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Newsline - December 4, 2001


RUSSIA EVALUATES DISMISSAL OF NORTHERN FLEET COMMANDERS...
The unexpected reshuffle of top commanders of Russia's Northern Fleet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001) 15 months after the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine had both international and domestic aspects, "Kommersant-Daily," "Vedomosti" and "Izvestiya" commented on 3 December. They argued that, from the foreign policy perspective, the Russian navy has no significant adversary other than NATO, unlike other branches of the Russian armed forces. President Vladimir Putin considered the command of the Northern Fleet to be hampering the current rapprochement between Russia and NATO in general, and Russia and the U.S. in particular, according to the newspapers. From the domestic point of view, the newspapers argued that the Northern Fleet command should never have allowed the "Kursk" to begin naval exercises with a full arsenal of combat torpedoes and missiles on board. Had the command forbidden this, even the most critical incident on board would never have led to the destruction of the entire submarine. VY

...AND PUTIN'S CHOICE TO DELAY RESHUFFLE...
On 4 December, RBK said that Northern Fleet top commanders Admiral Vyacheslav Popov and Vladimir Kuroyedov both tendered their resignations immediately following the "Kursk" catastrophe and the subsequent failed rescue operation. At the time, Putin refused to accept their resignations, arguing that he was waiting for the results of the investigation. In fact, RBK argued, there was no need to wait for the investigation results because there were enough obvious mistakes in the actions taken by Northern Fleet's high command. But the news agency said that such a decision from Putin at that time would have looked like a concession to the media and public opinion, which demanded immediate punishment. Now, when the scandal has died out and the first investigative results have been presented, Putin's actions look well-considered and independent VC

...AS REGIONAL GOVERNOR DENOUNCES SACKINGS
Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov said on 3 December that he is upset by President Putin's decision to dismiss a number of officers of the navy's Northern Fleet, which is based in Murmansk, TV-6 reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). According to the station, Yevdokimov declared that the Northern Fleet is "one of the most combat-ready and powerful units in [Russia's] armed forces." He continued, "such an instant beheading of such a powerful structure, a military structure, will -- to my mind -- have serious consequences." JAC

ACTING NORTHERN FLEET COMMANDER APPOINTED
Vice Admiral Vladimir Dobroskochenko, who was a deputy to dismissed Northern Fleet commander Admiral Popov, was named on 2 December to temporarily command the Northern Fleet, Interfax reported. Vice Admiral Dobroskochenko has more than 30 years of experience in commanding surface naval units. Until recently, he commanded a Northern Fleet task force. VC

NEW SUBMARINE FOR RUSSIAN NAVY
Navy commander Kuroyedov signed a certificate on 3 December commissioning the nuclear-powered submarine "Gepard," TV-6 reported. Putin said the same day that he will visit the Sevmash shipyard in the northern city of Severodvinsk to launch the new submarine, AP reported. The "Gepard," which is the first new submarine to be built in Russia in the last six years, is a multifunctional battleship designed primarily for the destruction of aircraft carriers. The sub weighs 8,500 tons, is 112-meters long, can reach maximum depths of 600 meters, and can reach underwater speeds of 33 knots. The "Gepard's" maximum duration of autonomous operation is 100 days, and she will have a 73-person crew. The sub's term of service is 25 years, RBK news agency reported on 4 December. The Russian Navy already has 13 submarines of the same class, all designed by the Saint Petersburg-based Malakhit. VY

BEREZOVSKY URGES THE 'FAMILY GROUP' TO CREATE NEW OPPOSITION
In an open letter published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December, Boris Berezovsky called on Unified Energy Systems Chairman Anatolii Chubais, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and all whom "Yeltsin's enemies call 'Family' [members]," to quit their positions before they are dismissed and create "a genuinely strong and liberal opposition." Berezovsky stressed that the main "mistakes" of Putin's policy have been the national tragedy in Chechnya, the extremely expensive operation to salvage the "Kursk," and, more importantly, the implementation of vertical executive power and dictatorship of law. Berezovsky added that, in his view, "dictatorship of law" is turning into a "law of dictatorship." VC

RUSSIAN CORPORATE BEHAVIORAL CODE LEAVES ROOM FOR CORRUPTION
The Corporate Behavioral Code that was prepared by Igor Kostikov, the head of the Federal Securities Commission, and presented by him to the West as an example of Russia's movement toward a civilized market economy, is in fact a document that leaves much room for abuse, "Novaya gazeta" reported on 3 December. According to experts from the Association for Protection of Minority Shareholders, Kostikov has added many loopholes into the document in order to suit his own business interests. The paper noted that, as Kostikov is both the head of the Russian securities market and his own investment company that controls up to 40 percent of the municipal bonds market in Russia, it is not surprising that there are no provisions in the code to ban such conflicts of interest. VY

PASKO TRIAL DELAYED
The tribunal of the Pacific Fleet hearing the case of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who is accused of divulging state secrets, has announced an "interruption" of the trial at the request of federal prosecutors, TV-6 reported on 3 December. Meanwhile, Pasko's lawyer Ivan Pavlov said the prosecution is under pressure by the Federal Security Service to use delay tactics because it feels the indictment is unsubstantiated. VY

