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Newsline - August 24, 2001




PUTIN TAKES PART IN UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY...

President Vladimir Putin on 23 August flew to Kyiv to take part in celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Ukrainian independence, Russian and Western agencies reported. He praised Ukraine's progress over the last decade and said much of it reflects Ukrainian-Russian ties. And he said that he hoped for expanded ties and more frequent summits in the future. He was accompanied by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, leading some commentators in Ukraine to conclude that he hopes to secure Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's agreement to the renewed production of strategic missiles at the rocket factory in Dnepropetrivsk that Kuchma led in Soviet times, the BBC reported. VY

...COMMENTS ON NATO ROLE IN MACEDONIA

While in Kyiv, President Putin met with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and took the occasion to say that he hopes the NATO operation in that country will "bring positive results," but that he has "major doubts" as to whether that will be possible, Interfax reported on 23 August. Meanwhile, officials in both Moscow and Kyiv denied reports in Western media that Russian and Ukrainian planes have carried large quantities of arms to Macedonia in recent days, ITAR-TASS reported (see also Part II). And Russian Airborne commanders said in Moscow that they have received no instructions to prepare for participation in the NATO operation in Macedonia, the Russian news service said. PG

PUTIN TELLS KASYANOV GOVERNMENT MUST KEEP ITS PROMISES IN SOCIAL SPHERE

At a meeting in Moscow before leaving for Kyiv, President Putin told Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov that the government must do everything it can to keep its promises in the social sphere, especially to those such as soldiers who have recently lost some of their special privileges, Interfax reported on 23 August. Meanwhile, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok the same day said that the government is launching a special program to help pensioners with special housing and educational opportunities, the Russian agency reported. The government also announced that it is providing more liberal benefits to those who live or have lived in the Far North and that the cabinet had set priorities in 14 federal programs. PG

RUSSIANS DISSATISFIED WITH UKRAINIAN TIES, KUCHMA

Polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 23 August show that 56 percent of Russians are unsatisfied with their country's ties with Ukraine, 11 percent more than those who registered dissatisfaction when asked the same question in 1999. Meanwhile, another poll conducted by the same foundation showed that only 9 percent of Russians now approve of the actions of Ukrainian President Kuchma, down from 22 percent in 1997. PG

PAVLOVSKII PROMOTES RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN TIES ON THE INTERNET

Gleb Pavlovskii, who serves as President Putin's media adviser, has launched a new Internet site, Ukraine.ru, to promote Russian-Ukrainian relations, Internet.ru reported on 23 August. On its opening page, Pavlovskii said that his main goal is to inform Russians about developments in Ukraine, where he said, "Putin is even more popular than in Russia." He added that Putin wants both countries to be part of a "united Europe" but not become "copies of the West." He said his site will also seek to overcome obstacles to this among many Ukrainians: the notion of some in the Ukrainian elite that Russia remains a threat and that Ukraine can join Europe without Russia. VY

PUTIN CRITICIZED FOR NOT SPEAKING OUT ON COUP ANNIVERSARY

In an article in "Vremya Novostei" on 23 August, Gleb Cherkasov said that President Putin's failure to say anything on the 10th anniversary of the failed August 1991 coup "cannot be explained by political reasons alone." Putin, Cherkasov said, "behaves like a steadfast Yeltsinist more often than Yeltsin did" and he "cannot fail to understand that the owes his whole political career to August 1991" -- "even if we assume that the president sympathizes with the objectives or participants of the coup attempt." Consequently, his failure to speak out suggests that "something was wrong with the anniversary or rather with the country in which it was celebrated." PG

PARDONS COMMISSION CONTINUES TO WORK NORMALLY

Anatolii Pristavkin, the head of the Presidential Pardons Commission, told Interfax on 23 August that his group continues to meet every week and to deal with cases despite reports that he and other members of the group may be dismissed soon. He stressed that the commission considers for pardon only those convicted of serious crimes who have served three-quarters of their sentences and those convicted of more minor crimes who have served half of their sentences. PG

NON-PARTIES TO BE ABLE TO NOMINATE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

Aleksandr Veshnyakov, the head of the Central Election Commission, said on 23 August that it is too soon to limit the right to nominate candidates for president to political parties alone and that he will introduce an amendment to the election law this fall to allow other groups to do so, RTR television reported on 23 August. In the future, parties should control the nomination process, Veshnyakov said, but he and others, including President Putin, believe that it is too soon for Russia to impose such limits. VY

TITOV ASKS KPRF TO DROP MARXIST DOGMAS

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, who heads the Russian Social Democratic Party, told Interfax on 23 August that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) should drop its Marxist dogmas and align itself with the emerging social democratic coalition. "In its essence," Titov said, "the program of the KPRF is 100 percent social democratic." PG

SPS DISTRIBUTES 'BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM' TO LIBRARIES, SCHOOLS

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) is distributing copies of "The Black Book of Communism" to schools and libraries across the country so that Russian children will learn the truth about their history, Interfax reported on 23 August. There has been some resistance from leftist officials, but SPS leaders in the Duma remain convinced that their action is legal because it entails promoting historical knowledge rather than an ideological position. PG

ORT ANNOUNCES NEW PRO-KREMLIN PROGRAM

The Russian television network ORT plans to launch a special analytic program on 1 September, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 August. The program, to be called "Curfew," will be hosted by a number of well-known journalists loyal to the Kremlin, including Mikhail Leontiev, Mikhail Sokolov, Aleksandr Nevzorov, and Vitalii Tretyakov. Meanwhile, Tretyakov, who earlier served as editor in chief of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said in an interview published in "Vremya Novostei" the same day that he has launched a new publishing group that will issue at least nine new independent papers, following the rubrics of the paper he used to head. He stressed that the news operations of these publications will be completely under his control. VY

MAU PRESENTS 'LIBERAL NATIONALISM' AS NATIONAL IDEOLOGY

Vladimir Mau, the head of the economic reform center within the Russian government who was asked by President Putin to develop a new national ideology, has decided that Russia should choose "liberal nationalism," polit.ru reported on 23 August. Mau said that liberal nationalism combines a minimum of state intrusion into the economy but the predominance of the state over the political sphere and human rights. He said that this has been the policy pursued by the Kremlin over the last few months and that even though it carries with it the risk that relations with the West may deteriorate, "we should proceed with this policy in any case." VY

MOSCOW FACES UPHILL TASK IN ATTRACTING ETHNIC RUSSIANS BACK TO RUSSIA

According to an article in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 23 August, "the period of mass immigration to Russia from the CIS and the Baltic states is unfortunately now over." Only 350,000 people came on a permanent basis in 2000, far lower than the annual figures during the 1990s. Moscow plans to increase subsidies and loans to those who do return and to target such assistance to people who can make a contribution to the economy. PG

ZYUGANOV EXPRESSES SOLIDARITY WITH MILOSEVIC

Imprisoned former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic telephoned supporters in Moscow on 23 August and asked them to stand up against NATO, AP reported. He said that "the occupation of the Balkans that is taking place clearly reveals the future intentions [of the West] concerning Russia and other free nations" and shows that "instead of the fascist swastika and other such symbols, today they are using the word 'democracy'... We all must combine our efforts to repel this new colonialism." Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov expressed his "solidarity" with Milosevic and his fight against the international war crimes tribunal. The same day, Zyuganov told Interfax that leftist forces in the Russian parliament have found nothing good in the government's draft budget and plan to prepare an alternative one that will include more social spending. PG

