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Newsline - September 5, 2001




PUTIN PROMISES TO PROMOTE PEACE IN MIDDLE EAST...

President Vladimir Putin on 4 September told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Russia plans to take on a larger role in promoting peace in the Middle East, is disturbed by current developments, and believes that the Mitchell Plan as accepted in principle by the parties should serve as the basis for an agreement, Russian and Western agencies reported. Sharon for his part welcomed Putin's statements, said that economic ties between the two countries are growing, and invited Putin to visit Israel. PG

...AND TO OBSERVE NONPROLIFERATION REGIME -- BUT RETAINS TIES WITH IRAN AND IRAQ

After his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, President Putin said on 4 September that he "understands" Israeli concerns about Russian military sales to Iraq and Iraq, Russian television reported. But Putin said that Moscow is staying strictly within the limits of existing nonproliferation agreements and is selling arms only to make money. Indeed, Putin said, Russia's ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds may allow Moscow to make a larger contribution to the peace process in the Middle East. VY

PUTIN SETS UP AGENCY TO SET PRICES FOR MONOPOLIES

President Putin on 4 September issued a decree setting up a new state agency that will set prices for Russia's electric and gas monopolies, Russian and Western agencies reported. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told Interfax that the new agency will help promote macroeconomic stability. PG

PUTIN NAMES LEFTIST POLITICIAN TO HEAD STATE BROADCASTING SYSTEM

President Putin on 1 September named Gennadii Sklyar, the current deputy governor of Kaluga Oblast who has longstanding ties to various left-wing groups, to head the Russian Television and Radio Network, ORT television reported. Sklyar began his career during the Soviet era as a Komsomol official in a secret defense telecommunications enterprise. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the Duma, in 1995 as a candidate of the nationalist Congress of Russian Communities and in 1999 as a member of General Andrei Nikolaev's bloc. Sklyar is a frequent contributor to "Sovetskaya Rossiya" and "Pravda," smi.ru reported on 3 September. VY

CENTRAL BANK MOVES TO DEFEND RUBLE...

The Russian Central Bank on 4 September intervened in currency markets to prevent the ruble from declining further against the dollar, Russian agencies reported. Following that intervention, the ruble stabilized at 29.47 rubles to the dollar. PG

...AS RUMORS OF PLAN TO BAN USE OF DOLLAR DENIED

"Novye izvestiya" reported on 4 September that the government plans to ban the use of all foreign currency in Russia in the near future, starting a rumor that a series of Russian officials dismissed as laughable and wrong, Russian agencies reported the same day. PG

KIRIENKO CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING MIDDLE CLASS

Sergei Kirienko, the Presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 September that the government must promote the development of the country's middle class because such a class will promote political stability. "The more people who consider themselves to be members of the middle class and who have something to lose," Kirienko said, "the more stability and predictability there will be in the country." PG

CIS BANKERS AGREE TO FORM FINANCE COUNCIL

Bankers and stock exchange managers from the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) agreed in Moscow on 4 September to create a financial-bank council for the CIS as a whole, Interfax-AFI reported. But those officials did not agree to set up a common banking system across the region, the news service said. PG

PUTIN RECEIVES FORMER GERMAN CHANCELLOR

President Putin on 4 September met with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russian agencies reported. Kohl also met former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The former German leader is in Moscow to be interviewed by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS DISAGREEMENTS WITH U.S. ON NMD MUST NOT AFFECT TIES WITH OTHER COUNTRIES

Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 4 September that disagreements with the United States about the future of the 1972 ABM Treaty and the possible construction of national missile defenses must not become the occasion for complicating Russian ties with third countries, Russian agencies reported. PG

U.S. EMBASSY ANNOUNCES SIMPLIFIED VISA REGIME

U.S. Consul General in Moscow Jim Warlick said on 4 September that Russians who have visited the U.S. in the past can acquire a visa to visit the country again without having to go through an interview at the embassy itself, ITAR-TASS reported. But he said that the embassy as before will not explain any visa denials. PG

PUTIN WANTS HIGH-SPEED RAIL LINK TO EU VIA FINLAND

During his visit to Finland, President Putin said he wants to promote the rapid construction of a high-speed train link from Perm through Moscow and St. Petersburg to Helsinki, RBK agency reported on 2 September. Putin said this link could become a major channel for moving goods between Russia and the European Union. VY

MOSCOW SAYS RIYADH HASN'T OFFICIALLY INFORMED RUSSIA ABOUT HIJACKER TRIAL

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 4 September that Moscow has not received any information concerning Saudi Arabia's plans to hand over to a shariat court the men who hijacked a Russian plane on 15 March 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. But he said that media reports suggest that is what Riyadh has decided to do. PG

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER EXPLAINS POSTPONEMENT

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on 4 September that he postponed his visit to Moscow in order to avoid being in the Russian capital at the same time as Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, Reuters reported. He said that "at a time when the Zionist regime's terror squads are targeting defenseless Palestinian people, it would have been very bitter for me to go to Russia at the same time as Sharon," IRNA reported the same day. He added that he will reschedule his visit "at a suitable time." Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Reshetnikov said on 4 September that Russia is preparing plans to build more nuclear power plants in Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA, CHINA TO COOPERATE IN DEVELOPING TRANSIT CORRIDORS

Chinese railway officials met with their Russian counterparts in Moscow on 4 September and agreed that the two countries will work together to build the East-West and North-South transportation and trade corridors that President Putin has proposed, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, in Khabarovsk, officials from Northeast Asia met to discuss the development of the East-West corridor, Interfax-Eurasia reported the same day. The day before, Russia's First Deputy Railways Minister Aleksandr Tselko announced the formation of a trilateral board that will supervise the linking of the Trans-Siberian to the rail systems of the two Koreas, RIA-Novosti reported. PG/VY

CHINESE PLANE VIOLATES RUSSIAN AIRSPACE

The Defense Ministry said that a Chinese aircraft briefly violated Russian airspace over the Altai mountains on 2 September but passed back into China before any Russian planes were scrambled to intercept it, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The violation highlights both the collapse of Russian radars in that region and the reluctance of the military to do anything that might undercut friendship with Beijing, the paper suggested. VY

MOSCOW REEVALUATES 1951 PEACE TREATY WITH JAPAN

In a statement issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of an international peace treaty with Japan after World War II, an agreement that the Soviet Union refused to sign at the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry on 4 September said that "it is impossible not to note that the treaty helped create conditions for the successful peaceful development of post-war Japan," AP reported. The statement continued that the last half-century has confirmed "the universal nature of the principles laid down in [the treaty]." In the past, Russian officials like their Soviet predecessors have either ignored this accord or criticized it sharply. PG

