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Newsline - September 4, 2001




PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA'S GDP TO GROW 6 PERCENT IN 2001

Speaking to Finnish business people in Helsinki on 3 September, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia's GDP will increase more than 6 percent in 2001 instead of the 4 percent that officials had predicted earlier. Putin also said that Russia will harvest some 75 million tons of grain and be in a position to export some of it, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in Saransk on 1 September that Russia is approaching the time when it can fully supply itself "not only with grain but with other types of foodstuffs," Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN SAYS STATE NOW SPENDS MORE ON EDUCATION THAN ON DEFENSE

President Putin on 1 September said that for the first time in history, Russia is spending more on education than on defense, a pattern that he said is needed to promote a modern democratic society, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 3 September that she would like to see school uniforms reintroduced in Russia, Interfax reported. She also called for obligatory studies of national languages in Russian schools. PG

PUTIN REITERATES OPPOSITION TO NATO EXPANSION

Speaking in Finland on 2 September, President Putin again expressed his opposition to the Baltic states joining NATO, saying that they should instead follow Finland's approach, Russian agencies reported. Putin also said there is no longer a military conflict in Chechnya but rather a mopping-up operation, expressed his support for free speech, and called for the Baltic countries to treat ethnic Russians better. He said that there can be no revision of the Russian-Finnish border and that those seeking to do so are out of step with the times. And he said that relations between Helsinki and Moscow during the Soviet era provide a "foundation" for future ties. PG

PUTIN SAYS SAFETY FIRST CONCERN IN 'KURSK' RAISING

President Putin said on 1 September that ensuring safety is the first task of those involved in raising the sunken nuclear submarine "Kursk," Russian agencies reported. The day before, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov indicated that the raising of the submarine might not take place by 15 September but could be delayed by a few days or even weeks, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN PLANNING TO REIN IN NGOS, SMALL BUSINESSES

President Putin plans to create a Civil Forum by November 2001 in which the country's 300,000 registered nongovernmental organizations will have a voice and by which the Kremlin hopes to control them, "Vremya MN" reported on 31 August. The key figures in this project are Kremlin advisers Gleb Pavlovskii and Vladislav Surkov. Meanwhile, "Vedomosti" reported the same day that Putin wants to organize small businesses both as a counterweight to the ranks of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs that is dominated by big business and as a base of support for his re-election bid. PG

KASYANOV ANNOUNCES PROGRAM TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE

Prime Minister Kasyanov on 31 August signed a directive on a federal program to promote tolerance and combat extremism over the next five years, Interfax reported. Aides to the prime minister said that promoting tolerance to all social groups is one of "the foundations of civil accord in a democratic government." PG

GOVERNMENT UNSURE OF HOW MUCH MONEY AGENCIES HAVE

The ability of various government agencies to earn money and then hide it from the cabinet means that the Russian government often does not know how much each agency has or has spent, "Argumenty i fakty" reported on 29 August. On 3 September, the Finance Ministry indicated that it is concerned about this problem and is investigating, Interfax reported. PG

DEPUTY PREMIER WANTS STATE COUNCIL TO BE A 'CONSTITUTIONAL' BODY

Deputy Prime Minister Matvienko told Interfax on 31 August that she believes the State Council is so important that its existence and functions should be written into the Russian Constitution. Indeed, she said, that body is the key to the development of "more civilized federal relations" between Moscow and the regions. PG

PRIMAKOV STEPS DOWN AS OVR FACTION LEADER

Yevgenii Primakov on 3 September resigned as head of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the Duma but said he will remain a member of that faction, Russian agencies reported. Primakov said he took that step because he is not, and has no wish to be, involved in the development of Fatherland as a political party. Vyacheslav Volodin has assumed the leadership of the OVR faction in the parliament. PG

COMMUNISTS REMAIN AHEAD IN POLLS

According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 31 August, 34 percent of the electorate would vote for candidates of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) if elections were held today. Other parties trailed: 25 percent said they would vote for Unity, 7 percent for Yabloko, 7 percent for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), 6 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and 5 percent for Fatherland. PG

ONLY ONE RUSSIAN IN SEVEN THINKS RUSSIA IS A DEMOCRACY...

Only 14 percent of Russians think that Russia is a democratic state, with 54 percent saying that "overall" it is not, according to a poll reported in "Novoye vremya," No. 34. Sixty percent of the sample said that their votes will not change anything. PG

...AND SEVEN OUT OF 10 BACK STATE CONTROLS OVER MEDIA

In another poll, conducted by the ROMIR organization and reported in "Profil" on 27 August, 71.9 percent of Russians said that "on the whole" it is necessary to introduce control over media reporting. Only 22.1 percent opposed such controls. PG

YASTRZHEMBSKII WANTS TIGHTER STATE CONTROL OVER MEDIA REPORTS ON CHECHNYA

Sergei Yastrzhembskii, the Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, said on 31 August that many journalists have made poor choices and have included statements by anti-Moscow Chechens in their reports, Russian and Western news services reported. As a result, he said, "the law must regulate this question." He said that the government "must respond to every case" when journalists violate the rules and report what the "bandits" are saying. Yastrzhembskii also condemned the 1996 Khasavyurt accords between Moscow and Chechnya as "treason" and said they will not be repeated. But "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August carried an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who said that talks will eventually end the war and that Russia should "summon the courage and arrange a moral Khasavyurt." PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT IS WATCHING COMPUTER TRIAL IN U.S. CAREFULLY

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 31 August said that it is watching closely the U.S. trial of Russian programmer Dmitrii Sklyarov because of its implications for copyright issues, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry issued a statement warning Russian programmers traveling abroad about the possibility that they might run afoul of American law. PG

LUKOIL PLANS TO EXPAND OPERATIONS IN EASTERN EUROPE

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said on 31 August that his company plans to broaden its operations across Eastern Europe, Interfax reported. He said that LUKoil has done well in that region and that consequently it will seek expanded positions there, especially in Poland and the Czech Republic. PG

MOSCOW REFUSES TRANSIT VISA TO DALAI LAMA

The Russian Foreign Ministry has refused to provide a transit visa to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who had sought one in order to visit Mongolia, Interfax reported on 3 September. The ministry did not explain its action. PG

UN REFUGEE OFFICIAL ALARMED BY RACIST ATTACKS IN RUSSIA

John McAllen, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on 31 August expressed his concern about racist attacks on foreigners in Russia in recent times, Interfax reported. But another UN official said that an attack against a 37-year-old Angolan refugee in Moscow on 23 August was the work of hooligans rather than racists, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW PAYS $6.2 BILLION ON FOREIGN DEBT IN FIRST HALF OF 2001

Deputy Finance Minister Tatiana Nesterenko told Interfax on 31 August that the Russian government paid $6.2 billion on its foreign debts during the first six months of 2001. That and economic growth lowered the debt burden from 58.3 percent of GDP at the start of 2001 to 44.9 percent on 1 July. Meanwhile, Russian officials said that they will continue to make repayments on the debt in 2002 but may actually borrow some money abroad in order to test the market, AP reported. Meanwhile, an article in "Novye izvestiya" on 1 September suggested that Moscow may face difficulties if the holders of high-interest Russian bonds do not want to cash them in. PG

