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Newsline - November 27, 2001




RUSSIAN COURT CONFIRMS DECISION TO LIQUIDATE INDEPENDENT TV-6 OWNER...

On 26 November, the Board of Appeals of the Moscow Arbitration Court confirmed the 27 September decision of a first-instance court to liquidate the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MNVK), which owns TV-6, Russian agencies reported. An administrative complaint against MNVK had been filed by LUKoil-Garant, a subsidiary of LUKoil, which owns a 15 percent share of MNVK. LUKoil-Garant claims its rights as a minority shareholder were violated when MNVK contracted a 255 million ruble ($7.5 million) debt in January 2001 and income generated by advertising substantially decreased over the past few months. TV-6 officials deny the charge, saying the television network is profitable. Media magnate Boris Berezovsky owns the remaining 75 percent in the network through three shareholders, which include the financial industrial group LogoVAZ (26.5 percent), the private Delfin Company (25.25 percent), and 11 percent by Berezovsky himself. Lawyers for TV-6 said they will appeal the decision, ITAR-TASS reported. VC

...AS SHAREHOLDERS CLAIM THE DECISION IS POLITICAL

Berezovsky told "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 November that "it is a political decision that will have consequences for the entire country, and I am convinced that the decision was adopted personally by President Vladimir Putin." The Russian state owns more than 14 percent of LUKoil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2001). In an interview broadcast on NTV on 26 November, LUKoil-Garant General Director Mikhail Berezhnoi denied that the decision was politically motivated. Last year, when Gazprom-Media took control of NTV, many NTV journalists, including anchorman and General Director Yevgenii Kiselev, joined TV-6. Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov also protested the court decision to liquidate MNVK. "It is neither in the interest of society, nor in the interest of the state to close down TV-6," Interfax quoted him as saying. Nemtsov added that a decision to close down TV-6 using a court ruling will put an end to the last private television channel in Russia. VC

RUSSIA EXPANDS TRADE, POLITICAL CONTACTS WITH IRAN...

State Property Minister Farit Gazizullin, who arrived in Tehran at the head of a large Russian trade and economic delegation, stated that Russia is looking to rapidly expand joint economic and energy projects with Iran and to promote Russian investment in Iranian industries, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 November. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said in Moscow that following consultations with his Iranian counterpart Mohsen Aminzadeh, both countries have "consolidated their positions" on the creation in Afghanistan of a broad-based multiethnic government and will cooperate with the world community in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. Losyukov also said that Aminzadeh discussed the global efforts in the antiterror campaign with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. VY

...AND ECONOMIC TIES WITH BAGHDAD

The volume of Russian-Iraqi trade exceeded $1.85 billion for the first 10 months of this year, Aleksandr Saltanov, the deputy foreign minister responsible for the Middle East and Afghanistan, said at a Moscow conference on Russian-Iraqi ties, RBK reported on 26 November. Total trade with Iraq constitutes about 60 percent of Russian trade with the Arab world, Saltanov said. He added that "politically and morally" Russia continues to support Baghdad's demand for the "complete lifting of the UN sanctions." VY

ECONOMY MINISTER SAYS 2002 FORECAST NOT TO BE CHANGED...

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on 26 November that he sees no reason to change the forecast for Russia's socioeconomic development in 2002, gazeta.ru reported. Gref said that the forecast was completed following the examination of several pessimistic scenarios. He warned experts against over-dramatizing the economic situation and scaring the public with talk of crises and failures. Although Gref agreed that risks of crises are currently higher than they used to be and that oil prices could fall substantially in 2002, he maintained that there are no grounds to change the forecast. VC

...WHILE FINANCE MINISTER UPBEAT ABOUT EXECUTION OF 2001 BUDGET

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said there are reasons to expect better results regarding the implementation of the 2001 budget as compared to last year, Interfax reported. Meeting with President Putin, Kudrin said a budget surplus of 2.5 percent can be expected in 2001 (it was 1.1 percent in 2000). VC

INTELLIGENCE VETERAN CLAIMS MOSCOW DEFENSELESS AGAINST BIOTERRORISM

The former chief of the analytical department of Soviet foreign intelligence, Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, said he does not exclude the possibility of biological attacks on Russian territory and that Moscow is completely defenseless, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 November. Leonov stressed that both the infrastructure and population of the capital are unprepared for such attacks, and that the city's fresh water supplies are the most vulnerable. The city's pipelines supply water not from wells but from open surface reservoirs that make them easily accessible to terrorists. He said the Moscow metro is another major security risk. VY

RAILWAYS MINISTER TO APPEAR BEFORE COURT

In comments broadcast on NTV, First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yurii Biryukov said on 26 November that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko will appear in court. Last month, the Prosecutor-General's Office formally accused Aksenenko of abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Biryukov told NTV that, aside from Aksenenko, no other high-ranking Railways Ministry officials are under investigation. Russian media had earlier reported that First Deputy Railways Minister Mikhail Ivankov was also facing criminal charges. Although Aksenenko has officially been on leave since 25 October, NTV reported on its website (http://www.ntvru.com) that he recently chaired a ministry meeting to discuss investments planned for next year. Aksenenko plans to defend the ministry's 2002 investment strategy before Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his cabinet, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 November. VC

PAVLOVSKII SEES EMERGENCE OF A NEW TYPE OF OPPOSITION AT CIVIC FORUM

In summing up the work of the Civic Forum, which took place in Moscow on 21 and 22 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001), Gleb Pavlovskii, the president of the Foundation for Efficient Politics, said the 21 agreements signed between NGOs and government officials represent a new foundation for future cooperation between the state and society, the forum's website reported on 27 November. Pavlovskii compared the forum to the Helsinki agreements, and said Russian NGOs are now facing challenges to put enough pressure on government officials to ensure their agreements are further developed. VC

OVER 70,000 NEW HIV CASES REGISTERED IN RUSSIA IN 2001...

