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Newsline - August 23, 2001




PUTIN VISITS NOVGOROD KREMLIN, GRAVE OF UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S FATHER

President Vladimir Putin on 22 August visited the Kremlin of Velikii Novgorod as well as the cathedral and the monument to the Russian Millennium, Russian news services reported. Putin also laid flowers at the memorial of the grave of the father of current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax Northwest reported. Kuchma's father died during World War II, but his grave was located only in 1996. Putin will travel to Kyiv to take part in the celebrations on 23 August marking the 10th anniversary of Ukrainian independence. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR REDEVELOPMENT OF SOLOVETSKII ISLANDS

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II said in Moscow on 22 August that President Putin has ordered Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov to come up with proposals for a federal development program for the rebirth of the Solovetskii Islands. Aleksii added that he wants the head of the monastery there to be included in all such planning lest the redevelopment program harm the architectural integrity of the area. "The introduction of any pseudo-culture which today is very fashionable, I consider impermissible," Aleksii said. So far, he noted, officials have not included the monastery's leadership in their discussions. PG

GOVERNMENT ASKS SPS TO 'CURTAIL' COUP COMMEMORATION TO ALLOW CABINET TO WORK

The Russian government on 22 August asked the leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) to "curtail" a march near the Russian White House lest such a commemoration impair the workings of the cabinet, Interfax reported. Nonetheless, several thousand Muscovites took part in a rally and then in a concert organized to mark the 10th anniversary of the defeat of the abortive August 1991 coup, RIA-Novosti reported. Also on 22 August, about 200 former defenders of the White House marked State Flag Day, Interfax reported. VY

STATE'S EARNINGS FROM PRIVATIZATION 45 PERCENT ABOVE PLAN

The Property Ministry told Interfax-AFI on 22 August that the Russian government earned 45.4 percent more than planned from privatization during the first seven months of 2001. The government took in 17.3 billion rubles ($580 million) during that period. Dividends paid to the government were 225 percent of the planned amount, rental incomes 135 percent of the planned amount and incomes from the sale of state property and shares 115 percent of the planned amount. PG

FORMER INTERIOR GENERAL TO CHALLENGE STROEV IN OREL

Vladimir Kapustyanskii, a retired Interior Ministry major general, this week informed the Orel Election Commission that he will run for governor against incumbent Governor and Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 August. Kapustyanskii gained fame in August 1991 when he had the students at the militia school he then headed serve as defenders of the Russian White House against the attempted coup. Despite Kapustyanskii's fame, the paper said, Stroev remains the favorite for re-election. PG

BUMPER GRAIN CROP PREDICTED

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 August, Aleksandr Grishin, the general director of the Grain Systems company, predicted that Russian farmers will harvest 78 million tons of grain this year. That would be over 12 million tons more than last year and 5 million tons more than Russian officials had been predicting so far this year. He noted that such a bumper crop would likely lead to a decline in prices for grain, but said that the government is prepared to intervene in the market to keep them from falling too far. PG

GDP PREDICTED TO GROW 5 PERCENT IN 2001...

The website of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry on 22 August reported that, according to that institution's latest calculations, Russia's GDP will be 5 percent larger at the end of 2001 than it was at the end of 2000, Interfax reported. The site projected GDP growth in 2002 at between 3.5 and 4.3 percent. PG

...BUT EIU SAYS RUSSIA TO LAG IN ATTRACTING INVESTMENT

A study prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit and reported by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August predicted that Russia will be in last place among 24 major countries in attracting foreign investment over the next five years. PG

CENTRAL BANK HEAD SAYS STATE MUST HELP COMMON PEOPLE

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 August, Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko said that the government should focus on improving the lives of ordinary people because conditions are now so difficult in many regions that it remains "a mystery how people have survived" to this point. "I believe the people have paid a dear price for the feeling of democracy and freedom," Gerashchenko said. "When will their interests be taken into account?" He said that the government has made many declarations about economic development but argued that, in his opinion, it does not have a "thought-out economic policy." PG

YELTSIN RECALLS AUGUST 1991 FIGHT AGAINST PUTSCH

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov on 22 August met with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Flag Day and talked about the August 1991 putsch, Interfax reported. Nemtsov said that Yeltsin had "very warmly spoken about those Muscovites who had done everything to ensure that the putsch should fail." Nemtsov added that Yeltsin spoke quite willingly about the 1991 events and recalled how important they were for him and for Russia. PG

80 PERCENT OF RUSSIANS BACK UNION WITH BELARUS

According to a poll conducted by the Center of Sociological Research of the National and International Security Foundation and reported by Interfax on 22 August, 80 percent of Russians approve of the formation of a union state between Russia and Belarus. Thirty-eight percent would like it to become a union of a type like the former USSR, 24 percent favor its development as a confederal state, and 26 percent believe Belarus should be absorbed within the Russian Federation. PG

MOSCOW ROUNDTABLE SAYS UKRAINIANS POSITIVE ABOUT RUSSIA

Participants in an academic roundtable discussion in Moscow on 22 August said that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians have a positive attitude toward Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Pollsters told the scholars that 61 percent of Ukrainian citizens have a positive attitude and 13 percent more have a "more positive than negative" one toward Russia, and that more than a third would like the two countries to reunify. Mikhail Pogrebinskii, the director of the Kyiv Center for Political Studies, told the group that 60 percent of Ukrainians believe that Kyiv should give priority to developing relations with Russia, while 25 percent say that their government should first focus on ties with Western Europe. PG

MOLDOVA TO BE INTEGRATED INTO RUSSIAN ENERGY GRID

Now that Ukraine is being integrated into the Russian electrical power system, Moldova will follow, "Vremya novostei" reported on 22 August. The paper said that Chisinau will gain from this arrangement because of transit fees for the export of power and also because of the enhanced role it will give the central Moldovan government over the breakaway Transdniester region. To secure its place in these arrangements, Moldova will hand over to Russia 76 percent of the shares in its largest electrical power station, Moldovan officials said. VY

MOSCOW PAPERS NOTE LITTLE NOSTALGIA FOR USSR IN FORMER REPUBLICS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August summed up the attitudes of the leaders of the CIS states under the headline: "The Leaders of the States of the Commonwealth do not experience any nostalgia for the USSR." And "Izvestiya" on the same day quoted former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk as saying that "the CIS has no future." PG

OFF-COURSE RUSSIAN MISSILE LANDS IN KAZAKHSTAN

An S-300 surface-to-air missile fired from a Russian military base near Astrakhan on 22 August went off course during a training exercise and landed in the desert of Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. This missile caused no damage to property or any injuries, the Russian news service said. PG

NO ULTIMATUM, BUT NO PROGRESS IN RUSSIAN-AMERICAN NMD TALKS

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton on 22 August ended his round of talks with Foreign Ministry officials, saying that the two sides made no progress toward resolving differences over the future of the 1972 ABM Treaty, but denied that he has issued any ultimatum to the Russian side that Moscow must agree to Washington's demands for revision of that accord or face a U.S. withdrawal from that agreement, Russian and Western agencies reported. He did say that if Moscow and Washington cannot reach agreement in the relatively near future, the U.S. "would exercise our express right under the treaty to give notice of withdrawal." PG