CENTRAL BANK NOT SHIFTING FROM DOLLARS TO EUROS

Viktor Gerashchenko told Interfax-AFI on 3 September that his agency will continue to use the dollar as its basic hard-currency holding and has no intention of purchasing additional euros at this time. He also said that he favors making it easier for Russians to open bank accounts abroad and expanding ties with banks in the other member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. PG

RUSSIA TO COOPERATE WITH ISRAEL, TAIWAN ON ROCKET LAUNCHES

Russian officials said on 31 August that Moscow will launch seven Israeli satellites in the coming months, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, dpa reported on 3 September that Russia and Taiwan have signed an agreement to launch a satellite, the first time Moscow has done so with Taipei. PG

CIS MILITARY EXERCISE INTENDED TO PREVENT AFGHAN INVASION

According to an article in "Izvestiya" on 31 August, the Commonwealth 2001 military exercises last week were intended to be "a show of strength" that would "minimize the possibility of an invasion from Afghanistan." PG

BLOKHIN SAYS BASHKORTOSTAN HAS NO SOVEREIGNTY

Aleksander Blokhin, the Russian minister for federation affairs, nationality, and migration policies, said in Ufa on 2 September that Bashkortostan is not a sovereign republic because the idea of one sovereign state within another is "nonsense," RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Meanwhile, however, Ufa's "Kyzyl tang" newspaper on 31 August said that Tatarstan's declaration of sovereignty had helped Russia avoid a return to the hyper-centralization of Soviet times. PG

MOSCOW ETHNOLOGIST BACKS LATINIZATION IN TATARSTAN

Valerii Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology, said that Moscow should back the introduction of the Latin script in Tatarstan because that will help anchor the central Volga republic into Europe and reduce the influence of the Muslim East, "Zvezda Povolzhya" reported on 30 August. PG

BIROBIDZHAN GETS FIRST RABBI

Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 September that Isroel Shavulskii, 35, has been assigned as the first resident rabbi in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of Birobidzhan. Up until now, rabbis from elsewhere in Russia or from Israel and the United States visited to provide local Jews with religious services. PG

CHUKOTKA RESIDENTS RELOCATE TO OMSK

The first group of residents of the Chukotka Peninsula, most of them aged and infirm, have moved to homes in Omsk Oblast where services are better and costs lower, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 September. Officials throughout the peninsula are registering the names of those who want to leave. A large portion of them are Chukchis, Inuit, and Koryak, the news service said. PG

ALASKAN LEGISLATORS MEET COUNTERPARTS ON SAKHALIN

A group of legislators from the U.S. state of Alaska came to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on 2 September to meet with members of the Sakhalin Oblast Duma, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

MOSCOW CITY CELEBRATES ITS DAY

Some 2 million people took part in parades and meetings on 1 September to mark the Day of the City in Moscow, Interfax-Moscow reported. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov praised efforts to improve the city's amenities, but said he does not consider his city an "oasis" of well-being just yet, and President Putin said that Moscow has always been the center of things and lucky with its Yuriis from Yurii Dolgorukii to Yurii Luzhkov. But on 3 September, the Anti-Monopoly Ministry said that the city and its municipal property department have violated anti-monopoly legislation, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW GETS A EUROPE SQUARE, TO HAVE AN ASIA ONE TOO

Moscow city officials on 2 September marked the start of construction of a new Europe Square near the Kiev railroad station, Interfax-Moscow reported. The city will soon create an Asia Square as well since, in the words of Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, "Russia is a Euro-Asiatic country." PG

TWO MEDIA OUTLETS GO OFF THE AIR

Because of mounting debts and wage arrears, Moscow's Sport FM radio station has stopped broadcasting, Interfax reported on 3 September. Meanwhile, the television station in Lipetsk has gone off the air at least temporarily because of a dispute between its owners and creditors, the news service reported the same day. PG

MORE MILITARY OFFICERS JOINING GOVERNMENT

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 31 August, generals and other senior officers are taking ever more jobs in the legislative and executive branch of the Russian government under President Putin. By the end of the year, the paper suggested, most of the 60 vacant seats in the Federation Council are likely to be taken by generals. Moreover, there are currently approximately 500 officers and generals in the presidential administration and other senior political jobs. But soon more generals may be competing for these slots: Interfax reported the same day that the military plans to reduce the number of slots for generals and admirals by 350. PG

VOLGA, URALS MILITARY DISTRICTS MERGE

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 September that the Volga and Urals Military Districts have now completed their merger into a single district intended to give Moscow "a powerful force in the direction of Central Asia." The new district will have its headquarters in Yekaterinburg. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER PLANS TO RESTRUCTURE MILITARY EDUCATION

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 1 September that he plans to reform the country's military educational system to bring it into line with the demands of "real life and the requirements of the armed forces and other force structures," Russian agencies reported. Ivanov said that the existing military education system is 20-30 years old and needs to be brought up to date. He called for legislation that would require those who leave military academies without graduating or choosing to serve to pay back the cost of their education. PG

INTERIOR FORCES TO INCREASE DISCIPLINE AMONG TROOPS

Lieutenant General Stanislav Kavun, the deputy commander in chief of the Interior Ministry's internal troops, said on 31 August that most of the soldiers under his command perform well, but that he has ordered increased discipline to ensure that none of them violate the rules, Interfax reported. PG

AIDS NOW FOUND IN ALL SOCIAL GROUPS IN RUSSIA

Vadim Pokrovskii, who heads the Russian Federal Center for Prevention and Combating AIDS, told Interfax on 31 August that there are 144,233 officially registered HIV-infected people in Russia but that the actual number almost certainly is 10 to 20 times higher. He said that AIDS and HIV are no longer confined to any one group but instead touch all social strata in the country. PG

134 MALARIA CASES REGISTERED IN MOSCOW IN 2001

Moscow health officials told Interfax on 31 August that there have been 134 cases of malaria registered in the Russian capital so far in 2001. Forty-eight of those cases came in August, with those infected being divided between local residents and foreign citizens arriving in Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow officials reported on 1 September that 328 people have drowned in the Russian capital this summer, a record number and more than three times the number (90) who drowned during the summer of 2000, Interfax-Moscow reported. PG

STILL NO SUSPECTS TWO YEARS AFTER MANEZH BOMBING

The police and special services have still not identified any suspects in the 31 August 1999 bombing of the Manezh shopping complex in Moscow, Interfax reported. PG

FAR-LEFT PARTIES TURN TO INTERNET -- BECAUSE IT'S CHEAPER

Noting that the Internet is "cheaper than the publication of newspapers," a group of left-radical parties on 31 August announced their intention to create a special Internet site for leftist groups "who are outside the KPRF," Interfax reported. The groups involved in this project include the Russian Communist Workers Party, the National Bolshevik Party, and the Avantgard of Communist Youth. PG