In the first 10 months of 2001, over 70,000 new cases of HIV infection have been registered in the Russian Federation, Interfax reported, citing Vadim Pokrovskii, the director of the Russian Federal Center for Prevention and Combating AIDS. This figure represents 1.6 times more cases than in the same period last year. The actual number of new HIV cases may reach some 100,000 people in 2001, Pokrovskii said. He also said that, in the period between January 1987 and November 2001, 163,000 HIV cases were registered in Russia, of which 2,252 were children. He added that, during the same period, 1,141 HIV-infected children were born to women infected with HIV and 136 of those children died. VC

...AS TUBERCULOSIS REMAINS A MAJOR HEALTH CONCERN

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies a $3.4 million grant to fight tuberculosis in Russia, AP reported on 27 November. The grant will support a three-year program to introduce international strategies of tuberculosis control in Russia. The disease has spread rapidly in Russia over the past decade, notably in prisons. The Red Cross estimates that 130,000 new cases develop each year in Russia, and 30,000 people die annually from the disease. The prevalence of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis in Russia has become a major health concern in recent years. VC

RUSSIA SIGNS ACCORD ON MAJOR PIPELINE TO SOUTHERN EUROPE

Energy Minister Igor Yusufov and Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic signed a protocol of intent in Moscow to construct a strategic pipeline that would bring Russian oil through southern European ports to the world market while bypassing the overloaded Turkish straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 November. Meanwhile, YUKOS President Mikhail Khodorkovskii told "Kommersant-Daily" the same day that the oil-trading company will be responsible for Russia's role in the project. Khodorkovskii said the initial capacity of the pipeline will be 5 million tons and will gradually increase to 15 million. Khodorkovskii stressed that the pipeline, dubbed "Druzhba-Adria," will run through Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, and from there to Italy, giving his company access to the Adriatic Sea from which the oil can be shipped worldwide by tankers. VY

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES 'THE YEAR OF UKRAINE' IN RUSSIA

President Putin signed a decree proclaiming 2002 the "Year of Ukraine in the Russian Federation" and set up a 20-member coordinating council to promote the expansion of bilateral ties in culture, education, and science, ORT reported on 26 November. The council will be headed by the chief of the presidential staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, and include Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov, and aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska. Meanwhile, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said in an interview with the Kyiv Russian-language newspaper "Den" that the Russian and Ukrainian presidents have met over a dozen times this year, and that such "intensive contacts are unprecedented for the decade since both countries became independent." VY

DUMA LEGISLATORS SUGGEST CRIMINALIZING DISRESPECT FOR STATE SYMBOLS

The Duma Legalization Committee has initiated a bill that would make showing lack of respect for the state anthem, seal, and flag a punishable criminal offense, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 November. The bill would include an amendment to the Criminal Code that would allow for the punishment for such offenses with stiff fines or a prison term of up to two years. A spokesman for the committee said he foresees that "insulting the state anthem" will require additional definition because in contrast to the other state symbols, "it has no physical form." VY

EXPERT PROPOSES THAT GERMANY WRITE OFF DEBT OWED BY RUSSIA...

Speaking at a symposium on German investments in the Russian economy, the director of the U.S.-based East-West Institute, John Mroz, said that Europe, and in particularly Germany, could write off a large part of the Soviet debt it is owed by Russia, "Vedomosti" reported on 26 November. Mroz said Russia's contribution to the global antiterrorism campaign justifies such a measure "because the U.S., Britain, and to some extent, Russia bear a much greater burden of the fighting against terror than, say, Germany or Italy," the business daily quoted him as saying. VY

...WHILE NEWSPAPER SUGGESTS THAT U.S. SHOULD DROP SOVIET DEBT, INVEST IN RUSSIA

Russia expects U.S. Congress to write off part of the Soviet debt to the United States or convert the money owed into a program for development of democratic institutions during forthcoming discussions on U.S. foreign aid, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 November. According to one of the circulating proposals, one-third of the debt would be spent to support independent mass media in Russia and another third would be used to help curtail Russian technological projects with Iraq and Iran that could have dual military and civilian uses. The final third should be invested into the Russian economy, the newspaper reported. VY

RADUEV TRIAL RESUMES

The trial in Makhachkala of Chechen field commander Salman Raduev and three associates accused of the January 1996 hostage-taking in Kizlyar resumed on 26 November after a four-day break, Russian media reported. Several former hostages and police officers testified that Chechen fighters seized hostages and killed at least one of them, but they failed to confirm that either Raduev or his codefendants killed or wounded any hostages or ordered other Chechen fighters to do so. LF

CHECHEN FSB OFFICIAL NAMED TO HEAD CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTRY

A career FSB officer, Colonel Said Peshkhoev, has been named to head the newly created Chechen Interior Ministry, Interfax reported on 26 November. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has consistently argued that Chechnya needs its own Interior Ministry, rather than a subsidiary of the federal ministry. LF




EU OFFICIAL URGES CONCESSIONS TO END KARABAKH CONFLICT...

EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told Mediamax on 24 November that he believes a solution to the Karabakh conflict depends on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan demonstrating the courage to make "painful concessions," and on the acceptance of those concessions by the populations of both countries. Solana affirmed the EU's support for the ongoing mediation conducted by the OSCE Minsk Group. He also advocated regional cooperation between the South Caucasus states as an effective means of confidence building. Azerbaijan has consistently rejected Armenian proposals to embark on such economic cooperation. He affirmed the EU's commitment to promoting a normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, and warned that unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus constitute an obstacle to the countries of the region joining the EU. LF

...BUT ARMENIAN MINISTER PESSIMISTIC ON EVE OF PRESIDENTS' TALKS

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told parliament deputies on 26 November that he doubts the upcoming meeting in Moscow between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev will give new impetus to the Karabakh peace process, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. The two presidents are scheduled to meet on 30 November on the sidelines of the CIS summit. Oskanian added that meetings between the two presidents contribute only slightly to the peace process. He characterized as extremely optimistic predictions that there will be progress in negotiations during the first six months of 2002. LF

GEORGIA HINTS AT FLEXIBILITY OVER TIME FRAME FOR CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASES

Georgia will continue to insist on the closure of the Russian military bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki, and talks on doing so should be resumed as soon as possible, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told Interfax on 26 November. At the same time, Bezhuashvili hinted that Georgia may show greater flexibility over the time frame for doing so. Tbilisi earlier insisted that the bases should be closed within two to three years, while Moscow argued that it would take up to 14 years, given the need to build new barracks in Russia for the servicemen withdrawn from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May and 25 June 2001). LF

HAS A NEW ARMED CONTINGENT INFILTRATED ABKHAZIA?

A group of some 1,500 armed men, whom the Abkhaz government believes are Ukrainians, has been spotted in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 26 November, quoting "reliable sources." LF

GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS REJECT PROPOSED SUSPENSION OF OPERATIONS IN ABKHAZIA

David Shengelia, commander of the Forest Brothers guerrilla formation, has rejected the 26 November proposal by Abkhaz Supreme Council in exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili to suspend guerrilla activities in Abkhazia until May 2002 in order to allow the Georgian leadership one last chance of resolving the conflict peacefully, Caucasus Press reported on 27 November. At a conference in Kutaisi several days earlier, Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili proposed that Georgia should issue an ultimatum to the Abkhaz leadership to agree to a settlement within six months. If Sukhum fails to do so, Shashiashvili said, the Georgian leadership should render "active support" to the guerrilla formations. The Georgian government has repeatedly insisted it has no influence over those formations. LF

KYRGYZSTAN CONSIDERS FRENCH REQUEST FOR USE OF AIR BASES

The Kyrgyz government is considering how to respond to a French request for permission to base military aircraft in Kyrgyzstan for the duration of the antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001), Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Lira Sabyrova told Reuters on 26 November. She said France did not specify the number of aircraft involved, but ITAR-TASS the same day gave the number as eight. The Russian agency further quoted a source within the Kyrgyz presidential administration as saying that a meeting of the Kyrgyz Security Council concluded that Kyrgyzstan's air bases are unsuitable for use by French air force planes. Interfax on 26 November quoted an unnamed Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official as denying that France offered to help Kyrgyzstan secure the restructuring of its debts to the Paris Club countries in return for the use of the Kyrgyz air bases. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATING UZBEK AIR RAIDS

The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) on 23 November began a debate on the bombardment by Uzbek military planes of a Kyrgyz village in August 1999 in which three civilians were killed and 28 wounded, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999). The Kyrgyz government failed to demand compensation from Uzbekistan for that raid, which was directed against militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who had entered Kyrgyz territory. LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIALS DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH XINJIANG

Visiting China's Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region on 19-22 November, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev discussed with local officials the possibility of easing restrictions on border crossings, the sale of Kyrgyz coal to the region, plans for the joint exploitation of Kyrgyzstan's Savai-Ordo gold deposit, and beginning regular flights between Osh and Kashgar, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

KYRGYZSTAN PROPOSES TALKS ON WATER RESOURCES

Kyrgyz Premier Kurmanbek Bakiev has written to his Kazakh and Uzbek counterparts to propose trilateral talks in Bishkek next month on the equitable use of Central Asia's water resources, Bakiev's adviser Andrei Iordan told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 26 November. The presidents of both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have harshly criticized the law passed by the Kyrgyz parliament in June on the sale of water to neighboring countries. LF

TAJIKISTAN TO OPEN EMBASSY IN KABUL

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 26 November issued a decree on the opening as soon as possible of a Tajik embassy in Kabul, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT DEMANDS MAXIMUM TRANSPARENCY IN USE OF INTERNATIONAL LOANS...

