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Newsline - July 19, 2001




PUTIN MEETS THE PRESS...

President Vladimir Putin on 18 July fielded questions from an audience of 500 journalists for more than 90 minutes on a wide variety of issues, Russian and Western news agencies reported. He refused to characterize himself and said he should be judged by what he does. He acknowledged that he and his family now have three dogs, not one. Putin admitted that the sinking of the "Kursk" in August 2000 was a major personal as well as national tragedy, but said that he does not believe that anything could have been done to save the sailors on the doomed submarine. Asked about exiled magnate Boris Berezovsky's prediction that Putin will not be in office for long, Putin said dismissively, "Who is Boris Berezovsky?" PG

...OUTLINES HIS DOMESTIC AGENDA...

Putin said his main task is to promote the "stabilization and consolidation of Russian statehood," and to that end he will not do anything, neither remove Lenin from the mausoleum nor make radical shifts in personnel or policy, that might destabilize the situation. He said he hopes to improve the lives of ordinary people, and he praised the work of the Duma. He said he is seeking to help Russia move toward the goal of economic liberalization, which he described as "a revolutionary development." He also said that he hopes to streamline the system of political parties, but that he will not end the system of elected governors. Putin said that his information security doctrine is not perfect, but that it has worked to reduce the influence of certain "interest groups" in Russian society. The only time the Russian president became angry was after he was asked by an RFE/RL correspondent about Chechnya. Putin said that he will not change course in Chechnya and denied that Russian forces have committed widespread violations of human rights there. PG

...HIS FOREIGN POLICY GOALS...

Putin said that he favors a "balanced and peace-loving foreign policy" with "good neighborly relations with our neighbors and major partners both in Asia and in the West." He said Europe needs to create a common security space and that there is no need for NATO. If Russia and the West fail to break down borders, "we will continue to distrust each other," Putin continued. He said that Moscow would react independently if the U.S. goes ahead with the building of a national missile defense system. He spoke out against sanctions against Iraq as ineffective. He also said that Moscow and Tokyo have made significant progress in resolving their dispute over the Kurile Islands. PG

...AND THE BASIS FOR HIS COOPERATION WITH BUSH

Putin said he is pleased that he has a good relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush. He said that in Ljubljana he found Bush to be "a rather sincere person, nice to talk to." Putin added that "I don't know if I should say this, but he also appeared to me to be a little bit sentimental... For me, this is also a good sign, although [Bush] also took a firm stance on his positions." Putin said that he does not agree with those who say Bush lacks experience. "He is a rather competent interlocutor with whom you can speak the same language and understand what is being discussed," Putin said. PG

PUTIN THANKS DUMA FOR CONSTRUCTIVE WORK...

Putin on 18 July met with Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev to thank him for the Duma's constructive and productive work during the parliament's spring session, Interfax reported. Putin said that it is important that the parliament continue to work with the Kremlin and the government over the summer to develop legislation to be adopted this fall. Meanwhile, Seleznev called on members of the approximately 500,000 NGOs in Russia to take a more active part in developing legislation in the future, the Russian news agency reported the same day. PG

...BUT ANALYSTS VARY IN THEIR ASSESSMENT OF SESSION

The Russian media continues to evaluate the Duma's just-completed spring session. An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 July suggested that "the Duma has become part of the administration of the president." Another article in the same paper the same day suggested that the session has begun the process of simplifying the country's complicated multiparty system. Meanwhile, an article in "Kommersant-Vlast" the same day suggested that the session has created a situation in which the left opposition can express itself within strictly defined limits. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref repeated on 18 July the government's view that the parliament achieved "the maximum program" that could have been expected, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN TELLS COMMISSION TO CLARIFY CENTER-PERIPHERY RELATIONS

Putin on 18 July told the presidential commission on the delimitation of functions and powers between Moscow and the regions that up until now, no one in either place knew precisely who was responsible for what and that the commission must overcome this problem, ORT reported. Putin said that in order to do so, the commission must study the legal basis for power sharing, as well as come up with a means of resolving conflicts between Moscow and the regions. In approaching this problem, Putin said, the commission members should remember that "the federation is not a fixed structure but rather a continuously evolving one," and that what may have been useful in the past may be "harmful and superfluous today." VY

FIVE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS AGAINST PUTIN SO FAR

"Kommersant-Vlast" on 17 July reported that there have been five unsuccessful assassination attempts made against Putin since he became president. As a result, the president is currently surrounded by a triple ring of security guards. PG

KASYANOV SAYS HE'S HEARING ARGUMENTS AGAINST BUYING AND SELLING OF LAND

Speaking in Belgorod Oblast on 18 July, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that his government will take a position on the buying and selling of land only in the fall, but that he has heard "a lot of arguments" against the free purchase and sale of land, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov also said that the government plans to support agriculture in only a modest way in the future, Interfax reported. He added that he expects Russia to be able to begin exporting grain in two years. PG

PROKHANOV SAYS COMMUNISTS HAVE LOST THEIR WAY, PUTIN SUNK IN 'YELTSINISM'

Aleksandr Prokhanov, the editor of the radical anti-Western weekly "Zavtra," believes that the Communist Party under Gennadii Zyuganov has lost its sense of purpose and cannot offer anything but the ideology of social disobedience, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 July. As to Putin, Prokhanov said that he has some sympathy for the Russian president but that Putin now remains sunk in "the marshes of Yeltsinism" and thus has "the sad eyes of a dog that has failed to retrieve a duck." VY

KURGINYAN BACKS PUTIN BECAUSE PRESIDENT'S FAILURE WOULD BE VICTORY FOR CHECHENS

Political analyst Sergei Kurginyan wrote in "Rossiya" on 18 July that even though Putin's standing is falling and even though he has not achieved everything Kurginyan had hoped for, the political analyst still supports Putin because the president's failure would be a victory for Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. At the same time, however, Kurginyan said Putin's regime has run out of steam and may soon beat a hasty, panic-driven retreat. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER BLAMES U.S. FOR DELAY IN STRATEGIC STABILITY TALKS...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 18 July in Rome that he has discussed strategic issues with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and expressed at the press conference his unhappiness with the fact that Washington has not yet named a delegation for bilateral strategic security talks, strana.ru reported. Ivanov said that the two countries agreed to such talks at the summit meeting in Ljubljana. Ivanov also said that there cannot be any discussion of trading one strategic concern for another, Interfax reported. VY