RUSSIA APPEARS TO BE LEAVING CUBAN ELINT SITE

Defense Minister Ivanov and Vice Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov have refused to confirm that Moscow is closing its electronic espionage site near Lourdes in Cuba, but "Novye izvestiya" reported on 23 August that the withdrawal of Russian equipment and personnel have already begun. The declining intelligence significance of the center, its high cost, and its impact on Russian-American relations played a role in the decision to phase the center out. But the last straw, the paper said, was the refusal of Cuban leader Fidel Castro to cancel rental charges on the site as partial payment on Cuban debts to Moscow. Castro reportedly said that "we owed money to the USSR, not to Russia." The paper said that President Putin may announce the closure of the electronic intelligence site when he visits the U.S. in November 2001 as part of his media blitz there. VY

INFLATION FALLS TO ZERO

The State Statistics Committee said in Moscow on 23 August that inflation equaled zero during the first 20 days of August and that the total for the month will not exceed 0.1 percent, Interfax reported. During the first 10 days of August, inflation increased by 0.1 percent and during the next 10 days prices fell by 0.1 percent. PG

MOSCOW CUTS FOREIGN DEBT LOAD

In an interview published in "Vedomosti" on 23 August, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin said that the government plans to cut the foreign debt load from today's 50 percent of GDP to 40 percent of GDP by 2003, Interfax-AFI. He noted that the relationships between the total debt and government budget incomes was 410 percent at the start of 2001, a figure he said was the highest in the world. Meanwhile, the Internet site of the International Monetary Fund the same day showed that Turkey has passed Russia as the fund's largest debtor and that Argentina will soon surpass Turkey in indebtedness. PG

MOSCOW TO SIMPLIFY TAX ADMINISTRATION

The Russian government is counting on increasing the voluntary payment of all taxes through the simplification of forms and consequently has decided to cut the number of officials working for the tax administration by 8 percent next year, Interfax reported on 23 August. PG

RUSSIA BEGINS PRODUCTION OF NEW CRUISE MISSILE

ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August that Russia has begun production of a new supersonic cruise missile, the X-22M, which has a range of 400 kilometers and a speed of 3,600 kilometers per hour. The agency said that no military in the world has any weapon to counter this new weapon. Also on 23 August, "Krasnaya zvezda" published the complete text of the new naval doctrine approved by President Putin on 27 June, which was much discussed at that time. PG

STEPASHIN SAYS RUSSIA NOW HAS INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIERS TO CORRUPTION

At a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Panama on 23 August, Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin said that the work of his agency and the Russian government has created "insurmountable" barriers to corruption, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that corruption in Russia has been exaggerated and that now the government is employing tighter control, greater transparency, and economic liberalization to contain it. PG

30 PERCENT OF BANKRUPTCIES SAID FRAUDULENT

Tatiana Trefilov, the head of the federal office that supervises bankruptcy proceedings, said that approximately 30 percent of all cases of business bankruptcy are fraudulent, "Trud-7" reported on 19 August. Typically, she said, fraud is most often the result of the action of creditors who are interested not in recovering their investment but changing the ownership of a particular enterprise. She said that during the last year, her agency had identified 232 managers as having engaged in such fraud and suspended the licenses of 97 companies. She said that at present her Financial Service Recovery agency is reviewing 27,000 bankruptcy cases. VY

MOSCOW FINDS SELLING AIR ROUTES PROFITABLE

Viktor Galkin, the first deputy chief of the state civil aviation service of the Transport Ministry, told ITAR-TASS on 23 August that "we regard our airspace as a marketable product from which the state can receive extra revenue." He said that foreign airlines are charged $68 for every 100 kilometers of flight over Russia's territory. PG

ECOLOGICAL ACTIVISTS MAY DELAY BLUE STREAM PROJECT

According to an article in "Izvestiya" on 23 August, environmental activists are delaying the completion of the Blue Stream project that is intended to carry gas from Russia to Turkey by occupying forested areas in Krasnodar Krai that must be cleared for the pipeline. The paper said that the organizers of the Blue Stream project have sought to get local officials to clear off the demonstrators by offering Krasnodar special gas deliveries. But so far, the demonstrators have been delaying construction and that is costing the project both time and money. PG

ORGANIZED GROUP SAID BEHIND ATTACK ON KALININGRAD GUARDS

Officials of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 23 August said that an attack on guards at a military facility in Kaliningrad this week that claimed the life of two sailors appears to be the work of an organized group that on several occasions has attempted to break into military facilities there to steal weapons, Interfax reported. PG

POWER CUT TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL, SCHOOL FOR MENTALLY RETARDED IN CHITA

In order to collect past due bills, energy officials in Chita on 23 August turned off the power to a psychiatric hospital and a school for the mentally retarded, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The energy company also turned off power to other debtors as well. PG

66,000 MUSCOVITES USE HEROIN EACH DAY

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 August, the number of Muscovites using heroin every day is at least 66,000, a figure far higher than officials have suggested in the past. The newspaper reached that conclusion on the basis of police reports about the amount of heroin said to be arriving in the city each day. PG

MOSCOW GROUPS PRODUCE 2 MILLION PORNOGRAPHIC TAPES A MONTH

Vladimir Tsvetkov, the head of the department for the struggle against economic crimes in the Moscow Interior Ministry administration, told Interfax-Moscow on 23 August that companies in the Russian capital are producing approximately 2 million pornographic videotapes and 500,000 pornographic computer disks every month. Their sale is bringing in an estimated 500 million rubles ($16 million) per month. Forty percent of this output is sold in the Russian capital; the remainder is sold in the provinces. PG

COMPUTER CRIMES DOUBLED IN LAST TWO YEARS

Aleksandr Slutskii, the head of the department for the struggle with computer crimes in the Moscow Interior Ministry administration, told Interfax on 23 August that the number of computer crimes in Russia doubled over the last two years and has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. PG

PATRIARCH OBJECTS TO BULLFIGHTING, LUZHKOV TO RECONSIDER

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II in an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 23 August condemned plans to have a bullfight in Moscow, Interfax reported. He said that such an event, planned for September 2001, will serve to propagandize force. Moscow officials then announced that Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will reconsider his approval of the event upon his return from vacation on 24 August, Interfax reported the same day. But the officials indicated that the Portuguese-style bullfight they have approved will not involve the death of the bull. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCH OPPOSED TO FEDERAL RELIGION MINISTRY

Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate, told Interfax on 23 August that the church is against the formation of a special federal ministry for religious affairs. He said that the events of August 1991 had an enormous impact on the Russian Orthodox Church and had ushered in an era in which the church's influence grew. Consequently, he said the church is opposed to any return to state control of religion. In other comments, Kirill said that Patriarch Aleksii II is ready to meet with Catholic Pope John Paul II, but only if advance talks point to a concrete agreement. Otherwise, Kirill said, such a meeting would only produce "the illusions of conciliation." PG

