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Newsline - October 25, 2001




SOVIET-ERA 'SUITCASE BOMBS' MAY BE IN TERRORIST HANDS

"Kommersant-Daily" on 24 October reprinted a story in "The Times" reporting that there is growing concern that dozens of portable nuclear munitions (the so-called "suitcase bombs") from the Soviet arsenal in the 1970s may have disappeared and found their way into the hands of international terrorist groups. Former Russian Security Council head Aleksandr Lebed noted in 1997 that most of the more than 100 such "suitcase bombs" built had gone missing, describing them as "ideal for blackmail and terror" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997). According to "Kommersant-Daily," agents of Osama bin Laden have tried to acquire such portable nuclear weapons, which were vulnerable to theft or disappearance because they were at the disposal of the Soviet security services. In contrast, the Soviet conventional nuclear arsenal was well guarded by the Soviet military. VY

RUSSIAN 'SOURCES' SUGGEST BOMBING HALT DURING RAMADAN

Sources in the security agencies told Interfax on 24 October that the U.S. ought to consider halting the bombing of Afghanistan during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, Mikhail Margelov, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, said that after the fall of the Taliban regime, there must be "the complete de-Talibanization" of that country, the news service reported. PG

ANTHRAX SCARE CONTINUES ACROSS RUSSIA

There have been further reports of envelopes containing white powder that recipients feared might contain anthrax from more places across Russia from Sakhalin in the Far East to the Russian capital of Moscow, Russian agencies reported on 24 October. None of the samples has tested positive for anthrax so far, the agencies said, and some people who have sent white powder as a joke have been arrested and charged. To try to calm the situation, "Kommersant-Daily" carried a large article the same day on how people should react to this scare. PG

RUSHAILO SAYS FIGHT AGAINST ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS COMPONENT OF FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM

Speaking to a session of the Russian Security Council on 24 October, council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said that the struggle against illegal migration in Russia is a component part of the struggle against international terrorism, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the Duma appealed to President Putin to increase attention to the problem of illegal migration, the news service reported. PG

BIN LADEN SAID TO HAVE FUNDED CHECHENS

Citing the Spanish newspaper "El Mundo," "Trud" on 24 October reported that Russian special services have said that terrorist leader bin Laden has provided $10 million to Chechen militants. Meanwhile, an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" the same day said bin Laden sent money to Russian Muslims in the early 1990s. At that time, the paper said, bin Laden was viewed as "a hero" for his assistance to the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan, but "in Russia they knew who bin Laden was already in 1991." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has repeatedly denied any connections with bin Laden (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 35, 22 October 2001). Other "informed sources" told ITAR-TASS that Chechen militant leader Khattab plans to send some Chechen militants to Afghanistan. PG

BRZEZINSKI DOUBTS RUSSIA WILL HAVE 'A FREE HAND' IN CHECHNYA

In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 October, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said that he very much doubts that Moscow will get "the free hand" it seeks in Chechnya despite the Russian government's support for the international antiterrorist effort. He predicted that NATO will enlarge, but that this is not directed against Russia. He said that he "excludes" a return to the Cold War because that would not be in the interests of either Russia or the United States. PG

RUSSIA MAY RESUME PUTTING GUARDS ON FLIGHTS

Gennadii Gubanov, the chief of the Moscow administration of internal affairs for air and water transport, told Interfax-Moscow on 24 October that Russia may resume putting guards on flights just as the Soviet authorities did from 1971 to 1980. PG

PUTIN STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF MILITARY-TECHNICAL ACCORDS FOR ANTITERRORIST EFFORT

President Vladimir Putin told a 24 October meeting of the commission for cooperation with foreign countries that the terrorist acts of 11 September have increased the importance of Russia's military-technical cooperation agreements with other countries, Interfax reported. He said Russia must maintain high levels of quality and reliability because others depend on Russian weapons. Also on 24 October, Putin discussed the situation in Afghanistan by telephone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN, KASYANOV FOCUS ON BANKING SECTOR

The cabinet on 24 October discussed a plan for the development of the Foreign Economic Bank and reviewed the current activities of the Foreign Trade Bank, Interfax reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov then discussed these issues with President Putin, the news service said. Meanwhile, the Moscow Arbitrage Court the same day declared MOST-Bank, formerly the flagship of Vladimir Gusinsky's empire, bankrupt, Russian agencies reported. Also on 24 October, prosecutors charged Aleksandr Alekseev, the deputy head of the Moscow city branch of the Russian Central Bank, with failing to demonstrate due diligence when processing a large loan, Russian and Western agencies reported. The same day, Putin chaired a session on questions of Russia's military-technical cooperation with foreign countries, Interfax reported. PG

KUDRIN SAYS BIG BUSINESSES OPPOSE WTO PLANS

In an interview carried by Interfax on 24 October, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said "a new situation" has arisen in Russian politics. Earlier, he said, "liberals in the government were opposed by communists, but now big businesses, which always helped us [in the past] have begun to restrict our actions in the spheres of their interests," including taking the steps necessary for Russia to join the World Trade Organization. He said that these businesses are in effect sabotaging Russia's efforts to join the WTO. PG

CORRUPTION SAID TO THREATEN RUSSIAN NATIONAL SECURITY

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said this week that bribes and other forms of corruption now threaten Russian security at least as much as terrorism does, "Trud" reported on 24 October. He added that corrupt links between business and the state bureaucracy represent a "fifth column" that could undermine the state from within. Another aspect of this problem, Ustinov said, is the embezzlement of state funds: he noted that his office has charged 14 parliamentarians at the federal and regional level, 302 bankers, and 21 state officials with misappropriation of funds. VY

PUTIN URGED TO DEVELOP PROGRAM FOR RUSSIAN NORTH

Speakers at a hearing conducted by several committees of the Federation Council on 24 October urged President Putin to develop a strategy for improving conditions in the Russian North, Interfax reported. Aleksandr Nazarov, the former governor of Chukotka who heads the Northern Affairs Committee of the upper house of parliament, said Moscow failed to take into consideration the special needs of the North during the move to a market economy and that the region has suffered as a result. The North's suffering, he added, will affect the entire country because the North is where many of Russia's most important natural resources are to be found. The same day, a Congress of the Indigenous Peoples of the North called on Putin to devote more resources to ensure the survival of these numerically small nationalities, Interfax reported. PG

GREF SAYS BRIDGE TO SAKHALIN A QUESTION OF WHEN, NOT IF

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on 24 October that construction of a bridge from the Russian mainland to Sakhalin Island is a question of when, not if, Interfax reported. He said he is "not sure" that the time to begin this project has yet come, but that he is sure that such a time will come eventually. He said the plan has significant support in the government where, he said, "everyone understands the strategic necessity" and economic utility of the program. PG

OLIGARCHS PLACE THEIR REPRESENTATIVES IN FEDERATION COUNCIL

According to an article in "Novaya gazeta" on 22 October, Russia's leading businessmen, known as the oligarchs, have worked to place their own people in the upper house of parliament in order to be in a position to push or block legislation affecting their businesses. The article suggested that the oligarchs find it easier to do so in the Federation Council, whose members are selected by regional elites, than in the Duma, whose members are elected by the population. PG

DUMA KEEPS NUCLEAR WASTE OPPONENTS OFF COMMISSION

The Duma on 24 October voted to name as its five members of the special commission that will oversee the importation of nuclear wastes only deputies who supported the measure in the parliament, Interfax reported. As a result, representatives of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko were kept off and protested their exclusion. Meanwhile, activists opposed to the importation of such nuclear wastes staged a protest by lying down across the tracks of the Trans-Siberian railway at many points along its path, the news service reported. The Duma on 24 October voted 358 in favor to one against on first reading for an amnesty that would release approximately 24,000 inmates from Russian prisons, Russian and Western agencies reported. The amnesty would cover convicts who committed crimes while minors, women with underage or disabled children, pregnant women, women over 50, and some inmates with diseases. Those in these categories convicted of murder, rape, terrorism, or other grave crimes would not qualify for the amnesty. PG

