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Newsline - October 24, 2001




ANTHRAX SCARE SPREADS ACROSS RUSSIA

Russian news agencies on 23 October reported an increasing number of reports from various parts of the country, including one closed city, of letters containing white powders that many feared contained anthrax spores. PG

RUSHAILO CALLS FOR PREVENTIVE MEASURES AGAINST BIOTERRORISM

Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo on 23 October called for improving preventive measures against bioterrorism as part of the effort to counter terrorism in general, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, however, the Duma decided to delay consideration of the matter, the news service reported the same day. PG

PAPER SAYS U.S. HAS RECOGNIZED RUSSIA'S 'NATURAL DOMINANCE' OF CIS

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October said that "Washington [now] recognizes Russia's right to a 'natural dominance' in the post-Soviet states. An attempt at neutralizing Russian influence in the Transcaucasus has unambiguously failed. The West, the U.S. in particular, turned out to be too far away to establish absolute dominance over the region while Russia's rivals nearby showed themselves to be insufficiently strong and not quite experienced players. The Transcaucasus battle of three historical empires -- Russian, Turkish, and Iranian -- turned out to be lost by Tehran and Ankara and may be fully won by Moscow quite soon." PG

SHEBARSHIN SAYS U.S. FAR RIGHT, NOT BIN LADEN, MAY HAVE PERPETRATED 11 SEPTEMBER TERRORIST ACTS

Leonid Shebarshin, the former head of Soviet foreign intelligence, said in an interview published in "Pravda" on 23 October that he does not exclude the possibility that "ultra-right extremists" in the U.S. may have been behind the terrorist attacks of 11 September. He noted that certain investors appear to have made enormous profits by their stock manipulations immediately preceding the terrorist attacks, a possible indication that "someone knew about the operation in advance." Shebarshin added that up to now no convincing evidence has been made public that Osama bin Laden was responsible for the attacks. He insisted that Russia must not under any circumstances allow itself to be drawn into participating in any U.S.-led counterterrorist operations. PG

MOSCOW READY TO SUPPORT COUNTERTERRORIST EFFORT BUT EXPECTS WESTERN UNDERSTANDING ON CHECHNYA

In an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said that the main difficulty in combating international terrorism is that there is no agreed upon definition of terrorism. One example of differences of opinion about terrorism concerns Chechnya, where the West has been unwilling until recently to understand that Russia is engaged in a counterterrorist effort. He called on the West to end double standards in its assessment of events in Chechnya, noting that there has been some progress in that regard. VY

RUSSIANS SAID AGAIN INTERESTED IN FOREIGN NEWS

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October, Russians are once again interested in news and events abroad as a result of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. and the conflict in Afghanistan. For the last 15 years, the paper said, Russians have focused almost exclusively on domestic developments but now once again are looking outward. PG

PUTIN PLEASED WITH JOSPIN MEETING

President Vladimir Putin said on 23 October that he and other Russian officials had good meetings earlier that day with visiting French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and had found agreement on almost all issues, including combating international terrorism and support for maintaining in force the 1972 ABM Treaty, Russian agencies reported. The French delegation and their Russian hosts also agreed on the need to destroy the economic infrastructure of international terrorism and to develop a distinctly European counterterrorist effort. PG

PUTIN TELLS DEPUTIES HE'S CONCERNED ABOUT WORLD ECONOMY...

President Putin on 23 October told leaders of the Duma factions that they should "keep in mind" as they work on the 2002 draft budget that there exists "a definite concern in connection with the dynamics of the midterm development of the world economy and the prices for energy sources," Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, however, "The Moscow Times" noted the same day that Russian domestic economic statistics are in almost every case positive and improving. After the meeting, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that President Putin has convinced him and other Russian parliamentarians of the need to close the electronic listening post at Lourdes in Cuba, RIA-Novosti reported. PG/VY

...BACKS SALARY INCREASE FOR MILITARY

According to "Izvestiya" on 23 October, Deputy Defense Minister Lyubov Kudelina has reported that President Putin has approved a recommendation from the ministry to increase the salaries of soldiers at the beginning of 2002 as part of the antiterrorist and military reform efforts. Paychecks for those serving in combat zones will rise 70 percent, and commanders in these hot spots will get even higher raises. At the same time, "Vremya MN" noted the same day that the proposed increases are less than those required to make up for inflation and more funds will be required to meet these increases than the 2002 budget specifies. VY

GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES PAYING DEBT OFF EARLY

The government on 23 October discussed the principles to be followed in any paying off early of any part of Russia's international indebtedness, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 23 October, Russian agencies reported. Kudrin said that the cabinet has not discussed just how much of the debt it might be prepared to prepay. PG

GOVERNMENT PLANS TO INTRODUCE MORE RESTRICTIVE RELIGIOUS CODE

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 23 October that the Russian government is working on amendments to the existing legal code regulating religion that would restrict still further the activities of foreign religious groups on Russian territory and broaden the definition of religious "extremists" against whom the authorities would be authorized to act, Russian and Western news agencies reported. PG

MOSCOW SAID NOT TO PLAN TO SET UP NEW BASES ABROAD

Lieutenant General Aleksandr Rukshin, the deputy chief of the General Staff, told a meeting of the Federation group of the Federation Council on 23 October that Moscow has no plans to open bases abroad, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Major General Yurii Lebedev, who was involved with the Lourdes listening post in Cuba, told ITAR-TASS the same day that Moscow's decision to close that base should prompt the U.S. to close one of its listening posts abroad. Russian officials have suggested that the closing of a radar site in Norway would be a suitable response. PG

DUMA PLANS APPEAL TO PUTIN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

The Duma is planning to appeal to President Putin to take action against illegal immigration, Interfax reported on 23 October. Among the actions the deputies of several of the parliament's committee seek are a prompt review of visa-free travel agreements with some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and an enhanced effort to have all CIS governments ratify the March 1998 Convention on Cooperation in the Struggle Against Illegal Immigration. PG

UNITY WANTS MORE FOR DEFENSE

Vladimir Pekhtin, the leader of the Unity faction in the Duma, said on 23 October that his group plans to ask President Putin to increase defense spending from additional revenues to the budget by 1 billion rubles ($350 million), Interfax reported. PG

POKHMELKIN COMPLAINS THAT SPS IS TOO SUBSERVIENT TO GOVERNMENT

Viktor Pokhmelkin, the deputy leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in the Duma, said on 23 October that his party is far too willing to follow the positions of "the ruling bureaucracy" rather than liberal principles, Interfax reported. He added that "either the SPS will change its line or the fate of the party will be very sad." Pokhmelkin also said that the danger is growing that the Duma is being converted into a servant of the executive authorities rather than of the people, and he called for the formation of "a nonconformist wing in the Duma because not only the majority of SPS deputies but also to a remarkable degree the Yabloko fraction occupy a conformist position on the most important issues." PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS AGAINST HAVING INTERIOR MINISTRY SUPERVISE MIGRATION

Russian human rights and migration rights groups on 23 October spoke out against Interior Ministry control over migration issues, Interfax reported. The groups, which included among others the Forum of Resettlement Organizations and the Committee for Assistance to Refugees, said that "force ministries by their very definition are not in a position to implement national migration policy and consequently they should be freed from such incompatible functions before it is too late." PG

KOZAK SAYS RAILWAYS MINISTER TRIED TO OBSTRUCT JUSTICE

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy chief of the presidential administration and head of the Commission for Legal Reform, said on 23 October that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko's appeal to President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov against the Prosecutor-General's Office was "wrong, illegal, and Soviet-like," RIA-Novosti reported. Aksenenko has been charged with corruption, and he has complained that the country's political leadership has not supported him in fighting the charge. VY