...BUT INDICATES PUTIN WON'T RAISE DEBT ISSUE IN GENOA

At the same Rome press conference, Ivanov expressed regret that the major industrial countries have not kept their promise to restructure Moscow's debts, but said that Putin will not raise the issue at the Genoa G-7 plus Russia summit, strana.ru reported. VY

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN SECURITY CHIEFS TO EXPAND TIES

Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 18 July after his talks with his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Evhen Marchuk that the two officials plan to expand cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that they have already "practically solved the border issue and the Black Sea Fleet problem." Marchuk for his part said that Ukraine has "not always" fulfilled its obligations to Russia and that he will work to improve its track record in that regard. One example of this new rapprochement was the announcement by Russian agencies on 18 July that Putin will take part in the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine at the end of August. VY

FORMER BELARUS KGB GENERAL SAYS MOSCOW UNDECIDED WHOM TO BACK IN BELARUS PRESIDENTIAL RACE

KGB Major General Valerii Kez, who used to be close to Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka but now lives in Moscow, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 July as saying that divisions between Lukashenka's opponents have made it difficult for Moscow to decide whom to back in the September presidential poll. PG

EURONEWS TO BEGIN LIVE BROADCASTING TO RUSSIA

Putin announced at his Kremlin press conference that the government's State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) will feed programming from EuroNews, a major European media company, beginning in September, strana.ru reported on 18 July. Putin suggested that the broadcasts will represent "a step forward in Russia's efforts to integrate itself into Europe and the international information space." VY

SELEZNEV CONDEMNS WEST FOR SEEKING TO BREAK UP YUGOSLAVIA

Duma Speaker Seleznev on 18 July told a visiting Yugoslav delegation that Western countries are pursuing a policy aimed at breaking up Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Moscow backs that country's territorial integrity and views "with utmost anxiety the developments in your country." Meanwhile, Interfax reported the same day that the Russian government and its gas companies have offered Belgrade the opportunity to defer payment on its gas debts for the 1999-2000 period. PG

MOSCOW URGES ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS NOT TO FALL VICTIM TO PROVOCATIONS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 18 July that Moscow hopes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority will observe existing cease-fire accords and will not fall victim to "provocations," ITAR-TASS reported. He condemned a recent Palestinian suicide bombing, but said that "attempts by the international community to stabilize the situation around the Palestinian territories have so far failed to produce any tangible results." PG

MOSCOW, HANOI EXPAND JOINT OIL VENTURE, DISCUSS FREE-TRADE ZONE

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 18 June after talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Manh Kam that the Russian-Vietnamese joint venture Vietsovpetro will expand production of oil to 13 million tons in 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides agreed to build a jointly owned petrochemical plant. They also discussed the creation of a kind of free-trade zone between the two countries to assist the growth of trade between them. VY

'EXTREME NORTH EAST' REGIONAL ASSOCIATION CREATED

The administrations of Kamchatka and Magadan oblasts, the Koryak and Chukotka autonomous districts and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) have agreed to form an interregional association of economic cooperation under the name "The Extreme North East," Interfax reported on 18 July. The new organization will seek to promote the economic integration of these areas, the press service said. PG

PROTESTERS PICKET EMBASSIES TO URGE CHECHEN TALKS

Members of the Russian committee "For the End of War and the Establishment of Peace in Chechnya" on 17 July picketed the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and on 18 July picketed the French Embassy there to call for international involvement in promoting talks between Putin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. PG

650,000 MUSCOVITES IN LINE FOR HOUSING

In an interview published in "Trud" on 18 July, Vladimir Resin, the first deputy prime minister of the Moscow city government, said that 650,000 people are now waiting to be allocated housing in the Russian capital. He said that many of them are becoming desperate and purchasing half-finished properties. He also said that the amount of foreign investment in the city of Moscow will reach $5 billion by the end of 2001. PG

ENERGY MINISTRY URGES 'NONMARKET' MEANS TO GET READY FOR WINTER

Energy Minister Igor Yusufov said on 18 July that his ministry wants to see expanded administrative and nonmarket mechanisms put in place to provide the population with needed fuel next winter, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that this is necessary because market forces have not always worked, and that some regions have misused budget funds in this area. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax the same day reported that 71 percent of Russians believe that the state should interfere more actively in economic life than it does at present. PG

DIPLOMATIC SECURITY OFFICIAL DIES MYSTERIOUSLY

Moscow police found Vladimir Vasiliev, the deputy chief of the Foreign Ministry department responsible for coded diplomatic communications, dead in his apartment, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 July. The MIG news agency said that he had succumbed to numerous knife wounds, but an Interior Ministry spokesman said this report was nonsense and that Vasiliev appeared to have died as a result of a self-inflicted knife wound while drunk. VY

SUKHOI FIGHTER FLIGHTS SUSPENDED AFTER CRASH

The Russian Air Force grounded all of its advanced Su-33 fighters after one of them crashed on 17 July and claimed the life of Timur Apakidze, the deputy chief of naval aviation, vesti.ru reported the following day. General Apakidze was a decorated hero with the reputation of being one of the country's most experienced pilots. Consequently, the website suggested, it is very unlikely that the crash was the result of pilot error. VY

PRISTAVKIN SAYS DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM HAS NOT LED TO SURGE IN CRIME

In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 18 July, Anatolii Pristavkin said that the introduction of a moratorium in Russia on the use of the death penalty has not led to a surge in crime. Instead, he said, the number of murders has held steady at 30,000 a year. Pristavkin, who heads the Presidential Pardons Commission, complained that Putin has pardoned only eight prisoners in the last 10 months compared with the 12,500 pardons issued in the previous 12 months. PG

REGISTERED DRUG USERS INCREASE SIX TIMES OVER LAST FIVE YEARS

Moscow city officials told Interfax on 18 July that the number of drug users registered in city clinics has increased by 600 percent over the last five years. They added that they intend to conduct surveys to determine how many additional drug abusers are not being treated at the present time. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH NOTES DIFFERENCES WITH PUTIN ON POPE

Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the official representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, told Interfax on 18 July that the church has taken notice of the discrepancy between Putin's generally positive assessment of Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine and its own view that the visit was harmful. "Naturally, the president as a state actor has the right to such a point of view, and the church respects it" but does not share it, Chaplin added. PG