NEW CENTRIST PARTY MAY BE CALLED 'UNITED RUSSIA'

The new centrist party scheduled to be formed by Unity, Fatherland, and All-Russia on 1 December may be called United Russia, Interfax reported on 24 October. That name was the most popular in a poll commissioned by the three groups and conducted by the Independent Analytic Center. PG

CENTRISTS READY TO COOPERATE WITH RIGHTISTS ON CANDIDATE LISTS FOR MOSCOW CITY DUMA

The Moscow city divisions of Fatherland and Unity announced on 24 October that they are ready to form agreed lists with Yabloko and the SPS of candidates for the Moscow city Duma elections scheduled for 15 November, Interfax reported. PG

YAVLINSKY PRESENTS ALTERNATE BUDGET TO PUTIN

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky on 23 October presented to President Putin a four-volume alternate budget prepared by Yabloko experts, Interfax reported. Among its provisions are additional money for military reform and pensions. The Yabloko budget assumes that oil prices will average $18 a barrel. PG

PUTIN, SHARANSKY AGREE, DISAGREE

President Putin met briefly with visiting Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky on 24 October, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two found themselves in agreement about terrorism but in disagreement about Israel's relationship with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, three Duma deputies who recently visited Palestinian-controlled areas said in Moscow on 24 October that Israel has failed to fulfill its obligations to resolve the crisis there, Interfax reported. Paul Burdukov of the Agro-Industrial group, Nikolai Bezborodov of the Russian Regions group, and Viktor Cherepkov of the People's Deputy group accused Israel of aggression against the Palestinians. PG

CIS SEEKS SINGLE LEGAL SPACE FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

In order to allow firms in various member states to bid on construction projects in other member countries, the 15th session of the intergovernmental council for cooperation in construction activities of the Commonwealth of Independent States agreed on 24 October to push for a common set of legislation across the entire commonwealth, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA MAY CLOSE OKHOTSK SEA TO FOREIGN FISHING

Yevgenii Nazdratenko, the head of the State Fisheries Committee, told Interfax on 24 October that Russia may close the Sea of Okhotsk to foreign fishing because of falling catches there and elsewhere. He added that his committee currently is engaged in "intensive discussions" with the countries that might be affected. PG

KULIKOV CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL POPULAR FIGHT AGAINST CRIME, TERRORISM

Duma deputy Anatolii Kulikov told a Moscow anticrime and antiterrorist forum on 24 October that official agencies cannot cope with the rise of crime and terrorism over the last decade and that the international community must link groups of citizens in various countries to help overcome these scourges, Russian agencies reported. PG

MORE THAN 5 MILLION CRIMES IN RUSSIA PROJECTED FOR 2001

First Deputy Interior Minster Vladimir Vasiliev said on 24 October that he expects the number of crimes registered with the police to top 5 million for 2001, Interfax reported. He said that much of the increase reflects a new willingness by citizens to report crimes, and he also said that ever more people are applying to work in the militia. PG

REGISTERED UNEMPLOYED NOW FEWER THAN REGISTERED JOB OPENINGS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 October reported that for the first time in nine years, the number of people officially registered as unemployed is smaller than the number of officially registered job vacancies. But the paper noted that the number of those officially unemployed is smaller than the actual number of those looking for work. PG

MOST AUDITED TAX RETURNS FOUND TO CONTAIN VIOLATIONS OF LAW

The Federal Tax Police (FSNP) announced on 24 October that it audited 23,300 tax returns during the first nine months of 2001 and identified violations of the law in 19,500 of them, Interfax reported. Of the 19,500 with violations, 17,600 involved significant sums, tax police officials said. PG

DELYAGIN SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD CONCLUDE ENERGY DEALS WITH EUROPE WHILE PRICES ARE HIGH

Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Moscow Globalization Institute, was quoted by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 23 October as having said that Moscow should conclude energy agreements with European countries now while prices are high. If the Russian side waits, Delyagin said, British, Norwegian, and North African suppliers will enter the market, prices will decline, and Russia will lose out. VY

MOSCOW POLICE FEAR ANTIGLOBALIST DISORDER AT DAVOS MEETING

Moscow city law enforcement agencies are concerned about the possibility that antiglobalist organizations will stage massive demonstrations in the Russian capital during an upcoming session there of the Davos World Economic Forum, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 October. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) said the Russian authorities expect some 20,000-30,000 foreign demonstrators and that the FSB will together with the Interior Ministry use any means necessary to maintain order. VY

OECD SAYS RUSSIA STILL 'UNATTRACTIVE' FOR INVESTMENTS

The regional research service of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a study that concludes the investment climate in Russia remains "unattractive" and "unfavorable," RBK reported on 24 October. Moreover, the OECD report says, Russia has fallen further behind the countries of Eastern Europe as a place for investment despite its own economic growth. VY

RUSSIA SAID LEAST STABLE OF COUNTRIES RATED BY DAVOS GROUP

An article in "Tribuna" on 24 October said that according to the assessments of the Davos World Economic Forum, Russia is the "most unstable" of the 44 major countries rated by that group. The paper reported that conclusion in the course of a discussion of the possibilities that Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais may head a kind of rightist coup against the government. Meanwhile, an article in "Vremya MN" the same day suggested that left-wing parties are on the rise and also threaten the current political order. PG

GAZPROM CONFIRMS PLAN TO RESTRUCTURE ITS MEDIA HOLDINGS

Gazprom head Aleksei Miller on 24 October confirmed his firm's plans to restructure its holdings of media shares, Interfax-ANI reported. In an interview published in "Itogi" the same day, Alfred Kokh, who has retired from his past position as head of the directors' council of NTV and head of Gazprom-Media, announced that he will take part in the formation of a consortium that may purchase some of Gazprom's media holdings, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, magnate Boris Berezovsky said he does not intend to sell his holdings in TV-6 to LUKoil or anyone else, the news service reported. PG

RUSSIAN INVALIDS DEMAND BETTER SOCIAL PROGRAMS

The Third Congress of the All-Russian Society of Invalids on 24 October called for the government to devote more resources to help the more than 4 million people in Russia suffering from disabilities, Interfax reported. The congress represents more than 2 million people. At the opening session, a message of greeting from President Putin was read out to the delegates. PG

FIRST RUSSIAN BOOK ON WALLENBERG RELEASED

The first Russian volume on Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi concentration camps during World War II, will be formally presented on 25 October, Interfax reported on 24 October. The book's author, Lev Bezymenskii, said he had faced a difficult task because "there are simply no documents [available in Russia]: neither investigation records, nor protocols of the interrogations" because the KGB kept them classified and away from public view, a position, the Russian security services have maintained. PG

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD URGED TO UNITE WITH MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE

The Orthodox Church of America on 24 October urged the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to unite with the Moscow Patriarchate as the Patriarchate has requested, Interfax reported on 24 October. But even if theological and ideological issues are resolved, the two churches remain divided on property questions: In the emigre church, each congregation owns its property, while in the patriarchal church, the Patriarchate itself is the owner. PG

RUSSIAN HACKER SAYS HE FEELS SUPPORT OF RUSSIA

In an interview published in "Argumenty i fakty" on 24 October, Dmitrii Sklyarov, the Russian hacker who is in prison in the U.S. pending sentencing for computer crimes, said Russian officials have been most helpful to him and that he feels the support of all Russians as he seeks to have his conviction overturned. PG

WHEN ROAD SIGNS DON'T HELP

Russian traffic police during the month of October are taking down road signs that are either incorrect or do not help traffic to flow easily, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 October. So far, police in Moscow alone have removed some 360 signs, including many that officials said should have been removed much earlier. PG

PALEONTOLOGIST CHARGED WITH TRYING TO SELL MAMMOTH SKELETON TO U.S.