NEW BOOK ON IMAM SHAMIL SAID ESPECIALLY TIMELY

The Molodaya Gvardiya publishing house has issued a new biography of Imam Shamil, who led resistance to the Russian advance into the North Caucasus in the 19th century. Written by Shapi Kaziev, the book outlines Shamil's life as well as providing extensive information on the role of Sufi orders in the resistance movement. As such, a review in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Ex Libris" on 23 August reported, the book is especially timely now. PG

SAKHAROV SUPPORTER DIES

Leonid Gordan, a scholar who headed a department at the Institute of World Economy and International Organizations and who gained fame as one of the organizers of Moscow scholars in support of the election of Andrei Sakharov and his colleagues as people's deputies, died in Moscow on 22 August, "Izvestiya" reported the following day. PG

WESTERNERS BUYING NEW COPIES OF SOVIET WORLD WAR II FIGHTER

Western museums, air shows, and collectors have purchased 20 new replicas of the Soviet World War II-era Yak-9 turboprop fighter and have placed orders for another 12, an Orenburg aviation firm told Reuters on 23 August. The factory uses the original assembly line that was employed to produce planes both during the war and afterward. PG

MOSCOW PAPER NOTES INTENSIFIED FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 August said that "it is unknown what has caused the unprecedented escalation of hostilities in Chechnya" but that "one thing is clear: it is a long time since such fierce clashes took place almost throughout the republic's territory." The paper complained that the military has failed to provide details on many operations, but even the information Russian officers have provided reveals "the tenseness of the situation" in Chechnya. Meanwhile, the Russian military continued to assert that there is "no doubt" that federal forces had wounded militant leader Shamil Basaev, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. But the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr denied that and speculated that perhaps Russian President Putin is ill with hemorrhoids. PG

MOSCOW APPROVES DRAFT CHECHEN RESTORATION BUDGET...

The Russian cabinet on 23 August approved a 4.5 billion ruble ($150 million) draft program for restoration work in Chechnya in 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. The program must be approved by the Russian parliament as part of the 2002 budget submission. Vladimir Yelagin, the Russian minister in charge of Chechen restoration who outlined the plan to journalists in Moscow, then departed for a three-day inspection tour of Chechnya itself. PG

...BUT SAYS CHECHEN FIGHTERS PREPARED TO USE POISONS...

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 23 August told ITAR-TASS that statements by a Chechen field commander show that the Chechen fighters are prepared to use poisons and chemicals against federal forces. He said that the agency developed that information by tracking conversations between pro-independence Chechens in the United States and the Middle East. PG

...AND ACKNOWLEDGES RUSSIAN FORCES KILLED INNOCENT CHECHEN

Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov told Russian news agencies on 23 August that three Russian servicemen have been arrested for killing a 17-year-old Chechen youth who had no connection with anti-Moscow Chechen fighters. The boy's murder came during a sweep through Alleroi where Russian forces hoped but failed to capture Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, and the killing sparked a protest there. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PROPERTY FOR DEBT SWAP WITH RUSSIA POSSIBLE

President Robert Kocharian said on 23 August that the implementation of property for a debt swap with Russia is "quite possible" if Russian business is interested in the properties offered by Yerevan, Noyan Tapan reported. The same day, "The Moscow Times" reported that Armenia has offered a plant that produces robots and another that makes computer chips for defense hardware. PG

U.S. CONGRESSMAN VISITS KARABAKH

Representative Adam Schiff on 23 August met in Stepanakert with the president of the unrecognized Karabakh Republic, Arkadiy Gukasyan, Russian and Armenian agencies reported. Gukasyan told Schiff that the process of regulating the Karabakh issue is practically frozen, and Schiff promised to raise the issue in the U.S. Congress upon his return to Washington. PG

BAKU DISMISSES IRANIAN COMPLAINTS ABOUT TURKISH AIR FORCE VISIT

In reaction to a statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi concerning the visit of Turkish military aircraft to Azerbaijan, Novruz Mammadov, the head of the foreign relations department in the office of President Heidar Aliev, said on 23 August that "Azerbaijan is a sovereign country and it has the right to cooperate with any country of the world, particularly with Turkey, with which Azerbaijan is expanding its relations on the basis of the 'one nation-two states' principle," Turan reported. Meanwhile, officials at the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry denied on 23 August that Baku had introduced forces into a northern section of the country populated largely by Avars as some Russian media have charged, Interfax reported. PG

AZERBAIJAN UNITY PARTY HEAD CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF DEFENSE MINISTER

Tahir Karimli, the chairman of the Unity Party, has complained that only poor people serve in the military because the rich are able to escape service through bribes, Baku's "525 gazet" reported on 23 August. As a result, the suicides in the army are especially tragic, Karimli said, and he demanded that the defense minister resign. PG

COMMUNIST LEADER SEEKS PRO-RUSSIAN ALLIANCE IN AZERBAIJAN

Ramiz Ahmadov, a parliamentarian who is also the chairman of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, is overseeing the expansion of the AzRus organization that seeks to promote pro-Russian parties in the country, Baku's "Bizim Asr" reported on 23 August. The group intends to push for closer ties between Azerbaijan and Russia. Meanwhile, a Serbian reporter was quoted by Baku's "Ekho" newspaper the same day as saying that the son of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic has found refuge in Azerbaijan. PG

LEBANESE BUSINESSMAN RESCUED IN GEORGIA

Georgian law-enforcement agencies freed Lebanese citizen Charbel Bachar Aoun, 34, who had been taken hostage in the Pankisi gorge area on 7 June, Caucasus Press reported on 23 August. PG

ABKHAZIA, TRANSDNIESTER REGION SIGN COOPERATION PROTOCOL

The foreign ministers of the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia in Georgia and Transdniester in Moldova on 23 August signed a cooperation agreement in Sukhumi, Caucasus Press reported. The two sides agreed to share information on issues of international recognition and the progress of negotiations and also to set up missions in each other's capital. PG

CENTRAL ASIAN RAPID REACTION FORCE CONDUCTS TRAINING EXERCISE

On 22 August, the first command staff exercise of the rapid reaction forces set up by the CIS Collective Security Agreement began in Bishkek, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 August. The force is intended to serve both to respond to any challenges to stability in the region and also work in peacekeeping operations. PG

MOSCOW GUARANTEES SECURITY OF LOADING TANKERS WITH KAZAKH OIL

The Russian Transport Ministry on 23 August announced that it will guarantee the security of loading tankers at Novorossiisk with oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz field, Interfax reported.