MOSCOW REMAINS SKEPTICAL ON NATO PLANS IN MACEDONIA

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 22 August issued a statement expressing skepticism that the Albanian forces in Macedonia will turn in their weapons and that the NATO forces will succeed in pacifying the area, Interfax reported. Duma deputy speaker and Yabloko leader Vladimir Lukin was even more skeptical, noting that "such disarmament will have zero effect," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Duma Defense Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin said that NATO's actions in Macedonia are "unpardonable," Interfax reported, also on 22 August. PG

BEREZOVSKY HAS NO PLANS TO SELL MEDIA HOLDINGS

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 22 August, self-exiled and embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky said that he has no plans to sell his still extensive holdings in the Russian media. He added that he plans to use the holdings to promote his political agenda. PG

GOVERNMENT TV REQUIRES REGIONAL TV CENTERS TO USE ITS LOGO

Viktoriya Arutyunova, the deputy director of the state television channel RTR, announced that as of next month, the channel will require regional television centers that are part of the state television system to use its logo on the air, polit.ru reported on 22 August. VY

ECONOMIC INTERESTS SAID BEHIND FSB-MVD STRUGGLE

"Zhizn" reported on 22 August that competition between the Interior Ministry (MVD) and the Federal Security Service (FSB) for economic dominance over the Russian-Belarusian Slavneft, a competition the FSB ultimately won, allowed the FSB to successfully demand the disbanding of the MVD anti-organized crime forces which had been the power base of former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo. VY

SWISS COURT WON'T BLOCK BOOK ABOUT MENATEP AND MONEY LAUNDERING

A Swiss court agreed with lawyers for Moscow's MENATEP Bank that a book by a French writer and a Luxembourg banker fails to prove that the bank was involved in money laundering of international loan funds provided to Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 August. But the court refused to block the sale of the book in Switzerland. Consequently, while MENATEP may be happy with the court's finding, the paper said, the bank's decision to bring the case will only stimulate interest in the findings reported in the book. VY

VANDALS DESECRATE JEWISH CEMETERY IN KRASNOYARSK

Unknown individuals on 22 August desecrated more than 30 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Krasnoyarsk, Interfax reported. Officials said that the vandals had marked the tombstones with swastikas and slogans such as "Jews, Get Out of Russia!" The authorities suggested that this act was more likely the work of hooligans rather than a planned political action. PG

PATRIARCH SEEKS RETURN OF CONFISCATED PROPERTY

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II said he believes that the Russian state should return most of the property the Soviet authorities seized from the church in the past, RIA-Novosti reported on 22 August. He said that he would be especially pleased if monasteries received their land back, because then the monks could set an example on how to work the land. But an article in "Rossiya" the same day noted that such a return of land could involve the church hierarchy in criminal activities in much the same way as the special privileges the church earlier received in trading in liquor and tobacco. VY

REPARATION PAYMENTS TO NAZI VICTIMS STILL FACE TAX ISSUES

A Finance Ministry spokesman said on 22 August that the government will abolish a 35.6 percent social tax on payments to former victims of Nazi slave labor policies in order to allow the distribution of such payments, AP reported. But Duma Budget Committee officials indicated that they consider such a resolution of the issue impossible or at least impracticable, Interfax reported the same day. Nonetheless, ITAR-TASS reported that the German foundation that controls the funds is "satisfied" with Russian cooperation and will transfer the first tranche of funds on 31 August. PG

ENERGY MINISTRY TO REGULATE EXPORTS OF HYDROCARBONS

Energy Minister Igor Yusupov said that his agency is to be put in charge of regulating the export of all hydrocarbons, including those by privatized oil companies, "Vedomosti" reported on 22 August. Under current arrangements, such exports are controlled by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko as well as by the boards of Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems. The new arrangement suggests, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day, that Yusupov enjoys President Putin's backing and will thus appoint his own people to the boards of the two monopolies. VY

SINGLE AGENCY FOR WATER RESOURCES URGED

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August argues that the Russian government must set up a single agency to regulate domestic water use in order to exploit the country's water supplies in dealing with foreign countries, and to ensure that the interests of other countries in those supplies does not become a threat to Russian national security. PG

FLOOD VICTIMS PROMISED HEAT -- UNLESS SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY HAPPENS

Nikolai Maslov, the deputy chairman of the State Construction Committee Gosstroi, told Interfax on 22 August that all residents of flood-ravaged Lensk will be supplied with heat "unless of course something extraordinary happens." He did not give a time frame for when that heat would be supplied. Maslov added that his committee is not only overseeing the reconstruction of houses and communal services but also new flood walls to prevent a repetition of last spring's flooding. Meanwhile, visiting Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu sharply criticized local leaders for their slow pace of reconstruction following the flood, the Russian news agency reported the same day. PG

MIRONOV CALLS FOR CREATING OMBUDSMAN FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN

Oleg Mironov, the Russian government ombudsman for human rights, on 21 August told Interfax that he believes that Moscow should create a special ombudsman position to protect the rights of women and children. "With each day," he said, "the number of unsupervised children increases, and as a result so does youth crime, child prostitution, and drug abuse." Up to now, Mironov said, the government has devoted insufficient attention to those problems. Mironov said that he has created within his office a working group to monitor violations of the rights of women and children, and that the group is developing legislative proposals for a special ombudsman in that area. PG

MOSCOW ROUNDS UP HOMELESS, BEGGARS

Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev said in Moscow on 22 August that law-enforcement officers are increasing their efforts to get the homeless and beggars off the streets of the Russian capital, Interfax-Moscow reported. He said that over the last year 35,000 such people have been detained, of whom 14,000 were under age and only 8-10 percent were registered Moscow residents. Shantsev also said that he will probably run for mayor if incumbent Yurii Luzhkov decides not to run for a third term. PG

MOSCOW FACES TEACHER SHORTAGE

Lyubov Kezina, the chairman of the Education Committee in Moscow, said that there are currently 687 unfilled teaching positions in the schools of the Russian capital, Interfax-Moscow reported. Among the areas where the shortage is the greatest are among teachers of English, physical education, history, geography, and mathematics. Kezina said she is confident that most of these positions will be filled before the first day of classes in September, and she pointed out that the number of vacancies has fallen from a year ago. PG

63 OF 74 DESERTERS CAUGHT IN SAMARA

Law-enforcement agencies in Samara on 22 August apprehended 63 of the 74 soldiers who had walked away from their military posts there earlier that day, Interfax reported. The 11 still at large are being sought. The news agency reported that the cause of the mass desertion was "a conflict in the collective." PG

