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Newsline - November 19, 2001




BLAIR CALLS FOR CLOSER NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP...

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sent NATO headquarters a letter suggesting a new "Russian/North Atlantic Council," Reuters reported on 17 November. An unidentified British official told the agency that Blair's proposal is not "about Russia joining NATO or...taking part in NATO's integrated military structure." It is rather a proposal for a relationship that is "more than collaborative...not just talking shop." The existing NATO-Russian Joint Permanent Council is, according to the official, "outmoded." According to polit.ru, under Blair's proposal Russia would have certain rights that NATO members have. The website concluded that Russia would almost have the same status as an associate member of NATO. However, responding to questions about Blair's proposal, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters in Moscow that the prime minister's letter should not be seen as the beginning of the process of including Russia into NATO but as the beginning "of serious closeness of our assessments of...the situation in the modern world." JAC

...AND CONFERS WITH PUTIN BY PHONE

After returning from his visit to the U.S., Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed by telephone with Blair the "deepening of Russia's relations with NATO," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 November. According to the agency, the presidential press service noted that "Moscow appreciates the sensible reaction of the British leadership to the Russian president's repeated calls for bringing relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance in line with new challenges and security threats on the European continent and in the world as a whole." Also on 17 November, Putin telephoned his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, Interfax reported on 17 November. Putin informed the two leaders about the results of his meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush. According to the Kremlin press service, Putin and Karimov also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and prospects for a political settlement there. JAC

PUTIN'S U.S. VISIT GARNERS PRAISE FROM CENTER, RIGHT...

The reaction of Russia's political elite to President Putin's recent visit to the U.S. was generally positive, with Putin earning praise from mainstream political analysts and legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin on 16 November called the visit "very efficient," and noted that Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush had discussed pressing issues rather than "farfetched peacekeeping initiatives," Interfax reported. Rogozin called the two leaders' verbal agreement to cut the number of nuclear warheads to 1,700 to 2,250 "feasible and sufficient." Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council's Security and Defense Committee, said that Russia may even agree "to altering the ABM treaty" if Russia and the U.S. can reach an agreement on warhead reduction that does not damage international security, according to ITAR-TASS. Sergei Karaganov, head of the influential Foreign and Defense Policy Council, said that the summit resulted "in an even warmer climate of trust," which for "both countries is more important than anything." JAC

...AND CONDEMNATION FROM THE LEFT

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov strongly criticized plans, made by President Putin while in the U.S., to reduce Russia's nuclear arsenal. According to Zyuganov, such a reduction would "run counter to [Russia's] national interests, entail unilateral disarmament, and weaken Russia's vital interests." Zyuganov also expressed concern that Putin may have given his consent to NATO expansion during one-on-one talks with Bush. Zyuganov concluded that Putin is "following in the footsteps of [former Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev and [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin in making a fateful decision without consulting the parliament or the largest political groups." Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov declared that Putin has "challenged the Russian bureaucracy that made him president and is risking a lot," noting that the Foreign and Defense ministries along with the Armed Forces' General Staff tend to be "conservative." JAC

MORE DETAILS ON SUMMIT EMERGE

According to "Vedomosti" on 15 November, among the things that Bush and Putin agreed upon during their talks was a U.S. pledge to consider "in the near future" Russia's request for the status of a state with a free-market economy. According to the daily, processing of requests for such status normally takes nine months, but Russian officials have been given to understand this process will be speeded up. Other U.S.-Russian economic programs have been given the green light: the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation will all resume their Russian programs, according to a joint statement issued by Putin and Bush at the close of their talks. JAC

RUSSIAN, TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTERS PLEDGE TO COORDINATE POLICIES IN CAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIA

Meeting in New York on 16 November on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's annual debate, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem signed an agreement pledging that their respective countries will base relations on the principles of mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and proceeding from the conviction that "the world order in the 21st century must be based on mechanisms of collective solutions to key problems and the supremacy of law in international relations," ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. The two countries also affirm their intention to embark on a dialogue on the most effective model for a new comprehensive European security system, and to coordinate their political and economic policies in the Caucasus and Central Asia. LF

NEWSPAPERS REPORT THAT RUSSIANS ARE VOLUNTEERING FOR AFGHAN CONFLICT

"Vremya MN" and "Izvestiya" reported on 16 November that some Russian citizens have expressed an interest in serving in Afghanistan. According to "Vremya MN," advertisements have appeared on the Internet in which would-be mercenaries have offered their services for $5,000 a month, and a U.S. group called the World Organization for Security is trying to recruit former Afghan war veterans in Nizhnii Novgorod. According to "Izvestiya," in Rostov Oblast, several veterans have approached the local Union of Veterans to ask about how to enlist for the Afghan conflict. Previously, local media in predominantly Muslim regions, such as Tatarstan, have reported that some local residents want to enlist on the side of the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2001) JAC

INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT CONTINUES TO GROW

Industrial production in October 2001 compared with the same month the previous year grew 5.1 percent, and 3.5 percent in comparison with September 2001, Interfax reported on 16 November citing the State Statistics Committee. Industrial output has been growing steadily, with increases recorded in July, August, and September, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2001). According to the agency, those branches of industry with the strongest growth during the first 10 months of the year were microbiology firms, poligraph companies, and crystal and ceramic manufacturers. JAC

REGIONAL OFFICIALS VET NEWSPAPERS BEFORE THEIR APPEARANCE ON NEWSSTANDS...

Bulat Timerbulatov, an assistant professor at Bashkir State University, told a journalism conference in Ufa, Bashkortostan that city and raion newspapers are printed there only after receiving the approval of local administration heads, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 15 November. JAC

...AS BASHKIR ANTISMOKING LAW CALLED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office in Bashkortostan is challenging a republican law aimed at preventing or restricting smoking on the grounds that the law violates the federal constitution, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 15 November. One of the authors of the law, Vener Sakhautdinov, a Bashkortostan State Assembly committee chairman, said that the republic should maintain its laws discouraging alcohol, smoking, and drug addiction even if they contradict federal legislation. He added that regional parliaments should not be prevented from adopting laws that improve the life of their population. Bashinform reported the same day that more than a half of residents between 18 and 30 years old are smokers -- 59 percent in cities and 42 percent in rural areas. Some 28 percent of smokers are women. JAC

SIBERIAN LEADERS VOTE FOR INCREASED COAL USAGE IN AREA'S FUEL MIX

At a joint session of the council of the Siberian federal district and the interregional association Siberian Accord on 17 November, participants discussed an energy strategy for the region to last the next two decades, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, delegates to the session concluded that the share of coal in the region's fuel mix must be increased. In addition, Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress, among others, argued for the creation of economic incentives to implement energy savings projects. JAC

LEGAL ACTIONS MULTIPLY IN SAKHA RACE...

