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Newsline - November 15, 2001




PUTIN SAYS FRIENDSHIP WITH U.S. DEVELOPING, WANTS SIGNED AGREEMENTS

In speeches and meetings in Washington and Texas on 14 November, President Vladimir Putin said that the events since the 11 September tragedy have given Russia and the U.S. "an opportunity to make our bilateral relations long-term and really friendly," Russian and Western agencies reported. He described terrorism as "a crime against all of us, against humanity" and as such as "our common enemy." At the same time, Putin repeated what he had said at the White House on 13 November, namely that consensus among leaders on reducing nuclear arms and other key issues must be codified in written agreements in order to build trust. On 14 November Putin called for the signing of a document on the fight against international terrorism. Putin also said Russia will seek to enter the World Trade Organization in a normal and orderly way while defending Russian national interests, that Russian business is growing and attracting capital investments, that the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan must represent all groups and be acceptable to that country's neighbors, and that Russia hopes for a better relationship with NATO. Both Russian and American officials said that the two sides remain far apart on missile defense and the fate of the 1972 ABM Treaty, and Russian officials said that the U.S. side did not raise the issue of Chechnya. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS JACKSON-VANIK PROVISIONS TO BE DROPPED BEFORE BUSH VISITS RUSSIA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told ITAR-TASS on 14 November that the leadership of the U.S. Congress has promised that the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was adopted to promote Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union but which Russian leaders today say restricts trade between the two countries, will be dropped before President George W. Bush visits Russia in June 2002. Meanwhile, Russian Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar told AP on 14 November that President Putin is committed to eradicating anti-Semitism in Russia and to protecting the rights of Jews there. PG

ONE MUSCOVITE IN THREE SAYS FIGHTING TERRORISM MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE OF RUSSIA-U.S. COOPERATION...

According to a poll conducted by ROMIR and reported by ITAR-TASS on 14 November, 32.6 percent of Muscovites believe that fighting terrorism is the most important task of Russian-American relations. Sixteen percent said that preserving the 1972 ABM Treaty is the most important, 15 percent named economic problems, and 6.3 percent said that reducing strategic nuclear weapons is most important. PG

...AND ONLY ONE RUSSIAN IN FIVE BELIEVES THERE HAS BEEN A RADICAL SHIFT IN RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS

According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by "Moskovskie novosti" on 13 November, only 20 percent of Russians believe that there has been a radical turning point in Russian-American relations since the 11 September terrorism attacks on the U.S. But one group of people does see such a change: "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 14 November that investors in the Russian equities market have been buoyed by rising expectations engendered by the ongoing summit. PG

DIFFICULT PARTISAN WAR AHEAD IN AFGHANISTAN?

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 November said that the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance does not represent the end of the struggle against the Taliban, but rather the transformation of that war from a more or less conventional one to a more complicated and potentially more lengthy partisan conflict. Meanwhile, General Makhmud Gareev, president of Moscow's Academy of Military Sciences, said the same day that the international antiterrorist coalition should take advantage of the month of Ramadan to end bombing and other combat operations and switch to political methods in resolving the conflict there, ITAR-TASS reported. "If Americans and their allies ignore political ways of settling the situation in Afghanistan and lay emphasis on military methods," Gareev said, "they risk repeating the mistakes made by the Soviet Union in the 1980s." Also adding his voice for the suspension of all military actions in Afghanistan during Ramadan was Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Russian and Western news agencies reported. PG

RACIST GANGS IN RUSSIA SAID SEEDBED OF TERRORISM

In an interview published in "Versiya" in its 13-19 November issue, Abdul-Vahid Niyazov of the Eurasian Party of Russia said that the main threat to Russia's security are racist groups that, he said, represent "a potential source of terrorism." Many of these gangs, he said, obtain some of their energy from the prevailing atmosphere of Islamophobia "reigning in Russia." Niyazov said that his group will lead a Peace March in Moscow on 17 November to call attention to the opposition of Russian Muslims to what the United States is doing in Afghanistan. PG

WEST SAID RESPONSIBLE FOR APPEARANCE OF SKINHEADS IN RUSSIA

An article in "Profil" on 12 November argued that the skinhead subculture is "the most dangerous thing that Russia has imported from the West." The weekly suggested that racist and neo-Nazi gangs are the product of Western societies and would not have appeared in Russia had the country not opened itself to the world after 1991. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST CONDEMN 'WAVE OF RACISM IN RUSSIA'

A group of Russian human rights activists on 14 November organized a roundtable discussion in Moscow at which they condemned "the wave of racism in Russia" that is "gathering force and threatens to become a storm." They said "every day in Moscow, blacks, Hindus, and people from the Caucasus are beaten." PG

ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY WANTS TO EXPAND SECURITY COOPERATION WITH U.S.

Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry released a statement on 14 November saying that it wants to expand cooperation with U.S. nuclear laboratories in order to improve security arrangements at Russian facilities, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The Russian side has prepared a draft program that calls for regular safety exercises and better communications and monitoring of critical sites. PG

MOSCOW REPORTS INCREASING SECURITY ON PLANES AND AT AIRPORTS

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said in London on 13 November that Russian officials have taken "serious security measures" on Russian airlines and at Russian airports, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. Klebanov said that the new security measures taken in the wake of the 11 September attacks underscore the fact that "Russia is a very safe country for tourism." Klebanov was speaking at the World Travels Market exhibition. PG

RUSSIA READY TO OFFER CIS COUNTRIES SPECIAL TECHNOLOGIES TO FIGHT TERRORISM

Deputy Interior Minister and commander of Internal Forces Colonel General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov said on 14 November that Russia is prepared to provide member governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States with special technologies to help them combat terrorism, Interfax reported. PG

SUSPICIOUS POWDER MAILED TO YELTSIN

An envelope containing suspicious white powder has been sent to former President Boris Yeltsin, officials in Irkutsk said on 14 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The envelope came from the local clinic for skin and venereal diseases, and officials there said that the powder looks like household baking soda, but is being studied in a laboratory. So far, the officials said, they have examined 15 suspicious samples in that region, and all turned out to be harmless. PG

GOVERNMENT URGED TO INOCULATE POPULATION AGAINST SMALLPOX

A group calling itself "Scholars Against Bio-weapons" on 13 November urged that officials inoculate 95 percent of the Russian population against smallpox to protect against a biological attack by terrorists, "Novye izvestiya" reported the following day. PG

PUTIN SHIFTS FIRE BRIGADES FROM INTERIOR MINISTRY TO EMERGENCY SITUATIONS MINISTRY

President Putin signed a decree on 13 November transferring administrative control of the country's fire brigades from the Interior Ministry to the Emergency Situations Ministry, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the following day. The latter ministry will thus gain 275,000 new employees. Both the Interior Ministry hierarchy and many firefighters have actively opposed this shift, the paper said. PG