DUMA DRAFTS BILL ON EXTREMISM
The Justice Ministry has drafted a law on extremism that is intended to counter radical and violent political groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 December. Although the bill has been in preparation since 1999, the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States have given it special significance, according to Sergei Nikulin, one of the bill's authors. The bill includes a provision that permits banning or suspending activities of extremist organizations not only by a court order, but by an administrative directive of the government. In addition, the bill contains a provision that makes "subversion of national security in any form a crime." The definition of subversion includes "any public appeal for committing socially dangerous acts," Nikulin added. VY

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL TRIES TO STEM FEARS OF LOW STANDARD OF LIVING
On 3 December, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko announced in an interview on RTR television that the forthcoming increase in salaries of state employees will not be reduced to zero by inflation. She explained that the inflation rate will reach about 14 percent in 2002, according to forecasts of the government, while an increase in salaries will amount to 60 percent on average and will be doubled for some categories of state employees. VC

PUTIN MEETS WITH RUSSIAN SCIENTISTS
On 3 December, President Putin met with the administration of the Russian Academy of Sciences and prominent Russian scientists in the Kremlin, Interfax reported. Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that only half of the Russian Academy of Sciences' institutions are working in the industrial sector and that "there are few examples of cooperation with business." He said that the extrabudgetary financing of the academy has grown from 5 percent to 50 percent over the past few years, but "the rates of commercialization of science are very low." The president called on the scientists to create a national innovation system and ensure for the legal protection of patents. He also encouraged the scientists to create a system for forecasting crisis phenomena, Interfax reported. VC

RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS CONDUCT SPACE WALK
On 3 December, on a space walk outside the International Space Station, Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin repaired a malfunction in the station's docking unit, gazeta.ru reported. Their work was being observed and secured by the mission commander, U.S. astronaut Frank Culbertson. The two cosmonauts removed a small rubber seal that was stuck between the space station and the Russian cargo spacecraft "Progress 6." The seal had prevented a proper docking by the unmanned Russian "Progress 6," which was launched last week to carry food, fuel, and equipment to the station. It was left behind when a previous supply ship disengaged from the station. U.S. space officials postponed the launch of the "Endeavour" space shuttle pending resolution of the problem. "Endeavour" was due to blast off at 22:45 GMT on 4 December from NASA's Cape Canaveral base in Florida for a 10-day mission to the station, Reuters reported. The $95 billion space station, still under construction, is a partnership between space agencies in the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan. VC

U.S. AMBASSADOR EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT TV-6
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told reporters in Vladivostok on 3 December that he is "somewhat worried by the situation around TV-6" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). He said that the U.S. "is concerned that a truly independent voice could be lost as a result of the dispute" over the station. He also expressed the hope that the dispute can be resolved without the channel being closed. JAC

WEEKLY SAYS LUZHKOV'S FUTURE DEPENDENT ON TURNOUT FOR MOSCOW DUMA ELECTIONS
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov intends to resign if Moscow city Duma elections are declared invalid because of insufficient voter turnout, "Novaya gazeta," No. 88, reported. According to the weekly, voter interest in the election fell after Fatherland, Unity, Yabloko, and the Union of Rightist Forces agreed to support a single list of candidates. The weekly noted that the elections have become a vote of confidence in Luzhkov and an indicator of his authority in the city. The elections will be held on 16 December. JAC

ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN HEADS TO THE FEDERATION COUNCIL
Samara Oblast's legislature confirmed Sibal Vice President and Ukrainian Aluminum General Director German Tkachenko, as well as Leona Kovalskaya, the chairwoman of the Samara Oblast Duma, as the oblast's new representatives to the Federation Council, polit.ru reported on 3 December. The website noted that a pattern seems to be emerging with region's selections for the Federation Council -- they choose one of their "own" representatives" along with a "professional lobbyist" who represents either a political or oligarchic group that has interests in the region. JAC

SAKHA ELECTIONS OFFICIALS CHARGE MEDIA WITH BIAS
The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic's election commission has proposed opening a case against Russian Public Television and NTV because those stations have allegedly broadcast material promoting the interests of specific candidates running in 23 December presidential elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 December. The local election commission plans to forward its complaint to the Central Election Commission. The same day, the local commission also issued fines against three local newspapers: "Molodezh Yakutii," "Vybor naroda," and "Moskovskii komsomolets v Yakutii." JAC

UNITY SUFFERS HEAVY LOSSES IN NOVOSIBIRSK
Only one candidate supported by Unity won in 2 December elections to Novosibirsk Oblast's regional legislature, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 December, citing preliminary results. Of the 49 available seats, Communist Party candidates won 12 seats, and the Agrarian party won six. The remaining 30 seats will go to independent candidates, according to ITAR-TASS. Commenting on the election, Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolokonskii said the results "do not mean that there has been a reduction in the representation of political parties or that I will have no opposition in the legislature." Tolokonskii also noted that while the Communists fared better than any other party, they now have fewer seats in the legislature, falling from 16 seats to 12. According to strana.ru, candidates from Fatherland and Yabloko failed completely. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky traveled to Novosibirsk last month to build support for his party. JAC