CRIME UP DRAMATICALLY IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's statistics service on 23 August said that the number of crimes committed in that country during the first half of 2001 totaled 80,456, 10.3 percent more than the number during the same period in 2001, Interfax-Central Asia reported. Serious crimes, the statistical service added, have increased the most, rising 26.2 percent between those two periods. PG

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CEMETERY DESECRATED IN WESTERN KAZAKHSTAN

Unknown persons have destroyed some 30 gravestones at a Russian Orthodox Christian cemetery in Aktau, Interfax-Central Asia reported on 23 August. A local state enterprise has set up a reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of those involved. The same city also faces a cholera outbreak, the news agency reported. PG

'ASKAR AKAEV RECALLS HIS DEMOCRATIC PAST'

With that subtitle, an article in Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 August reported about Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev's recent decision to pardon human rights activist Topchubek Turgunaliev, something that wouldn't have been necessary during the earlier and more liberal part of Akaev's presidency. The same day, Kyrgyz radio reported that Kyrgyzstan's government has reported that it is revising a draft law regulating the activities of nongovernmental organizations, political parties, and the media. PG

12,000 TO BE RELEASED FROM TAJIK PRISONS UNDER AMNESTY

Following a speech by Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmonov, the Tajikistan parliament unanimously passed an amnesty law on 23 August that will lead to the release of 12,000 people from the country's prisons, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Among those to receive priority amnesties are 1,000 prisoners suffering from tuberculosis, pregnant women, veterans, deserters, and foreigners. Seven thousand other prisoners will see their sentences reduced, the news service said. PG

TURKMEN, IRANIAN PRESIDENTS SAY CASPIAN MUST NOT BE 'HOTBED OF TENSION'

Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami discussed the status of the Caspian Sea via telephone on 23 August, RIA-Novosti reported. The two agreed that whatever differences exist must not lead to a situation in which the sea will become "a hotbed of tension." Niyazov invited Khatami to visit Ashgabat, and Khatami said that Turkmenistan will be the first country he will visit following his recent re-election. PG

UZBEK PRESIDENT WANTS NEIGHBORS TO JOIN FIGHT AGAINST EXTREMISM

Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov said in Tashkent on 23 August that the leaders of Central Asia now understand better than they did in the past the threats of extremism, drug trafficking, and international crime, but that the time has come for actions not words, Interfax-Central Asia reported. Meanwhile, Tashkent's "Khalq Sozi" reported the same day that Karimov's recently declared amnesty will result in the release of more than 25,000 prisoners, including some of his political opponents. PG




OSCE GROUP IN BELARUS PROTESTS CONFISCATION OF COMPUTERS FROM NGO

The OSCE Monitoring and Advisory Group in Minsk has sent a note to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, protesting the confiscation of computers from the Club of Belarusian Voters, an NGO that wants to monitor the presidential election, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 23 August. The OSCE mission said it leased the computers to the NGO in March without violating the memorandum signed with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on the status of the OSCE group in Belarus. In connection with the upcoming election, Belarus has been recently swept by a wave of repression against NGOs and the independent press, including seizures of computer equipment. JM

OSCE PERFORMS 'LIMITED' ELECTION MONITORING IN BELARUS

The mission of election observers from the OSCE's Office from Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Belarus has been forced to add the adjective "limited" to its name because of the impossibility to conduct full-fledged observation of the presidential election campaign, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 23 August. ODIHR mission head Hriar Balian said Minsk's delay in issuing the official invitation to OSCE observers has left many important phases of the election campaign beyond the ODIHR observers' attention. In particular, Balian said his mission missed the process of collecting signatures for presidential hopefuls; the process of registration of candidates; and the first week of the campaign after the registration. JM

MINSK COMMENTS ON VISA DENIAL TO TWO OSCE MONITORS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka on 23 August said the decision to deny visas to two OSCE election observers -- one U.S. citizen and one British -- had nothing to do with their former work in the OSCE. "They were refused visas because Belarus, like any other country, has a list of people who are not allowed to cross the border," AP quoted Latushka as saying. JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT PRESS THREATENED BY CLAMPDOWN ON PRINTING HOUSE

The editors of several independent newspapers told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 23 August that the future appearance of their publications is under threat following the clampdown by financial police on the printing house Magic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001). "Today we should print six newspapers but their appearance is doubtful," Magic Director Yury Budzko said. "[The authorities] know that under normal conditions the election will be in favor of the single candidate [of the opposition]. Therefore they are doing everything possible to derail the election," "Narodnaya volya" Editor in Chief Iosif Syaredzich commented. Meanwhile, State Press Committee Chairman Mikhail Padhayny denied that the Belarusian authorities are clamping down on free speech. "We have a very fair policy concerning nonstate media during the election campaign, but if such publications carry on printing inaccurate information, they will be shut down," Reuters quoted Padhayny as saying the same day. JM

RUSSIA'S ZHIRINOVSKY DISPLEASED WITH HAYDUKEVICH'S PRESIDENTIAL BID

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said in Minsk on 23 August that his party will seek to oust Syarhey Haydukevich from his post as chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, Belapan reported. Zhirinovsky, who has voiced his support for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, is displeased that Haydukevich is running against Lukashenka in the presidential election. Zhirinovsky said he helped Haydukevich create his party in Belarus, adding that the latter "cheated" him by challenging Lukashenka. Zhirinovsky accused Haydukevich of misappropriating "millions of dollars" that were allegedly given to Haydukevich's party by "Arab friends." Haydukevich said he is flattered that such Russian politicians as Zhirinovsky and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov come to Minsk to attack Haydukevich in order to render their support to Lukashenka. JM

PRESIDENT SAYS UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENCE SET 'IRREVOCABLY'

"Independent Ukraine came into being ultimately and irrevocably," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Kyiv on 23 August, at a gala meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the country's independence. Kuchma said the nation's main achievement in the past 10 years is the peaceful way in which Ukraine's independence has been established. Kuchma also stressed his own role in Ukraine's transformations: "As the head of state, I have demonstrated to Ukrainian society and the entire world my dedication to the lawful, generally accepted democratic principles of resolving the problems [that surfaced during Ukraine's transformation]," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. The president said Ukraine's primary tasks for the next decade are to speed up and deepen the process of developing democracy and civic society as well as to integrate with Europe. JM

RUSSIAN, POLISH, MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTS ATTEND UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENCE CELEBRATIONS

The presidents of Russia, Poland, and Macedonia -- Vladimir Putin, Aleksander Kwasniewski, and Boris Trajkovski, respectively -- arrived in Kyiv on 23 August to take part in official celebrations of Ukraine's independence anniversary. "The brotherhood between Russia and Ukraine is not a legend, it is a fact of history and therefore, our common future is the future of two European states that are closely connected with each other," ITAR-TASS quoted Putin as saying in Kyiv. Kwasniewski said Poland is Ukraine's advocate, and added that his country is involved in consolidating Ukraine's independence, PAP reported. President Kuchma and the three visitors attended the unveiling of the Independence Monument in Kyiv. JM

NATO HAILS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENT UKRAINE

NATO on 24 August congratulated Ukraine on the 10th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union and urged Kyiv to stay on the path of economic and political reforms, Reuters reported. "Since 1991, NATO and Ukraine have made great strides in developing a special relationship in a Europe that has overcome the dividing lines of the past," the Atlantic alliance said in a statement. "NATO will continue to support independent, democratic, and market-oriented Ukraine and encourages Ukraine to take the reform process forward, including in the critical field of defense reform," the statement said. JM

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS PRIVATIZATION OF POWER PLANTS

Speaking at the special Estonian parliament session on 23 August devoted to the privatization of AS Narva Elektrijaamad (Narva Power Plants Ltd) to the U.S. company NRG Energy, Mart Laar declared that the deal is important from economic, social, environmental, and security aspects, ETA reported. He even claimed that its rejection might undermine U.S. support for Estonia's admission to NATO. While agreeing that energy prices will increase slightly after the privatization, Laar said that the price hike would be even greater if the company were to remain state-owned. Moreover, power generated from oil shale, as is the case with the plants, is cheaper than other alternatives, BNS reported. After members of the ruling coalition claimed that the discussion was void of content and subsequently left the session, only 39 deputies were registered as attending, 12 fewer than the necessary quorum. SG