PUTIN BUILDS UP HIS OWN TEAM -- FROM HIS HOME CITY

According to an article in "Kommersant-Vlast" on 13 November, President Putin has now appointed 33 people who had close ties with him in the past. Some are people he grew up with, others are secret police officers, officials from the St. Petersburg mayor's office, or simply people from St. Petersburg with whom Putin has some sort of ties. Meanwhile, in a survey of the broader political elite, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, the head of the Institute for the Study of Elites of the Moscow Institute of Sociology, said in an article published in "Vremya MN" on 14 November that the share of the core elite made up of economists and lawyers has declined, while the percent of military officers has risen, as has the number of business people. She noted that Putin has advanced a higher percentage of people from his home city to positions of power -- 4.1 percent of the political elite -- than did former President Boris Yeltsin, who named people from his hometown of Sverdlovsk to 2.6 percent of key positions. PG

STRATEGIC ROCKET FORCES WORK TO PROLONG LIFE OF MISSILES

Major General Pavel Zolotarev, the president of the Inter-Regional Fund for Support of Military Reform, told ITAR-TASS on 14 November that Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces are working to prolong the useful life of strategic missiles by devoting more attention to repairs. PG

STEPASHIN CALLS FOR BETTER USE OF AUDIT CHAMBER FINDINGS

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin told the Federation Council on 14 November that the government should more promptly and systematically examine and respond to chamber findings, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that in recent months, the chamber has submitted 30 documents to the government but has received a response in only three cases. He also announced that his group will conclude a cooperation agreement with the new financial monitoring body. Stepashin said the chamber plans to devote more attention to the handling of Russia's foreign debt. PG

DUMA FAILS TWICE TO OVERRIDE FEDERATION COUNCIL ON GOVERNORS' TERMS

The Duma on 14 November failed twice to muster the 300 votes needed to override the veto of the Federation Council on a bill passed by the lower house that would have reduced the number of governors who could stand for election more than twice, Interfax reported. The first time, the deputies fell 12 votes short; the second time, 15 votes. As a result, the number of governors who can seek re-election a third time remains at 69, as it was under the previous bill. Only a small number may seek a fourth term. PG

DUMA REJECTS LDPR INITIATIVES

The Duma on 14 November refused to discuss a resolution offered by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) to declare the United States "a closed police state" where the government is seeking to "establish control over the mass media, introduce censorship, and oppress followers of Islam," ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution also specified that the U.S. is now in the process of adopting laws "that infringe upon generally recognized human rights." The same day the Duma rejected another LDPR resolution calling for granting amnesty to anyone who engaged in an illegal action during the war in Chechnya, the news agency said. Only 13 deputies voted for this resolution, while 131 voted against it. PG

NEMTSOV SAYS RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY REQUIRES EXPANDED TIES WITH WEST

In an interview carried by Ekho Moskvy on 12 November, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said that the future of freedom and democracy in Russia depends on how efficient Russia's cooperation with the West and the United States will be. He said that the current summit in the United States is "a moment of truth, when the direction of Russia's development for many years to come is being determined. Europe and the United States must make it clear where they stand." PG

KHRISTENKO QUESTIONS OPEC STATEMENT

Visiting Baku on 14 November, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko questioned a statement by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) calling on Russia to reduce oil output to help hold up prices and expressing frustration that Russia had not proven more cooperative, Reuters reported. He said that OPEC knows "perfectly well" that Russia cannot simply cut production and exports in a short period of time. Meanwhile, oil industry analysts said that it is "useless" to expect Russia to cut exports when it needs to raise money to make payments on its foreign debt in 2003-2004. PG

MOSCOW DENOUNCES ESTONIA FOR 'COLD WAR RHETORIC'

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman on 14 November condemned what he called "crude attacks on Russia" by Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and said that Laar's statements represent "a return to cold war rhetoric," Russian and Western agencies reported. Laar said over the weekend in Tallinn that "Estonia next year will be pelted with provocative propaganda attacks by Russia, which is struggling for the survival of the empire." The Estonian leader added that the inclusion of Estonia and her two Baltic neighbors in NATO will "complete the unification of Europe and serve as an obstacle to Russia, which will then have to learn to knock politely on the door instead of hacking a window on Europe with an axe." Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Valentin Kuznetsov said on 14 November that the enlargement of NATO creates problems for Russia's national security, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA, THREE ASIAN COUNTRIES AGREE TO HELP EACH OTHER RESPOND TO NATURAL DISASTERS

Officials from Russia, China, Mongolia, and Japan on 14 November agreed at a meeting in Khabarovsk to develop regional cooperation in the event of natural disasters, ITAR-TASS reported. The four countries said that their cooperation will take place within the framework of UN and other international accords. PG

CIVIC FORUM FACES FINANCIAL PROBLEMS EVEN BEFORE IT CONVENES

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 November, organizers of the Civic Forum are having difficulty raising from business sponsors the funds needed to bring 5,000 participants to Moscow for three days at the end of November. If more money is not raised soon, the paper said, many of the participants will have to pay their own way and may not attend. In another article in the same newspaper, Ramazan Abdulatipov argued that Russia is going about the construction of civil society backwards. He said that a civil society should arise and create a state, rather than having the state attempt to create a civil society. PG

GAIDAR SAYS REFORMS ALLOWED ECONOMY TO BECOME MORE FLEXIBLE

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 14 November, former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar said that the reforms he launched a decade ago increased the adaptability of the Russian economy and represented something "like a transition from dinosaurs to mammals: we've reduced our weight but acquired speed and agility." Gaidar also praised President Putin for taking advantage of high oil prices to implement more reforms, and cast doubt on reports that there has been a decline in the number of small and medium-sized businesses. PG

GAZPROM BOSS BACK AT WORK

"Tribuna" reported on 14 November that Gazprom head Aleksei Miller has returned from sick leave and is in full control of the company. A senior Kremlin official who put out the rumor on the strana.ru website last month that Miller had resigned has himself been fired, the paper said. PG

MIKHALKOV WANTS SINGLE CINEMATOGRAPHERS' UNION

Nikita Mikhalkov, the head of the Union of Cinematographers, said on 14 November that all the regional unions of cinematographers should be transformed into branches of the all-Russia union as part of an effort to promote the survival of Russian filmmaking, Interfax reported. He also said that the union should consider appealing to President Putin to provide more money for the industry, possibly by giving it some portion of the ticket sales in Russia to American films. PG

RUSSIANS HIGHLY VALUE HIGHER EDUCATION

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by "Vremya MN" on 14 November, 74 percent of Russians believe that having a higher education is very important in today's world. Young people and those with higher education share this belief in even higher numbers. Russians divide in their assessment of higher educational institutions in Russia. One-third believe that they are below international standards, a quarter believe that they are equal to those standards, and 15 percent believe that Russia's higher schools are better than universities abroad. Forty-six percent told pollsters that they believe Russian universities were better before the collapse of the USSR than they are now. PG