President Rakhmonov warned ministers and government officials at a meeting on 24 November that international organizations are increasingly complaining of the embezzlement or misuse of funds provided for infrastructure development, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 26 November. Rakhmonov dismissed the head of the government agency for dealing with the aftereffects of natural disasters, Nurullo Ashurov, in connection with the disappearance of $60,000 assigned for repair work. LF

...DECREES INCREASE IN PUBLIC-SECTOR WAGES, PENSIONS

President Rakhmonov has also issued a decree raising the minimum wage, pensions, and the salaries of public sector employees, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 26 November. As of 1 January 2002, the minimum wage will be 4 somonis ($1.60). The decree also introduces regional coefficients for employees in mountainous and desert regions, including the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. LF

UZBEKISTAN WANTS CONFIRMATION OF NAMANGANI'S DEATH

The Uzbek authorities would like to see concrete evidence to substantiate reports that the country's most wanted man, outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Djuma Namangani, was indeed killed while fighting on the Taliban side in Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 26 November, quoting an unnamed Uzbek government official. Interfax last week quoted Tajik officials as confirming that Namangani was killed during fighting in Kunduz on 18 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2001). LF




BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE TO SUBMIT MEMORANDUM ON POWERS TO OSCE

Alyaksandr Vaytovich, the chairman of the Council of the Republic (the upper house of Belarus's National Assembly), said on 26 November that the National Assembly will submit a memorandum to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly by February 2002, Belapan reported. Vaytovich explained that the memorandum will outline the real powers of the National Assembly and offer ways to expand them. He said the idea of the memorandum originated during his meeting with OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin in St. Petersburg, last week. Vaytovich cited Severin as saying that if the memorandum makes a favorable impression, it may help the National Assembly fill Belarus's vacant seat in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The OSCE does not recognize Belarus's National Assembly, saying it was formed in an undemocratic election process and lacks real legislative powers. JM

OSCE ENVOYS PLEDGE CONTINUATION OF DIALOGUE WITH BELARUS

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly representative Uta Zapf told journalists in Minsk on 27 November that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will continue dialogue with the Belarusian authorities, Belapan reported. She said that the 9 September presidential election in Belarus failed to meet international standards, but added that the OSCE and other European parliamentary organizations deem the policy of international isolation of Belarus to be counterproductive. She confirmed that the OSCE has not abandoned its four requirements for democratizing the political life in Belarus: expanding the powers of the legislature, democratizing the Electoral Code, creating a climate of trust in the country, and giving the opposition access to the state-controlled media. During a three-day visit in Minsk, Zapf of Germany and Urban Ahlin of Sweden met with Belarusian officials and opposition figures as well as European ambassadors accredited to Minsk. Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou refused to receive the OSCE envoys, objecting to the presence of OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group head Hans Georg Wieck at such a meeting. JM

RUSSIAN MEDIA CENTER OPENS IN UKRAINE

A Russian media center -- founded by the Media Soyuz journalist organization, the Public Council of the Ukrainian-Russian Cooperation, the Internet newspaper ukraina.ru, and other organizations -- opened in Kyiv on 26 November, Inter television reported. "Our countries are present in each other. The problem of our past was that we could not find a form for this presence, or we proposed wrong forms. We have to find the right forms that would be convenient for us," ukraina.ru Project Director Gleb Pavlovskii said of the center's tasks. The center is headed by Inter television presenter Oleksandr Kolodiv. Media Soyuz President Aleksandr Lyubimov said Kolodiv was chosen because a Ukrainian journalist "will not be associated with Russian imperialism." JM

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY REPORTS ON ARMS REDUCTION

"We are considering the long-term possibility of further reduction of armaments and military hardware: about 2,000 tanks and armored combat vehicles, more than 1,000 field guns and multiple rocket launchers, and more than 350 assault helicopters," Ukraine's acting Chief of General Staff Mykola Palchuk told Interfax on 26 November. Palchuk recalled that over the past five years Ukraine's armed forces closed down the headquarters of three fronts, five armies, and 14 divisions, as well as took off combat duty more than 4,000 tanks and other combat vehicles in addition to some 800 warplanes and helicopters. JM

BELGIUM EXPECTS ESTONIA TO CLOSE MORE EU CHAPTERS THIS YEAR

Pierre Chevalier, the chairman of Belgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters in Tallinn on 26 November that he expects Estonia to close more chapters of its EU membership negotiations during Belgium's six-month presidency of the EU, which will end on 31 December, BNS reported. Chevalier is visiting all of the EU candidate countries to listen to their opinions about the future of the EU, and will present a report on his findings to the EU summit meeting in Laeken, Belgium in December. In discussions with Estonian parliament Deputy Chairman Tunne Kelam, Chevalier mentioned the need to expand the jurisdiction of the European Parliament while also giving a more prominent role to state parliaments in the union. SG

LATVIA'S ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT GETS HIGH MARKS FROM TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL

Transparency International-Latvia board Chairwoman Inese Voika said at a press conference in Riga on 26 November that the organization's report on world corruption considers the situation in Latvia to be positive, LETA reported. The report stated that the fight against corruption in the Baltic states has reached the same level as in the poorest EU member states and that the EU is consistently applying pressure to combat corruption. But she said that, while Latvia has passed the necessary laws to fight corruption, they are not being implemented effectively. Voika noted that the report devotes considerable attention to the financing of political parties and calls for legislation requiring those parties to provide more information about the sources and size of donations they receive. SG

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS LITHUANIA

Ion Iliescu began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 26 November with talks with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. The two discussed their countries' efforts to join the EU and NATO and the need to expand economic cooperation. They were present at the signing by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana of agreements on free trade and the elimination of double taxation. Iliescu also met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and with Adamkus opened the first-ever Lithuanian-Romanian economic forum at the Litexpo fairgrounds. Iliescu was scheduled to address the Lithuanian parliament and meet with its chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, on 27 November before traveling to Riga. SG

POLISH DEPUTY SPEAKER SENDS APOLOGY TO FOREIGN MINISTER...

