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Newsline - August 22, 2001




PUTIN VISITS ANOTHER MONASTERY

President Vladimir Putin visited the Iversk monastery near Novgorod on 21 August, the day after he visited the monastery in Solovki, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 16, reported that church leaders are among the least interested in supporting democracy and media freedom and the most supportive of a strong state. According to a poll whose results were given by that supplement, 37 percent of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church do not consider democracy to be appropriate for Russia and only 15 percent are in favor of free speech. At the same time, 85 percent of the hierarchs believe that order is an essential condition for the development of Russia. PG

GORBACHEV JOINS PUTSCH MEMORIAL SERVICE...

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on 21 August joined 100 others at Moscow's Vaganskovskoye cemetery to honor the three defenders of the Russian White House in August 1991 who are buried there, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Gorbachev said after the memorial service that "it's a pity that our expectations haven't materialized," reiterating his view that "the coup plotters precipitated the breakup of the Soviet Union." He also took the occasion to criticize former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and to praise current President Putin for his actions. PG

...AS COMMUNISTS PICKET GORBACHEV FUND OFFICES

A small group of Moscow communists on 21 August picketed the headquarters of the Gorbachev Fund for 90 minutes, Interfax reported. The demonstrators, who remained peaceful, carried signs blaming Gorbachev for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. PG

LUKIN CALLS PUTIN'S FAILURE TO COMMENT ON 1991 COUP 'LOGICAL'

In an interview with Interfax on 21 August, Duma deputy speaker and Yabloko leader Vladimir Lukin said that President Putin's decision not to make any public comment on the events of August 1991 reflects "a definite logic." Lukin noted that Putin has been unwilling to link himself to any particular political party or grouping and thus does not want to take sides concerning the attempted coup. Meanwhile, Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces [SPS]) Sergei Yushenkov said that the fact that Putin has remained outside Moscow for the duration of the anniversary is telling, the news service said. PG

GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT 2002 BUDGET

The Russian cabinet on 21 August approved a draft budget for 2002 that will be presented to the Duma on 26 August, Russian and Western agencies reported. The draft calls for an overall surplus, international borrowing of up to $2 billion, and continued payment on Russia's international debts. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that as long as oil prices stay above $17 a barrel, Russia will not have to engage in any more borrowing to meet its obligations. The budget also calls for the creation of an emerging financial reserve fund of $1.5 billion. PG

KUDRIN SAYS PUTIN'S TRAVELS REQUIRE MORE FUNDING

Kudrin said that the increase approved by the government for spending on the Office of the President reflects the increasingly active role of President Putin and especially his numerous trips domestically and abroad. Kudrin provided no specific figures but said that spending on travel alone in 2002 will exceed "several times" what was spent for that purpose this year. PG

PUTIN SAID MORE LIBERAL ECONOMICALLY THAN YELTSIN

An article in "Izvestiya" on 21 August argued that President Putin has pursued a more liberal economic course than did his predecessor Yeltsin because Putin has reduced the power of the IMF, met more frequently with business leaders, and supported the introduction of market reforms. Indeed, the article suggested, "economic policy under Vladimir Putin is even more liberal than that of [Yegor] Gaidar or the young reformers." PG

PAVLOVSKII SAYS WEST WANTS TO PROMOTE COMPETITORS TO PUTIN

Gleb Pavlovskii, the head of the Effective Politics Foundation and a Kremlin Media adviser, said in an interview published in "Argumenty i fakty" on 21 August that there is a major "threat" that the West will seek to interfere in the next Russian presidential elections. He said that he believes that "the West is attempting to find and develop within [Russia] one or two serious competitors to [Putin]." He said that such an individual might represent a major region or group of regions of the country. PG

SOBCHAK'S WIDOW WON'T RUN FOR DUMA

Lyudmila Narusova, the widow of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, said on 21 August that she will not accept the proposal of the local branch of the SPS to run for the Duma, Interfax Northwest reported. She said that she believes the outcome of such a ballot would be falsified. Narusova, who is involved with the Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation Fund, also said that the Russian government must lift a 35 percent social tax on German compensation payments for survivors of Nazi slave labor operations before Germany will release any funds, AP reported. PG

LITTLE PROGRESS AT U.S.-RUSSIAN ARMS TALKS

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov on 21 August met with visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton to discuss missile defense and other arms control topics. Both sides agreed not to talk to the media, Reuters reported, but observers suggested that there was little progress on resolving the impasse over the future of the 1972 ABM Treaty, Interfax suggested. PG

U.S. TO END USE OF INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES TO AID RUSSIA

In an interview published in "Moskovskie novosti" on 21 August, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said that the United States intends to refrain from its earlier practice of using international institutions to distribute aid to Russia. Vershbow said that such assistance has delayed the introduction of real reforms necessary for the creation of a market economy. PG

MOSCOW ACCUSES RIGA OF TORTURING SOVIET VETERAN

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 21 August accused the Latvian authorities of torturing Mikhail Farbtukh, an 84-year-old Soviet army veteran from World War II, who has been convicted of war crimes, Interfax reported. The ministry statement said that the Latvian authorities had acted improperly in not releasing Farbtukh because of his health. PG

RUSSIA WANTS CO-SPONSORSHIP ARRANGEMENTS ON MIDEAST TALKS KEPT

Deputy Foreign Minister Vasilii Sredin, who is also the special representative of the Russian president for Middle East talks, told Interfax on 21 August that Moscow opposes any movement away from the existing arrangements under which Russia and the United States are co-sponsors of Middle East talks. PG

RUSSIA, CUBA TO WORK TOGETHER AT UNITED NATIONS

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in Havana on 21 August that Russia and Cuba have agreed to expand their cooperation in the work of the United Nations and its various agencies, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA, CHINA TO WORK ON SPACE COMMUNICATIONS

Russian Communications Minister Leonid Reiman told ITAR-TASS in Beijing on 21 August that he has agreed with Chinese officials to expand cooperation between the two countries in the areas of satellite communications and other information fields. He added that the two sides have agreed to set up a special subcommission on communications and information. PG

MOSCOW CALLS ON JAPAN NOT TO POLITICIZE FISHING ISSUE

First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev on 21 August said that Moscow hopes Japan will not politicize the issue of fishing rights in the waters around the Kurile Islands, Interfax reported. Avdeev was speaking after a visit to the ministry by Japanese Ambassador Minoru Tabu, who had raised the question of Moscow's sale of fishing rights in these waters to third countries. Meanwhile, the same day, members of the Sakhalin Oblast Duma complained to Interfax-Eurasia that federal officials have been unwilling to discuss the Kuriles issue and particularly the status of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration that anticipated the return of the islands from the Soviet Union to Japan. Also on 21 August, Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov said he wants Moscow to prohibit all fishing by foreign firms in the southern Kuriles, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