RUSSIAN VILLAGERS GUARD SAINT IN ANTICIPATION OF U.S. ATTACK

Leonid Mlechin said on TV-Tsentr on 12 November that Russian suspiciousness of and hostility toward the United States reflects deeply rooted cultural and historical experiences. He cited the example of a small village where local people decided to set up a round-the-clock guard around a shrine to the local Christian saint after they heard that the United States had begun bombing Afghanistan. Mlechin noted that the villagers acted this way because they feared that the Americans, "being unbelievers and enemies," would soon attack their homes. He suggested that such attitudes are not confined to Russia's remote villages. PG

MUFTI SEEKS STATE'S HELP TO WARD OFF EXTREMIST MISSIONARIES

In an interview published in "Trud" on 14 November, Supreme Mufti Talgat Tadjuddin of the Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Russia and the European Countries of the CIS said that the government should help his organization to resist pressure from foreign missionaries propagating extremist Islamist ideas. He said that the radical missionaries have the funds to distribute their literature free, to buy television time, and even to bribe individual mullahs. Noting that the first attempts to introduce Wahhabism in Russia took place at the start of the 20th century, Tadjuddin said that the government should support Muslim training institutions inside Russia so that students will not go abroad where they may be affected by radical mullahs. He called on the authorities to crack down on Muslim groups inside Russia that advocate the division of Russia into three republics, the Siberian, European, and Far Eastern Republics. PG

THE END OF A BUMPY ROAD

Passengers on a bus in Sakhalin were surprised on 14 November when a severed human head rolled down the aisle after the bus went over a bump in the road, Russian and Western agencies reported. Police determined that the head and two severed hands were being carried by a murderer who planned to dispose of the body parts of his victim around the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. PG

PUTIN CHECKS ON HOMETOWN REGION DURING SUMMIT

President Putin found time during the ongoing Russian-U.S. summit to telephone Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov about the electricity outages in that region, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 November. According to the agency, Serdyukov said that electricity will be restored by 15 November. According to Putin's press office, Putin will meet with Serdyukov on 19 November in the Kremlin to discuss the situation. The agency reported on 12 November than more than 300 villages in the oblast's northern region were left without electricity following a heavy snowfall over the weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). JAC

NEW LABOR CODE INSPIRES PROTEST

Up to one million people participated in protests on 14 November organized by the Independent Trade Union Organization in cities across Russia to call for an increase in the minimum wage and to introduce changes into the draft Labor Code, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Some also demanded payment of wage arrears and the resignation of Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok. According to Interfax-Eurasia, more than 1,000 people gathered in Vladivostok's main square for a meeting, and around 900 people congregated in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii. In Novosibirsk, more than 800 people, including First Deputy Governor Viktor Kosourov and Novosibirsk Mayor Vladimir Gorodetskii, participated in protests. In Kazan, police officials estimated the number of protesters at around 500 people. In Sverdlovsk, around 200 protesters gathered around the residence of the nemesis of Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev. JAC

ACTIVISTS PLAN RESISTANCE TO IMPORT OF NUCLEAR WASTE FOR STORAGE

Activists from the SPS and Yabloko and a number of environmental organizations in Krasnoyarsk Krai are preparing documents for the conduct of a regionwide referendum on the storage of nuclear waste in the krai, regions.ru reported on 14 November. According to the site, the referendum will ask a single question: "Do you think it is necessary to ban [the creation] of new sites for the maintenance, reprocessing, and burying of spent nuclear fuel on the territory of the krai?" Local SPS leader Andrei Vasiliev said that his group will begin gathering signatures for the referendum on 15 November. By law, only 35,000 signatures are needed, but environmental organizations are preparing to gather no less than 100,000. Krasnoyarsk, along with Chelyabinsk, has been on the shortlist of Russian regions seen as a likely recipient of spent nuclear fuel. JAC

IS MOSCOW SEEKING A PRETEXT TO CLOSE OSCE MISSION IN CHECHNYA?

ITAR-TASS on 13 November quoted unnamed "ranking experts" as arguing that the OSCE mission is Chechnya "is a source of disinformation" concerning developments there. The unnamed experts claimed that the OSCE mission is "neither balanced nor objective" in its assessment of developments in Chechnya, and that it makes "tendentious" and unfounded claims about brutality on the part of the Russian forces there while "not a word is said about the brutality" of Chechen fighters against the civilian population. "Their monitoring boils down to unfounded criticism of the federal authorities, and they draw information about the situation in Chechnya from biased assessments of various nongovernmental organizations and information agencies, not from reports of official Russian representatives," the experts concluded. LF

FIVE CONVICTED FOR 1999 APARTMENT BOMBINGS

A court in Stavropol passed sentence on 14 November on five men from Karachaevo-Cherkessiya in connection with the bombings in August and September 1999 of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, Russian agencies reported. The five received prison terms ranging from nine to 15 years on charges of terrorism, illegal possession of explosives, and forming an illegal armed group. The five men admitted to having trained at camps in Chechnya run by Jordanian-born field commander Khattab, but pleaded not guilty to the apartment bombings. The prosecution failed to make public any evidence that they were guilty of those attacks, according to "The Wall Street Journal" on 15 November. LF




ARMENIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES

Following talks in Yerevan on 14 November, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his visiting Polish counterpart Aleksandr Kwasniewski told journalists that they are determined to raise the level of bilateral economic cooperation to that of the "political dialogue" between the two countries, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian also said that while Armenia is interested in studying Poland's experience of economic reform and integration into European structures, the two countries also respect each other's diverging "choice of security priorities." The two presidents also signed a joint declaration affirming their readiness to continue cooperation within the framework of international organizations, to continue dialogue on political, economic, and security issues, to develop economic ties, and to cooperate within the parameters of the EU's INOGATE oil and gas export program. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT RELEASED AFTER ONE-DAY TRIAL

Azat Arshakian, a Soviet-era dissident and leader of the former paramilitary Independence Army, was given a two-year suspended sentence on 14 November on charges of illegal possession of weapons following a four-hour court hearing, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Arshakian was taken into custody in September after quantities of weapons and ammunition were found at the Independence Army's Yerevan headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 September and 9 October 2001). Arshakian maintained he was unaware of their existence, and that the group surrendered its weapons in the early 1990s when it transformed into an NGO that aids the families of war veterans. LF

TWO NEPHEWS OF EXILED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST ARRESTED

Two nephews of former Azerbaijani parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, who has lived in the U.S. since resigning that post five years ago, have been arrested, Turan reported on 14 November. One has been charged with embezzling property worth over $1 million, and the other with involvement in organized crime and illegal possession of arms. LF

NEGOTIATIONS ON RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN TREATY SUSPENDED