Deputy parliamentary speaker Andrzej Lepper, the populist leader of the radical farmers union Self-Defense, has sent a letter with apologies to Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Polish media reported on 26 November. Speaking on a local radio station on 23 November, Lepper called Cimoszewicz a "scoundrel" and Cimoszewicz's father a "criminal who killed Poles" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November 2001). "I have the impression that the apology is as equally roguish as what it refers to," Cimoszewicz commented on Lepper's letter on 26 November. Meanwhile, Premier Leszek Miller said the same day that he sees no further possibility for cooperation between the government and deputy speaker Lepper. JM

...SAYS PARLIAMENT CANNOT STRIP HIM OF OFFICE

Speaking about a possible vote in the Sejm to strip him of his parliamentary office because of his insulting pronouncements last week, Lepper said on 26 November that the Sejm procedures do not envision the recall of a deputy speaker. "Let them [Sejm deputies] not now manipulate, because we will certainly appeal this [vote] to the Constitutional Court, if they do something like this," PAP quoted Lepper as saying. "How can an apology be called 'roguish'? He has probably confused things, somewhere," Lepper said regarding Cimoszewicz's reaction to his letter. And in reference to Miller's statement, Lepper said: "The prime minister has probably gone a little too far here in saying he could cooperate with Self-Defense but not with Lepper. So, how does he imagine Self-Defense without Lepper? This is a misunderstanding, and I think that this was said a bit too hastily." JM

FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK PREMIER GOES ON TRIAL IN DECEMBER

Lubomir Strougal, who was Czechoslovak prime minister between 1970 and 1980, is due to go on trial on 17 December, CTK and AP reported, citing the judge who will preside over the case. Strougal is charged with covering up crimes committed by seven members of the communist secret police when he was interior minister in 1965. The seven are alleged to have shot and killed two people and to have tortured one person to death in 1949. Strougal allegedly ordered the investigation into the case of the seven to be stopped. He denies the charge. MS

LIGHT AT END OF TEMELIN TUNNEL?

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer are close to agreeing to a deal under which Austria will agree to closing the energy chapter in Prague's negotiations with the EU in exchange for the Czech Republic's rebuilding of some sections of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported on 27 November, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." The daily reported that Austria has made seven demands concerning the plant's design, and quoted Nuclear Safety Authority (SUBJ) Chairwoman Dana Drabova as saying that "most" of the seven demands are being negotiated between the two sides. Drabova also said some of these demands are "identical with the recommendations made by the International Agency for Atomic Energy," and that despite criticism of the recommendations by CEZ, the utility company that operates Temelin, it is "probable that some of them will be implemented." "Lidove noviny" wrote that while CEZ and SUBJ want the reconstruction of the plant to proceed while Temelin is in operation, Austria insists that the plant be shut down during that period. The reconstruction costs are estimated at between 5 to 10 billion crowns (some $133 to $266 million), and "Lidove noviny" said this could spark a debate on whether shutting Temelin down altogether would not be less costly. MS

ONE CZECH IN THREE UNDECIDED OVER JOINING EU

Thirty-five percent of Czechs are undecided as to whether their country should join the EU, according to a public opinion poll conducted by CVVM and cited by CTK on 26 November. Forty-three percent said they would support joining the union in a referendum, while 14 percent said they would oppose it. Over 6 percent responded that they would not participate in the plebiscite. The percentage of those undecided has nearly tripled since September, when it was 5 percent, and that of opponents has dropped by four percentage points. There has been no change in the percentage of supporters. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TALKS WITH SLOVAKIA ON BORDER REGIME WILL CONTINUE

Foreign Minister Kavan said on 26 November that despite the failure of the two countries' interior ministers, Stanislav Gross and Ivan Simko, to agree last week on changes to the border regime, the talks have not collapsed and negotiations will continue, CTK and TASR reported. "The Czech side is not considering denouncing anything [in the current visa-free loose regime] at the moment, Kavan said. But he added that, should the Czech Republic accede to the EU ahead of Slovakia, it will become necessary to "standardize the border regime," although "visas for Slovak citizens will definitely not be required." The EU is pressing for tighter controls on the border between the two countries to facilitate the struggle against illegal immigration. MS

SLOVAKIA AIMS TO END EU NEGOTIATIONS BY MID-2002

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said on 26 November that his country is "determined" to complete negotiations with the EU by mid-2002, before the parliamentary election campaign is launched. Kukan said the campaign could slow down the negotiations and this must be avoided. The ballot is scheduled for September. Slovakia has closed 30 out of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire thus far. Kukan also said the outcome of the election will not have a significant influence on Slovakia's intention to join the EU as early as possible. "All political parties in Slovakia, including those in the opposition, are pro-Europe and pro-integration. Even [former Premier] Vladimir Meciar and his party say that Slovakia's future lies only inside the EU. Not even the Slovak National Party opposes membership," he said. MS

MECIAR PREDICTS 'HALF-VICTORY' IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS...