RUSSIAN ECONOMIC GAINS SEEN PULLING CIS TOGETHER

A Moscow meeting of the ambassadors of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) concluded that recent Russian economic gains have served to pull the CIS together, "Vremya MN" reported on 21 August. Most of the participants suggested that although the CIS had made no progress for eight of the past 10 years, it might become something like the European Union in the relatively near future. PG

RADIATION MONITORING INCREASED IN MURMANSK

Specialists have stepped up their monitoring of radiation levels throughout the Kola Peninsula, Interfax Northwest reported on 21 August. There are now 34 monitoring stations throughout that region. At present, officials said, radiation levels are within acceptable limits. PG

SAMARA OFFICIALS ASK CITIZENS TO TURN IN GUNS

Interior Ministry officials in Samara Oblast have launched a month-long program to have citizens turn in voluntarily any guns or explosive materials in their possession, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. Those who do so or those who inform on those with illegal weapons, the paper said, will be given cash awards. The program ends on 17 September. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH EXPANDS MISSIONARY WORK IN SIBERIA, FAR EAST

The Russian Orthodox Church has stepped up its missionary work in the cities of Siberia and the Far East, building churches in cities and towns that were founded during the Soviet era and therefore never had such a church, according to a survey of church activities in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 16. In addition, the article said, the church is sending out priests to rural areas and construction sites to try to recruit new members. PG

CHUKOTKA TO COOPERATE WITH ARCTIC PEOPLES

The administration of the Chukotka Peninsula has signed a cooperation memorandum with the international organization that links together the Inuit peoples of the northern regions of the United States, Canada, Greenland, and other parts of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. The document calls for expanding joint efforts to protect the peoples of the North regardless of where they live. PG

LENSK FLOOD VICTIMS RESIST MOVING SOUTH

The victims of spring floods in Lensk and adjoining regions in the Russian Far East have resisted government efforts to relocate them to the south pending reconstruction of their homes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 August. The paper said that they prefer to wait in their own damaged homes rather than risk leaving for the unknown. PG

FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS RUSSIA, CIS STATES HAVE NOT CONSOLIDATED DEMOCRACY

"Kommersant-Daily" on 20 August reported that the U.S.-based Freedom House rating has concluded that "except for the Baltic states, not a single post-Soviet republic can be called a consolidated democracy." And it included Russia in the list of five post-Soviet states where democratic indicators fell between July 1999 and October 2000. PG

SKURATOV SAYS 45,000 TRADED GOVERNMENT BONDS BEFORE 1998 DEFAULT

Yurii Skuratov, the former Russian prosecutor-general, said in an interview published in "Argumenty i Fakty" on 21 August that some 45,000 people were involved in trading GKOs immediately before the Russian default in August 1998. He said many senior officials were involved but added that neither Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin nor President Yeltsin were among them. He also said that the International Monetary Fund acted incorrectly by sending money into Russia when its officials knew the country was close to default, thus encouraging some Russians to take advantage of the situation. PG

BYKOV'S LAWYERS PREPARED TO APPEAL TO STRASBOURG COURT

Lawyers for embattled Krasnoyarsk businessman Anatolii Bykov said in Moscow on 21 August that they will appeal to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg if the Russian Constitutional Court does not reverse a ruling by the Russian Supreme Court that ordered Bykov to face trial, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The lawyers argued that Bykov enjoys immunity from prosecution because he is a member of the Krasnoyarsk legislature. PG

MILITARY PROSECUTORS PLAN TO PROTEST MOISEEV SENTENCE

The Office of the Main Military Prosecutor announced on 21 August that it has completed preparation of a protest against what prosecutors called the light sentence of 4.5 years in prison imposed against former Russian diplomat Valentin Moiseev for spying for South Korea, Interfax reported. The prosecutors seek a minimum sentence of 12 years incarceration as set in Article 275 of the Criminal Code. Moiseev was originally sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in December 1999, but the Supreme Court on 25 July 2000 vacated that sentence and ordered a new trial. A second trial imposed the 4.5 year sentence on 14 August 2001. PG

HEROIN USERS INCREASE 1,500 PERCENT OVER LAST DECADE

Konstantin Anufriev, an official in the Interior Ministry's Main Administration for the Struggle Against Illegal Drugs, said that the number of heroin users in Russia has increased by more than 15 times over the last decade, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. As a result, Russia is rapidly becoming a drug consumer country as well as an important drug transit route, Anufriev said. He noted that some 130,000 criminal cases involving drugs have been opened this year alone and that more than 35,000 traffickers from 84 foreign countries have been detained. At the same time, Anufriev noted that most cocaine comes to Russia via the Baltic countries. PG

FEWER MURDERS IN ST. PETERSBURG

Vladislav Piotrovskii, the chief of the Criminal Investigation Administration in St. Petersburg, said on 21 August that the number of murders so far in 2001 totals 581, a 5 percent decline compared with the same period a year earlier, Interfax reported. He said that ever more of the murders, including murders for hire, are being solved. PG

BUDANOV NOW AT THE SERBSKY INSTITUTE

Colonel Yurii Budanov, the regimental commander charged with killing a Chechen woman, is currently being examined by psychiatrists at the Serbsky Institute in Moscow, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 21 August. This is the third time he has been examined by psychiatrists. If Budanov is judged sane, he could face life imprisonment for his actions; if he is found emotionally disturbed, he might be sentenced to no more than five years and could be released as soon as this fall under an amnesty. PG

SMOKE RISES FROM OSTANKINO TV TOWER

Firefighters came to the Ostankino television tower on 21 August after smoke rose from the structure, but they discovered that the smoke was from a faulty electric system component and had not caused a fire, dpa reported. On 27 August 2000, three people died during a blaze there. Also on 21 August, the State Construction Committee Gosstroi said that the 2002 draft state budget provides funds to guarantee a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the rebuilding of the television tower. PG

ZYUGANOV COMPLAINS RUSSIA LACKS 'NATIONALLY-ORIENTED' TV

Speaking in Minsk on 20 August, Russian Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov complained that his country lacks a "nationally-oriented" television channel, Interfax-West reported. He said that on many Russian television channels, there is a distorted picture presented of "everything Russian, Slavic, and Belarusian." These stations, he said, "sow a sense of hopelessness and do not call attention to the good -- this is a means of psychological war, including against Belarus, which is particularly marked on the eve of elections for the president of Belarus." PG