The Russian Foreign Ministry informed its Georgian counterpart in a note on 14 November that the planned visit to Tbilisi by Russian State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chair Boris Pastukhov to continue talks on a new framework bilateral treaty has been postponed until a new Georgian head of the delegations charged with conducting those talks is appointed, Caucasus Press reported. That position was previously held by outgoing Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. On 12 November, Interfax and ITAR-TASS both quoted unidentified senior Russian government officials as saying that Georgian officials are "naive" to think that such an agreement can be signed as long as Tbilisi continues to harbor and protect Chechen "separatists." LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS NEW BOMBARDMENT OF KODORI UNLIKELY

Intelligence Department head Avtandil Ioseliani told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 November that he considers further air bombardments of the Kodori gorge unlikely, Caucasus Press reported. Ioseliani pointed out that the bombardments were directed primarily at locations close to the border between Georgia and the Russian Federation where the "North Caucasus fighters" might seek to cross into Russian territory, and there are now no longer any such groups left in Kodori. Also on 14 November, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi that the Georgian troops currently deployed in the Kodori gorge will remain there at least until the spring of 2002, Interfax reported. In a statement released the previous day, the Russian Foreign Ministry had called for their immediate withdrawal in order to defuse tensions between the Abkhaz and Georgian leaderships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). LF

SLOVAK PRESIDENT BEGINS OFFICIAL VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN

Rudolf Schuster arrived in Astana on 14 November on an official two-day visit, CTK reported. Schuster and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a Declaration on the Basis of Relations and discussed the potential for bilateral cooperation. Nazarbaev expressed particular interest in acquiring arms and ammunition from Slovakia and modernizing its air force with help from Slovakia. Schuster also met with Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov, who stressed Kazakhstan's interest in Slovakia's experience of economic and financial reform. Idrisov also said Kazakhstan wants to see the Druzhba and Adria oil pipelines linked in order to permit the export of Kazakh crude via Russia to Western Europe. He further noted that Kazakhstan has no objections to NATO expansion eastwards, according to TASR. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES WANT PRESIDENT'S SON-IN-LAW TO RESPOND TO ACCUSATIONS

A group of nonpartisan deputies to the Mazhilis (the power chamber of Kazakhstan's bicameral parliament) headed by Erlan Nighmatullin issued a statement on 14 November demanding that President Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, who is vice chairman of Kazakhstan's National Security Committee, appear before the legislature to respond to charges by Mazhilis deputy Tolen Toqtasynov that he abuses his official position, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11,12, 15 and 19 October 2001). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DISCUSSES COOPERATION WITH EBRD CHIEF

On the second leg of his tour of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Jean Lemierre met in Bishkek on 14 November with Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and with President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Lemierre told journalists after those talks that the EBRD plans to increase its activities in Kyrgyzstan, advising the government on the ongoing privatization process and on attracting foreign investment to develop the Jerui gold deposit. On 12 November, presidential advisor on foreign investments Dzhoomart Otorbaev complained that U.S. and European businessmen are wary of investing in Kyrgyzstan because if the country's geographic proximity to Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. At present, Otorbaev said, only Kazakhs and Russians are "not afraid" to invest in the Kyrgyz economy. LF

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS CONCERNED BY IMPRISONMENT OF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, JOURNALIST...

Two international human rights watchdogs have reported that Ravshan Gapirov, who headed a human rights organization in the town of Kara-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan, was arrested in late October and tried and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment on charges of drug trafficking, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. One of those organizations also reported on 13 November that a court in Djalalabad sentenced journalist Samagan OrozAliyev on 1 November to nine years' imprisonment on charges of blackmail, falsification of documents, illegal possession of arms, and resisting the police. OrozAliyev was arrested in May shortly after he arrived in Djalalabad to make a documentary on official corruption. LF

...APPEAL TO KYRGYZ PRESIDENT OVER JAILED OPPOSITION LEADER

The New York-based International League for Human Rights sent a letter on 9 November to President Akaev expressing concern at the Constitutional Court's refusal to consider an appeal by jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov against the seven-year prison sentence handed down to him in January 2001, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2001). LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES, SACKS BORDER GUARD OFFICIALS

President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on 14 November severely criticizing border guard service head Lieutenant General Tirkish Termeev for serious shortcomings and a cavalier attitude to his work, and fined him one month's wages, AP and Interfax reported. Niyazov warned Termeev that he will be dismissed if his performance does not improve within one month. Niyazov also dismissed two of Termeev's subordinates and stripped them of their military rank for having reportedly accepted bribes to cover up criminal offenses and intimidated innocent persons. LF

BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS UZBEKISTAN

On a one-day visit to Tashkent on 14 November, Geoff Hoon met with Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulamov, Security Council secretary Mirakbar Rakhmankulov, and President Islam Karimov, Interfax reported. Hoon and Karimov discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for military-technical cooperation. Hoon said Britain may supply military equipment to Uzbekistan, train officers for the Uzbek armed forces, and provide assistance in teaching English to Uzbek military personnel. LF




BELARUS'S AGRICULTURAL SECTOR IN THE RED

Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatol Rubanik said on 14 November that the combined debts of Belarusian agricultural enterprises now total nearly 1.1 trillion Belarusian rubles ($720 million), Belapan reported. "It would be extremely difficult to overcome this situation without the government's assistance," Rubanik commented. Rubanik added that the number of collective farms operating at a loss continues to increase. While in 2000 there were 1,185 loss-making farms in Belarus, the government expects this figure to grow by the end of this year to some 1,400, or 57 percent of the total. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES RUSSIA'S ARMS TRADE BOSSES

Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 14 November with Andrei Belyaninov, the general director of Russia's Rosoboroneksport arms export giant, and Sergei Batekhin, the executive secretary of the Defense Systems interstate financial-industrial group, Belarusian Television and ITAR-TASS reported. No details of the talks were released. "We do have [arms] we can sell. I don't want to say that we are going to trade in something prohibited or to violate international principles and rules... But I think no country should demand that either Belarus or Russia, or both countries together, stop trading in high-tech commodities," Lukashenka said in an apparent reference to the recently voiced allegations that Belarus supplies weapons to Islamic extremists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 2 November 2001). JM

PACE COMMITTEE TO MULL BELARUS'S STATUS WITHOUT PARTICIPATION OF BELARUSIAN REPRESENTATIVES

The Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which is scheduled to meet in Vilnius on 19-20 November, will discuss the problem of Belarus's status in PACE behind closed doors, without the participation of any representatives from Belarus, Belapan reported on 15 November, quoting United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka. Some Belarusian media previously reported that the Vilnius meeting will be attended by an official delegation of Belarus's National Assembly and representatives of the opposition. JM

IMF MAKES MONEY TO UKRAINE CONDITIONAL ON BUDGET, STATE COMPANY AUDIT...