RUSSIA, U.S. DISCUSS STEEL EXPORTS DEAL

Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedkov on 23 October met with U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Faryar Sherzad in Moscow to discuss a voluntary Russian reduction in the export of steel to the United States, RBK reported. Washington is concerned about Russian dumping of steel on the American market and has threatened to impose punitive tariffs. Medvedkov said Moscow would like U.S. assistance to retrain any Russian steel workers laid off as a result of any compromise on exports. VY

IVANOV, SHARANSKY DISCUSS MIDEAST CRISIS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 23 October that he has discussed the situation in the Middle East with Natan Sharansky, who is the Israeli deputy prime minister responsible for ties with Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said Moscow and Washington will step up their efforts to overcome the current "dangerous phase" of confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians. VY

MOSCOW OFFERS TOKYO A DEAL ON KURILES FISHING QUOTAS

Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Losyukov said on 22 October that Moscow will take into account Japanese concerns about Russian sales of fishing quotas near the disputed Kurile Islands if Japan will make reciprocal concessions, ITAR-TASS reported. Losyukov said Russia is especially interested in having the Japanese authorities take measures against Russian poachers who sell to Japan. VY

FOREIGN MINISTRY OPENS OFFICE IN GORNO-ALTAISK

A branch of the Foreign Ministry's representation office has been opened in Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of the Altai Republic, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 October. The office will help businessmen and others with foreign travel and investments. PG

MOSCOW SAYS IT WILL BE IN COMPLIANCE WITH CFE BY END OF 2001

The Defense Ministry's press service on 23 October said that Russia will be in compliance with the limitations imposed by the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe by the end of 2001 after Moscow removes or destroys certain equipment in the Transdniester region, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW OPPOSES FOREIGN INTERVENTION IN COLOMBIA

Foreign Minister spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 23 October that Moscow is opposed to the use of foreign troops against terrorist groups in Colombia, just as the Russian government generally opposes such intervention in all but the most extraordinary circumstances, Interfax reported. PG

GREF SAYS DEVELOPING FAR EAST A PRIORITY

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said in Khabarovsk on 23 October that developing the Russian Far East and Trans-Baikal region is a priority for Moscow in the coming years, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishaev said the same day that the regions must struggle against federal decisions that harm the lives of people in the Far East, Interfax reported. PG

ALTERNATIVE SERVICE POPULAR IN KHABAROVSK

The first 10 young men called up in the draft this fall in Khabarovsk said that they will perform alternative service as firemen, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 October. Meanwhile, in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" the same day, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov warned against extending draft exemptions to teachers in urban schools. Doing that would mean that few young men would be willing to teach in rural schools, which currently attract many men who gain a draft exemption by working there. In an interview carried on RTR on 23 October, Colonel General Vladislav Putilin, the head of the mobilization administration of the General Staff, said that the draft system needs to be overhauled in order ensure that the military will have sufficient manpower to meet its needs. PG

KIROV OBLAST TO BUILD HOUSING FOR KOMI MINERS

Kirov Oblast Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov said on 23 October that his administration will take over responsibility for building housing for Komi miners, Interfax-Northwest reported. Sergeenkov said he took this step because local officials have failed to fulfill their promise to the miners last year to provide housing for them. PG

CENTRAL FEDERAL DISTRICT DOESN'T NEED MEDIATORS FOR ECONOMIC TIES WITH OTHER REGIONS

Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy of the Central federal district and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 23 October that there is no need to create additional structures to help promote economic ties among the federal districts, Interfax reported. Luzhkov also said that it is time to begin to draw on Soviet experience, because that system had many "positive aspects," including centralization and powerful forms of cooperation. PG

UKRAINIAN CULTURAL CENTER IN MOSCOW FIREBOMBED

Two vandals set fire to the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Moscow on 21 October but did little harm, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 October. The paper said that the attackers had thrown leaflets criticizing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and condemning Ukraine for downing the Russian aircraft over the Black Sea with an errant missile. Neither Russian nor Ukrainian media, the paper said, have devoted much attention to the firebombing or explained what it means. PG

PRO-MILOSEVIC DEMONSTRATION IN MOSCOW

A small group picketed the UN Information Center in Moscow on 23 October to show their support for former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who now faces war crimes charges in The Hague, Interfax reported. The marchers carried signs with slogans like "UN! Don't Be a Puppet for NATO" and "Those doing the judging in The Hague will finish up in the Gulag." PG

ENERGY MINISTRY SUGGESTS RUSSIA CAN'T YET AFFORD PRIVATIZATION OF ENERGY SECTOR

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 October, Deputy Energy Minister Viktor Kudryavii said Russia lacks the resources to create a competitive market in energy and consequently must focus on the creation of "a single energy system with minimal expenditures and maximum reliability." PG

FUTURE PENSION INCREASES SEEN AT RISK

According to an article in "Izvestiya" on 23 October, the promised 1 November increases in pensions will not take place and the financial problems in the pension fund are so great that even the February 2002 indexation the government has forecast is at risk. PG

RUSSIA, ROMANIA CLOSE TO AGREEING ON BILATERAL TREATY...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said following talks in Moscow on 24 October that on both sides there is "political will" to finalize negotiations on the long-pending bilateral treaty between the two countries, Romanian and international media reported. Ivanov said experts representing the sides will meet in Moscow in the next 10 days to discuss the treaty's details, and Geoana said that past "inhibitions and difficulties linked to the recent common history have been overcome." Upon his return from a recent visit to Moscow, Romanian Chamber of Deputies Chairman Valer Dorneanu said that Romania should no longer condition the signing of the treaty on including in it a denunciation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and on the return to Romania of the state treasury sent to Russia during World War I. Geoana told the BBC that "the past must be left to historians; politicians must look to the future." Romanian reports say Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is likely to visit Moscow "in the upcoming weeks" and Ivanov said the two countries' presidents are likely to meet in Moscow at the beginning of next year. Geoana was also received by Prime Minster Kasyanov, with whom he discussed relaunching economic relations between the two countries. At the same time, the joint governmental commission on economic relations met in Moscow and Romanian reports said Bucharest will now be able to "regain its position on the traditional Russian market." MS

...DISCUSS RUSSIAN PARTICIPATION IN OSCE EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN CRISIS

In his capacity as OSCE rotating chairman, Geoana also discussed with Ivanov efforts to bring about an end to the Afghanistan crisis, Romanian media and ITAR-TASS reported. Geoana said that after a provisional government is formed in that country, the OSCE will play an active role in preparing the country for holding democratic elections, adding that "the OSCE has no preference in the solution, but it is obvious that it will be necessary to take into account the specific features of the country's ethnic composition." Ivanov said Russia intends to take an active part in the forthcoming OSCE foreign ministers' summit, scheduled for early December in Bucharest. Geoana also said Romania "salutes the spectacular change" in relations between Russia on one hand and the U.S., NATO, and the EU, on the other, and that this change will seriously contribute to the OSCE's capability to promote international security, as well as in fighting international terrorism. MS

RUSSIA PLANS TO CUT TITANIUM PRODUCTION 20 PERCENT

Valentin Yachmenev, the deputy chief of the world's largest producer of titanium, Verkhnesaldino Metals, said on 23 October that his firm plans to reduce output by 20 percent next year because of falling international demand, Interfax reported. More than two-thirds of Russia's titanium is sold to the largest international aircraft producers, including Airbus, Boeing, and Rolls Royce. VY