OFFICIALS CONSIDERING THREE THEORIES ON 'KURSK' SINKING

Andrei Maiorov, the deputy chief of the investigation department in the Office of the Chief Military Prosecutor, told Interfax on 18 July that officials are still considering three theories for the sinking of the "Kursk" in August 2000. Either the submarine collided with something under water, a torpedo exploded, or it hit a mine, Maiorov said. Meanwhile, the same day Russian and Western agencies reported that the cleaning up of the submarine in preparation for its lifting off the seabed had been completed. PG

TV REPORTERS ROUTINELY BRIBED TO SLANT STORIES

According to "Kommersant-Dengi," No. 27, business firms and others can get almost any story they want on Russian television by resorting to a bribe of $1,500-2,000. In the past, the weekly said, RTR had the reputation of being the most corrupt station in this regard, but now TV-6 and TV-Center have that reputation. Meanwhile, journalists in Rostov-na-Donu have issued an appeal to their colleagues across the country to live up to the highest journalistic standards so that reporters will not all be considered corrupt, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 July. VY

MONEY SPENT ON PUTIN MEMORIALS BLOCKS RESTORATION OF CULTURAL MONUMENTS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 July that officials in Pskov are now spending so much money on building monuments to Putin that they do not have enough to save major historical and cultural monuments. PG

CANDIDATES ACCUSE GOVERNORS OF MASSIVE VOTING FRAUD IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD

Three of the top four candidates in the first round of gubernatorial elections in Nizhnii Novgorod held a press conference in that city on 17 July and accused incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov of rigging the election, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 July. State Duma deputies Gennadii Khodyrev (Communist), Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy), and Dmitrii Savelev (Union of People's Deputy) all signed a declaration accusing Sklyarov of "gross falsification of the election results." According to Bulavinov, there were instances in which incomplete protocols were signed in the local Election Commission, and the votes of dead people and other voters who did not bother to come to polling stations were counted. According to the daily, Sklyarov has not yet personally commented on the charges, but a representative of his staff noted that the oblast Election Commission as well as representatives of the Central Election Commission have already declared that no violations occurred during the course of the election. JAC

PUTIN ALLEGEDLY SETTLING OLD SCORES IN ST. PETERSBURG...

Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 18 July, commentator Yulia Latynina suggests that the recent filing of criminal charges against St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Valerii Malyshev stems from a old promise of President Putin, who once worked in St. Petersburg's city government, "to punish former Governor Anatolii Sobchak's persecutors." Latynina notes that two other criminal cases have been brought against figures from St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's entourage. Latynina concludes that Yakovlev remains in office "two years after Putin made his oath" in part because the interests of Putin's and Yakovlev's entourages are closely interwoven. Malyshev is reportedly suspected of receiving an interest-free loan from Promstroibank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2001). "But [Deputy Prime Minister] Aleksei Kudrin once received a similar loan," she writes, and Promstroibank head Vladimir Kogan is allegedly very close to Putin (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Report," 16 April 2001). (A longer article on the same theme by Latynina is available in "Novaya gazeta" No. 49). JAC

...AS DEPUTY GOVERNOR EXPLAINS THE CHARGES

However, in an interview with "Moskovskie novosti" on 17 July, Malyshev said that he is accused of arranging favorable tax treatment for a local bank, Eksi-bank, in exchange for an interest-free 500,000 ruble ($17,000) loan, a cell phone, and furniture worth 50,000 rubles. According to Malyshev, the loan was granted in 1998 and he has repaid almost half of the original loan amount. However, he declined to answer the question of why the loan is being questioned some three years later. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN'S PRESIDENT ASKS HIGHER COURT FOR MORE GUIDANCE

Murtaza Rakhimov filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court on 18 July, asking for it to clarify the meaning of a 19 April 2001 decision, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Under that ruling, federal and regional government organs were obliged to abolish legal acts "which are similar or analogous to ones already acknowledged to be violating federal laws." Rakhimov asserted in his appeal that the wording of this ruling is ambiguous. For example, he said that the words "similar" and "analogous" have different meanings. JAC/PG

RUSSIAN TROOPS ACCUSED OF NEW REPRISAL IN CHECHNYA

A spokesman for the Grozny city authorities said on 18 July that early that morning Russian servicemen abducted a Chechen driver and his son from their home in the suburb of Raduzhnoye, Interfax reported. Their present whereabouts are unknown. Between 100 and 150 local residents staged a protest against the incident. Also on 18 July, Chechen Premier Stanislav Ilyasov said that "about half" of all local district administrative officials have been provided with weapons for their security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2001) and the remainder will receive such weapons before the end of this month, Interfax reported. Ilyasov said those officials are free to select their own bodyguards from persons whom they trust. LF




SPLIT WITHIN ARMENIAN COALITION PARTY DEEPENS...

A further nine members of the 20-person People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) parliament faction warned the party's leader, Stepan Demirchian, on 18 July to desist from further criticism of those leading party members who advocate continued cooperation with the government, or risk splitting the HZhK, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a written statement, the nine also condemned the HZhK political council for calling last week for the expulsion from the party's 117-member board of parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian and his deputy Gagik Aslanian. Khachatrian resigned from the HZhK on 17 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). HZhK Secretary Vardan Mkrtchian told Snark on 18 July that Khachatrian's resignation from the party could cost him his post as parliament speaker. LF

...AS DEFECTION THREATENS SURVIVAL OF SECOND PARLIAMENT BLOC

Also on 18 July, parliament deputy Hakob Hakobian announced his decision to leave the Kayunutiun (Stability) parliament bloc to protest what he termed an attempt by the bloc's leader, Vartan Ayvazian, to secure the dismissal of Environment Minister Murad Muradian with the aim of replacing him in that position, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hakobian's departure leaves Kayunutiun with only 10 deputies, the minimum number required for a parliament faction. If Ayvazian were to replace Muradian as minister, he would have to resign his mandate, thus effectively ending Kayunutiun's existence. Twelve of Kayunutiun's original 23 members quit earlier this year to join the People's Deputy faction. LF

INDEPENDENT AZERBAIJANI TV STATION CLOSES

Ali Zairov, the general director of the independent ABA TV station, told Turan on 17 July that the station would cease broadcasting that day. He did not explain the reasons for that decision. Zairov informed members of the station's staff, who have not been paid for a month, of the imminent closure at a party the previous evening to celebrate the station's fourth anniversary. ABA TV's president, Faig Zulfugarov, told a press conference on 18 July at the Baku Press Club that the station was closed down as a result of pressure from President Heidar Aliyev and his family. Zulfugarov was speaking by telephone from New York, having left Azerbaijan in June. "Yeni Musavat" on 18 July cited a letter addressed by Zulfugarov to President Aliyev in which he said he intends to request political asylum in the U.S. The director of ABA's Financial Department, Shamil Safiev, was arrested in May and accused of withholding tax payments of 650 million manats ($13,000) to the budget. The station mostly broadcast entertainment, rather than news-related programs. LF