The Sakha (Yakutia) election commission has filed a protest against the republican Supreme Court's cancellation of the registration of presidential candidate Vyacheslav Shtyrov with the federal Supreme Court, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). Shtyrov, who is the head of the diamond production company ALROSA, had hoped to participate in 23 December presidential elections. According to RFE/RL's Yakutsk correspondent, local political analysts considered Shtyrov, who is a protege of incumbent President Mikhail Nikolaev, a stand-in for the president in the event that Nikolaev's registration is declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 November 2001). The Supreme Court will consider a case against Nikolaev on 20 November. JAC

...AS A DOZEN CANDIDATES REGISTER IN ALTAI

The deadline for registering for the 16 December presidential elections in the Altai Republic has expired, and no more than 12 candidates will participate, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 November. Among those who submitted registration documents by the deadline were incumbent republic head Semen Zubakin; Agrarian party leader and State Duma deputy Mikhail Lapshin; the first secretary of the Communist Party's regional organization, Viktor Romashkin; republican Interior Minister Aleksandr Berdnikov; and the leader of Yabloko's branch in the Altai Republic, Nina Dumnova. JAC

FIRST RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS TAKE PLACE NEAR MOSCOW

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative, Akhmed Zakaev, flew from Istanbul to Moscow on 18 November where he met for two hours with the presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, to discuss how to end the current fighting in Chechnya. Both men subsequently said the talks went well, and that further meetings are planned, but did not say when. Reuters quoted Zakaev as telling journalists on his return to Istanbul that "both sides believe in stopping the war entirely by political and diplomatic means." Members of Kazantsev's staff told ITAR-TASS on 19 November that the meeting was held in a "friendly, informal atmosphere," and that the sole issue discussed was the terms on which the Chechen fighters are prepared to disarm and return to civilian life. But Turan quoted Zakaev as denying that the issue of the Chechens' laying down their arms was discussed. LF

RADUEV DENIES SEIZING, KILLING KIZLYAR HOSTAGES

On 16 November, the second day of his trial on charges of terrorism, hostage-taking, and murder arising from the January 1996 raid on the town of Kizlyar in Daghestan, Chechen field commander Salman Raduev denied he issued any orders to take hostages or kill anyone during that operation, Interfax reported. Raduev claimed that he was entrusted by then President Djokhar Dudaev only with the political aspects of the raid, while the military aspects were the responsibility of fellow field commander Khunkar-Pasha Israpilov. Israpilov was killed during the Chechen retreat from Grozny in February 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). Raduev claimed the raid was intended as "a public relations action" to attract the world's attention to the war in Chechnya. LF

DID KHATTAB PLAN TO ASSASSINATE RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL?

John Beneni, a British subject of Turkish descent detained last week in Daghestan's Novolak Raion, has confessed to planning with two other men, a Russian convert to Islam and a resident of Daghestan, to assassinate Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov during Raduev's trial in Makhachkala, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 18 November. The Russian, Sergei Tiunov, told investigators that the killing was commissioned by Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khattab, Interfax reported on 16 November. When arrested, Beneni was in possession of a weapon and a large quantity of forged dollars. But investigators have discovered no material evidence to substantiate his confession. LF




ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS KARABAKH'S RIGHT TO INDEPENDENCE IS KEY BARGAINING CHIP

Yerevan's insistence that "firm legal grounds" exist for the full independence of the currently unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic or its reunification with Armenia is an important bargaining chip in the internationally sponsored peace talks with Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service in a telephone interview on 16 November. He argued that in order to reach a mutually acceptable compromise agreement with Azerbaijan, the Armenians should "show that we are giving up something, because Karabakh deserves to have a status which is higher than the one proposed by the international community." Oskanian claimed that the case for Karabakh becoming an internationally recognized part of Armenia is "much stronger" than Azerbaijan's insistence on the preservation of its territorial integrity. LF

FORMER KARABAKH OFFICIAL SENTENCED

After a trial lasting over one year, former Stepanakert city Mayor Karen Babayan has been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison on charges of abuse of power and illegal possession of weapons, Noyan Tapan reported on 16 November. The state prosecutor demanded that the sentence be extended by one year. Babayan was arrested in the spring of 2000 following an abortive attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Babayan's brother Samvel, a former commander of the Karabakh Defense Army, was sentenced in February to 14 years in prison on charges, which he denied, of masterminding the attempt to kill Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS AFFIRM READINESS TO COOPERATE WITH OPPOSITION...

The Azerbaijani authorities are prepared to cooperate with the "constructive opposition" with the aim of strengthening "civic solidarity," but cooperation with the "hostile" opposition is "impossible," presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Turan on 16 November. He did not specify which Azerbaijani political parties he considers fall into which category. Hasanov added that many opposition parties regard cooperation with the leadership as "betrayal," while cooperation with foreign organizations which may be hostile to Azerbaijan is considered a normal phenomenon. It is not clear whether Hasanov's offer was made in response to the cooperation agreement signed on 5 November between the influential Azerbaijan National Independence Party and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party, and the far smaller Taraggi (Progress) party. LF

...SETS TIME FRAME FOR CREATION OF PUBLIC TELEVISION

During the same 16 November interview with Turan, Hasanov said that Azerbaijan is complying with its media-related commitments made to the Council of Europe. He said a law will be drafted on public broadcasting, after which a public television channel will be created, probably by May 2002. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT ENDORSES BUDGET FOR 2002

By a vote of 90 to six, deputies approved the draft 2002 budget on 15 November, Turan reported. Revenues are set at 4.780 trillion manats ($1.017 billion) or 16.6 percent of GDP, and expenditures at 5.13 trillion manats, resulting in a deficit of 350 billion manats which is equal to 1.2 percent of planned GDP. Taxes are to account for 75 percent of all budget revenues. LF

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL APPEALS TO GEORGIA TO EXPEDITE ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT

In a letter to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed concern at recent setbacks in the Abkhaz peace process, including the fighting last month during which a UN helicopter was shot down, the resulting suspension of talks between Georgian and Abkhaz representatives, and the failure of the members of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General group of states to reach agreement on a draft document outlining the division of powers and responsibilities between Tbilisi and Sukhum, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 16 and 17 November respectively. Annan expressed the hope that at Shevardnadze's planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (for which no date has yet been set), the two presidents will agree to designate a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict one of the priorities in their bilateral relations. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT RECONCILED WITH SON-IN-LAW

On 16 November, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted "reliable sources" in Astana as reporting that President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, who resigned two days earlier as deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001), was under house arrest. The same day, Interior Ministry troops surrounded the Almaty headquarters of the independent television channel KTK which is controlled by Aliyev, and which temporarily stopped broadcasting. On 17 November, Aliyev convened a press conference at which he told journalists that he has accepted a post as deputy commander of the presidential guard. Aliyev added that he has proven his "innocence," but did not say of what specific charges. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the catalyst for the deterioration in relations between Nazarbaev and Aliyev was the latter's estrangement from Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha. LF