LUKOIL READY TO PURCHASE BEREZOVSKY'S SHARE OF TV-6

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said on 23 October that his firm is prepared to purchase the shares in TV-6 held by embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky, Interfax-ANI reported. But Alekperov added that LUKoil would do so only after all legal cases involving Berezovsky and the station have been resolved. PG

NTV TO BE BROADCAST IN UKRAINE

Interfax reported on 23 October that in the near future, a new company -- NTV-Ukraine -- will begin broadcasting the programs of NTV in Ukraine. The creators of NTV-Ukraine believe, the news agency said, that "the creation of a single information space is possible only on the foundation of a civilized approach to the distribution of information which observes all licensing and copyright laws." PG

PROSECUTORS BEGIN EXAMINATION OF 'KURSK'

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said on 23 October that he has created eight investigative groups to probe the wreck of the "Kursk" and to determine what caused the submarine to sink in August 2000, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Ustinov added that he is convinced on the basis of what he has seen so far that a torpedo explosion is insufficient to explain the sinking of the "Kursk." VY

PATRIARCHATE APPEALS FOR UNITY TO ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD

The Moscow Patriarchate has sent an appeal for unity to the meeting of the special assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad that has assembled in New York to choose a new leader because of the retirement of Metropolitan Vitalii, Interfax reported on 23 October. The Patriarchate's message said that all the historic causes that were responsible for the division between the Moscow church and the emigre church have been destroyed, and that it is now time for the Orthodox Church Abroad to reunite with the Mother Church. PG

MOSCOW CITY GOVERNMENT AGAINST DRIVERS' PROTESTS

Moscow city officials told Interfax-Moscow on 23 October that they are opposed to plans by drivers to protest traffic jams in the city by blowing car horns at particular times. Meanwhile, the news service reported, members of the Federation Council expressed concern that changes in the ways highway construction is financed may only make the situation on Russia's roads even more crowded, Interfax reported. PG

NOVOSIBIRSK COURT MOVES TO PROTECT HEIRS OF STALIN'S NAME

A court in Novosibirsk on 23 October ordered the withdrawal of registration for the Stalinist Bloc-Communists electoral group headed by Labor Russia leader Viktor Anpilov because the judges said that the group failed to comply with existing laws and failed to secure the written agreement from the relatives and heirs of Joseph Stalin to use his name in the title of the electoral bloc. PG

THIEVES STEAL POWER LINES IN VORKUTA, COFFEE IN MOSCOW

An official of the Vorkuta Electricity Network told Interfax-Northwest on 23 October that thieves have stolen 13.5 kilometers of power and telephone lines there since the start of 2001, doing 774,000 rubles ($26,000) worth of damages in the process. Meanwhile, in Moscow, thieves made off with 600 kilograms of coffee on 22 October, the news service reported the following day. PG




ARMENIAN, GEORGIAN PRESIDENTS SIGN FRIENDSHIP TREATY

On the first day of his two-day official visit to Yerevan, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian signed a treaty on friendship, cooperation, and mutual security that determines guidelines for bilateral relations for the next 10-15 years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 October. Under its terms, the two sides pledge specifically not to enter any alliance that the other considers hostile. The two presidents told journalists after their talks that they focused on unresolved conflicts, including the recent fighting in Abkhazia, and on the need to expand trade and economic cooperation. Shevardnadze again pledged that once the Abkhaz conflict is resolved rail traffic from Russia via Georgia to Armenia will be restored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). Also on 23 October, Georgian and Armenian energy sector officials signed an agreement on the repayment of Georgia's debts for electricity received from Armenia in 1998-1999, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES APPEAL TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

Five Armenian political parties and two nonpartisan groups that between them account for the majority of seats in the 131-deputy parliament addressed an appeal on 23 October to the European Parliament not to drop from is annual assessment of Turkey's progress toward EU membership any reference to the need for Turkey to acknowledge the 1915 killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Unlike last year's, the draft resolution for 2001 at present makes no mention of the genocide. Instead, it welcomes the creation of the unofficial Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2001). The Armenian parties argued that the commission does not represent the views of the majority of Armenians and its existence does not justify the European Parliament's failure to continue to pressure Turkey over genocide recognition. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT LOWERS MAXIMUM POLICE CUSTODY

Deputies approved on 23 October in the second and final reading a proposal by the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) Party to lower from 96 to 72 hours the maximum time a person may be held in police custody without charges having been brought against him, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Orinats Yerkir leader Artur Baghdasarian called the move "an important step toward the protection of human rights."

RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO EXPEL CHECHEN MILITANTS

Boris Gryzlov traveled to Baku on 23 October for talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ramil Usubov and with President Heidar Aliev, Turan and AP reported. Meeting with Aliev, Gryzlov argued that, as the two countries have agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism, it is incumbent on Baku to extradite to Russia all refugees from Chechnya who, Gryzlov continued, should be screened before reentering Russia to identify any "terrorists." Aliyev for his part highlighted the need for cooperation to intercept and arrest sturgeon poachers in the Caspian. Gryzlov discussed with Usubov ways to crack down on drug trafficking from Afghanistan via CIS states and to increase security in border regions to prevent the uncontrolled migration within the CIS of refugees from Afghanistan. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DENIES PLOTTING COUP D'ETAT

In a statement released in Baku on 23 October, former President Ayaz Mutalibov, who since his ouster in May 1992 has lived in exile in Moscow, denied claims by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry that his supporters planned to overthrow the present Azerbaijani leadership in May 2001, Turan reported. Two days earlier, Adalat Askeroglu, the editor in chief of the newspaper "Elin Sozu" ("Vox populi"), which supports Mutalibov, was assaulted and stabbed on the premises of the Azerbaijan Publishing House which houses the editorial offices of numerous print publications, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES FOR BUDGET SEQUESTER

Georgian parliament deputies voted on 23 October by 124 votes in favor with 28 against to cut budget spending in 2001 by 164.6 million laris ($79.1 million), or 15 percent, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. On 19 October, deputies voted to postpone debate on the planned cuts until President Shevardnadze identified and dismissed those responsible for the budget shortfall, but at a meeting on 20 October, Shevardnadze persuaded them to resume debate on the planned cuts and pledged to take action within two weeks against those ministers responsible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT, NGO DENOUNCE PLANNED INCREASE IN TBILISI ELECTRICITY TARIFFS

Parliament deputies on 24 October criticized the announcement the previous day that electricity tariffs in Tbilisi will be raised from 9.8 to 12 tetris per kilowatt-hour as of 1 November, while tariffs for some other regions of the country will be lowered, Caucasus Press reported. In addition, AES-Telasi, the U.S. company that runs the Tbilisi power network, will introduce a standard monthly charge of 2 laris ($0.91). An NGO representing residents of the Tbilisi district of Vake plans to stage street protests against the planned increases. LF

POLL DEMONSTRATES GEORGIANS' LOW SPENDING POWER

According to a poll conducted by the Strategic Research Center and summarized by "Alia" on 23 October, 42 percent of Georgians questioned spend less than 2 laris per day. That group was made up predominantly of teachers and students. Almost half those polled spend less than 50 laris per month and 33 percent 50-100 laris per month, while only 1.5 percent of the sample spends more than 1,000 laris per month. The minimal monthly living wage is estimated at 110-120 laris. LF

ABKHAZ OFFICIALS CLAIM KODORI GORGE 'QUIET'