TWO VIEWS ON TERRORISM

In an article in this month's "Natsionalnaya bezopasnost," First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said that international terrorism can only be fought effectively via international cooperation and that requires "a high degree of trust." Meanwhile, in an article published by "The Moscow News" on 4 September, Russian commentator Boris Kagarlitsky said that in Russia at least, "terrorism benefits the state." He added that acts the government blames on Chechens may in fact be the work of the special services, since the Chechens do not take credit for such acts and the special services achieve their ends even without claiming public credit. PG

GROWING DRUG USE SAID THREATENING RUSSIAN NATIONAL SECURITY

Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Nikolai Solovev said on 4 September that "an epidemic" of drug use in Russia is now threatening the country's national security both directly by the harm it does to society, and indirectly as a source of money for extremist groups, Interfax reported. The same day, officials at the Interior Ministry said that the drug trade, illegal arms sales, and sales of pornography have all reached record highs and are increasing, the news agency reported. PG

NO INFLATION IN RUSSIA IN AUGUST

The State Statistics Committee on 4 September said that consumer prices remained unchanged during August, Interfax reported. As a result, inflation for the first eight months of 2001 remained at 13.2 percent. PG

RUSSIA'S FOREIGN TRADE UP 9 PERCENT IN FIRST SEVEN MONTHS OF 2001

The State Customs Committee on 4 September told Prime-TASS that Russia's foreign trade turnover in the first seven months of 2001 was 9 percent higher than during the same period a year earlier. Trade outside the CIS zone rose 8.9 percent to $66.3 billion, while trade with other CIS countries rose 9.6 percent to $15.4 billion. PG

ADMIRAL ADMITS PRESENCE OF 22 ROCKETS ON SUNKEN SUBMARINE

Admiral Mikhail Motsak, who serves as chief of staff of the team overseeing the raising of the "Kursk" submarine, said on 4 September that the sunken submarine has 22 rockets on board as well as an undetermined number of its original 20 torpedoes, Interfax Northwest reported. He suggested that the recovery of the "Kursk" might be delayed until between 25 September and 2 October, even as other Russian officials said that it would be recovered earlier, Russian agencies reported. PG

KLEBANOV SAYS RUSSIAN ARMS SALES ABROAD MAY REACH $6 BILLION ANNUALLY IN THE NEAR FUTURE

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 4 September that Russia will surpass Britain and France this year to become the world's second-largest arms merchant behind the United States, Russian and Western agencies reported. He suggested that this year's projected total of more than $4 billion may soon rise to $6 billion annually. Klebanov noted at the same time that sales of military aircraft made up 65-70 percent of this year's total, Interfax reported the same day. PG

RUSSIAN FIRMS SEEKING MORE WORKERS

The State Statistics Committee on 4 September said that Russian firms currently are seeking 24.6 percent more workers at employment exchanges than they did a year ago, Interfax reported. On 1 August, the committee said, Russian firms were seeking 1.133 million new workers from the employment services. PG

MOSCOW CITY TO DEVOTE MORE ATTENTION TO RUSSIANS ABROAD

The Moscow city government is setting up a database on ethnic Russians living outside of Russia and plans to devote 120 million rubles ($4 million) to this and other projects to support ties between the Russian capital and Russians living abroad, Russian agencies reported on 3-4 September. PG

SAKHA FLOOD VICTIMS MOVED TO BIROBIDZHAN

The first family of Sakha flood victims has arrived in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Russian Far East, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 September. Several more families are scheduled to arrive there later this week. Meanwhile, an article in "Versty," No. 98, reported that Russian scholars are considering a draft plan that would call for the massive relocation of people from Russia's Far North and Far East to the south and west. Such a relocation is needed, the scholars said, because Russia has eight times more cities and towns in polar regions than the rest of the world combined and because over 90 percent of those were built during the Soviet era to support primarily defense industries. PG

GUARDS SAID TO HAVE BEATEN PRISONERS IN PERM CAMP

Human rights activists in Perm Oblast say that guards at a strict regime prison colony there have beaten and otherwise tortured prisoners in recent months, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 September. Meanwhile, the paper reported, several Moscow hooligans beat to death a police officer in Moscow on 3 September. PG

40 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN ALCOHOL SOLD IS ILLICIT

Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 3 September that 40 percent of the 50 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) worth of alcohol now being sold each year in Russia comes from illicit sources that are not taxed, ITAR-TASS reported. But the government's ability to tax alcohol produced was further undercut on 4 September when the government again delayed, from 1 September to 1 December, the date on which new tax stamps must appear on alcohol sold to the public, Interfax reported. PG

70,000 RUSSIAN ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN CHARITY WORK

Yevgenii Vodopyanov, the vice president of the Union of Charitable Organizations of Russia, told Interfax on 4 September that there are now more than 70,000 social and noncommercial organizations in the country directly or indirectly involved with charitable work. Some 2.5 million Russians are involved in these groups and they provide assistance to approximately 30 million of their fellow citizens, he said. PG

ALEKSII II PRAISES RETURN OF CHURCH TO ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE

In an interview published in "Trud" on 4 September, Patriarch Aleksii II said that he welcomes the return of the church to active social life and the reappearance of religious courses in schools and universities. He said that such a recovery of faith will help Russia move forward. The previous day, Aleksii said that he wants the country's monasteries to recover some but not all of the land they owned prior to 1917, RTR reported. Both comments came in connection with celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Aleksii's enthronement as bishop, a status that he noted in his "Trud" interview was "rarer than that of cosmonaut." PG

RUSSIAN BUDDHISTS WON'T PROTEST OVER MOSCOW'S VISA DENIAL TO DALAI LAMA

Damba Ayusheev, the head of the Buddhist community in Russia, told Interfax on 4 September that his group has no plans to lodge a protest with the Foreign Ministry over that agency's refusal to issue a transit visa to the Dalai Lama, who had sought one in order to visit Mongolia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September, 2001). Ayusheev noted that the Tibetan leader will be able to reach Mongolia via other routes. PG

SHORTAGE OF RUSSIAN SATELLITES FORCE DOMESTIC RADIO AND TV TO TURN TO FOREIGN SUPPLIES

Officials of the National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters of Russia said on 4 September that a shortage of channel space on Russian satellites is forcing an increasing number of that group's member stations to turn to foreign satellite operators to deliver their programs, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN HACKERS PLAN AN 'ELECTRONIC PICKET' TO PROTEST SKLYAROV TRIAL

A group of Russian programmers told Interfax on 4 September that they plan to set up "an electronic picket" on the Internet in support of Russian programmer Dmitrii Sklyarov, who is facing trial in the U.S. for violating intellectual property laws. The group's leader, Ilya Vasilev, who heads the Civilian School of Hackers, said that "electronic pickets are a new form of struggle in the 21st century." PG

RUSSIAN INTERNET USERS OFTEN AVOID PAYING

According to an article in "The Moscow Times" on 4 September, some 40 percent of Russians who go online do so without paying anyone for it. Some take home access codes from work, others use stolen passwords, and still other hack through the firewalls of servers, the paper said. Such attitudes both reflect and reinforce the reluctance of Russian web users to purchase anything online, it concluded. PG

