Accessibility links

Newsline - October 29, 2001




SVR OFFICER LINKS BIN LADEN ASSOCIATE TO 1985 KIDNAPPING OF SOVIET DIPLOMATS

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Colonel Yuri Perfilev was quoted in a story published by "Ogonek," No. 43, that Russia's secret services are quite familiar with Imade Fayez Mugniyah, the Osama bin Laden associate who Israel's Mossad believes was the organizer of the 11 September attacks on the United States. In 1985, Perfilev was a KGB officer working in Beirut for the release of four Soviet diplomats kidnapped by terrorists as part of a plan to press Moscow to force Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. Mugniyah, who at that time was the personal bodyguard of PLO leader Yaser Arafat, organized that kidnapping with the help of the Iranian-backed Hizballah, Perfilev said. Perfilev said Mugniyah is now Hizballah's chief of foreign operations and is in hiding in Lebanon. VY

ROGOV SAYS RUSSIA SUPPORTS U.S. MORE THAN NATO DOES

Sergei Rogov, the director of the USA and Canada Institute, said on 26 October that Russia is providing the United States with "stronger support in the fight against the Taliban than all of the NATO allies of the U.S.," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said the same day that the alliance being formed between Russia and the United States "has not existed since the times of World War II," the Russian news service reported. Vershbow also suggested that an accord on missile defense may be signed at the upcoming Russian-U.S. summit in Texas. On 27 October, the Foreign Ministry welcomed U.S. moves toward ending the application of the 1974 Jackson-Vannik Amendment, and "Izvestiya" the same day said that the U.S. cancellation of a rocket test points to greater flexibility by Washington on the ABM issue. PG

PUTIN URGED TO MAKE LARGE DEMANDS ON BUSH

Gleb Pavlovskii, the director of the Center for Effective Policy and a close Kremlin media adviser, wants President Vladimir Putin to demand at his summit with U.S. President George W. Bush that Washington give Russia complete freedom to deal with Chechnya, recognize the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a zone of Russian interests, write off all of Russia's debts to the West, and give Moscow an equal voice in the G-8 and NATO, "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 October. Pavlovskii said that the failure to make such demands will lead to an uproar among Russians. Meanwhile, other commentators and politicians are comparing Putin to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to the extent that they say he is making concessions to the West without getting anything in return, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. VY

ANTHRAX SCARE IN RUSSIA CONTINUES

Letters containing white powder that many fear carry anthrax arrived at the offices of several Duma members on 26 October, including Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov and Peoples' Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov, Interfax reported. There have been reports of similar letters with unidentified white powder from other regions of Russia as well, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, to help calm the population, the Emergency Situations Ministry opened a hotline with information on how to handle suspicious substances. PG

VOLYNKIN SAYS RUSSIA KNOWS WHERE ITS NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE

Suggestions by former Russian Security Council Secretary and Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed that some special super-small Soviet nuclear devices are missing are "nonsense," Igor Volynkin, the chief of the Defense Ministry administration responsible for the nuclear arsenal, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 26 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Volynkin said Moscow did have 84 nuclear munitions weighing 30 kilograms or less each, but that it has either destroyed or put under tight control every one of them. VY

U.S. AFGHAN BOMBING SEEN HELPING RUSSIAN ARMS EXPORTERS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 October that the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan is helping Russian arms exporters strengthen their position in Southeast Asia because governments there now want to acquire more weapons systems. PG

PUTIN SIGNS LAND CODE INTO LAW

President Putin on 26 October signed into law the new Land Code, which allows the buying and selling of some 3 percent of the country's land area, Russian and Western agencies reported. The same day, the Property Relations Ministry announced that it will submit by December 2001 a draft law on the buying and selling of agricultural land, Interfax reported. The ministry added that foreigners will not be able to purchase land in Chechnya because it is categorized as a border region. PG

SHOIGU SAYS HE'S NOT UNDER INVESTIGATION

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told Ekho Moskvy on 27 October that a search of his ministry was not directed against him personally but rather constituted a routine probe. Shoigu said that he is "absolutely confident" that no wrongdoing will be uncovered. VY

STROEV SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD FOLLOW SWISS MODEL OF FEDERALISM...

Following a meeting on 26 October with Peter Hess, the president of the National Council of the Swiss Confederation, Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev said Russia could use the experience of Switzerland in developing its own federal system, Interfax reported. Stroev said that following the Swiss path would prevent "the concentration of power in one set of hands" and allow Russia "to build a normal federal state." PG

...CRITICIZES 'WAR COMMUNISM' APPROACH OF 'FEDERATION'

Federation Council speaker Stroev said on 26 October that Federation, the pro-Kremlin organization in his chamber, was wrong to expel members who did not vote for the Land Code, Interfax reported. He said that this effort to introduce "the discipline of war communism" will reduce the usefulness of the upper chamber. The leaders of Federation for their part sharply criticized Stroev for his remarks, especially since he voted for the Land Code himself. PG

UNITY NOT PLANNING TO BECOME 'A SECOND CPSU'

In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 26 October, Frants Klintsevich, the chairman of the political council of Unity, said Unity does not want to be "a second CPSU." That party, he said, enjoyed a constitutional monopoly of power, was intertwined with the state at all levels, and was organized on the basis of workplace cells. Unity has no plans to follow any of those principles, Klintsevich said. Instead, it identifies its chief task as "the creation of an active political force in support of the strategic course of Russian President Vladimir Putin." He added that "the time of political managers has arrived in the politics" of Russia, and that Unity will seek to organize political work so "millions of people will support this political work and this political party." On 27 October, delegates to the Third Congress of Unity unanimously passed a resolution to merge with Fatherland, Interfax reported. The merger is scheduled to take place at a joint congress in December. PG

RUSSIAN REGIONS WANTS CITIZENSHIP PROCESS SIMPLIFIED FOR ETHNIC RUSSIANS ABROAD

Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Georgii Tikhonov said on 26 October that his faction intends to introduce amendments to the citizenship law in order to allow Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics to be able to acquire Russian citizenship more easily, Interfax reported. Tikhonov, the deputy chairman of the Duma CIS Committee, said the measure will specify that "all citizens of the former USSR and the Russian Empire, who have not voluntarily taken citizenship in another country automatically will become citizens of Russia." PG

NEWLY ELECTED DEPUTY JOINS OVR FACTION

Chulgychy Ondar, who was elected to the Duma in a special election held on 14 October, has joined the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the lower house of the parliament, Interfax reported on 26 October. That raises the OVR membership in the DUMA to 46. PG

LOSING INFLUENCE IN MOSCOW, DUMA DEPUTIES MOVE TO REGIONS

According to an article in "Vremya novostei" on 26 October, ever more members of the federal parliament feel that they are losing their "importance and influence" in Moscow and have decided to move to the regions where they can play a larger political role. Among the most prominent to make this decision recently, the paper said, is Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, who has announced his intention to run for the presidency of the Altai Republic. One pro-Kremlin Duma deputy told the paper that "we passed everything the cabinet and the president wanted too fast and too easily," and are now left without a role. PG