Former Premier Vladimir Meciar told journalists on 26 November that his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will win in four out of the eight regional elections scheduled for 1 December, CTK reported. Meciar said that in all eight regions the HZDS candidates for regional head will advance to the second round. He explained that the HZDS electorate is "among the most disciplined," and that he predicts a high turnout of HZDS supporters at the ballot. Almost 140 candidates are running for the eight regional head positions. The elections will also produce 400 deputies to the eight regional assemblies. MS

...EXONERATES CZECH TV MOGUL OF ANY GUILT

On 26 November, Meciar became the second prominent politician to meet with Czech television mogul Vladimir Zelezny, who is under investigation in the Czech Republic for allegedly bilking U.S. businessmen Ronald Lauder and ignoring an international arbitration court that ruled against him, dpa reported. Last week, Zelezny was received by Czech opposition leader Vaclav Klaus. After the meeting, Meciar said, "For me, this man is innocent." Zelezny, the owner of Czech Nova television, was recently granted the right to start a television channel in Slovakia. MS

HUNGARIAN ARMY, AIR FORCE GET NEW CHIEFS

Defense Minister Janos Szabo on 26 November appointed Brigadier General Imre Balogh as chief of staff of the air force and Major General Ferenc Gyorossy as chief of staff of the land forces, effective December 1, Hungarian media reported. Balogh was a former first deputy to air force Chief of Staff Istvan Talla, while Gyorossy worked for the former chief of staff of the land forces. The ministry gave no explanation for the personnel changes. "Nepszabadsag" reported, however, that the changes were initiated by Chief of Staff Lajos Fodor. Unconfirmed reports claim that the relationship between Fodor and Talla deteriorated recently after Talla disagreed with several of Fodor's decisions. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAIN ON SOCIALIST-PROPOSED REFERENDA

The Constitutional Court ruled on 26 November that the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) can begin collecting signatures for two of four proposed referenda, Hungarian media reported. The court approved a question on the mode of determining pension increases and another on foreign-language exams in schools, but struck down the National Election Commission's 21 August decision to allow a question related to days of rest and another one regarding compulsory military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July and 22 August 2001). MSZP parliamentary group leader Sandor Nagy said it will be difficult to call a referendum before the elections, as the vote would have to take place at least 41 days before the first round of that ballot. MSZ

HUNGARIAN STATE AUDIT FINES SOCIALISTS

The State Audit Office examined the 1999 and 2000 finances of the Socialist Party's Gyor chapter, and found some 3 million forints ($10,500) in illicit income, Hungarian media reported on 27 November. Party Treasurer Laszlo Puch attributed the problem to "a bookkeeping error that any party could make." He said the party accepts responsibility and will pay the fine of 6 million forints, double the sum of the error. MSZ




MACEDONIAN LEGISLATORS BACK ELECTION DELAY...

Leaders of the four largest political parties have endorsed postponing the parliamentary elections slated for 27 January 2002 to a later date, as proposed by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 26 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). The VMRO favors postponement on the grounds that a campaign should not take place until peace has been consolidated. The constitution requires that the parliament dissolve itself two months before an election, which would mean an immediate dissolution if the January deadline is to be kept. The two largest ethnic Albanian parties favor the postponement so that parliament can pass a law on local self-government and enact legislation on the use of the Albanian language by deputies, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001). The ethnic Macedonian Social Democrats (SDSM) agree to the postponement, but not to a date beyond 27 April. The Social Democrats lead the VMRO-DPMNE in opinion polls, but much of the electorate is undecided. PM

...AS NOW SEEMS ASSURED

On 27 November, parliament speaker Stojan Andov cancelled a planned vote on dissolving the legislature so the campaign for the January vote could begin, Reuters reported. This means the election will have to take place at some later date. The SDSM deputies failed in an attempt to set a relatively early date for the vote in order to exploit their lead in the polls over the VMRO-DPMNE. PM

MACEDONIAN JUSTICE MINISTER SUBMITS LIST OF AMNESTY CANDIDATES

Idzet Mehmeti, an ethnic Albanian, gave President Boris Trajkovski on 26 November a list of 88 imprisoned ethnic Albanians whom Mehmeti considers candidates for the amnesty that Trajkovski recently decreed, dpa reported from Skopje. Some 80 inmates are fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) who were imprisoned on charges related to "terrorism." The remaining eight belong to an underground Albanian militia. All were jailed before 26 August. The constitution recognizes as valid only an amnesty approved by the parliament, but Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has refused to enact such a measure. Most observers regard an amnesty of all UCK fighters not accused of war crimes by The Hague as an essential step toward peace. An amnesty was promised in the Ohrid peace agreement of 13 August. PM

U.S. MILITARY EQUIPMENT FOR MACEDONIA

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Eleanor Nagy and State Secretary in the Defense Ministry Vladimir Gjoreski officiated at the handover of 19 vehicles and mine-removing equipment from the U.S. to Macedonia in Skopje on 26 November, dpa reported. The equipment, which includes communications hardware, office equipment, and computers, is valued at $500,000. Nagy said the gift will enable Macedonians to clear land mines without foreign help. Gjoreski noted that "this donation continues the good cooperation between Macedonia and the U.S.," adding that Washington has given Skopje military aid worth more than $10 million in recent years. PM