'KURSK' RAISING MAY BE SLIGHTLY DELAYED

Officials overseeing the raising of the sunken "Kursk" submarine said on 21 August that bad weather may delay the completion of their task from 15 September to later in that month, Interfax Northwest reported. PG

PATRIARCH PRAYS FOR GULAG VICTIMS

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II on 21 August prayed for the memory of the victims of Stalin's Gulag in general and the Solovki camps in particular, Interfax reported. Aleksii welcomed the new wave of construction of churches throughout Russia. In this, he said, "is the future of our people." PG

KREMLIN OFFICIALS MEET WITH MEMORIAL GROUP

Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the presidential administration, met for two hours with the leaders of the "Memorial" Society on 20 August, Interfax reported the same day. Consumer Societies President Aleksandr Auzan cited this as evidence that the Kremlin continues to seek to meet and cooperate with nongovernmental organizations, the agency said. PG

COURT FREEZES STEEL MAGNATE'S SHARES IN CHILD SUPPORT CASE

A Moscow court has frozen Severstal head Aleksei Mordashev's 32.5 percent of the shares in his company on the basis of a lawsuit brought by his former wife over child support, AP reported on 21 August. Mordashev's ex-wife insisted that her former husband has failed to provide sufficient funding for their children, but Mordashev denied this and said that his ex-wife is being used by his business competitors in an effort to weaken his company. PG

OFFICIALS OPPOSE SALE OF BOTTLED HOLY WATER

Officials in Penza have refused to recognize the right of an Orthodox church there to bottle and sell water deemed by the church to be holy, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 16, reported. The church had reached an agreement with a local bottling company, and the government officials are seeking to nullify that contract. PG

RUSSIANS CLAIM BASAEV WOUNDED, CHECHENS DENY IT

Russian military spokesmen claimed on 22 August that Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev was wounded in a shoot-out with Russian reconnaissance troops late the previous day in Vedeno Raion in southern Chechnya. Six of Basaev's bodyguards were said to have been killed in that clash. But a spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov denied that Basaev has been wounded, according to AP. Reuters quoted the Chechen website www.kavkaz.org as claiming that Chechen fighters killed some 30 federal troops in fighting in Vedeno on 21 August. LF




ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS SYRIA

Following the successful completion on 18 August of the second stage of Russian-Armenian joint military maneuvers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2001), Serzh Sarkisian flew to Damascus for talks on 20 August with his Syrian counterpart, First Lieutenant General Mustafa Tlas, and with Chief of Army General Staff Ali Aslan on the prospects for developing bilateral military cooperation, according to Noyan Tapan and SANA, as cited by Groong. LF

IS THERE A SEPARATIST THREAT IN NORTHERN AZERBAIJAN?

Events since last fall in the northern raion of Zakatala are part of an effort by "domestic and foreign enemies of an independent Azerbaijani state" to fan tensions within Azerbaijan, Zakatala district council head Rafael Medjidov told journalists on 21 August, Turan reported. Medjidov said that efforts are being made to mobilize members of the Avar and Tsakhur minorities, which together account for over one-third of the raion's 110,000 population, to demand the transfer of the Zakatala and Belokany raions to neighboring Daghestan, where Avars are the largest ethnic group. Medjidov said the 17 August destruction of a monument in Zakatala to Imam Shamil and the shooting attack two days later on five police officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001) were preceded by an attempt to destroy the monument last October, and the distribution of leaflets among the local population containing unspecified threats to the Avar and Tsakhur populations. While Medjidov said he does not believe the Russian government is encouraging separatist sentiments in Zakatala, "525 gazeti" on 21 August blamed both Russia and Iran for rising tensions in the district. The independent newspaper "Zerkalo" on 21 August characterized the situation in Zakatala as "uncontrollable," according to Turan. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 August that tanks and spetsnaz troops have been deployed in the town of Zakatala. LF

MARCH TO COMMEMORATE FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT BANNED

The Baku municipal authorities have rejected a request by the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party for permission to hold a mass march and demonstration in the city to mark the first anniversary on 22 August of the death of former President Abulfaz Elchibey, Turan reported on 21 August. Fazil Gazanfaroglu, who heads a committee to organize the anniversary commemoration, said the march will take place despite the ban. LF

AZERBAIJANI MUSLIM CLERIC DROPS COURT CASE AGAINST JOURNALIST

Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade has withdrawn the libel case he brought against Etibar Mansaroglu, the editor of the independent newspaper "Etimad," after Mansaroglu apologized for publishing an article that has been widely construed as a slur on the cleric, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 August 2001). It is not clear, however, whether the Baku district court also reversed its ruling to close "Etimad." LF

IMPRISONED AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

Former Interior Minister Iskender Hamidov has abandoned the hunger strike he began last week to demand improved prison conditions, his lawyer Yavar Husein told journalists in Baku on 21 August, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2001). Hamidov has been moved to the medical unit of the Gobustan prison and promised a single cell, but his request to be allowed to receive food parcels from his family has been turned down. Hamidov was sentenced in 1995 to 14 years imprisonment for embezzlement of state property and abusing his official position. LF

WILL GEORGIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT FACTION SPLIT?

Several leading members of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) parliament faction have suggested in recent days that the faction is likely to split, Caucasus Press reported. If so, President Eduard Shevardnadze, who heads the SMK, will be constrained to choose whether to support the younger, reformist-minded wing that includes parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, and parliament Defense and Security Committee head Giorgi Baramidze, or the "old guard" headed by former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 30, 17 August 2001). Parliament Human Rights Committee Chairwoman Elene Tevdoradze was quoted on 21 August by "Svobodnaya Gruziya" as predicting that at least nine members of the reformist wing will quit the SMK by October to establish a new faction, and that others will join them. Several deputies originally elected on the SMK ticket quit that faction last year and subsequently founded the "New Right Wing" faction. Shevardnadze, who began a 10-day vacation on 17 August, has not commented on those predictions. LF

MALARIA EPIDEMIC IN GEORGIA

The incidence of malaria in Georgia has reached the point that officially qualifies as an epidemic, Caucasus Press reported on 22 August, quoting a senior health sector official. A total of 176 cases have been registered to date both in eastern and western Georgia, and new cases are reported daily. LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER'S BODYGUARD FEARS ATTEMPT TO KILL HIM IN PRISON