Prosecutors in Novosibirsk have charged paleontologist Igor Grebnev with illegally attempting to sell the skeleton of a mammoth to an American buyer, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 24 October. If convicted, Grebnev faces five to 10 years in prison. PG

CORRECTING A TSAR'S MISTAKE

The railway between Moscow and St. Petersburg was to be shut down for 24 hours as of 24 October to allow workers to smooth out a 17-kilometer bend universally known in Russia as "the tsar's finger," Reuters reported. According to a story thought to be apocryphal, the bend was built after Nicholas I drew a line around his finger when he was holding a ruler to draw a straight line between the two capitals. The builders of the railway were reportedly too frightened of possible punishment and so built the curve in the line. PG

SAKHA'S ELECTION BOARD THUMBS ITS NOSE AT MOSCOW

The election commission for the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) decided on 24 October to register incumbent President Mikhail Nikolaev for 23 December presidential elections, despite recent statements by Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov that Nikolaev does not have the legal right to seek a third term in office (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October 2001). The 24th was the last day for candidates to register for the race, and according to the 25 October "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Nikolaev flew to Moscow on 23 October to meet with President Putin before the deadline. However, the meeting kept getting delayed. According to Interfax-Eurasia, 10 members of the republic's election commission voted for registering Nikolaev, three were against, and one abstained. Responding to the news of Nikolaev's registration, Veshnyakov called the decision "not legal," and said the TsIK could cancel Nikolaev's registration. JAC

TATAR OFFICIAL DENIES TIES TO LIBYA...

In a letter to the editor in chief of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 October, the chairman of Tatarstan's legislature, Farit Mukhametshin, refuted a 29 September article by Mikhail Tulskii connecting him with the Libyan Taiba Fund. Mukhametshin said he was "confounded by the report about his contacts with the Libyan Taiba Fund," and requests that "Nezavisimaya gazeta" publish his denial. He also said the assertion of Taiba financial aid to Yoldiz Muslim School in Chally is false. That school was closed in 1999 after one of its former students was implicated in an apartment bombing in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September, and 11 October 1999). According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, Tulskii has authored articles on the "Wahhabist" branch of Islam published in the past by "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" and smi.ru, accusing public officials in Tatarstan of cooperating with radical Islamic groups and promoting Islamic fundamentalism. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER DENIES SIGNATURES WERE FALSIFIED

Meanwhile, the previous day, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" refuted a recent report in Tatarstan's "Vostochniy Ekspress" weekly asserting that a letter reportedly signed by 56 prominent Tatar personalities opposed to adopting the Latin script to depict Tatar language and published earlier by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" "was false" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 17 September 2001). However, a number of Tatars living outside Tatarstan, including the former chairman of the Tatarstan Writer's Union, writer Rinat Mokhamadiev, told Tatar media they had not signed or were forced to sign the letter, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. Razil Valeev, a Tatar legislator in charge of script reform, said on 12 October said "Rossiiskaya gazeta" had repeatedly refused to publish the statements of those people or to produce the original document. JAC

ANOTHER REGIONAL BROADCASTER GOES OFF THE AIR...

Pskovenergo has restricted electricity supplies to the oblast radio and television broadcasting center in a number of raions in the oblast, Interfax-Northwest reported on 24 October. Tatyana Churikova, the deputy director of Energosbyt, an affiliate of Pskovenergo, said the reduction of electricity supplies is due to the center's outstanding 3 million ruble ($102,000) debt, which has been allowed to accumulate over a period of 10 months. Programs of the ORT, RTR, and the Kultura channel as well as Radio Mayak have been affected by the cuts. JAC

...AS ANOTHER ONE COMES BACK...

The same day, broadcasts of ORT, RTR, NTV, and Radio Mayak were resumed in Primorskii Krai after going off the air on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). According to ITAR-TASS, the krai's broadcasting center was given more time to pay its debt to the local electricity supplier Dalenergo. According to RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent, Dalenergo officials acknowledged that their decision to restore power came following pressure from Moscow, and that not one of the central TV stations, ORT, RTR, or NTV, has paid their debts to the local broadcasting center. JAC

...AND MAYOR CALLS ON OMON TROOPS TO PREVENT ELECTRICITY SHUT-OFF

Meanwhile, in the city of Partizansk in Primore, the local mayor, Vitalii Starinchenko, has declared a state of emergency and has ordered local military troops to guard electricity substations in his town, NTV reported on 24 October. Dalenergo claims that Starinchenko has not fulfilled any part of any earlier agreement concluded to ameliorate the town's 50 million ruble ($1.69 million) debt from 2000, and electricity supplies will therefore be suspended. According to RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent, Dalenergo has warned that on 25 October, 14 Pacific Fleet substations -- but not objects of "strategic importance"-- were to have their electricity supply cut. JAC

RUSSIAN, CHECHEN REPRESENTATIVES MAY MEET FOR TALKS 'WITHIN 10 DAYS'

The presidential representative to the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, told journalists in Moscow on 24 October that following what he termed "lengthy consultations," he has agreed to meet with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative, Akhmed Zakaev. He said those talks could take place within the next 10 days, and that they will focus on President Putin's recent proposals that the Chechen fighters lay down their arms and return to "a peaceful life" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2001). Zakaev confirmed that he has been in contact with Kazantsev on Maskhadov's instructions, but said the talks will address the return to Chechnya of displaced persons, the suspension of hostilities, and economic issues, according to Interfax. In an interview on 11 October with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Maskhadov said the Chechens will not surrender their arms as a precondition for beginning peace talks (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 35, 22 October 2001). In Moscow, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii warned that the upcoming talks should not be seen as "the beginning of a new dialogue," and that the Chechen side should "be guided by an understanding of tough political realities," ITAR-TASS reported. LF




ARMENIAN PREMIER TO UNDERGO 'URGENT' MEDICAL TREATMENT

Doctors in Paris have recommended that Armenian Premier Andranik Markarian undergo "urgent" nonsurgical treatment to improve the blood supply to his heart, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 October. Markarian, who is 50, underwent heart surgery in Yerevan two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). LF

NEW U.S. CHAIRMAN OF OSCE MINSK GROUP VISITS ARMENIA

Rudolf Perina, a former U.S. ambassador to Moldova who recently succeeded Carey Cavanaugh as the senior U.S. representative to the OSCE Minsk Group, told journalists in Yerevan on 24 October the U.S. remains committed to seeking a solution to the Karabakh conflict and to promoting stability in the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan and Arminfo reported. Perina rejected as mistaken the perception that the mediation process is "frozen," pointing out that the Minsk Group has achieved a certain progress over the past year, and that meetings over that time period between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan proved "productive." Perina added that the Minsk Group must focus particular attention on the presidents' efforts to prepare public opinion in their respective countries for compromise. He also said he considers it "possible" that representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will join the negotiations at a later stage. Baku has consistently said the Karabakh Armenians should be allowed to participate in negotiations only if representatives of the former Azerbaijani minority do so as well. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CASTIGATES OSCE

Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev warned the visiting chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, in Baku on 23 October that Azerbaijan will resort to "military means" to restore its control over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic if the OSCE Minsk Group fails to take "a principled position" and coerce Armenia to abandon what he characterized its insistence on either annexing the unrecognized enclave or securing its independence, according to Reuters and "Xalq qazeti" of 24 October, as cited by Groong. Armenia's position is in violation of international law, and the OSCE itself is similarly violating international law by failing to abide by its own insistence that the territorial integrity of its member states must be preserved, Aliyev argued. He nonetheless reaffirmed his preference for a peaceful solution to the conflict. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE INVESTIGATORS CONCLUDE THAT AZERBAIJAN HAS POLITICAL PRISONERS

A team of human rights experts has concluded, in a report made public on 24 October, that a number of persons currently imprisoned in Azerbaijan qualify as political prisoners, Turan reported. The same experts also concluded that none of the Armenian cases they were asked to review merit that designation. Meeting in July with a Council of Europe monitoring group, President Aliyev denied that there are any political prisoners in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2001). LF

TRANSCAUCASUS PARLIAMENT CHAIRMEN AFFIRM SUPPORT FOR ANTITERRORISM CAMPAIGN

Meeting in Tbilisi on 23 October under the aegis of French Senate Chairman Francois Poncelet, Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts Armen Khachatrian and Murtuz Alesqerov adopted a joint statement affirming their respective legislatures' support for the international antiterrorism coalition, BS-Press reported. They also stressed the role of national parliaments in promoting a solution of regional conflicts based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the region's states, and affirmed their readiness to promote economic cooperation and free trade. It is not clear how Khachatrian and Alesqerov reacted to Zhvania's proposal, reported by Turan on 23 October, to create a parliamentary assembly of GUUAM member states. Georgia and Azerbaijan are members of GUUAM but Armenia is not. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SEES KEY ROLE FOR TURKEY IN SOUTH CAUCASUS SECURITY SYSTEM

In a lecture delivered at Yerevan State University on 24 October, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze suggested that the three South Caucasus states and Russia should convene a conference to discuss the establishment of a regional security system, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said Turkey can play an important role "in building a new algorithm of regional cooperation, a natural component of which is national reconciliation," according to Noyan Tapan. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS SPANISH HOSTAGES STILL IN PANKISI GORGE...