RUSSIAN AIRLINE PROMOTES AIR CORRIDOR FROM ASIA TO NORTH AMERICA THROUGH SIBERIA
Speaking at the opening of an air and space exhibition in Krasnoyarsk, KrasAir head Boris Abramovich said that opening an air corridor from Asia to North America over his city could reduce flights between the two continents by up to 4 1/2 hours, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 December. Because of its favorable geographic position, Krasnoyarsk may indeed became a central hub for two major international passenger and cargo routes: from Southeast Asia over the North Pole to North America; and from Europe over Siberia to Japan, Korea, and China. VY

LUFTHANSA EXPANDS FLIGHTS INSIDE RUSSIA
Lufthansa's Nizhnii Novgorod office reported that beginning on 1 December the airline increased its flights along regional routes in response to rising demand, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 December. According to the agency, the city of Perm has started receiving flights from the German carrier. The airline already services Kazan, Samara, and Nizhnii Novgorod, and passenger traffic on those flights has risen by 48 percent, 21 percent, and 16 percent respectively this year. JAC

'IZVESTIYA' ARGUES THAT ALL SOVIET POLITICAL VERDICTS SHOULD BE ANNULLED
The serious attempts being made by some political groups to rehabilitate historical figures like Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, the leader of the White Movement during the Russian Civil War, and by other groups to prevent such rehabilitations are off-target, "Izvestiya" said on 3 December. The daily said that such efforts are akin to rehabilitating the participants of the Decembrist Uprising or those of the rebellion of Emeliyan Pugachev. "Izvestiya" argued that instead of watching politicians engage in such fruitless efforts, the Supreme Court should ask the Duma to proclaim all Soviet-era political verdicts as null and void. Such a decision would be not an amnesty or rehabilitation, but a transformation of this painful issue from a legal into a historical one, the newspaper concluded. VY

MORE BOOKS ABOUT PUTIN
The Russian market for political best-sellers is inundated with books about President Putin, which has led to the establishment of his own small cult of personality, polit.ru reported on 3 December. Political scientist Vadim Pechenev, in his newly released book "Putin: Last Chance for Russia?" compares the Russian president with the hero of the Aleksandr Pushkin poem "Yevgenii Onegin," while in his book "Russian Challenge," the French author Victor Lupan makes comparisons between Putin and Napoleon. Finally, the astrologist Aleksandr Astragor, in his book "The Mystic Side of Putin," offers his readers a formula of Putin's soul that, in his view, is governed by the planets Mars, Venus, and Pluto. VY

CORRECTION:
The "RFE/RL Newsline," item "Pressure Against Tatarstan," which ran on 3 December 2001, should have read: [the monument to Ivan the Terrible that the daily "Zavtra" reported was destroyed by Tatars] never existed in Kazan."

PACE CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR BROADER PARTICIPATION IN SEARCH FOR CHECHEN PEACE
During talks in Grozny on 3 December with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov, PACE Chairman Lord Frank Judd said that "as many people as possible" should be brought into the talks on ending the fighting in Chechnya, Reuters reported, quoting RTR. Judd also welcomed the first round of peace talks 10 days ago between President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhed Zakaev and Russian presidential representative to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev. But Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, commander of the North Caucasus military district, told Interfax in Grozny the same day that continuing talks with Maskhadov "makes no sense" because other field commanders, including Shamil Basaev and Khattab, do not acknowledge Maskhadov's authority. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS PLAY DOWN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYA
Meeting with the PACE delegation in Grozny on 3 December, Vladimir Kalamanov, President Putin's special representative for human rights in Chechnya, said that he receives far more appeals in connection with criminal offenses than complaints about human rights violations, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov similarly told Interfax on 3 December that the incidence of mistreatment of Chechen civilians by Russian servicemen, and the number of complaints he receives about such mistreatment, is decreasing. Also on 3 December, the Russian deputy prosecutor-general for the Southern federal district, Sergei Fridinskii, pledged that NGOs will be allowed access to the investigation of crimes committed in Chechnya to the extent that the law allows, Interfax reported. He said the Prosecutor-General's Office is ready to investigate any information concerning crimes or human rights violations in Chechnya. LF

RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN BLAMED FOR DEPUTY MILITARY PROSECUTOR'S KILLING
An investigation has established that Russian troops, not Chechen fighters as originally assumed, were responsible for the death of Roman Grigorian, the deputy military prosecutor of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya, Interfax reported on 3 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). The servicemen opened fire on Grigorian's car when it refused to slow down to pass a checkpoint on the outskirts of Argun. LF

ARMENIA MAY LEASE UNSOLD ENERGY NETWORKS
Following the failure of two consecutive attempts to privatize four energy distribution networks, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 April, and 3 December 2001), the Armenian government now hopes to lease those power grids to a foreign company capable of eliminating the energy sector's huge financial losses, a senior energy sector official told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 3 December. The World Bank, which had pegged disbursement of a new loan to the successful privatization of the networks, is likely to approve leasing them. LF