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD SAYS HIS BODY IS INDEPENDENT BUT UNABLE TO ENFORCE DECISIONS

In an interview published in "Vek" on 26 October, Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai said that over the course of the last 10 years, his court has become "a judicial organ that does not allow state power to go beyond the borders of the constitutional framework," and which serves as "an effective mechanism for the defense of the rights and freedoms of citizens." He said that since its founding, the court has received more than 105,000 appeals from citizens and government agencies, held public hearings on 188 cases, and considered the constitutionality of 195 pieces of federal and regional legislation. The biggest problem his court faces, Baglai said, is with the implementation of its decisions, because the court lacks the power to enforce them on its own. PG

APPLICATIONS FOR PARDONS SAID NOT REACHING PUTIN

Anatolii Pristavkin, the chairman of the Presidential Pardons Commission, was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 26 October as saying that many of the pardons applications supported by his commission do not reach the desk of President Putin, who alone has the right to decide on whether to grant a pardon. Pristavkin said the files his group has examined are being sent instead to the Justice Ministry, which rejects almost all of them. As a result, he said, his commission has been "severed from the head of state." At a conference on pardons and amnesties in Saratov on 25 October, the paper reported, representatives of the Pardons Commission and the Justice Ministry agreed that a new regulation on the procedures for handling pardons is needed that will give the Justice Ministry a voice but not a veto. PG

YAKOVLEV SAYS THOUSANDS REMAIN TO BE REHABILITATED

In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 October, Aleksandr Yakovlev, who heads the Presidential Rehabilitation Commission, said that 4.5 million victims of Soviet political repression have been rehabilitated over the last 12 years but that hundreds of thousands of cases remain to be examined. He also said his commission has uncovered hundreds of lists of "people to be shot" signed by Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and other Stalin-era leaders. He noted that "from a juridical point of view," even secret police chief heads Lavrentii Beria and Nikolai Yezhov could be subject to rehabilitation because they were falsely charged, convicted, and executed. But Yakovlev said that as long as he is alive and in his current position, those two mass murderers will not be rehabilitated. PG

PUTIN SAYS RELATIONS WITH CHINA AT 'VERY HIGH' LEVEL

President Putin on 27 October said at a meeting with visiting Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao that relations between Russia and China are now at "a very high level," Russian agencies reported. PG

MOSCOW CALLS ON ISRAEL, PALESTINIANS TO HALT VIOLENCE

The Foreign Ministry on 26 October released a statement calling on Israel and the Palestinians to end violence and resolve their differences peacefully, Russian and Western agencies reported. "Banking on the use of force is without perspective, is unjustified, and cannot have any other result than to further sharpen confrontation," the statement said. On 27 October, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry welcomed Israel's withdrawal of forces from some Palestinian areas, Interfax reported. PG

USTINOV DESCRIBES 'HELL' FACED BY 'KURSK' CREW

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, who is overseeing the investigation of the now-recovered "Kursk" submarine, said on Russian television on 27 October that "what was going on in the compartments [of the 'Kursk'] was hell, a hell which you can only try to imagine," Russian and Western news agencies reported. Ustinov said there had been two explosions some 135 seconds apart, that 23 sailors had survived in one compartment for some hours, but that "there was no chance" of saving any of them. Most of those on board died from the initial blast, but some in the rear-most compartment died from carbon monoxide fumes. The bodies of the dead continue to be removed and identified, the reactor has been secured, and the submarine's complement of missiles are to be removed over the next several days. PG

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OFFICIAL SAYS 'NO' TO 'PROJECTS OF THE CENTURY'

Sergei Baev, who heads the investment policy department of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, said on 26 October that the era of "construction projects of the century" is over, and that there is no chance of building a tunnel between Sakhalin and Japan or under the Bering Strait (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). PG

MORE MOVES ON MEDIA CHESSBOARD

Aleksandr Lyubimov, the head of the Media Union, on 26 October welcomed the decision of the Duma Budget Committee to back away from the elimination of tax benefits for media outlets, Interfax reported. The same day, First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii called for the most rapid development possible of a new law on television and radio broadcasting, the news service said. Also on 26 October, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev said he is certain that there is no legal basis for the liquidation of his company, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA TO CLOSE OKHOTSK SEA TO FOREIGN FISHING

Officials of the State Fishing Committee announced on 26 October that Moscow will close the Sea of Okhotsk to foreign fishing as of 1 January 2002, Interfax reported. The Russian authorities ordered the sea closed to outside fishing in 1996, but this order was later rescinded, the news service said. PG

KLEBANOV SAYS RUSSIA LACKS FUNDS FOR FIFTH-GENERATION FIGHTER

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 26 October that the Russian government lacks the $1.5 billion needed for the development of a new fifth-generation jet fighter, Interfax reported. Klebanov also spoke out against the formation of any ministry of defense production and noted that the country's defense industries will be grouped into "approximately 50 core concerns and holdings," the news agency reported. PG

MOSCOW SAID TO HAVE 850,000 ILLEGAL RESIDENTS FROM BEYOND CIS

In an interview published in "Trud" on 26 October, Moscow Federal Security Service official Mikhail Tkachev said there are approximately 1 million people from outside the CIS living in Moscow, of whom 850,000 are there illegally. He said that his agency is cracking down on tourist firms that arrange for people from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran to come to Moscow on tourist visas and then simply disappear. He added that the Federal Security Service has closed some 5,000 such firms this year alone. But he said that more needs to be done, including strengthening laws to punish those who are in Russia illegally. PG

CHINESE AGAIN TO STUDY IN RUSSIAN UNIVERSITIES

Russian and Chinese officials have reached preliminary agreement to renew the program under which Chinese students studied in the universities of Moscow and other Russian cities in the 1950s and 1960s, Interfax reported on 26 October. The accord calls for up to 10,000 Chinese to study there each year, but there has been no discussion yet about having Russians study in Chinese universities. PG

SOLDIERS' IDENTIFICATIONS KEPT BY INTERIOR, NOT DEFENSE MINISTRY

Colonel Vladimir Shcherbakov, the head of the Defense Ministry agency charged with identifying combat dead, said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 October that his work has been hampered during the past year because the Interior Ministry rather than the Defense Ministry is given and maintains fingerprints and other identifying information about soldiers. "Are we building a police state?" he asked rhetorically. Shcherbakov noted that his Rostov-based agency nevertheless has successfully identified 91.8 percent of the some 3,000 bodies it was asked to examine of soldiers killed in the second Chechen war. That improved on a rate of 71 percent identified during the first Chechen war, he said. PG

WALLENBERG SAID TO HAVE WORKED WITH SPY AGENCIES OF FOUR COUNTRIES

At the presentation of his new book about Raul Wallenberg, "The Messiah of Budapest," on 25 October, Lev Bezymenskii said that the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from Hitler's death camps had been in close contact with the spy agencies of the U.S., Sweden, Germany, and the USSR, and that these various contacts may have led to his death in Soviet hands. Bezymenskii even speculated that Wallenberg might have been called back to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, as were other Soviet espionage agents. He said the rehabilitation of Wallenberg had the political goal of preventing further investigation into his role. PG