NTV SERIES CREATOR SAYS PUTIN ERA RECALLS THAT OF NICHOLAS I

Leonid Parfenov, the author of a new series of NTV programs about the life of Nicholas I, told Interfax on 2 September that the reign of that tsar had many of the same features as does today's Russia: the construction of a state ideology, the appearance of official art, and the rise of a bureaucracy. PG

MAJORITY OPPOSES RENAMING VOLGOGRAD STALINGRAD

According to a poll reported by Interfax on 31 August, 54 percent of Russians are opposed changing the name of Volgograd back to Stalingrad. Twenty-two percent back such a change, with the remainder undecided. PG

NIKITIN NAMED STAROVOITOVA SCHOLAR

Aleksandr Nikitin, a former Russian naval officer and currently an ecology and human rights activist, has been awarded the Galina Starovoitova scholarship and will study at the Kennan Institute of Advanced Russian studies in Washington, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. PG

NO DIAMONDS IN THESE RINGS

Inconsistencies in Russian legislation and government rules mean that Russian firms can import jewelry only if it does not contain any gems, Interfax reported on 3 September. That is creating problems for foreign jewelers interested in exporting to Russia and for Russian consumers. The problem will supposedly be solved by new legislation that goes into effect in February 2002. PG

RUSSIAN SOCCER FANS ASK 'WHY DO EUROPEANS DISLIKE US?'

Russian soccer fans were outraged by the recent rulings of two European referees against Russian teams, Reuters reported on 3 September. Russian sports papers suggested that the referee in one case is "a sniveling creep who simply robbed us," and another soccer official asked "why do [Europeans] dislike us so much?" PG

CHECHEN GOVERNMENT BUILDING DAMAGED BY BOMB BLAST

A cleaning lady was killed on 3 September by a powerful bomb that destroyed doors and blew out windows in the four-story Chechen government building in Grozny. Russian officials and the pro-Moscow Chechen government condemned the blast, for which Chechen fighters loyal to President Maskhadov claimed responsibility, as "an act of terrorism." Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov suggested that the bomb was planted by a "traitor" on his staff, but ruled out transferring the government from Grozny back to Gudermes, where it was located until April of this year, Reuters reported.

CORRECTION:

On 29 August, "RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly identified Akhmet Malsagov as president of Ingushetia. That post is in fact held by Ruslan Aushev; Malsagov is Ingushetia's prime minister.




ARMENIA, RUSSIA REACH AGREEMENT ON NUCLEAR FUEL SUPPLIES

Following 10 days of talks in Moscow, Armenian and Russian government representatives reached agreement on the revised timetable for repayment of Armenia's $13 million debt for shipments of nuclear fuel for the Medzamor nuclear power station, in return for which Moscow will supply Armenia with a new consignment of nuclear fuel, Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 3 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 August 2001). Yerevan will pay $4 million immediately, and the remaining $9 million within three months, in accordance with an arrangement reached in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2001) that Russia had sought to revise. Galustian said that the Armenian government hopes to negotiate a loan with foreign commercial banks to raise the $9 million. He also said the agreement is the result of the personal intervention of the two co-chairmen of the intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who met in Moscow on 31 August to discuss the agenda for Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Armenia later this month. LF

MURDER OF ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SOLVED

It has been established beyond all doubt that the August 1998 murder of Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian was committed by one of his subordinates, Aram Karapetian, who then shot himself, Justice Council member Robert Avagian told journalists in Yerevan on 31 August, according to Noyan Tapan. Police originally deduced that Karapetian had committed suicide after shooting his superior, but some political figures and observers in Yerevan immediately cast doubts on that hypothesis, suggesting both men had been murdered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 August 1998). Avagian admitted that Karapetian's motives remain unclear. LF

AZERBAIJAN ADVOCATES PHASED APPROACH TO DIVIDING CASPIAN

During talks in Baku on 31 August with visting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnii, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev suggested that the five Caspian littoral states should first reach agreement among themselves on dividing the sea bed into national sectors, and only then proceed to discussion of whether and how to divide the waters and surface, Turan and Interfax reported. Kalyuzhnii expressed regret at the delay in reaching an agreement on the legal status of the sea, and hinted that Azerbaijan should attempt to "meet Tehran halfway," a suggestion that Aliyev rejected. Iran's claims on several oil deposits in what is currently regarded as Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian are on the agenda of Aliev's visit to Tehran later this month, a visit that Kalyuzhnii said will prove crucial to resolving the disagreements between littoral states. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" reported on 27 and 31 August that the World Bank had warned Georgia it should demand higher transit tariffs for Azerbaijani oil exported via Georgia or risk forfeiting further loans from the bank. The tariffs in question are for the natural gas to be exported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline, not for Azerbaijani oil exported via Georgia. Azerbaijan is offering to pay $2-3 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, while the World Bank has proposed that Georgia demand $5-10. LF

AZERBAIJANI PLANE HIJACKER SENTENCED

Following a two-week trial, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court on 30 August sentenced Mehti Huseynli to nine years imprisonment for attempting in August 2000 to hijack an Azerbaijani airlines plane bound from Nakhichevan to Baku, Turan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2000). LF

AZERBAIJAN, PAKISTAN DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

Meeting in Baku on 3 September, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev and Pakistan's ambassador to Baku, Faiz Mohammed Hos, positively assessed the progress made in bilateral military cooperation since Abiev's visit to Islamabad three months ago, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2001). Abiev expressed appreciation of Pakistan's support for its position regarding the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIA TURNS DOWN CIS DEFENSE POST. U.S.

-trained Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze has rejected the post of deputy head of the Coordinating Staff of the CIS Armed Forces, Caucasus Press reported on 31 August, quoting a Georgian Defense Ministry official. Tevzadze reportedly said that he sees no point in multilateral military cooperation between CIS states. Tevzadze also reportedly criticized the CIS antiaircraft maneuvers in Astrakhan as modeled on a traditional scenario that does not correspond to current threats. LF

TWO MEMBERS OF GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER'S FAMILY SHOT DEAD

Armed men broke into the home of Forest Brothers guerrilla leader Dato Shengelaia in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi late on 2 September, and opened fire, killing his parents-in-law and wounding his brother-in-law, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Shengelaia, who escaped unscathed, blamed the killings on the Abkhaz, as did Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze. LF

ADJAR SUPREME COUNCIL CHAIRMEN TO SEEK RE-ELECTION

Aslan Abashidze, the authoritarian ruler of the Republic of Adjaria, will run in elections for the chairman of the republic's parliament scheduled for 4 November, Caucasus Press reported on 30 August. The daily "Akhali taoba" on 30 August quoted Aziz Akhlvediani, who heads the Adjar branch of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, as saying that his party will not propose a rival candidate to Abashidze as doing so "could prove fatal." Other political parties have come to the same conclusion, according to "Rezonansi" on 31 August. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT AIMS TO DOUBLE GDP...