RUSSIAN VETERANS GROUP PROTESTS PUTIN'S VISIT TO MANNERHEIM GRAVE

The movement in Support of the Army (DPA) on 4 September issued a protest concerning President Putin's decision to lay a wreath on the grave of Finnish Marshal Karl Gustav Mannerheim, Interfax reported. The DPA said that this action ignored the historical record and Mannerheim's efforts to oppose Russia on all occasions. PG

BULLFIGHT OPPONENTS DEMONSTRATE IN MOSCOW

Some 800 people took part in a demonstration in Moscow on 4 September in support of Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's decision to ban bullfighting in the city, Interfax-Moscow reported. PG

YAKOVLEV CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF CHECHEN WAR

In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 4 September, Academician Aleksandr Yakovlev said that the Duma should create a commission to investigate foreign involvement in Chechnya and the responsibility of those supporting the Chechen militants against Moscow. He also said that the 1990s were "a time of uncompleted reforms," and that now there is a chance to complete them and thus transform the country. PG

SOROS ENDS FUNDING FOR PARIS EMIGRE PAPER?

The Open Society Institute, which is supported by international financier and philanthropist George Soros, announced on 4 September that it will no longer provide financial support to the Paris-based "Russkaya mysl" newspaper because the paper no longer promotes the free exchange of ideas but rather promotes a single point of view, Interfax reported. Instead, OSI officials said that they plan to create a new journal, "Vestnik Evropy," to promote the free flow of information. But following this report, Irina Krivova, the chief editor of "Russkaya mysl," denied that Soros or OSI had ever provided the paper any grants or subsidies. PG

RUSSIA PLANS TO BUILD 'SPACE HOTEL' FOR SPACE TOURISTS

Russia's aerospace corporation Energiya on 4 September announced that it has come up with plans for a special "space hotel" that will be the first stop for paying space tourists on their way to the International Space Station, strana.ru reported on 4 September. The mini-space station will hold three to five space tourists as well as provide a jumping off point for privately funded research projects. VY

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS PUTIN IN MOSCOW

President Putin on 4 September met in Moscow with Vladimir Voronin, who is attending festivities in honor of Patriarch Aleksii II, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. They discussed expanding trade and cooperation in the international arena. AP said the two leaders were also expected to work on the preparations for the pending new basic treaty between their countries. Voronin was accompanied by Moldova's new Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau. In an interview with Moldovan Radio on 4 September, Dudau said that Moldova's foreign policy priorities will "remain unchanged." On the possibility of Moldova's joining the Russia-Belarus Union, Dudau said that declarations made earlier by the country's leadership on the intention to join the union "remain valid," but that "does not mean Moldova is ready to join the union now, since its structures are still being molded." MS

SUPREME COURT REJECTS LOCAL COURT RULING ON NIZHNII NOVGOROD ELECTIONS

The Russian Supreme Court rejected on 4 September an earlier decision by an oblast court in Nizhnii Novgorod that refused to consider a complaint by State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Vadim Bulavinov regarding violations of election law during the first round of the oblast's gubernatorial election in July, RIA-Novosti reported. Bulavinov narrowly missed qualifying for the second round of that election, with 19.09 percent of the tally compared with the second-placed finisher, then-incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov, who took 20.82 percent (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 July 2001). Bulavinov charged at the time that it was "more than obvious" that the local court was acting under pressure from Sklyarov. JAC

LOCAL TV STATION SHUT DOWN

The All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) turned off transmissions from the Lipetsk television company, TVK, on 3 September, Interfax reported. VGTRK was fulfilling the orders of the federal Media Ministry. The previous week, local police blocked employees from entering the company's headquarters. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 31 August, the television station was one of the most popular in the oblast, and "people trusted its objective reporting." The newspaper also noted that TVK was one of the few local media outlets critical of Lipetsk Governor Oleg Korolev's opposition to the company and concluded that a "cleansing" of local media in advance of April 2002 gubernatorial elections is likely underway. Former TVK General Director Aleksandr Likov told "Kommersant-Daily" the previous day that he has evidence that a shareholders meeting changing the company's leadership took place in the office of Deputy Governor Sergei Dorovskii. JAC

SIBERIAN DEFENSE SECTOR FACING HUGE CUTS...

Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov told reporters in Novosibirsk on 4 September that only half of the 114 defense enterprises in Siberia will continue to function and receive state orders, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same press conference, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii reported that shares in the state-owned defense enterprises that are being made redundant will be handed over to the regions to manage. According to Drachevskii, an ad hoc district-level commission is being established to handle questions related to the fate of the industrial facilities. Drachevskii, Klebanov, and others attended a meeting in Novosibirsk on Siberia's defense industries. JAC

...AS KRASNOYARSK RESIDENTS LEAD IN RANKING OF REGIONAL PERSONAL INCOMES

According to data from the Novosibirsk Oblast Committee for Statistics, residents of Krasnoyarsk Krai earned the highest average wage in the Siberian federal district based on data from the first half of the year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 September. The average wage in Krasnoyarsk is 3,087 rubles ($105) a month. Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, which neighbors Krasnoyarsk, came in second and Kemerovo Oblast third. Kemerovo also had the highest prices with a basket of consumer goods costing 357.8 rubles, compared with an all-Russian average of 314.3 rubles. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG HEAD REITERATES SUPPORT FOR JOINING CITY WITH LENINGRAD OBLAST

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told reporters on 4 September that he favors a reduction in the number of regions in Russia, including the merger of St. Petersburg with Leningrad Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. However, Yakovlev admitted that he has not yet had a focused discussion on this theme with Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov. He also added that it is still too early to hold detailed discussions on the subject or to hold a referendum. JAC

SECURITY OFFICIALS DEFUSE SECOND GROZNY BOMB

Security officials located and defused a bomb in the basement of the Grozny TV and radio center on 4 September, one day after a bomb exploded in the Chechen government building, Russian agencies reported. Investigators are exploring the possibility that a cleaning lady killed in the explosion may have smuggled the bomb into the building inside a vacuum cleaner. Grozny military commandant Colonel General Valerii Baranov barred all motor traffic from the city center for an indefinite period beginning on 4 September. LF




RIFT WITHIN ARMENIAN RULING COALITION COMES TO A HEAD

The People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), the junior partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, released a statement in Yerevan on 4 September arguing that Miasnutiun is defunct and calling for new parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement further branded Miasnutiun's other member, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which is headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, a "stooge" of President Robert Kocharian, and accused the HHK of enacting "antipopular laws through all kinds of pressure and falsification." The tensions within Miasnutiun surfaced over a year ago, but to date neither party has called for its official dissolution, although more than half of the HZhK deputies have quit Miasnutiun (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000 and No. 24, 23 August 2000 and Vol. 4, No. 22, 15 June 2001 and No. 29, 13 August 2001). HZhK leader Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that the current parliamentary majority "is artificial," and that Miasnutiun deputies should surrender their mandates and force a preterm election. LF