Summoned on 21 August to testify in the ongoing trial of former Kazakh Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, his former bodyguard Satzhan Ibraev said that one attempt has been made recently to kill him in prison, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Ibraev was sentenced in April 2000 to 3 1/2 years imprisonment on charges of illegal possession of weapons, which he claims were politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). Ibraev said he fears a further attempt will be made to kill him and to create the impression that he committed suicide. LF

TAJIK INTERIOR MINISTRY REVIEWS OPERATION TO ARREST SANGINOV

At a press conference in Dushanbe on 20 August, senior Interior Ministry officials sought to portray in the most favorable light the operation to locate and capture the armed groups headed by Rakhmon Sanginov and Mansur Muakkalov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. That operation lasted from late June to mid-August, during which time the ministry twice prematurely claimed to have wiped out the entire force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June and 9 and 31 July 2001). On 20 August, First Deputy Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov said 26 members of the armed gang and nine government troops were killed during the operation; on 13 July, weeks before the final gunfight in which Sanginov was reported killed, an Interior Ministry spokesman told Asia Plus-Blitz that 41 militants and 19 police had already been killed in the hunt for him. Criminal charges have been filed against 94 detained members of Sanginov's force. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES CASPIAN WITH U.S. DIPLOMAT

Saparmurat Niyazov and U.S. Charge d'affaires in Ashgabat Eric Schultz on 20 August discussed the problems arising from the absence of a formal agreement among Caspian littoral states on the legal status of that body of water, Turan reported on 21 August. The agency quoted Turkmen sources as saying that the two men agreed that disputes over the ownership of specific hydrocarbon deposits should be resolved through negotiations. Turkmenistan claims ownership of several oilfields that Azerbaijan is already exploiting. LF




DOMASH WITHDRAWS FROM BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

In accordance with his earlier pledge, Syamyon Domash on 22 August requested that the Central Election Commission drop him from the list of presidential candidates, Belapan reported. Domash withdrew in favor of Uladzimir Hancharyk, the single candidate of the broad democratic coalition. The previous day, speaking on Belarusian Television in a prerecorded, 30-minute campaign program, Domash said the change of the ruling regime in Belarus is a "national salvation task." He appealed to Belarusians to vote for Hancharyk on 9 September. Domash's pull-out means that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will now face two rivals in the election: Trade Union Federation leader Hancharyk and Liberal Democratic Party leader Syarhey Haydukevich. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES $250 MONTHLY...

In his election manifesto published in "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" on 21 August, President Lukashenka pledged to increase average monthly salaries to $250 from the current $100 within the next five years if he is re-elected for a second term. Lukashenka said he will raise the standards of living in Belarus "to the level of economically developed European states through gradual, evolutionary movement forward based on political and socioeconomic stability." The incumbent president promised to guarantee the observance of human rights and introduce the post of an ombudsman as well as to ensure the freedom of expression in the country. "Any attempts on the part of managers and officials 'to shut the mouth' of the citizen will be nipped in the bud!" he vowed. JM

...WHILE HIS RIVAL PROMISES MORE, AND SOONER

Speaking on Belarusian Television on 21 August in a prerecorded election program, presidential candidate Haydukevich promised to raise average monthly salaries to $350-$400 as soon as next year. Haydukevich said that if he wins the presidential election, he will put an end to Belarus's international isolation, reduce the number of state administration officials, reorganize the law-enforcement bodies, introduce a professional army, and give "real freedom" to the media. "I don't want to watch caddishness, sleaze, and blatant lies pouring out of television screens. Every day, from morning to midnight, [we hear] only one name, only one big man, the only just and omnipotent one. Have you not been fed up with that?" Haydukevich asked. Haydukevich is widely seen in Belarus as having virtually no chance of winning. JM

OSCE OFFICIAL CONCERNED ABOUT LATE START OF ELECTION MONITORING IN BELARUS

Hrair Balian, the head of the OSCE monitoring mission in Belarus, said in Minsk on 21 August that he is worried about the fact that OSCE monitors were allowed by the Belarusian authorities to enter Belarus only in mid-August, Belapan and Reuters reported. Balian said the authorities thus prevented the OSCE from monitoring earlier phases of the election campaign. "Two key OSCE [observers] were denied entrance to Belarus without explanation. The scope of the mission will necessarily be limited as a result of the late invitation to observe the election," Balian noted. He said the authorities have also tried to ban the group from talking to the media ahead of the election. "These are unprecedented restrictions of our activity," he added. JM

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SAYS BELARUSIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN FLAWED

Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, said in Minsk on 21 August that the Belarusian authorities are making "an effort to prevent a free and fair [presidential] election," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "The president of Belarus seems to be afraid of democracy. President Lukashenka, himself, declared on 31 July that the governmental apparatus was expected to ensure his re-election," Rhodes noted. He also pointed to threats connected with the so-called "early voting" in Belarus. "Huge numbers of people will vote early and there are reports...of the printing of more ballots than there are registered voters... As the [early voting] system is established now, there is no way to guard the process, there is no transparency to the process, and there is no way to control the process," Rhodes said. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR CHANGES

In a "Manifesto of Democratic Forces" published on 21 August, the National Salvation Forum, the Ukraine Without Kuchma civic committee, and the For the Truth civic committee called on Ukrainians to fight for a democratic Ukraine and to change the country's power system, Interfax reported. The opposition said it is both "proud and worried" ahead of the 10th anniversary of Ukraine's independence on 24 August. "Despite the bright hopes of millions of citizens for the building of a democratic country and affluent society, we received a totalitarian state whose top authorities have, de facto, put the nation outside the law," the opposition's manifesto reads. Socialist Party leader Moroz said the same day that opposition groups have abandoned plans for an alternative Independence Day parade and street concerts and called on the authorities to limit "pompous" festivities. JM

POLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY WANT UKRAINE IN EUROPE

Ahead of the 10th anniversary of Ukraine's independence, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland have sent a joint letter to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Polish and Ukrainian media reported on 21 August. The letter underscores Ukraine's importance as a European country and expresses support for Ukraine's efforts toward rapprochement with European structures. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WON'T SEEK THIRD TERM

Leonid Kuchma has told the "The Washington Times" that he will not seek a third term in office, although some political forces have urged him to use a loophole in the country's constitution to do so. "I ran for president again because I saw there was nobody else to lead the nation. I will retire at the end of my term [in 2004]," the 22 August issue of the newspaper quoted Kuchma as saying. Kuchma confessed that he would like to see centrist forces come to power after next year's parliamentary elections in Ukraine. He said he will not support any specific individuals for the parliament, nor did he indicate his choice for a successor. JM