KAZAKH OBLAST GOVERNOR FOUNDS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT

Appearing on TAN-TV on 16 November, Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov accused Aliyev of precipitating what he called "a very serious political situation, I would say a political crisis" by using the media outlets under his control to disseminate what Zhaqiyanov termed "disinformation" about events in Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He demanded the convening of an emergency session of parliament at which the country's leadership would be required to explain the present situation. On 18 November, Zhaqiyanov together with other senior officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Uraz Djandosov and Deputy Defense Minister Zhannat Ertlesova, and several parliament deputies including Tolen Toqqtasynov, who first accused Aliyev last month of abusing his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 15 and 19 October 2001), announced the founding of a new movement to be named Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. In a statement released the same day, they expressed concern that "democratic reforms in Kazakhstan have stopped," and pledged to initiate new reforms. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ASKS PARIS CLUB MEMBERS TO RESCHEDULE DEBTS

The Kyrgyz government has asked Paris Club members to either write off or restructure its debts to them which total some $350 million, Finance Ministry official Bakyt Satybekov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 16 November. Kyrgyzstan's total foreign debt amounts to $1.5 billion. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FIGURE DENIED PERMISSION TO TRAVEL ABROAD

Erkindik Party Chairman Topchubek TurgunAliyev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 17 November that he has been informed by the National Security Service that he will not be allowed to leave Kyrgyzstan to undergo medical treatment abroad. TurgunAliyev was sentenced in September last year to 16 years in prison on charges of plotting to assassinate President Askar Akaev, but was released in August 2001 in response to pressure from western governments and human rights organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S ELECTION LAW AMENDED

Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission decided on 13 November to revoke the amendment to the election law passed last month that bans NGOs that receive funding from abroad from monitoring elections, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 16 November quoting the Coalition of NGOs. LF

CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST KYRGYZ PICKETERS

Three residents of Djalalabad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan have been charged with hooliganism, breach of the peace, and resisting the authorities for their role in a protest demonstration last month in which some 800 people blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway to protest low cotton procurement prices, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN...

Islam Karimov made an official visit to Astana on 15-16 November which his host President Nazarbaev described as laying the foundation for new and close relations between their two countries, Interfax reported. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted Nazarbaev as speaking of "shared blood and shared culture." Interfax said Nazarbaev expressed his satisfaction at the recent signing of a five-year agreement under which Uzbekistan will provide southern oblasts of Kazakhstan with natural gas. The two presidents signed a Treaty on the Delimitation of the State Border between their two countries. They also discussed regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, bilateral economic cooperation, and the use of water resources. LF

...DENIES HIS COUNTRY WILL HOST FOREIGN TROOPS

Speaking at a press conference in Astana at the end of his official visit, President Karimov rejected as deliberate disinformation Russian media reports that some 10,000 U.S., German, British, and French troops are to be deployed on Uzbekistan's border with Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST INTERFERENCE IN DOMESTIC AFFAIRS...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 17 November that "some foreign governmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as states, are planning to provide colossal support to the forces that have already started to destabilize the situation in the country after the [presidential] election," Belarusian Television reported. "We cannot allow anyone to meddle in our domestic affairs anymore. This refers to both the West and our domestic opposition," Lukashenka continued. He stressed that he does not intend to hold any talks with the opposition, adding that there is nothing to discuss. JM

...CANCELS DECREE ON PROPERTY CONFISCATION

President Lukashenka has annulled his decree of November 1999 which allowed the government to confiscate property without court authorization from individuals charged with inflicting damage on the state, Belapan reported on 16 November. Vasil Khrol, the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives' Commission for Housing Policy, Construction, Trade, and Privatization, hailed the move as "the start of true liberalization" in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENTAL DELEGATION IN MINSK

A delegation headed by Ukrainian Deputy Premier Vasyl Rohovyy visited Minsk on 15-16 November for economic talks and the signing of two accords on cooperation between the central banks of both countries. Belarusian Television reported that the sides also touched upon the problem of Ukraine's Soviet-era debt to Belarus, but provided no details. A Belarusian-Ukrainian governmental commission is expected to tackle this problem at a meeting in Chernihiv in mid-December. JM

BELARUS TO DELAY INTRODUCTION OF COMMON CURRENCY WITH RUSSIA?

National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich said on 16 November that Belarus may postpone the planned introduction in 2005 of a common currency with Russia if Moscow fails to treat Minsk as an equal partner. "Our position remains unchanged and we cannot change it -- [integration with Russia] only on equal conditions, only with the maintenance of independence and full sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus... If such conditions are not observed, then, of course, all issues, including the introduction of a single currency, will be put off until a later date," Belarusian Television quoted Prakapovich as saying. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR ASSURES KYIV OF WARM RELATIONS

Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin told the Kyiv-based ICTV television on 18 November that Russian-Ukrainian relations will not suffer as a result of improved bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia in their new cooperation against international terrorism. Regarding Russian plans to build a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, Chernomyrdin noted that other pipelines will indeed be built, but added that none of them will be have a throughput capacity comparable to that of existing Ukrainian pipelines. JM

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR POWER CONTAMINATES RIVER

The management of the Rivne nuclear power plant in western Ukraine confirmed on 17 November that transformer oil leaking from the plant's reactor has contaminated the local river Styr, ITAR-TASS reported. Because of a malfunction in the reactor, personnel drained the oil in rainy weather. As a result, more than 20 kilograms of oil were washed away into a sewage system and then into the Styr. JM

PUTIN SAYS HE DOES NOT OBJECT TO BALTIC STATES JOINING NATO

In a live interview with U.S. National Public Radio on 15 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked by a Lithuanian from Seattle whether he opposes the admission of the Baltic states into NATO, BNS reported the next day. After noting that NATO was created to counteract a Soviet threat which no longer exists, Putin said that NATO expansion would not increase the security of the Baltic states. Russia acknowledges the role of NATO in the modern world and is ready to expand cooperation with it, Putin continued. When pressed to give a "yes" or "no" response, Putin replied "No, I don't object to it. It just doesn't makes any sense. Of course, I cannot tell people what to do." SG

ESTONIA'S COALITION PARTY DECIDES TO DISBAND

The 124 deputies attending a congress of the Coalition Party in Tallinn on 17 November approved unanimously a recommendation by the party's board to end the party's activities, ETA reported. The party was founded in December1991, and two of its members, Tiit Vahi and Mart Siimann, served as prime ministers in 1995-1999. Support for the party began to dwindle, however, in 1999, and Siimann is now the party's only deputy in the parliament. Party Chairman Mart Kubo said that disbanding the party is a sensible decision because it lacks further opportunities to participate in politics. It is expected that some party members may withdraw from politics while others may join the People's Union or the new political association "With Reason and Heart," whose founding congress on 30 September elected Siimann its chairman. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITS GERMANY

Chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel assured Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 16 November that the CDU annual conference in early December will express support for the Baltic states' accession to NATO, LETA reported. Vike-Freiberga told the Dusseldorf Industrialists Club that Latvia seeks foreign partners in the fields of information technology, telecommunications, timber processing, and the textile, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. On 17 November, Vike-Freiberga gave a speech at the seventh European forum, organized by Herbert Quandt Stiftung Foundation and the "Financial Times," in which she noted Latvia's political, economic, and social achievements in its progress towards the EU and NATO. She said that the key objective of building a new Europe is to ensure economic and political integration and to guarantee security, which, she continued, is impossible without trans-Atlantic integration and globalization. SG

EXPERT SAYS LITHUANIA WILL ENTER EU ONLY IN 2005

Jeremy Kourdi, an expert with The Economist Group publishing and consultations organization, told a press conference in Vilnius on 17 November that in the opinion of the whole Economist Group Lithuania will enter the EU not in 2004 but in 2005, because the EU will not be able to accept all 10 probable new members at one time, BNS reported. He said that the countries which began negotiations in 1998 -- Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus -- will enter in 2004, while those which began negotiations in 2000 -- Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Malta -- will join the EU in 2005. Kourdi was in Lithuania to chair a two-day international business conference, organized by "The Economist," for the Lithuanian government and local and foreign businessmen. SG

FORMER POLISH DEPUTY MINISTER INDICTED IN MILITARY PROCUREMENT SCANDAL...

Prosecutors on 16 November charged former Deputy Defense Minister Romuald Szeremietiew with revealing state secrets and overstepping his authority in a tender for the purchase of artillery, Polish media reported. Szeremietiew was dismissed in July following a press report that his aide, Zbigniew Farmus, had sought $100,000 from a Western manufacturer in exchange for assurances that the company would win a contract to supply howitzers. Prosecutors allege that Szeremietiew overstepped his authority by giving Farmus access to secret information about the Defense Ministry's plans and procurement negotiations. Farmus has been in custody since July, when police caught him trying to leave the country on a ferry to Sweden. JM

...WHILE CURRENT MINISTER CANCELS TENDER RELATED TO MULTIPURPOSE PLANE PURCHASE

Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski has cancelled a tender worth 20 million zlotys ($4.9 million) for the selection of a consulting firm which would advise the ministry in making a decision on the choice of a multirole plane. "The doubts concerned qualifications of the companies [viewed in the tender], and particularly the fact that most of them did not have certificates of safety. The doubts also concerned high costs," Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke told the private TVN television on 17 November. The tender for the purchase of a multirole plane, worth between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion, was opened in March. The ministry has pledged to set up a government commission to handle the purchase. "A team of lawyers and specialists will be set up, so that the ministry will save at least 15 million zlotys," Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak told PAP. JM

POLISH DEPUTY SPEAKER WANTS OPPONENTS TO COME OUT INTO THE OPEN

Sejm deputy speaker Andrzej Lepper has said he does not intend to resign from his parliamentary post, PAP reported on 17 November. Lepper, the leader of the Self-Defense radical farmers' union, came under fire last week when he prevented a bailiff from implementing a court decision to evict traders from an illegal city market in Wloclawek, northern Poland. "They [lawmakers] must decide [on my dismissal], so that I have a list of who voted in favor of Lepper leaving. I must have such a list. I could resign today myself, not waiting for them, but let them show their true faces. Who will vote against me?" the agency quoted Lepper as saying. Meanwhile, two deputies from the Self-Defense parliamentary caucus surrendered their deputy's immunity last week in order to enable a court in Olsztyn, northern Poland, to resume their trial on charges of disrupting the work of the Olsztyn Provincial Administrative Office in August 1999. JM

CZECH LEADERS MARK 17 NOVEMBER 'DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY'

Czech leaders on 17 November -- a public holiday -- marked the double anniversary of the November 1939 Nazi repression and the execution of students who protested against Czechoslovakia's dismemberment and occupation, and the communist police repression of a students' demonstration in Prague in 1989 which triggered off the collapse of the regime, CTK reported. President Vaclav Havel and Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla lit candles and placed flowers at a monument on Narodni Street where police first clashed with students in 1989. Spidla said that "freedom is difficult to win but easy to lose." Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus said the "twin anniversary is both tragic and optimistic." He said the execution of nine student leaders in 1939 was tragic, but the students' demonstration that brought about the Velvet Revolution was optimistic, and that both events were "a symbol of the struggle for democracy that had lasted half a century." In view of the 11 September events, Klaus added, it is "impossible to believe that that struggle is now over." MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY CRITICIZES EU REPORT

Klaus told journalists on 16 November that his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is unwilling to "overestimate" either criticism or praise from the EU. Commenting on the European Commission's latest report, Klaus said that EU enlargement will be decided not on the basis of "subjective and selective studies," but on that of "the political will of EU members." He said the ODS "does not regard the European Commission's regular reports...as objective assessments...but mainly as part of the negotiation process of individual countries on the assessment ladder." MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER, AERO VODOCHODY, AGREE TO COMPLETE L-159 PROJECT

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and Antonin Jakubse, chairman of the board of the Aero Vodochody company that produces the subsonic L-159 plane, signed an agreement on 16 November on completing production of the plane and its delivery to the Czech army, CTK reported. Tvrdik has recently criticized the plane's performance and safety, and last week the Czech air force grounded all L-159s delivered so far. The agreement stipulates that Aero Vodochody will submit on 19 November a timetable for overcoming the aircraft's technical faults and a new timetable for the delivery of the remaining aircraft. MS

TEMELIN OPPONENTS RESUME PROTESTS AT BORDER

About 400 Austrian opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant resumed protests at the Wullowitz-Dolni Dvoriste crossing point on 17 November, CTK reported, but did not block traffic. MS

POLICE INVESTIGATOR OF CZECH TELEVISION MAGNATE PLACED UNDER PROTECTION

Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has ordered that Vladimir Machala, the police investigator in charge of the case of television mogul Vladimir Zelezny, be provided police protection, Czech media reported on 19 November. The decision follows anonymous threats received by Machala. Last June, Machala was attacked and brutally beaten by unknown perpetrators. MS

CZECH POLICEMEN CHARGED WITH RACISM

Five policemen from Karlovy Vary who in May attacked and beat a Rom have been charged with "racially motivated behavior," CTK reported. The five checked the papers of Karel Billy at a petrol station and although his documents were in order the policemen insulted him, slapped him, took him to a forest, and brutally beat him. They then threatened to kill him if he reported the incident. MS