SALE OF ARMENIAN CHEMICAL GIANT TO UKRAINE STILL UNDECIDED
The planned sale to Ukraine's Inter-Kontakt of a majority stake in the Nairit chemical plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001) is still in the balance, and there is no certainty a deal will be signed during Inter-Kontakt Chairman Aleksandr Yedin's two-day visit to Yerevan that began on 3 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 3 December, quoting a spokeswoman for the Armenian Ministry of Trade and Industry. LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN'S RELUCTANCE TO CONCLUDE PEACE
In a letter pegged to the 3-4 December Ninth Ministerial Council Meeting in Bucharest of foreign ministers of OSCE member states and addressed to OSCE Chairman in Office Mircea Geoana and to the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Arkadii Ghukasian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, accused the Azerbaijani leadership of going back on broad agreements on resolving the Karabakh conflict reached during talks earlier this year, and of repeatedly threatening to begin a new war to bring the region back under its control, according to Noyan Tapan on 3 December and Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Ghukasian also expressed concern at what he termed repeated false allegations by Azerbaijani leaders that the enclave's territory is being used for drug smuggling and to bury nuclear waste. He appealed to Geoana to form a special fact-finding group under the aegis of the OSCE to be sent to Nagorno-Karabakh to investigate those allegations, Arminfo reported on 3 December. LF

ITALIAN OIL COMPANY QUITS AZERBAIJANI CONSORTIUM
The Italian oil company Fina has announced its decision to quit the consortium created in late 1997 to develop Azerbaijan's Kurdashi Caspian oil field after two successive trial wells drilled failed to yield oil, AP reported on 3 December. The remaining shareholders in the consortium are Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR (50 percent), Japan's Mitsui (15 percent), Spain's Repsol-YPF (5 percent), and Turkey's government-owned TPAO (5 percent). LF

AZERBAIJAN ENDORSES PROPOSED CIS OPEC EQUIVALENT
Azerbaijan supports the proposal made in Moscow last week by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev that the CIS oil- and gas-producing states create a regional equivalent of OPEC, SOCAR President Natiq Aliev told Caspian News Agency on 3 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). He added that Russia should play the key role within such a regional grouping. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller has also expressed his backing for such a cartel, which he suggested should be named "Eurasian Union of Gas and Oil Producers." LF

LAWSUIT AGAINST KYRGYZ PRESIDENT POSTPONED
A Bishkek district court has postponed hearing a lawsuit brought against President Askar Akaev by jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 3 December. The hearing will now take place only after completion of two concurrent criminal investigations in which Kulov is a codefendant. Kulov brought a civil and a criminal case for libel against Akaev in September in connection with defamatory statements in a book the president published; the court threw out the criminal case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September and 1 October 2001). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEMANDS COMPENSATION FOR UZBEK AIR RAIDS
After a 10-day debate, the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) voted on 3 December to request that the Kyrgyz government demand from the Uzbek government compensation for Uzbek air raids on Kyrgyz border villages in the summer of 1999 that killed three Kyrgyz citizens and destroyed 20 homes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 1999 and 27 November 2001). LF

NINE KILLED WHILE SCAVENGING IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
Nine people were buried alive under refuse late on 2 December while hunting in a garbage heap on the outskirts of Bishkek for nonferrous metals, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Police succeeded in rescuing a further 15 people from the refuse. LF

TAJIKISTAN, RUSSIA SEEK AGREEMENT ON REBROADCASTING
A Russian media delegation headed by presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii arrived in Dushanbe on 3 December for talks with the Tajik leadership on the resumption of broadcasting in Tajikistan of Russia's ORT and RTV programs, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Tajik government suspended rebroadcasting of ORT in mid-October and cut retransmission of RTV due to the Russian companies' accumulated debts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2001). RTV has signaled its readiness to repay that debt but ORT has not yet done likewise LF

UZBEKISTAN IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON TRAVEL TO REGIONS BORDERING AFGHANISTAN
Eleven districts of Uzbekistan that border on Afghanistan have been declared off-limits to anyone other than local residents and holders of special permits, AP reported on 3 December, quoting unnamed Uzbek government officials. The region involved includes the border port of Termez from which international relief agencies hope to be able to transport humanitarian aid by road to northern Afghanistan. Beginning immediately, foreign journalists and aid workers may not travel to or transit the region without a special permit. LF

COURT BANS BELARUSIAN UNION OF STUDENTS
The Supreme Court on 3 December ordered the closure of the Union of Belarusian Students (ZBS) because of four warnings issued to the union by the Justice Ministry, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The Justice Ministry found that the ZBS disobeyed the law by altering the color of its registered emblem from red to black (the ZBS said they had no color printer at the time), distorting its registered name in English (the ZBS preferred to write "Belarusan" instead of "Belarusian"), ignoring letters from the ministry (the ZBS said the ministry used a wrong address), and preventing the ministry's officials from checking the ZBS's books (the ZBS said the officials came when nobody was around to show them the books). Under Belarusian regulations, two warnings are sufficient for an NGO to be closed down. "Lukashenka is persecuting students and rectors because most students voted against him in the presidential election," ZBS leader Krystyna Sidun said. JM

OSCE ENVOY IN MINSK SUMS UP HIS MISSION
Hans Georg Wieck, the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, told Belapan on 3 December that the "recent purges" by the Belarusian authorities among those nomenklatura representatives who cooperated with the opposition during the presidential election campaign are "alarming and inconsistent with pluralistic democratic criteria." Belarusian media have recently reported mass arrests among Belarusian managers and state officials on criminal charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). Wieck said the major achievement of his group was to impart understanding of the necessity of changes to "the nomenklatura and key personalities," as well as to contribute to the development of civil society in Belarus. Wieck, who has headed the OSCE group in Minsk since February 1998, will soon leave Belarus. His successor is expected to be named during the session of the OSCE Ministerial Council that opened in Bucharest on 3 December. JM