In his annual address to both houses of Kazakhstan's parliament on 3 September, Nursultan Nazarbaev said the country must double GDP by 2010 from last year's level of 2.59 trillion tenges ($13.8 billion), Interfax reported. Noting that GDP growth during the first six months of 2001 amounted to 14 percent, he stressed that Kazakhstan must preserve its "leading position" among CIS members states in terms of economic growth. Nazarbaev also called for increased domestic investment in the economy as a means of improving living standards, and pledged to raise the pensions of persons who retired before 1994 by 25 percent next year, according to Reuters. He pledged to continue the process of democratization, including delegating greater powers to regional government. LF

...INCREASE DEFENSE SPENDING...

Nazarbaev also announced on 3 September that defense spending in 2002 will be increased by 8 billion tenges (approximately $54.5 million) from this year's level of 25 billion tenges, Russian agencies reported. He identified as threats to the country's security instability on its southern borders and terrorism, adding that the most effective means of countering those dangers lies in cooperation within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. LF

...AND REVIEW INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENTS

Nazarbaev also asked legislators on 3 September to review "strictly" the approximately 350 international agreements the country has acceded to over the past decade in order to determine whether they truly correspond to Kazakhstan's national interests, and if necessary to annul them, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that "it is no secret" that such agreements may be used to exert pressure on a country and its economy. LF




LUKASHENKA'S RIVAL HOLDS ELECTION RALLY...

Some 3,000 people participated in an election rally held by opposition presidential hopeful Uladzimir Hancharyk on Minsk's Oktyabrskaya Square on 2 September. Hancharyk told the crowd that he is sure of his election victory on 9 September. He promised "life like in Europe" following his victory and also pledged to support independent media and introduce a professional army in Belarus, Belapan reported. United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka called on participants in the rally to come to the same square on 9 September after 8 p.m. (the end of the voting) to wait for the announcement of election results. Belarusian NGOs previously promised to announce preliminary election results early on 10 September, using official data from 500 constituencies throughout the country. JM

...GETS WARNING FOR ILLICIT CAMPAIGNING

The Central Election Commission on 3 September issued an official warning to Hancharyk for illegal campaigning, Belapan reported. The commission said Hancharyk held unsanctioned meetings with voters on the streets (including that in Minsk on 2 September) and distributed printed materials that were not paid for from the official campaign fund. The commission also said Hancharyk's campaign staff distributed offensive T-shirts with the inscription "Say No to the Fool! 9-9-2001," but it failed to specify whom the shirts offended. Vasil Lyavonau, Hancharyk's presidential campaign manager, has not ruled out that the authorities intend to kick Hancharyk off the ballot, since he has become a serious rival to the incumbent president. Under Belarus's election law, a presidential candidate may be dropped from the race after he/she is given two official warnings. JM

RUSSIAN TV CHANNEL AIRS PRO-LUKASHENKA FILM

Russia's state-run RTR channel on 2 September broadcast a half-hour documentary praising Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The film, which attempted to portray Lukashenka's human side, showed him having a modest breakfast at his country residence, playing an accordion, describing his fascination with sport and abstinence from alcohol, driving the presidential car himself, reciting poetry, and attempting to sing. "This is a very difficult job [to be a president]. The president has no days off. Neither days nor nights," Lukashenka admitted in the documentary. JM

U.S. CITIZEN SENTENCED IN BELARUS IN DRUG CASE

A Minsk district court on 3 September sentenced U.S. citizen Charles Periello to five years and three months in prison for purchasing and possessing drugs as well as for inciting others to use them, Belapan reported. Periello, who worked in Belarus on U.S. government-funded educational projects among schoolchildren, was arrested by the Belarusian KGB in June. He pleaded guilty to charges of possessing and smoking marijuana but denied those of selling drugs to others. Periello's lawyer called the sentence excessive and said he will appeal within 10 days. JM

EARLY VOTING BEGINS IN BELARUS

Early voting in the 9 September presidential election began on 4 September in Belarus's 6,753 constituencies, Belapan reported. The voting ballot includes three names -- incumbent President Lukashenka, Trade Union Federation leader Hancharyk, and Liberal Democratic Party leader Haydukevich. Under Belarus's election law, every eligible voter may cast a vote from 4-8 September without giving any reasons. The opposition has repeatedly voiced concerns that the early voting procedure presents the best opportunity for the authorities to rig the election. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR WANTS EX-PREMIER TO BE ARRESTED FOR TWO MURDERS

Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko has sent a letter to the parliament asking permission to arrest former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, Interfax reported on 3 September. Ukrainian prosecutors suspect Lazarenko of involvement in the contract killings of parliamentary deputy Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 and of former National Bank Governor Vadym Hetman in 1998. Lazarenko is currently in prison stemming from U.S. money-laundering charges in San Francisco, but possesses immunity from prosecution at home as a member of the parliament. JM

UKRAINE, FINLAND SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION DEAL

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Finnish counterpart Jan-Erik Enestam signed a memorandum on military cooperation between the two countries in Kyiv on 3 September, Interfax reported. Enestam told journalists that Ukraine can be a partner in modernizing Finnish Soviet-era T-72 tanks if Helsinki opts to modernize the equipment instead of buying new technology. On 4 September, Enestam and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko discussed Finnish-Ukrainian cooperation on peacekeeping operations and within NATO's Partnership for Peace program. JM

CHIRAC CONVINCED OF ESTONIA'S READINESS TO JOIN EU

French President Jacques Chirac told his visiting Estonian counterpart Lennart Meri during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on 31 August that there can be no doubt that Estonia deserves a place in the first wave of EU enlargement, BNS reported. Chirac expressed great satisfaction with his recent state visit to Estonia and noted that Estonian-French relations are very good, although the low level of economic relations is regrettable. He asked Meri questions about Estonia's relations with other countries, above all Finland, Lithuania, and Germany. Meri, who arrived in Paris on 27 August, opened the exhibition "Estonian Painting in the 20th Century" in the Luxembourg Gardens on 30 August and discussed the situation in Russia as well as international security, world religion, and humanitarian issues with French Senate Chairman Christian Poncelet. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITS SOUTH AFRICA

At the invitation of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Vaira Vike-Freiberga participated in the United Nations Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia in Durban, South Africa. In speeches on 31 August and 1 September she spoke about the reasons behind prejudice and racism, citing Latvia's experience during 50 years of Soviet occupation, LETA reported. Vike-Freiberga noted the difficulties of overcoming this legacy and developing an open society. She also used the opportunity to meet with other foreign officials attending the conference. In talks with UN General Assembly President Harri Holkeri, Vike-Freiberga agreed that the UN should play a greater role in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and on the need to reform the Security Council and General Assembly to better serve current needs. She discussed Latvian-U.S. relations with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, as well as Latvia's efforts to join the European Union and NATO. On 3 September, Vike-Freiberga participated in a seminar in Johannesburg on promoting business contacts with Latvia. She will return to Latvia on 6 September. SG