ESTONIA OK'S FORMATION OF NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY

The cabinet on 20 August endorsed a bill under which state-owned Estonian Television and Estonian Radio would be combined into Eesti Rahvusringhaaling (Estonian National Broadcasting Company), BNS reported. The proposed merger is expected to reduce expenses as there will be a single management and more flexible utilization of funds. The law would not allow advertisements to be broadcast on the public television station, which would be financed in part by charging fees for broadcast permits issued to private television stations. The law must still be approved by parliament. SG

BANK OF LATVIA PRESIDENT AFFIRMS INTENTION TO FORM NEW PARTY

Einars Repse officially announced on 21 August his intention to form a new center-right political party, naming several influential businessmen and the leader of Latvia's Jewish society as supporters, BNS reported. He did not deny that former Riga Mayor Andris Argalis and former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis might join the party, but stressed that the party will try to attract people who were not previously politically active. Repse affirmed that the party will be center-right, and based on the principles of honesty, professionalism, and openness while espousing the values of freedom and social welfare. A statement declared that "The state will be working for the people, and not the other way around. Taxes will be reduced, but properly collected. State money will not be missing. Smugglers and tax evaders will no longer be in a privileged position. Bureaucracy and corruption will be eradicated, starting from the top. Laws and various regulations will be simplified and put in order." Latvia's Way Chairman and Prime Minister Andris Berzins welcomed Repse's formal return to political life and expressed hope that the new party will boost competition among the center-right parties and facilitate their development, LETA reported. SG

BELGIUM TO BACK LITHUANIA'S EFFORTS TO SPEED UP EU TALKS

Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite told Belgian Finance Minister Didier Reynders in Vilnius on 21 August that Lithuania intends to conclude the negotiations on the chapters over customs duties, financial control, and taxes in the second half of the year while Belgium is heading the European Union, ELTA reported. She noted that Lithuania will ask for transition periods for the introduction of minimal EU excise duties on cigarettes and diesel fuel. Reynders said that Belgium will back the development of Lithuania's economy and the greater liberalization of trade with the EU. He noted that the greatest problems are in the energy field, and expressed the hope that Lithuania and the European Commission can find a suitable compromise on financing the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant. Reynders discussed monetary policy, the shifting of the pegging of the litas from the U.S. dollar to the euro, and Lithuanian banking development with Bank of Lithuania Chairman Reinoldijus Sarkinas. He also held talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT SEEKS 2002 BUDGET SAVINGS

Jerzy Buzek's cabinet on 21 August decided that next year's budget deficit will not exceed 40 billion zlotys ($9.3 billion), Polish media reported. Facing an estimated 2002 budget gap of 88 billion zlotys, Buzek told his ministers to look for spending cuts. Polish Television said ministries have so far offered spending cuts amounting to 8.3 billion zlotys. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance, which is widely expected to win the 23 September general elections in a landslide and form a new government, is demanding that the current cabinet immediately present a report on the situation of public finances to the parliament. JM

SCHROEDER SAYS DECISION ON TEMELIN IS CZECH REPUBLIC'S 'SOVEREIGN RIGHT'...

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 21 August told journalists after meeting with Czech Premier Milos Zeman at the Sychrov castle in northern Bohemia that the Czech Republic has "a sovereign right" to decide on whether or not to launch the Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK and international agencies reported. He emphasized that differences on Temelin between the German and Czech governments will not be a barrier to Czech membership of the EU and that the Czech Republic should be an EU member by 2004. Zeman and Schroeder said they both regard the Melk agreement between the Czech and Austrian premiers as "decisive" on Temelin's future. Earlier, Schroeder visited Mlada Boleslav's SkodaAuto, which is owned by Germany's Volkswagen AG. He praised the joint venture's success and said it is a good example of German-Czech economic collaboration and of how East European firms can modernize. Schroeder is on a tour of eastern Germany and Polish and Czech border towns. He will meet again with Zeman on 24 August in Cheb and Frantiskovy Lazne. MS

...VISITS LIBEREC SYNAGOGUE

Schroeder later visited a synagogue in Liberec -- the only Jewish place of worship constructed in the Czech Republic after World War II -- which is part of a modern 12-story library. The synagogue and the library were constructed on the site where an old synagogue was burned down by the Nazis on 9 November 1938 -- the "Kristallnacht." Liberec, then named Reichenberg, was part of Nazi-controlled Sudetenland. Schroeder said that the town "had been an example of peaceful coexistence between Czechs, Germans, and Jews, until Nazi barbarism destroyed it." MS

CZECH PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSIONS TO DISCUSS RENEWED EXODUS OF ROMA TO U.K.

The Chamber of Deputies Foreign Affairs Commission and its European Integration Commission will interrupt their parliamentary vacation to discuss on 23 August the renewed wave of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic to the U.K., CTK reported on 21 August. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said that U.K. authorities are considering renewing checks at Prague's Ruzyne airport of those intending to travel to that country. A spokesman for the British Embassy said that "if the number of asylum seekers continues to grow, we are ready to resume immigration checks." Romany Civic Initiative Chairman Stefan Licartovsky told CTK that activists from his organization have begun visiting Romany families to persuade them not to leave the Czech Republic. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SUPPORTS PROFESSIONALIZATION OF ARMY

Vaclav Havel is backing Defense Ministry plans to professionalize the army, Jaroslav Skopek, the government commissioner on army reforms, told journalists after meeting with the president in Prague, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Martin Krafl said Havel will participate in a special government meeting on the planned reforms, while Skopek said that Havel is ready to help bring about a consensus on the reforms. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik discussed the envisaged reforms on 21 August with Civic Democratic Party and Chamber of Deputies speaker Vaclav Klaus. After the meeting, Klaus said he is "glad" that the cabinet realizes that "the reforms do not have only a military aspect" and are not a matter for "one government and one political party to decide on." Klaus said the professionalization of the army must be carried out through a "political consensus" involving all parties. The plans of the government envisage a force of around 35,000 professional soldiers and 10,000 civilian employees, and should be carried out by 2006. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT TO ASK PARLIAMENT FOR MACEDONIA MISSION APPROVAL