BULLS, FREED FROM HAVING TO FIGHT, MAY FREEZE TO DEATH

The bulls brought to Moscow for bullfights that were then banned by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov may soon face death because there are no heated facilities for them at the park where they are now being housed, Interfax reported on 26 October. PG

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT BREAKS SILENCE ON AFGHAN CONFLICT

Mintimer Shaimiev told diplomatic representatives from the European Union visiting Kazan on 26 October that he hopes Russia will not be drawn into the war with Afghanistan, Interfax-Eurasia reported, citing Tatarstan's presidential press service. Previously, Shaimiev and the head of another predominantly Muslim republic, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, refrained from commenting on the U.S.-led airstrikes against Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 October 2001). Shaimiev added that both Christians and Muslims condemn the organizers of the terrorist acts of 11 September. JAC

SAKHA PRESIDENT CLAIMS PUTIN'S SUPPORT...

Upon his return from Moscow, Sakha (Yakutia) President Mikhail Nikolaev told reporters in Yakutsk on 26 October that President Putin expressed support for Nikolaev's bid for a third term during a private meeting, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). According to Nikolaev, Putin said he supports his bid for a third term. At the same time, an unidentified high-level source in the presidential administration told Interfax that during the meeting, the election situation in Sakha was not brought up in any way. The source added that the controversy over whether Nikolaev will be allowed to participate in the 23 December election should be resolved in accordance with existing legislation. Meanwhile, Sakha's Supreme Court may take up the issue of Nikolaev's election registration on 29 October, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 28 October. The court will rule on whether the republic's election commission violated the republic's constitution when it allowed Nikolaev to register. JAC

...AS ELECTION HEAD SAYS ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR THIRD TERM FOR CHUVASH LEADER

Speaking to journalists in Cheboksary on 25 October, Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that even if a bill limiting the rights of regional leaders to seek third terms is approved, it will not affect the situation in Chuvashia because "under Russian law, after an election campaign begins the rules cannot be changed," strana.ru reported. Chuvash presidential elections are scheduled for 16 December, and Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov has already declared his intention to seek a third term. Also expected to run are State Duma deputy (Communist) Valentin Shurchanov, and Federal Security Service Lieutenant General Stanislav Voronov (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 October 2001). JAC

COSSACKS PLAN OWN POLITICAL PARTY

More than 150 delegates from the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, Orenburg, and Kurgan Oblasts participated in a forum in Chelyabinsk on 22 October to set an organizing committee for a new political party, the Cossacks of Russia, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 October, citing Ural-Press-Inform. Boris Gusev, the head of the Volga Cossacks, and Aleksei Ozerov, deputy presidential adviser in charge of relations with the Cossacks, were appointed as members of the organizing committee. Forum participants also appealed to President Putin and the State Duma to accelerate the adoption of a draft law on the Cossacks -- various drafts of which have been circulating the Duma for some years (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 September 1999 and 28 June 2000). JAC

RUTSKOI'S BROTHER CONVICTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES

The brother of former Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, Vladimir Rutskoi, along with a group of officials who worked under him at the state-run company he headed have been convicted of misappropriation and embezzlement, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 October. One of the governor's former advisers, Angelina Prokhorenko, was also implicated in the crimes. Aleksandr Rutskoi's former administration has been dogged by accusations of corruption since then-Governor Rutskoi was barred from seeking re-election last fall (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 13 December 2000). JAC




OPPOSITION DEMO PARTICIPANTS DEMAND ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION

Thousands of people attended a demonstration in Yerevan on 26 October convened by the three largest Armenian opposition parties, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The organizers estimated turnout at 20,000, while police said fewer than 7,000 people participated. Addressing participants, former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the Hanrapetutiun party, blamed President Robert Kocharian for what he termed the "unprecedented crisis" in Armenia and again affirmed the intention of Hanrapetutiun, together with the People's Party of Armenia and the National Unity Party, to collect enough signatures among parliament deputies to convene a debate on Kocharian's impeachment. Bazeyan further accused the authorities of trying to goad the opposition into taking anticonstitutional actions, but vowed that the opposition parties will not rise to that bait. LF

ARMENIA MARKS SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF PARLIAMENT KILLINGS

In separate ceremonies on 27 October, President Kocharian and other members of the Armenian leadership on the one hand, and opposition representatives and relatives of the victims on the other, laid wreaths at the graves of the eight senior officials gunned down in the Armenian parliament two years earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two ceremonies were timed not to coincide. Opposition parties and some of the relatives of the victims remain convinced that the five gunmen, whose trial began in February, were acting at Kocharian's behest. LF

ARMENIA WILL NOT SEEK NATO MEMBERSHIP

Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 October that while his country will continue to cooperate closely with NATO within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program, it does not intend to join the Atlantic alliance, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN UNVEILS DETAILS OF YET ANOTHER THWARTED COUP ATTEMPT

Ten people have been arrested in Azerbaijan and arrest warrants have been issued for six more who plotted to assassinate President Aliyev in 1999 with the aim of seizing power, according to a 27 October statement by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry reported by Turan and Interfax. The ministry identified as the masterminds behind that scheme former Baku City Prosecutor Mamed Guliev, an associate of former President Ayaz Mutalibov; and Mahir Djavadov, whose brother Rovshan was gunned down while trying to surrender after mounting what the Azerbaijani authorities claim was a coup attempt against Aliyev in March 1995. Mahir Djavadov was granted political asylum in Austria but in late 1998 moved to Iran and has since repeatedly criticized Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 12, 23 March 1999). Guliev, who has reportedly acquired Russian citizenship, is said to be in Moscow, where Mutalibov has lived in exile since his ouster in 1992. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE LISTS AZERBAIJAN'S POLITICAL PRISONERS

The Council of Europe unveiled on 25 October a list of 23 persons jailed in Azerbaijan whom it considers political prisoners, Turan reported the following day. Those 23, selected from a list of over 700, include former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov; former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev; former Premier Suret Huseinov; the leader of the self-proclaimed Talysh-Mughan Republic, Alikram Gumbatov; and former Gyandja city police chief Natig Efendiev, who was extradited from Turkey last year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 4, 28 January 2000). LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENT

The Azerbaijani parliament ratified on 26 October the agreement signed one month earlier by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia on the export of natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field via a pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2001), Turan and Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIA SAYS IT HAS WITHDRAWN MILITARY EQUIPMENT FROM ABKHAZ BASE