IMF II Department Director Julian Berengaut said on 15 November that the fund may release a subsequent tranche of $370 million to Ukraine in January 2002 if by that time the parliament adopts a "realistic budget," an international auditing firm completes the audit of the state-run Naftohaz Ukrayiny oil and gas giant, and the government agrees to increase tariffs for electricity supplied by privatized energy distribution companies, Interfax reported. Deputy Premier Vasyl Rohovyy said the previous day that IMF experts fully support the government's budget draft, which is currently being considered by the parliament. JM

...WHILE U.S. SENATE LINKS AID TO PROGRESS IN PROBES INTO JOURNALISTS' DEATHS

The U.S. Senate has adopted amendments to legislation providing for the U.S. government's assistance for the independent states of the former USSR in 2002, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 13 November. According to the bill, out of the $795.5 million appropriation proposed for the former Soviet republics, Ukraine is to receive $180 million, including $35 million to increase the safety of its nuclear reactors. The Senate makes assistance to Ukraine contingent on the Ukrainian government's progress in investigating the murders of Ukrainian journalists and obliges the Department of State to submit a relevant report on this progress to the Congress. JM

FINLAND REGARDS ESTONIA DEFENSE FORCES AS EQUAL PARTNER

Commander of the Finnish defense forces Admiral Juhani Kaskeala told President Arnold Ruutel in Tallinn on 14 November that he regards the Estonian defense forces as an equal partner to the Finnish armed forces, BNS reported. Finland has been one of the main countries supporting the creation of the Estonian armed forces since 1992 and has supplied both military equipment and training. The Finnish armed forces have given Estonia used communication equipment, rescue equipment, clothing, and maps as well as two destroyers. More than 100 Estonian officers have received training in Finland and Finnish volunteer reservists, some of them high-ranking officers, have worked as advisers in Estonia. In earlier talks with Prime Minister Mart Laar, Kaskeala expressed the hope that Estonia will be invited at the Prague summit next fall to join NATO. He said such an invitation would be a positive development and a security guarantee for the whole region. SG

OSCE OFFICIAL SAYS CLOSURE OF ITS MISSION TO LATVIA LIKELY

The head of the OSCE mission to Latvia, Peter Semneby, told parliament Deputy Chairman Rihards Piks that he expects his mission to be closed at the end of the year, BNS reported on 14 November. While praising Latvia's accomplishments concerning citizenship and naturalization as well as the successful implementation of the state language teaching program, Semneby noted that the Latvian election law setting language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils might prove an obstacle to EU and NATO accession. Semneby suggested as a compromise the abolition of the state language-proficiency requirement for candidates who obtained Latvian citizenship after 1991, and not setting a higher proficiency standard for candidates than the one needed to pass the language test for naturalization. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PROGRAM FOR GAS UTILITY PRIVATIZATION

The government approved on 14 November a program for the privatization of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) which bars companies supplying natural gas to Lithuania, or local companies controlled by them, from becoming strategic investors in the utility, BNS reported. It had decided earlier that equal 34 percent shares would be offered to the strategic investor and gas supplier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2001). The clear goal of the program is to prevent the Russian gas companies Itera and Gazprom, which are the probable gas suppliers, from acquiring full control of the utility. Germany's Ruhrgas and EON Energie, as well as the French group Gaz de France, have already announced plans to participate in the privatization tender. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT RELAXES STANCE ON LABOR MARKET, LAND SALE IN EU ENTRY TALKS...

Following a meeting of Poland's European Integration Committee (KIE) on 14 November, Premier Leszek Miller and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz announced that Warsaw will drop its demand that the EU open its labor market to Polish workers immediately after accession, Polish media reported. Miller and Cimoszewicz said Poland is ready to accept a maximum two-year restriction on the free movement of labor. The KIE also decided to reduce to 12 years its earlier demand for an 18-year transition period before foreigners can buy farmland in Poland. Miller also confirmed that Warsaw will permit land sales to foreigners for investment purposes immediately after joining the EU. JM

...CAUSING DISQUIET AMONG OPPOSITION...

The right-wing League of Polish Families commented that the proposed changes in Poland's negotiating stance with the EU are "unacceptable," PAP reported on 14 November. "On the basis of what is going on at present, we have a negative stance towards integration," Wojciech Mojzesowicz from the radical Self-Defense farmers union said, adding that "we want somebody to convince us." Kazimierz Ujazdowski from the Law and Justice party said he is "uneasy" over the scale and tempo of the government's concessions in the EU entry talks. Maciej Plazynski of the centrist Civic Platform commented that the labor-market concessions are "risky," but added that he has no reservations about the proposed changes to restrictions on the purchase of land. JM

...AND RESERVED APPROVAL FROM BRUSSELS

"After the visit [of EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen] to Warsaw [last week] we have expected flexibility from the Polish side. Today's information from Poland shows that this flexibility is being applied quickly," European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told Reuters on 14 November. Meanwhile, another European Commission official, Eneko Landaburu, told PAP the same day that Poland had grounds for demanding special treatment by the EU as regards sales of land to foreigners, but not as regards labor movement. The EU insists on a two-year transition period before citizens of new members gain access to its labor market, with the possibility of extending the time to seven years. Landaburu added, however, that Poland's declaration that it is ready for a compromise in negotiations with the EU shows that "matters seem to be going in the right direction." JM

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS EU REPORT 'BALANCED'

President Vaclav Havel on 14 November said he welcomes the positive aspects mentioned in the European Commission's report on the Czech Republic and agrees with the commission's criticism, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said that on the whole Havel believes the report is "balanced." Havel stressed that is important for the Czech Republic to be considered a country with a "functioning market economy," and that he "appreciates" the commission's assessment that negotiations with Prague could be closed in 2002. But, Spacek added, Havel also agrees with the commission's view that the Czech legislature must quickly pass a law on the civil service. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AGAINST TRANSFORMING EU REPORT INTO 'POLITICAL GAME'

Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus said the EU report includes "a number of insignificant details" and called it "a mixture of a technical document and a political message," CTK reported. Klaus said he is afraid the report will be transformed into "the object of political games between the government and the opposition," as well as between different opposition parties. Klaus also said he fails to understand why the EU places such importance on passing a civil service law. The chief EU representative in Prague, Ramiro Cibrian, said the same day that unless the parliament approves that law, Czech drawing of money from EU funds might be jeopardized. MS

CZECH AIR FORCE GROUNDS L-159

Frantisek Padelek, commander of the Czech air force, on 14 November halted all flights by the Czech-made L-159 subsonic fighter, which Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik recently described as "dangerous for its users, rather than for the enemy," AP reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said the decision was prompted by "technical problems" which he failed to specify. Also on 14 November, the government decided to postpone a scheduled discussion of problems related to financing production of the L-159. Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla said the reasons were "legal and technical" and are not connected with the decision to ground the planes, CTK reported. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT OPPOSED TO OPPOSITION BILL ON GAUCK-LIKE OFFICE