RIGA RESHUFFLES CITY COUNCIL

The Riga City Council voted 34 to zero, with no abstentions, on 23 August to remove For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) deputy Inese Vaidere from the post of deputy mayor, LETA reported. Deputies from the TB/LNNK and other rightist parties did not participate in the vote, asserting that the draft motion was illegal since no valid reasons were given to justify her removal. The move was prompted by the decision made by the TB/LNNK in Riga several days earlier to formally quit the coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2001) in protest of the exhibition of a statue of Peter the Great during the city's 800th-anniversary celebrations. Although no formal coalition has yet been formed, deputies from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, For Human Rights In a United Latvia, and the Center bloc of small parties supported Vaidere's ouster and the election of Aivars Kreituss, the leader of the Labor Party, as her replacement. SG

LITHUANIAN BISHOPS ASK PREMIER TO ACCELERATE COOPERATION WITH CHURCH

The Lithuanian Conference of Bishops, represented by its head, Archbishop of Kaunas Sigitas Tamkevicius, Cardinal Audrys Backis, and Bishop Jonas Boruta, asked Algirdas Brazauskas on 23 August to speed up the formation of the joint commission that was agreed upon last year between the Vatican and Lithuania, BNS reported the next day. The commission is expected to help resolve matters that require the approval of both church and state, such as the management of church archives and the problems of Catholic schools. The bishops also expressed regret that there has not been an adviser for religious affairs in the government since Petras Plumpa resigned in March. The bishops have suggested a candidate for the post, but refused to disclose his name. Brazauskas said that he will appoint someone to the post in the near future, noting that the official will remain in office regardless of changes in the government. SG

PUTIN TO VISIT POLAND IN MID-JANUARY

Russian President Putin declared at his 23 August meeting in Kyiv with his Polish counterpart Kwasniewski that he will pay an official visit to Warsaw in mid-January 2002, Russian and Polish media reported. "Relations between our countries have achieved a new level of quality," Putin said after the talks, adding that the Russian-Polish trade turnover reached $5.5 billion last year. Sergei Prikhodko, deputy head of the Russian president's administration, commented after the meeting that Russia and Poland intend to increase cooperation in connection with the exporting of Russian gas to the EU. The two presidents also touched upon the future role of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and agreed that further discussions will take place in four-way talks that will include Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and the EU. JM

ISRAEL WANTS 'NEW, BETTER CHAPTER' IN RELATIONS WITH POLAND

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in Warsaw on 23 August that "Jews want to open a new, better chapter in their history of relations with Poland to date," PAP reported. "Here, on this land we extend a hand to the new Poland and say: 'this is a new chapter,'" Peres said after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. He stressed that this new chapter will be written by the peoples of Poland and Israel. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT ALLOWS UNIVERSAL SUNDAY TRADING

The Sejm on 23 August amended the Labor Code by allowing all shops and businesses to open on Sundays and other holidays, PAP reported. The Sejm rejected a proposal to ban supermarkets and hypermarkets from opening on holidays. The Sejm also decided that those working on holidays will not have the right to an additional 50 percent of their hourly wage for every hour worked. JM

SOLIDARITY LEADER 'INDIGNANT' AT PRESIDENTIAL VETO ON FAMILY WELFARE BILL

Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski was "indignant" upon hearing that President Kwasniewski vetoed the bill stipulating welfare payments to families with many children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001), PAP reported on 23 August. The bill envisaged yearly payments of 115 zlotys ($27) for every third and successive child until they turn 16, or 20 in case of students. According to the government, this year's family allowances would [would have, or will?] cost the state budge 158 million zlotys ($37 million). JM

TEMELIN RECONNECTED TO POWER GRID

Temelin spokesman Milan Nebesar on 23 August announced that testing at the controversial nuclear power plant has been resumed and the plant has been reconnected to the national power grid, AP reported. He said the reactor was running at 52 percent of its capacity. The plant, which was put back on line on 12 August after three months of repairs to eliminate vibrations in the turbine generator, automatically shut down on 19 August because of a faulty signal for one of the turbine systems. Nebesar said workers plan to shut down the turbine for a few hours again on 23 August to complete the balancing of its rotor. MS

U.K. OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCES RESUMPTION OF CHECKS AT PRAGUE AIRPORT...

The British Home Office on 23 August released a statement saying the U.K. has decided to reintroduce preliminary immigration checks at Prague's Ruzyne airport, but failed to indicate when the checks will be resumed, CTK reported. The statement said the U.K. considers the Czech Republic to be "a safe country" and that "there are no reasons for granting political asylum to its citizens," although London is aware that "there are certain problems in relations between the majority population and the Roma." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists on the same day that he wants nongovernmental organizations, including the Czech Helsinki Committee, to participate in the controls. Opposition Civic Democratic Party leader and Chamber of Deputies' speaker Vaclav Klaus criticized the decision of the government to allow the resumption of the checks. "The concession made by the Czech government is not justifiable by any argument, including the alleged threat of the reintroduction of visa requirements," Klaus said. The opposition Four Party Coalition also criticized the decision. MS

...WHICH CZECH PRESIDENT REGRETS BUT UNDERSTANDS

Vaclav Havel on 23 August said he is "not happy" about the British decision but understands why the government would accept it, because it "is better than the introduction of visa requirements," CTK reported. Havel said that "more embarrassing" than the Czech government's agreement is the fact that "our fellow citizens are leaving the country, and that is a really serious reason to ponder." Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky on 23 August told members of the Chamber of Deputies' European Integration Commission that around 6,000 so-called "main applicants" from the Czech Republic have applied for asylum in the U.K. in the last five years. As "main applicants" are only heads of families, the real number is "three times higher," Rychetsky said. All of the applicants justified their asylum requests on grounds of racial persecution against Roma. Rychetsky also said that there is a danger that denial of the British requests to renew the checks could have "seriously influenced the date of [the Czech Republic's] EU accession." MS

DANISH PREMIER IN PRAGUE

Visiting Danish Premier Poul Nyrup Rasmussen on 23 August told journalists after talks with Prime Minister Milos Zeman that "the Czech Republic and Denmark can unite [their efforts] and do all they can to enlarge NATO," CTK and AP reported. Rasmussen said that at the next NATO summit in Prague "at least Slovakia, Slovenia, and the three Baltic countries" should be included in NATO, and Zeman added that he "totally agreed." Rasmussen also said he supports Czech efforts to join the EU and that Denmark will strive to accelerate the process when it takes over the EU presidency in the second half of 2002. Zeman lauded Denmark's opposition to any restriction on the free movement of labor after new members join the EU, and said he hopes Copenhagen's "liberal stand" will influence the position of other EU members. Rasmussen also held talks with Foreign Minister Kavan. MS