IMF APPROVED STANDBY AGREEMENT FOR LITHUANIA

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) endorsed on 30 August a 19-month standby agreement of $111 million intended to support Lithuania's economic reform program, ELTA reported the next day. The agreement will enable Lithuania to draw $16 million from the IMF immediately. Under the document, Lithuania pledged to keep the currency board model at least until the end of 2002, to maintain a low inflation rate (around 1 percent in 2001 and 3 percent in 2002), and to cut the fiscal deficit to 1.4 percent of GDP this year and to 1.3 percent in 2002. GDP growth in 2001 is projected at 6.6 percent and at 4.7 percent in 2002. The current account deficit in 2001 should not exceed 6.7 percent of GDP and 6.6 percent in 2002. Lithuania also made a commitment to privatize Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) and Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas). Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite noted that this agreement with the IMF outlines a more moderate tax reduction program than the previous government had planned. SG

POLAND, NORWAY SIGN 16-YEAR NATURAL GAS SUPPLY CONTRACT

Poland's state-run fuel giant Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo (PGNiG) and five Norwegian companies on 3 September signed a gas supply deal, Polish and international news agencies reported. Under the $12 billion agreement, the Norwegian firms are to supply 74 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Poland between 2008 and 2024. The contract also provides for the construction of a 1,100-kilometer gas pipeline from Norway to Poland. The deal is widely seen as a major step on the part of Poland to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek commented that ensuring the diversification of gas supplies is one of the greatest achievements of his government. President Aleksander Kwasniewski praised the deal, but some politicians from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) said they will "review" the gas contract if the SLD wins the elections (see also "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 September 2001). JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER HONORED BY GERMANY

German President Johannes Rau on 3 September decorated Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, Germany's highest distinction ever granted to a Polish politician, Polish media reported. Rau's office described Bartoszewski as "a great European statesman, who has rendered great service to German-Polish relations and brought Poland closer to the European Union." The 79-year-old Polish politician, a former prisoner of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, was attending a meeting of more than 200 German diplomatic mission heads in Berlin. JM

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS TO DOWNSIZE GOVERNMENT

Leszek Miller, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, said on 31 August that if the SLD wins the 23 September parliamentary election, its government will cut some 2,500 government and top administration posts in an attempt to reduce the 2002 budget deficit, Polish media reported. In particular, the SLD wants to reduce the number of cabinet ministers from 17 to 15, and abolish the posts of 39 deputy ministers and 18 department heads. Miller added that the SLD also wants to abolish the 100-seat Senate, which was introduced in 1989. JM

'NEWSWEEK' APPEARS IN POLISH

The inaugural issue of the Polish-language version of the U.S.-based "Newsweek" magazine hit Polish newsstands on 3 September, focusing its cover story on Poland's financial woes, AP reported. "Newsweek Polska" is the fifth foreign-language version of "Newsweek," following editions in Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Arabic. "Newsweek Polska" is being published by the German media group Axel Springer, which now has 16 magazines in Poland. A staff of 50 working under Editor in Chief Tomasz Wroblewski will report on Polish topics, and will also draw from Newsweek reports from around the world. JM

POLISH-KOREAN AUTOMAKER FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY

The Daewoo Motor Polska truck plant in Lublin, southeastern Poland, filed a bankruptcy motion with a court on 3 September, Polish media reported, quoting a statement by the company's board. According to the statement, the plant encountered difficulties in the wake of the financial problems of South Korea's Daewoo Motor Co., "which did not meet its earlier declarations to financially support construction of a new plant and start production of LD-100 vans." Daewoo Motor Polska owes $93 million to banks, 12 million zlotys ($2.8 million) to Poland's Social Security Agency, and 3 million zlotys to fiscal offices. JM

SCHUSSEL SAYS EU VETO THREAT OVER TEMELIN 'UNDERSTANDABLE'

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on 3 September said in an interview with the daily "Kurier" that veto threats to the Czech Republic's EU membership were "understandable" if the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant turns out to "lack maximum safety standards," dpa reported. Schuessel said that not only the far-right Freedom Party is demanding that the government cast such a veto, but also members of his own conservative People's Party. Schussel added that he wants the dispute to be solved in cooperation with the EU. "Europeanizing Temelin will be the only way leading to EU standards for the nuclear power station," he said. He added that he is opposed to the Freedom Party's demand that a referendum be called in Austria on the EU's enlargement. MS

CZECH HELSINKI COMMITTEE NOT PRESENT AT AIRPORT CHECKS

The Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) is for the time being not present during checks being conducted by British immigration authorities at Prague's Ruzyne airport, CTK reported on 31 August, citing CHV spokeswoman Helena Kunstova. Kunstova said that CHV activists "consider it more effective to help people who had been barred from leaving for the U.K. than to hang around the airport outside the screening panels behind which the interviews are conducted." Kunstova also said the CHV would like to monitor those interviews, but for that purpose it needs the consent of the British authorities. On 3 September, British consular officials at the airport said that last week a total of 10 people were refused permission to fly to the U.K., of whom eight were Czech and two were Slovak nationals. MS

CZECH POLICE BRING CHARGES AGAINST ROMA ATTACKERS

Police in Ostrava on 2 September charged three young men with racially motivated violence, CTK reported. The three assaulted a group of Roma last month and threatened to kill them. If convicted, they face up to three years in jail. Also on 2 September, police spokeswoman Ivana Zelankova said in Prague that 167 crimes committed by extremists were registered in the first half of 2001, which is 10 fewer cases than in the same period last year. Meanwhile, on 1 September, Republican Party (RMS) leader Miroslav Sladek said in Brno that he wants the RMS to return to the parliament in the 2002 elections. Sladek's party, previously called Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC), failed to make it past the electoral hurdle in the elections held in 1998. The SPR-RSC later went bankrupt as the result of being unable to pay taxes, and Sladek set up the RMS in its place. MS

FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK OFFICIALS TO BE TRIED OVER SOVIET INVASION?

The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes on 3 September officially demanded that former high-ranking communist officials Milos Jakes and Jozef Lenart be tried on treason charges, CTK reported. On 1 September, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that investigators had closed the case against the two and asked the prosecutor-general to indict Jakes, a former Czechoslovak Communist Party secretary-general, and Lenart, a former Czechoslovak premier. They are suspected of having conspired with Soviet officials on 22 August 1968 at the Soviet Embassy in Prague, one day after the Warsaw Pact countries invaded Czechoslovakia. If convicted, Jakes, 79, and Lenart, 78, could be sentenced to 15 years in prison. A total of 13 persons have been charged in connection with the invasion, but none have been put on trial thus far. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER UNHURT IN SERBIAN CAR CRASH...