Abkhazia's First Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba told Russian journalists on 23 October that the Kodori gorge is "quiet," but that a few scattered small groups of fighters who entered the gorge two weeks ago are still at large in Ochamchira and Gulripsh Raions south of the gorge, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Agrba also claimed that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who has been named as the commander of the Chechen contingent, eluded Abkhaz troops and crossed back into Georgia through the upper reaches of the Kodori gorge and is currently in Tbilisi, according to Interfax. LF

KAZAKHSTAN QUALIFIES INTEREST IN BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE

Kazakhstan's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Rashid Ibraev, told journalists in Baku on 24 October that the Kazakh leadership has commissioned a feasibility study to determine the benefits and drawbacks of exporting oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, but cannot at this stage make a commitment to export a specific quantity of crude by that route because the precise quantities of oil in the Kashagan field are not known, Turan reported. He noted that in 2005, Kazakhstan will need to export 50 million tons and in 2010 100 million, whereas the existing Tengiz-Novorossiisk pipeline has an annual throughput capacity of only 60 million tons. Ibraev said that 10 million tons could be exported by tanker across the Caspian to Baku and then through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, but that if the volume of oil extracted increases further, then a decision will have to be made on whether to extend the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to the Kazakh oil terminus of Aqtau. Doing so, he pointed out, would be problematic if the legal status of the Caspian remains unresolved. Ibraev said the Kazakh leadership is still considering alternative oil export pipeline routs via Iran and China. LF

KYRGYZ FARMERS PROTEST LOW COTTON PRICES

Some 150 farmers in the village of Membekov in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast blocked the main Bishkek-Osh highway for seven hours on 22 October to protest the government's failure to honor its pledge to buy cotton at 20 soms (about $0.4) per kilo, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Four protesters were arrested and a further 17 fined for disturbing public order. Cotton prices on world markets are currently very low, and farmers are unable to sell their crop even for half that sum. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev reported to parliament on 23 October that this year's cotton harvest amounts to 89,000 tons. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT SEEKS UN BACKING FOR GAS EXPORT PIPELINE VIA AFGHANISTAN

Meeting on 22 October in Ashgabat with UN Deputy Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima, Saparmurat Niyazov solicited that organization's support for a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, Turan and AP reported. Niyazov said such a pipeline "could help restore normal life" in Afghanistan. Earlier plans in the late 1990s to route a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan were thwarted by the civil war in Afghanistan. LF

U.S. TO ASSIST UZBEKISTAN IN DESTROYING BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS

Under an agreement initialed in Tashkent on 22 October, the U.S. will help Uzbekistan destroy stockpiles of Soviet-era biological weapons on Vozrozhdenie Island in the Aral Sea, Reuters and AP reported the following day. The site is believed to contain quantities of anthrax spores, according to "The New York Times" on 23 October. In 1999, the U.S. provided Tashkent with funding for a two-year program to close down the former Soviet chemical weapons plant at Nukus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999). LF




MINSK COURT TRIES ALLEGED KIDNAPPERS OF ORT JOURNALIST

The Minsk Oblast Court on 24 October began hearing a case against five suspected kidnappers of ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, who disappeared in July 2000, Belapan reported. The defendants include Valery Ihnatovich, a former member of the Interior Ministry's special task force Almaz. According to the prosecution, Ihnatovich and his group kidnapped Zavadski in revenge for the newspaper interview he gave revealing that some Almaz commandos had fought against Russian federal troops in Chechnya. Earlier this year, two Belarusian investigators said a government-organized death squad is responsible for the killing of Zavadski and two opposition politicians, Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). In explaining why the trial of Ihnatovich and his group is being conducted behind closed doors, Judge Heorhiy Khomich told the agency that "[the court wants] to protect the victims and others." JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS STRIKE TO GET MORE STATE SUPPORT

Some 140 coal mines continued their protest for the second day on 23 October by refusing to deliver coal to customers, New Channel television reported. The protest was sparked by what the miners see as a meager state subsidy to the coal sector projected in the 2002 budget draft that is currently before the parliament. A state program named Ukrainian Coal is calling for 6 billion hryvni ($1.13 billion) to the coal sector, while the draft budget envisages only one-third of this sum. "We have practically exhausted all civilized ways. We met the prime minister twice. We were given vague promises that the financing would be reconsidered. But the government has not actually taken any measures," the network quoted a representative of the Trade Union of Coal Industry Employees as saying. JM

KYIV TO FORM GROUP TO WATCH FOR FLIGHT SECURITY

Transport Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 23 October said the government will create an agency, subordinate to the Transport Ministry and coordinated with the International Civil Aviation Organization, to improve civilian air-flight security and investigate air crashes, AP reported. The decision came after Ukrainian air-defense forces were blamed for accidentally downing a Russian Tu-154 plane with an S-200 missile on 4 October. Meanwhile, a representative of the Ukrainian airline Aerosvit told journalists in Kyiv the same day that Ukraine's air-defense troops have always used passenger plane flights for practicing radar targeting, New Channel television reported. The network added that the S-200 is designed in a way that enables it to hit an aircraft only if the aircraft has been targeted by military radar. JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER'S DRIVER, BODYGUARD FOUND DEAD

Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch's driver Pavlo Poterayko was found dead in a Kyiv park on 22 October, Interfax reported on 24 October. Later the same day and in the same park, a police patrol detained an apparently intoxicated man who turned out to be Plyushch's bodyguard Oleksandr Sklyar. Sklyar asked the patrol to call for an ambulance but died before it arrived. Deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk told the parliament on 24 October that, according to an official statement by the Interior Ministry, both men died of heart problems. JM

UKRAINIAN TV AVAILABLE IN RUSSIA VIA INTERNET

On 23 October in Moscow, the strana.ru information service and the Ukraine.ru information center presented their joint Internet project that makes it possible for Russian audiences to watch Ukraine's leading TV networks UT-1, UT-2, Inter, STB, One Plus One, and ICTV in real time on the Internet. "For the first time, Ukrainian television can be watched all over the Russian Federation," UNIAN quoted Gleb Pavlovskii, the project leader and director of Russia's Effective Politics Center, as saying. JM

GOVERNMENT NOT TO SELL STAKE IN ESTONIAN AIR

The cabinet decided on 23 October to support the proposal by Transport and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson not to sell the 34 percent state-owned share in Estonian Air, ETA reported. The privatization contract inked in 1996, under which 49 percent of the airline was sold to the Danish Maersk Air and 17 percent to the Baltic Cresco Investment Group, prohibited the state from selling more of its shares for five years. The airline lost 56 million kroons ($3.2 million) in 1999 and 9.8 million kroons last year, but expected to be profitable this year. The decision not to sell was influenced by the knowledge that the use of airliners in the terrorist attacks on the United States sharply reduced the potential sale price. SG

LATVIA CHANGES POSITION IN EU TALKS ABOUT FREE LABOR MOVEMENT

The government decided on 23 October to change its position in EU membership talks in regard to the free movement of labor, BNS reported. Chief EU negotiator Andris Kesteris said Latvia now seeks the right to protect its domestic labor market by applying to any new EU country the same transition periods that current EU members can impose. Latvia, which along with Hungary and Slovakia had already closed this chapter, decided to change its position in light of the expectation that the Czech Republic will soon gain such a right. Subsequently, other membership candidates, such as Estonia and Lithuania, would also likely be able to obtain it. Latvia will present its changed position in the next round of talks in Brussels on 25-26 October, at which it also hopes to complete the chapters on customs union and fishing. SG