Defense Minister Tvrdik on 21 August said after his meeting with Klaus that he is proposing that the government ask the parliament for approval of the Czech Republic's participation in NATO's mission in Macedonia, CTK reported. The constitutional provisions do not require approval by the legislature for missions abroad that are shorter than 60 days, but opposition politicians have questioned whether the mission really will be completed within 30 days, as envisaged by NATO. Tvrdik said that "I do not want to take the risk of getting the Czech Republic into a complex international situation." Tvrdik added that without prior approval of the parliament the Czech Republic might find itself in a situation where it would have to withdraw its troops "perhaps a mere few hours before the end of the Macedonia mission." MS

INVASION ANNIVERSARY MARKED IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech politicians on 21 August paid tribute to the victims of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries at different sites where monuments in memory of victims were erected in Prague and other Czech towns, CTK reported. The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism (UDV) said that "several dozen" more people were "probably" killed by the invading troops than was acknowledged by the authorities at that time. UDV official Mlada Kadlecova said documents have been discovered in the offices of the former regional and district health authorities attesting to a higher death toll and to an even higher number of injured people. The official figures reported 90 people killed between 21 August and 3 September 1968. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes," which cited Kadlecova, also wrote that material damages were also far higher than initial estimates. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS CABINET'S TAX CUT PLANS

Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova on 21 August criticized a government decision to cut corporate taxes, Reuters and AP reported. Schmognerova said the plan will prevent Slovakia from meeting criteria for EU membership, including the goal of lowering the deficit to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2004. The decision was approved by the cabinet on 20 August and envisages lowering corporate income taxes from the current 29 percent to 26 percent in 2002, and by a further 2 percent every year until it reaches 18 percent in 2005. Schmognerova said the decision will benefit "only those with large incomes and large entrepreneurs" and will hurt the average tax payer. She said her Party of Democratic Left will not support the plan in the parliament but answered "no comment" to a question by Reuters on whether she intends to resign. MS

DZURINDA, KUKAN WARN AGAINST SLOVAK COALITION BREAKUP

In a statement marking the anniversary of Czechoslovakia's invasion by Warsaw Pact countries in 1968, Prime Minster Mikulas Dzurinda on 21 August said Slovakia no longer faces a threat from abroad, but "our freedom and democracy are [still] at stake" and "our entry into the community of democratic countries could be endangered from inside, by ourselves." Alluding to the threat that the Hungarian Slovak Party (SMK) might leave the cabinet he heads and bring about its replacement by one headed by former Premier Vladimir Meciar, Dzurinda called on Slovaks to prevent "the country's occupation from inside," CTK reported. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan warned that a breakup of the coalition would endanger the continuation of the country's successful foreign policy. In a reference to SMK's demand that ethnic Hungarians be allowed to have their own self-managing regions, Kukan said that "it would be a pity if the coalition broke up due to this politically sensitive issue to which great attention is paid both at home and abroad." He added that Slovakia's "foreign partners are convinced that unlike the Balkans, we have managed in the last three years to handle ethnic minority issues in a democratic, European manner." MS

ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER IN BUDAPEST

Visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on 21 August discussed with his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi bilateral relations and the Middle East conflict, Hungarian media reported. Peres was also received by Premier Viktor Orban and President Ferenc Madl. Martonyi said Hungary is "Israel's friend and will remain so" and that the cabinet encourages Israeli investments in Hungary. In an interview with the daily "Magyar Nemzet," Martonyi said Hungary fosters good ties with both Palestinians and Israelis and "will do its best to stabilize the region," but added that this "does not mean that it will act as mediator, since this is the task of far bigger political actors." Peres refused to comment on the recent scandal involving anti-Semitic pronouncements by Justice and Life Party Deputy Chairman Laszlo Bognar, saying he is not familiar with the details, but added "I think anti-Semitism is more your problem than ours." MS

COMMISSION APPROVES SOCIALIST-SPONSORED HUNGARIAN REFERENDUM INITIATIVE

The National Election Commission on 21 August ruled that the Socialist Party can begin collecting signatures in September for its referendum initiative to amend the labor code, the method of calculating pensions, the abolishment of peacetime compulsory military service, and for free foreign-language examinations in public education, Hungarian media reported. The commission's decision can be challenged at the Constitutional Court within 15 days. The Socialists first presented the referendum initiative last spring and the commission approved it, but the Constitutional Court ruled that each question in the referendum has to be posed separately, which the new initiative does. In other news, the Constitutional Court on 21 August re-elected Janos Nemeth as its president and Andras Holl as its vice president. MS

BELGIUM JOINS BID TO LEASE FIGHTER JETS TO HUNGARY

Belgium on 21 August joined a growing list of countries proposing to lease fighter aircraft to Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Brussels is offering to lease 18 F-16 fighters that need to be overhauled and said it is prepared to upgrade the aircraft. Hungary has received similar offers from the United States, Sweden, and Turkey. MS.




NATO MAKES MACEDONIAN MISSION OFFICIAL

Meeting in Brussels on 22 August, the North Atlantic Council authorized the deployment of 3,500 troops to Macedonia for Operation Essential Harvest, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2001). Their task will be to collect weapons voluntarily surrendered by the guerrillas of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) following the conclusion of a political settlement by the two leading Macedonian and two largest Albanian political parties. The mission is slated to last 30 days from the date that the entire force is in place. Full deployment is expected to last 10 to 14 days. The council made its decision the previous day. It then gave member governments 24 hours to object under NATO's "silence procedure" rule, according to which a measure is considered to come into effect unless a member state objects. PM

ITALY TO SEND TROOPS TO MACEDONIA

In Rome on 21 August, Italian authorities said they will provide 700 troops for the force, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The major question mark is Germany, which requires legislative approval for the deployment of its troops abroad. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has repeatedly said that Germany will fulfill its obligations to its allies and send 500 soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2001). Many conservative legislators say, however, that the cash-strapped military is in no position to take on new obligations. Some deputies to the left of center oppose the deployment of German forces abroad. Others say that it will be impossible for Essential Harvest to fulfill its mission within 30 days, which will lead to an ill-defined, longer-term commitment. Britain will supply 1,800 troops, with the rest coming from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, and the United States. Crack Czech and British units arrived on 17 August as part of a 400-strong vanguard mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2001). PM

NATO MACEDONIAN MISSION CONSISTS OF THREE PHASES

The first phase of Essential Harvest is deployment, AP reported from Brussels on 22 August. The mission will be based in Skopje, with individual battalions located northwest of the capital and at Petrovec airport, Kumanovo, and Krivolak. The second phase involves weapons collection and will begin once collection sites are set up. There will be several locations, which will change frequently. The weapons will then be taken to a central collection point and to Greece for destruction. It is not yet clear how many weapons NATO expects to collect. At the end of the operation, the third phase -- withdrawal -- will begin. PM