U.S. GENERAL FLIES RUSSIAN BOMBER

Lieutenant General Thomas Kekk, the commander of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, on 22 August flew a Russian TU-22M3 bomber, Russian agencies reported. Last year, a Russian general was allowed to fly an American bomber while in the United States. PG

OFFICIAL SAYS THERE WERE ONLY TWO CHOICES FOR RUSSIAN FLAG IN 1991

Georgii Vilinbakhov, the chairman of the presidential Heraldry Council, told Interfax on 22 August on the occasion of Flag Day that the current Russian flag was chosen in 1991 in order to reflect historical traditions. At that time, he said, there were only two real choices: the white-blue-red flag that had been traditional in Russia before 1917, and the black-yellow-white flag that had been used by Tsar Aleksandr II. At the same time, Vilinbakhov said that despite various claims, the authorities have never defined precisely what the colors of the flag mean. Each person, therefore, is free to give them the meaning he wants, Vilinbakhov said. PG

MOSCOW VISITORS GET MAPS OF HOT SPOTS

"The Scotsman" on 22 August reported that visitors to the Russian capital can now purchase maps that identify the most radioactive and toxic sites. Some of these are in out of the way locations, the paper said, but a few are located in parks frequented by many visitors. The "hottest" of these hot spots, the newspaper said, is the area about the Kurchatov Research Institute, where more than 2,000 tons of nuclear wastes are buried. PG

THIEVES ROB MOSCOW OFFICES OF TRUE CRIME JOURNALS

Thieves broke into the Moscow editorial offices of the true crime journals "Interpol-Express" and "Interpolice" and stole several computers, Interfax reported on 22 August. The police have not yet identified the culprits but are continuing their search. PG

DAGHESTAN'S MOST INFLUENTIAL RELIGIOUS LEADER BACKS THIRD TERM FOR STATE COUNCIL CHAIRMAN

Sheikh Said-Afandi Chirkeiskii supports the intention of State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov to run for a third term as the republic's leader in June 2002, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 22 August. Most members of the republic's leadership have also publicly affirmed their approval of Magomedov's bid for re-election. Magomedov was first elected to that post in July 1994; in 1996 his first term was prolonged until 1998 because of the war in Chechnya, and in March 1998 the constitution was amended to remove the article stipulating that a representative of one and the same ethnic group may not serve as State Council chairman for two consecutive terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1998), after which Magomedov, a Dargin, was re-elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 1998). A member of the Russian presidential administration who recently visited Makhachkala reportedly said that since most of the population supports Magomedov, the Russian leadership will do all in its power to ensure that the election takes place peacefully. The State Council chairman is elected not by universal suffrage but by the 121 members of the People's Assembly and 121 representatives from the republic's regions. LF




U.S. CONGRESSMEN VISIT ARMENIA

A U.S. Congressional delegation headed by Adam Schiff met in Yerevan on 22 August with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, and parliament deputy speaker Gagik Aslanian. Topics discussed included the Armenian genocide and the current state of Armenian-Turkish relations, the Karabakh conflict, and Armenian-U.S. relations. Kocharian again expressed his desire to begin an Armenian-Turkish dialogue at the state level, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He also predicted that Armenia will become "the best-organized and most stable country in the region," according to Noyan Tapan. Schiff for his part expressed reservations over the recently created Armenian-Turkish reconciliation commission, especially the choice of its Armenian members, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said he considers it regrettable that the commission will not address the issue of the 1915 genocide. LF

U.S. OFFICIAL OPTIMISTIC OVER CHANCES FOR KARABAKH PEACE

Speaking in Washington on 21 August on the eve of a trip to the South Caucasus and Ukraine, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones said she does not believe that the ongoing search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict is deadlocked, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Jones noted that "a lot of progress" was made at the OSCE-mediated talks in Florida in April, but declined to predict when a final peace agreement might be signed. She said that the U.S. is eager to facilitate the peace talks to the maximum degree. She also said the objective of her upcoming visit to the South Caucasus states is "to underscore the U.S. commitment" to their sovereignty, independence, and stability. LF

POLICE, SUPPORTERS OF DECEASED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CLASH IN BAKU

Police in Baku clashed on 23 August with several thousand participants in an unsanctioned march to mark the first anniversary of the death of former President Abulfaz Elchibey, Turan and Reuters reported. Reuters reported that the police were ordered to pull back after the initial clashes. Mirmahmud Fattaev, who heads the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party of which Elchibey was chairman, said no one was arrested or detained by police. LF

AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT UNVEILS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The Economic Development Ministry has unveiled a draft strategy for socioeconomic development for the period 2011-2010, Turan reported on 22 August. That program includes reconstruction of districts devastated in fighting with Armenian forces in the early 1990s. It projects annual GDP growth of 8-10 percent, with GDP in 2005 being 64.5 percent greater than in 2000. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT ORDERS HOMES BUILT FOR REFUGEES

President Heidar Aliyev on 22 August issued a decree on the allocation of land for the construction of permanent homes for the estimated 210,000 Azerbaijani refugees who fled Armenia between 1988-1992, Turan reported. In addition, Aliyev ordered the reconstruction of 1,422 homes in a district bordering on the north of Nagorno-Karabakh whose Armenian owners were forcibly expelled to the Armenian SSR in the summer of 1990. Aliyev allocated 83 billion manats (about $18 million) from the State Oil Fund to finance the construction. The decree does not provide for the construction of permanent housing for some 540,000 displaced Azerbaijanis who fled their homes during the Armenian offensive in the summer of 1993 and have lived since then in appalling conditions in refugee camps. LF

RECENT NONCOMBAT AZERBAIJANI ARMY DEATHS ESTIMATED

Eighteen soldiers have died in the Azerbaijani armed forces since the beginning of August, of whom 12 committed suicide, three died of sunstroke, two of thirst, and one was apparently killed for money, Roza Aliqizi, who heads the Committee of Soldiers Families, told the independent TV station ANS-TV on 21 August, Groong reported. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry officials have downplayed reports of an increase in noncombat deaths and said the statistics are classified information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 August 2001). LF

VISA REGIME RELAXED ON GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER

In line with an agreement reached in talks between Russian and Georgian diplomats, as of 23 August the visa regime between Russia and Georgia has been relaxed for residents of border regions, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Residents of Georgia's Kazbegi Raion and of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya, which is a subject of the Russian Federation, may cross the border without a visa provided they stay in the neighboring country for no longer than 10 days and remain in the border district. LF

PROSECUTORS FAIL TO PROVE ANOTHER CHARGE AGAINST FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER

Two witnesses summoned on 23 August in the ongoing trial of former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin failed to substantiate the charge against him of illegal possession of weapons, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The former governor of West Kazakhstan Oblast Khabibolla Zhaqypov and his then-deputy explained to the court that a pistol that the prosecution claims Kazhegeldin owned illegally was formally presented to him as a gift during a visit to the oblast in 1996. Other witnesses confirmed that Kazhegeldin paid taxes in 1998 on royalties for a book he published; he is accused of failing to pay tax on those monies. The 23 August session was held behind closed doors as classified information was divulged. Kazhegeldin's lawyer Aleksandr Tabarin declined to give any details of the testimony. Meanwhile, 28 Kazakh intellectuals condemned the court proceedings and expressed their support for Kazhegeldin at a press conference in Almaty on 23 August. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES CASPIAN DEVELOPMENT PROJECT

