of the performance of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland during their first two years as NATO members. MS

CZECHS TO OFFER 'TEMPORARY PROTECTION' TO CHECHEN WAR REFUGEES?

The governmental Human Rights Council on 28 March proposed that the Czech Republic offer "temporary protection" to refugees from the Chechen conflict, CTK reported. The council said that such a measure would "provide reasonable and effective international protection to citizens of the Russian Federation and other persons who have fled from armed conflict-torn Chechnya and currently are on Czech territory." Refugees under "temporary protection" are issued special visas. There are at present some 200 asylum applicants from Chechnya in the Czech Republic, but the council said the real number of refugees is higher, because not all have applied for asylum. MS

TEMELIN SHUT DOWN AGAIN...

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was shut down again on 28 March, after workers again discovered vibrations in the main turbine generator, CTK and AP reported. That shutdown comes only two days after the plant was reconnected to the national power grid, following an outrage caused by an oil leak. MS

... AS AUSTRIA, CZECH REPUBLIC INAUGURATE SERIES OF CONFERENCES

Austrian critics of Temelin intensified their protests against the background of the latest shutdown, but also on the eve of the first of a series of conferences about Czech-Austrian relations to start in Vienna on 29 April. Historians, political scientists and journalists from the two countries will debate several aspects of bilateral relations, including the future of those relations after EU expansion, but also their past, in particular the 1945 Benes decrees that expelled from former Czechoslovakia the country's German-speaking minority. The conference will be opened by the two states' foreign ministers, Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Kavan. MS

CZECH UNIONS SAY EU ACCESSION WILL ENDANGER FOOD PRODUCERS

Vladimir Marek, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Food Industry, on 28 March said that if the Czech Republic accepts the EU's sanitation norms, many food producers will go out of business as they lack funds to introduce the required technologies. He said many producers are aware of this danger and consequently are engaged in an effort to "make fast money" before the accession. To do so, they disregard existing laws, including the Labor Code, Marek, cited by CTK, told a conference of the European Federation of Food Industry, Agriculture and Tourism in Prague. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER EXPECTS NATO INVITATION...

Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda on 28 March told CTK that he believes there is "a very real chance" that Slovakia will be invited to join NATO in 2002 and that his cabinet will remain in power after the 2002 elections. "I do not want to speculate...but these last months we have been making important decisions," Dzurinda said. (In related news, the government on 28 March approved an updated National Program for preparations for joining NATO. The costs of implementing that program are estimated at 2.3 billion crowns --$48.2 million-- for 2001). Reacting to opinion polls that show growing dissatisfaction with his cabinet, Dzurinda said he "can offer other figures," like those produced by polls showing "some 75 to 80 percent are for joining NATO and over 50 percent are for joining the EU," and the two efforts are associated with the current ruling coalition. MS

...IS CONCERNED ABOUT 'ANTI-SLOVAK, ANTI-HUNGARIAN PROVOCATIONS'

Dzurinda also said he is "very concerned" about the recent anti-Hungarian and anti-Slovak graffiti on buildings housing Hungarian institutions in Slovakia and the Slovak Cultural center in Bekescsaba, Hungary. He described as a "political mistake" the participation of Slovak politicians in ceremonies in Budapest honoring Count Janos Esterhazy, whom he described as a "controversial figure" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001). Dzurinda said the graffiti could be "merely ill-considered minor provocations" that should not lead to losing sight of the good relations between the two countries and "Slovak-Hungarian coexistence" in his own country. MS

...SAYS SLOVAK-CZECH RELATIONS IMPROVED SUBSTANTIALLY

Dzurinda, who will visit the Czech Republic on 30 March, said the relations between the two countries have improved very much, are "truly above standard," and "there is no reason to be skeptical." The premier said the way the two countries solved differences after the split of Czechoslovakia "meets with respect everywhere." MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION POLITICIANS TO QUIT POLITICS

Zdenka Kramplova, who served as Foreign Minister in the cabinet of former Premier Vladimir Meciar, is quitting politics on health grounds, AP reported on 28 March, citing Slovak media reports. Jozef Tarcak, deputy chief secretary of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), has resigned his party position, saying his parliamentary deputy duties do not leave him enough time to discharge the duties it entails. Both politicians will remain HZDS members. MS