UKRAINIAN, CROATIAN PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO STEP UP COOPERATION
Following talks in Kyiv on 3 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic confirmed their will to contribute to combating global terrorism and pledged to enhance bilateral economic cooperation, Ukrainian media reported. The two sides signed accords on improvements to international road transport, rebuilding of bridges over the Danube River, and cooperation in the military and technical field. Kuchma assured Mesic that the CIS does not stand in the way of Ukraine's integration into the EU. JM

KUCHMA SAYS COOPERATION WITH EBRD ON NUCLEAR REACTORS STILL POSSIBLE
President Kuchma said on 3 December that he did not reject outright the assistance of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) regarding the completion of reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants when he called last week in Moscow for Russia to take part in this construction project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). Kuchma said Ukraine is ready for cooperation with the West, but added that it is necessary to review the project's costs, which he deems to have been overestimated by Western experts. He also disapproved of the EBRD's demand to raise electricity tariffs in Ukraine. "Now that the world economy is slowing down, our major and most-energy-consuming industries -- metallurgy and the chemical industry -- have reached the break-even point of their profitability. If we raise the tariffs, this will bring Ukrainian industry to ruin," STB television quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN GOLD, CURRENCY RESERVES UP
Ukrainian National Bank official Serhiy Yaremenko told UNIAN on 3 December that the country's net gold and currency reserves have increased to $3.15 billion. Yaremenko noted that the liquid reserves now stand at $3.04 billion, which is $1.5 billion more than at the beginning of the year. He also revealed that the National Bank's net international reserves (the sum by which its assets exceed its liabilities) stood at $1.3 billion as of 29 November 2001. JM

UKRAINE REPORTEDLY TO SUPPLY 2 MILLION GAS MASKS TO U.S.
Ukraine will supply 2 million gas masks to the United States, Ukrainian Television reported on 3 December, citing sources in the Cherkasy chemical fiber factory where gas masks are produced. The U.S. displayed interest in Ukrainian gas masks after the 11 September terrorist attacks. The U.S. will reportedly pay $20 for each mask. The price of one gas mask in Ukraine is 38 hryvni ($7.20) The contract must be implemented by May 2002. JM

KYIV REPORTS AIDS STATISTICS
The Health Ministry revealed last week that 600 Ukrainians contract AIDS every month, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. The ministry said thousands of adults and 50 children have died of AIDS in Ukraine over the last several years. As of today, more than 3,000 Ukrainians have contracted the disease and nearly 42,000 have been infected with the HIV virus. JM

JOINING SCHENGEN SYSTEM TO BE COSTLY FOR ESTONIA
Kristel Praun, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Foreign Relations and Eurointegration Department, estimated that it will cost about 655 million kroons ($37.4 million) for Estonia to implement the Schengen border and customs control system from 2001-2005, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported on 3 December. The greatest expenditures (569 million kroons) are for investments in training and equipment needed to bring the country's external border controls up to EU standards. Integration into the Schengen Information System will require more than 32 million kroons, but the funds are expected to be obtained from the EU's PHARE program. Estonia is preparing to join the Schengen Agreement in two stages; the first should be completed by 2004 and cover external borders and passport controls, as well as the full adoption of Schengen laws. The second stage is to be completed by 2006, when Estonia's borders will become internal borders of the EU. SG

LATVIA, FINLAND DISCUSS NATO ENLARGEMENT
Finnish Defense Minister Jan-Erik Enestam began his two-day visit to Latvia on 3 December with talks with Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, BNS reported. They discussed the latest developments in Europe's security policy and NATO enlargement. Enestam said that admitting the three Baltic states into NATO at the Prague summit in November 2002 would be the best solution for improving the security situation in the Baltic Sea region. Riekstins expressed thanks for Finland's support for Latvia's efforts to join the alliance, as well as for the country's participation in joint Baltic projects in the defense sphere. Enestam was scheduled to visit the Defense and Foreign Ministries and parliament officials on 4 December, as well as the BALTNET National Information Center in Riga and the naval forces and divers training centers in Liepaja. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES NEW CONTACTS WITH TURKISH, SPANISH COUNTERPARTS
At the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Council meeting in Bucharest, Antanas Valionis on 3 December outlined Lithuania's priorities in relation to the OSCE during its current six-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe, BNS reported. He met with Spanish Foreign Minister Josepe Pique, who expressed his country's full support for Lithuania's efforts to join the EU. Valionis spoke about the future establishment of a Spanish embassy in Vilnius and again invited Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to visit his country. Aznar's flight to the Baltic states on 11 September was canceled in mid-flight when he learned about the terrorist attacks in the United States. Valionis also held talks with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem, whom he thanked for Turkish support for Lithuania's bid to join NATO. They also discussed the planned visit to Lithuania next year by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. SG

POPE BACKS POLAND'S EU BID
Pope John Paul II said on 3 December that he will give his native Poland his full support in its efforts to join the European Union, Reuters reported. "It is right for Poland to aspire to its proper place in the political and economic environment of a united Europe," the pope told Poland's new ambassador to the Vatican, Hanna Suchocka. But he added: "[Poland] must be present as a state with its own spiritual and cultural face, its own inalienable historical traditions tied to Christianity." Meanwhile, Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar assured his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller in Warsaw the same day that Spain, after taking over the rotating EU presidency in January 2002, will do its utmost to keep EU enlargement talks on track. JM