Russian media and Abkhaz officials reported on 26 October that the last remaining materiel from the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, including ammunition and a Buk antiaircraft gun complex, were loaded onto trains for transportation to Russia, Reuters, Caucasus Press, and Russian agencies reported. Under an agreement signed at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, Moscow had undertaken to withdraw all troops and materiel and close that base by 1 July 2001, but failed to meet that deadline. Some 600 Russian troops are to remain at the base to guard its airfield and other facilities. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba protested the withdrawal, saying the base is a stabilizing factor, Interfax reported. In Tbilisi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kahka Sikharulidze and parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze both called for international monitoring of the Russian withdrawal, suggesting that the trains were loaded not with weaponry but with scrap metal, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS NEW AIRSTRIKES

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 29 October protesting the bombing the previous day of villages in the Georgian-controlled sector of the Kodori gorge by fighter aircraft that entered Georgian airspace from Russia, Caucasus Press reported. There were no casualties in that attack. Russian aircraft overflew Georgian territory on four separate occasions later on 28 October. Several houses in the villages of Tishi and Adzagvar were set on fire in two bombing raids early on 29 October, but it is not clear whether there are casualties, according to the Georgian Defense Ministry, as quoted by Caucasus Press. LF

SITUATION IN ABKHAZIA REMAINS TENSE

Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba told journalists in Sukhum on 26 October that a new group of armed men is gathering in the Georgian sector of the Kodori gorge, Caucasus Press reported. He said that most of the band are Georgians, as some of the Chechens who participated in the raid earlier this month have already escaped to Karachaevo-Cherkessia, while other are in Tbilisi with their leader Ruslan Gelaev. The Georgian presidential representative in Kodori, Emzar Kvitsiani, rejected Agrba's statement the same day as unfounded. Agrba also said that an Abkhaz army post in the unrecognized republic's southernmost Gali Raion came under fire on 26 October during a raid by guerrillas who penetrated Gali from Georgia. One Abkhaz serviceman was wounded in that attack. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WILL NOT CALL FOR CIS PEACEKEEPERS' IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL FROM ABKHAZIA

On 29 October, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi he has still not signed the resolution passed by the Georgian parliament on 11 October calling for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said he will not raise the issue of the peacekeepers' withdrawal at the CIS summit next month, but will wait until the UN makes a commitment to provide a replacement force after the Russian contingent leaves. LF

UN REPRESENTATIVE HOLDS TALKS WITH ABKHAZ LEADERSHIP

Dieter Boden, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General's Office, held talks with Abkhaz leaders in Sukhum on 25-26 October. Caucasus Press and the website strana.ru as quoted by Glasnost-North Caucasus said those talks focused on a possible resumption of talks between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives, but Interfax on 26 October quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Shamba as saying the only issue discussed was the situation in the Kodori gorge. LF

KAZAKHSTAN POSTPONES PLANNED ASIAN SECURITY SUMMIT

The first summit of the 16-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia, which was scheduled to take place on 8-20 November, has been postponed until the first half of next year, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 October, quoting a statement by Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1999 and 5 February 2001). The statement said that convening the summit at a time when member states are confronted with the shared problem of fighting terrorism could narrow down the range of issues included on the agenda. LF

KAZAKH SUES BANK OVER REFUSAL TO USE NATIONAL LANGUAGE

Qayirbek Tokhtarov, a resident of the city of Aqtobe in northwest Kazakhstan, has begun legal proceedings against the city branch of the Turan-Alem bank for failure to respect the state language of Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Kazakhstan's Constitution requires that all organizations should provide information in both Kazakh -- the official language -- and Russian. Bank employees had refused to provide Tokhtarov with information in Kazakh. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TRANSFERS CONTROL OF PRISONS TO JUSTICE MINISTRY

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev signed a decree on 24 October transferring responsibility for administering the country's 36 penitentiaries from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 26 October. At a press conference in Bishkek on 26 October, First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev estimated the number of persons imprisoned in Kyrgyzstan at 18,000. He said 60 percent of those found guilty by courts, or some 2,000-2,500 people, are sentenced to prison terms each year, and called for reducing the number of prison sentences and the increased imposition of fines against offenders. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN DUMA DELEGATION

Meeting on 26 October with a visiting delegation of deputies from the Russian State Duma headed by Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko), President Imomali Rakhmonov again affirmed that relations with Russia constitute one of the main priorities of Tajikistan's foreign policy and "a fundamental condition for the development of the sovereignty and independence of Tajikistan," ITAR-TASS reported. The two sides discussed regional security and the situation in Afghanistan and agreed on the need for permanent close cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and organized crime. Also on 26 October, Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Eduard Vorobev said that although Russia will not take part in the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan, it would render assistance to Tajikistan under the terms of the CIS Collective Security Treaty in the event of an attack on Tajikistan by a third country. LF

TAJIKISTAN, UN TO ESTABLISH JOINT CENTER TO COORDINATE AID TO AFGHANISTAN

UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima told journalists in Dushanbe on 26 October that he has reached agreement with the Tajik leadership on setting up a joint center for coordinating relief aid to Afghanistan, AP reported. Oshima said 75 percent of that aid will be shipped to northern regions of Afghanistan. Oshima discussed with Tajik Emergency Situations Minister Mirzo Zieev the possibility of transporting relief aid via Tajikistan's Nizhnii Pyandj region. At a second press conference the following day, Oshima estimated the number of Afghan displaced persons in the regions of the country bordering on Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan at 500,000, ITAR-TASS reported. He said at present some 3 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian aid, but that figure could reach 7.5 million by the end of the year. LF




BELARUSIANS MARCH IN DEFENSE OF STALIN-ERA MEMORIAL SITE

Some 1,500 people, mainly activists of the opposition Conservative Christian Party (KKhP), took part on 28 October in an authorized march from downtown Minsk to the Kurapaty wooded suburb where the Stalin-era NKVD conducted mass executions of "enemies of the people," Belapan reported. The recent reconstruction of the Minsk beltway is seen by many public and opposition activists in Minsk as a direct threat to the neighboring Kurapaty memorial. They propose that the authorities build a road bypassing Kurapaty. "If the authorities lack money to construct a road bypassing Kurapaty, we will collect people's donations and build the bypass," KKhP acting Chairman Yuras Belenki told the demonstrators. The KKhP is led from abroad by Zyanon Paznyak, who was given political asylum in the United States in 1996. It was Paznyak who in 1988 broke the news about the existence of the Kurapaty massacre site to the Belarusian public. According to Paznyak, more than 200,000 victims of the NKVD are buried at Kurapaty. JM

BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST ANTI-FASCIST DEMONSTRATORS

Police on 26 October detained 12 activists of the opposition Youth Front who tried to march through Minsk with lighted candles and posters reading "No to Fascism in Belarus," Belapan reported. The Youth Front timed the march to commemorate the memory of the first underground resistance fighters executed by the Nazis in Minsk on 26 October 1941. The arrested activists included Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets, who had been released only hours earlier after serving 10 days in jail for an unauthorized picket. JM

BELARUSIAN PREMIER PLEDGES 'SERIOUS' ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION

Premier Henadz Navitski told the Chamber of Representatives on 26 October that his cabinet has prepared a "serious" legislative package to liberalize economic relations in the country, Belapan reported. Navitski said the government will shorten the list of business activities subject to licensing, allow the registration of companies based at private residences, cancel reregistration procedures, and allow regional authorities to register businesses. Navitski noted that the government has decided to free companies from declaring the source of investments not exceeding $10,000. Navitski also promised to reduce the tax burden on the real economic sector. JM

KUCHMA MEETS WITH MACEDONIA'S TRAJKOVSKI...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with his Macedonian counterpart Boris Trajkovski in Crimea on 28 October. Kuchma assured Trajkovski that Kyiv will continue military cooperation with Skopje. "Ukraine, which has contracts with Macedonia and political agreements with NATO, will try to arrange a dialogue to come up with an optimal decision based on the understanding of the need for stability in Macedonia and guided by the global principles of international security," UNIAN quoted Kuchma as saying. Trajkovski told Macedonian Radio that Kyiv will continue arms supplies to Skopje, adding that this will be done "within a broader framework." The United States and NATO have recently raised objections to Ukrainian arms deliveries to Macedonia. JM

...AND RUSSIA'S YELTSIN

The same day Kuchma also met with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who is spending his holiday in Crimea with his wife and daughter, RIA-Novosti reported, quoting Ukrainian presidential spokesman Ihor Storozhuk. According to Storozhuk, both statesmen "raised their glasses for friendship and recalled the good old days." Yeltsin praised Kuchma for his contribution to "constructive" relations between both countries. Yeltsin also said he is "feeling very well" and denied the recent report in "Izvestiya" saying that his good health is a result of treatment by Chinese healers. "I have indeed been to China, but never approached any doctors," Yeltsin said. JM

UKRAINE TO PAY COMPENSATION TO ISRAELI FAMILIES FOR PLANE CRASH

President Kuchma telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 27 October, saying that Ukraine will compensate families of Israelis killed when a Russian Tu-154 airliner was accidentally shot down by a Ukrainian missile on 4 October. "[Israel's] Foreign Ministry received the announcement with satisfaction, and we will open a diplomatic dialogue concerning all aspects of the tragedy," AP quoted Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon as saying. Kuchma's spokesman, Ihor Storozhuk, said the Ukrainian president ordered Deputy Premier Oleh Dubyna to organize the collection of necessary funds, Interfax reported. It is not clear whether Kuchma also promised compensation for the non-Israeli victims' families, or how much each family will be eligible to receive. A Defense Ministry official suggested the previous day that Ukraine may give a Tu-154 plane to Russia's Sibir airline to compensate for the downed plane. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER DOUBTS IMPROVEMENT IN RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

In a live broadcast on Estonian Radio on 26 October, Mart Laar asserted that one should not expect any radical improvement in Estonian-Russian relations even if Moscow's opposition to NATO's eastward enlargement has been less fierce as of late, BNS reported. He said Moscow will do everything to prevent the Baltic states from joining NATO, noting that in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared Latvia and Estonia to Macedonia just sentences after declaring that Russia had nothing against NATO expansion if that alliance were to become a more political than military organization. Laar also stressed the need for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to end its mission in Estonia, as this would make it a regular European country. SG

SPAIN SUPPORTS LATVIA'S MOVE TO EU AND NATO

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 26 October in Madrid that his country supports Latvia's efforts to join the EU and NATO, LETA reported. He expressed the hope that Latvia can complete its EU membership negotiations during Spain's presidency of the EU in the first half of 2002. Aznar affirmed that Spain supports the "open-door policy" for NATO, noting that the first round of NATO expansion was launched in Madrid in 1997. SG

LATVIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS RE-ELECT PARTY LEADER

The 33rd Congress of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party's (LSDSP) on 27 October in Riga re-elected Juris Bojars as its chairman, LETA reported. He received 432 votes, the party's faction head in the parliament Egils Baldzens took 204, and parliament deputy Peteris Salkazanovs received 132. In his report to the Congress, Bojars, who has led the party for nine years, declared that all promises have been kept and the last local government elections were the LSDSP's greatest achievement since Latvia regained independence. A total of 215 deputies were victorious in the elections, with 12 party members heading these governments and another 12 serving as deputy chairmen. The party has been growing and now boasts some 2,800 members. Valdis Lauskis and Janis Adamsons were elected the party's deputy chairmen after Baldzens refused to be considered as a candidate. SG

GENTVILAS ELECTED LITHUANIAN LIBERAL UNION CHAIRMAN

Acting chairman of the Liberal Union Eugenijus Gentvilas defeated former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas in the election for party chairman at the extraordinary congress on 27 October in Panevezys by a vote of 374 to 208, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 29 October. Paksas was elected first deputy chairman, and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, parliament Deputy Chairman Gintaras Steponavicius, and Kaunas party leader Klemensas Rimselis as deputy chairmen. Gentvilas said he will try to convince Paksas not to resign as leader of the Liberal Union faction in the parliament as he had pledged to do. SG

POLAND'S NEW GOVERNMENT WINS CONFIDENCE VOTE...

The Sejm on 26 October voted by 306 to 140 to approve a new leftist cabinet led by Premier Leszek Miller, Polish media reported. The previous day, Miller addressed the parliament with a key speech defining his cabinet's policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). Apart from the ruling coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance with the Peasant Party, which controls 258 votes, Miller's cabinet obtained support from Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defense (53 parliamentary seats). The confidence vote was preceded by a debate in which the opposition parliamentary caucuses of the Civic Platform, Law and Justice, and the League of Polish Families criticized Miller for not being sufficiently specific about his plans to limit the ballooning budget deficit. JM

...APPROVES TAX MEASURES TO DEAL WITH BUDGET CRISIS

In an effort to tackle the country's budget crisis, the government on 26 October decided to introduce a 20 percent tax on income from interest on savings or investments as well as to move more taxpayers into higher tax brackets by freezing the current income tax thresholds for the next two years, AP reported. There are currently three personal income tax rates in Poland -- 19 percent (yearly incomes nor exceeding 37,024 zlotys [$9,000]), 30 percent (yearly incomes between 37,024 and 74,048 zlotys), and 40 percent (yearly incomes higher than 74,048 zlotys). The government also decided to scrap a tax exemption on building new houses. JM

POLISH PREMIER APPOINTS POLICE, BORDER GUARDS CHIEFS

Miller has appointed Jozef Klimowicz as the chief of the Border Guards and Antoni Kowalczyk as the chief of police, Polish media reported on 27 October. Klimowicz will replace Marek Bienkowski, while Kowalczyk will assume Jan Michna's post. JM