Governmental spokesman Libor Roucek said on 14 November that the cabinet is opposed to a bill submitted by deputies from the ODS, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union envisaging the setting up of the Office for the Documentation of the Totalitarian Regime modeled on the similar "Gauck office" which operates in Germany. The bill drafted by opposition representatives envisages establishing an office that would administer and process all the files of the communist secret police and would publish reports on the work of that force under the communist regime. Roucek said the cabinet considers the draft bill infringes on the personal-data protection law and on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, as the office would make available documents to anyone expressing an interest in examining them. MS

CZECH PRISON GUARDS INVESTIGATED ON SUSPICION OF COLLABORATION WITH WOULD-BE RIOTERS

According to reports aired on 14 November by all Czech television stations, about 10 prison guards cooperated with Russian-speaking inmates who were planning riots in Czech prisons to allow several convicts to escape, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001). Prison Administration Director Kamila Meclova confirmed the reports as well as the fact that an investigation has been launched into the murder of a convict who refused to participate in the conspiracy. MS

EU ENVOY DROPS 'HEAVY HINT' OVER SLOVAK ELECTIONS

EU Ambassador to Bratislava Walter Rochel told journalists on 14 November that the EU will "fully respect the Slovak voters' decision" in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2002, but he added that "it will finally be the EU who decides with whom it wants to sign the accession treaty." Rochel was responding to a question on whether the elections could pose a threat to Slovakia's chances of becoming a EU member in 2004. Slovak media highlighted the fact that the European Commission's report released on 13 November said Slovakia meets the criteria for political accession "for the time being," saying this may be an indication of apprehension in Brussels. Polls indicate that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has the largest voter support at present. MS

TESTS CONFIRM THIRD BSE CASE IN SLOVAKIA

Additional tests confirmed a third case of BSE ("mad cow disease") in Slovakia, prompting authorities to quarantine a farm in Tomasovce, central Slovakia, and to slaughter nearly a dozen other cows as a precaution, AP reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ADVISES COUNTRYMEN TO 'GRIT TEETH' ON EU

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in his weekly radio interview on 14 November, said that Hungary must "grit its teeth and suffer [as] others assess its performance in reports if it wants to join the EU," Hungarian media reported. "We do not write country reports, and therefore it is not entirely clear to us why others have an insurmountable yearning to make assessments on us," Orban said in an obvious reference to the report recently published by the European Commission. The premier admitted that some critical remarks in the report are "worth considering," mentioning in this connection corruption, the overburdening of the Supreme Court, and legislation on free competition. But he added "these are precisely the problems of Western Europe as well." Also on 14 November, Romanian radio cited Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi as saying in New York that the follow-up legislation on the implementation of the Status Law will take into consideration EU criticism to ensure that there are no "extraterritorial" implications in that legislation. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DEPLORES ROMANIAN REACTION TO EMBASSY INCIDENT

The Foreign Ministry said in a press release on 14 November that "regular working conditions" were never disrupted during the 10 November demonstration in front of the Romanian Embassy in Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001), MTI reported. The ministry said the Hungarian authorities took all necessary measures to prevent the demonstration from affecting the Romanian diplomats' activities and added that it "regrets" that once again Romania has opted for airing grievances through the media rather than via diplomatic channels. The statement also said the demonstration was given "exaggerated importance" by the Romanian side, considering it was organized by an "isolated group," and drew attention to the fact that Hungary has abstained from protesting against the "nearly weekly anti-Hungarian outbursts" of some Romanian members of parliament. MS

HUNGARY COULD ESTABLISH ROMA INTEGRATION OFFICE

Zoltan Pokorni, chairman of the ruling FIDESZ, said on 14 November that his formation believes it is necessary to establish a Roma Integration Office to solve the problems of that minority in Hungary, whose situation was also criticized in this week's European Commission report, Hungarian media reported. Pokorni said the office could be set up after the 2002 elections and be placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Social and Family Affairs. That proposal was first made by National Gypsy Authority Chairman Florian Farkas during a recent meeting with Justice Minister Ibolya David. Meanwhile, police on 14 November detained 16 activists from the Roma Civil Rights Foundation after they tried to prevent the eviction of squatters from flats in Budapest's 7th district. The activists were released after three hours and warned to refrain from engaging in similar acts in the future. MS

HUNGARIAN MEDIA WATCHDOG SLAMS PANNON RADIO

The media watchdog of the National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) said on 14 November that Pannon Radio is "solely committed to the dissemination of an extremist ideology" bearing the mark of "far-right nationalism and of conspiracy theories," Hungarian media reported. The ORTT report said that the radio broadcasts programs opposed to liberalism, globalization, and multinational companies, while also promoting hatred against Roma and homosexuals, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. In so doing, the report said, Pannon Radio violates the media law and the constitution and by disseminating only the views of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party ignores its obligation to provide balanced information. The report recommends imposing a 2-3 million forint ($7,059-$10,588) fine on the station. MS




KOSOVA PREPARES TO VOTE

Voters in Kosova are scheduled to elect a 120-member assembly on 17 November in what Reuters on 15 November called "the most important event in the...province since NATO bombing ended Serb rule in 1999." The moderate Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) of Ibrahim Rugova is expected to win the most seats, followed by two parties that emerged from the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The assembly will choose a president and a seven-member presidency of the legislature. The president will name a prime minister, who will have a nine-member cabinet. Some 20 parliamentary seats are reserved for minorities, including 10 for Serbs. It is not clear how many Serbs will vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 November 2001). Belgrade has encouraged them to cast their ballots, and Serbia's governing coalition is fielding candidates. But many local Serbs have difficulty adjusting to the fact that they no longer control the province and plan to boycott the vote. All parties of the 90 percent Albanian majority want independence for the UN-administered protectorate. PM

MACEDONIAN SITUATION REMAINS TENSE

Ethnic Albanian villagers and Macedonian paramilitary police face each other in a standoff near several villages in the Tetovo area, "The New York Times" reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). The villagers have set up sand-bagged barricades, while the police have established checkpoints in an effort to find the killers of three of their colleagues in a recent incident. The villagers say they will not allow the police into their communities until the parliament passes a long-delayed amnesty for former guerrillas. The police belong to the Lions and Tigers elite units. The Lions are close to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. An unnamed international monitor said of the police operation: "It was not what you would call a confidence-building measure." PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER MOVES TO DISCIPLINE ELITE POLICE...

Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 14 November that he will not allow Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic to resign as demanded by rebellious Red Beret paramilitary police, "Danas" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). Djindjic stressed that "no individual group will be able to take to the streets to oust ministers as long as I'm the prime minister." He accepted the resignations of the security chief, Goran Petrovic, and his deputy, Zoran Mijatovic, who sided with the Red Berets in their opposition to the government's cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Djindjic said that he is transferring the Red Berets to the Public Security department, where they will be integrated into antiterror structures. Former President Slobodan Milosevic made the Red Berets into an elite unit of his Praetorian guard. They were reportedly involved in bloody campaigns in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Many of them are said to fear extradition to The Hague under the government's policy of cooperating with that body. PM

...WHO RELAUNCH THEIR MUTINY

Members of the Red Berets set up roadblocks near their base at Kula, north of Belgrade, on 15 November, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They had dismantled their barricades the previous day. PM

SON OF EX-SERBIAN LEADER CHARGED WITH ASSAULT

The public prosecutor's office in Pozarevac, which is the hometown of the Milosevic family, filed assault charges against the ex-leader's son, Marko, on 15 November, AP reported. He is said to have threatened to kill opposition activist Zoran Milovanovic in March 2000 with a power saw by "cutting him into pieces" if he did not reveal information about opposition activities. Marko fled Serbia following his father's ouster in October 2000 and is widely believed to be somewhere in the former Soviet Union, where he allegedly has mafia connections. Milovanovic said that he nonetheless still receives phone calls threatening his life if he does not withdraw charges against Marko. If convicted, young Milosevic would face up to five years in prison if he ever returns to Serbia. The current government has sought to put members of the former regime behind bars by charging them in concrete, easily provable cases in what is called the "Al Capone option" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2001). PM

CHARGES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERB EX-MINISTERS

The Banja Luka police have filed charges against former Republika Srpska Justice Ministers Milan Trbojevic and Cedo Vrzina for allegedly embezzling money budgeted for subordinates' social benefits in 2000, RFE/RL reported on 14 November. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER HOPES FOR BREAKTHROUGH ON STATUS LAW

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 14 November that he hopes a solution "in the European spirit" will be found to the dispute over the Hungarian Status Law when he meets his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban at the CEFTA summit in Bucharest on 16 November. Nastase said the recent report of the European Commission echoes the Venice Commission recommendations on the law, and those recommendations, in turn, are in line with Bucharest's views. He said Hungary will have to choose between "European standards" or "viewing Europe future's in ethnic terms," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 14 November, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met in Washington with leaders of the Hungarian Foundation for Human Rights and of the American Hungarian Coalition and received from them a list of demands concerning the rights of members of the Hungarian minority in Romania, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN POLL HAS NASTASE LEADING IN PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST

A public opinion poll published by Metromedia Transylvania shows that Premier Nastase is the leading candidate to become Romania's next president, with the support of 40.1 percent of respondents. In second place is Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor (16.6 percent), followed by National Liberal Party (PNL) National Council Chairman Theodor Stolojan (14.8) and by Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu (13.4 percent). If elections were held this week, the ruling Social Democratic Party would garner 54.1 percent of the vote, the PRM 13.8, the PNL 10.8, the Democratic Party 8.5, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania 6.2 percent. MS

FITCH UPGRADES ROMANIAN RATINGS

The British rating agency Fitch on 14 November upgraded Romania's country risk from B to B+ for long-term debt and from "stable" to "positive" for its foreign debt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As grounds for the decision the agency mentioned the drop in the internal debt from 13.1 percent in 1999 to 9.3 percent of GDP in 2000 and Romania's improving economic performance. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu announced Fitch's decision in the parliament during the debates on the 2002 budget, saying he does so "proudly" and that the decision "demonstrates the correctness of the government's policy." MS

MAJOR ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DENOUNCE AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT

The National Syndicate Bloc (BNS), one of Romania's main trade union federations, announced on 14 November that it has nullified the social accord signed on 19 February with the government and with employers and will launch street protests, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. As grounds for the decision the BNS mentioned the 2002 austerity budget and the government's failure to solve demands to increase pensions. The BNS said the first large protest will take place in Bucharest on 29 November. MS

PROMINENT ROMANIAN JEWISH INTELLECTUAL DEAD

Zigu Ornea, the most prominent contemporary cultural historian of Romania, died on 15 November, Romanian radio reported. He was 71. Ornea authored numerous volumes on 19th and 20th century Romanian political history and its impact on the country's cultural life. For many years, he was director of the Minerva publishing house, which specialized in the dissemination of the Romanian cultural heritage. In the last years of his life he became director of the Ha'sefer publishing house of the Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities. Ornea was frequently attacked in the media for having produced volumes and articles dealing with the legacy of the Romanian far right and its impact on postcommunist political life. When his 70th birthday was celebrated, some of his peers criticized the Romanian Academy for not having made Ornea a member, and pointed out that many writers and historians less deserving than Ornea have been given that honor. MS

RUSSIA COMPLETES TRANSDNIESTER WITHDRAWAL

The commander of the Russian contingent in the Transdniester, General Valerii Yevnevich, said on 14 November that Russia completed the withdrawal of its military hardware from Transdniester earlier that day, and an OSCE spokesman said Moscow has thus "fulfilled its international obligations" assumed at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, Infotag reported. Reacting to the withdrawal, separatist "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay said the withdrawal of the equipment was a "very negative factor." He said that "the hasty removal...upsets the entire system of guaranteed security, whose main component are the Russian peacekeeping forces and the Russian military contingent." Litskay said that now "the possibility emerges of violent outbreaks with Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabach serving as examples" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 2001). MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.S.

Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau met on 13 November in Washington with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, discussing relations between the two countries and the evacuation of the Russian contingent from the Transdniester, Infotag reported. Armitage welcomed Russia's compliance with the Istanbul summit accords. He also said the U.S. supports the "energetic actions" by the Moldovan authorities to "reinstate customs controls" on the whole of the country's national territory and to "consolidate its eastern border." Armitage also said the U.S. is ready to continue rendering technical and humanitarian assistance to Moldova and assist it in "democratic development and implementing economic reforms." Dudau handed Armitage a message from President Vladimir Voronin to U.S. President George Bush. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI DISSATISFIED WITH ENVISAGED MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Peter Zlatov, adviser to the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly, said on 14 November that the Moldovan government's proposed amendments to the constitution have been drafted "without taking into account Gagauz interests" and disregarding the proposals of the assembly. The envisaged amendments were published the same day in the Moldovan official gazette. In them, the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly is granted the right to initiate legislation, and the existence of a Gagauz legislature and an executive are recognized. The amendments also stipulate that the Gagauz assembly and its executive power are to be elected in line with legislation passed in the autonomous republic, and Gagauz-Yeri is recognized as having a special status within the Moldovan Republic. The amendments also stipulate that if Moldova loses its independent status, the region will have the right to "self-determination." Zlatov, however, said the envisaged bill intends to split Gagauz-Yeri into "districts, and thus deprive us of the self-determination achieved in 1994" when Gagauz-Yeri was granted special status. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS EU REPORT 'REFLECTS PROGRESS TOWARD ACCESSION'