GERMAN MINORITY IN CZECH REPUBLIC DEMANDS COMPENSATION FOR POSTWAR INJUSTICE

Hans Korbel, the chairman of the Assembly of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, on 23 August said ethnic Germans in the Czech Republic are demanding compensation for "postwar inequities" and for "wrongs inflicted" on their community after World War II, CTK reported. Korbel said the claim has been forwarded to the Czech parliament. He said the German minority "continues to feel harmed by the state's unequal approach to wrongs committed in the second half of the past century," when members of the German minority were "persecuted, stripped of freedom, and forced to do slave labor." Korbel said the minority is demanding the abolition of the Benes decrees, and the return of confiscated property or financial compensation for it. Moreover, members of the assembly want 100 crowns ($2.70) paid in compensation for each day spent in post-war labor camps and a 15-crown bonus added to pensions for each month of forced labor or of interment in a camp. They also demand a one-time 10,000-crown compensation for injustices inflicted during enforced resettlement. Premier Zeman said in reaction that the government has received no demand and that he did "not consider it appropriate to comment," but deputies representing his own Social Democratic Party, as well as opposition members, rejected the demand. MS

CZECH TELEVISION COUNCIL CRITICIZES, SANCTIONS BALVIN

The Television Council criticized interim General Director Jiri Balvin at its meeting on 22 August and lowered his salary by 10 percent, CTK reported on the next day, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." The council criticized Balvin, who was appointed interim general director following the crisis at Czech television in late December-early January, because he failed to forward to the council some relevant documents on an audit conducted earlier this year at the television's Brno studio. The audit revealed shortcomings and financial losses. "Lidove noviny" says the police anticorruption squad is investigating the manager of the Brno studios, Zdenek Drahos. MS

VERHEUGEN JOINS RANKS OF THE WORRIED OVER SLOVAK COALITION'S FUTURE

Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, on 23 August said in Brussels that he is "concerned" over the political situation in Slovakia, TASR and Reuters reported. Verheugen specifically mentioned the danger that the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) might leave the ruling coalition at the end of this week and emphasized the importance of a "stable government, including representatives of the Hungarian minority." He said that Slovakia has achieved "considerable progress" on the road to accession to the EU, but "the goal has not yet fully been achieved." The commissioner urged the partners in the Slovak ruling coalition to "constructively work together on the disputed issues." MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT DENIES PLANNING TO DISMISS CABINET

President Rudolf Schuster on 23 August denied reports in the media that he intends to dismiss the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda, CTK reported. Schuster said he has repeatedly emphasized his desire that the cabinet serve "to the end of its term." Schuster also said he hopes the SMK will decide to stay in the coalition. He said he has agreed with Dzurinda and parliamentary speaker Josef Migas to meet on 3 September in order to discuss political developments. Dzurinda also denied that during his recent South American visit he rejected an offer from Argentine President Fernando de la Rua to extradite to Slovakia fascists who fled to that country after World War II, saying he has seen no list of such fascists and no talks on the issue have been held. Schuster defended himself against criticism in the media of his month-long absence at a time of political and natural calamity crisis, saying he had "taken a real holiday for the first time in 12 years" and that if lives had been lost during the July floods he would have returned (see "RFE/RL Newsline" End Note, 22 August 2001). MS

SLOVAK PREMIER TO DISCUSS STATUS LAW WITH ORBAN

Premier Dzurinda on 23 August said in Bratislava that he intends to bring up his concerns over the Hungarian Status Law in talks planned for 25 August among leaders of the Visegrad Four countries in Tihany, Hungary, at Lake Balaton, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. Dzurinda said he is "awaiting with impatience" the Hungarian government's orders that are to be issued as follow-up legislation on the Status Law, but added that he does not believe the issue itself will have a lasting impact on relations between the two countries. Both Hungary and Slovakia, he explained, are "already halfway" on the road to the EU, and the Status Law will not apply to Hungarian minorities living in EU countries. Dzurinda said the preservation of the ethnic identity of Hungarians in Slovakia is guaranteed by the European Charter on Minority Languages, which the Slovak parliament has ratified. MS

MEDGYESSY ON SOCIALISTS' SUPPORT FOR ETHNIC HUNGARIANS

Opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy on 22 August told representatives of ethnic Hungarians abroad that "the Hungarian culture has its roots in Transylvania," where the Hungarian community has "good knowledge of its native language and strives to preserve its identity." Medgyessy said he is willing to admit that, as one born in the Transylvanian city of Cluj, his views on the matter "cannot be considered fully objective." He promised that in the event that the Socialists win next year's elections in Hungary, the party will "do its best to assure that ethnic Hungarians abroad feel well on their native lands." MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs told reporters on 23 August that the party's program will "serve the unity of the nation, but exclusion and fear-mongering will be alien to a Socialist cabinet," Hungarian media reported. MSZ

FORMER FIDESZ DEPUTY JOINS HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS

The parliamentary group of the opposition Socialist Party on 23 August unanimously voted to accept former coalition party FIDESZ deputy Krisztina Hortobagyi into its ranks, Hungarian media report. Hortobagyi quit the FIDESZ parliamentary group last November and became an independent after being asked by FIDESZ to resign from the parliament's Health Committee after she refused to endorse a cabinet decision to introduce a supplementary family allowance. The latest opinion poll carried out by Sonda Ipsos gives the Socialists a clear lead ahead of FIDESZ. Forty-six percent back the Socialists and 37 percent support FIDESZ, the daily "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

ISRAEL MAKES FIGHTER JET OFFER TO HUNGARY

The Israeli aircraft manufacturing consortium IAI is prepared to upgrade the Hungarian army's F-16 fighters at a lower price than their manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 24 August. The U.S., Sweden, Turkey, and Belgium have already offered to lease fighter jets to Hungary. The Defense Ministry's deadline for offers is 31 August. MSZ




NATO, GUERRILLAS AGREE ON MACEDONIAN WEAPONS COUNT

Danish General Gunnar Lange, who commands NATO forces in Macedonia, said in Skopje on 24 August that the alliance and the fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) have reached an agreement on how many weapons the guerrillas will surrender, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001). NATO has asked the government for its comments. Lange noted that the figure, which he did not disclose, is more realistic than earlier UCK estimates of 2,000 weapons. The government claims that the rebels have 85,000 weapons, a figure that most observers regard as exaggerated. Part of the problem in estimating arms quantities is that a gun culture predominates in much of the Balkans, and many or most adult males in Macedonia own a rifle or pistol. Many such weapons are quite old, but plenty of new ones have come onto the market in recent years as a result of the wars elsewhere in former Yugoslavia and of the plundering of government arsenals in Albania in 1997. PM

PUTIN BACKS MACEDONIAN HARD-LINERS

Continuing Russia's policy of supporting hard-liners among the Orthodox Slavs of the Balkans in order to gain influence there (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March and 31 July 2001), Russian President Vladimir Putin told Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in Kyiv on 24 August that the UCK are "terrorists, not rebels," dpa reported. He criticized NATO's mission as ill-conceived, said that the UCK will not surrender most of their weapons, and blamed the region's problems on poverty and crime. He added that "We should understand that we are confronted in Europe by fundamentalism, we are confronted by people with aggressive aspirations," RFE/RL reported. Trajkovski told newsmen that he agrees with Putin and wants NATO to take tougher measures to disarm the UCK. He added that both men agree that Kosova is the source of the problem. Western media have reported recently that Moscow and Kyiv are sending massive arms shipments to Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). Russia and Ukraine deny this. Russia has little to offer the region except weapons and natural gas, for which it drives a hard bargain. PM

GERMAN LEADER FIRM ON MACEDONIAN MISSION

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Berlin on 23 August that "the cabinet...has just agreed on the participation of German armed forces in the NATO mission in Macedonia. It involves the deployment of up to 500 soldiers in a French-led battalion for 30 days," RFE/RL reported. He added that "no mission such as this is completely free of risk... We require a mandate, a robust mandate, which allows the right to self-defense and the capacity to withdraw if the mission should fail, against all expectations." Parliament must now approve the deployment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 August 2001). Schroeder has stressed that Germany needs to participate in Operation Essential Harvest to maintain its credibility with its allies. He has accused critics of playing politics with national interests. PM

MACEDONIAN MILITANTS SEEKING TO ARM?