AZERBAIJANI KARABAKH WAR INVALIDS SENTENCED

An Azerbaijani court on 19 July passed sentence on a group of Karabakh war invalids charged with violating public order during clashes with police in Baku earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2001), Turan reported. Those clashes took place when police intervened to end a hunger strike the invalids had declared in support of their demands for an increase in their meager pensions and allowances. Sixteen defendants received prison terms of between one and six years, while seven others received three-year suspended sentences. One of those sentenced slashed his veins in the courtroom when the sentence was read out. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S MUSLIM LEADER DENIES THAT POPE IS TO VISIT

There is no truth to media reports that Pope John Paul II plans to visit Azerbaijan next year, nor has he been invited to pay such a visit, Azerbaijan's leading Muslim clergyman, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pasha-zade, told Turan on 19 July. But he acknowledged that such a visit would be "useful." Interfax had reported the previous day, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources in Baku, that the pontiff will visit Azerbaijan in September 2002. LF

MORE HOSTAGES RELEASED IN EASTERN GEORGIA

At talks on 18 July between representatives of the local Georgian police and Kists (Georgian Chechens) resident in eastern Georgia's Pankisi gorge, agreement was reached on the exchange of all persons held hostage in the gorge and elsewhere in eastern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. A Georgian vigilante group subsequently freed the last of the Kists and Chechens whom it took hostage on 13 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17 and 18 July 2001), but several foreigners believed to be held hostage in Pankisi have still not been released. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT OVER CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN BASE...

During talks in Moscow on 17 July, Russian and Georgian officials failed to make any progress on measures to expedite the closure of the Russian military base in Gudauta, Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Specifically, the Russian side rejected the Georgian demand to dismantle the radar system and runway of the military airfield at that base to preclude its use by the Abkhaz armed forces. The two sides did agree, however, that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili will meet as planned in Moscow on 27 July for further talks on the fate of the base. LF

...PROMPTING GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT PROTEST...

Meeting in emergency session on 18 July, the Georgian parliament adopted a statement expressing its "deep concern" at Russia's failure to withdraw from Gudauta by the 30 June deadline, which it qualified as "a gross violation of Georgia's sovereignty, clear support for the Abkhaz separatist regime" and as an attempt to legalize the annexation in 1994 of part of Georgia's territory. The statement also asked the OSCE to evaluate Moscow's violation of the Joint Statement adopted at the OSCE 1999 Istanbul Summit in accordance with which Moscow pledged to vacate the Gudauta base. LF

...WHILE MOSCOW EXPRESSES 'CONCERN' AT 'TERRORISM'

In a statement released on 18 July, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed concern at the terrorist killings in Abkhazia, including attacks on the Russian peacekeeping force there, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. It said those attacks should not simply be condemned but "decisively stopped," and that they undermine efforts by the international community and the Russian government to mediate a political solution to the conflict. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REVISES TIMETABLE FOR PRIVATIZING 'BLUE-CHIP' COMPANIES

The Kazakh government will begin selling off the remaining state-owned stakes in so-called "blue chip" companies, including KazTsink and the Ust-Kamenogorsk titanium-magnesium combine, in 2002, Finance Minister Mazhit Esenbaev told journalists in Astana on 18 July. Under a state program approved two years ago, those companies were scheduled to be privatized by the end of last year. LF

EU CALLS ON KAZAKHSTAN, KYRGYZSTAN TO LIVE UP TO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS

During talks in Brussels on 17 July, EU officials including Belgian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Annemie Neyts warned both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that economic reforms "should go hand in hand" with respect for human rights and democratic freedoms, Reuters reported. That agency quoted an unnamed European diplomat as saying that "to provide a solid basis for foreign investment you need to give assurances on democratic freedoms and human rights," and that corruption is more likely to flourish in an environment where media freedom is restricted. Neyts also urged the Kyrgyz leadership to remove barriers to foreign investment and trade, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev earlier this week announced plans to create a council to promote foreign investment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2001). LF

DETAINED KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST RELEASED

Noomanjan Arkabaev, the coordinator in Osh Oblast for the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, was released on 18 July after 21 days in detention, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The criminal charges against him have not been dropped, however. Arkabaev is accused of instigating public disorder and the overthrow of the constitutional system. Those charges are based on 42 leaflets found during a search of his office calling for the resignation of President Akaev. Arkabaev claims the leaflets were planted there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2001). LF




U.S. DEPARTMENT FINDS ALLEGATIONS OF DEATH SQUAD IN BELARUS 'CREDIBLE'...

U.S. State Department spokesmen Charles Hunter and Philip Reeker have evaluated as "credible" the revelations by two former Belarusian investigators, Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak, about the existence of a government-organized death squad in Belarus that is responsible for the murders of prominent opposition figures. "The two investigators have made detailed and credible revelations about a Lukashenka regime death squad that's reportedly responsible for up to 30 murders," Hunter said on 17 July. "The United States takes these allegations very seriously and calls on the Belarusian authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation," Reeker said the next day. Petrushkevich and Sluchak are currently in the U.S., where they have reportedly been granted political asylum. Belarusian trade union leader Uladzimir Hancharyk recently publicized documents supporting their death squad allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). JM

...WHILE LUKASHENKA TELLS WASHINGTON TO MIND ITS OWN BUSINESS

"As regards the U.S. State Department's [comments on Petrushkevich's and Sluchak's claims], I would advise [them] to mind their own business. I think they should not meddle in problems they don't understand," Belarusian Television quoted President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying on 18 July. Lukashenka pledged "to react in an appropriate way in the near future" to the death squad allegations, which he said he sees as the opposition's efforts to discredit him in the presidential election campaign. He noted that the recent trip of the wives of disappeared Belarusian opposition figures to the U.S. and the letter they sent to his own wife and mother over the disappearances is only a "fuss." He added: "It is a predetermined losing affair for me to step into this chaos, into this fuss." Belarusian Television broadcast Lukashenka's comments without explaining the nature of the allegations by Petrushkevich and Sluchak. JM

OSCE URGES MINSK TO INVITE INTERNATIONAL ELECTION MONITORS

Hans Georg Wieck, the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, said on 18 July that OSCE Permanent Council Chairman Liviu Bota has called on the Belarusian authorities to invite international observers for the 9 September presidential elections, Belapan reported. Wieck added that the OSCE wants to send to Belarus 14 long-term observers, whose mandate will begin six weeks before the election, and some 150 short-term observers under the aegis of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Meanwhile, Belarusian Television reported on 18 July that a delegation of an organization named the Association of the Organizers of Elections in Central and East European Countries has already arrived in Minsk, thus inaugurating the process of international monitoring of Belarus's presidential ballot. JM

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CALL ON PUTIN, KUCHMA TO CANCEL MEETING WITH LUKASHENKA...