A session of Kazakhstan's government chaired by Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev has reviewed a 15-year development program for Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian Sea, Caspian News Agency reported on 22 August. The program focuses on environmental protection, development of the region's infrastructure, and the gradual replacement by Kazakh specialists of foreign personnel currently employed by foreign oil companies. LF

POWERFUL MAYOR OF TURKMEN CAPITAL DEMOTED

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 21 August demoted Ashgabat Mayor Ashiberdy Cherkezov to the post of deputy head of the city administration because of shortcomings in performing his duties, Interfax reported on 22 August. Specifically, Niyazov complained that construction projects in the capital are behind schedule, and that there are potholes in major thoroughfares. According to Western diplomats in Ashgabat, Cherkezov was regarded as the third most powerful official in Turkmenistan, after the president and Committee for State Security Chairman General Mukhammed Nazarov. Like all Turkmen officials, he must serve a six-month probation period in his new position and will be fired if he fails to discharge his duties adequately, according to an unnamed presidential administration official. The deputy premier for transportation and communications, Berdymurad Redjepov, has been named to succeed him as mayor of Ashgabat. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT PROCLAIMS AMNESTY...

Islam Karimov has announced an amnesty pegged to the 10th anniversary of Uzbekistan's declaration of independence, AP and Interfax reported on 22 August. Most female convicts, invalids, persons suffering from serious diseases, men over 55, foreign nationals, and persons who were minors at the time of their sentence will be eligible for release, with the exception of those convicted of murder, terrorism, drug trafficking, or crimes against the constitution. It is not clear precisely how many prisoners will be freed. The amnesty is believed to be an attempt to reduce overcrowding in Uzbek prisons. LF

...AS ARRESTS OF PRACTICING MUSLIMS CONTINUE

Over the past two months, Uzbek National Security Service officials have arrested six men in the Ferghana valley as part of a campaign to wipe out "Wahhabism," Keston News Service reported on 21 August. Relatives of the six men say they are simply devout practicing Muslims and have no links with any radical Islamic movement. An Uzbek human rights activist estimated that 1,600 people are currently imprisoned in Uzbekistan for alleged Wahhabist sympathies. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE ACCUSES LUKASHENKA OF SPLITTING SOCIETY...

Speaking on Belarusian Television in a 21-minute, prerecorded campaign program on 22 August, opposition presidential hopeful Uladzimir Hancharyk accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of splitting Belarusian society and plunging the country into lawlessness. Hancharyk appealed to voters to change "the vicious system of power" in Belarus. Touching upon economic issues of his election program, Hancharyk said he intends to liberalize the economy, stop price hikes, review the system of taxation, and reduce spending on the administration apparatus. He promised that if he wins the presidential election, he will give substance to the Russia-Belarus Union and transform it into a "union of the peoples" from the "union of the presidents." JM

...DEMANDS LIVE TV DEBATE WITH LUKASHENKA

Hancharyk continues to insist on having a live television debate with Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 22 August. Hancharyk told journalists that he cut his first 30-minute campaign statement by 9 minutes in order to save airtime for a possible debate. He added that if Lukashenka and another presidential candidate, Syarhey Haydukevich, were to follow suit, there would be enough time for television debates. Hancharyk also noted that Syamyon Domash withdrew from the presidential race and will not use his allotted campaign airtime. Meanwhile, Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna told journalists the same day that President Lukashenka has declined his right to record a 30-minute campaign spot on Belarusian Television. JM

FORMER PRISON OFFICIAL CONFIRMS ALLEGATIONS OF BELARUSIAN DEATH SQUAD

In an interview with "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 22 August, Aleh Alkayeu, the former warden of Minsk's death-row prison, confirmed allegations that top Belarusian officials and an elite police unit (SOBR) were involved in the killing of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). According to documents publicized by presidential hopeful Hancharyk, Zakharanka and Hanchar were killed with the pistol used for executions of death-row prisoners in Belarus. Alkayeu confirmed that he was ordered to issue the pistol to SOBR commander Dzmitry Pavlyuchenka on two occasions preceding the disappearances of Zakharanka and Hanchar. Alkayeu added that if Lukashenka loses the election, investigators will learn "within a week" how they disappeared and what happened to them. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CLAMP DOWN ON INDEPENDENT PRINTING HOUSE, NEWSPAPER

Finance police on 22 August raided the independent printing house Magic and sealed the machine that prints the country's major independent newspapers, including "Narodnaya volya," "Rabochy" and "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," Belapan reported. According to Magic Director Yury Budzko, the formal pretext for the sealing of the printing press was an "old legal case that Magic won in court two months ago." Budzko said finance inspectors have reopened that case. The previous day, finance police confiscated half a dozen computers from the Minsk-based pro-opposition newspaper "Narodnaya volya." Iosif Syaredzich, the newspaper's editor in chief, told the agency that the remaining computers will suffice to keep "Narodnaya volya" afloat. "The paper will continue to appear as long as I am alive. Even if we lose all of our equipment, we will print the paper in Vilnius, Moscow, Warsaw, Paris, anywhere, and deliver it to Minsk," Syaredzich pledged. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT HOLDS SESSION TO MARK 10 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE...

The parliament on 22 August held a solemn session to mark Ukraine's 10th anniversary of independence, Ukrainian media reported. The session was also attended by former deputies who were elected to the two preceding legislatures of independent Ukraine. In an appeal to parliaments throughout the world, Ukrainian legislators pledged to further develop parliamentarism and democracy in the country. President Leonid Kuchma told the session that Ukraine is far from "democracy that exists in the West," but noted that the country's leadership has made significant achievements. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION GATHERS SEPARATELY

Some 1,000 opposition activists from the National Salvation Forum, the Ukraine Without Kuchma civic committee, the For the Truth group, and the Socialist Party gathered in Kyiv's Cinema House to mark the anniversary of independence. The opposition forum unanimously approved a manifesto of democratic forces calling for a change of the system of power in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). Meanwhile, some 100 elderly communists and left-wingers picketed the parliamentary building during the solemn session, protesting the country's economic hardships, which they blamed on Ukraine's independence. "Our Independence Is Socialism!" one slogan read, while another asserted that independent Ukraine is resting on three pillars: "unemployment, poverty, and the death of working people." JM

UKRAINIAN BANKER REPORTEDLY KIDNAPPED AFTER RELEASE FROM REMAND

Borys Feldman, the former vice president of the Slovyanskyy bank, was kidnapped by unknown people on 22 August shortly after he was released from a remand center, STB Television reported, quoting Feldman's lawyer Andriy Fedur. Fedur told journalists that his client's life may be in serious danger. Feldman recently announced that he will make public the names of officials involved in a controversy relating to the bank. JM