SLOVAKIA MARKS NOVEMBER 1989 ANNIVERSARY

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda marked the 17 November 1989 anniversary commemorating the students' revolt that triggered the dismissal of the Czechoslovak communist government by lighting a candle in Kosice, CTK reported. Before the ceremony, Dzurinda dismissed the criticism earlier expressed by deputy Jan Budaj, one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution, who said that Dzurinda's cabinet has failed to completely do away with the vestiges of communism or cope with the country's communist past. Dzurinda said that his cabinet has brought about "significant changes" since it came to power three years ago and emphasized that "we are within reach of [securing membership in] NATO and the EU." He also said the country's situation is "not ideal," but "much better than a few years ago." This is the first time that 17 November has been marked in Slovakia. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER OPTIMISTIC ON SETTLING CZECH VISA REQUIREMENT WITH CZECH COUNTERPART

"It sometimes happens in politics that civil servants show more zeal than the countries' politicians," Dzurinda said on 17 November in reaction to reports in the Czech media that Prague is considering introducing visa requirements for Slovak nationals who stay in the Czech Republic for longer than 90 days. Dzurinda said he believes the issue will be solved during his scheduled visit to Prague this week, when he is due to meet Premier Zeman. He said that introducing the requirement would "run counter to the elementary interests of both Slovaks and Czechs." The reports said the step was being considered in Prague after repeated criticism by the EU that the current border regime between the two countries is facilitating illegal immigration. Slovak Interior Minister Ivan Simko told Slovak radio on 16 November that nullifying the special agreement on border controls would not be an efficient way to fight illegal immigration, which can only be stopped by "sealing off our eastern border." A report published the same day by Simko's ministry said the number of illegal immigrants detained in Slovakia in 2001 was significantly higher than in 2000 -- 10,000 as against 6,000. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HUNGARY 'FLEXIBLE' OVER STATUS LAW

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, returning from the UN General Assembly debates, said on 18 November he has discussed the Status Law with his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi and that "his words reflected great flexibility," TASR reported. Kukan said he received assurances that Hungary will consider all Slovak comments and proposals on the law, which grants special rights to ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries. Kukan also quoted Martonyi as saying that Slovak experts should propose amendments to the law, and that the date when the Status Law takes effect can be postponed until mutual agreement is reached. Kukan said the change in Hungary's position might have been induced by the recent European Commission report. MS

SLOVAK LEFTIST PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN

Agriculture Minister Pavol Konkos was elected on 17 November as the new chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) at the SDL National Conference in Trnava, CTK reported. Konkos, a leader of the party's "conservative" faction, received 256 votes, while his main rival, "reformist" Peter Weiss, received 90 votes. Outgoing SDL Chairman Jozef Migas and Deputy Premier Lubomir Fogas announced before the ballot they would not run, and other candidates received fewer votes than Weiss. The SDL expects Konkos to lead it out of its current crisis, caused by internal disputes and reflected in the party's plunge in voters' preferences from 17.4 percent in the 1998 elections to below 4 percent now. But after Konkos's election rivalries seemed to intensify, with the three leaders of the SDL "reform wing" -- Weiss, Education Minister Milan Ftacnik, and Finance Minister Brigita Schmoegnerova -- withdrawing from the race for deputy chairmanships. After being elected, Konkos said allegations that everything was wrong under communism must stop, and that it is necessary to "openly table a socialist alternative for Slovakia," as well as "declare adhesion to national values." Reacting to Konkos's elections and the possibility of a coalition between the SDL and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), former Premier Vladimir Meciar said that in politics "one should never say never." MS

SLOVAK EXTREMIST PARTY BARRED FROM RUNNING IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS

The Supreme Court ruled on 16 November that the recently established Real Slovak National Party cannot participate in the regional elections scheduled for 1 December, CTK reported. The court said the party cannot be registered as long as the appeal against its registration by the Interior Ministry launched by the Slovak National Party (SNS) is not solved by the court. Also on 16 November, Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico said that his party will back NATO and EU membership after the 2002 elections, but he refused to rule out the possibility of cooperating after that ballot with Meciar's HZDS, although he said he will not cooperate with Meciar himself, Reuters reported. "If the HZDS took measures to distance itself from the past [and] from people responsible for the past, it could become an acceptable party in the West," Fico, whose party is in second place in polls after the HZDS, emphasized. MS

UN REPORT SAYS SLOVAKIA BROKE ARMS EMBARGO

A report submitted by a team of independent investigators to the UN Security Council says that until recently Slovakia has been one of the main countries breaching an international embargo on selling arms to Liberia and Sierra Leone, CTK reported on 18 November. The report was submitted to the council in late October and says that Slovak citizen Peter Jusko was the main figure in a vast network of dealers coming mainly from the former Soviet Union, which supplied arms to the two African countries. It says that in November 2000 Jusko played an important role in the export of 1,000 automatic submachine guns from Slovakia and of a Kyrgyz helicopter sent to Slovakia for repairs, and that the Slovak authorities managed to prevent the export of an additional helicopter in February 2001. It also says that Jusko and the Joy Slovak company which he represented between 1994 and 1999 supplied weapons to the Republic of Congo and traded with a Belgian far-right mercenary. MS

HUNGARIAN VOTERS PREFER ORBAN TO MEDGYESSY

According to a Median poll conducted earlier this month, Prime Minister Viktor Orban leads his Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy 40 percent to 33 percent among voter preferences for premier, Hungarian media reported on 19 November. The survey also found that the Smallholders are considered the most corrupt party, at 85 percent on a scale of 100, ahead of FIDESZ at 65 percent, the Socialists at 59 percent, the Free Democrats at 57 percent, the Democratic Forum at 49 percent, and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) at 46 percent. The FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance has the support of 37 percent of decided voters, up from 34 percent in October, while support for the Socialists fell from 36 percent to 30 percent. However, in a survey conducted jointly by the Szazadveg and the Tarki polling agencies, the Socialists are favored by 43 percent of decided voters and the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance by 42 percent. MSZ

HORN CALLS FOR MEDGYESSY-ORBAN DEBATE

Former Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 16 November urged Medgyessy, the Socialists' candidate for prime minister, to challenge Orban to a debate. Horn argued that the 40 criticisms in the latest EU report on Hungary have not been addressed, just as FIDESZ's 1998 election promises have remained unfulfilled. Horn also said that the EU report expresses much harsher criticism of the Status Law than does any other EU document issued so far, and that therefore the cabinet ought to review its policy. He charged that elevating the "racist" and "anti-national" MIEP to the position of a potential partner could jeopardize Hungary's accession to the EU. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CABINET APPROVES GRIPEN JET CONTRACT

The Hungarian government on 17 November authorized Defense Minister Janos Szabo to sign a agreement of understanding on leasing 14 Gripen fighter jets when he visits Sweden next week. The parliament is expected to pass a resolution on leasing the fighters in early December, and a final agreement can be signed before the end of the year, Hungarian media reported. Szabo was also authorized to hold talks on installing on-board weaponry for the aircraft, which will require separate negotiations, as the Defense Ministry plans to purchase U.S. missiles from Western Europe. Meanwhile on 16 November, the opposition Socialist Party submitted a motion to amend the constitution to allow the cabinet instead of parliament to approve the use of Hungarian air space and ground facilities by NATO forces. However, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said the Socialist proposal will not solve the basic problem, as it does not authorize the cabinet to commit Hungarian forces if Article 5 of the NATO charter is invoked. Martonyi said this was the essence of the problem, as noted by NATO. He added that the cabinet has drafted an alternative proposal. MSZ




KOSOVA ELECTS FIRST DEMOCRATIC PARLIAMENT...