The International Helsinki Federation, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and the Ukrainian Committee Helsinki 90 have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to revoke their 27 July visit to the "Slavic Bazaar" festival in Vitsebsk in Belarus, where they are to meet with Belarusian President Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 18 July. The groups said in a statement that the meeting will be viewed by Belarusian voters "as a direct intervention in the presidential race, in support of the incumbent president." The statement added that Belarus's state-controlled media have already utilized the planned meeting for propaganda purposes. JM

...AS CHINESE LEADER RALLIES TO HIS SIDE

Chinese President Jiang Zemin rallied to the side of President Lukashenka during his visit to Minsk on 18-19 July, Reuters reported. "We respect the path that the Belarusian people have chosen. China adheres to the principle that all countries have the right to choose their own way forward," Jiang said. Lukashenka hailed Jiang's visit and his support. "It is particularly important that the Chinese people have promised us their support at any time and under any circumstances. China will stand by the Belarusian people," the agency quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINE'S SOCIALIST PARTY TO ALLY WITH FOUR OTHER GROUPS FOR ELECTIONS

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on 18 July said his party will make an election alliance with the All-Ukrainian Party of Working People, the Social Democratic Party, the Party for the Protection of Farmers' Interests, and the Greens of the 21st Century Party, Interfax reported. Moroz added that the five-party bloc will be launched after the official inauguration of a parliamentary election campaign. Moroz expects that the bloc will win no less than 52 seats in the future parliament. President Kuchma said the same day that he positively assesses the creation of election blocs in Ukraine, but added that their election programs are virtually the same. "Without drinking a bottle of vodka, it's impossible to see in what way those programs differ from each other," Kuchma noted. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES CONSENTING TO CRIMEAN PREMIER'S OUSTER

Kuchma on 18 July said he has not spoken recently with Crimean parliamentary speaker Leonid Hrach about the dismissal of Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, and has not made any decisions or given any instructions in that regard, Interfax reported. Kunitsyn was voted out of his post by the Crimean parliament earlier that day after Hrach said that Kuchma consented to Kunitsyn's ouster. Kuchma did not say whether he will approve Kunitsyn's dismissal. JM

FRENCH ARMY CHIEF VISITS ESTONIA

The commander of the Estonian defense forces, Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts, informed General Jean-Pierre Kelche on 18 July about the development and future plans of the Estonian armed forces, BNS reported. Kelche later discussed with Defense Minister Juri Luik European security, the situation in the Balkans, and developments in Russia. He promised Prime Minister Mart Laar France's continued help with and support for his country's efforts to join NATO and praised the structure of the country's defense forces. Kelche, however, noted that NATO enlargement is a political rather than military decision, and stressed that the more successful a country is in accession talks with the European Union, the higher its reliability in the eyes of NATO. He declared that Moscow's claims that NATO's expansion into the Baltic states would pose a threat to Russia's security cannot be taken seriously, but carefully avoided saying which countries are likely to receive invitations to join NATO at the Prague summit next year. SG

LATVIA'S TRADE DEFICIT CONTINUES TO INCREASE

The Statistics Office announced on 17 July that in the first five months of the year the total volume of imports was 854.4 million lats ($1.33 billion) or 15.8 percent greater than in the same period last year, LETA reported. Meanwhile, the volume of exports rose by only 14.2 percent to 529.3 million lats. This year, imports exceeded exports by 61.4 percent while during the same period last year it was 59.1 percent. European Union countries remained Latvia's main trading partners, accounting for 62.8 percent of exports and 52.4 percent of imports this year. Latvia's trade deficit with those countries grew as imports increased by 12.2 percent and exports by only 7.3 percent. SG

U.S. CLAIMS LITHUANIA DOES NOT MEET MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING

A U.S. State Department report placed Lithuania on a list of 43 countries that are making significant efforts to fight trafficking in humans, but do not yet meet the minimum criteria, BNS reported on 18 July. The report said Lithuanian women are sold for sexual exploitation to customers in Western Europe (mentioning Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, and Austria), Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. It noted that although the Lithuanian Criminal Code prohibits human trafficking with penalties "commensurate with the penalties for rape or sexual assault," and the government has investigated cases of trafficking, there have not yet been any prosecutions for the crime. The government was also criticized for providing limited funding for the prevention of trafficking and rehabilitation programs for victims. France, Sweden, Japan, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia are among the other states listed in the same second tier as Lithuania. The report's third tier, composed of 23 countries where the situation is worse and little or no efforts are made to fight the lucrative business, includes Greece, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and Belarus. The report does not mention Estonia or Latvia. SG

POLISH PREMIER FIRES TELECOMMUNICATIONS MINISTER OVER ALLEGED CORRUPTION

Jerzy Buzek on 18 July sacked Telecommunications Minister Tomasz Szyszko for what was officially termed Szyszko's "inadequate supervision of his ministry," Polish media reported. Szyszko has been on leave since last week after the Supreme Audit Chamber found that 91.6 percent of concessions awarded by the ministry were conducted without tenders, among other "irregularities pointing to the possibility of the rise of corruption," the "Financial Times" reported on 19 July. "There is no basis for legal charges against the minister in the documents that the premier is aware of," government spokesman Krzysztof Luft commented. JM

BRITAIN CHECKING PASSENGERS AT PRAGUE AIRPORT

British immigration officials began checking passengers bound for London at Prague's Ruzyne airport on 18 July in an attempt to cut down on the number of Czech citizens, mainly Roma, seeking asylum in Great Britain, AP and CTK reported. British Ambassador to the Czech Republic David Broucher said his government is carrying out the checks as part of an agreement the countries signed in February due to "the continued systematic abuse of our immigration and asylum system by some Czech citizens." He said 620 Czech citizens arrived in Britain seeking asylum in the first six months of this year. Some dozen Roma had already been turned away, according to CTK. DW