Erich Rathfelder, who is "Die Presse's" veteran Balkan correspondent, wrote on 23 August that elite units of the Macedonian security forces as well as nationalist paramilitaries are using the 30-day period of Essential Harvest to arm themselves. Quoting unnamed diplomatic sources, the correspondent wrote that the elite Scorpion, Tiger, and Wolf units are 5,000-strong (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June 2001, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 and 14 June 2001). The paramilitaries include up to 8,000 men drawn from soccer clubs and nationalist political parties. They include formations called Macedonia 2000, Macedonia 2001, and the Snakes. As for the Albanian side, observers note that problems could arise from the fact that the UCK seems to lack an integrated and effective command structure. Extremists on either side could stage provocations either during or after Essential Harvest. PM

MACEDONIA HEADED FOR GOVERNMENT CRISIS?

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, whose nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) has been slipping badly in the polls lately (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 August 2001), accused ethnic Albanian Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti of stalling in seeking the extradition of "terrorist" Semi Habibi from Germany, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported. Georgievski circumvented the minister's authority and sent the German authorities an extradition request in his own name, the broadcast added. Georgievski wants to fire Mehmeti, who is from the Party of Democratic Prosperity. Mehmeti said that he acted according to legal procedures and that any attempt by the prime minister to act on his own would be a "violation of legal norms." PM

BOSNIA GETS NEW ELECTION LAW

Parliament approved the long-awaited election law on 23 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. It allows voters to cast ballots only for members of their own ethnic group in elections for the three-member presidency. Critics charge that the measure guarantees nationalists a hold on those posts because candidates will not have to seek the votes of people from other ethnic groups. Many Serbs and especially Croats feared that an open election would enable the more numerous Muslims to outvote them. The law angered nationalists, however, by requiring persons living illegally in others' homes to vote where they lived before the conflict began in 1992. Leading figures of the international community hailed the law, the passage of which is a requirement for Bosnia to join the Council of Europe, which obliges members to have election laws. PM

SERBIAN CRIME INVESTIGATOR SLAMS GOVERNMENT FEUDING

Aleksandar Radovic, who heads the anticorruption commission, told Reuters in Belgrade on 23 August that the war of words between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian President Zoran Djindjic over what is known as the Gavrilovic affair is making his work more difficult (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001). "They don't even have to help me. They just have to give me a bit of peace to work in." He added that several leaders of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition have tried to interfere with his work. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: CLEAR UP GAVRILOVIC AFFAIR

In Krusevac on 23 August, Djindjic said that the Gavrilovic affair will have to be cleared up completely before there can be any review of his government's work, as Kostunica has demanded, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Belgrade, Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that the Gavrilovic affair could lead to the undoing of all that DOS has achieved since ousting President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. Mihajlovic called for the government to "get serious" and draft a comprehensive anticrime and anticorruption program. PM

FRANCE WANTS TO LIFT SERBIAN ARMS EMBARGO

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Paris on 23 August that the time has come to end the embargo on arms sales to Serbia, Reuters reported. The government will introduce a motion to that effect in the UN Security Council. Belgrade requested such a move in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2001). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER REACTS TO OPPOSITION CRITICISM OF NATO PREPARATIONS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 24 August criticized Democratic Party leader Traian Basescu for having said the previous day that NATO documents demonstrate that Romania is not considered to be a viable candidate and that the government is not doing enough toward advancing accession, Mediafax reported. Nastase said Basescu should make public the documents, as "there are tens of thousands of NATO reports" and it is difficult to know which report Basescu has in mind. One of the two reports mentioned by him is dated January 2001, and it is hardly fair to attribute criticism in it to his cabinet, which at the time had only been in power a few months, he said. Basescu said that the two reports indicate that Romania is facing problems of political stability, corruption, and with military reforms, as well as with the integration of the Hungarian and Jewish minorities. Nastase said that before "washing the dirty linen in public" the opposition should heed his call for "an armistice on NATO accession." That call has been rejected by both the Democrats and the National Liberal Party. MS

ROMANIAN MINISTERS ON EU VISA REQUIREMENT, ACCESSION TALKS

Interior Minister Ioan Rus on 23 August told journalists that Romania has fulfilled all the conditions requested by the EU for abolishing visa requirements for its citizens, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. Vasile Puscas, the chief negotiator with the EU, said the same day that Romania will open negotiations on all chapters of the aquis communautaire by 2002 and hopes to end those negotiations and "provisionally close" most chapters by the end of 2004. MS

GREATER ROMANIA PARTY COMPLAINS OF 'JEWISH CENSORSHIP'

The Greater Romania Party's (PRM) weekly "Romania mare" on 23 August advised "the Jewish mafia" to "let Romania off its hook." Reacting to the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities complaint against the publication of PRM deputy Vlad Hogea's chauvinist book "The Nationalist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001), the weekly said that "we shall let no one gag the Romanian press and culture" and warned "Zionist agitators" not to "mix up Romanians and Palestinians... We are fed up with Gauleiters and are too poor and too wretched to continue tolerating blackmail and the foreigners' yoke." PRM Deputy Chairman Gheorghe Buzatu, who heads the Iasi institute that published the book, announced on 23 August that a second edition of 10,000 copies, which follows the first run of 1,000 copies, will be published and that this edition will no longer be under the auspices of the Romanian Academy. Buzatu said that he considers the book to be "a document that in 20 years will truthfully render the end of the last century and millennium." Mediafax reported that Buzatu, who is a Senate deputy chairman, has asked the Senate Bureau to provide him with bodyguards, claiming he is "being shadowed on the street" and that he has received telephone threats on his life. Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu welcomed on 23 August the Prosecutor-General Office's decision to launch an inquiry into the book's publication. MS

TRANSDNIESTER AGREES TO PROVIDE DATA ON MILITARY STRENGTH

The Transdniester delegation at the Joint Control Commission (JCC) has been for the first time authorized by Tiraspol to provide data on the military strength of the separatists, Infotag reported on 23 August. The agency cited Moldovan JCC Co-chairman George Roman as saying that Chisinau has long proposed this "exchange of information" but the authorities in Tiraspol had hitherto refused to authorize their representatives on the JCC to do so. Chisinau says its own National Army has 8,500 men, while the Transdniester armed forces number 7,500. According to Chisinau, when territorial size and the size of the two respective populations are taken into account, this amounts to a 1 to 3.5 percent proportion in favor of the Transdniester. It says Moldova has 2.16 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants, while the Transdniester has 6.4 soldiers per 1,000. Tiraspol challenges these figures. Moldova also says it has three motorized infantry brigades, while the Transdniester has four, with each side having one artillery regiment. MS

MOLDOVA TO HOLD MILITARY PARADE ON INDEPENDENCE DAY

A military parade -- the second in Moldova's history -- will be held on 27 August to mark Moldova's 10th anniversary of its independence, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 23 August. MS

SMIRNOV SAYS MOSCOW 'BETRAYS TRANSDNIESTER INTERESTS'

In a message to Russian President Putin, separatist leader Igor Smirnov says Russia is "betraying the interests of Transdniester," Flux reported on 23 August. Smirnov complains about the scrapping of Russian military equipment in the region, saying the operation "contravenes all agreements signed by the two sides" on the future of the Russian equipment and ammunition. "The presence of the Russian contingent ensures our security, but the process of armament scrapping, without its prior synchronization with a normalization of relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, may have most undesirable consequences," Smirnov wrote. MS.