POLISH PROSECUTORS DEMAND EVIDENCE FOR LEPPER'S CORRUPTION CHARGES...
The Warsaw District Prosecutor's Office has asked recently ousted Sejm speaker Andrzej Lepper to present evidence supporting his claims last week that several of Poland's leading politicians, including two ministers, have accepted bribes (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001), PAP reported on 3 December. Lepper on 30 December said he will not submit the materials confirming his allegations to the prosecution because he "does not trust it." On 3 December, he told journalists that he will ask the parliament to appoint a special commission to examine his materials. JM

...WHILE DEPUTY SPEAKER WANTS TO SUE HIM FOR DEFAMATION
Deputy parliamentary speaker Donald Tusk has announced that after the completion of proceedings brought by the state against Lepper in connection with his corruption charges last week, he will begin a civil case against Lepper for defamation. Lepper mentioned Tusk last week as one of the five politicians who have accepted illicit payments in the past. "There is a proportion of people in this country who believe Lepper's words, and that is why the Prosecutor's Office should cleanse not only me of these absurd accusations," Tusk said. JM

CZECH PREMIER REFUSES TO EMULATE PRESIDENT ON IRAQ...
Unlike President Vaclav Havel, who said in an interview on CNN on 2 December that he would support an air strike on Iraq, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said on 3 December that "for the time being I cannot see any reason why I should speculate. If it is proved with sufficient credibility that Iraq is entangled in the international terrorist network, the international community will certainly know how to react." MS

...DISCUSSES EU ENLARGEMENT WITH SPANISH PREMIER...
Visiting Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar and Premier Zeman on 3 December discussed in Prague EU enlargement and the struggle against international terrorism, CTK reported. Aznar said that Spain, which will take over the EU's rotating presidency next year, is willing to conclude an agreement on a special regime that would allow Czech citizens to work in Spain following the Czech Republic's admission into the EU, but -- unlike Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, or Sweden -- he stopped short of saying his country will not limit the free movement of labor after the enlargement. Aznar also said the assessment of countries' individual performance will continue to be the guiding principle of EU expansion. MS

...EXPLAINS GOVERNMENT'S REJECTION OF SENATE'S CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Zeman said on 3 December that his cabinet decided the same day to oppose in the Chamber of Deputies an amendment recently passed by the Senate that increased the upper house's prerogatives in the legislation process. The premier said the amendment would "slow down the legislative procedure." He added that he is "not quite certain" whether the Czech Republic needs a second house of parliament at all. MS

BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY SUPPORTS GRIPEN BID FOR CZECH AIR FORCE
Visiting British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon discussed the bid by the British-Swedish BAE consortium to sell JAS-39 Gripen supersonic fighters to the Czech Republic with his Czech counterpart Jaroslav Tvrdik in Prague on 3 December, CTK and AP reported. Hoon said he would welcome a decision by Zeman's cabinet to accept the bid, and added that Czech pilots and ground forces will be able to train in Britain if a positive decision on the bid is made. Tvrdik said the government is likely to discuss the bid early next week, since the decision has already been postponed four times and cannot be delayed any further. "We cannot reform our military without knowing the future shape of our air force," he commented. The BAE consortium was left as the only bidder in a tender from which U.S. and French competitors withdrew on the grounds that it lacked transparency. Hoon was also received by Premier Zeman, with whom he discussed both the Gripen purchase and NATO enlargement. They agreed that in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States, more countries are likely to be admitted to NATO at the 2002 summit in Prague than would otherwise have been the case. MS

OSLO ASKS PRAGUE TO RETURN SOLIH TO NORWAY
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Peters asked his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan to return Uzbek opposition leader Muhammad Solih to Norway rather than extradite him to Tashkent, CTK reported. Solih was detained last week at Prague's airport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 3 December 2001). Kavan said he supports the Norwegian request. The two foreign ministers met at the OSCE meeting of chief diplomats in Bucharest. Solih has been granted refugee status in Norway. MS

CZECH COMMUNIST INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES CHARGES IN COURT
On 3 December, former communist Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina denied in court charges of abuse of power and exerting illegal pressure in the 1970s and 1980s, CTK and international news agencies reported. Obzina is being tried for his role in the so-called "Asanace" operation of the communist secret police, which aimed at intimidating and forcing into immigration signatories of the Charter '77 human rights manifesto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2002). Obzina told the court he has always respected the law and explained that the intention of the operation was to meet requests by the signatories to either travel abroad or move there permanently. Many of those who left had their Czechoslovak citizenship revoked, making it impossible for them to return. MS