KOSOVAR EX-GUERRILLA LEADER HELD

Former Kosovar guerrilla chief Gani Ymeri appeared before a panel of international judges in the Mitrovica district court on 26 November on charges of "serious crimes committed in Kosova in June 1999" against Serbian civilians, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). The judges ruled that he should be held pending investigation of his case. Prosecutor Matti Hynynen told dpa that it is not excluded that the case could be sent to The Hague. This is the first time that a Kosovar Albanian insurgent leader has been arrested and sent to court on charges related to crimes against Serbs. PM

UN POLICE TO ENSURE SAFETY FOR LEGISLATORS IN KOSOVA

A special unit of 200 police is undergoing training in Prishtina to protect the 120 legislators elected in the recent parliamentary elections, dpa reported on 26 November. The 22 Serbian deputies will be guarded while traveling from their homes in largely Serbian regions to the parliament and back. Security arrangements for ethnic Albanian deputies will be dealt with on an individual basis. Weapons will be banned from the parliament building and all deputies will be searched upon entering. PM

U.S. ANNOUNCES TRAINING EXERCISE IN KOSOVA

Reaffirming the U.S. commitment to security in the region, U.S. KFOR announced in a press release from Camp Bondsteel on 27 November that "the United States Army Europe will conduct operations in Kosovo from November 28, 2001 to December 15, 2001 to demonstrate the U.S. and NATO commitment to maintaining peace in the region and the capability to rapidly reinforce NATO forces. United States forces will conduct combined patrols, as well as airborne and joint exercises with United States Armed Forces Europe. U.S. soldiers and airmen from Germany and Italy will deploy to Kosovo as part of an operational deployment rehearsal named Rapid Guardian III. This will exercise the rapid deployment of a U.S. component of the NATO Balkan Strategic Reserve Force." PM

IS CROATIA DRAGGING HEELS ON WAR CRIMES?

Amid wrangling by lawyers, a judge in the Rijeka county court postponed for the fifth time the trial of General Mirko Norac and four other men indicted for war crimes against Serbian civilians in the Gospic area in 1991, Reuters reported on 26 November. This is the first trial of Croats for crimes against Serbs, and the first time that The Hague has allowed Croatia to try an indicted person on Croatian soil. It is not excluded that the war crimes tribunal might demand Norac's extradition if it concludes that the Croatian authorities are dragging their heels on bringing war criminals to justice. The government has opened a number of other cases in which Serbs were the victims, but no one has yet been brought to trial. Public opinion polls suggest that Norac and other indicted war criminals have a solid base of support, but also that most Croats want to put war-related issues behind them and promote their country's social and economic development. PM

CROATIAN-SLOVENIAN BORDER ISSUE UNDER DISCUSSION -- AGAIN

The border dispute that has bedeviled relations between Zagreb and Ljubljana for a decade overshadows the visit of President Milan Kucan of Slovenia to Croatia, which began on 27 November, Hina reported. Croatian President Stipe Mesic urged both sides to reach an agreement based on the draft worked out by Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek in July lest the case be submitted to international arbitration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 August 2001). Mesic suggested that the impasse might be broken by separating the question of Slovenia's access to the Adriatic from that of Croatian ownership of the seabed. PM

EU PRESSURES MONTENEGRO AGAINST INDEPENDENCE

In the latest effort by Brussels to discourage independence aspirations by Montenegro, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said in Belgrade on 27 November that "the best solution would be a continuation of the federation" of Serbia and Montenegro, AP reported. He warned Montenegrin leaders that "it is a mistake to think that separation would be a faster way to become a part of the EU." PM

BOSNIAN SERB LEADER SAYS MILOSEVIC INDICTMENT THREATENS REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

Republika Srpska Deputy Prime Minister Sinisa Djordjevic told Belgrade Radio B92 on 25 November that The Hague's recent indictment of former President Slobodan Milosevic threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the Republika Srpska, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Djordjevic noted that the indictment will strengthen Muslim and Croatian claims that the Bosnian Serb entity was established on the foundations of ethnic cleansing. He stressed that it is in Belgrade's and Banja Luka's own interests to dispel "the myth of genocide" in the Bosnian conflict. PM

UN SACKS THREE MORE BOSNIAN SERB POLICE

Stefo Lehmann, who is a spokesman for the UN police administration in Bosnia (IPTF), said in Sarajevo on 27 November that Foca police officers Brane Cosovic, Miodrag Koprivica, and Zoran Vladicic "can no longer participate in any aspect of police work, either now or in the future, anywhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina," AP reported. This is the latest in a series of sackings by the IPTF of persons linked to wartime atrocities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 November 2001). PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION...

By a vote of 128 against and 102 in favor, the Chamber of Deputies on 26 November rejected the motion by the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party to debate the situation in the health care system, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). The two parties' motion was supported not only by the Greater Romania Party, but also by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), which supports in parliament the ruling Social Democratic Party under an agreement between the two formations. MS

...IN VOTING THAT SIGNIFIES A WARNING SIGNAL

The support of the motion by UDMR deputies is considered by observers to be a "warning signal" that the UDMR is sending to the PSD in the wake of recent allegations of the "loss of state control" over Harghita and Covasna counties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca, in an apparent attempt to soothe the UDMR, the same day rejected the PNL's demand that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase report to the parliament on the alleged "loss of state control," which was mentioned in the latest report of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). Cozmanca said there is no constitutional provision that would justify the PNL's demand. Cozmanca said the government has "no evidence" of the SRI's claims, and that it will ask the SRI to provide such evidence to the Prosecutor-General's Office or to the Supreme Council on National Defense. Serban Mihailescu, the secretary-general of the government, told the Senate the same day that if the allegations are confirmed the cabinet will immediately take "necessary measures," but if they are not proved "those responsible for making them will be held accountable." MS