ROMA MURDER TRIAL OPENS IN SLOVAKIA

A soldier currently doing compulsory military service on 28 March admitted in a court in Banska Bystrica having participated in the murder of a Romany woman and mother of eight, who died in August 2000 after being clubbed by four young men, CTK and AP reported. Petr B. denied any connection to the skinhead movement, though he admitted the murder occurred after a skinhead concert he and his friends attended in Bolesov, central Slovakia. He said the action, in which the four attacked the family during the night and injured other members who were asleep, was taken "in revenge" for a knife injury that "some Roma" caused to a friend of the assailants some time earlier. "On the way from the concert we decided to beat the Roma...but it developed into something else," he said. A lawyer representing the Roma family is demanding 55 million crowns ($1.17 million) in compensation. MS

BERLIN COURT REJECTS SLOVAK JEWISH LAWSUIT

A court of justice in Berlin on 28 March ruled that the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia does not have the right to demand compensation on behalf of Slovak Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps, CTK and AP reported. The organization sought 140 million Deutsch Marks -- the sum paid by the Nazi puppet Slovak government to the Germans as "deportation fees" for Jews transported to the extermination camps. Slovakia was the only country formerly allied with Nazi Germany to make such payment. The union said it intended to use the compensation money for the repair of long-neglected synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia. The court ruled that the Jewish organization cannot be regarded as legitimately representing the victims and that the matter can only be settled "within international legal framework." Spokesman for the organization announced they will appeal the decision. MS

HUNGARY'S SMALLHOLDERS UNCERTAIN ABOUT NATIONAL CONVENTION

The Steering Board of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) decided on 28 March that the party will not hold a national convention in April, as earlier agreed on by members of the FKGP's parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001). FKGP Deputy Chairman Geza Gyimothy told reporters after the meeting that the board authorized him to exercise some of the party chairman's prerogatives in the absence of Chairman Jozsef Torgyan, who has been in the hospital since last week. However, several board members described the meeting as "a coup," and said that Gyimothy simply assumed the power to make statements. MSZ

LUXEMBOURG WELCOMES HUNGARY INTO EU

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker on 28 March told his visiting Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban that Hungary has made "spectacular progress" and has every chance of being among the first countries to be admitted to the EU in the next round of expansion. Juncker said that Luxembourg is a "loyal friend and good ally" of Hungary, and Hungary's accession will make Europe "fuller and richer." MSZ

HUNGARIAN SCHOOLS TO HOLD HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

For the first time, Hungarian schools will commemorate the Holocaust by holding on 17 April a memorial day for the genocide, Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni told reporters on 28 March. "The memorial day symbolizes that the Holocaust is part of our national history" Pokorni said. "Our aim is not to arouse a guilty conscience, but a sense of responsibility in today's children," he added. The date marks the anniversary of the setting up of the first ghetto in Hungary in 1944. MSZ




FIGHTING CONTINUES IN MACEDONIA

The Macedonian army pushed toward the Kosova border on 29 March in its offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels in the northern part of the country, Reuters reported. Shelling backed by helicopter landing troops and infantry was used to advance the army's position in and around the village of Gracani. A Defense Ministry spokesman said on 28 March that the insurgents "do not control a single village in Macedonia." An Interior Ministry spokesman said government forces seized four truckloads full of weapons abandoned by the rebels near Tetovo in the villages of Lavce and Selce. The arms were described as "modern and sophisticated." The army also continues to bombard suspected rebel positions in hills outside of Tetovo. One soldier was killed near Gracani when the jeep he was riding in hit a mine. He is the seventh member of a Macedonian security force to die in the violence. PB

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES POSSIBLE

Srgan Kerim said in Vienna on 28 March that it is not "taboo" to talk about changes to Macedonia's Constitution, as some ethnic Albanian leaders have called for, Reuters reported. Kerim said if ethnic Albanian parties in parliament decide to raise this issue, it "will be discussed and dealt with accordingly." But he added that "we must avoid the false impression that the terrorists succeeded in forcing this onto the agenda now." Kerim said that "the target of our security forces was and will remain terrorists and extremists, not the local Albanian population." Kerim was in Vienna for talks with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. He is to address the permanent council of the OSCE on 29 March. PB