'SECRET ARMS SUPPLIES FOR MACEDONIA'

This is the headline of an article in "The Times" on 22 August. It notes that "huge planeloads of arms from Ukraine and Russia are being delivered secretly at night to Petrovec airport in...Macedonia as part of a buildup of arms by the government, according to [unnamed] Western defense sources." The article adds that the Macedonian security forces are not expected to disarm as the UCK is, and they are "rapidly increasing its stockpile of weapons." Ukraine, which is a major arms supplier to Macedonia, had promised the U.S. to "consider suspending" its arms deliveries during peace negotiations, "but since the settlement was signed, giant Antonov transport planes have been spotted landing at night at Petrovec" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT, REBELS HAIL NATO MISSION

Stevo Pendarovski, an adviser to President Boris Trajkovski, said in Skopje on 22 August: "We have big expectations [for] NATO's mission. The NATO forces will launch a rather delicate mission with a high degree of responsibility. Macedonia [intends to comply] with the cease-fire agreement and...provide NATO all necessary preconditions for successful completion of its mission," AP reported from Skopje on 22 August. A UCK spokesman called on NATO to be "even-handed" and not be "manipulated" by the Macedonians. He warned that the Albanians will resort to arms again if they do not get their rights. UCK political spokesman Ali Ahmeti had earlier said that the Albanians have no more reason to take up arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 August 2001). PM

ALBANIAN MACEDONIAN PARTIES ASK NATO TO STAY LONGER

Leading officials of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) told the Albanian-language daily "Fakti" on 22 August that they want NATO troops to stay beyond 30 days, dpa reported from Skopje. The officials said that they want NATO to protect ethnic Albanians from the Macedonian security forces and paramilitaries until enough Albanian police are trained. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER SLAMS 'INQUISITION'

Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 21 August that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is behaving like an "inquisition" in demanding a vote of confidence against his government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August 2001). Djindjic stressed that "now is not the time to talk about a cabinet reshuffle." Elsewhere, Serbian Interior Minster Dusan Mihajlovic slammed the DSS for suggesting that crime has flourished since he came to office. And police official Dragan Karleusa told journalists that Momir Gavrilovic, the security official recently murdered after a visit to Kostunica's office, had contacts to the criminal underworld and was "involved" in some killings himself. Observers note that Kostunica and his backers have countered charges arising from the Gavrilovic case with a flurry of accusations against Djindjic and his supporters. PM

TALKS HELD ON FUTURE OF VOJVODINA

Members of the steering committee of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition -- albeit without Kostunica -- held talks in Novi Sad on 22 August with Vojvodina political leaders about the province's future, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT KOSOVA IN INTEGRATED EUROPE

Rexhep Meidani told Reuters in Tirana on 22 August: "I believe the last step [in Kosova's political development] -- when conditions have matured there in terms of democracy, having the right institutions, entirely respecting human rights, and creating a normal multiethnic society -- I believe the right solution will be independence." Meidani added that EU membership for the Balkan countries may seem like "a fantasy...but this fantasy could be a reality quite soon. For that we need open-minded people and we need to overcome the barriers of the past." He stressed that "through this process of democratization and progress in society, and the process of integration and accession of our region to the European Union, the conditions will be entirely [ripe] for an independent Kosova as a part of the European Union." He dismissed concerns in Serbia and elsewhere about changing borders, arguing that borders will cease to be very important in an integrated Europe. PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL TO INVESTIGATE HERZEGOVINIANS

Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said in Zagreb on 21 August that The Hague-based war crimes tribunal is seeking information from the government regarding war crimes committed by ethnic Croats in the Mostar area, "Jutarnji list" reported. Among the 30 persons about whom The Hague has requested information are General Slobodan Praljak and former Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic. PM

OSCE LOOKS INTO BOSNIAN SERB MEDIA

A spokesman for the OSCE said in Banja Luka that his office and that of High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch are conducting an investigation of the Banja Luka daily "Glas Srpski" and the news agency SRNA, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The spokesman added that the investigators are concerned that the daily and the news agency are not independent of the Bosnian Serb authorities. Observers note that "Glas Srpski" and SRNA were founded during the 1991-1995 war as mouthpieces of nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic. Neither is particularly known in the journalistic profession for objectivity or reliability. PM

ROMANIA, IMF RESUME TALKS

An IMF delegation on 21 August resumed talks with government officials on the cabinet's draft budget for 2002, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Romania is seeking a new standby agreement following the suspension of the previous agreement in 1999 due to the previous cabinet's failure to respect its terms. Finance Ministry officials said the talks are focusing on the cabinet's commitments to reduce some $2.6 billion in arrears to the budget by state-owned companies and a freeze on civil service wages. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase recently revealed that Neven Mates, the chief IMF negotiator for Romania, has criticized his cabinet for not eliminating several thousand public service posts and for having raised wages in the public service sector. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 'BALL IN BULGARIAN COURT'

Commenting on recent Bulgarian statements denying that a "tandem approach" for accessing EU and NATO was agreed upon during his 14 August visit to Sofia, Premier Nastase on 21 August said that the formula he proposed in Sofia was considered by Bulgarian officials to be "reasonable." If the authorities in Sofia are now reluctant to embrace it, Romania "has enough resources of its own" to "pursue the accession path by itself," Nastase said. He added that "the ball is in the Bulgarian court" (see "RFE/RL Newsline", 20 and 21 August 2001). MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER FORCED TO EAT HIS WORDS

Chamber of Deputies' Chairman Valer Dorneanu told journalists on 21 August that his recent statement that ethnic parties might be outlawed was "cited out of context" and "misunderstood," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). Dorneanu said that he had merely raised a "theoretical issue" but that his Social Democratic Party (PSD) does not intend to propose the outlawing of ethnic parties as an amendment to the constitution. "The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania is our ally and we trust the leadership of that party. Hence, we could not back the outlawing of such parties," he said. The PSD leadership had discussed his statement at a meeting on 20 August. Dorneanu also said that if no agreement is reached with Budapest on the Status Law approved by the Hungarian parliament, the Romanian legislature will have to discuss measures aimed at "countering the effects of that law." MS

POLICE QUESTION FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER OVER PRIVATIZATION AFFAIR

Former Premier Radu Vasile was questioned by police for three hours on 21 August over alleged illegalities committed in the 1998 privatization of RomTelcom, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. More than 30 former officials have been investigated thus far by police, including several ministers. Vasile refused to answer journalists' questions upon leaving the premises. MS