Approximately 65 percent of Kosova's 1.25 million registered voters turned out on 17 November to cast their ballots in the province's first democratic legislative election, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "End Note," 16 November 2001). About 70 percent of ethnic Albanians went to the polls, as did between 50 and 60 percent of ethnic Serbs. Many Serbs voted only after dark, perhaps to avoid being seen by organized extremists who called for a boycott, AP reported. Belgrade leaders and prominent representatives of the international community, including U.S. President George W. Bush, called on Serbs to vote to ensure they have a voice in Kosova's future. Some 10 of 120 legislative seats are reserved for Serbs, but their relatively high turnout could mean a Serbian bloc of about 22 seats. There were no serious incidents reported. PM

...WITH RUGOVA CHOSEN FOR 'FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENCE'

The first official returns are not expected until late on 19 November, but initial projections indicate that moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) will receive just under 50 percent of the votes, AP reported. Former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) is expected to have about 24 percent, and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova may have about 8 percent. Serbian parties took about 10 percent, with the remainder going to smaller parties. The LDK's slogan was "freedom, democracy, independence." All of the parties representing the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority want independence. The Prishtina independent daily "Koha Ditore" said in its headline on 18 November: "Now, toward statehood for Kosova!" Rugova said, "We take this opportunity once again to call for the formal recognition of the independence of Kosova as soon as possible," Reuters reported. PM

LOCAL SERB LEADER STRESSES SERBIAN TIES

Serbian voters, however, cast their ballot in hopes of remaining "within Serbia and Yugoslavia," as stressed in the run-up to the election by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition. Local Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic told AP on 18 November in Mitrovica: "We will now switch to parliamentary struggle with the active participation of Serbia and Yugoslavia." He added, "Serbian deputies in the parliament will make efforts to preserve peace and, in cooperation with the international community, to build Kosovo as a democratic society, good enough for all who live here," Reuters reported. He stressed, however, that this must be "a society within Serbia and Yugoslavia." He dismissed Albanian demands for independence, saying: "It doesn't mean anything. They'll have the entire international community against them" if they seek independence. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HAILS KOSOVA VOTE

Kostunica said in Belgrade on 18 November that he is pleased with the Serbian turn-out in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He urged Serbs to remain involved in political life, noting that the international community has promised that the legislature will not have the right to declare independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 16 November 2001). But Rasim Ljajic, who deals with interethnic relations for the Belgrade government, said that the government-sponsored Povratak (Return) coalition would have won "at least six or seven more seats" if Serbian nationalist hard-liners had not boycotted the vote. PM

ALBANIA PRAISES KOSOVA ELECTION

Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 19 November that the election proved that Kosovars are capable of establishing and managing democratic state institutions, Hina reported. He also praised members of the Serbian minority who voted. Meta promised that the Albanian government will do all it can to help promote a democratic society in Kosova with rights and freedoms for all. Opposition leader Sali Berisha called the election "a big day in the history of all Albanians and an example for the other nations in the Balkans." PM

WESTERN KUDOS AND WARNINGS FOR KOSOVA...

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on 18 November that the elections are a "decisive step in the development of democracy," Reuters reported. He reminded Kosovars, however, that independence is not on the agenda: "I call on these leaders to exercise their new authority with wisdom and responsibility, and to adhere strictly to the constitutional framework and to UN Security Council Resolution 1244," which specifies that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "The elections lay the foundations of a democratic future for Kosovo and for the stabilization of the entire region," AP reported. He stressed that all ethnic groups should be "appropriately represented" in the new government. UN civilian administrator Hans Haekkerup said in Prishtina on 19 November that the turnout was good by European standards and that there was minimal violence in the course of the campaign, Hina reported. PM

...AND FOR RUGOVA

On 19 November in Brussels, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner was specific: "These elections were certainly not elections for an independent Kosovo, this is what we [in the EU] all think... [Rugova] knows very well the international community is against independence, but [the LDK sticks to] this idea... We have to sit down and really consider what could be a solution, but I am not in favor of independence as such." An unnamed EU diplomat added: "The trouble is that Rugova has two languages -- one for local consumption and the other for the international community. To us he has this mantra of moderation, but his press outlet [editor's note: the daily "Bota Sot"] is more rabid than the radicals. We will have to make clear to Rugova that he has to make sure the first thing parliament does is not to declare independence." PM

RUSSIA SEEKS 'DEMOCRATIC PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT'

Unnamed Russian "diplomatic sources" told Interfax in Moscow on 17 November, "It is important that these elections should be democratic and should not become a shield used for legitimizing extremists' attempts to separate Kosovo from Yugoslavia, to create a mono-ethnic state formation." The sources noted "the importance of the participation of the Serbian population in the elections" and of providing security for Serbs. Russia hopes that the elections will lead to "the formation of a democratic provisional government in Kosovo." PM

CONFLICTING AGENDAS FOR KOSOVA

Serbs and Albanians will sit together in the new parliament -- itself no mean achievement -- but virtually all observers agree on one thing: there does not appear to be an easy way to reconcile the Albanian demand for independence and the Serbian desire to "remain in Serbia and Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). A plan to partition the province by removing the northernmost, largely Serbian areas has long been in circulation and linked to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. "The Guardian" of 19 November quoted Kosovar human rights lawyer and presidential candidate Flora Brovina as insisting on independence as an expression of self-determination and majority rule. In an illusion to the recent Haekkerup-Kostunica pact, she said: "Democrats of the world have come here to present democracy. But with their behavior they show they are not democrats. They may write different agreements, but they should know they have no value without our signature. The internationals do not have to create Kosovo's independence. We will establish independence." PM

INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA IN THE CARDS?