EU OFFICIAL URGES MACEDONIAN, ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADERS TO BEGIN TALKS

Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign and security policy official, said in Brussels on 29 March that Macedonian leaders must hold talks with ethnic Albanian officials to help resolve the crisis in the country, AP reported. Solana, speaking during a meeting of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said he told Macedonian leaders in Skopje that "after the consolidation of the military situation the time has now come to concentrate on the political agenda." He said ethnic Albanians "must be shown that there is a real opportunity for promoting the interests of their community through political means." He added that Macedonian leaders are worried that it will appear as though they are acceding to demands by the insurgents. Solana warned that the situation remains "dangerous" and that "the disintegration of Macedonia remains every Balkan expert's worst nightmare." Ethnic Albanians make up some 23 percent of the country's population. PB

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT DENIES SERB MINISTER'S CLAIM OF AN AGREEMENT

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica refuted a statement by Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic that he has agreed to extradite non-Yugoslav citizens living in Serbia to the UN war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. In a letter sent to the Belgrade daily "Blic," Kostunica said that the claim by Batic that an agreement was made to extradite foreigners to The Hague "is not true." The letter highlights the differences between the Yugoslav president and many leading members of the Serbian government. Kostunica's comment comes days after Belgrade extradited Bosnian Serb Milomir Stakic to the war crimes tribunal. Stakic is accused of genocide. Kostunica said that move was "an exception that should not have been made," arguing that no one on Yugoslav territory should be extradited until a new law allowing such action is passed. PB

YUGOSLAV OFFICIAL SAYS AGREEMENT WITH IMF MADE FOR MULTIMILLION DOLLAR LOAN

Deputy Premier Miroljub Labus said in Belgrade on 28 March that Yugoslavia has completed talks with the IMF and will receive a $260 million loan, Reuters reported. Labus said in a statement that the first tranche of the loan should be available in June. He said that a few technical issues still must be agreed on. The deal is seen as crucial for Yugoslavia to open debt rescheduling talks with its creditors. Yugoslavia rejoined the IMF in December. PB

POLICEMAN INJURED IN BUFFER ZONE FIGHTING

A Serbian policeman was injured in a mortar attack on 28 March in the buffer zone between Serbia and the republic's southern province of Kosova, AP reported. The attack took place near the Serbian police checkpoint of Cerevajka. PB

CROAT TROOPS CONTINUE TO ABANDON BOSNIAN ARMY

Ethnic Croat soldiers continue to desert the Muslim-Croat Federation defense forces, AP and Reuters reported. The barracks at Mostar and Kiseljak have been reported empty, though earlier reports of 1,900 soldiers leaving their barracks in Vitez (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001) were dismissed by Western sources as inaccurate, as up to two-thirds of the troops had already been dismissed due to lack of funds for salaries. Federation Defense Minister Mijo Anic said on 28 March that the 940 soldiers in Orasje returned to their barracks after the appointment of a new, pro-government commander. Anic added that Croats leaving the army would simply be replaced by Bosnian Croats loyal to the government. "It is simply as if the workers of a company leave their jobs and the company hires replacements." DW

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES UPPER HOUSE

By a vote of 103 to 35, the Croatian parliament's 151-seat lower house passed changes to the constitution enabling the dissolution of the House of Counties, the nationalist-dominated upper house. House Speaker Katica Ivanisevic called the move "an act of political violence," Hina reported. The ruling six-party coalition said the upper house is a waste of money with little political impact. Prime Minister Ivica Racan and parliament Speaker Zlatko Tomcic admitted the changes should have been made with other changes to the constitution last November, but they had hoped the House of Counties could have dealt with regional administration. DW

DISMISSED ROMANIAN PROSECUTOR APPLYING FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM

Ovidiu Budusan, who has recently been dismissed as Department for Combatting Organized Crime chief in the Prosecutor General's Office, on 29 March told the daily "Evenimentul zilei" that he has launched proceedings against Prosecutor General Joita Tanase, but is also applying for political asylum in France, Mediafax reported. Budusan's dismissal was due to his having dispatched to France, at the request of the authorities there, the transcripts of President Ion Iliescu's testimony last year in connection with the Adrian Costea money laundering affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001). French embassy sources in Bucharest contacted by Mediafax said they have no knowledge of Budusan's request. Tanase said Budusan's interview "disqualifies him to be a magistrate." In the interview, Budusan also accuses Premier Adrian Nastase of infringing on the independence of the judiciary. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES RUMORS OF CONFLICTS WITH PREMIER