CZECH GOVERNMENT TO IGNORE GERMAN TEMELIN LETTER

Prime Minster Milos Zeman told CTK on 18 July that the Czech government will not react to a call made by Germany for the closure of the Temelin nuclear power plant. "The government has no reason to doubt either the nuclear or environmental safety" of Temelin, he said, emphasizing that the government believes the statement it received (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2001) was the stand of the German Environment Ministry, and not that of the entire government. DW

SLOVAK CHURCHES PROTEST PROPOSAL TO TEACH YOGA AT SCHOOLS

Education Minister Milan Ftacnik, a member of the post-communist Democratic Left Party, has proposed to introduce yoga as an optional subject in schools, TASR reported on 18 July. Ftacnik's proposal has recently provoked protests from Slovakia's Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, which fear that the instruction of yoga will be used as an opportunity to inculcate young minds with Eastern philosophical systems, the Prague-based daily "Hospodarske noviny" wrote on 16 July. The Christian Democratic Movement, another member of Slovakia's governing coalition, said Ftacnik's proposal is a leftist ploy to subvert Christianity in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2001). Ftacnik, a long-time yoga practitioner, argues that it is up to parents to choose whether their children will participate in yoga classes. "Hospodarske noviny" reported that more than 400 Slovak teachers have already been trained to teach yoga. JM

HUNGARIAN PREMIER WARNS HOLDERS OF 'POCKET CONTRACTS' FOR FARMLAND

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 18 July said during his weekly interview with Hungarian radio that no EU citizen can get away with exploiting legal loopholes in Hungarian law that enable them to buy farmland through "pocket contracts" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). He warned that if foreign farmers are unwilling to give up unlawfully acquired land, they can expect "the full force of the law to come down on them." Orban said that, in return for their cooperation, Hungarian farmers who disclose the identity of foreigners with "pocket contracts" will not face criminal proceedings and will have the opportunity to resell their land to the state. Orban also criticized lawyers who specialize in drafting such contracts, and said that the legal profession has failed to take appropriate action against them. MSZ

THREE EU STATES WILL GUARANTEE FREE FLOW OF LABOR FOR HUNGARIANS

The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden will guarantee the free flow of labor for Hungary following the country's potential accession to the EU, the Hungarian MTI news agency reported on 18 July, quoting Foreign Ministry sources. The Netherlands intends to provide preferential treatment to Hungarian job-seekers prior to the country's entry into the EU, while Austria and Spain will gradually open their labor markets to Hungarians. MSZ




MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS WEST BACKS 'TERRORISTS'

Ljubco Georgievski slammed the latest Western peace proposal as brutal interference into the internal affairs of his country, Reuters reported on 18 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). Georgievski stated that the proposal aims to impose federalization on Macedonia. "As much as their text is brutal, more brutal and worrying is the fashion in which they are trying to break up state institutions in Macedonia," he said. He told journalists that "the masks are off and it is obvious that the terrorist actions in Macedonia are seriously supported [by] the Western democracies." Georgievski's latest statements came after Francois Leotard of the EU and U.S. envoy James Pardew had presented the ethnic Macedonian political parties with the latest compromise they worked out with ethnic Albanian leaders. Georgievski accused the mediators of displaying a "cowboy style," "The Washington Post" reported. UB/PM

MACEDONIAN TALKS HEADING FOR COLLAPSE?

"The Washington Post" reported on 19 July that the ethnic Macedonian leadership is preparing its voters for the possibility that the negotiations may soon collapse. President Boris Trajkovski said: "The reason we are here today is because a group of armed and violent extremists are bent on using guns to achieve power, either political or economic. Let us also be clear about one thing. If we cannot come to an agreement today or tomorrow, there will not be a war." Defense Ministry spokesman Marjan Djurovski noted that "it's possible there will be a new escalation of the conflict in the crisis zones. The cease-fire is holding up with difficulty because provocations by the Albanian terrorists who do not respect it are becoming more and more frequent." NATO officials note that both sides have been using the cease-fire to resupply and regroup. PM

ROBERTSON, SOLANA NOT TO GO TO MACEDONIA...

One unnamed Western diplomat told "The Washington Post" on 19 July in Skopje that "it's a tragedy." He blamed the Macedonians for reacting to the compromise in an emotional fashion, adding that the Macedonians "get almost everything they want and give up very little in return." The daily also noted that NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and EU security policy chief Javier Solana will not go to Skopje on 19 July as planned. Leotard's and Pardew's positions have become more precarious as a result of Macedonian intransigence and Georgievski's statements. They intend to remain in Skopje, however, lest their departure "trigger" new fighting. PM

...CRITICIZE MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER

Robertson and Solana said in a joint statement in Brussels on 19 July that "Georgievski's statement yesterday in reaction to the proposals of EU and U.S. envoys in Skopje was an undignified response to international efforts to assist in the search for a peaceful solution. It is also disappointing, given that the international facilitators are in Skopje at the invitation of the government, which has been informed of every move made," Reuters reported. PM

IS RUSSIA ENCOURAGING MACEDONIAN HARD-LINERS?

Some statements made by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Rome on 18 July suggest that Moscow is providing at least moral support to the hard-liners in Skopje. Ivanov said that he is against "putting any pressure on the democratic government of Macedonia in the interests of some groups that operate within the constitution of that country," particularly where language rights are concerned, Interfax reported. He added that one should not "put pressure on the democratic government of Macedonia, including in the interests of individual groups... One should be aware that all the events in Macedonia will impact the other countries of the region. If we make concessions to the minority here, no one can guarantee that this will not reflect on the situation in other countries of this region," he said. Moscow firmly supports the hard-liners in Belgrade and Skopje, and enjoys little, if any, influence with the ethnic Albanians of the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 2001). PM

TWO EXPLOSIONS IN MACEDONIAN CAPITAL

One woman was injured when an explosive device went off under her car in a largely Macedonian-inhabited part of Skopje, an Interior Ministry spokesman said on 19 July, dpa reported. In a separate incident, unknown persons tossed a grenade into a store in the northern part of town, which is inhabited chiefly by Albanians. Nobody was injured, but material damage was reported. Police are investigating both incidents. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT CHANGES INFORMATION POLICY

The newly formed Crisis Management Body decided on 16 July to introduce a new information policy, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 18 July. The step follows tough criticism of the group by Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski. In an interview with the Skopje daily "Vest" on 13 July, he had denounced the government's information policy as chaotic. The Crisis Management Body now plans a broad media campaign based on "positive reporting" of the government's actions against the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK). UB