LITHUANIA, U.S. SIGN EXTRADITION AGREEMENT

Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania John Tefft signed an agreement on extradition in Vilnius on 23 October, ELTA reported. The agreement provides for the extradition of people for actions defined as criminal by both countries' laws and carrying a sentence of more than one-year imprisonment. It replaces the Lithuanian-U.S. accords signed in 1924 and 1934, and will come into force after ratification by the parliaments. The officials also exchanged the ratification letters for the bilateral agreement on investment promotion and protection that had been signed in 1998. SG

LITHUANIA, AZERBAIJAN SIGN TREATIES ON LEGAL AID

Justice Ministers Vytautas Markevicius and Fikrat Mamadov signed treaties on legal aid and handover of convicted persons in Vilnius on 23 October, BNS reported. These are the first bilateral accords between the two states. The treaty on legal aid provides for the exchange of information and cooperation in civil and family actions as well as in criminal cases. The second treaty will allow persons convicted of crimes in the other country to serve their sentences in their homeland. There are currently three Azerbaijani nationals in Lithuania's prisons, but no Lithuanians in Azerbaijan's prisons. SG

POLAND, GERMANY SEEK LABOR MOVEMENT DEAL TO EASE EU ENLARGEMENT

Polish Premier Leszek Miller met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin on 24 October, where they discussed a German-led proposal to prevent Polish workers from entering the EU labor market for up to seven years after Poland joins the EU. Miller and Schroeder said their labor ministers will open bilateral talks aimed at raising the Polish labor contingent in Germany, dpa reported. "This is a very interesting recommendation," Miller said. Schroeder stressed that the seven-year transition period demanded by Berlin is "not negotiable." JM

BELGIAN PREMIER URGES WARSAW TO ACCELERATE EU ACCESSION TALKS

"I have come to Poland with a message from all 15 EU member states, encouraging Poland to redouble its efforts to speed up the negotiation process," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said in Warsaw on 23 October, following a meeting with Polish Premier Leszek Miller. Miller said his government is determined to complete the negotiation process as planned, by the end of 2002, in order to secure Poland's entry in the first wave of EU expansion expected in 2004. Miller added, however, that no specific decisions were made at the meeting, saying that the government is still working on Poland's new approach in EU negotiations, AP reported. JM

POLISH DEPUTY SPEAKER 'SUSPENDS' PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

Self-Defense farmers union leader and Sejm deputy speaker Andrzej Lepper on 23 October said he is suspending his parliamentary immunity in order to face pending trials. "I am suspending my immunity and the courts have received letters to this effect -- the court in Elblag, the court in Slubice, the court in Gdansk, and the court in Lodz -- that I will not take advantage of the protection of immunity," Polish Radio quoted Lepper as saying. Lepper, who has become notorious for organizing violent antigovernment protests of farmers and using offensive language, is now facing charges in several Polish courts of slandering public officials and organizing illegal roadblocks. Former Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski commented that Poland's legislation does not allow the suspension parliamentary immunity, only the surrendering of it for specific cases. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT IN HOSPITAL WITH CHRONIC BRONCHITIS

Vaclav Havel was hospitalized on 23 October for chronic bronchitis but his personal physician said he may be released by the end of the week, Reuters reported. Havel, who has suffered from breathing disorders since a tumor was removed from one of his lungs in 1996, was prescribed antibiotics after his health deteriorated overnight. A presidential spokesman said all of Havel's engagements have been canceled until 26 October. Last month, Havel received electric-shock treatment for an irregular heartbeat. MS

CZECH COUNTERINTELLIGENCE WARNED AGAINST BIN LADEN CONTACTS IN 2000 REPORT

In its annual report for the year 2000, the Czech Counterintelligence Service (BIS) warned that terrorist Osama Bin Laden's contacts reach Central Europe and probably extend to the Czech Republic, the daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 24 October, citing the Internet English-language version of the report. The report said that "especially dangerous is the migration of Afghan, Chechen, and Balkan soldiers, who, after having obtained new identities, may radicalize the Islamic communities in various European countries." The report also said the "possibility that the Czech territory will be used in the future" by these migrants "cannot be ruled out." MS

ORIGIN OF ANTITANK MISSILE REMAINS A MYSTERY

Top officials in the Czech Republic and Slovakia said on 23 October that the antitank missile found in the vicinity of Prague airport on 18 October is not from the arsenal of their forces, dpa reported. Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross told CTK that the missile did not come from either the cache of his ministry's forces or from that of Czech police. In Bratislava, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the weapon did not come from her country's military cache either. Stocks of the Czechoslovak-made RPG-75 missile were split between the two countries following the 1993 "Velvet Divorce." MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER HOPES MELK PROCESS WILL BE CLOSED BY END OF NOVEMBER

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told CTK on 23 October that he hopes the Melk process of assessing the environmental impact of the Temelin nuclear power plant will be finalized by the end of November. Kavan confirmed that Czech and Austrian experts met in Vienna on 22 October to discuss the closure of the process, but declined to provide further information, saying only that the negotiations are ongoing and that "sensitive political matters" are being discussed at the level of ministers in charge of the negotiations -- himself and Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer. Kavan denied a statement by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel that the Czech side is demanding that the process be closed by the end of this week to allow the preliminary ending of Czech-EU negotiations on the energy chapter in the aquis communautaire. CTK said the chapter is not on the agenda of Czech-EU talks scheduled for 26 October in Brussels. MS

CZECH EDITOR SENTENCED FOR DEFAMATORY ARTICLES

Frantisek Zamecnik, the former editor in chief of "Nove Bruntalsko," which is published in Bruntal, northern Moravia, was sentenced on 23 October to 16 months in prison for having libeled former Bruntal Mayor Petr Krejci, Social Democratic Deputy Jaroslav Palas, and Ludmila Navarova, the editor of a rival local newspaper, in articles printed between September 1988 and November 1999, CTK reported. Zamecnik has been sentenced twice previously on similar charges, but those sentences were suspended. He said he is appealing the 23 October sentence. CTK said "Nove Bruntalsko" is "reportedly run by the former communist secret service." Its new editor in chief, communist activist David Pecha, faces prosecution for having "supported a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens" and for "scaremongering" after he called for the violent overthrow of the present political system. MS

INFAMOUS CZECH STREET IN USTI NAD LABEM RETURNS TO HEADLINES

Ethnic Czech inhabitants of Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem said on 23 October that some Roma living there must be evicted, CTK reported. They spoke at a meeting of the municipal council of the district in which Maticni Street is included. The district's mayor replied that he would like to evict Roma who do not pay rent to low-category apartments on the town's outskirts, but the council does not have such housing available. The mayor recommended that the 80 signatories of a petition launched last summer protesting the behavior of some Roma should launch legal proceedings. Maticni Street in Usti nad Labem acquired notoriety in the autumn of 1998 when a fence was built to allegedly protect ethnic Czech inhabitants of private houses on the street from the "noise and disorder" in municipal apartments on the street inhabited by Roma. The fence was eventually dismantled following Czech and international protests. MS

CZECHS TOLERATE SKINHEADS MORE THAN ROMA

Petr Hrala, the director of the Prague-based Opinion Window polling institute, on 23 October said some 20 percent of Czechs declared in a recently conducted survey that they sympathize with the goals of skinheads, though not with skinhead behavior, CTK reported. Hrala said the ratio of skinhead support is particularly high among youth. He said support of Roma is lower than that for skinheads, and 26 percent of the respondents to the survey replied that they would not mind having a skinhead as neighbor, but only 14 percent are prepared to have a Rom as a neighbor. MS