CZECH PREMIER WARNS AGAINST COMPROMISE WITH TERRORISTS; CONFIRMS ATTA MEETING

Addressing an international forum on the transition to democracy in Madrid on 27 October, Milos Zeman warned against making compromises with terrorists or negotiating with them, CTK reported. Any policy of reconciliation with terrorists, Zeman said, is bound to lead to disaster, as can be learned from the Czechoslovak experience with Adolf Hitler and "his terrorist methods," he said. On 28 October, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on Czech television that the government informed the United States shortly after the 11 September terrorist attack that suspected terrorist Mohammed Atta met in the Czech Republic with Iraqi agent Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir Ani several weeks prior to Ani's expulsion on 22 April 2001. He said Ani was expelled because he was suspected of plotting an attack "against an object in Prague." International media has previously reported that the "object" in question was RFE/RL headquarters, AP reported. On 27 October Gross told journalists that the United States has asked the Czech government to carry out security checks on pilots who fly to the United States to establish that they are not connected with any terrorist organization, CTK reported. MS

CZECHS ASK GERMANY FOR HELP IN PROSECUTING SUSPECTED RFE/RL SPY

The Czech authorities have asked Germany to provide documentation needed for the prosecution of former communist agent Pavel Minarik, CTK reported on 26 October. Minarik, who operated as an intelligence agent in the former RFE/RL headquarters in Munich in the mid-1970s, is suspected of having planned a bomb attack on the building. Minarik returned to Czechoslovakia several years before the RFE/RL building in Munich was bombed in 1981. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC CLOSES FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOR CHAPTER IN EU NEGOTIATIONS

The Czech Republic on 26 October closed the free movement of labor chapter in its negotiations with the EU, CTK reported. The negotiations were closed after the EU accepted a Czech demand that the Czech labor market be protected against the influx of labor from other EU members. The agreement stipulates that the transition period will be of two years, with the possibility of extending it up to seven years. However, the transition period is not binding on those EU members that wish to open their labor markets to the Czechs immediately after accession. Chief negotiator Pavel Telicka said Prague did not agree with the EU conditions, but no better agreement could be achieved at the present time. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION CRITICIZES REDRAFTED 2002 BUDGET

The Finance Ministry on 26 October submitted its redrafted budget for 2002, meeting with opposition criticism, CTK reported. The new draft bill is to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies on 9 November. It provides for a 46.2 billion crown ($1.2 billion) deficit, 6 billion less than in the first budget version that was returned to the cabinet by the chamber. Revenues are estimated at 705.2 billion (5.2 billion more than in the first version), and expenditures at 751.4 billion (800 million less than previously). The senior opposition Civic Democratic Party said the new bill must be submitted to it for negotiation, while the Four Party Coalition said the new draft has not changed significantly over its first version. MS

CZECH PARTIES SIGN MERGER AGREEMENT

The opposition Freedom Union and the extraparliamentary Democratic Union on 27 October signed a previously announced agreement for the merger of the two formations, CTK and AP reported. The new party will be called Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU). DEU leader Ratibor Majzlik is to become deputy chairman of the new formation, which will be headed by Freedom Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova. MS

CZECH CULTURE MINISTER SUSPENDS ART EXHIBITIONS ABROAD AS PREVENTIVE MEASURE

Culture Minister Pavel Dostal has decided to suspend sending abroad exhibitions of Czech art to prevent their being impounded there, CTK reported on 25 October. An international arbitration court in Stockholm recently ruled that Prague violated the Czech-Dutch agreement on the mutual protection of investments by allowing television mogul Vladimir Zelezny to take over Nova television, which was cofinanced by Zelezny and the Central European Media (CME) company in the 1990s. CME is owned by U.S. businessman Ronald Lauder. Zelezny, whose CET 21 company holds Nova's broadcasting license, discontinued cooperation with the CME-owned CNTS two years ago and caused great financial losses to that company as a result, according to the Stockholm arbitration court. The court ordered the Czech Republic to pay CME the market value of its investment, estimated by the company at 500 million crowns (some $13.5 million), and is yet to rule on compensation. The Czech Republic said it will appeal the ruling. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENTAL OFFICE RECEIVES NEW SUSPICIOUS ENVELOPE

A second suspicious envelope, addressed to Frantisek Zemek, an official in charge of the protection of dignitaries, was received on 26 October at the Slovak governmental office in Bratislava, CTK reported. The first envelope to reach that office was addressed to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. The envelope was sent for analysis at the national Health Institute in Banska Bystrica. No trace of anthrax has been found in any of the several hundred suspected envelopes examined in Slovakia. MS

DZURINDA WANTS SIMULTANEOUS ACCESSION OF EU BY VISEGRAD FOUR

Prime Minster Dzurinda told his Slovene counterpart Janez Drnovsek in Ljubljana on 26 October that the simultaneous accession into the EU by all Visegrad Four countries would be "beneficial" for both the EU and the acceding countries, CTK reported. The same day, President Rudolf Schuster dissociated himself from what he said was a "wrong interpretation" by the Austrian APA agency of a statement he made during his recent visit of Vienna that the other three Visegrad countries cannot "wait for Poland" if Warsaw is not ready for accession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Both Dzurinda and Drnovsek said they expect Slovakia to be invited to join NATO at the organization's 2002 Prague summit. MS

SLOVAKIA CLOSES ENERGY CHAPTER IN EU ACCESSION TALKS

Slovakia on 26 October closed the energy chapter in its accession talks with the EU, CTK reported. Slovakia has now completed 20 out of a total of 31 chapters in the acquis communautaire. Bratislava repeated its commitment to close down the nuclear power plant in Jaslovske Bohunice between 2006 and 2008. Foreign Minister State Secretary Jan Figel said the EU has accepted a five-year transition period for Slovakia to build up emergency oil reserves. MS

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER'S SON CHARGED WITH FRAUD

Jan Carnogursky's son was charged with fraud on 26 October. The younger Carnogursky is suspected of having billed the SSE power utility company 15 million crowns (some $307,800) for legal work he never carried out for the company. He is suspected of having colluded with a former SSE official. If found guilty, he faces a sentence of up to 12 years in prison. The justice minister said he is convinced of his son's innocence. MS

ORBAN SAYS STATUS LAW WILL HALT ASSIMILATION

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 28 October told Duna Television that the aim of the Status Law is to enhance feelings of belonging to the Hungarian nation and self-respect among ethnic Hungarians abroad, and to halt and reverse the assimilation they experienced in the past 80 years. Commenting on the Venice Commission's recent report, Orban said that "we do not claim that a Hungarian victory was achieved, but we do say that the report marks a great victory for all European minorities." He added, "It is of secondary importance for Hungary whether Romania considers it a victory or not." Orban said Romania's problem is that it has 2 million extra Hungarians on its territory, while Hungary's problem is that it has 2 million fewer. Regarding the implementation of the Status Law, he said the question of who will be entitled to carry Hungarian certificates will be decided in Hungary. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CONFERENCE DISCUSSES STATUS LAW

Delegates to the Hungarian Standing Conference on 26 October issued a closing statement in Budapest in which they proposed that ethnic Hungarians eligible for benefits under the Status Law may be issued Hungarian ID cards if they speak Hungarian, declare themselves Hungarian, are members of a Hungarian minority organization, and are registered as Hungarians by Hungarian churches or state administration authorities. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth welcomed Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's recent proposal regarding the issuing of Hungarian ID cards, saying that the Hungarian side will consider membership in the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania when issuing those cards. Nemeth also acknowledged Romania's merit in submitting the proposed Hungarian Status Law for analysis to the Council of Europe, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