CZECH TV-3 LAYS OFF MOST OF ITS STAFF
Sixty percent of the private TV-3 channel's staff received notices on 1 December that their contracts were terminated, CTK reported. TV-3 interrupted broadcasts the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). Station Director Jan Martinek said that the remaining staff members have been assured that conditions are being maintained for the possible resumption of broadcasts in the event that the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasts reverses its decision. The dispute at TV-3 pits Czech businessman Martin Kindernay, who owns the station's broadcasting license, and the station's Norway-based investor European Media Ventures EMV, dpa reported. Last month, regulators with the broadcasting council ruled in favor of a Kindernay request to transfer TV-3's license to RTV Galaxie, a company that Kindernay controls, instead of to a company controlled by EMV, in which Kindernay holds a stake. Under Czech law, only Czechs can hold broadcasting licenses. But EMV continued operating T-V3, prompting Kindernay to lodge a "pirating" complaint with the broadcasting council. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER DISAPPOINTED BY RESULTS OF REGIONAL ELECTIONS
Mikulas Dzurinda, who also head the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), said on 3 December that he "cannot rejoice" in the results of the first regional elections held on 1 December, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). Dzurinda said one of the reasons for the poor performance of the SDKU was the low turnout, and that he will call on members of his party and supporters to vote in greater numbers in the second round, which is scheduled for 15 December. Dzurinda said another reason for the unfavorable results was the "inability of the right to join forces in electoral alliances." He also said he expects the results of the 2002 parliamentary elections to be different from those of the regional ballot. "If we [the right-wing parties] cooperate, we shall be stronger than the [Vladimir Meciar-led] Movement for a Democratic Slovakia," he said. MS

EU TO PROVIDE FULL AID TO SLOVAKIA IN 2002
Slovakia received news on 3 December that it is to get the entire 106 million euro ($95 million) aid package from the EU in 2002, a reversal of last month's decision by the European Parliament's Budget Commission to cut 15 million euros from the package due to suspicion of mismanagement funds and corruption, CTK reported. Commission Chairman Carlos Costa Nevez said there is now "sufficient evidence" that Slovakia has reinforced its struggle against corruption and has improved its system of financial checks. As a result of the mismanagement suspicion, former Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik resigned from the government earlier this year, and other officials were dismissed. An investigation subsequently failed to confirm mismanagement, but did confirm "nontransparency," favoritism, and conflicts of interest. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS PROPOSE MAY 2002 ELECTIONS
Opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs announced on 3 December that the MSZP's National Council will convoke a 26 January congress to debate the party's election program and determine its national list of candidates. Kovacs also said the party's Governing Board will recommend that President Ferenc Madl follow current custom and convene the parliamentary elections for May 2002. The governing coalition parties have not yet agreed on a preferred date, but FIDESZ politicians prefer that elections be held in April, "Nepszabadsag" reported. In other news, the MSZP's candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, has sent out letters outlining the programs of a future Socialist government to 2.8 million households, and asking them "to vote for change." MSZ

FIDESZ OFFICIAL SAYS LINKS WITH EXTREMISTS TREATED UNEVENLY
In an interview with the Hungarian-language Slovak daily "Uj Szo" on 3 December, FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover said he "sympathizes" with Prime Minister Viktor Orban's recent statement that he "will not rule out anything" concerning a possible cooperation between FIDESZ and the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) after next year's elections. Kover also claimed that FIDESZ is being asked "time and again" to dissociate itself from MIEP, while no one demands that MSZP do the same in regard to its ties with the extreme leftist Workers' Party, a formation that advocates communism and considers Hungary's change of regime to be a mistake. MSZ/MS

HUNGARIAN CALVINIST PASTORS STRUGGLE WITH POLITICAL ISSUES
The Calvinist Diocese Tribunal suspended Geza Gorgey from his pastorship for 60 days on 3 December for his recent criticisms in Hungarian media of the links between several representatives of the Calvinist Church and the MIEP. Gorgey said he regards the decision as unlawful. In a related matter, Calvinist pastor Lorant Hegedus is suing the weekly "Magyar Narancs" for 5 million forints ($17,500) in damages for the weekly's description of him last June as a "chief Nazi of advanced age," and a "grandpa figure of Hungarian political anti-Semitism." In other news, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Religious Communities and the Hungarian Calvinist Church on 3 December concluded an agreement to refrain from taking political positions or providing or accepting support from political parties. The signatories said they await other "historical churches" to join the pact. MSZ

HUNGARY SUPPORTS ROMANIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIP
Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo told his visiting Romanian counterpart Ioan Mircea Pascu in Szeged on 3 December that Hungary will support Romania's NATO membership at the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague, Hungarian media reported. Szabo told reporters that it is in Hungary's interest to see neighboring countries join NATO, as the process would enhance regional stability. The two ministers also discussed the establishment of a joint Hungarian-Romanian-Slovak-Ukrainian battalion for emergency responses in the event of natural disasters along the Tisza River. MSZ

SERBS DEMAND DEPUTY POST IN KOSOVA PARLIAMENT...
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova and Presevo, told chief UN civilian administrator (UNMIK) Hans Haekkerup recently that the newly elected parliament must have two deputy presidents, one of whom must be a Serb, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported on 4 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). The Serbs make up less than 10 percent of Kosova's population and hold 22 out of 120 seats in the parliament. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 1 December that Haekkerup made a politically questionable decision in signing a pre-election pact with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the Belgrade leadership recently (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 November 2001). Belgrade has used the agreement as an opening to assert itself in Kosovar affairs. The 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing more to do with Belgrade. On 3 December in Bucharest, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said that he "expects" that the Haekkerup-Kostunica pact will lead to "more intensive cooperation" between UNMIK and Belgrade, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. PM