SLOVAK HEALTH MINISTER RECEIVES WHITE-POWDERED LETTER

A secretary working for Health Minister Roman Kovac discovered white powder in a letter received by Kovac on 23 October, CTK reported, citing Radio Twist. The letter was sent for analysis at the state laboratories in Banska Bystrica, but Kovac said he is "deeply convinced" that the letter was sent to him "as a joke by an idiot or someone who is not normal." The arrival of the letter was announced by an anonymous phone call and Kovac said an investigation should be opened to find that person, who would be charged with "scaremongering." Kovac is the third Slovak politician to receive a "suspected anthrax letter" after Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and parliamentary Chairman Jozef Migas. MS

SLOVAKIA PLANS NATO-COMPATIBLE ARMY BY 2010

Defense Minister Jozef Stank on 23 October presented to journalists the plans of his ministry for the reform of the Slovak army, Reuters reported. The reform will be carried out by 2010 and calls for the Slovak army to focus on nonmilitary threats such as terrorism, international crime, uncontrolled mass migration, and ecological catastrophes, rather than on traditional defense issues, Stank said. He added that the military is in great need of an overhaul. "Recent analyses showed a low readiness for military action, obsolete technical equipment, and nonfulfillment of training programs," he said. Peter Novotnak, the head of the army's planning staff, said, "We plan to build up a small but efficient and [fully] professional army by 2006," when army personnel would be cut from the current 42,600 to 24,500. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTRY WANTS SUPERSONIC FIGHTERS

Defense Ministry State Secretary Jozef Pivarci told journalists on 23 October that the plan for the modernization of the army, which was presented the same day, envisages the purchase of 18 aircraft, with no specification being made on whether these are to be subsonic or supersonic aircraft, CTK reported. Pivarci said the government and the parliament will make the decision on what kind of plane to purchase, but added that his ministry favors supersonic fighters. He said 18 subsonic planes will not meet the needs of the Slovak air force, and if the decision is to purchase that sort of aircraft, their number would have to be increased. MS

CZECH TV MOGUL RECEIVES SLOVAK LICENSE

The Media License Council approved on 23 October the purchasing of TV Global by Czech television mogul Vladimir Zelezny, CTK reported. A spokeswoman for the council said the body has approved the purchase of a majority stake in TV Global by the Nova Television subsidiary Ceska produkcni invest (CPI). Zelezny said in a recent interview that he might rename TV Global Slovak Nova or Nova Slovakia. The council accepted Zelezny's conditions for the purchase by allotting transmission bands to TV Global in Bratislava, Zilina, and Hlohovec, and the station will now be able to cover most of Slovakia's territory. Zelezny's main rival, Slovak television mogul Pavol Rusko, the co-owner of Markiza television, refused to comment on the council's decision. MS

HUNGARY COMMEMORATES 1956 REVOLUTION

Political parties and state officials on 22 and 23 October commemorated throughout Hungary the 45th anniversary of the 1956 revolution and the struggle for freedom. Hungarian media reported. "The revolution that broke out on 23 October teaches us to live and act in a way making us worthy of the respect of coming generations, since history will also assess our own deeds," Justice Minister Ibolya David said at the central ceremony commemorating the event in Budapest. Zoltan Pokorni, the chairman of the major coalition FIDESZ party, said Hungary "has never been so close to the fulfillment of the revolution's ideas as it is today." The speech by Peter Medgyessy, the candidate of the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party for the premiership, was interrupted in Budapest by people protesting against the Socialists' participation in the commemorations. MSZ




HAGUE FREES THREE BOSNIAN CROATS ON APPEAL

On 23 October in The Hague, the UN Appeals Chamber overturned the war crimes tribunal's sentences on three Bosnian Croats in conjunction with the 1993 attack on and massacres in Ahmici, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The appeals court ruled that the cases against brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic and their cousin Vlatko Kupreskic had been poorly prepared and the evidence inadequate. Their trials in 2000, in which they were sentenced to between six and 10 years imprisonment, amounted to a "miscarriage of justice." The appeals court also reduced the prison sentence of Bosnian Croat police commander Vladimir Santic from 25 to 18 years for good behavior. Graham Blewitt, who is deputy prosecutor for the tribunal, told the BBC on 24 October that the ruling on the Kupreskices was unexpected and that it will be difficult for the victims of Ahmici to understand it. He added, however, that the ruling shows that The Hague's judicial process is fair. He said that the decision marks "another day in the life" of the tribunal, whose work has never been easy. Blewitt added that more recent cases have been better prepared than the Ahmici ones were. PM

BOSNIAN CROAT GENERAL DENIES AHMICI LINK

Following the appeal court's ruling on 23 October, the three freed men returned to Croatia, Reuters reported. They said that the court's decision was a pleasant surprise and their only regret on leaving The Hague so quickly was that they had no time to say good-bye to fellow prisoner General Tihofil Blaskic, who commanded Croatian forces in central Bosnia in 1993. Blaskic's attorney, Ante Nobilo, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Zagreb that he will prove that the decision to attack Ahmici was taken at a secret meeting at which Blaskic was not present. The court has sentenced the general to 45 years in prison for his role in the massacre. PM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR CALLS ON MONTENEGRO TO COOPERATE

Western news agencies noted on 23 October that Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has suffered two setbacks in recent days, namely the appeals court's ruling and the continued refusal of the Yugoslav authorities to cooperate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). She met in Podgorica with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who wants the tribunal to allow General Pavle Strugar to return to Montenegro from The Hague until his trial takes place, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Djukanovic also pledged to cooperate with the tribunal. But Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, said Montenegro needs to back up its words with deeds. She noted that the tribunal needs access to documents and witnesses and called on Podgorica to arrest indicted war criminals on Montenegrin territory. Djukanovic promised long ago to arrest any such individuals. PM

PLURALITY IN MONTENEGRO FOR INDEPENDENCE

On 23 October, Hina published the results of a recent poll in Montenegro on a proposed referendum on independence for that republic. Some 47.7 percent of the respondents favor independence, 37.9 percent oppose it, 5 percent are undecided, and 9.4 percent say they will abstain from the referendum. Some 62.4 percent of the respondents said Serbian citizens should also vote on the future of relations between the two republics. Independence and the referendum are the most important issues in Montenegrin politics but attract little attention in Serbia, where questions of poverty and crime are more important. PM

STILL NO SERBIAN DECISION ON KOSOVA VOTE

The Belgrade authorities will not make a recommendation to Kosova's Serbian minority on their participation in the 17 November Kosova elections until after a meeting on 25 October between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Kosova's UN administrator, Hans Haekkerup, AP reported from Belgrade on 23 October. Top Serbian and Yugoslav officials said in a joint statement that much remains to be done to improve security for Serbs in the province. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that Serbs are afraid and that few who fled Kosova since 1999 have returned. Many Kosovar Albanians are deeply resentful of local Serbs, many of whom were long a bedrock of support for former President Slobodan Milosevic and assisted Serbian forces in their 1998-1999 crackdown in the province. PM

OSCE UPBEAT ON KOSOVA ELECTIONS

Daan Everts, who heads the OSCE's mission in Kosova, told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 23 October that he is generally pleased with the way preparations for the elections are coming along, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from Cologne. Everts called on Kosovar Serbs to take part in the ballot, saying that their failure to do so could adversely affect the international community's view of them and of Serbia. PM

NATO SAYS KOSOVAR KILLING WAS RESULT OF FAMILY FEUD

General Marcel Valentin of KFOR said in Prishtina on 24 October that the recent killing of a Kosovar journalist was the result of a "long-standing family feud," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). UN police spokesman Barry Fletcher said, however, that police are still investigating the motive behind the drive-by shooting. PM