FIDESZ CHAIRMAN SAYS SMALLHOLDER DISSENTERS MAY RUN ON RULING PARTY'S LISTS

Zoltan Pokorni, the chairman of the major coalition party FIDESZ, told reporters on 28 October that his party may conclude electoral agreements with Smallholder politicians opposed to Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan. "Nepszabadsag" reported that talks are under way with 10-12 anti-Torgyan FKGP deputies, who could run as FIDESZ-Hungarian Democratic Forum individual candidates. The newspaper said Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs and FKGP parliamentary group leader Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi could be on the FIDESZ-Forum's national or regional lists. MSZ




TENSE TIMES CONTINUE IN MACEDONIA

EU security policy chief Javier Solana succeeded in persuading Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders to accept a compromise formula for the preamble to the constitution, Reuters reported from Skopje on 28 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). The new formula refers to Macedonia as a country of "all citizens,...the Macedonian people, as well as citizens living within its borders who are part of the Albanian people," and others, AP reported. Reuters noted that unnamed Western diplomats fear that recent claims by hard-line parliament speaker Stojan Andov and others over the alleged massacre of 12 Macedonians by Albanians in July are a maneuver to reduce Western pressure over constitutional reforms and a long-promised amnesty to all guerrillas, except for those indicted by The Hague. On 29 October, Interior Ministry spokesman Vasko Sutarov said the authorities have prepared 784 indictments against 224 ethnic Albanians, dpa reported. Sutarov also referred to continued incidents of gunfire by the Albanians. Reuters quoted unnamed international monitors as saying that the gunfire was connected with weddings or other celebrations, or with criminal activity. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT MEETS PUTIN IN MOSCOW

Boris Trajkovski arrived in the Russian capital on 29 October for talks with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and other officials, AP and ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July and 28 September 2001). After his meeting with Putin, Trajkovski said: "The antiterror coalition should not just be concentrated on Afghanistan but also on Chechnya and Macedonia," dpa reported. He added, "We would like to feel the results of this coalition also in our own region," Reuters reported. Putin replied that "Russia backs your efforts, and the efforts of the international community, to harmonize the situation in the Balkans as a whole and Macedonia in particular... At our [August] meeting in Kiev, you talked to me about the situation in Macedonia and in the Balkans, and you gave me some convincing information about terrorist activities in the region. Unfortunately today, much of what you told me has been tragically confirmed." PM

INFORMATION CHIEF SLAMS MACEDONIAN-LANGUAGE MEDIA

At a press conference -- which the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" of 27 October described as "scandalous" -- the ethnic Albanian director of the Macedonian state Agency for Information, Bebi Bexheti, accused ethnic Macedonian journalists of partisan and unjust reporting during the conflict. Bexheti said that most information spread by Macedonian-language media was provided by sources from the Interior Ministry or by party leaderships. Bexheti added that Macedonian-language media did little or nothing to inform the public about the hardships of Albanian refugees, while the fate of Macedonian displaced persons was widely covered. "Instead of building bridges to the Albanians, the Macedonian media present the Albanians as being the reason for all the trouble that happens in this country. Macedonian journalists do not know anything about Albanian culture and life," the daily "Vest" cited Bexheti as saying. UB

MACEDONIAN PARTY PRESSES FOR REGISTRATION IN BULGARIA

The nationalist United Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO-Ilinden), which claims to represent the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, will press for legal registration in Bulgaria, the Skopje weekly "Puls" reported on 26 October. At a press conference held in Skopje, Jordan Kostadinov Ivanov, the organization's leader, said a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg obliges the Bulgarian government to recognize the existence of the Macedonian minority there. Successive Bulgarian governments so far have denied the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, and most Bulgarians believe that Macedonians are really Bulgarians. OMO-Ilinden has been banned in Bulgaria, and members of the organization have been subject to discrimination. UB

ARMY RESERVISTS TO SUE MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT

Some 80 army reservists from the central Macedonian town of Prilep plan to sue the Macedonian government for damages, the Skopje daily "Vest" reported on 25 October. As the lawyer of the reservists declared, the reservists will not ask who is responsible for the material and psychological damages they suffered when a convoy came under fire from ethnic Albanian rebels near Karpalak on 8 August. Instead, the lawyer said the reservists will claim sums of between $45,000 and $113,000, depending on whether the soldier in question was wounded or not. In the ambush near Karpalak on the Skopje-Tetovo highway, 10 Macedonian soldiers were killed and four wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2001). Later, the shadowy Albanian National Army (ANA) took responsibility for the ambush. UB

MORE CHARGES AGAINST SERBIA'S EX-STRONGMAN

On 29 October, former President Slobodan Milosevic made his third appearance in court in The Hague since the Serbian authorities extradited him in June, Reuters reported. Prosecutors read out an indictment that he led a "joint criminal enterprise" against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia during the 1991-1995 conflict. He has previously been indicted for war crimes in Kosova. Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is preparing to raise charges against Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Milosevic refuses to recognize the authority of the tribunal and dubs himself a "political prisoner of NATO." He told the tribunal on 29 October: "I have been accused because...I had the honor to defend my nation from the criminal aggression that was carried out against it, and to defend my people from terrorism... I have no intention, still, to familiarize myself with the contents of something that is totally fabricated and is far from the truth." PM

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCING IN ARKAN SLAYING

On 26 October, a Belgrade court sentenced Dobrosav Gavric to 20 years in prison in conjunction with the killing of paramilitary leader and underworld figure Zeljko Raznatovic -- otherwise known as Arkan -- in early 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The court sentenced two of Gavric's associates to 15 years imprisonment each. Many questions still remain about the slaying, including the possible role of Milosevic and his top associates in the death of Arkan, whom one Serbian tabloid called "the man who knew too much." PM

SERBIAN GENERAL SLAMS 'IDIOTIC RANTING'

General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the Yugoslav military's General Staff and commanded Milosevic's forces in Kosova in 1999, told the official Tanjug news agency that recent charges by Human Rights Watch of systematic Serbian war crimes during that conflict are "statements by individuals who suffer from an inferiority complex," AP reported from Belgrade on 28 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Pavkovic called the report "idiotic ranting,...unfounded gossip, and [calculated remarks]." He added that the Yugoslav military courts have charged 182 soldiers or officers in conjunction with "violating the law or international conventions on war." PM

MONTENEGRIN, SERBIAN TALKS END IN STALEMATE

Talks in Belgrade on 26 October between Montenegrin leaders on one hand and Serbian and Yugoslav officials on the other ended without any agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said that the two sides' positions are too far apart for agreement and that the Serbs do not accept his demand for a "union of two independent states." Djukanovic added that he plans to go ahead with plans for a referendum on independence in the spring of 2002. For his part, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica cited "historic, economic, and security reasons" for preserving a single state, AP reported. PM