ARMENIA RESCHEDULES GEORGIA'S DEBT

Following several months of negotiations, the finance ministers of Armenia and Georgia, Vartan Khachatrian and Zurab Nogaideli, reached agreement in Yerevan on 3 September on restructuring Georgia's $20 million debt to Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Most of that sum is compensation for the theft and loss in the early 1990s of gas intended for Armenia. Tbilisi will pay 4 percent of the total this year and the remainder in installments over the next 20 years, Caucasus Press reported on 4 September. LF

SENIOR ARMENIAN CLERIC INVITES AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART

Armenian Catholicos Garegin II has invited Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, the leader of Azerbaijan's Muslims to attend the celebration in Yerevan later this month to mark the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity as the state religion, Noyan Tapan and Caucasus Press reported on 5 September. Garegin said in his letter of invitation that a meeting between the two religious leaders could help to reduce tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan and thus contribute to a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Pashazade told journalists on 5 September that he has not yet decided whether to accept the invitation. LF

BAKU COURT ORDERS CLOSURE OF AZERBAIJANI NEWSPAPER

Baku's Nizami district court ruled on 4 September that the independent newspaper "Bakinskii bulvard" must cease publication, and fined its founder, editor in chief, and a journalist 80 million manats ($17,090) each for slandering city Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov, Turan reported. Abutalibov had taken issue with an article published in "Bakinskii bulvard" in June criticizing what the paper termed the illegal demolition of street stalls in the capital. LF

GEORGIAN ANTICORRUPTION COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST SESSION

President Eduard Shevardnadze on 4 September chaired the first formal session of the 12-member anticorruption council established earlier this year. He called on the council's members to work together with the police and other law-enforcement agencies, which the council's chairman, Mirian Gogiashvili, had criticized for failing to take adequate measures to crack down on economic crime, according to Caucasus Press. But Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili charged that the council's work is "purely declamatory," noting that Gogiashvili's speech failed to identify a single individual guilty of corruption. Saakashvili predicted that if the current trend is not reversed, within 2-3 years Georgia will come to resemble Honduras in the early 1960s, plagued with "little private armies and corrupt authorities." LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ANNOUNCES BOYCOTT OF LOCAL ELECTIONS...

The 11 opposition parties aligned in the Coordinating Council issued a statement in Tbilisi on 4 September saying they will not field candidates in the elections to local administrative bodies scheduled for 4 November, Caucasus Press reported. One of those 11 parties, the Union of Traditionalists of Georgia, has proposed postponing the poll until the spring of 2002 in order to allow for the passage of legislation on the territorial-administrative division of the country. SMK General Secretary Eduard Surmanidze said his party would support a postponement if other parties do likewise, Caucasus Press reported on 3 September, quoting the daily "Akhali taoba." LF

...WARNS OF EMERGENCE OF SINGLE-PARTY DICTATORSHIP

The Coordinating Council also addressed a statement on 4 September to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe warning that a one-party dictatorship is imminent, Caucasus Press reported. They also complained that the amendments to the election law and the law on local government were passed in violation of procedural requirements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2001). Also on 4 September, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania announced the creation of a special group to investigate claims voiced the previous day by Givi Topadze, the head of the opposition "Industry Will Save Georgia" faction, that the text of the amendments to the election law was changed after their passage in parliament. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PREPARES FOR ASIAN CONFIDENCE-BUILDING SUMMIT

Foreign ministry officials from the 16 member states of the Conference for Cooperation and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CCCA) met in Almaty on 4 September to discuss preparations for the organization's first summit, which is to take place in Almaty on 8-10 November, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax reported. The draft document to be adopted at the summit focuses on disarmament, confidence-building measures, new and traditional threats, and the prospects for a new regional security system, according to Kazakhstan's foreign minister, Yerlan Idrisov. Idrisov also suggested in response to a question from Interfax that the CCCA could play a role in helping resolve the Middle East conflict. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA MAKE PROGRESS IN DEMARCATING BORDER

Idrisov also told journalists in Almaty on 4 September that Russia and Kazakhstan have agreed on demarcation of approximately half of their shared 7,000-kilometer land border, Interfax reported. The demarcation process got underway in 1999, but one year ago only some 700 kilometers of the total had been agreed upon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1999 and 7 September 2000). Idrisov said the demarcation of the border with China is near completion, and that he hopes an agreement on demarcation of the border with Uzbekistan will be signed during Uzbek President Islam Karimov's visit to Kazakhstan later this year. An agreement on the Turkmen-Kazakh border was signed two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2001). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DECLINES TO RATIFY ARMS TREATY WITH UZBEKISTAN

Deputies to the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) on 4 September refused to ratify a treaty on arms supplies signed last year by the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. Deputies complained that Uzbek border guards increasingly encroach on Kyrgyz territory and extort money and goods from residents of southern Kyrgyzstan. LF

TURKMENISTAN LIMITS ENTRY VISAS

In the run-up to the 27 October celebration of the 10th anniversary of Turkmenistan's declaration of independence, entry visas for citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are to be limited indefinitely beginning 5 September, AFP reported on 4 September. LF




LUKASHENKA HOLDS ELECTION MEETING IN MINSK...

Some 2,500 people participated in a meeting with incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the Palace of the Republic on 4 September, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka said that the gathering of people bussed in to Minsk from all over Belarus was not a re-election campaign meeting, but a "tough test" held by the authorities before the people. Lukashenka said that under his leadership Belarus has witnessed a period of considerable economic growth. He informed the gathering that in the past five years Belarus's GDP has grown by 36 percent, and industrial output by 65 percent. Lukashenka promised that the average monthly wage in Belarus in 2005 will increase to $250. JM

...THREATENS TO 'KICK OUT' OSCE'S WIECK FROM BELARUS...

During the 4 September meeting, Lukashenka said Hans Georg Wieck, the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, is acting in a way that is intended to provoke the authorities to expel him from the country. Lukashenka added that the authorities will disappoint Wieck and wait on the expulsion until the presidential election is over. "We will kick [Wieck] out -- but after the election," Lukashenka said. "This is not a threat. He knows that, I've told him about that personally and straightforwardly. And our foreign minister has warned him about that too." JM

...BRANDS OPPOSITION AS PUPPETS OF THE WEST...