"The Guardian" reported on 19 November that "political analysts in the region predict that such statements [as Brovina's] will become more common and that relations between the UN and Albanian population will get increasingly uneasy. 'Among the international community I see an increasing uneasiness to talk about it [independence],' said Peter Palmer, the Prishtina director the International Crisis Group think tank. 'The problem is, as long as they avoid the issue, there will be an unsatisfactory status quo, and Albanian impatience will grow... As long as this continues, both sides [Serb and Albanian] will regard each other as a threat.'" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). PM

CROATIA MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF VUKOVAR MASSACRE

President Stipe Mesic said in Vukovar on 18 November that Croatia wants all war criminals brought to justice, whether before a domestic court or in The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He noted that it is necessary to try not only former President Slobodan Milosevic but also the former Yugoslav military command, the political leadership of Serbia that was in power 10 years ago when Serbian forces entered Vukovar, as well as individuals who took part directly in the massacre of Croatian civilians and hospital patients. More than 10,000 people attended the memorial service, "Jutarnji list" reported. The siege, fall, and massacres of Vukovar are widely regarded in Croatia as the single most important episode in the 1991 chapter of the 1991-95 war for independence, followed perhaps by the shelling of Dubrovnik. PM

MACEDONIA ONE STEP CLOSER TO AMNESTY

On 16 November, President Boris Trajkovski issued an amnesty to former ethnic Albanian guerrillas that "plugged some of the loopholes" of an earlier decree, Reuters reported. The new measure makes it clear that only persons "indictable" by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal may still be arrested and held. Trajkovski said in a letter to the EU, NATO, and the OSCE that he has "official statements and firm commitments" from leading hard-liners, such as Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. But Albanians still insist on an amnesty formally approved by the parliament. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS DISSOLUTION

Parliament speaker Stojan Andov announced that he will convene the parliament on 23 or 24 November, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 17 November. The parliament will discuss whether and when it will dissolve itself. Andov expects the decision on dissolution to be made on 26 or 27 November. The Ohrid peace agreement signed by the leaders of the main political parties provides for early parliamentary elections on 27 January 2002. In recent weeks, there were rumors that Georgievski's nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (VMRO-DPMNE) will try to form a new government without holding elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 November 2001). That party is faring badly in the polls. UB

SERBIAN MUTINY ENDED

The Serbian Interior Ministry said in a statement on 17 November that members of the restive Red Berets elite paramilitary police have agreed to be "reinvented" as an antiterror unit subordinated directly to the minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). The men had balked at Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's plans to integrate them into the civilian police. PM

CEFTA SUMMIT IN BUCHAREST CONDEMNS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM...

The leaders of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, meeting in Bucharest on 16 November, issued a declaration condemning international terrorism and said they are prepared to participate in the struggle against it, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They also agreed to invite Croatia to join CEFTA as of 2002. The declaration also embraced the earlier agreement between CEFTA agriculture ministers to solve disputes concerning tariffs on a bilateral basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia agreed to further liberalize trade in agricultural products. MS

...SIGNALS POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH OVER STATUS LAW DISPUTE

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, who participated in the CEFTA summit meeting, said after a meeting held separately from the summit that the encounter was "a success." Orban said that "in two or three years, we shall remember this day as having been very important." The two premiers discussed the ongoing disagreements over the Status Law, and Nastase handed Orban a letter summarizing his government's positions on that legislation. Nastase said Romania has no objections to the Hungarian government's efforts to safeguard the cultural identity of the Hungarian national minority, as his cabinet is making similar efforts to maintain the identity of ethnic Romanians abroad. He said the disagreements are limited to the stipulations providing for granting special economic and social rights to ethnic Hungarians. Orban pledged that his cabinet will quickly analyze the Romanian letter and reply to it. MS

U.S. PRESIDENT THANKS ROMANIAN COUNTERPART

President George W. Bush has sent a letter to his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu expressing "gratitude" for Romania's "proof of friendship" and backing of the U.S. in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks, Romanian media reported on 16 November. Bush also said he has directed the Federal Agency for Crisis Situations to take into consideration the friendly Romanian position when allocating funds for combating terrorism. On 17 November, Bruce Jackson, chairman of the US NATO Committee, said Nastase's visit earlier this month to Washington has "enormously contributed" to convincing NATO members of Romania's determination to implement reform programs and that the "political will" to do so exists. MS

REGIONAL ROMANIAN PARTY MERGED INTO RULING FORMATION

The Party of Moldovans has merged into the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and its leader, Iasi Mayor Constantin Simirad, has been elected a deputy chairman of the PSD Iasi branch, Romanian radio reported on 18 November. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN RUSSIA

President Vladimir Voronin arrived in Moscow on 18 November and is scheduled to meet on 19 November with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to sign the new bilateral treaty between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. This is the seventh meeting of the two presidents this year. Voronin will also meet with Premier Mikhail Kasyanov and with the speakers of the two chambers of the parliament, Yegor Stroev and Gennadii Seleznev. Before departing for Moscow, Voronin described the relationship between the two countries as a "strategic partnership." He also said he is "satisfied" with the Russian troop withdrawal from the Transdniester. On 17 November, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow has now fulfilled all its commitments to withdraw or destroy military hardware in the Transdniester. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER LINKS SEPARATISM WITH TERRORISM

Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau told the UN General Assembly on 16 November that separatist forces in Moldova and elsewhere have links to international terrorist organizations, an RFE/RL correspondent in New York reported. Dudau said arms are illegally produced in the Transdniester and are known to have reached conflict zones in which terrorists are active. He said the UN should focus on these links as part of its efforts to counter terrorist activities. MS

MOLDOVA, UKRAINE FAIL TO SOLVE BORDER CHECKPOINTS ISSUE

Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and his Moldovan counterpart, Vasile Tarlev, signed an agreement in Kyiv on 17 November on the passage of goods through five checkpoints at their border, but failed to reach an agreement on the joint checkpoints at the border with Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. They instructed experts to work further to reach an agreement on the two checkpoints at that border within 15 days. Flux said that the negotiations on this issue "have failed." MS

PARVANOV WINS BULGARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST

Georgi Parvanov, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, won the 18 November presidential runoff and outgoing President Petar Stoyanov conceded defeat, international agencies reported. All six polling agencies that produced exit polls identified Parvanov as the victor, with a figure of between 51.9 and 56 percent of the vote. Provisional official results give Parvanov 53 percent and Stoyanov 47. Full results are due on 20 November. Turnout was about 54.6 percent. Parvanov pledged to "work for continuity and speed up Bulgaria's progress toward membership of EU and NATO." But he also said it is "extremely important" for Bulgaria to revive its relations with Russia, Ukraine, and other "strategic partners." Stoyanov said he "made many mistakes" in the campaign, and that it had been "difficult for me to convince people that I have succeeded as president when their lives are poor." Arguments about European and Atlantic integration, he said, "seem wrong when someone has nothing to eat." MS




DRACULA PARK EXPECTED TO PUMP FRESH BLOOD INTO ROMANIA'S AILING TOURISM INDUSTRY


By Eugen Tomiuc

On 5 November Romania's tourism minister, Matei Agathon Dan, launched the "Dracula Park" project -- a $31 million theme park to be built in central Transylvania. Officials say the park, which is to be completed over the next two years, will attract millions of tourists and revive a region plagued by chronic poverty and unemployment. But the park, which is being built near a medieval town on UNESCO's world heritage list, has already attracted criticism from environmentalists and architects, and has prompted a counter initiative by the political opposition.