BELGIAN FINANCE MINISTER SEES NO PROBLEMS WITH ESTONIA'S DEVELOPMENT

Didier Reynders during a one-day visit to Tallinn on 22 August held talks with Finance Minister Siim Kallas, Bank of Estonia President Vahur Kraft, and Prime Minister Mart Laar, ETA reported. Reynders told a press conference that structural reforms in Estonia have proceeded successfully and that in comparison with other EU candidates Estonia is at the forefront in transition to a free-market economy. The finance ministers agreed that Estonia will not have any problems meeting the Maastricht criteria, as the country has a stable monetary system and balanced budget. Kallas noted that "Inflation and long-term interest rates in Estonia are indeed higher than in the EU, but in the present stage of development this is absolutely normal." He said that Estonia's greatest difficulties in the EU membership negotiations will be the implementation of EU customs and taxation methods. He said that Estonia must also overcome high inflation and unemployment rates, and problems in the agricultural sector. SG

KEGUMS HYDRO PLANT REOPENS IN LATVIA AFTER UPGRADE

Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Economy Minister Aigars Kalvitis, and representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development attended ceremonies on 22 August to reopen the Kegums hydroelectric power plant on the Dauguva River after extensive reconstruction, LETA reported. The reconstruction of the plant, which was originally built in 1939, took three years and cost more than 13 million lats ($20.8 million). It is intended to extend the service life of the plant by 40 years. Inspection of the reconstructed units show that their efficiency increased from 82 percent to 91.4 percent, which should result in the plant producing an additional 25 million kwh of energy each year. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT OK'S NATIONAL ANTICORRUPTION STRATEGY

The cabinet on 22 August approved a national strategy for fighting corruption, the goals of which are the improvement of economic, democratic, and social development by reducing corruption levels, ELTA reported. The strategy calls for increased transparency in the funding of political parties as well as improving the current system of land acquisition. It supports simplifying tax collection procedures and reducing personal income taxes in order to eradicate widespread tax evasion, and expanding internal and external audit services for state and local authorities. The adoption of an anticorruption program is on the list of Lithuania's commitments for the European integration process and it must yet be approved by parliament. SG

POLISH PARTIES SIGN COOPERATION ACCORD ON EU INTEGRATION

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and leaders of the Democratic Left Alliance, the Freedom Union, and the Civic Platform on 22 August signed a pact on EU integration, Polish Television reported. The chairman of the Polish Peasant Party, who was not in Warsaw that day, is expected to sign the document on 23 August. The signatories of the document pledge that irrespective of the results of the 23 September general elections, they will exchange information on the state of Poland's EU negotiations. The document obliges politicians to cooperate on Poland's integration with the EU regardless of their political affiliations. JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK CUTS KEY INTEREST RATES BY 1 PERCENT

Following a decision by the Monetary Policy Council, Poland's National Bank on 22 August cut three key interest rates by 1 percent each, Polish media reported. The 28-day intervention rate was lowered to 14.5 percent; the discount rate to 18 percent; and the Lombard rate to 18.5 percent. JM

POLISH PUBLIC TV JOURNALIST CENSURED FOR ENGAGING IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Juliusz Braun, the chairman of the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), on 22 August criticized Krystyna Czubowna, a presenter of Polish Television's Panorama program, for promoting a book by Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller on the program the previous day. According to KRRiT regulations issued prior to the parliamentary election campaign, public media journalists cannot engage in campaigning for any political formation. "Undoubtedly, the promotion of the book was connected with the election campaign, for that reason it was an awkward situation. An unfortunate case. These kinds of situations should be avoided," PAP quoted Braun as saying. JM

ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER IN POLAND

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrived in Warsaw on 22 on an official two-day visit. Following his talks with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Peres said he will meet with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat "soon, but the date has not been fixed," AP reported. On 23 August, Peres is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Buzek and to preside over a conference of Israeli ambassadors in the region. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT VETOES FAMILY WELFARE BILL OVER BUDGET CRISIS

President Kwasniewski on 22 August vetoed a bill on welfare payments to families with many children, PAP reported, quoting the president's office. Kwasniewski said he cannot accept a law introducing new, fixed benefits to be paid out from the state budget in a time when the country is suffering from a crisis in public finances. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES RESUMPTION OF AIRPORT CHECKS BY BRITISH...

The government on 22 August approved a British request for renewing the checks on flights with a U.K. destination at Prague's Ruzyne airport, CTK and international agencies reported. The decision on when to resume the checks will be taken by the British Embassy. Prime Minister Milos Zeman told journalists after the government's meeting that the alternative to resuming the checks would have been an imposition of visa requirements by the U.K., and that "would have been the greater evil." Speaking later on Czech television, Zeman rejected criticism that the checks are racist. "About 100 percent of the asylum seekers are Roma," he said, adding that "should 100 percent of asylum seekers be mailmen, the U.K. would focus on mailmen during the checks and nobody would then complain of discrimination." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists that 61 people have applied for asylum since the checks were discontinued in early August. The government's decision was criticized by the Romany Civic Initiative and by the Czech Helsinki Committee. MS

...EXTENDS PARTICIPATION IN KFOR MISSION

The cabinet also approved extending the Czech participation in the KFOR mission in Kosova next year and ending the deployment of troops in the SFOR mission in Bosnia by 20 December, CTK reported. Premier Zeman told journalists after the meeting that the cabinet decided against asking the parliament for approval of the deployment of troops for the Macedonian NATO mission because NATO has made it clear that the operation will not last longer than 60 days. According to the provisions of the constitution, deployment of Czech troops abroad requires parliamentary approval if it lasts longer than 60 days. MS

ZEMAN DENIES TEMELIN-EU LINKAGE...

Zeman on 22 August denied media reports that during his recent meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder a "compromise" was reached, whereby Germany will refrain from opposing the launch of the controversial Temelin nuclear power station in exchange for Czech acceptance of a two-year ban on the free movement of labor after the Czech Republic joins the EU, CTK reported. "There is nothing to exchange, the two are different issues," Zeman said. MS

...OR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT 'PETROL CARDS AFFAIR'

Zeman told journalists on 22 August that he had "known nothing" about a secret sponsorship gift made by the Chemapol company to his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) prior to the 1996 parliamentary elections. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 21 August reported that CSSD members bought petrol worth 400,000 crowns (some $10,700) on CCS petrol credit cards given to Zeman as a gift by former Chemapol head Vaclav Junek. The information was provided by Zeman's friend and former CSSD deputy Jaroslav Vlcek. Zeman said Vlcek "did not tell the truth" and that he learned about the gift only two to three years later. Zeman said the gift was "probably provided by Vlcek himself" to advance his attempt to be included at the top of the CSSD lists for the parliament in east Bohemia. When he failed to get that place on the lists, Zeman said, Vlcek withdrew the cards and the CSSD stopped using them in March 1996, shortly before the elections. The affair was first revealed by the media in 1999 and the CSSD admitted the secret sponsorship and paid taxes on it, in line with legal provisions. MS