Lukashenka also accused the Belarusian opposition of serving "Western puppet-masters," Reuters reported. "The opposition and their Western puppet-masters react to our achievements with ever-increasing bitterness and aggression," Lukashenka said. He claimed that Belarusian opposition figures -- including Anatol Lyabedzka, Vintsuk Vyachorka, Iosif Syaredzich, Ales Byalatski, and Viktar Ivashkevich -- have obtained more than $100,000 from the U.S. Embassy in Belarus as part of an effort to "remove" him from power. "I will only tolerate the intrigues of [U.S. Ambassador Michael] Kozak until the election," Lukashenka pledged. JM

...AND EXTENDS FRIENDLY HAND TO WASHINGTON

Lukashenka insisted during the 4 September gathering that he is ready for dialogue with Washington. He said he wrote a letter last month to U.S. President George W. Bush proposing dialogue, and passed it to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to deliver. "We have opened the door... [But] we will not have Americans telling us what to do... We cannot be brought to our knees," AP quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

PICKET DEMANDS TRUTH ABOUT DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUS

Some 50 people held an unsanctioned picket in front of the Palace of the Republic in Minsk on 4 September, demanding the truth about the unaccounted-for disappearances of opposition figures in Belarus, Belapan reported. Police encircled the demonstrators in order to prevent people arriving for a meeting with President Lukashenka from seeing the protest. Lyudmila Karpenka -- the widow of opposition leader Henadz Karpenka, who died in a Minsk hospital in 1999 under mysterious circumstances -- commented on the pro-Lukashenka gathering and the goals of the opposition picket to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service: "All dregs are today gathering here [in the Palace of the Republic]. We want to remind [them] about our husbands. About the terror and the killings that take place in our country." JM

KYIV APPEALS TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE OVER DEATH SENTENCE IN THAILAND

Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko has asked the Council of Europe to help Ukrainian authorities in their attempt to commute the death sentence handed down to Ukrainian citizen Viktoriya Mamontova in Thailand, Interfax reported on 5 September. Last month, a Thai court sentenced Mamontova to death for possessing heroin. Mamontova is the first Ukrainian citizen to be sentenced to death abroad following the Ukraine's proclamation of independence in 1991. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT ECONOMIC GROWTH

The Ukrainian cabinet predicts that in 2002 the country's GDP will increase by 6 percent, the annual inflation rate will amount to 9.8 percent, and the average exchange rate will be 5.6 hryvni to $1 (currently $1 is equal to 5.34 hryvni), Interfax reported on 5 September. The government also expects that this year GDP will grow by 7.3 percent, inflation will not exceed 12.3 percent, and the average annual exchange rate of the hryvnya will be 5.4 to $1. JM

ESTONIA, SLOVAKIA SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Estonian and Slovakian defense ministers Juri Luik and Jozef Stank signed a cooperation agreement in Tallinn on 4 September, BNS reported. The document names 14 areas in which the two countries plan to develop cooperation, including accession to NATO, defense policies, training of civilian staff in the defense forces, legislation pertaining to the armed forces, environmental protection, and the establishment of contacts between their military units. Slovakia accepted a proposal to send an officer to the Baltic Defense College in Tartu. The ministers agreed that their countries should not engage in unfriendly rivalry, but work together on their goal to receive an invitation to join NATO at the 2002 Prague summit. They also discussed developments in central and northern Europe as well as relations with Russia in view of its opposition to NATO expansion. SG

BENELUX AMBASSADORS TO NATO VISIT LATVIA

Ambassadors to NATO Baron Thierry de Gruben (Belgium), Jean-Jacques Kasel (Luxembourg), and Nicolaas Hendrik Biegman (the Netherlands) discussed with Latvian parliament deputies on 4 September attitudes toward and expectations of NATO membership, LETA reported. Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Guntars Krasts told them that Latvians see NATO membership as a guarantee of security of the state that should also create a safer investment environment for foreign investors. The ambassadors praised Latvia's attempts to increase the defense budget and reform the armed forces in accordance with NATO criteria as well as the good performance of its soldiers in peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia. SG

SCOTLAND NOT TO EXTRADITE AILING WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TO LITHUANIA

The Scottish Executive replied to the Lithuanian request in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001) for the extradition of suspected Nazi war criminal Antanas Gecevicius (Gecas) on 4 September, BNS reported. Gecas is accused of participating in the genocide of Jews and other minorities in Lithuania and Belarus during World War II when he commanded a squad in the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion, which was subordinate to the Nazis. The Scottish reply noted that the 85-year-old Gecas has been hospitalized in Edinburgh as his health has deteriorated and according to a medical panel is unfit to stand trial because of diabetes, two heart attacks, and chronic diseases. When asked about what further steps the Prosecutor General's Office is intending to take on the matter, the spokesperson said the institution is studying the case documents. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT URGES DIALOGUE TO PREVENT BUDGET COLLAPSE

President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 4 September held an emergency meeting with Premier Jerzy Buzek and cabinet ministers to discuss ways to avert the looming budget crisis in 2002, Polish media reported. According to official estimates, Poland faces a $20 billion revenue shortfall next year. Kwasniewski appealed to the government to enter dialogue and conclude an agreement "above party lines" with the opposition -- primarily with the Democratic Left Alliance, which is expected to take power following the 23 September general elections -- on repairing the state finances. Earlier the same day, the government approved guidelines for next year's budget. The GDP growth for 2002 was projected at 2.5-3.0 percent, inflation at 5.1-5.5 percent, and the budget deficit at 40 billion zlotys ($9.5 billion). JM

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS CANDIDATES NEED CREDIBLE ROMA INTEGRATION STRATEGIES

Addressing the European Parliament on 4 September, Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner for enlargement, said EU candidate countries must adopt "credible strategies" to deal with "the thorny and disturbing problem" of integrating Romany populations into mainstream European life, AFP reported. "It would be an illusion to believe that social and cultural discrimination against the Roma can be eliminated before membership," Verheugen commented, saying that "it will take decades to achieve that." However, he added, "we do expect all applicant countries to devise and put into practice credible strategies for the better integration of Roma, and they must do this before accession." MS

FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS CZECH DEMOCRACY DETERIORATING...