Two Spanish businessmen abducted near Tbilisi last November are still in the Pankisi gorge in northeast Georgia, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze told a press conference in Tbilisi on 24 October, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The Georgian Interior Ministry was reported to have launched an operation to free the two men earlier this month after their kidnappers raised their ransom demand to $250,000 and threatened to kill the hostages if that sum was not paid within three days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2001). LF

...DENIES CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER IS IN GEORGIA

At the same press conference on 24 October, Targamadze dismissed as "a lie" reports that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, identified as leader of the Chechen force said to have been involved in hostilities earlier this month in the Kodori gorge, was taken to Tbilisi by helicopter after having eluded the Abkhaz forces hunting for him, ITAR-TASS and Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 24 October. Targamadze denied that Gelaev is in any region of Georgia under the control of the country's government. Interfax on 24 October quoted the independent Georgian TV station Rustavi-2 as reporting that residents of the Kodori gorge claimed that military vehicles had transported Chechen fighters out of the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori gorge, and that more than 20 wounded Chechen fighters are being treated at a hospital at the village of Azhara, also in the Georgian-controlled sector of Kodori. LF

MORE PROTESTS IN GEORGIA OVER PLANNED INCREASE IN ELECTRICITY TARIFFS

The Georgian Antimonopoly Commission issued a statement on 24 October criticizing the planned increases in electricity tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001), about which it said it was not consulted, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Trade Unions Chairman Irakli Tughushi similarly stated on 24 October that union members intend to organize protests against the planned hikes which, he said, will negatively impact the industrial sector and lead to an increase in unemployment. LF

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY CHAIRMAN PROPOSES 'FRIENDS OF GEORGIA' GROUP

Meeting on 24 October in Tbilisi with Georgian delegates to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, assembly Chairman Severin proposed the creation within the OSCE of a "Friends of Georgia" group, Caucasus Press reported. Severin said such a move is warranted given the "strategic significance" of Georgia in the South Caucasus. Such a group exists within the UN to promote a solution of the Abkhaz conflict. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR POST-TALIBAN COALITION GOVERNMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

In a telephone conversation on 24 October with Afghanistan's President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed his support for a post-Taliban Afghan coalition government under the aegis of the UN, and pledged to supply grain and other humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, Interfax reported. But Nazarbaev also warned the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan the same day that a protracted conflict in Afghanistan could negatively affect Kazakhstan's economic growth and stability, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, members of Kazakhstan's Communist Party and the All-Union Party of Bolsheviks convened a press conference in Almaty at which they condemned the U.S.-led airstrikes against Afghanistan, which they said are destroying Afghanistan's statehood and killing innocent civilians, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO INTRODUCE STRICTER ANTI-ANTHRAX MEASURES

Senior Health Ministry official Anatolii Belonog told a press conference in Astana on 24 October that his ministry, together with the Transport and Emergency Situations Ministry, will step up measures to prevent bioterrorism, Interfax reported. He said hospitals' preparedness to cope with outbreaks of "extremely dangerous diseases" has been raised, and reserves of medicines, vaccines, and serums are being stockpiled. Belonog said 17 cases of anthrax among humans have been registered in Kazakhstan this year, of which 15 occurred in South Kazakhstan Oblast. In almost all cases, he continued, the disease was contracted during the killing of infected animals. He said that as of 1 January 2001 there were a total of 1,690 known sites where the carcasses of cattle infected with anthrax are buried; 25 of those sites are still in use. LF

KYRGYZSTAN REGISTERS FIRST ANTHRAX LETTER SCARE

Viktor Zapolskii, the editor in chief of the independent Kyrgyz newspaper "Delo Nomer," told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 24 October that the previous day he received an envelope, mailed by an ethnic Russian, containing a white powder and a note with the word "jihad." A preliminary investigation established that the powder was harmless. LF

MORE ISLAMISTS ARRESTED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Eight more persons identified as members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement were recently arrested in Osh Oblast with leaflets propagating the movement's ideology, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 24 October. All eight were ethnic Uzbeks. LF

THREE TAJIKS KILLED BY MINE ON BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN

Three residents of a village in northern Tajikistan were killed on the evening of 23 October by a mine laid along the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russian agencies reported. Uzbekistan began mining its border regions in 1999 to prevent incursions from Tajik territorry by militants of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but in May 2001 undertook to inform the Tajik government of the location of those mine fields. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION CALLS ON GOVERNMENT FOR DIALOGUE

The Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties on 24 October called on the government to resume consultations on launching a political dialogue with the mediation of international organizations, Belapan reported. Such consultations were conducted before the 2000 legislative elections, but failed to produce any results. The council also appealed to Premier Henadz Navitski to start a public debate on the fate of Kurapaty, the site where the Stalin-era NKVD shot and buried tens of thousands of "enemies of the people." The council said it is concerned about the recent tension over the reconstruction of the Minsk beltway, which it is feared will damage the Kurapaty memorial site. JM

BELARUSIAN YOUTH FRONT CHEERS UP JAILED LEADER

A dozen Youth Front activists on 24 October staged a picket in front of a Minsk jail to cheer up their leader, Pavel Sevyarynets, who is serving a 10-day arrest sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2001). The picketers chanted slogans: "Let's Change Pasha [Sevyarynets] for Sasha [President Alyaksandr Lukashenka]!" and "Freedom to Pavel Sevyarynets!" Policemen guarding the jail reacted to the picket by barking like dogs, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. JM

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER QUITS OVER AIRLINER CRASH

President Leonid Kuchma has accepted the resignation of Oleksandr Kuzmuk in connection with the downing of a Russian airliner by an errant missile fired by Ukrainian air-defense troops on 4 October, Ukrainian media reported on 25 October. Kuchma also dismissed several unnamed military officials over the crash. In a televised address the same day, Kuchma said he has ordered the suspension of all missile launches at Ukrainian training grounds, adding that a commission will review current regulations regarding military training in the country. "I apologize to the families and relatives of the victims, and to all who came to this bitter grief. We are conscious of our duty to do everything possible to alleviate it," the president said. Kuchma appointed Chief of General Staff Volodymyr Shkidchenko as acting defense minister. JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS AGAIN BLOCK DEBATE ON LAND CODE

Communist lawmakers on 25 October blocked the parliamentary rostrum in a bid to disrupt the planned debate of the Land Code and its adoption in the second reading, Interfax reported. The protesters displayed slogans: "Selling Land [Means] Selling Fatherland" and "We Will Save the People's Shrine -- Native Soil." Deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk adjourned the session for two hours. "If I am prevented from proposing a vote on the Land Code from my seat in the [parliamentary] presidium, I will do this from some other place, even from the third floor [of the parliamentary building]," he declared. The Communist Party caucus staged a similar protest last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). JM

U.S. THANKS UKRAINE FOR SUPPORT IN ANTITERRORIST CAMPAIGN

U.S. President George W. Bush and the American people express their gratitude to the Ukrainian government and people for supporting the United States in its antiterrorist campaign, UNIAN reported on 25 October, quoting presidential spokesman Ihor Storozhuk. "We are also thankful for the prompt and positive answer to our request to allow U.S. transport aircraft to fly over Ukrainian airspace," Storozhuk quoted from a letter sent by the U.S. State Department and signed by Bush. JM