NATO URGES SERBIAN SUPPORT FOR KOSOVA ELECTIONS

Robertson told Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Brussels on 18 July that it is important that Kosova's Serbian minority take part in the 17 November general elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). Robertson called the talks "constructive and highly professional." Covic said that "we do not want to be part of the problem any more. We want to participate constructively." He added that he realizes that it is unrealistic to expect that Serbian forces will be able to return to Kosova any time soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2001). Covic added that Belgrade wants to "make a showcase" out of the Presevo region. Svilanovic stressed that Serbian participation in the elections is directly linked to clarification of the fate of missing Serbs in Kosova. Covic added that Serbs must be able to return and live in safety if they are to take part in the ballot. He noted that a decision on Serbian participation in the vote will be reached soon. PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS NOT INTERESTED IN TALKS WITH DJINDJIC

Former Kosova guerrilla leaders Hashim Thaci and Agim Ceku said in Prishtina on 18 July that they see no reason to meet with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who plans to visit Kosova over the weekend, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2001). Djindjic said in Belgrade that he has had no direct reply from the two men, adding that it is not too early to talk. He denied that his government wants the meeting as a publicity exercise. PM

SERBIA WANTS QUICK CASH

Minister for Foreign Economic Relations Goran Pitic told Reuters in Belgrade on 18 July that his government needs $150 million urgently to make payments to pensioners and other socially vulnerable groups. He added that promised international assistance will not arrive before October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 July 2001). PM

MILOSEVIC CRONIES CHEATED YUGOSLAV STATE OUT OF $4 BILLION

Some 246 companies that enjoyed special privileges under President Slobodan Milosevic netted extra profits from the scheme worth nearly $4 billion, Yugoslav National Bank chief Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade on 18 July, Reuters reported. Dinkic added that "state-run companies used the funds to finance social peace, and private companies used the money to get rich." Some of the firms will have to pay back up to two-thirds of the money in a special tax. The biggest profits went to the NIS group and the Karic brothers, "Danas" reported. PM

MILOSEVIC'S WIFE VISITS THE HAGUE

Mira Markovic was reunited with her husband, Slobodan Milosevic, in The Hague on 19 July, Reuters reported. She is expected to stay in Holland until 21 July. PM

OIL SPILL IN MONTENEGRO

Some 150 tons of oil leaked from a tanker into the port of Bar after a storm on 17 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 18 July. Most of the spill has been cleaned up. PM

NATO LAUNCHES EXERCISE IN BOSNIA

Some 2,000 troops from Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and Morocco launched a three-day routine training exercise called Cerberus in Kalinovik on 18 July, AP reported. Kalinovik is the home village of General Ratko Mladic. PM

HAGUE WANTS BOSNIAN SERB ARRESTED

Officials at the war crimes tribunal said on 18 July that they want Bosnian Serb authorities to arrest Stojan Zupljanin, a former aide to Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported. Zupljanin, who is believed to be living in the Banja Luka area, has been indicted on 12 counts, including torture and crimes against humanity, for atrocities allegedly committed against Muslims and Croats in 1992. PM

BOSNIAN WARLORD GOES ON TRIAL IN CROATIA

Fikret Abdic went on trial for war crimes on 19 July in Karlovac, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2001). PM

BOSNIAN PRIME MINISTER ELECTED

The legislature elected Zlatko Lagumdzija prime minister on 18 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2001). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER TO SEEK EXTENSION FOR CLAIMING RESTITUTION ON STATE PROPERTY...

Adrian Nastase said while speaking with Jewish organizations in Tel Aviv on 18 July that his government will try to extend the deadline for filing restitution claims on nationalized property, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The current deadline is mid-August and many abroad and in Romania advocate extending the date. Nastase added, however, that he cannot make a firm commitment on the extension. "The deadline expires during the parliamentary vacation, so issuing an emergency [extension]...to that effect would be technically difficult," he said. But he added that his government wants "such situations [to] be solved as soon as possible...so that investment and other economic operations can take place on the basis of a clarified status of the property involved." IK

...AND OFFERS NOTED ISRAELI ENTREPRENEUR HUGE BUCHAREST DEVELOPMENT CONTRACT

Premier Nastase also met on July 18 with Lev Levayev, the chairman of Africa-Israel Investments Ltd., to offer him a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build a 33-acre project in downtown Bucharest, according to the Israeli daily "Ma'ariv." An RFE/RL correspondent reported that Levayev insisted that the first step must be to establish the legal ownership status of the land involved. But Levayev's response to the Romanian offer was generally positive. IK

EUROPEAN COURT TO HEAR CASE BY MOLDOVAN NATIONALISTS AGAINST RUSSIA AND MOLDOVA

The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights announced on 18 July that it will hear a case of human rights abuse brought by former political prisoner Ilie Ilascu and some others against both Russia and Moldova, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Ilascu, who spent nine years imprisoned in the breakaway Transdniester region after being sentenced to death on charges of terrorism, was released in May and is a senator in Bucharest. He filed the lawsuit along with Alexandru Lesco, Andrei Ivantoc, and Tudor Petrov-Popa, who are still serving 12-15 year sentences in Tiraspol. The four accuse Russia and Moldova of human rights abuses, including the right to a free and fair trial, and of subjecting prisoners to inhuman or degrading treatment. IK

LEADER OF BULGARIA'S ETHNIC TURKISH PARTY NOT INSISTING ON DEPUTY PREMIER POST

Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic-Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), said on 18 July that it is not paramount that he be named a deputy premier in the new government, BTA reported. Dogan said: "Personally, I do not insist on being a deputy prime minister." The dailies "Trud" and "Standart News" reported on 18 July that many DPS parliamentary deputies are unhappy with the deal Dogan made with the National Movement Simeon II to join the government. A group of deputies from southern Bulgaria's Kurdjali region want the agreement to be abandoned because they say the DPS received too little and will not be allowed to appoint governors in any of the ethnically mixed regions of Bulgaria. A headline in the daily "Novinar" read: "DPS Rumbles Against Deal With King." Dogan said the DPS was not created for the sake of having "unanimity" of opinion but "for the sake of finding the best option." He added: "Ideal situations are not usually what politicians get." PB

MENINGITIS OUTBREAK IN BULGARIA

A Bulgarian Health Ministry official said on 18 July that there have recently been 214 cases of viral meningitis reported in southern Bulgaria, AP reported. The official said one small boy has died in the outbreak, which is not large enough to be declared an epidemic. Viral meningitis is an inflammation of the covering of the brain and the spine. It is highly contagious. PB




ELECTION REMATCH SET FOR NIZHNII NOVGOROD


By Oleg Rodin

The second round of the gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod, which is scheduled to take place on 29 July, will pit the two former contenders of the second round of the last gubernatorial election in that region in 1997: a former obkom first secretary, Gennadii Khodyrev, against Ivan Sklyarov, the region's current governor. In the 1997 ballot, Sklyarov won with just some 3 percent more votes than Khodyrev -- but in this year's first round, Khodyrev had 3.62 percent more votes than Sklyarov -- 24.44 percent versus Sklyarov's 20.82 percent, according to a preliminary count of 100 percent of the ballots. Khodyrev, a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, had not even been expected to finish in the top three candidates.