In its latest annual report, the U.S. human rights organization Freedom House said respect for democratic norms in the Czech Republic is deteriorating and that the only consideration that makes the country still respect those norms are its efforts to join the EU, CTK reported. The report, covering the period 1 July 1999 to 31 October 2000, said the alliance between the country's two strongest political parties, the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), has attempted to introduce legislation making it more difficult for other formations to enter the parliament; has repeatedly attempted to restrict the powers of the president and the National Bank's governor; and has made it possible for the government to interfere with the freedom of speech. (The report does not cover the conflict at Czech television last year and in early 2001). It also said the Czech Republic suffers from problems with enforcing legality and tackling economic crime; and it said corruption, which is the norm in the state-run sector, has spread to private companies as well. The report said most funds used in the privatization of small enterprises have gone to banks controlled by former communists and their relatives, who had the best access to bank loans. MS

...PROMPTING CRITICISM BY THOSE TARGETED

CSSD Chairman Vladimir Spidla said Freedom House is "misinterpreting" the realities of the Czech political system while his deputy, Pavel Rychetsky, called it "one-sided, simplistic, uninformed, and untrustworthy." Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil called the report "biased." ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus said the report reproduces the views of Freedom Union members Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik -- who were detained in Cuba earlier this year -- and who are "known to have the best relations" with Freedom House. The Four Party Coalition said it agrees with most of the report, with the exception of the claim that freedom of speech is deteriorating. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PRAGUE MAY INTRODUCE CONTROLS AT BRITISH AIRPORTS

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 4 September said it is "not out of the question" for Prague to introduce controls of Czech Republic-bound passengers boarding flights in the U.K., CTK reported. Kavan made the statement in a written reply to a question by two deputies representing the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. He also said that the controls at Prague's Ruzyne airport are not carried out by British immigration officials, but by the consular staff of the British Embassy in Prague and that he is "unaware" of any breach by those officials of Czech legislation. In related news, Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla on 4 September told members of a visiting delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that among the reasons Czech Roma attempt to seek asylum in the U.K. is "improving their financial situation." Spidla commented on an earlier statement by ODS Deputy Miroslav Ouzky, who said Roma seek social welfare in the U.K. and retroactively receive Czech welfare benefits when they return to the Czech Republic. "It is a very advantageous transaction for people who are generally in a difficult social situation," Spidla said. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS ON KAVAN TO LEAVE DURBAN

The opposition Civic Democratic Alliance on 4 September called on the government to withdraw the Czech delegation from the UN conference on racism in Durban, in protest against what it called anti-Israeli attacks in the resolution drafted there by nongovernmental organizations, CTK reported. ODA Deputy Chairman Oldrich Kuzilek said that if the delegation is not withdrawn, Foreign Minister Kavan should at least cancel his participation in the final vote of the conference to avoid "the shadow of anti-Semitism" being cast on the Czech Republic. Foreign Ministry spokesman Pospisil said the Czech delegation has been in close contact with delegations from the EU and the Visegrad countries and a decision on whether to leave the conference will be made by EU members and candidate countries on 5 September. He said the Czech Republic opposes equating Zionism with racism. MS

CZECH COMMUNIST JOURNALIST INDICTED

David Pecha, the editor of the ultra-leftist magazine "Pochoden" (Torch) has been indicted for "supporting a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens," Reuters and AP reported on 4 September. In the last two years Pecha has published at least 11 articles demanding the return of communism through "revolutionary means," and has called for "the destruction of the entire capitalist system." Prosecutor Jaroslav Horak of Sumperk said Pecha was not indicted for his political beliefs, but for having called for implementing them by violent means. Horak said the offense carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison, but added that he will seek a suspended sentence. MS

ANOTHER HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDER LEAVES PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

Andras Varhelyi on 4 September resigned from the parliamentary group of the Independent Smallholders' Party, saying he sees no chance of creating a unified force against Chairman Jozsef Torgyan. Varhelyi said he will continue his work in parliament as an independent, and expects to run at the 2002 elections also as an independent. With Varhelyi's departure the Smallholder parliamentary group has shrunk since last year from 49 members to 38, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

DAVID SAYS FIDESZ-FORUM PACT HAS NO ADDENDUM

Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya David on 4 September told Hungarian media that she is unaware of any addendum to the electoral cooperation agreement she signed one day earlier with FIDESZ (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2001). "Nepszabadsag" reported that the alleged document, in which the names of several known politicians such as Smallholder Imre Boros are listed as MDF candidates, caused shock within the party. Some MDF politicians believe that FIDESZ deliberately leaked the document to the MTI news agency, while others are outraged to see that the agreement lists only MDF candidates, leaving FIDESZ free to name any candidates it pleases. The MDF Budapest board might call for the cancellation of the overall agreement with FIDESZ, the daily reports. MSZ




NATO INTERVENES TO STOP MACEDONIAN INCIDENT

In the first reported case of NATO troops halting a violent incident in Macedonia, NATO soldiers acted to save the life of an ethnic Albanian member of the Macedonian police, who was under fire from Macedonian paramilitaries on the Skopje-Tetovo highway, dpa reported on 5 September. NATO spokesman Mark Laity told reporters in Skopje: "The only official policemen at that scene was the Albanian policemen [sic]. The group of paramilitaries were not official." NATO spokesman Barry Johnson added that the NATO troops defused "the situation and insisted in ensuring that the police...left the area safely. [The soldiers] felt that there was a threat to the life of the Albanian policemen. Within normal rules, then, they were doing the right thing to prevent the imminent threat to someone else's life." It is not clear whether one or more than one ethnic Albanian policeman was involved. The same paramilitaries killed a Macedonian soccer player recently when he refused to stop at their checkpoint. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT CONTINUES DEBATE

The Macedonian legislature is scheduled to continue debating the proposed peace settlement on 5 September after postponing a vote the previous day, Deutsche Welle reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2001). AP reported from Brussels that top EU officials Javier Solana and Chris Patten will travel to Skopje on 6 September for two days of talks with political leaders. PM

REPORT SAYS MACEDONIAN FORCES KILLED CIVILIANS

Human Rights Watch said in a report that hard-line Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski is responsible for the needless "revenge killing" of civilians at Ljuboten in August, "The New York Times" reported on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 30 August 2001). The minister has denied the charges. PM

WESTERN MACEDONIAN ENVOYS TO MOSCOW

EU special envoy for Macedonia Francois Leotard, his U.S. counterpart James Pardew, and OSCE envoy Max van der Stoel will hold talks in Moscow on 6 September with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, dpa reported from the Russian capital on 5 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). Pardew arrived to meet Russian leaders on 5 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

GEOANA WARNS MACEDONIANS AGAINST PLAYING POLITICS

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who holds the rotating OSCE chair, said in Bucharest on 4 September that Macedonian politicians should not allow electioneering for the January 2002 vote to interfere with resolving the crisis, Reuters reported. He stressed that "the big danger will not be so much this anti-Western feeling, which is partly manipulated [by unnamed persons], but the upcoming elections due to be held after the agreement is implemented. We must ensure that no one will be tempted by the electoral frenzy to disrupt the process" of implementing the settlement. PM

HAGUE TO INVESTIGATE CRIMES AGAINST KOSOVA SERBS

Carla Del Ponte, who is The Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in Belgrade on 4 September that her office is looking into possible atrocities committed against Kosova Serbs after the end of Serbian rule in the province in June 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that Del Ponte asked him to provide information on such crimes. In Prishtina, former Kosovar guerrilla leaders Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci denied that their forces were involved in anything but a "liberation war." PM

DEL PONTE, SERBIAN LEADERS TO COOPERATE ON BOSNIAN SERBS?