DEBATE OVER GRADUATED INCOME TAX IN ESTONIA

Moderates Chairman and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves in an opinion piece published in "Eesti Paevaleht" on 24 October suggested that the current tax system could be reorganized and replaced by a system based on a graduated income tax. The chairmen of the other parties in the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Mart Laar of the Pro Patria Union and Finance Minister Siim Kallas of the Reform Party, said in response that they support retaining the flat 26 percent income tax rate that has been in effect since 1994. The chairman of the opposition Center Party, Edgar Savisaar, who has been calling for a graduated income tax since the spring of 1998, called on the Moderates to cooperate on passing legislation to introduce a graduated income tax as soon as possible, ETA reported. A meeting of the board and parliament deputies of the Moderates later that day issued a statement declaring the party will continue to observe the coalition agreement until the 2003 elections, and that Ilves merely wants to discuss the advantages and shortcomings of different tax systems. SG

LATVIAN PRIVATIZATION CHIEF BARRED FROM SIGNING FINANCIAL PAPERS

Economy Minister Aigars Kalvitis issued a decree on 24 October suspending the right of Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) Director General Janis Naglis to sign financial documents, BNS reported. All payments by the LPA greater than 15,000 lats ($24,000) will have to be approved by Kalvitis. The action was prompted by the revelations the previous day during a cabinet meeting about the legal fees the LPA has paid without informing the economy minister in a lawsuit being heard in a Stockholm arbitration court between the Lattelekom telephone company and Tilts Communications. Although not revealing how large the payments were, since the information was confidential, People's Party Chairman Andris Skele called them "shockingly large." Naglis responded that the fees could not be small since lawyers' fees are calculated in percentage terms from the amount involved and the claims and counterclaims in this case are about $1 billion. Quoting "reliable sources," "Diena" on 25 October reported that the fees paid in the case had reached $11 million. SG

LITHUANIAN PREMIER INCLINED TO MAKE CONCESSIONS TO LATVIA ON FISHING AREAS

The daily "Respublika" reported on 24 October that according to unofficial information, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas reached an agreement with his Latvian counterpart Andris Berzins in late September that will allow Latvians to fish in the territory that will go to Lithuania after the sea border treaty, signed in 1999, comes into effect. The Lithuanian parliament ratified the treaty quickly, but Latvia's parliament has yielded to pressure by fishermen and has delayed ratification. Latvian Fisheries Association President Inarijs Voits said that allowing Latvian fishermen access to the waters is necessary, as they would otherwise lose about $3.5 million per year in income. He also noted that the decision to grant the concession is wise and logical since the territorial issue would lose its relevance in a few years when both countries join the European Union as expected. SG

POLISH PREMIER VOWS ECONOMIC RECOVERY, EU ENTRY

Leszek Miller on 25 October addressed the parliament with a speech presenting the goals of his recently created cabinet. "The goal of this government is to overcome this [current] crisis and return the economy onto a path of fast growth. But first we have to save the country from bankruptcy," Reuters quoted Miller as saying. Miller warned Poles not to expect improvement overnight, saying that "reviving economic growth, improving the job market, reducing poverty, and eliminating many social problems requires time, sacrifice, and hardship." Miller said the top priority for his first 100 days in office is to stabilize public finances. He confirmed that his cabinet will freeze state spending in real terms and increase taxes next year to avoid borrowing. Miller also pledged to finish EU entry negotiations next year, making Poland's EU accession in 2004 realistic. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT FORMS COMMISSIONS

The Sejm on 24 October formed 24 legislative commissions and elected their heads, PAP reported. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) chairs 12 commissions; Self-Defense and Law and Justice (PiS) three each; Civic Platform and Peasant Party two each; and League of Polish Families and Labor Union one each. In particular, Jozef Oleksy (SLD) heads the European Integration Commission, Jerzy Jaskiernia (SLD) the Foreign Affairs Commission, Stanislaw Janas (SLD) the Defense Commission, and Zbigniew Wasserman (PiS) the Commission for Special Services. JM

POLAND'S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF RESIGNS

Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski has accepted the resignation of General Tadeusz Rusek, the head of the Military Intelligence Services (WSI), PAP reported on 25 October, quoting WSI spokesman Robert Kowal. Kowal did not elaborate and refused to reveal who is now in charge of the WSI. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Miller has notified the Sejm that he wants to fire Colonel Zbigniew Nowek, the head of the State Protection Office (UOP). "I find it difficult to communicate with Nowek. We work on different frequencies," Miller wrote to the Sejm's Commission for Special Services. Poland's special services have repeatedly been accused of meddling in politics. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance wants to reform these services by merging the WSI with the UOP and putting them under civilian control. President Aleksander Kwasniewski opposes the merger, arguing that in view of the global campaign against terrorism such a shakeup could impair the efficiency of Poland's special services. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT MOVES TO AMEND LUSTRATION LAW

Kwasniewski on 22 October submitted to the Sejm amendments to the 1997 lustration law that obliges state officials to make written statements on whether they collaborated with the communist-era secret services. PAP on 24 October provided details of the president's amendments. Kwasniewski wants persons who provided information to intelligence, counterintelligence, and border guards to be exempt from the law. He proposes a provision obliging the lustration prosecutor to examine lustration statements made by top state officials before any other statements. He also wants any person suspected by the lustration prosecutor of having lied in his/her statement to be notified about this in advance of his/her lustration trial. One amendment stipulates that the Lustration Court is obliged to pass either a "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict and is forbidden to drop lustration cases for lack of sufficient evidence. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS GLOBALIZATION MUST BE 'HUMANIZED'

Vaclav Havel, in an article published in the "International Herald Tribune" on 24 October, said the "fundamental trends of globalization" cannot be changed, but that its results are "ambiguous." Havel said globalization must not be allowed to "simply become a kind of blind self-propulsion" of a technological society, which brings prosperity to some, and marginalizes and condemns others to poverty. He said international trade must be based "on an order that takes into account the weakest [countries], and promotes their fuller integration" by facilitating the "access of lesser developed countries to foreign markets and thus to financial resources needed for development... The ideas we need, based on the shared human and moral values of today's civilization, emerge from a better understanding of the profound interconnection of events. We are all both citizens of a state and inhabitants of the same planet," Havel wrote. MS

CZECH COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SERVICE SAYS RUSSIA TRYING TO INFILTRATE INSTITUTIONS...

In its annual report for the year 2000, which was recently released for publication, the Czech Counterintelligence Service (BIS) said the Russian intelligence services are attempting to penetrate Czech ministries for the purpose of collecting secret information, CTK reported on 24 October. The report appreciates that there is a link between the increased activity of the Russian secret services in the Czech Republic and the coming to power in 2000 of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man. It says the Russian intelligence services have displayed an increased interest in nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare following the beginning of testing operations at the Temelin nuclear power plant. The BIS also said Russia is trying to "build a system of pressure agencies" to influence decision-making at the local administration level, as well as to spread false information aimed at discrediting the Czech Republic abroad. It says these efforts are geared at casting aspersions on the country's NATO membership and its costs, as well as to raise questions on Czech participation in NATO peacekeeping operations and about the purchase of new fighters for the Czech air force. MS

...JAPANESE TERRORIST SECT HELD MEETING WITH RUSSIAN BRANCH IN PRAGUE...