BRITISH DIPLOMAT VOICES CONCERN OVER SLOVAK COALITION DEPARTURE

Deputy Premier and Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky on 22 August told AP that British Ambassador to Slovakia David Lyscom has voiced concern over the stability of the Slovak government if the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) goes ahead with its plans to leave the ruling coalition. Lyscom said international confidence in the Slovak government might be weakened and this may also affect Slovak chances to join the EU. According to Hrusovsky, Lyscom "expressed the wish...to keep this coalition united." Other foreign diplomats stationed in Bratislava expressed similar concerns, including U.S. Charge d'affaires Douglas Hengel. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, an SMK member, said in response that it seems that foreign officials "are more concerned about the situation than Slovaks are, as those officials can see the consequences." The SMK is to make a final decision on whether to leave the coalition on 25 August. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT SETS UP COMMISSION TO EXAMINE COMPENSATION FOR CONFISCATED JEWISH PROPERTY

The government on 22 August decided to set up a commission that will make recommendations on how to compensate Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community for property seized from Jews during World War II, CTK and AP reported. The commission is headed by Deputy Premier Csaky and will make its recommendations by December. Csaky said that the commission will determine from archival data the value of the compensation due and the funds will be used to either compensate survivors directly or to repair Jewish communal properties and cultural sites, such as devastated synagogues and cemeteries. Csaky said the compensation issue is "more sensitive" in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic because Slovakia collaborated with Nazi Germany. "There are fewer and fewer of those that have survived," he said, adding that "it is time for Slovakia to deal with its past." Frantisek Alexander, the chairman of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia, welcomed the government's decision. Some 3,000 Jews currently live in Slovakia, whereas before World War II the community numbered 90,000. MS

UNEMPLOYED SLOVAKS FAIL TO STEAL MEMORIAL TO NAZI VICTIMS

Two unemployed men face up to eight years in prison for attempting to steal a statue from a memorial to victims of Nazism in Nemecka, central Slovakia, CTK reported on 22 August. The two intended to sell the statue to a scrap collector. They managed to remove the statue, which weighs 2.5 tons, from its pedestal and to pull it with a tractor for 20 meters, but had to abandon the attempt because the statue was too heavy. They caused damages estimated at 300,000 crowns ($6,340). MS

PROBLEMATIC SLOVAK TENDER REACTIVATED

The Finance Ministry on 22 August decided to reactivate a tender on supplying an information system for the State Treasury, ending a suspension prompted by corruption charges, AP reported. The tender was suspended in late July, following allegations in the media that a representative of Siemens Business Systems -- alongside with Hewlett Packard the main bidder in the tender-- had tried to bribe an official in an attempt to win the contract. Police continue to investigate those allegations. The decision to reactivate the tender followed a ruling by the Public Procurement Bureau, which found no irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2001). MS

HUNGARY RESPONDS TO 'FINANCIAL TIMES' CRITICISM

Hungarian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gabor Horvath on 22 August objected to a report published in the "Financial Times" that criticized the recently approved Hungarian Status Law. The newspaper commented that "states with tense relations with their neighbors will not make good members of the EU." The report said that "Prime Minister Viktor Orban is playing a dangerous game with the status of the 3.5 million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries" and "should take more care about his rhetoric and distinguish carefully between history and today's reality." In response, Horvath said "no one in Europe considers the support of ethnic minorities a dangerous game or a nationalist policy." The welfare of ethnic minorities enhances stability in Europe, Horvath concluded. MSZ

HUNGARY CLARIFIES STATEMENT OF ITS AMBASSADOR IN SOFIA

Horvath on 22 August also expressed "surprise" that the Romanian Foreign Ministry protested against a statement made by Hungarian Ambassador to Bulgaria Bela Kolozsi regarding the Euro-Atlantic integration of Romania and Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). Horvath said that Kolozsi's words were "taken out of context" and were "distorted," despite the fact that his declaration was available in its full length. "Hungary has repeatedly expressed its official position supporting Romania's NATO and EU membership," Horvath said, adding that Romanian officials should refer to official Hungarian statements rather than to distorted press reports, MTI reported. MSZ

JEWISH COMMUNITY WANTS INVESTIGATION ON ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS

The Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) on 22 August filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office following the decision to end the investigation of the anti-Semitic remarks made by Hungarian Justice and Life Party Deputy Chairman Laszlo Bognar regarding the sale of the Ferencvaros soccer club to Fotex Rt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). In other news, on the second day of his visit to Hungary, Israeli Foreign Minister Peres on 22 August met opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and the party's prime ministerial candidate, Peter Medgyessy, and discussed the Socialists' electoral chances. Kovacs told journalists after the meeting that "anti-Semitism is a problem of [Hungarian] society as a whole, not only of the Jewish community in Hungary," and "special responsibility rests with all Hungarian governments." In his weekly interview with Hungarian Radio, Orban said Israeli-Hungarian relations "are outstanding and are not troubled by any problems." MSZ

HUNGARY TO SEND MISSION TO MACEDONIA

Hungary is sending a team of 41 experts to participate in NATO's mission of collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia, Defense Ministry Spokesman General Lajos Erdelyi told MTI on 22 August. Erdelyi said that no date has yet been set for the contingent's departure, nor has it been decided where it will be stationed. MSZ




NATO MOVES INTO MACEDONIA

Some 136 soldiers and officers of the French Foreign Legion arrived in Skopje on 22 August, Reuters reported. They are the first NATO troops to participate in Operation Essential Harvest other than the 400-strong vanguard, which began arriving on 17 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). On 23 August, several hundred, mainly British troops arrived in the Macedonian capital. One British officer told AP: "The sooner we get on with it, the better." It is not clear how many weapons the guerrillas of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) have. But Danish General Gunnar Lange, the NATO commander in Macedonia, stressed that the political aspects of the collection process are more important than the number of weapons turned in. "The rebels can rearm. They can start fighting again," Lange said. "It's a lot more important that the trust and confidence that comes with the political process...give them no wish to rearm and start fighting again." PM

U.S. HAILS NATO DECISION ON MACEDONIA

Speaking in Washington on 22 August, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said: "The NATO mission will assist with the voluntary disarmament of insurgents, a mission NATO is hopeful can be completed in 30 days, if the parties cooperate as they have pledged to do. We look to the insurgents to cooperate with NATO and to fully comply with all their commitments, including to voluntarily disarm, to respect the cease-fire, and to disband," RFE/RL reported. He added that "The U.S. will contribute to the NATO mission with intelligence, medical, other logistic support. We've not yet determined a specific number of troops. The U.S. will draw largely from forces already deployed in Kosovo and, indeed, in Macedonia in support of KFOR." In Europe, much press commentary has stressed that a 30-day weapons collection mandate is unrealistically limited. Some editorial writers suggest that NATO and the EU have as much at stake in the mission's success as does Macedonia. Other journalists note that Essential Harvest was set up much more quickly and efficiently than were previous, albeit larger, NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosova. PM