Del Ponte said in Belgrade on 4 September that the Serbian authorities agreed to help extradite leading Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Justice Minister Vladan Batic later denied that they had done so or that they had discussed the two men with her at any length. Djindjic stressed that neither Mladic nor Karadzic is a Serbian citizen and that the government does not know where they are. Djindjic said he was "surprised" by her statement but suggested that she may have made it in order to exert psychological pressure on the two indicted men. PM

SFOR: KARADZIC, MLADIC NOT IN BOSNIA

Outgoing SFOR commander U.S. General Michael Dodson said in Sarajevo on 4 September that Karadzic and Mladic do not live in Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Dodson added that the two visit Bosnia frequently but do not stay long. "That makes them very difficult to apprehend," he suggested, noting that their lifestyles have become "Spartan." Dodson added that it is known where the two live but that he is not at liberty to say where. The next day, Del Ponte said in Sarajevo that she is "very, very interested" in what Dodson has to say, adding she looks forward to receiving "important information" from him on the whereabouts of Karadzic and Mladic. PM

CROATIA ARRESTS FOUR FOR ATROCITIES

The authorities have arrested four Croats in conjunction with possible atrocities committed against Serbian civilians during and after Operation Storm in 1995, "Vecernji list" and "Jutarnji list" reported on 5 September. Two men were arrested in Sibenik and one each in Sinj and Makarska. "Vecernji list" suggested that this could be the start of a wave of arrests in connection with Operation Storm. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT AGAIN SLAMS GOVERNMENT

President Vojislav Kostunica told "Politika" of 5 September that corruption is "rife" in the government. He added that crime is so rampant that the police are either in league with organized crime or "incompetent." PM

RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

This week religious instruction will begin in Serbian schools for the first time since World War II, Deutsche Welle reported on 5 September. Serbian Orthodox chaplains were reintroduced into the Serbian armed forces earlier this year. The Republika Srpska already has Serbian Orthodox religious instruction in the schools. Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic and Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic discussed in Banja Luka on 4 September plans to make religious instruction available to Roman Catholic pupils as well, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Supporters of religious instruction in the schools argue that it is necessary to fill the moral and spiritual void created by half a century of communism. Opponents of religious instruction say that it will contribute to polarization and discrimination along religious lines, as well as discriminate against nonbelievers (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 18 and 25 January 2001). PM

LEGISLATIVE BOYCOTT IN ALBANIA

The parliament elected on 24 June (and in subsequent runoffs) convened on 3 September, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The only opposition deputies present were the six legislators from the ethnic Greek party. Party leader Vasil Melo said that he hopes that the rest of the opposition deputies will soon take their seats lest a "vacuum" develop. Outside the building, supporters of former President Sali Berisha lit candles in a protest designed to call attention to what they say was electoral fraud. Most foreign observers feel that the elections were quite free and fair by Albanian standards (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 August 2001). Berisha is still hoping that legal experts from the Council of Europe will agree in his favor. PM

ROMANIAN EU ACCESSION PERFORMANCE GETS MIXED MARKS...

The report presented on 4 September by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur Emma Nicholson includes both criticism and praise for the Romanian performance, Romanian radio reported. The report says judiciary independence is questionable and too little has been done to cope with the problems of corruption, public administration reform, and the integration of national minorities. It also notes "with worry" indications of restrictions on freedom of information and the independence of the media. It says agricultural reform has not advanced and there are serious deficiencies in environment protection and in promoting legislation for social security and the reform of the health system. But Nicholson also praised Romania for "positive signals" in economic performance, for its performance as chair of the OSCE, for the government's decision to accelerate the process of EU accession, and for improvement in the situation of abandoned children. Addressing PACE before the presentation of Nicholson's report, EU's commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen spoke of "a silver lining" in regard to "the situation of orphans and the adoption business" and said "things are beginning to change with the current government." MS

...PROMPTING PREMIER TO 'SEE THE GLASS HALF-FULL'

Reacting to the report, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said its findings must be read in juxtaposition with the "very critical" report last year, Romanian radio reported. He said there is "always a difference between change and its perception as such" and that he is "glad" that the visits to Bucharest of Verheugen, Baroness Nicholson and other EU officials have somewhat contributed to changes in the perception of Romania's performance. Nastase also added that "we are all aware that much is yet to be done," but that " the significance of the words of encouragement in Strasbourg is positive." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DEPLORES 'INTERNATIONALIZATION' OF ROMANIA'S PNTCD RIFT

Nastase also said it is "unfair" of the wing in the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) led by Victor Ciorbea to have alerted the PACE Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to the alleged intentions to "liquidate" the PNTCD, Mediafax reported. On 4 September, PPCD parliamentary group Chairman Hans-Gert Poettering said during the PACE debates on Romania that he is "worried by the decision to withdraw the status of a political party from the PNTCD." Nastase said he has instructed Romanian representatives to explain that "in Romania there are two PNTCDs" and the conflict between that party's two wings must await the decision of the judiciary. The Bucharest Municipal Tribunal last week refused to register the merger between the wing led by Ciorbea and the National Alliance Christian Democratic, with the implicit result that the dissident wing is now the only legally registered formation. The Ciorbea wing appealed the decision on 4 September. MS

ROMANIAN LOCAL ADMINISTRATION IN FLUX

No less than one-quarter of mayors elected in the June 2000 local elections have since changed their political allegiance, Romanian television reported on 4 September, citing a study conducted by the Institute of Public Policy. Most of the migrant mayors (534) switched to the ruling Social Democratic Party and most losses were suffered by the extraparliamentary Alliance for Romania, which now has only a quarter of the mayors it elected in 2000. MS

ROMANIAN COURT TO CONSIDER CASE OF CZECH MURDER SUSPECT

Czech Businessman Frantisek Priplata, who has been detained in Romania for a year on murder charges, has been transferred from a prison in Satu Mare to the Jilava prison near Bucharest, ahead of the 12 September hearing on his case at the Supreme Court, CTK reported on 4 September, citing Czech Consul Petr Riha. Priplata was detained in September 2000 and charged with having ordered the murder of Iasi Tepro trade union leader Virgil Sahleanu. Sahleanu had campaigned for the nullification of a contract under which the Czech company Zelezarny Veseli acquired a majority stake in the Tepro iron-rolling mill. Seven other suspects of complicity in the murder, including Tepro Director Victor Balan, have also been detained. MS

ROMANIAN HISTORY STUDENTS DIRECTED TO 'AUTHORITATIVE SOURCES'

Second-year history students taking correspondence courses at Cluj Babes-Bolyai University this year are using a textbook that cites such "authorities" in medieval history as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanian television reported on 4 September. The students complained that the professor who selected the texts in the manual displays a "lack of respect" for his students and say the textbook includes photocopied materials from books printed before 1989, among which is the former Romanian dictator's collection of speeches. The dean of the department, Professor Teodor Nicoara, said the selection of the texts is due to a "mistake." MS