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda escaped unhurt on 31 August after being involved in an automobile accident in Serbia, but cut short a visit to that country after the accident in which two people were killed and 11 other suffered injuries, Reuters reported. The two who died were a Yugoslav government driver and a senior Slovak foreign trade official. The accident occurred on a highway between Novi Sad and Belgrade. Earlier, Dzurinda met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, and other officials. MS

...OPENS SLOVAK CONSULATE IN HUNGARY

On 1 September, Dzurinda and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban inaugurated the Slovak Consulate in Bekescsaba, southeast Hungary, Slovak and Hungarian media reported. Orban announced on the occasion that he and Dzurinda will also open jointly the reconstructed bridge between Esztergom in Hungary and Sturovo in Slovakia and that a highway connecting Hungary's Miskolc and Slovakia's Kosice will be constructed. Dzurinda expressed confidence that his coalition will survive and that the Slovak Coalition Party (SMK) will remain in his cabinet. Orban said ethic Hungarians living in Slovakia must decide for themselves what is best for them, AFP reported. MS

SLOVAK LEADERS AGREE ON NEED FOR NEW REFORM LAW

President Rudolf Schuster, Premier Dzurinda, and parliament speaker Jozef Migas on 3 September agreed that a new law on reforming the civic service must be passed as soon as possible, CTK reported. The law would involve devolution of powers from the central to regional governments, and the SMK threatened to leave the coalition if the legislature does not pass a new version of the law by 30 September. The CTK report did not mention whether the new legislation would also reconsider the SMK demand that a region where ethnic Hungarians make up at least 20 percent of the population be set up. The government was to discuss the new bill on 4 September and then submit it to the parliament. Migas said doing so will make possible for the elections to the new regional self-governments to be held on 1 December, as was scheduled earlier. MS

SLOVAK EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTY SETS UP SHADOW CABINET

Robert Fico, the leader of the extraparliamentary Smer (Direction) Party, on 1 September announced the setting up of a shadow cabinet in which he holds both the premier and the interior minister portfolios, CTK reported. Smer is running second to the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in opinion polls, but the shadow cabinet includes no politician of renown, in line with Fico's promise that Smer will present "new faces" to the voters. Reacting to the announcement, HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar on 3 September said that Smer "is no party but a mere populist group which competes with the HZDS for the support of voters disenchanted with the government's performance." MS

MECIAR SAYS NEXT GOVERNMENT 'UNTHINKABLE' WITHOUT HZDS

Meciar, in an interview with the daily "Pravo" on 3 September, also said a stable government without the participation of the HZDS is "unthinkable" following the 2002 elections. The former premier added that "unfortunately," the only two political formations in Slovakia that have a "clear program" are his own HZDS and the SMK. None of the four other parties that make up the present ruling coalition, he said, has any "clear ideological profile or foreign policy orientation" and "none of them is a stability-factor." Meciar said he would prefer as coalition partners the Christian Democrats and the Democratic Left Party because both enjoy international prestige, but "they might not even enter the parliament" after the next elections. Meciar said the next Slovak coalition should be "fully acceptable abroad" so that "no one can use the [makeup of the] parliament or the government as a pretext for saying 'not now'" to Slovakia's NATO and EU aspirations. MS

HUNGARIAN COALITION PARTIES SIGN ELECTORAL AGREEMENT

FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni and Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya David on 3 September ended their year-long negotiations by signing an electoral cooperation agreement, Hungarian media reported. Under the agreement, the MDF will name 27 joint candidates in the 176 individual constituencies at the 2002 parliamentary ballot, and the two parties will run a national list of candidates under the name FIDESZ-Democratic Forum. David will be placed second on the joint national list, behind Premier Orban. Pokorni said the agreement is part of the political heritage of late Premier Jozsef Antall, and its strategic goal is that of creating a future party unifying center-right formations. But David said the agreement includes guarantees that FIDESZ "will not absorb the MDF." MSZ

MIEP LEADER WILL NOT BE CHARGED

Hungarian Justice and Life Deputy Chairman Laszlo Bognar will not have to stand trial for his remarks on the selling of the Ferencvaros soccer club, Hungarian media reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 3 September approved the earlier decision of the Central Prosecution Investigative Office not to indict Bognar. A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office said Bognar cannot be charged with "incitement against an [ethnic] community," explaining that such a charge can only be filed when "a person incites hostile actions or [stirs up] passions against a community." On 3 July, Bognar said that the sale of Ferencvaros to a group local Jewish businessmen was "against the interests of the Hungarian nation." Oszkar Egri, a lawyer representing the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary, said in response that the current Hungarian legislation does not provide for taking effective action against racism. MSZ

ROMANIAN POLICE OFFICER RECEIVES ASYLUM IN HUNGARY

Adrian Pitu, a former Romanian police officer, was granted political asylum in Hungary, the media reported on 1 September. Pitu arrived in Hungary in July 1998 after failing to persuade his superiors to heed his complaints that police keep citizens under surveillance using methods similar to those employed by the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. He was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison by a Bucharest tribunal in April 2000 for allegedly destroying documents. Pitu said he plans to renounce his Romanian citizenship and file a lawsuit against the Romanian Interior Ministry at the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights. Gyorgy Frunda, the chairman of the Romanian Senate's Human Rights Committee, said this is the first time a Romanian policemen has been granted political asylum in Hungary, and it proves that "very serious things have occurred at the [Romanian] Interior Ministry." MSZ




MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER GRUDGINGLY ENDORSES PEACE PACKAGE...

Speaking before the parliament on 3 September, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said that the political settlement agreed on recently in Ohrid "was made under direct pressure of violence and terror," by which he meant the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK), dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001). He stressed that "changing the constitution will not bring peace." Georgievski argued that, in approving the package, "we are sending a great gift to all terrorists or all those who want to be terrorists all over the world. The message [is] that terrorism pays off." He added, however, that Macedonia must agree to the package out of economic necessity. The session of the parliament was interrupted over the weekend of 1-2 September when speaker Stojan Andov adjourned the legislature to demand security for displaced ethnic Macedonian civilians to return to their homes. He agreed to reconvene the session under heavy international pressure and once he received a pledge from President Boris Trajkovski that the displaced persons could return home safely, "The Guardian" reported. PM

...SLAMS U.S., NATO

Georgievski told the parliament on 3 September that it should approve the peace package because "it is obvious that we shouldn't gamble with the authority of NATO," Reuters reported. He slammed the Atlantic alliance for "mounting a mission [costing] 1 billion German marks...to collect weapons worth two million [marks]," dpa reported ($1.00 equals 2.15 German marks). Georgievski argued that the U.S. "did nothing against the terrorists, apart from publishing a list of those disallowed from entering its territory." He said that the conflict in "Macedonia is collateral damage of the 1999 NATO intervention in Yugoslavia... We cannot expect those who made a mistake then to admit it now. On the contrary." He did not mention that his government allowed NATO to use Macedonian territory in 1999 and took in thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosova in return for pledges of aid and assistance. In the run-up to the January 2002 general elections, Georgievski has sought to revive his sagging poll ratings by slamming Albanians, the U.S., and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT PREPARES FOR VOTE