The Foreign Ministry on 14 November released a statement saying the European Commission's 13 November report (which said Bulgaria and Romania do not meet the economic criteria for membership) "reflects Bulgaria's progress toward membership and the steps undertaken by the government to speed up" the accession process, BTA reported. In reaction to criticism included in the report, the ministry said Bulgaria "accepts the challenges" and will speed up preparations for accession. The ministry also drew attention to the fact that for the first time a report by the Commission said Bulgaria is very close to a "functioning market economy" and assessed the country's economic prospects as good. The ministry said the report's conclusions "confirm Bulgaria's timetable for completing negotiations in 2003 and achieving full membership by 2006." MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES TREATY WITH U.S. ON TROOP TRANSITS, STOPOVERS

The parliament unanimously ratified on 14 November a treaty signed with the U.S. which allows U.S. forces to transit through Bulgaria or stop over in that country as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, dpa reported. The treaty also allows the use of Bulgarian airspace for over flights and the storage of military equipment in Bulgaria for the duration of the campaign against international terrorism. MS

TRIAL OF BULGARIAN PREMIER'S ASSASSINS BEGINS IN SOFIA

Five men went on trail in Sofia on 14 November on charges related to the assassination of former Premier Andrei Lukanov in October 1996, AP reported. Ukrainian national Alexander Rusov is charged with having shot Lukanov and Alexei Kichatov, another Ukrainian, is charged with complicity to murder, by allegedly providing Rusov with a gun. Ukraine extradited both men last year at Bulgaria's request. Also charged with complicity are Bulgarian construction entrepreneur Angel Vasiliev, his nephew Georgi Georgiev and Yurii Lenev, a former employee of Vasiliev. Vasiliev is accused of ordering the assassination and his two associates of hiring the assassin. All five deny the charges. If found guilty, they face life imprisonment without parole. Vasiliev was extradited last year from the Czech Republic. MS




CLUJ MAYOR'S ULTRANATIONALIST BEHAVIOR GIVES GROUNDS FOR CONCERN


By Eugen Tomiuc

Gheorghe Funar, the eccentric ultranationalist mayor of Cluj, one of the largest cities in the Romanian region of Transylvania, last week ordered the sidewalks of some of the town's main streets decorated in Romania's national red, yellow, and blue colors, after previously having roadside poles, traffic lights, and benches painted in the same palette.

Funar said the tricolor sidewalks are part of a project to brighten the town. He told local media he was inspired by a visit to the South Korean town of Suwon, where he saw sidewalks painted in the Korean colors. Cluj -- a city of some 330,000 -- has been the historical capital of Transylvania, a region that was part of Hungary before World War I. An academic town, Cluj is home to much of Transylvania's ethnic Hungarian and Romanian intellectual elite.

Funar, who became mayor in 1992, has gained notoriety for his eccentricities and anti-Hungarian rhetoric in a town where one-fifth of the population is ethnic Hungarian. In June 2001, Funar was briefly detained by police after placing cow bones fresh from a slaughterhouse and red, yellow, and blue toothpicks on the city councilors' desks. He said at the time that his actions were "a contemporary art exhibition" and complained to the police that the "exhibits" had been stolen.

Eccentricity may run in the family. Funar's father caught the attention of local and national media earlier this year when he created a red, yellow, and blue homemade wine.

But Gheorghe Funar is also secretary-general of the country's ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), which came second in last year's general election with 20 percent of the vote and whose leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, made it into the runoff presidential ballot before being beaten by ex-communist Ion Iliescu.

Some analysts say Funar's ability to keep his mayoral job for a third consecutive term in a town renowned for its ethnic tolerance is based on his administrative skills rather than on his anti-Hungarian views. But local politicians -- ethnic Hungarian and Romanian alike -- have repeatedly accused Funar of mismanagement. They point to the fact that the mayor this year has been constantly at odds with the local council, and say Cluj lacked proper local leadership for months.

Romania, a country of 23 million, is home to a 1.7 million Hungarian minority -- Europe's largest -- which is mostly concentrated in Transylvania. Peter Eckstein-Kovacs, a senator and a prominent member of Romania's ethnic Hungarian party (UDMR), who lives in Cluj, says the local economy is down and unemployment is high because Funar's bizarre behavior has chased away substantial foreign investment. He suggested that Funar's re-election could be based on some Romanians' latent fear of an imaginary Hungarian danger, a fear that he said is completely unfounded.

Eckstein-Kovacs also said Funar has refused to implement a new public administration law allowing ethnic minorities to use their native language in local administrations in areas where they account for more than 20 percent of the population.

Horatiu Crisan, who is a spokesman for Funar, told RFE/RL the mayor believes that ethnic Hungarians now account for less than 20 percent in Cluj, despite a 1992 official census that puts the number at almost 23 percent. He said Funar thinks the 1992 census was falsified in favor of ethnic Hungarians and that he plans to wait until next year's census to see whether the law is locally applicable. Crisan further denied accusations of mismanagement and said the mayor has managed to attract millions of dollars in foreign investment.

However, some residents of Cluj, while accustomed to Funar's behavior, say that walking on Romania's national colors is an insult. They also fear Funar's actions threaten generally good inter-ethnic relations.

Local radio journalist Gabriela Pentelescu told RFE/RL that Funar's behavior has the potential to destroy decades of inter-ethnic harmony. "People learned to live together -- neighbors who have known each other for decades and speak either Romanian or Hungarian; Romanians who speak Hungarian with the neighbor across the street; or Hungarians who speak Romanian. Romanian and Hungarian kids play together. I do not think there is a conflict, it is just a different mentality and culture. But over the decades, a compromise was reached. However, if you want to manipulate, you can always find motives for discontent."

Analysts point out that ultranationalist rhetoric could hamper Romania's efforts toward integration into the European Union and NATO and, at the same time, harm relations with neighboring Hungary.

Romania, one of the poorest European countries, lags behind the other 11 EU candidates, and its relations with more prosperous Hungary have become strained since June of this year when Budapest adopted a law granting certain economic, social, and cultural rights to ethnic Hungarians living abroad.

Professor Zoe Petre, a political analyst and former top adviser to former Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, pointed out that xenophobic and chauvinistic behavior such as Funar's could cause further tension in relations with Hungary and isolate Romania internationally. But Petre admitted that some Romanians do tend to blame Hungary and the West for their country's failures. She warned that the PRM is trying to hijack national symbols and squeeze political profit out of popular frustration.

Petre says many Romanians do not understand that actions such as Funar's could do more harm to the country's European aspirations than decisions made by world leaders. She believes authorities and opinion leaders are failing to tell people that ultranationalists such as Vadim Tudor and Gheorghe Funar aim to isolate Romania. Petre says politicians, the mass media, and academics alike should go to greater lengths to explain the harm ultranationalism could do to Romania.

Funar, however, appears to pay little attention to outside criticism. The town hall of Cluj has already announced it has pledged some $10,000 -- a considerable amount for the impoverished local budget -- to large-scale celebrations on Romania's 1 December national holiday, including an impressive display of fireworks.

But once the pyrotechnics are over, Romanians will still wake up the next morning to the same lives -- lives often marred by poverty, a lack of positive expectations, and the specter of ultranationalism.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.


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