NATO'S KOSOVA COMMANDER CALLS FOR 'BROADER MANDATE' IN MACEDONIA

Former U.S. General Wesley Clark, who commanded NATO forces in Kosova in the 1999 war with Serbia, said in London on 22 August: "There is still violence in [Macedonia] and it's not possible to eliminate all risks. So what NATO is going to have to do is go in and do the best it can" to ensure that the guerrillas, government, and political parties honor the various agreements they have signed, dpa reported. Clark added: "I would have preferred to have seen a broader mandate initially. I think the most important thing now is to get the troops in there. NATO's presence on the ground signifies something. The question now is doing the best they can with the mission they've got... If NATO's mission needs to change after the troops are in there, then hopefully NATO governments will have the wisdom to change it." Clark recently published his memoirs of the Kosova campaign under the title "Waging Modern War." PM

MACEDONIA ASKS GREECE FOR RECONSTRUCTION AID

After meeting with her Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Athens on 23 August: "We have the support of Greece for emergency aid from Europe. Receiving emergency economic aid is critical for my country," AP reported. Papandreou replied: "We call on all [Macedonian parties] to contribute to the disarmament and [to the] retention of the cease-fire." He promised that Greece will make a "significant contribution" to Macedonian reconstruction and call for convening an international donors conference. Greece is a major investor in several post-communist Balkan countries, including Macedonia and Albania. PM

NATO COMMANDER CALLS ON ALBANIA FOR HELP

In Tirana on 22 August, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, NATO's top commander, asked Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta to support Essential Harvest by using his influence with Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, AP reported. Meta told a press conference: "We have expressed the determination of our government to continue to contribute to peace and stability in the region. We will continue to contribute positively, by encouraging the [Albanians] there to totally comply with the agreement." The news agency added that Meta has yet to receive a response from the Atlantic alliance to his previous request for NATO to take control of Albania's border with Macedonia to prevent arms smuggling. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SETS PRIORITIES

Just before the start of a new four-year term in office, Ilir Meta told Reuters in Tirana on 23 August that eliminating electrical power cuts and joining the EU are at the top of his agenda (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2000 and 10 April 2001). He said that he is glad that his last government helped improve law and order. "It will be very important for us to change the image of Albania, but this is always the second step -- the first step is to make real changes in the country," he added. Referring to the electricity problem, Meta said: "We are doing our best to radically change the energy system by the end of 2003 and to resolve this problem in the long term... We also hope to start a new hydro plant this year, but this is not a solution as it will have a limited capacity and we will still rely on the weather," which affects Albania's other sources of power. PM

BOSNIAN DIPLOMATIC PURGE

Some 32 Bosnian ambassadors abroad will be replaced as part of the new non-nationalist government's attempt to purge supporters of the three nationalist parties from official positions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 August. "Oslobodjenje" printed on 23 August what it claimed are the names and assignments of the 28 new appointees. PM

SERBIAN LEADERS MEET

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Cacak on 22 August that he has met with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to discuss the current crisis within the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). Kostunica added that the steering committee of DOS will meet next week to discuss the crisis in the coalition. Djindjic told Reuters that "We agreed that political stability is a condition for the survival of reforms." Long-standing rivalries between the two men threaten the stability of the coalition following the recent murder of a security official shortly after he discussed government links to the criminal underworld with Kostunica's staff. PM

YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR TO U.S. 'RECALLED'

In a widely expected move, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 23 August that the government is "recalling" Milan Protic, its ambassador to Washington, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July and 8 August 2001). Protic has been in Belgrade for several weeks for "consultations." He has long been outspoken in his criticism of Kostunica, the Foreign Ministry, many Yugoslav diplomats, and various Serbian politicians. He was elected mayor of Belgrade in the 2000 Serbian elections but chose to go to Washington as ambassador. Kostunica has publicly criticized Protic as being too Americanized. Some others consider him too outspoken in his monarchist and Serbian Orthodox views. Protic, who is a professor of Balkan history by profession, studied and taught for years in California, and has a familiarity with the American idiom and culture that few in Belgrade can rival. That fact, in turn, provoked jealousy in some Serbian circles. Protic regards many of his critics as the products of communist-era mentality. It is not clear who will succeed him in the Washington embassy. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT LAW ON EXTENDING BLACK SEA 'EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE'

The government on 22 August approved a draft bill that would extend from 12 to 200 nautical miles Romania's "exclusive economic zone" in the Black Sea, Mediafax reported. The agency said the law is a response to the recent Ukrainian drillings around Serpents Island in the Black Sea. The parliament has yet to approve the bill, which would make what Ukraine claims is "scientific research" around the island illegal, unless previously approved by the Romania government. MS

RACIALIST BOOK PUBLISHED BY ROMANIAN PRM DEPUTY

A book full of venomous attacks on Jews, Hungarians, and Roma, which is authored by Greater Romania Party (PRM) deputy Vlad Hogea, was published in Iasi by an institute claiming affiliation to the Romanian Academy and headed by PRM Deputy Chairman and Senate Deputy Chairman Gheorghe Buzatu, Romanian media and international agencies reported on 22 August. The Prosecutor-General's Office heeded a protest by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and announced that it will launch an investigation into the affair. Hogea, who cites in the book such "authorities" as executed Nazi war criminal Julius Streichner in support of his statements, denied that the book is in any way racialist. The Romanian Academy, in an earlier statement, dissociated itself from the book and said it was not published under its auspices. Hungarian and Roma minority representatives also protested against the publication of the book. MS

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY IN ROMANIA WARNS AGAINST PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE OF STATUS LAW

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 22 August warned against debating the Hungarian Status Law in the Romanian parliament, saying the debate would unwarrantedly "heat up the nationalist rhetoric." Marko said it is not the Romanian parliament's competence to discuss the matter, which should be pursued in negotiations between the Hungarian and the Romanian governments. In reference to Chamber of Deputies Chairman Valer Dorneanu's recent statements on the possibility of outlawing ethnic parties, Marko said that he is "worried" about them and wants the issue brought up at discussions with the ruling Social Democratic Party. MS

ROMANIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OPPOSES PRM DRAFT LAW

The Legislative Council on 22 August advised the Chamber of Deputies' Permanent Bureau to reject a draft law proposed by the PRM on "countering the effects of the [Hungarian] Status Law," Mediafax reported. The council said that the proposed measures "would not efficiently counter the judicial and constitutional effects" of that law or its "extra-territorial implications." The PRM proposed that those who ask for a "Magyar identity card" be considered as having double citizenship and thus unable to run for office or serve in positions of public, civil, or military officials. The draft also envisages that requesting such an ID card should become a crime punished under the Penal Code. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW DECISION ON OBLIGATORY TEACHING OF RUSSIAN?