The legislature is scheduled to vote on 4 September in what AP called a "symbolic gesture" to give the green light for NATO to continue to collect UCK weapons and for discussions to continue on the peace settlement. The measure is expected to pass. The previous day, Georgievski said that the parliament should "look reality in the eye." Social Democratic legislator Radmila Secerinska said: "Let us have no illusions: we need courage and wisdom... We face a huge responsibility before our country, our descendants." She noted that the settlement does not guarantee peace, but called it "a chance, a huge potential to build a legitimate democracy." PM

MACEDONIAN POLL SHOWS DEPTH OF ETHNIC DIVIDE

Dpa on 4 September quoted the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" as saying that its latest poll suggests that ethnic Macedonians oppose both the settlement and NATO. Some 50.7 percent oppose the plan, while 43.7 approve. Some 57.9 percent of Macedonian respondents said they do not trust NATO, and 3.6 percent said they do. Of ethnic Albanians surveyed, 78 percent support the settlement but 12.9 oppose it. Some 76.3 percent of the Albanians trust NATO, while 23.1 percent "partially trust" it. Regarding the proposed amnesty for UCK fighters, 81.8 percent of Macedonians are opposed, while 98.4 percent of Albanians agree to it. PM

U.S. ENVOY: NATO PRESENCE IN MACEDONIA MAY CONTINUE

James Pardew, the U.S. special envoy in Macedonia, told the BBC on 3 September that some NATO troops may stay on in Macedonia after Operation Essential Harvest ends in late September. He noted that NATO has no mandate beyond that mission, but suggested that the alliance may be asked by the OSCE to provide "security" for OSCE monitors, "who will be watching the implementation of the peace agreement." He stressed that monitors "would not be armed, and that does raise the question...whether there should be an extension of the military mandate... But that hasn't been decided by NATO or anyone else at this point." Recently, President Boris Trajkovski suggested that the UN could play a role in keeping the peace in his country, but did not elaborate. PM

DISPLACED MACEDONIANS RESUME BORDER BLOCKADE

Displaced civilians from the Kumanovo area blocked the border crossing at Tabanovce on 3 September, dpa reported. They said that they will not allow NATO or KFOR vehicles to pass until the authorities assure them that they can return to their homes, from which the UCK drove them. On 2 September, the displaced persons unblocked the road after a meeting between Todor Petrov -- the president of the Macedonian World Congress -- members of nongovernmental organizations, and the new Union of the displaced persons. Union leader Veljo Tantarov said that "if [recently] kidnapped Macedonians are not be released by [4 September], we will start kidnapping ethnic Albanians and will open a prison in the villages," but did not specify which ones. He added that the union plans more border blockades on 5 September at Stenje, Kafasan, and Sveti Naum. Tantarov stressed that the kidnapped Macedonians are ordinary farmers. "The Sunday Times" reported on 2 September that masked Macedonian paramilitaries have already begun kidnapping Albanian civilians. PM

WHO IS BANKROLLING MACEDONIA'S ARMS SPREE?

Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said on a recent tour of European capitals that Western governments owe her country financial assistance and support, but "The Sunday Times" on 2 September reported that Skopje -- or one of its friends -- has ample money to fund an arms buildup. The article reported that Macedonian security forces are "gearing up for all-out war in the autumn," quoting unnamed "Western intelligence sources." The article added that "NATO observation teams watched four cargo planeloads of military hardware and spares arriving in secret flights at Petrovec airport near...Skopje last week. The sources said that...all were from Eastern Europe. The shipments followed the arrival several days earlier of a giant Antonov transport plane from Ukraine, carrying what the sources believed were sophisticated Russian-made SA-13 antiaircraft missile systems." It is not clear why Skopje needs such weapons to fight "terrorists." The article added that the military is seeking to upgrade its SU-25 aircraft to achieve "pin-point accuracy in raids." Ongoing training flights "cost thousands of dollars an hour," one Western expert noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). PM

DEL PONTE SEEKS SERBIAN COOPERATION

Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said on 3 September that Del Ponte wants Serbia to extradite additional indicted war criminals to the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. On 4 September, Del Ponte began talks in Belgrade with top Serbian government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and Justice Minister Vladan Batic. Djindjic said the previous day that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic will not be extradited because his office grants him immunity. Hartmann and some Serbian experts say he does not enjoy immunity, "Danas" reported. Batic has said repeatedly that he wants the tribunal to indict top Kosovar Albanian guerrilla leaders for atrocities committed against Serbs. After talks with Del Ponte on 4 September, Covic told Reuters that they discussed "comprehensive cooperation" but not extraditions. "I did not feel there was even an intention to exert pressure on our authorities, not in one sentence said by Carla Del Ponte or [in] the approach of her aides," he added. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS MINERS' LEADER'S PARDON REQUEST

President Ion Iliescu on 31 August rejected the pardon request submitted to him by miners' leader Miron Cozma, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu gave two reasons for rejecting the plea, namely that Cozma has not expressed any regret for the deeds for which he was convicted in 1998 to 18 years in prison, and that there are still other pending cases on the roll against Cozma. Under Romanian law, if Cozma were to be sentenced again in another case, he would have to serve the sentence for which he was pardoned as well. Iliescu said he believes the best option for Cozma is to ask the Prosecutor-General's Office for a retrial. On 2 September, a group of Cozma sympathizers calling itself the Miron Cozma League threatened to start "harsh protest actions" if Cozma is not freed by 15 September. The group said his liberation is "the last chance of the government to prove it is still a center-left formation." But the Jiu valley Trade Union League dissociated itself from the call, saying Cozma League leader Romero Beja has recently been expelled from the union and calling on the authorities not to hesitate to "do their duty if Beja organizes illegal actions." MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NATO ACCESSION PREPARATIONS ON HIGH GEAR

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 3 September said Romania has finalized an extensive program aimed at improving the country's chances to be among the states accepted as new NATO members at the organization's 2002 summit in Prague, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana said he believes Romania's chances are "realistic" if economic and military reforms are continued and particularly if "its message is coherent and credible." Geoana said Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will visit Washington and London in the autumn within the framework of accession efforts. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS NO CHANGE FOR TELEVISION COUNCIL

Premier Nastase on 3 September told a forum of the Party of Social Democracy (PSD) leadership that the cabinet has decided to leave unchanged the makeup of the Television Council Board, which has been appointed by the previous government. Nastase said that experience has proved that "collaboration with the incumbent board is possible" and that changing the board's structure before its mandate runs out next year will "unwarrantedly produce [political] waves." He said some PSD leadership members are dissatisfied with television coverage of their party, but "so are probably other parties and I do not believe the television as such is subservient to any single formation." MS