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN DISMISSES ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT

Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu, a former premier (1992-1996), on 26 November dismissed as inaccurate a report in the daily "Romania libera" according to which he received $708,000 from businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu for services provided to obtain a license for Vantu's Bank of Investment and Development, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vacaroiu admitted that he signed a contract with Vantu to facilitate the bank's launching, but added that at his own request the contract was canceled and "I did not receive a cent." In response to a question, he said he canceled the contract after its details were leaked to the press and that he has no documentation that can prove the cancellation. He said he received "an excellent salary" as chairman of the board of the bank for over one year prior to the 2000 elections, but added that even that salary was "below my real value." Vantu is alleged in Romanian media reports to have masterminded and benefited from the collapse of the National Investment Fund. MS

VORONIN SAYS MOLDOVA 'OWES NO EXPLANATION' TO ROMANIA...

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin told journalists on 26 November that Moldova "owes no explanation" to Romania over the speech made in Strasbourg in early October by Justice Minister Ion Morei, Mediafax reported. Morei told the European Court on Human Rights, which is examining the complaint of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church that Romania's "expansionist policies" are one of the reasons for that church's revival. Following the speech, Romanian Premier Nastase canceled a scheduled visit to Moldova. Voronin said Morei is a Moldovan official who "owes explanations to his hierarchical superiors alone." Voronin also announced that Romanian President Ion Iliescu will pay an official visit to Chisinau in December, Infotag reported. MS

...STEPS INTO MARK TWAIN'S SHOES...

"Predictions about the imminent collapse of the CIS have turned out to be slightly exaggerated," Voronin said at the same press conference, adding that "over 10 years the CIS has demonstrated its ability to survive and develop," ITAR-TASS reported. He also said he wants the upcoming CIS summit in Moscow, scheduled for 29-30 November, to decide that the following summit will be held on 31 May 2002 in Chisinau. Voronin also confirmed his intention to grant semi-official status to the Russian language, saying a bill is under preparation that would give the Russian language special status. "I am for a real bilingualism," Infotag quoted him as saying. He explained that while 99 percent of Moldovans know Russian, only 10-12 percent of non-Moldovans speak the country's official language. "I am in favor of citizens being able to speak both languages," he said. MS

...AND SAYS HE WILL BACK UKRAINIAN COMRADES IN THE NEXT ELECTIONS

Voronin also said he will back in the next parliamentary elections in Ukraine "communist comrades" who may help in bringing about a solution of the conflict with the Transdniester. He explained that each time he meets his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma they agree on setting up the joint custom posts that Chisinau wants in place, but that later "our Ukrainian colleagues dial back, claiming this is an economic blockade against the Transdniester." The Ukrainian authorities, he said, "behave as if the problem is more important for Ukraine than for Moldova," and by so doing they condone smuggling by the Transdniester authorities, Infotag reported. He said that unlike Russia, the Ukrainians have not yet learned "what is by now clear to everybody," namely that the Transdniester is ruled by "a criminal group" and that "the Smirnov regime seeks to immortalize itself" under the guise of the "presidential elections" scheduled for 9 December. MS

TRANSDNIESTER BLOCKS CRITICAL RTR REPORT

A critical report on the Transdniester aired on Russian RTR television was blocked on 26 November, ITAR-TASS and Moldovan media reported. The report was broadcast on the "Vesti nedeli" ("News of the week") program and the station's relays in the separatist region were shut down right after the report began. Among other things, the report revealed the involvement of the leadership in Tiraspol in arms trading, smuggling, and its connections to organized crime. It also insisted on the personal involvement of separatist leader Igor Smirnov's son Vladimir in the illicit affairs and said arms are being illegally produced in the Transdniester despite the leadership's refutation of such reports. Transdniester "Information Minister" Boris Akulov said the program was switched off because of a "technical failure" that affected all other Russian-language broadcasts. Akulov said the report will be shown on the local television "in full" but added that "we will [also] provide our comments" and "explain who ordered the report [and] how it was financed." Akulov said two main "beneficiaries" of the report are Moldovan President Voronin and Tom Zenovich, who is running against Smirnov in the "presidential" elections on 9 December. MS

BULGARIA TO ACCELERATE MILITARY REFORMS

Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov told AFP on 26 November that the Bulgarian armed forces will be cut by 20,000 men over the next 2-1/2 years as part of the reforms to prepare the country for joining NATO. "The most difficult part of the reform has still to come," he said, adding that reductions carried out since 1999 have hitherto been limited to "retiring people, getting rid of unfilled posts and cutting the number of young recruits." However, in the next phase "20,000 military personnel will have to go...to bring the numbers down to 45,000." Svinarov also said the army will have to wait until 2003 before financial resources can be freed-up to modernize its arsenal and bring it up to NATO standards. He explained that the defense budget has swelled to cope with compensation payments for officers made redundant and the maintenance of the armed forces, and that in 2002 it will absorb 3 percent of the GDP. But he added that the army's communication system will be compatible with those used by NATO members by the time the organization holds its 2002 Prague summit. MS




There is no End Note today.





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