The BIS also said in its annual report that the Japanese sect Aum Shinrikyo, known for its attack using sarin gas in the Tokyo subway six years ago, has previously held a meeting in Prague with its Russian branch. It said the "possibility of the Czech territory being used in the future by either branch of this sect for occasional meetings should not be ruled out." MS

...WARNS AGAINST RUSSIAN-SPEAKING GANGS OPERATING IN CZECH BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

The report also said "Russian-speaking gangs," most often involving Russian and Ukrainian citizens, "are among the most dangerous groups of organized crime operating in the Czech Republic," CTK reported. It said these gangs have links to Czech entrepreneurs and to Czech financial circles that "represent various firms on behalf of their real bosses." The BIS said many Czech firms have launched their activities using funds from Russian and Ukrainian criminal organizations, and that many such businesses focus on the purchase of luxurious real estate, and also on trading with, and the manufacturing of, strategic raw materials. The report said there are also illicit businesses operated by Chinese, Yugoslav, Albanian, and Vietnamese organizations. MS

AUSTRIA TO HOLD ANTI-TEMELIN PLEBISCITE

A referendum on vetoing the Czech Republic's accession to the EU will be held in Austria on 14-21 January 2002, Austrian Interior Ministry announced on 24 October. The referendum drive is the initiative of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which managed to collect 16,000 signatures for holding the plebiscite -- more than twice as many as the 7,795 stipulated by the law, CTK reported, citing the Austrian APA agency. The FPO says Czech accession should be barred because of the launching of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. If at least 100,000 eligible voters approve the initiative, the parliament will be obliged to hold a debate, but the referendum is not binding in any way on the legislature to approve the veto. All other Austrian parliamentary parties are opposed to the FPO initiative. MS

CPJ CRITICIZES CZECH GOVERNMENT

The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) on 24 October issued a statement criticizing the Czech government over its intention to sue the political weekly "Respekt," CTK reported. The CPJ said the envisaged multiple complaints by ministers against "Respekt" could destroy the weekly financially and Prime Minister Milos Zeman must understand that criticism of cabinet members is at the very core of democratic debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). "Respekt" publisher Karel Schwarzenberg told CTK the same day that the decision to sue the weekly "deviates from the Masaryk tradition," and that "instead of moving toward, say, Belgium, we are moving toward Belarus." In a related development, Petr Bilek, the editor in chief of the weekly "Reflex," said on 24 October that that weekly will appeal a recent decision of a Prague court that "Reflex" must apologize to Karel Brezina, minister without portfolio, for having printed a cartoon of Brezina showing him naked. The cartoon depicted the minister as sex-obsessed. MS

CZECH COURT APPROVES SEIZURE OF TV MOGUL'S PROPERTY

A Prague city court on 24 October rejected an appeal by television mogul Vladimir Zelezny against the ruling of a lower court to have Zelezny's property seized in order to finance his 27.1 million crown ($722,590) debt to the Central European Media (CME) company, CTK reported. An international arbitration court ruled in February that Zelezny, the owner of the Nova television, must compensate CME for having interrupted cooperation with that company in mid-1999. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT IN AUSTRIA...

Visiting Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 24 October discussed with his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil issues related to the use of nuclear energy and the international situation following the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, CTK reported. Klestil said he is "satisfied" that Slovakia has reconfirmed its decision to close down the two nuclear reactors at the Jaslovske Bohunice plant in 2006 and 2008, respectively. In an interview with the daily "Die Presse," Schuster said the government's decision to do so remains in force regardless of criticism from the opposition to postpone the closure. Klestil congratulated Schuster on the "huge progress" made by his country toward meeting the criteria for EU accession, and added that Slovakia's entry will be important for Austria because "it will move the Schengen border eastward." Klestil also said he rejects the demand of the far-right Freedom Party for a referendum to be conducted on EU enlargement. Schuster said Slovakia's "strategic goal" is to join the EU at the same time as the other members of the Visegrad Four group. MS

...FORESEES MECIAR'S RETURN

In response to a journalist's question, Schuster said he is convinced that former Premier Vladimir Meciar will win the next parliamentary elections but that this will not change the Slovak NATO and EU accession goals as Meciar "has also changed" and will probably set up a broad coalition. Schuster said the government has helped Meciar by not respecting promises made to the electorate, and in its current policies the cabinet "should stop relying on help from abroad, because elections take place at home." MS

SLOVAK MARKIZA TV REACTS TO COMPETITOR'S VICTORY

A statement issued on 24 October by Markiza TV said the station "respects" the decision of the Media License Council to allow the entry of Czech television magnate Zelezny into the Slovak market, but continues to have misgivings about Zelezny's personal integrity, CTK reported. The statement also said the Slovak market is too small to sustain one private and two commercial channels, and that despite the belief that the approval of the license for Zelezny will lead to "healthy competition," Markiza TV believes it will bring about a decline in the quality of broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline, "24 October 2001). Zelezny told the daily "Sme" on 25 October that he will launch judicial procedures against Markiza TV co-owners Pavol Rusko and Fred Klinkhammer. He did not specify on what grounds he intends to do so, but both Rusko and Klinkhammer, who is the executive director of CME, portrayed Zelezny earlier this week as a crook in connection with the long-standing dispute between the Czech television mogul and CME over ownership rights of the private Czech Nova television. MS

OFFICIAL REJECTS ROMANIAN PROPOSAL FOR HUNGARIAN ID CARDS

Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath on 24 October said membership in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) cannot be the equivalent of membership in the Hungarian minority, "Mediafax" reported, quoting a BBC report. Rejecting Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's recent proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001), Horvath said the Hungarian Status Law will not be applied on ethnic criteria, but will be based on individuals' declaration of their Hungarian identity. The number of Romanian citizens of Hungarian nationality is much larger than the number of those who are members of the UDMR, Horvath concluded. MSZ

GREECE WANTS ITS LABOR MARKET OPEN TO HUNGARIANS

Visiting Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said in Budapest on 24 October he wants Greece to open its labor market to Hungarians as soon as possible upon Hungary's accession into the EU, Hungarian media reported. Papandreou told reporters after meeting his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi that "Hungary has developed a very strong European path and is the front-runner of the enlargement process." MSZ

JEWISH COMMUNITY IN HUNGARY OBJECTS TO MIEP FORUM IN FORMER SYNAGOGUE

The Jewish community of Zalaegerszeg on 24 October expressed "outrage" after the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) held a political gathering in a former synagogue that is now a concert and exhibition hall. Vilmos Siklosi, the head of the town's Jewish community, said the community objects to the "desecration of the former synagogue." Siklosi told "Nepszabadsag" that events such as a male striptease contest, an exhibition called "Lebensraum," and "party functions that not only verge on the borders of good taste but are cynical and humiliating to our community," have also been organized in the former synagogue. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said his party has repeatedly organized functions in the concert hall despite protests from the local Jewish community because "the hall is owned by the town, and the community cannot have a say in what functions take place there." MSZ




NATO, EU WARN MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Lisbon on 24 October that the Macedonian parliament's delays in enacting long-overdue constitutional changes could lead to a return to violence, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 October 2001). Noting that the parliament is about to begin debate on the reform package, Robertson added: "Today they will have in front of them enough business to concentrate their minds, and I expect them to deliver what was a solemn undertaking made by the leaders of the political parties" in the Ohrid agreement, which Macedonia's political leaders signed in Skopje on 13 August. But in the Macedonian capital on 24 October, legislators spent their time squabbling, and then adjourned until the following day. An unnamed EU official told Reuters: "It's make-or-break time for the peace plan. We will be applying maximum pressure to get these reforms approved by the end of the month." EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was to arrive in Skopje late on 25 October to encourage politicians to speed up the reform process. PM

LEOTARD: EU SHOULD TAKE ROLE IN SETTING BALKAN FRONTIERS...