Immediately after the announcement of the preliminary results of the vote, Sklyarov declared that the difference between the ballot's top contenders amounted to only about 14,000-15,000 votes, and as such, is not worth discussing. "The struggle is still ahead," Sklyarov emphasized, calling on all of the region's residents to participate in the second round. Even with the support of the presidential administration, Sklyarov's victory cannot yet be considered a foregone conclusion, if for no other reason than that the first round yielded such a surprising result.

It was suggested that Nizhnii Novgorod's 2001 campaign would be the dirtiest the region had seen, and such prognoses turned out to be justified. All of the top contenders in the race were touched by one scandal or another. First of all, the campaign began long before its official start. On the main streets of the oblast's capital, Nizhnii Novgorod, banners appeared with the call for "A new century -- a new governor" -- prompting an investigation by the region's prosecutor and police.

The next scandalous action of the new election campaign began with the showing on the local television station, TNT-Nizhnii Novgorod, of a videotaped monologue in which the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, discussed Governor Sklyarov with sharp and obvious distaste. Although the recording was made in 1999, its broadcast essentially assisted in the process of establishing Kirienko's control over the oblast administration. A number of Kirienko's assistants have since entered the administration's apparatus, including Sergei Obozov, who is its head. Obozov had previously worked in Kirienko's office, managing Nizhnii Novgorod issues. Observers believe that in the event of Sklyarov's re-election to a new term, power in the oblast will in fact be concentrated in the hands of Kirienko and his team. In view of this, it is perhaps not surprising that Kirienko now supports Sklyarov in the election

Another candidate touched by scandal was State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Vadim Bulavinov. Nizhnii Novgorod residents received in their mailboxes a letter bearing Bulavinov's name asking for financial support for his campaign and another touting the recent passage in the State Duma of the law allowing imports of spent nuclear fuel into Russia and linking Bulavinov with a plan to import such waste directly into Nizhnii Novgorod in exchange for a fair share of money. This provocation appeared as polls showed that the majority of Russian citizens opposed such imports. Nevertheless, going into the election, Bulavinov was still considered almost an undisputed favorite in the race, based on the results of several opinion polls. However, he placed only third with 19.07 percent of the vote.

Also expected to do well was Andrei Klimentev, a convicted felon who instead finished fifth with just 10.55 percent of the vote. Klimentev was elected mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod in March 1998, but the results of that election were canceled by the Supreme Court when he was found guilty of stealing a state credit. Local political analysts believe that Klimentev's defeat in the first round can be considered a great success for the "party of power," whose local representatives on several occasions declared that they would do all that was possible to ensure that someone connected with the criminal world not become head of the oblast.

Those analysts believe that the "anti-Klimentev campaign" was waged following strict guidelines. For example, it was forbidden to remove Klimentev from the ballot because that might conjure up unhelpful associations with his previous mayoral election: In 1998 the level of his support grew after the cancellation of the elections. It was also thought that if Klimentev was removed from this year's gubernatorial elections, his victory in next year's mayoral race in Nizhnii Novgorod would have been assured. So rather than seeing Klimentev disqualified, residents were treated to posters around their city, with slogans such as "Gays for Andrei" and "Prostitutes for Andrei." (Klimentev was the only candidate whose first name was Andrei.) Also during the past several months, notices throughout the city were painted over with the words "Death for Klima."

Dmitrii Savelev, the candidate, who finished fourth with 12.58 percent of the vote, also figured in a dirty campaign tactic. Savelev is a State Duma deputy from the Union of Rightist Forces. On 7 May, an anonymous phone call was placed to the police, who discovered a group of young people at the local Oka hotel preparing leaflets calling "For the separation of Autozavodskii Raion from Nizhnii Novgorod" and "For the nomination of Dmitrii Savelev for the post of presidential envoy." Savelev's campaign staff as well as the candidate himself denied that they had anything to do with the preparation of the documents or with their openly provocative nature.

Meanwhile, the scandal regarding the participation of Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev in the gubernatorial election continues. Representatives of the citizens initiative group that originally nominated him declared at a recent press conference that they have sent an appeal protesting the violation of Lebedev's rights to the political department of the United Nations, the Helsinki Group for Human Rights, the European Council, and other international organizations. Lebedev's registration as a candidate was canceled, according to the oblast election commission, because he used administrative resources for the gathering of signatures to support his candidacy. The commission received evidence documenting that signatures for the mayor had been collected by people under the direction of the city housing office and schools. Following the recent rejection by a local court of his suit challenging the Election Commission's decision, Lebedev sent an appeal to the Supreme Court. And should the court decide in his favor, the results of the first round would be declared invalid.

However, few analysts are expecting the court to take such action, so voters will likely have the final say in the 29 July rematch between Sklyarov and Khodyrev. For Sklyarov, the election result may be seen as a judgment by the voters of the past four years. Sklyarov was elected following the departure of Boris Nemtsov to join the team of then-President Boris Yeltsin. And in the four years following Nemtsov's departure, Nizhnii Novgorod, which was once considered to be at the forefront of economic reform, reverted to being a provincial backwater. Under Sklyarov, the region formally remained a "donor region," that is, a region that gives more to the federal budget in tax revenues than it receives back in federal transfers. But the standard of living of the population slid to 50th place among federation subjects. The oblast's debts amount to roughly double the size of the oblast's annual budget. Voters who are unhappy with this state of affairs may find a way to express their displeasure by supporting Sklyarov's former nemesis, Khodyrev, and reversing what they may now see as their mistake made four years ago.

Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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