Dracula Park, which will occupy a hilly 130-hectare plot near the town of Sighisoara, will be built by the German company Westernstadt Pullman City, which operates an American Wild West theme park in Germany. The park, based on the half-real, half-fictitious Dracula character, will feature amusement rides, a castle wired with spooky effects, a maze garden, restaurants, shops, and hotels, all encircled by a miniature train line. It will also host a more-or-less-serious international center for vampirology. Tourism Minister Dan said that despite being based on a vampire character, the project will not be a horror show but rather a tongue-in-cheek theme park meant for family entertainment.

Funding for the project will come from the state budget as well as from an initial public offering of shares (IPO) expected to raise some $5 million. "With the money from the shares, we will begin work on the project," Dan said. "By the fall of next year, at least two objectives will be completed: the Dracula Castle and the vampirology institute. The foundation will also be completed for the remainder of the park."

The project marks a turn in the way Romania is viewing the Dracula character popularized by Irish author Bram Stoker in his 19th-century best-seller and later depicted in hundreds of horror movies.

For decades, Romanian communist officials tried to counter the Western image of Count Dracula -- the Transylvanian vampire whose blood-covered fangs have become a Hollywood trademark -- with their own homegrown hero, the cruel-but-brave Prince Vlad Draculea, the terror of Turkish invaders.

Stoker was indeed inspired by the real-life Romanian prince when he wrote his novel. But Stoker himself never set foot in Transylvania, and his book is a melange of fantasy and more-or-less accurate historical fact.

Known to Romanians as Vlad the Impaler because of his penchant for impaling invaders and personal enemies, the real Draculea was born in Sighisoara in 1431 and ruled the principality of Wallachia on three separate occasions.

Vlad fought against Turkish invaders and distinguished himself through acts of both bravery and gruesome cruelty. He is said to have impaled an entire Turkish army on one occasion and to have driven nails through the heads of Turkish messengers.

His defenders, however, point to Vlad's success in ridding the country of thieves and intruders, and say cruelty was the norm rather than the exception during the Middle Ages. Vlad, in fact, was reputed to have acquired a taste for cruelty at the Turkish Sultan's court.

According to Romanian historians, Vlad's surname, Draculea, meant "son of the dragon" -- a reference to his father, Vlad Dracul, who had been invested with the knightly Order of the Dragon. But "drac," the old Romanian word for dragon, also means devil, and some say Vlad got his name in recognition of his devilish cruelty.

Dracula was turned into a Western pop-culture icon in the 1930s in a series of Hollywood movies loosely based on Stoker's book and starring Transylvanian-born actor Bela Lugosi.

Romanian communist officials, irked by what they perceived as Western defamation of one of the country's heroes, tried to counterbalance the Dracula myth with books and movies of their own depicting a patriotic Vlad defending Europe from Turkish invaders. After the fall of communism, however, Romanians were quick to realize that Dracula the Vampire was a potential gold mine, while Vlad the Impaler was better relegated to the history books.

Despite considerable tourism potential, postcommunist Romania failed to attract foreigners in large numbers due to a lack of promotion and Western-standard infrastructure. Only some 3 million foreigners visited Romania last year -- compared to 15 million visitors to neighboring Hungary.

A whole tourist industry based on the Hollywood-style Dracula began to grow in Romania, bolstered by Director Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 Hollywood blockbuster, which for the first time attempted to bring more accurate historical background to Stoker's story.

But Romanians soon learned that the U.S.-based Universal Studios, which produced the original vampire movies, had the copyright on Dracula's image.

To avoid paying royalties, Tourism Minister Dan said Dracula Park will not use the traditional image of the vampire. "I do not agree with depicting Dracula's classic image in the park -- with black cloak, bloody long teeth, and a powdered face, as his image is generally perceived," Dan said. "We have architects [and] designers who are already working on a different image. But we have already launched the park's slogan, which is simple and suggestive: 'Welcome Forever.'"

The project is expected to create some 3,000 jobs in Sighisoara, a city of 38,000 where the unemployment rate reaches as high as 50 percent. Already, property prices have soared and new hotels are being built.

But in Sighisoara, Dracula Park has met unexpected opposition from the very locals supposed to benefit most from it.

A 200-member civil-rights group consisting of environmentalists, artists, and even priests from Sighisoara is protesting the creation of the park, which they say will be built on the site of one of the country's oldest oak forests and will place huge pressure on the old town, whose 13th-century center is on UNESCO's world heritage list. "If the park proves viable and attracts the number of tourists that the feasibility studies envisage, the pressure on the environment in the whole Sighisoara area will be very tough," said Alexandru Got, the leader of the protest group. "I personally believe environmental NGOs should request a detailed study on the effects of such a park on the Breite Plateau [oak forest] and its surroundings."

Romanian officials said the oaks will not be destroyed and will actually be part of the park's attractions. But Gota said infrastructure work such as plumbing and road building will inevitably affect the trees.

Some architects are also against the park, which is expected to bring more than 1 million visitors per year. They say its location near Sighisoara will put the historic city in great danger.

But Tourism Minister Dan said that, in many similar tourist areas of Europe and even Romania, the daily number of tourists is larger that the 3,000 people expected to visit Dracula Park on any given day. He pointed out that the park is six kilometers away from Sighisoara's Old Town. "I am not building a new Chernobyl or a steel works there that could harm the environment," Dan said.

Dan also said that a large share of the profits from the park -- estimated at nearly $3 million per year -- will go to the local budget and will fund the restoration of the old town.

But critics say profit expectations are overly optimistic. In a country where the average monthly income is about $100, not many Romanians are likely to pay the $5 admission to visit Dracula Park.

Furthermore, since the legend of Dracula the Vampire remains a foreign concept for many Romanians, the success of the project will most likely rely on whether it can attract Western tourists.

On 12 November, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) unexpectedly came up with its own counter-initiative. The PNL proposed that the park be located near the Bran castle, in the vicinity of Brasov, which is popularly known as Vlad's (and hence Dracula's) home. And they said "their" park will cost only half as much as that proposed by Agathon -- $18 million. Agathon denounced the initiative as "immensely foolish" and said he would consider suing the PNL for using for the park a name similar to that he proposed, i.e. the "Dracula Rasnov Brasov Transylvania Park." One wonders how Vlad the Impaler would have reacted. Meanwhile, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" ironically wrote that the Romanians "cannot make Swiss watches, American films, Russian bombers, or German cars," but they could try "building Dracula parks and exporting Dracula dolls throughout the world."

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague


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