RUSSIAN DUMA DEPUTIES SAY MOSCOW SHOULD 'IGNORE' ISTANBUL SUMMIT DECISIONS

In an interview with the official Transdniester news agency Olivia Press, Georgii Tikhonov, the head of the Russian State Duma's commission on the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, on 4 September said that "The Russian Federation will not honor its obligations agreed on at the November 1999 Istanbul summit," Flux reported. Tikhonov said that "in view of NATO's expansion to the east, Russia must consolidate its positions in Transdniester." He said that the Duma never ratified the summit's decisions and consequently they are not binding on Russia. Duma deputy Viktor Alksnis told Olivia-Press that Russia faces two options -- becoming a second-rate power European state, or bringing about the revival of its "geopolitical empire," with the second option being "in line with the millenary traditions of Russians." This second option, he added, will also "guide Moscow's policies towards the Transdniester." Both deputies agreed that "the Moldovan Transdniester Republic is a sovereign but internationally unrecognized state, while the Moldovan Republic is internationally recognized but not sovereign." MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN BULGARIA

Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Bulgarian counterpart Petar Stoyanov on 4 September called for international respect for Macedonia's territorial integrity and sovereignty and said the implementation of the agreement to disarm Albanian rebels is crucial to prevent the conflict from deteriorating into a civil war, international agencies reported. Kuchma said Ukraine support's NATO's efforts in Macedonia and is ready to contribute to the peace process in that country. The two presidents spoke after officials representing the sides signed seven cooperation agreements. One of these accords permits the transit of Ukrainian troops to join international peacekeeping forces in Kosova. Another agreement is on the repatriation of Ukrainian nationals who are illegally in Bulgaria. Kuchma called on Bulgaria "not to act to hastily" in introducing visa requirements for Ukrainians and to set a bilateral working group to examine the issue (Bulgaria pledged to introduce the requirement after the EU listed visa requirements on Bulgarians in April). Also signed were accords on cooperation between the two countries' interior ministries and customs services, as well as on combating crime. Kuchma was to meet with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 5 September before returning to Kyiv. MS

IMF CONCERNED OVER BULGARIAN REFORMS

The International Monetary Fund on 4 September said it is "concerned" over the possible effects of the fiscal reforms proposed last month by the new Bulgarian cabinet, AFP reported. IMF spokeswoman Piritta Sorsa said the organization is concerned over the potential impact of proposed tax reductions. An IMF official is expected in Sofia next week to sign a new agreement with the government. Meanwhile, the cabinet on 4 September replaced the head of the agency that supervises the sale of state property, without offering any explanation for the decision. Apostol Apostolov, the former executive director of the Bulgarian Stock Exchange, succeeds Levon Hampartsumyan as director of the Privatization Agency, AP reported. Hampartsumyan had been appointed by the previous Bulgarian cabinet. MS




ROMANIA CRITICIZES MOLDOVA'S DECISION TO HALT SALE OF ENERGY NETWORKS


By Eugen Tomiuc

The Romanian government last week criticized a decision by Moldova to cancel the sell-off of two of the country's electricity networks in which two private Romanian energy companies had expressed interest.

Moldovan officials earlier last week announced that the sell-off of two of the countries biggest distribution networks (REDs) -- RED North and RED Northwest -- had been canceled.

The decision came as a Moldovan court ruled that shares of RED North must be auctioned off to partially repay the $5 million Moldova owes the Ukrainian company Energoalians for electricity sales over the past few years. According to the ruling, Energoalians has priority in buying the shares.

The announcement came after Electrica and Termoelectrica -- two Romanian energy firms interested in the privatization of the Moldovan networks -- sent experts to Moldova to assess the situation.

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was quick to criticize the decision to cancel the sell-off and repay the debts to the Ukrainians with shares in the two companies.

"It is not normal, when we want to participate in [the Moldovan] electricity networks sell-off, to learn that [Moldova's energy] debts to Ukraine have been transformed into shares in these networks, and that the public bidding -- in which two Romanian firms were involved -- was canceled two or three days ago," Nastase said.

The Romanian premier warned that Romania might request similar treatment from Moldova, which owes Bucharest some $32 million in unpaid energy bills. He also urged Romanian authorities and companies to be more pragmatic and aggressive in tackling the issue of Moldova's debts to Romania.

Romania and Moldova share what they call a "privileged relationship" based on kinship and common language. Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and some 65 percent of its 4.5 million population is Romanian.

However, economic cooperation between the two countries has been very limited in the decade since Moldova proclaimed independence from the Soviet Union. Both Romania and Moldova -- with monthly per capita incomes of some $100 and $30 respectively -- are among the poorest European states.

But while Romania is gradually shifting toward integration into Western structures, Moldova -- which voted Communists back into power earlier this year -- has recently begun to lean further toward Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics.

Moldova's Communist president, Vladimir Voronin, says his pro-Moscow orientation is based mainly on economic pragmatism. Moldova has long been heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, while the huge Russian market can easily absorb Moldova's main products -- wine, tobacco, and foodstuffs.

Russia is by far Moldova's largest trading partner, receiving almost 40 percent of Moldovan exports, while Romania accounts for a mere 9 percent. Some 35 percent of Moldovan imports originate in Russia and Ukraine, compared with less than 16 percent in Romania.

Moldova also owes Russia some $600 million in unpaid energy bills, making it vulnerable to Russian pressure -- as happened last winter, when Russia temporarily cut off gas deliveries because of late payments.

Foreign direct investment in Moldova accounts for a mere $350 million. Russia constitutes the main foreign investor, with some $150 million -- or more than 40 percent -- invested.

When he came to power in April, Voronin also pledged to bring Moldova into the fledgling Russia-Belarus Union. But little has been done so far, and a visit earlier last week to Minsk by Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev ended with no mention of the union. And in an interview with Moldovan Radio on 4 September, Moldova's new foreign minister, Nicolae Dudau, said that declarations made earlier by the country's leadership on the intention to join the union "remain valid," but that "does not mean Moldova is ready to join the union now, since its structures are still being molded."

Despite Voronin's communist rhetoric, Tarlev -- a technocrat -- is increasingly conscious of the troubles Moldova's economy is facing as winter draws near. On 30 August, he indicated his government's interest in increased economic cooperation with Romania -- which may become an alternative source of energy during winter.

The same day, Tarlev also tried to water down the fledgling privatization dispute with Bucharest. He refused to comment on Nastase's remarks regarding the cancellation of the deal, and said Moldova is willing to improve its economic relations with Bucharest.

But he defended the decision to cancel the sell-off of the two energy networks, saying Moldova "has not lost anything." Tarlev also pointed out that the deal is solely his government's business: "Each state has its own major interests and has the right to modify, to solve, or to initiate certain issues," he said.

Tarlev also announced that he will meet with Nastase and Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh in Chisinau in mid-October. The meeting, he said, was meant to improve economic cooperation between Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine.


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