SMIRNOV BOYCOTTS MEETING WITH MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 31 August failed to attend a scheduled meeting with Vladimir Voronin in Holercani, near Chisinau, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Smirnov said he was skipping the meeting in protest against the change of Moldovan custom seals and the introduction of an excise tax by Moldovan custom authorities. He said the measures amount to a declaration of an "economic blockade" on the Transdniester. Voronin dismissed Smirnov's complaint as "mere excuses" aimed at further procrastinating on negotiations for a settlement and said that the introduction of the custom seals is in line with the demands of the World Trade Organization, of which Moldova has recently become a member. He also said Transdniester authorities abused the Moldovan custom seal they were using earlier in order to engage in "illegal transactions." On 2 September, Transdniester custom officials prevented Moldovan custom officers from reaching the new customs posts, which are on Ukrainian territory, and there were reports of squabbles between the sides. On 3 September, Flux reported that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has also protested against the Moldovan measures. Earlier, Ukraine, Moldova, and the Transdniester agreed to set up joint customs points on Ukrainian territory as of 1 September, but Tiraspol never acted on that project. MS

...SIGNS IN MOSCOW AGREEMENT ON WEAPONS SCRAPPING

Smirnov on 31 August told journalists in Moscow that the separatist region's authorities have signed an agreement with Russia on the scrapping of the Russian contingent's weapons stationed in the Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. Smirnov said that the agreement "suspends" the liquidation of the equipment until 6 September and that by that time representatives of the two sides will end negotiations on ways for the Transdniester to pay Russia's Gazprom its $400 million debt for gas deliveries. If an agreement is reached, he said, the authorities in Tiraspol will cease hampering the destruction of the weaponry. MS

NEW MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER APPOINTED

President Voronin on 3 September appointed Nicolae Dudau as Moldova's new foreign minister, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The 56-year-old Dudau has been ambassador to Belarus and Lithuania since 1988. Dudau replaces Nicolae Cernomaz, who was dismissed by Voronin in July. MS

SAXECOBURGGOTSKI SAYS MACEDONIA CONFLICT THREATENS BULGARIA'S STABILITY

Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 31 August said the conflict in Macedonia is threatening stability in his own country, AP reported. Speaking in Plodviv at a ceremony marking the change of command in the Multinational Peace Force Southeastern Europe, the premier said that "Bulgarians know very well that when the neighbor's house is burning, one's own home may also catch fire." He did not elaborate. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER OPTIMISTIC AFTER LIBYA TALKS

Bulgarian parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov on 2 September told Bulgarian national television from Tripoli that he was "encouraged" following talks with Libyan officials on the pending trial of the six Bulgarian nationals whose sentencing is due later this month, AFP reported. The six are accused of having willfully infected Libyan children with the HIV virus and if convicted may face the death penalty. Gerdzhikov added, however, that the situation remains "extremely complex and delicate." On 31 August, AP reported that Gerdzhikov headed a Bulgarian delegation to the celebrations of the anniversary of the coup that brought to power Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi. As a gesture of goodwill, the delegation included former communist leader Todor Zhivkov's granddaughter Evgenia Zhivkova, a deputy representing the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party. Bulgaria and Libya had closed ties during Zhivkov's rule. Upon returning to Sofia on 3 September, Gerdzhikov said he has seen the six Bulgarian detained in Tripoli and that "they are doing relatively well." Earlier that day he discussed the pending trial with Seif Al-Islam Ghaddafi, one of the president's sons. MS




SOME SAY 'KURSK' DEATH COMPENSATION UNFAIR


By Francesca Mereu

The following is the second of a two-part series, the first of which ran on 31 August 2001.

After the "Kursk" submarine sank last year in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crew members aboard, the Russian government agreed to pay relatively large death benefits to the families.

Each family got an apartment and 720,000 rubles -- more than $20,000 -- in compensation.

Captain Igor Kurdin, the head of the St. Petersburg Submariners Club, says he believes it is the first time the Russian government provided adequate compensation for victims of a tragedy.

But he, like many other Russians, questions the fairness of the payments.

Kurdin told RFE/RL that families of sailors who died in other submarine accidents, for example, did not receive any compensation. He says those families are finding the "Kursk" payments hard to accept.

"It is the first time in our country that the family of someone who died in the line of duty received decent compensation. [But] what is going on now with the families of the 'Kursk' makes other families [feel bad]. As an example, I can cite the families of submariners who [died in accidents] before the 'Kursk:' the 'APL Komsomolets' [that sank in 1988], 'K219' [that sank in 1986], and many others. They didn't receive a penny [from the state]."

The payments to the relatives of "Kursk" victims are especially galling for the families of soldiers killed or wounded in the war in Chechnya. They point out that, while the government does pay out death benefits, the amounts are paltry compared with what relatives of the "Kursk" victims received.

Svetlana Filipova works for the Mothers' Rights Foundation, an organization that assists families of Russian soldiers and sailors who die in the line of duty. She says that, according to the law, the family of a soldier who dies in Chechnya receives a standard, one-time payment of 120 times the serviceman's monthly salary. At current pay levels, this represents a benefit of about $2,500, to be divided among the family.

In addition, she said that each family member receives an individual payment of 25 times the serviceman's monthly salary, or about $600.

Last year, the foundation -- citing the discrepancy with the "Kursk" payments -- accused the state of discriminating against those who lost their relatives in Chechnya. Lyudmila Yefimova from Moscow lost her son in Chechnya. She said that she has asked the state many times for help, but that officials have told her that she is simply seeking to use her son's death to get her apartment repaired.

Yefimova said that it is difficult to survive on her monthly pension of around $40, and that the government has forgotten the mothers of the servicemen who are dying in Chechnya. "The federal government didn't give us any help. I mean Putin. Furthermore, local authorities are very rude to us," Yefimova said.

Captain Kurdin said the issue of compensation is not clear. In his opinion, the issue is not one of discrimination but simply the fact that the Russian government cannot help all of the families of those who die in uniform.

He said that, ironically, the relatively generous "Kursk" compensation packages have not inspired gratitude among the families of the victims, but rather have made them suspicious that the government is trying to hide something regarding the cause of the accident.

"Sometimes you have a feeling that the authorities are trying to buy [the 'Kursk' families to pay for their silence]. But it is easier [for the government] to help only the families of the 'Kursk's' crew than all the families of those who died [in the line of duty]," Kurdin said.

The Mothers' Rights Foundation said that families of officers killed while serving are often put on a waiting list and have to wait years before getting an apartment.

In contrast, Svetlana Baigarina -- the wife of "Kursk" victim Captain Murat Baigarin -- received a three-room apartment in St. Petersburg following the submarine disaster. However, relatives of "Kursk" victims point out that, whatever their amount, death benefits cannot ease the pain of losing a loved one.

Baigarina said that she and her two children still live in her parents' apartment, and that her 11-year-old son Sasha does not want to move to the new apartment.

"Nobody wants to go [to live] in the apartment [that we received]," Baigarina said. "It is hard. My young son says, 'I don't want this apartment that we paid for with daddy's death.'"


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