Francois Leotard, the EU's outgoing special envoy in Macedonia, told the French parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee that it is "Europe's task" to raise the question of frontiers in the Balkans, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Paris on 25 October. He added that "the Americans expect" the EU to take a leading role in Balkan affairs and have "not contested Europe's leading role" in resolving the Macedonian crisis. He noted that the time has come for the EU to take a clear stand on the future political status of Kosova and Montenegro. Leotard stressed that the EU needs to make the extent of its financial and military role in the region known to people in the Balkans and in the EU. He expressed regret that the EU-member states station troops in the Balkans as part of NATO, and not "under a European label." He did not say to what extent Brussels should take cognizance of the wishes of the Montenegrins and Kosovars in helping determine their futures. Many politicians and media in EU-member countries regularly use the word "Europe" to refer to the EU. PM

...FIGHTING COULD RESUME IN MACEDONIA

Leotard said in Paris that fighting could break out again at any time in Macedonia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 25 October. He added that the recent handing in of weapons by ethnic Albanian guerrillas was nothing more than a "political gesture of good-will" and that many high-quality weapons remain in their possession. Leotard pointed out that, unlike in Bosnia, ethnically mixed marriages are not common in Macedonia, and that few Macedonians or Albanians know the other group's language. The two communities live side-by-side but lead separate existences, Leotard added. The Frankfurt daily reported that France's Alain Le Roy will succeed Leotard as the EU's representative in Skopje. It remains unclear who will replace Germany's Bodo Hombach as head of the Stability Pact when he leaves to return to private business. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT TO MOSCOW

President Boris Trajkovski will visit Moscow on 28-29 October for talks with his counterpart Vladimir Putin, ITAR-TASS reported from Moscow on 25 October. It will be the third meeting of the two presidents since the beginning of 2001. PM

OSCE UNIVERSITY SET TO OPEN DOORS IN MACEDONIA

Former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel said in Skopje that classes will begin at Southeastern European University in Tetovo on 20 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 October. The university has a rigorous curriculum meeting international standards, and offers instruction in Albanian, English, and Macedonian. Most of the prospective students have expressed an interest in law or business degrees. The university represents the OSCE's answer to long-standing Albanian demands for university-level education in their own language, while paying heed to Macedonian fears lest an Albanian-language university turn into a diploma-mill for nationalists, which many feel Kosova's Prishtina University became in the 1970s. PM

MULTILINGUAL NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED IN MACEDONIA

In an effort to overcome the isolation and polarization of Macedonia's main ethnic groups, the newspaper "Gostivar Voice" began publication on 22 October with a print-run of 3,500 copies, the NGO Interethnic Project Gostivar said in a press statement. The monthly appears in Albanian, Macedonian, Turkish, and Romany editions. The newspaper has support from local and Dutch NGO's and from the Dutch government. It will be distributed for free. It raises issues often avoided by some other publications, including drug use, ecology, and the situation of local gays and lesbians. PM

RUSSIA TO CUT FORCE IN KOSOVA

Major General Nikolai Krivenstov will shortly replace Major General Vladimir Kazantsev as commander of Russia's KFOR troops, ITAR-TASS reported from Moscow on 25 October. By 1 November, Russia will reduce the size of its contingent in Kosova from 3,600 to 2,000. PM

YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR: CORRUPTION IS ALL-PERVASIVE

Ambassador Prvoslav Davinic, one of Yugoslavia's representatives to the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service on 23 October that corruption affects virtually every branch of life in Serbia, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Davinic stressed that the international community must be forthcoming with sufficient assistance if the battle against corruption is to be won. He also noted the important role of the media in fighting corruption. Davinic argued that the corruption must be dealt with in an international context and not just in any one country alone. PM

NATO SAYS BIN LADEN LINKS IN BOSNIA CUT

SFOR spokesman Daryl Morrell told a press conference in Sarajevo on 25 October that "we do believe that thanks to excellent cooperation between Bosnian officials, SFOR, and NATO, the links in Bosnia-Herzegovina of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network have been disrupted," Reuters reported. He added: "We are not going to comment on any intelligence, specific threats, or operational details associated with the actions that have been taken." The previous day, Morrell said peacekeepers "disrupted" an unspecified "terrorist organization" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). PM

BOSNIAN COURT SENTENCES SERB FOR RAPE CRIMES

On 24 October, a Sarajevo district court sentenced Dragan Stankovic to 10 years in prison for raping an unspecified number of "Muslim women and girls" in Foca early in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Reuters reported. Judge Davorin Jokic added that Stankovic "is also charged with grave breaches of a Geneva convention on the protection of civilians during the war, as well as of breaching the additional protocol of the convention on the protection of victims of international conflict." Serbian nationalists have meanwhile renamed the ethnically cleansed town Srbinje. PM

ROMANIA CHECKS ARAB FIRMS SUSPECTED OF TERROR LINKS

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Interpol have asked Romania to carry out checks on Arab-owned businesses suspected of links to terrorist groups, AFP cited police chief Florin Sandu as saying on 24 October. Sandu said that so far "we have no evidence proving any link between these firms and the funding of terrorist organizations," but added that the FBI and Interpol will be informed of the findings once the investigation is ended. MS

WORLD BANK TO LEND ROMANIA $1 BILLION

Between 2002 and 2004, the World Bank will grant Romania $1 billion in loans for rural and forestry development, as well as for different social projects, Johannes Linn, the World Bank's vice president for Europe and Central Asia, said after meeting in Bucharest with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Mediafax reported. Linn also said the bank's executive board recently approved $300 million in funds to support Romania's privatization process. He is in Bucharest to attend the second international conference of donors for the Balkan Stability Pact, which was to begin on 25 October. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE COMMISSION APPROVES DEBATE ON LIFTING TUDOR'S IMMUNITY

The Senate's Judicial Commission on 24 October approved the request of Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu that the Senate hold a debate on lifting the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The approval has been forwarded to the Senate's Permanent Bureau, which must convoke a debate in the plenum within 15 days. The PRM boycotted the commission's discussions on the debate. In related developments, the PRM said on 24 October that it "disagrees" with the way the government is conducting discussions with Russia on concluding the pending basic treaty between the two countries. While in favor of "the best possible relations" with Moscow, the PRM said renouncing demands that the Romanian state treasury be returned to Bucharest and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact be denounced in the text of the treaty is against the country's interests. National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica also said neither of the two demands should be renounced. MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY IN ROMANIA AGREES TO NASTASE'S SUGGESTION ON STATUS LAW

The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) agrees with the proposal made by Premier Nastase that UDMR party cards should be used to register members of Romania's Hungarian national minority for the purpose of meeting Status Law conditions, UDMR Chairman Bela Marko told journalists on 24 October. Marko said Nastase's suggestion "would simplify procedure" for implementing the Status Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He also said the suggestion may lead to "reaching consensus" over the law between Bucharest and Budapest. However, Marko was criticized from within the UDMR's own ranks the same day. UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes said Nastase's proposal is "unacceptable," and the UDMR leadership should have rejected it, as not all members of the Hungarian minority in Romania are also members of the UDMR. He added that the proposal is reminiscent of the communist era, "when membership of the Communist Party" carried with it some special benefits, Mediafax reported. The proposal was also dismissed by UDMR Deputy Konya Hamar Sandor and by PNL Chairman Stoica, who said Nastase is "sacrificing national interests on the altar of party interests," as well as by officials in Hungary itself (see Hungarian item above). MS

ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS PSD FAR AHEAD IN PARTY PREFERENCES

A public opinion poll conducted by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology shows the ruling Social Democratic Party would get 52 percent of the vote if balloting were to take place next week, Mediafax reported on 24 October. The PRM would garner 14 percent, the PNL and the Democratic Party 9 percent each, and the UDMR 7 percent. However, no less than 42 percent of respondents said they are "undecided" on how they would vote. MS

VORONIN SAYS MOLDOVA MAY FACE DANGER OF POLITICAL CRISIS

President Vladimir Voronin on 24 October said Moldova's leadership "has no right to make mistakes," as these mistakes "may lead to a loss of power" and a "political crisis," Infotag reported. Voronin said the country needs political stability and if that stability is not achieved, Moldova may "disappear as a state, or, even worse, be taken over by the country's corrupt political clans." Marking the first six months of Vasile Tarlev's cabinet, Voronin told the presidential staff, the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists, and the government that the main tasks of the government are concluding accords with international financial institutions "to make up for lost time"; restructuring the country's external debt; submitting to the parliament a budget with clear indications on sources of revenue and expenditure; creating a business climate favorable for foreign investment; and uprooting corruption in the state apparatus. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI REJECTS CHISINAU PROPOSALS