MACEDONIANS SAY BOMB BLAST SHOWS REBELS STILL ACTIVE

Macedonian police spokesman Vasko Sutarov told AP in Skopje on 23 October that the recent bombing in Tearce shows that the ethnic Albanian guerrillas are "still around and active" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). Government spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov argued that the explosion is the rebels' message to police that they "are not welcome there." NATO spokesman Craig Ratcliff said: "We are aware that there are people out there who encourage violence. We hope they will not have any impact." There have been no subsequent reports of incidents. PM

MACEDONIAN WORKERS SEEK GOVERNMENT BAILOUT

More than 10,000 workers blocked roads in Skopje and other cities on 23 October to demand a $150 minimum monthly wage and a government bailout for insolvent state industries, dpa reported. Macedonia, like Serbia, retains much of its communist-era state-run sector and benefits greatly from the gray economy and from remittances from its citizens working abroad. PM

SERBIA LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR THE EURO

National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic opened a campaign in Belgrade on 23 October to familiarize Serbs with the rules and procedures governing the introduction of the euro in early 2002, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 July 2001). Dinkic estimates that there are at least 5 billion German marks (about $2.3 million) "in Serbian mattresses" awaiting conversion to the new currency. The mark has served for decades as the most trusted currency throughout the former Yugoslavia. PM

SERBIA BEGINS INVESTIGATIONS OF CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS

Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 23 October that the authorities have begun investigations into two separate incidents involving the disappearances of ethnic Muslims during the Bosnian war, Reuters reported. In once incident in 1992, a Serbian paramilitary unit took 17 Muslims off a bus in the Priboj district in southern Serbia. In the second incident, in 1993, 20 Muslims were forced off a train near Strpci in eastern Bosnia near the Serbian border. PM

FIRST MULTIETHNIC POLICE GROUP STARTS WORK IN SOUTHERN SERBIA

The first group of 97 police of various nationalities ended their training on 17 October and has begun work in Presevo, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some 63 members of the class are ethnic Albanians. PM

CROATIAN MINISTER TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR DEATHS

The cabinet of Prime Minister Ivica Racan accepted the resignation of Health Minister Ana Stavljenic-Rukavina on 23 October in conjunction with the recent deaths of 21 patients after treatment on faulty U.S.-made dialysis machines, Reuters reported. The U.S. company, rather than Croatian officials, is generally considered responsible for the defects, but the cabinet said that the minister's resignation is a necessary "moral act." The cabinet also called for the head of the Rebro clinic and one other top health official to resign. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER MAKES 'INTERESTING PROPOSAL' TO UDMR ON STATUS LAW

Adrian Nastase proposed on 23 October that party cards attesting to membership in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) be used in Hungary as ID cards attesting to membership of the Hungarian minority in Romania. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said the proposal is "interesting" and that experts from his party will examine it before deciding whether to forward it to the Hungarian authorities. Nastase also proposed that the stipulation in the Romanian-Hungarian accord allowing for 8,000 Romanian citizens to work in Hungary be replaced by one allowing any Romanian national to do so if he or she finds work there. If this is accepted, the premier said, the Status Law will no longer be discriminatory. The UDMR and the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) delegations also examined ways to overcome divergencies over the use of Hungarian textbooks in Transylvanian schools. They agreed that the content of the textbooks must be approved by the Romanian authorities and Nastase said Bucharest will not object to the textbooks being printing in Hungary, if Budapest wishes to thus aid schools teaching in the Hungarian language. The PSD agreed to a demand by the UDMR to increase the tax revenue share of local governments by 1 percent. No agreement could be reached on the UDMR's demand for a Hungarian-language university financed from the state budget. MS

ROMANIAN COMPANY RECEIVES HUNDREDS OF 'SUSPICIOUS LETTERS' FROM CZECH REPUBLIC

A Romanian-Israeli company in Bacau has received some 300 letters postmarked from the Czech Republic that are considered "suspicious" of possibly containing anthrax bacilli, Romanian television reported. After opening 20 such letters and witnessing that they all include the same offer for marketing a product advertised on the Internet, and that the letters had the same handwriting, the company decided to send the letters to the Cantacuzino Bucharest institute where all materials suspected of containing anthrax bacilli are being examined. The institute said on 23 October that thus far no trace has been found of anthrax in any of the 30 examined letters. MS

MOLDOVAN PRIESTS APPEAL TO ROMANIAN PRESIDENT

Three Moldovan priests belonging to the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church on 23 October appealed to Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nastase, as well as to the Romanian Embassy in Chisinau, saying the Moldovan authorities are "waging an interconfessional war." The three priests were recently forbidden by the Moscow-subordinated Moldovan Metropolitan Church to officiate in their parishes. They wrote that the present leadership in Chisinau is "openly encouraging phobia against Romania" and that the Bessarabian Church is being attacked "by the communist leadership at all levels, on all fronts." The priests wrote that in view of this situation, "the time has come to abandon...compromise in relations with the current leadership in Chisinau." MS

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL SAYS COUNTRYMEN MUST STUDY OWN, NOT ROMANIAN HISTORY

Victor Stepaniuc, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group, said in an interview on 23 October with the "Banking and Finance Profit" magazine that Moldovan schools must teach the "History of Moldova" and not that of "Romanians," Infotag reported. Stepaniuc said Moldova "has no future" as long as its citizens "do not know its past," and that the current "History of Romanian" course taught in Moldovan schools is "a subversive act against Moldovan ethnic consciousness." He added that "We are the only independent European country that has no official history of its own and that brings up patriots for a neighboring country -- Romania." Stepaniuc also said he does not rule out that Russian may become a second official language in Moldova, He said in European countries there are "two to three official languages where ethnic minorities make up over 10 percent," and that in Moldova "35 percent of the population belongs to an ethnic minority." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DISSATISFIED WITH CABINET PERFORMANCE

Vladimir Voronin told a joint meeting of the presidential staff and the PCM parliamentary group on 23 October that he is "worried" about "negative tendencies in the cabinet's six-month performance," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said he does not envisage dismissing the Vasile Tarlev cabinet, but each minister will have to answer for his or her performance. He said administrative efficiency must be improved, and emphasized that the main impediments are bureaucracy, corruption, and the incompetence of some officials. He also said the government must improve communication with both his office and with the parliament. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY SPEAKER REJECTS GAGAUZ-YERI FEDERALIZATION PROPOSALS

Vadim Mishin, the deputy speaker of the Moldovan parliament, on 23 October rejected the demands of the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly for the federalization of Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Mishin said the assembly envisages "two independent states in Moldova, which is unacceptable." He said after a meeting of a special parliamentary commission that examines Moldovan legislation and its compatibility with the autonomous region's special status that he favors enlarging the prerogatives of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomy structures. MS

BULGARIAN CABINET PRESENTS 2002-2005 PROGRAM

Deputy Premier Nikolai Vasiliev on 22 October presented to journalists the cabinet's program for the period 2002-2005, BTA and Reuters reported. The program envisages a 5-7 percent economic growth and cutting the number of unemployed by 150,000. It also envisages a zero budget deficit by 2005, compared to the 1 percent of GDP deficit estimated for 2001. Vasiliev said the government expects to attract between $1 billion and $1.2 billion in foreign investments over the next four years. He said the program is based on a new taxation policy, "aggressive incentives" for exports, and reaching new markets. MS

BULGARIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CHIEF DENIES CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