MOLDOVA MAKES RUSSIAN OBLIGATORY IN SCHOOLS

The teaching of the Russian language will again become obligatory in Moldovan primary schools as of the second half of next year, Flux reported on 21 August, citing Education Ministry sources. The obligatory teaching of Russian in those schools was discontinued several years ago. Russian-language classes were optional in some schools or were taught as one out of several foreign languages on offer. On the other hand, Romanian Ambassador to Moldova Adrian Balanescu said at a meeting with Moldovan writers on 21 August that Nastase's cabinet is allocating five times more funding than the previous government for the two countries' "cultural and spiritual integration." MS

BULGARIANS SUPPORT GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC PLANS

More than 85 percent of Bulgarians back tough economic measures, AFP reported on 21 August, citing a poll conducted by the MBMD institute. Almost 60 percent said the economic program recently outlined by Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski will boost economic growth, while 17 percent said the program will not help. However, 75 percent criticized the planned 10 percent hike in electricity and heating fuel prices and only 20 percent said they accept that measure. Seventy percent said they agree with plans to reduce the number of positions in the state administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS SLOVAK VISIT

President Petar Stoyanov's office on 21 August announced that he has canceled a planned visit to Slovakia "owing to a tight schedule and numerous other engagements at that time," BTA reported. Stoyanov was to visit Slovakia in September to attend a summit of European leaders together with 10 other heads of state. MS




SLOVAKIA'S SCHUSTER MAY FIND REAL ADVENTURE AT HOME


By Kathleen Knox

Upon landing in the Slovak capital Bratislava on 22 August, President Rudolf Schuster may well wish he was back with the anacondas and black panthers of Brazil's Amazonian rain forests and Pantanal wetlands.

The 67-year-old head of state began his jungle trek in the middle of last month at the end of an official visit to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

The trip traced the expedition that Schuster's father Alojz made in 1927, when he was part of the first Slovak team to the Pantanal region that borders Bolivia.

Alojz Schuster wrote a book about his travels. Rudolf -- who has already directed television documentaries on various countries, including Brazil -- reportedly plans to do the same.

He'll certainly have plenty of material for an explorer's tale.

During his travels Schuster reportedly stayed with a family of Amazonian Indians on a reservation and dropped in on a tribe his father had visited.

Then there were the unplanned dramas. Schuster was briefly hospitalized in the town of Cuiaba for suspected food poisoning and dehydration after he fainted during a boat trip on the Paraguay River. And earlier this month he had to be rescued from a burning boat on the Rio Negro after the engine caught fire.

Schuster took his wife Irena and his adult children Peter and Ingrid with him on his expedition. Though they're covering the bulk of the cost themselves, the state will have to pay an estimated $19,000 for the three bodyguards who accompanied the family, the daily "Sme" calculated. No official figure has been given yet -- Schuster's advisers says they will tally the cost after he returns.

Critics say Schuster's trip was reckless in light of his recent health problems. Last year he underwent two life-saving operations following a ruptured colon.

But the more serious criticism has centered on the president's absence while trouble was brewing at home.

Floods struck eastern Slovakia and the governing coalition of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda came under severe pressure.

In a typical editorial last week, the daily "Novy Cas" said Schuster is not paying enough attention to public affairs and is trying to pass himself off as an object of public interest instead.

The daily "Narodna obroda" said people are indifferent to whether Schuster was able to film five-meter-long anacondas. It said a president who does not enjoy broad authority will find himself impotent in trying to resolve problems such as the government crisis.

Dzurinda leads a coalition of parties that joined forces in 1998 to oust Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, whose administration was often criticized for backsliding on democratic reforms.

With a European Union-friendly government installed, Slovakia was invited to start EU accession negotiations. The country has also been angling for an invitation to join NATO.

But it was never going to be easy to hold together a coalition that spans much of the political spectrum -- from right-of-center Christian Democrats to reformed communists and ethnic Hungarians.

The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) looks certain to decide to leave the government following a disagreement with its coalition partners over the recently passed law on regional reform. The SMK will make its official decision on 25 August at an extraparliamentary congress. The row started when two other ruling coalition parties voted with the opposition for a law establishing eight new administrative regions instead of a government-proposed bill for 12 regions. The SMK argues that the changes do not go far enough and that they discriminate against ethnic Hungarians by ensuring they are not in the majority in any region.

The SMK's planned departure will leave the government without a majority in parliament and has sent alarm bells ringing in Western governments.

Diplomats have warned that the SMK's exit could harm Slovakia's image abroad. And even if the SMK continues to vote with the coalition, this blow to the country's image could hamper Slovakia's efforts to join the EU and NATO.

Robert Kotian, a commentator for the Slovak daily "Sme," said the winners in the situation are two left-of-center coalition parties -- the reformed communists, or Party of the Democratic Left; and the Party of Civic Understanding, which Schuster founded. "This is a signal for the reforms that the government wanted to follow -- tax, social, and pension reforms," Kotian said. "The positions of the prime minister and [Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Ivan] Miklos will be weakened, so it will be harder for them to push through their plans. That's the domestic aspect. The foreign aspect is that it was seen abroad as very positive that the SMK joined the government and their departure cannot be a positive signal. Next year NATO will have its summit in Prague and Slovakia will pay dearly for this. I'm worried that the level of our top politicians will lead to early elections," he said.

The SMK's move also comes in the run-up to regional elections that could be an important test before the country goes to the polls next year to elect a new parliament. December's regional vote is likely to confirm the coalition's decline in popularity -- and the rise in Meciar's fortunes.

Kotian says Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party is consistently popular, but it is pulling ahead of the coalition parties. The regional election could be a landslide victory by the HZDS over Dzurinda's SDKU, currently trailing behind the HZDS, a new party called Smer, and the SMK.

According to Kotian, the coalition's current problems can only boost Meciar further. "The style of government now has erased the differences between Meciar's and Dzurinda's governments," Kotian said. "People's high moral and democratic expectations have not been fulfilled and...this is really unfortunate."

Whatever the outcome of the government coalition crisis, Schuster is planning at least one more adventure. Next month he intends to climb Slovakia's highest mountain, Gerlach, when nine central European presidents gather for a summit -- if he's fit enough, his advisers say.

Kathleen Knox is an RFE/RL correspondent. Daniel Butora of RFE/RL's Slovak Service also contributed to this report.


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