Iliescu said in Targu Jiu on 28 March that rumors repeatedly carried in the media about conflicts between himself and Nastase are the result of "infantile games" played by journalists who "have a passion for inventing and misinforming." Iliescu said there never were and there are no "Iliescu wing" and "Nastase wing" in the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. "We shall disappoint you all: there will be no rift in the PDSR, neither will there be one between Iliescu and Nastase," the president commented. MS

ROMANIAN LIBERALS SAY NEGOTIATIONS WITH IMF FAILED

National Liberal Party Deputy Chairman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu told journalists on 28 March that the government's negotiations with the IMF "have failed" and "a large question mark looms over the 2001 budget," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIANS GAIN ACCESS TO PERSONAL SECURITATE FILES

The first four people who examined their Securitate files on 28 March said they were "shocked" to realize what a "senseless waste of money" the shadowing of suspects was under the communist regime. Dorli Blaga, daughter of famous philosopher Lucian Blaga, said the apartment she had shared with her late husband, Cluj university professor Tudor Bugnariu, had been "bugged" in every room and even the "most intimate moments" did not escape electronic surveillance. Gheorghe Onisoru, chairman of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives, said between one and two million Romanians had been shadowed by the Securitate, which had employed for this purpose not only its own staff, but also "up to some 700,000 informers, each submitting information on two to three suspects." Some 1,200 Romanians have so far applied to examine their personal Securitate files. MS

ROMANIAN MAYOR DISMISSES ACCUSATIONS OF RACISM

Constanta Mayor Radu Mazare, reacting to allegations that he is promoting racial and xenophobic policies and views about Roma and the Turkish minority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001), told journalists on 28 March that the allegations stemmed from the fact that the mayoralty has taken measures against theft, begging and illegal trading, and advised his critics to "take up honest work." MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER JUSTIFIES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY

Outgoing Premier Dumitru Braghis told journalists in Chisinau on 28 March that "not victory, but participation in the ballot" is the motivation for his candidacy in the presidential elections due to be held on 4 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The premier's candidacy has been endorsed by the Braghis Alliance to avoid a legal deadlock, since the electoral law makes no provision for single candidacies. The other candidate, whose victory is certain, is Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS IMF, WORLD BANK TO SUPPORT DEBT RESTRUCTURING

Outgoing Deputy Premier Andrei Cucu, briefing journalists on his visit to Washington last week, said on 28 March that both the IMF and the World Bank will support Moldova's request for debt restructuring. However, Moldova will have to negotiate separately the restructuring of its debts with the main lenders--Russia and the U.S. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SETS ELECTION DATE

President Petar Stoyanov said on 29 March he has set 17 June as the date of the next parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. Premier Ivan Kostov's Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) won by a landslide in 1997, but polls show its popularity is declining and the SDS is now nearly on par with the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party. Kostov's government is the first to have served a full four-year mandate since the end of one-party rule in 1989. MS

NATO TROOPS TO BE 'LONG TERM STATIONED' ON BULGARIAN TERRITORY?

Bulgarian Ambassador to NATO Konstantin Dimitrov said on 28 March the recent agreement signed with NATO and allowing NATO troop movements on Bulgarian territory without prior approval by the parliament could lead to the "provisional stationing" of those troops on Bulgarian territory for "a longer term, if necessary," AFP reported. The parliament is due to ratify the accord this week. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT TO MEDIATE IN STATE RADIO CONFLICT?

Stoyanov on 28 March met with members of the governing board of state radio and separately with a delegation of the journalists, whose protest has been on going for over a month. The president declined to make any comments after the meetings, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported. MS

BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER DISMISSES OPPOSITION PROPOSAL ON FOREIGN DEBT

Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 28 March dismissed the suggestion of BSP leader Georgi Parvanov that a foreign financial institution should manage Bulgaria's foreign debt. Radev said no foreign bank will engage in such activity, unless it is persuaded that the country's government is unable to cope with the task, and this is not the case with Bulgaria. Parvanov made the suggestion last week after returning from Vienna, "Monitor" reported. He said Bank Austria is ready to undertake the task if the elections due to be held in June bring a change in the country's government. Radev said Parvanov either "misinterpreted" what Bank Austria officials told him, or this was "a slap in his own face...[reflecting] profound doubts as to the abilities of a cabinet headed by Parvanov to cope with the problem." MS




There is no End Note today.





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