Peter Zlatov, an adviser to the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly, told Infotag on 24 October that the proposals received from Chisinau on how to overcome differences on the republic's autonomous status are "totally unacceptable." Zlatov said he believes the proposals are "a deliberate action" aimed at forcing Comrat to reject them, calling them "an insulting draft, which should never have left desks if Moldova really wanted to solve existing problems." Zlatov said Chisinau wants to grant the autonomous region "even fewer powers than those enjoyed by a county," and that it insists on the right to have a government-appointed representative in Comrat, whose prerogatives include the right to dissolve all Gagauz-Yeri political structures at any moment. He also said that by rejecting federalization, Chisinau "refuses to call a spade a spade," since a de facto federal structure has existed for several years now. MS

BULGARIA TO CALL TENDER FOR UPGRADING MIG-29S

Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said on 24 October that a tender for upgrading his country's fleet of 21 MiG-29 fighters will be held soon. Only three of these fighters are airworthy, due to a lack of spare parts, Reuters reported. Svinarov said the upgrades are part of the Bulgarian effort to bring its air force up to NATO standards. He also said no decision has yet been made on whether the tender will be an international one, but added that, in his own opinion, "all equipment that can be modernized in Bulgaria should be upgraded here." He said more than 10 companies, including several foreign companies, have offered to modernize the MiGs. Svinarov said that after modernization, the planes may be sold to finance the purchase of Western-made fighters. However, he said, another option is to upgrade some of the MiGs with NATO-compatible systems, making it possible to meet NATO requirements without replacing the entire fleet. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER CONTINUES BRUSSELS VISIT

Bulgaria must take further structural measures to establish a fully functioning market economy, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes told Bulgarian Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski in Brussels on 24 October, AFP reported. Solbes said Bulgaria has managed to maintain macroeconomic stability and has made considerable progress in the privatization process, while also pursuing structural reforms. He said Saxecoburggotski has informed him on some envisaged reform initiatives of the government, including the reorganization of structures overseeing privatization and a reform of the tax system. He said the envisaged measures "show a strong will to tackle Bulgaria's economic problems." MS

UN REPORT SAYS BULGARIA INTOLERANT OF HOMOSEXUALS, ROMA

A report released on 24 October by the UN Development Program (UNDP) said Bulgaria "remains disturbingly intolerant" of homosexuals and Roma, although some progress has been made since 1988 in attitudes toward minorities, AFP reported. The report said 76 percent of Bulgarians do not want to have a homosexual as a neighbor and 50 percent do not want to live next door to a Rom. Intolerance toward Roma, however, dropped from 1998, when 78.3 percent said they did not wish to have a Rom as neighbor. The report said that in practice, interaction between Bulgarians and Roma occurs only in the poorest strata of society. It also said that in a number of schools, Romany children have been separated from Bulgarians "into differentiated and segregated classes." Bulgarians consider even former prison inmates preferable to Roma as neighbors, since only 47 percent replied in the UNDP survey that they do not want an ex-convict as a neighbor. Forty-five percent said they do not want to live next door to someone suffering from AIDS, and the same proportion would refuse to live next door to a drug addict. MS




IN ROMANIA, POVERTY COMPOUNDS POPULATION DROP


By Eugen Tomiuc

With some 22.5 million inhabitants, Romania ranks among the more populous countries in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. However, like most other former communist states, Romania has experienced a steady population decline since the collapse of communism amid growing poverty, rising unemployment, and social turmoil. Disintegrating health care and social security systems also accelerated the first peacetime population decline on record in Romania.

In the 11 years since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, Romania's population has shrunk by at least 415,000 people. The main factors behind the decline are high mortality rates, low birthrates, and massive out-migration. Despite a slight slowdown in the negative growth over the past few years, the decline continues and there are few indications of an early reversal.

Already poor in 1989, Romanians over the following decade only grew poorer compared to a majority of their East European neighbors as a result of difficulties in implementing market reforms.

With an average monthly income of some $100, Romania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, and the benefits of a slight economic growth this year have yet to be seen by most poverty-stricken Romanians. "There is only one way out of this situation -- an improvement in the economic and social situation," said Professor Vasile Ghetau, one of Romania's leading demographers. "That would mean creating the resources to counter the negative effects of the process."

Birthrates between 1990 and 2000 have declined, by almost 6 newborns, to about 10.4 per 1,000 inhabitants. In addition, fertility rates also dropped from more than 2.2 children per woman in 1989 to 1.3 last year. In order to maintain the current level of population, fertility rates must be at a minimum of 2.1 children.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Romania still has one of the highest death rates in Eastern Europe -- excluding the countries of the Commonwealth of the Independent States -- after Bulgaria, Hungary, and Estonia.

An overall death rate of 11.4 per 1,000 inhabitants was reported in 2000, marking a slight increase compared to 10.5 in 1990 -- after a 12.7 peak in 1996.

In Romania's case, an additional cause for the sharp population decline was the 1989 abolition of Ceausescu's policy of forced birthrate growth. Contraception and abortion had been illegal during communism. As a result of clandestine abortions -- often performed in precarious conditions -- many women died and some doctors were jailed. Professor Ghetau said the restrictions had a considerable psychological impact on women, and that once the ban on abortion was dropped in December 1989, the decline in birthrates was much sharper in Romania than in other former communist countries.

Women apparently benefited from free access to contraception and abortion, as female life expectancy -- one of the lowest in Europe during communism -- grew over the last decade by more than two years to almost 75 years in 2000. Male life expectancy also rose by more than one year, to almost 68 years in 2000, after an abrupt decline in the first half of the 1990s largely due to an overall increase in unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and crime.

Economic out-migration caused primarily by growing unemployment in industry is another main cause behind Romania's population decline, and accounts for some 230,000 people -- or more than half of the estimated population drop -- over the last 11 years. Many of the Romanians that left have settled abroad permanently and do not intend to return.

Although legal emigration has declined substantially in the last three years and accounted for only 4,000 people in 2000, an increasing number of those who leave the country are young, better educated professionals. Official figures on illegal emigration from Romania to Western Europe are unavailable, but are believed to be high.

Internal migration is also on the rise in Romania, but instead of the traditional flow from rural regions to more developed urban areas, it is traveling in the reverse direction. In the early and mid-1970s, at the peak of communist industrialization, hundreds of thousands of villagers were encouraged to move to cities and towns and become industrial workers in huge state factories.

But many of those workers -- who have since lost their jobs and were facing the growing cost of living in cities -- returned to the countryside, where they survive by practicing subsistence farming.

Over the last decade, Romania's successive left and center-right governments have been unable to come up with effective measures to counterbalance the population decline amid growing poverty and a near collapse of the health care and social security systems. The current social-democrat government of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, which took over last December, has so far done little to stimulate family growth. A monthly child allowance is one of the few incentives the state offers to families with children, but its level amounts to only 4 percent of the average income.

Mihail Ciulcov, a deputy minister in Romania's Labor and Social Solidarity Ministry, said the government intends to increase that level to 10 percent over the next three years. "Currently, the value of the child benefit is 130,000 lei (4.5 dollars) per month per child, and for disabled children the amount is double," Ciulcov said. "Between 2001 and 2004, our government plans to increase the value of child benefits to 10 percent of the average salary ($10)."

With a median age of less than 35 in 2000, Romania's population is relatively young compared with that of Western Europe. Median age is expected to rise to 43 by 2005. However, because of the declining birthrate, the age profile is changing. This will result in the increase of the old-age dependency ratio -- of retired people to working population -- which is expected to increase from 19 percent last year to 21 percent in 2005. While the ratio is still lower than in Western Europe, Romania's economy -- with a per capita GDP of only some $1,700 -- can barely sustain even a slight increase in the number of pensioners.

Along with the aging of the population, experts also foresee a change in the future social fabric of the country, as only 5 percent of the newborns over the past several years belong to women with medium or higher education.

Scientists and politicians alike point out that in the absence of a sustained economic recovery, little can be done to reverse Romania's population decline -- or quell the alteration of its social structure.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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