LARGE SUPPORT FOR BULGARIAN PREMIER

An overwhelming majority of 75 percent has confidence in Bulgaria's new premier, Simeon Saxecoburggotski, AFP reported on 23 August, citing the results of a poll conducted by the MBMD institute. The cabinet's youngest member, Deputy Premier and Economy Minister Nikolai Vassilev, scored support of 61 percent -- almost double his score a month ago. However, only one in 20 Bulgarians said they intend to vote in the upcoming presidential elections for a candidate of the National Movement Simeon II, while 42 percent support incumbent President Petar Stoyanov. Simeon Saxecoburggotski has been barred from running for head of state by a Constitutional Court decision. MS

BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER SAYS IMF HAS 'NO OBJECTIONS' TO ENVISAGED MEASURES

Finance Minister Milen Velchev on 23 August said the government has consulted the International Monetary Fund on its envisaged economic and social measures and the IMF has "no objections" to the plans, BTA reported. Velchev admitted, however, that the fund "expressed concern" that the package could result in an "excessive budget deficit." He said that "talks on the concrete parameters" of the package will be discussed in September, when an IMF delegation will visit Bulgaria. MS




AZERBAIJAN MOVES TO IMPOSE TIGHTER CONTROL OVER RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS


By Liz Fuller

In late June, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev decreed the creation of a State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations and appointed orientalist Rafik Aliyev to head it. The committee will supercede the old Religious Department within the Cabinet of Ministers, and have a much larger staff. Its primary function will be to monitor the activities of religious organizations engaging in missionary activity in Azerbaijan, whether Christian or Islamic.

The presidential decree on creating the new state committee specified that its work is not intended to restrict the freedom of religion guaranteed by Azerbaijan's Constitution. But Rafik Aliev's statements in a 25 July interview with Turan, and at a press conference in Baku on 10 August, make clear that the committee aims to introduce more stringent regulations to govern the activity of both religious organizations and individual religious activists, and monitor compliance with those regulations. It will be entitled to collect, and to submit to the Interior Ministry and other law-enforcement agencies, information on persons engaged in religious propaganda. And it will be empowered to ask a court of law to suspend the activities of any religious organization that engages in illegal activities, incites interethnic discord, or engages in "religious-political diversive activities aimed at undermining national security."

Rafik Aliyev said that of the total estimated 2,000 religious organizations in Azerbaijan, only 410 are formally registered. Those that have not yet undergone registration will be asked to do so beginning in October 2001, a process that Aliyev estimated will take some six or seven months. All mosques must be subordinated to the Baku-based Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Caucasus. Aliyev added that the number of foreign pastors granted permission to engage in proselytizing in Azerbaijan will be limited, and restrictions will be imposed on the length of time they may stay in the country. He also said that the legal ban on allowing "foreign nationals" to work as teachers in Azerbaijani medreses (Islamic institutes of higher learning) will be strictly enforced, noting that 90 percent of those medreses are not registered with the state. The textbooks and other teaching materials used at those medreses will likewise be vetted for suitability.

In addition, the committee will monitor the import of religious literature and may impose specific quotas for individual religious groups in order to ensure that the number of religious texts a religious community imports is commensurate with its current members' needs. If a community of 500 people seeks to import 5,000 copies of a religious text, Aliyev said, this suggests they intend to engage in "propaganda."

Rafik Aliyev did not say, however, whom the new restrictions are primarily directed at. There are at least three currents of religious activity that could be construed as posing a potential threat. The first of these is proselytizing by Shiite religious emissaries from Iran. The second is "Wahhabism," which in the Azerbaijani as in the Russian context appears to be a shorthand term for any brand of Islamic extremism originating in the North Caucasus that the state leadership cannot control. And the third are the various Christian and other sects whose missionaries are currently active in Azerbaijan.

Ever since the demise of the USSR, Western observers have been watching attentively for indications of a crusade by Iran to export its own particular brand of Islam to Azerbaijan. While Iranian mullahs are active in Azerbaijan, until very recently they have not been publicly identified as a serious danger. But "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 June that "extremists dispatched from Tehran" are the primary target of the new state committee, and that Azerbaijani intelligence agencies consider them a threat to Azerbaijani statehood. Moreover, "Vremya novostei" quotes Azerbaijani intelligence sources as saying that "although the Iranian clergy does not officially support Wahhabism, the Wahhabis who are engaged in illegal activity in Azerbaijan have direct links with Iranian intelligence."

Speaking at a seminar in Baku in early May, Azerbaijan's Deputy National Security Minister Tofik Babaev claimed that a number of religious organizations sponsored by Iran or Arab countries are engaged in inciting domestic political conflicts with the ultimate aim of seizing power in Azerbaijan. Babaev estimated the number of Azerbaijani converts to Wahhabism at some 7,000, noting that Wahhabi missionaries seek above all to recruit representatives of ethnic minorities and persons of mixed parentage. Northern Azerbaijan and three mosques in Baku were identified as the main strongholds of Wahhabism. The Iranian Embassy in Baku promptly rejected Babaev's claims as "unfounded" and "irresponsible."

Whether fundamentalist Islam in whatever form has already made such inroads in Azerbaijan that it has become a significant political force is difficult to judge. On the one hand, most Azerbaijanis' conscious religious identification as Muslims does not extend beyond the observance of rituals that have evolved from the strictly religious to become part of national culture. On the other hand, economic collapse and the resulting rise in unemployment could predispose the most disadvantaged members of society to seek consolation in religion.

While Babaev focussed primarily on the perceived Iranian/Wahhabi threat, Rafik Aliyev also spoke with concern over the number of Azerbaijanis who have converted to Christianity, Hinduism, or Bahaism. He admitted that no precise figures exist, but estimated the number of such converts as between 5,000-6,000. ("Sharq" last December gave a higher estimate -- 9,368 converts over the previous decade -- while the head of the now defunct Religious Department within the Cabinet of Ministers, Mustafa Ibragimov, told Turan in early January 2001 that the total figure was approximately 3,000.)

One reason why the Azerbaijani leadership appears so concerned about such conversions was divulged during the Baku seminar in May by the city's mayor, Hajibala Abutalibov, who claimed that missionary activity is aimed at weakening Azerbaijan's statehood and its armed forces. Possibly in an attempt to minimize the effects of such proselytizing, the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus has formally requested permission from the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry to introduce the post of religious councilor in military units in order to "strengthen servicemen's faith and patriotic feelings," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 August. The paper cited the Caspian News Agency as reporting that in some military units a special room has already been set aside for servicemen wishing to perform the namaz.


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