National Intelligence Service chief Major General Dimo Giaurov told journalist on 23 October that he has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to begin investigating the daily "Republika," which he accuses of "slander." The daily wrote in two articles earlier this month that Giaurov and President Petar Stoyanov's brother Emil Stoyanov have misused National Intelligence Service funds that were channeled for constructing apartments for them instead of renovating buildings of the service in Bankya, BTA reported. Giaurov said the company that built the apartments has never worked for the service he heads and has nothing to do with that service. He said he is "a wealthy man, not ashamed of it," and that he financed the construction of the apartments from inherited properties and restituted property. He also said it was "mostly chance" that Emil Stoyanov purchased an apartment in the same building and that he "hardly knows" the president's brother. Giaurov also said it was "not by chance" that the allegations were printed in a newspaper known for its links with the former communist secret service. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CAMPAIGN ON THE NET

Three of the six Bulgarian presidential candidates for the 11 November elections will campaign on the web, BTA reported on 23 October. President Stoyanov and his running mate Neli Kutskova on 22 October launched their site (http://www.petarstoyanov.com), which is different from Stoyanov's official site as president. A special column on the site features jokes about the incumbent president. Socialist Party candidate Georgi Parvanov and his vice presidential running mate Angel Marin also launched their site (http://www.bsp.bg). The candidates of the Civil Party, Bogomil Bonev and Stoyan Andreev, also announced they are preparing a site, but Union Bulgaria candidate Reneta Indjova and her running mate Krustyu Ilov said their campaign is modest and they have no funds for an Internet site. MS




FEWER BABIES SPELL TROUBLE FOR CZECH REPUBLIC'S FUTURE


By Jeremy Bransten

(This is the second in a series of articles relating to demographic trends in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE.)

In 1989, the average Czech woman had 1.8 children -- lower than what politicians would have liked, but higher than in many West European countries. By 1999, the fertility rate had dropped to an unprecedented 1.13 children, placing the Czech Republic at the very bottom of the global fertility scale.

Jitka Rychtarikova, the head of the Czech Academy of Science's Demographic Society, says it is important to examine the reasons behind the sudden fertility drop in Europe's post-communist states. In Western Europe, fertility rates began to drop in the 1960s as a result of large numbers of women beginning to join the workforce. But in the communist world, including the former Czechoslovakia, almost all women already held a job in addition to raising a family.

What has prompted post-communist couples to forgo or delay having children, Rychtarikova says, is a mixture of economic uncertainty and choice. Young Czechs suddenly face career, education, and travel options their parents could only dream of. At the same time, they know that having children, or at least more than one child, could severely curtail those options -- in terms of both freedom and family budget. Although the city of Prague has seen a boom in the post-communist years, the Czech economy overall has seen no growth since 1989.

In surveys, young Czech couples continue to overwhelmingly cite the desire to have an average of two children and say that they only want to delay planning a family. But Rychtarikova does not believe the low fertility rate will reverse itself anytime soon. "We speak about delaying, but we've been talking about delaying having children until a woman is older for a very long time," Rychtarikova said. "This discussion has been ongoing for almost 10 years. But we know that it is a fact that when childbirth is put off, fewer children end up being born. I think significantly fewer children will be born here, because it's a combination of this desire to delay and the economic situation."

There is another factor at work in the Czech Republic's drop in fertility rates -- one, which ordinarily might be considered good news, but in this instance deeply worries the experts. "The Czech Republic is the only post-communist country where the mortality rate has begun to decline significantly and mortality is declining in higher age categories," Rychtarikova said. "We are starting to see an increase in the number of older people and on the other hand, the number of newborns keeps shrinking."

It's a trend that down the road could have serious economic consequences, among them a shortage of skilled labor and a potential collapse of the state-funded pension plan -- which is already 20,000 million crowns ($500 million) in debt. "The proportion of people receiving state pensions will increase while the proportion of those paying into the system through taxes -- economically active workers -- will decrease," according to David Marek, an analyst for Prague-based Patria Finance.

At present, 2.33 Czech workers support one retiree drawing a state pension, a ratio that analysts call the "index of economic dependence." That rate, given current trends, is expected to drop to 1.66 workers per retiree by 2030. Whereas people over 65 years of age currently make up 14 percent of the Czech population, that figure is due to top 25 percent within 30 years.

While Western Europe can expect a similar problem, "the effect is likely to be worse because Czech public finances are in far worse shape than in countries of the European Union," Marek said. "There, these countries had to consolidate their finances in order to participate in the single monetary union and join the euro-zone. One of the necessary conditions was fiscal reform, so you could say they are better prepared for current demographic developments than the Czech Republic."

What policy options do Czech politicians have to remedy the situation? One approach, floated by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, is to attempt to reverse the demographic trend through a package of child-friendly subsidies. As an incentive to parents to have more children, Spidla recently proposed setting aside 50,000 crowns ($1,300) in state money per newborn child. Upon reaching the age of 18, each recipient could spend the money, plus interest accrued, on education, housing, or other necessary expenses.

The plan has yet to pass through parliament and has been attacked by right-wing parties as an unaffordable luxury. Patria Finance's Marek is also skeptical, saying, "the idea behind this -- raising the birthrate and softening these negative demographic trends -- may be good, but I don't think this is the way to successfully resolve the problem. Since we need to reduce state budget expenses, as I mentioned, this measure would mean an additional expense of 4,000 to 5,000 million crowns a year [$105 million to $132 million]," he said. "This will mean taxes will have to be raised, so people's motivation to save and their ability to choose various savings vehicles will be lowered." According to Marek, tax relief would be a better solution.

Over the long term, Rychtarikova said the government should strive to level the economic playing field, so that having more than one child would not impair a woman's or a family's choices to such a degree. "I believe we have to draw a distinction between social welfare programs -- where you help economically disadvantaged families, people and groups -- and a family policy," Rychtarikova said. "This means trying to equalize conditions or reduce the differences between the living standards of families without children and those with children -- even though a family with children is never going to be able to reach the same level of financial comfort."

Marek suggests planning for the future by fundamentally reforming the state pension system, so it can cope with a new wave of retirees. "Relatively little has been done so far," he said. "The traditional pay-as-you-go system was supplemented with the possibility of additional pension funds, but it's only on a voluntary basis and it appears it will only play a small, supplementary role. More important would be to undertake a reform, that would trim state budget expenses by introducing a new pillar to the pension program. This would entail establishing obligatory private savings accounts for retirement."

Under the pay-as-you-go system, retirees are paid their pensions using tax contributions from current workers. Clearly, there will come a point when an ever-shrinking pool of workers is to sustain an ever-growing pool of pensioners. Under a private pension plan, workers would pay into a fund that invests in stocks and bonds and would accumulate interest.

Experts agree that private savings accounts will become a necessity to supplement state pensions, given current demographic trends. But even in Western Europe, governments have been reluctant to make the switch. Most people continue to expect the state to provide their full pension, and that holds doubly true in post-communist Europe, where recent bank failures and related scandals have undercut public trust in private financial institutions.

Increasing in-migration could be another way to help alleviate demographic pressures. Already, tens of thousands of workers from poorer East European countries have flocked to the Czech Republic to take up manual jobs locals do not want to fill.

But Marek doubts the Czechs will be able to emulate the Americans or the Germans and draw on a large pool of highly qualified foreign employees.

Never before in human history have countries had to face the massive peacetime shrinking and aging of their populations. For states such as the Czech Republic, the impact could be especially severe. Czech policymakers must now face the decision of whether to put a greater portion of the state's resources into reversing the trend -- or to plan for its inevitable impact.

Jeremy Bransten is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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