NEW CHIEF FOR MONTENEGRIN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Delegates to the congress of Montenegro's Social Democratic Party (SDP) elected Vice President Ranko Krivokapic as the party's new president, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 27 October. The new vice presidents are Miodrag Ilickovic, Rifat Rastoder, and Ivan Brajkovic. Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, who is also vice president of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told the SDP congress that plans for the referendum on independence are going ahead. After the congress, Krivokapic said he does not plan major personnel changes, "Vijesti" reported on 29 October. Krivokapic and the SDP support independence from Serbia and criticized Milosevic's war in Kosova. PM

CROATIAN NEWS AGENCY BECOMES PUBLIC

The parliament has passed legislation to transform the state-run news agency Hina into a public institution subject to the same standards and transparency as are public broadcasting stations in EU countries, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 26 October. Hina was long regarded as the mouthpiece of the government of the late President Franjo Tudjman. Without state financial support, a Croatian news agency would have little hope of surviving. The new legislation gives Hina the chance to stay afloat free of political meddling. PM

CROATIAN EX-GENERAL SAYS MILOSEVIC, TUDJMAN PLANNED BOSNIAN WAR

Former General Milan Spegelj told the Novi Sad daily "Dnevnik" that Milosevic and Tudjman agreed on a war and a "humane transfer of populations" in Bosnia at their meeting in Karadjordjevo in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 28 October. This and other supposedly secret meetings of the two leaders have been the subject of much speculation in the former Yugoslavia and abroad over the past decade. PM

NEW NON-NATIONALIST BOSNIAN TV STATION ON THE AIR

Television of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina began broadcasting on two channels on 26 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. It replaces the former Television Bosnia and Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). PM

BALKAN STATES PLEDGE COOPERATION AGAINST TERRORISM

On the second day of their gathering in Bucharest, the nine Balkan Stability Pact members on 26 October issued a joint declaration condemning "all acts of terrorism, by whomever they are committed and whatever their motivation," Mediafax reported. Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia agreed to cooperate against "the scourge of terrorism"; to regularly exchange data on terrorist organizations; to set up special antiterror police units; and to harmonize antiterrorist legislation. One day earlier, the Romanian government issued an emergency ordinance providing for stiff prison sentences to those engaging in terrorist activities and for those causing alarm in the population through either threats or hoaxes. Terrorist acts are now punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and acts of spreading false alarm can draw sentences of three months to three years in prison. Those found guilty of disseminating toxic or biological material that can cause illness to people or animals face prison sentences of between three and 15 years. MS

ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER VOWS TO FIGHT TRANSYLVANIA'S 'ENCLAVIZATION'

While addressing a forum of his ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) in Cluj on 27 October, Ioan Rus harshly attacked Hungary and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), saying they are cooperating to bring about the "enclavization" of Harghita and Covasna counties, whose population is primarily Magyar, Mediafax reported the next day. Rus presented a document worked out by the PSD local branch on the party's policies in Transylvania that says Hungary and the UDMR have replaced their former policy of contesting the "national character" of Romania with a policy of gradual encroachment on Romanian rights in Transylvania, and one that encourages "separatist tendencies" by playing up differences between Transylvania and the rest of the country. He said Romania will not "stand by" and watch the withering away of its sovereignty, and pledged that the PSD will act to transform Transylvania into the country's "economic motor." Rus also called for stemming the increase of Hungarian involvement in the region's economic affairs. UDMR Cluj leader Konya Hamar Sandor, who was scheduled to address the forum, refused to do so and left in protest. MS

ROMANIAN WORKERS SUMMON PREMIER TO BRASOV

The trade unions at the Brasov-based Roman SA truckmaker demanded on 28 October that Premier Adrian Nastase urgently come to Brasov to "explain to workers why the Romanian market is dominated by imports, rather than by local production," Mediafax reported. The "invitation" followed a statement made by Nastase on 26 October, in which he said the truckmaker is not competitive on European markets and must be "thoroughly restructured." The unions said: "The road to Europe cannot pass over the sufferance, hunger, and desperation" of Brasov workers, and that if Nastase ignores the invitation they will consider his posture to be one of "defying" the 8,600 employees of the plant. Nastase is leaving on 29 October for an 11-day tour of Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. MS

ROMANIAN REFINERY PRIVATIZED

The large RAFO Onesti refinery, whose privatization has stumbled several times in 1997, has been purchased by a Portuguese-Romanian consortium that paid $7.5 million for a 60 percent stake, Romanian television announced on 26 October. The consortium will assume responsibility for the company's $300 million debt. MS

SUSPECTED HIZBALLAH LEADER TO BE EXPELLED FROM MOLDOVA...

The recent modification of Moldova's citizenship law was prompted by the necessity to make possible the expulsion from Moldova of Mahmud Ahmad Hammud, a ringleader of the Hizballah organization who recently married the daughter of former parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov, Flux reported on 27 October, citing sources from the Intelligence and Security Service. The parliament changed the law, granting the country's president the right to withdraw citizenship from those who illegally acquired it. The agency said that between 1992 and 1997 Hammud was involved in criminal activities in Romania, particularly in the trafficking of narcotics and women. Between September 1997 and 31 January 2001, he was Lebanon's honorary consul in Moldova. On 19 October, President Vladimir Voronin withdrew Hammud's Moldovan citizenship. The suspected terrorist married Diacov's daughter the next day. MS

...DENIES LINKS WITH ORGANIZATION

Hammud told Mediafax in Chisinau on 28 October he never had any links with Hizballah and that all the allegations against him are untrue. The same day, the Romanian Intelligence Service said Hammud was under constant surveillance while he was in Romania, and that the service "prevented him from establishing a personal relationship with Romanian political officials," whom he had tried to contact to involve them in "possible illegal financing." MS

SEPARATISTS BLOCK MOLDOVAN RAILWAY

President Voronin on 28 October held urgent telephone discussions with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts after the separatist authorities in Bendery-Tighina, near the Ukrainian border, blocked the passage of 350 wagons of fuel and lubricants destined for Chisinau, ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin told Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma that Moldova will act "strictly in compliance with current international norms." The blocked transport also includes ethyl alcohol, chlorine, and other toxic materials that can pose a threat to the population there. Flux reported that the oil had been dispatched to Moldova by Russia's LUKoil. MS

BULGARIA CLOSES ANOTHER CHAPTER IN EU NEGOTIATIONS; ROMANIA STAGNATES

Bulgaria on 26 October closed the telecommunications chapter in negotiations with the EU, bringing its tally to 12 completed chapters out of the 31 of the acquis communautaire, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. Romania did not close any chapters, remaining at eight (the fewest among all EU candidates), but opened discussions on two more chapters. The same day, Bulgaria opened negotiations on the sensitive free movement of labor chapter. Chief Bulgarian negotiator Meglena Kuneva said Sofia is likely to agree to the same compromise already accepted by Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia, which allows current EU members to close their borders to labor from candidate countries for up to seven years following enlargement. MS




There is no End Note today.





XS
SM
MD
LG