Education Minister Ilie Vancea on 22 August told Flux that the government will review its decision to reimpose obligatory Russian-language classes in primary schools "if the decision stirs protests among parents and teachers." He said the decision to reintroduce those classes is "an experiment." Vancea denied that the decision reflects "an intention to Russify [Moldovan] society." That intention has been attributed to the cabinet by Moldovan Historians' Association Chairman Anatol Petrencu, who said that the ministry's decision is in line with the government's "program to bring about the Russification of Bessarabian Romanians." Prime Minster Vasile Tarlev downplayed the significance of the decision and its consequences, saying that if the classes were to be introduced "the earth will still turn around" and "as premier, I am more interested in economic performance." MS

POPE TO VISIT BULGARIA NEXT MAY?

Pope Paul John II is likely to visit Bulgaria in May 2002, BTA and AP reported on 22 August. Speaking after a meeting with Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Mennini, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told BTA that the cabinet "will create the best possible conditions for the visit." Mennini described the tentatively planned visit as an "expression of the pontiff's respect for Christian Orthodox Bulgaria" and added that the pope also hopes to meet with Muslim religious leaders. Metropolitan Gelasii, the secretary of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod, said that if the pope requests a meeting with Patriarch Maxim, the Holy Synod "will give him the same reception as that granted to all official guests." AP said that Bulgaria's leaders hope the papal visit will help dispel lingering suspicions that the Bulgarian communist secret services were involved in the assassination attempt against John Paul II carried out by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981. MS




MOLDOVA: STILL TROUBLED, 10 YEARS AFTER INDEPENDENCE


By Eugen Tomiuc

The avenues of Moldova's capital, Chisinau, will once again be flooded by light on the evening of 27 August, when the former Soviet republic celebrates 10 years of independence.

But even public lighting has become a luxury for cash-strapped Moldova. The streets of downtown Chisinau have not been lit since Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit last month. For each of the two special occasions, the electricity has been donated by the owner of the local electricity system, which turned off power earlier this year because of unpaid bills.

After 10 years of independence, Moldova has become Eastern Europe's poorest state and the only ex-Soviet state to vote an unreformed Communist Party back into power. The country has also struggled with a nearly decade-long dispute with its breakaway Transdniester region.

Moldova's situation looks particularly grim when compared to the enthusiasm that swept over the country a decade ago, when it was one of the first republics to declare independence from the Soviet Union after the failed Moscow putsch in August 1991.

Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and 65 percent of its 4.5-million population are of Romanian nationality. In the late 1980s, during the reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a strong pro-Romanian movement arose in Moldova, inspired by the nationalist revivals that swept many Soviet republics. In August 1989, Moldova proclaimed Moldovan -- virtually the same as Romanian -- as its state language, and less than a year later the Romanian tricolor -- red, yellow, and blue -- was adopted as the republic's official flag. Closer ties were forged between Romania and Moldova after the Romanian communist regime collapsed during a bloody popular uprising in December 1989.

Moldova's pro-democracy movement, which owed its existence to Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, felt particularly threatened when news of the hard-line coup in Moscow broke. It publicly endorsed Boris Yeltsin in his defiance of the plotters.

"Of course, we were taking a risk. We were risking a lot," said Mircea Snegur, Moldova's president at the time. "We did not know what turn events would take, what the directives and decisions from Moscow would be. But we resisted together, both during the putsch and after, and we began to think about Moldova's independence."

On 27 August, less than a week after the failed Moscow coup, Moldova's parliament unanimously declared the country's independence and adopted the Romanian national anthem. The Moldovan parliament was among the first to declare the local Communist Party illegal.

But once the euphoria subsided, Moldova's political and economic troubles resurfaced. Like most ex-Soviet republics, Moldova's agriculture-based economy was in shambles and poverty was already widespread. In addition, the pro-Russian population of the Transdniester region on the left bank of the Dniester River -- which had already seceded from Moldova in 1990 -- was showing increasing signs of uneasiness over the fear that newly independent Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania.

A short but bloody war between Moldovan forces and pro-Russian separatists followed in the summer of 1992, leaving several hundred people dead. The fighting was eventually contained by Russian troops already present in the Transdniester region.

On the other side of the border, Romanian politicians feared that reunification efforts would lead to regional instability and international isolation for Bucharest. After the end of the Transdniester conflict and amid deepening economic troubles, Moldova gradually drifted apart from Romania and in 1994 scrapped the common anthem.

That same year, the center-left Agrarian Party took over from Snegur's Christian Popular Democratic Front. But reforms remained at a standstill, while poverty grew. Elections in 1998 brought to power an alliance of reformist parties but also marked the return to parliament of the Communist Party, which was legalized again in 1995.

The economic crisis continued to deepen amid lackluster reforms, while political bickering between then-president Petru Lucinschi and parliament finally resulted in early elections this year and the Communists' victory.

Upon coming to power in April, Communist President Vladimir Voronin pledged to strengthen the country's economic and political ties with Moscow and to bring Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union. He also named as his top priorities resolving the Transdniester dispute and boosting the status of the Russian language.

But the Transdniester dispute remains unresolved despite half-hearted mediation attempts by the OSCE, Moldova now says it is ready to grant Transdniester a large degree of autonomy. Pro-Russian separatists, however, insist that they want a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states.

Russia still has some 2,500 troops in the Transdniester and large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. The withdrawal of the troops and the destruction of the arsenal -- estimated at 50,000 pieces of armaments, as well as 40,000 tons of ammunition -- has long been a bone of contention between the two sides.

Russia last month began the weapons destruction in line with a 1999 OSCE agreement. But the Russian troops' withdrawal -- which has been fiercely opposed by the separatists -- has yet to begin.

"As long as this problem remains unsolved, as long as Moldova cannot control its borders and cannot protect its citizens, this state is not an independent state, is not a sovereign state, and is not a democratic state." said Moldovan historian Gheorghe Cojocaru.

Economically, Moldova remains overwhelmingly dependent on Russian energy, despite its "privileged" relationship with Romania. Both Romania and Moldova -- with average monthly incomes of $100 and $30, respectively -- rank among the poorest countries in Europe, and Romanian influence on the Moldovan economy is nearly nonexistent.

Moldova owes Russia some $600 million in unpaid gas and electricity bills. It owes an additional $800 million to international lending organizations.

Communists were brought back to power by voters dreaming of a return to the relative economic stability of Soviet times. But the government has done little so far to alleviate the growing poverty that has turned Moldova into a hub of crime and prostitution.

Some positive signs, however, have recently appeared. Moldova in June was admitted into the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe. In July, it gained entry into the World Trade Organization, ahead of larger and richer post-Soviet countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. And the new government's reform program was praised earlier this month by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation. The IMF mission said it will support Moldova's attempt to have some $170 million of debt canceled.

However, Moldova now appears closer to Moscow than it did 10 years ago when it declared independence from the Soviet Union. And its communist government has yet to give clear signals that it is ready to change its populist rhetoric and engage in the reforms it will need to attract Western support.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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