...AND ATTEND PREPARATORY SESSION
The 22 Serbian deputies arrived by plane from Belgrade at Prishtina airport on 3 December to take part in a seminar on parliamentary work and procedure, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They returned to the Serbian capital immediately after ascertaining that UNMIK had provided security only for the legislators and not for the 20 Serbian journalists who accompanied them. UNMIK's spokeswoman Susan Manuel told reporters that the Serbs had been told in advance that there was not enough time for UNMIK to prepare security for such a large group, Reuters reported. The following day, the Serbian deputies returned and met face-to-face with their Albanian colleagues. The Serbian journalists were given a separate escort. PM

RUGOVA BEGINS TALKS FOR KOSOVA COALITION
Moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, whose Democratic League of Kosova is the largest bloc in the parliament with 47 seats, began talks in Prishtina on 3 December with potential coalition partners, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). His first discussion was with Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova. PM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON YUGOSLAVIA TO EXTRADITE WAR CRIMINALS
Doris Pack, who heads the European Parliament's committee on the Balkans, said in Belgrade on 3 December that "something has to be done" about three Serbian officers living in Serbia who are wanted in The Hague for atrocities committed in 1991 in Vukovar, AP reported. She added that she and her delegation will bring up the subject in talks with Kostunica on 4 December. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SAYS MLADIC NOT IN SERBIA...
Speaking in Brussels on 3 December, Kostunica said: "to my knowledge, [General Ratko] Mladic is not in our country," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). He added that "a legal framework for cooperation with The Hague tribunal is going to be adopted in Yugoslavia," but did not say when. He has been promising such legislation for more than one year. Noting the EU's opposition to Montenegrin independence, Kostunica added: "We are encouraged by the support of the European Union for the integrity of Yugoslavia and its opposition to any further disintegration in Southeast Europe, or further fragmentation into small states. That is a very important message" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). PM

...WHILE YUGOSLAV MINISTER CALLS IT 'THEORETICAL'
Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 3 December that his ministry does not have any information regarding the presence of Mladic in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Zivkovic added, however, that "it is theoretically possible" that such documentation might exist somewhere. PM

BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL'S TRIAL OPENS IN THE HAGUE
Proceedings began at the war crimes tribunal on 3 December against General Stanislav Galic of the Sarajevo Romanija Corps in conjunction with the siege of the Bosnian capital from 1992 to 1995. Prosecutors said that Galic's snipers and artillery helped turn the city into "a medieval hell," Reuters reported. Senior attorney Mark Ierace said that one had to go back to World War II to find a parallel in modern European history to the siege of Sarajevo. The tribunal's charges included the statement that "the attacks on Sarajevo civilians were often unrelated to military actions and were designed to keep the inhabitants in a constant state of terror." Galic, whom SFOR arrested and sent to The Hague in 1999, maintains his innocence. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT OFFICIALLY CALLS FOR NATO TO STAY
Boris Trajkovski sent a formal request to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson on 3 December, calling for a three-month extension of Operation Amber Fox, AP reported from Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). Trajkovski said: "My firm belief at this moment is that it is really necessary for NATO to send a clear signal to the remnants of the terrorist groups...that their armed provocations and violence will not be tolerated." NATO's North Atlantic Council will consider the request on 6 December. PM

UN CALLS FOR FUNDS FOR MACEDONIA
The UN's mission in Skopje has appealed to that body's unspecified "wealthier members" to donate $41 million to finance its humanitarian work in one of former Yugoslavia's poorest regions, AP reported on 3 December. Most of the money will be used to help the 100,000 people displaced by the recent conflict. Assistance for agriculture and livestock is also needed. PM

YUGOSLAV SUCCESSOR STATES DIVIDE UP PROPERTY
Representatives of the five successor states to former Yugoslavia met in Zagreb on 3 December to begin dividing up buildings that belonged to the former government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They agreed on ownership of five embassies or consulates abroad. They still have to decide on 103 properties. The embassy in Washington has already been assigned to Belgrade. PM

ALBANIAN MINISTERS OFFER TO QUIT
Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli and Privatization Minister Mustafa Muci told the 119 members of the Socialist Party's (PS) steering committee in Tirana on 3 December that they will quit their posts if it will help end the feud between Prime Minister Ilir Meta and PS leader Fatos Nano, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). Muci charged that a "dirty political game" is under way against him. Angjeli said that he wants to avoid a split in the PS that would force the holding of new elections. Meta told the private station Klan TV that "this is not a crisis of the Socialist Party, this is a crisis of Fatos Nano," AP reported. Observers suggest that the split in the party is too deep to be healed by resignations from the government alone. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS OSCE ROTATING PRESIDENCY TERM
In his 3 December speech at the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Council meeting in Bucharest, OSCE chairman-in-office Mircea Geoana said that in future the organization should pay increased attention to the links between organized crime and international terrorism, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana also met with foreign ministers attending the gathering (see below) and, separately, with his partners in the current OSCE "troika," Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama. Portugal will take over the rotating chairmanship in 2002, while Austria will leave the "troika" next year. Also on 3 December, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase discussed with Balkan Stability Pact coordinator Bodo Hombach regional cooperation and the possibility of lifting visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to EU member states. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TREATY WITH RUSSIA 'PRACTICALLY FINALIZED'...
After receiving Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who is attending the OSCE meeting in Bucharest, President Ion Iliescu said on 4 December the basic treaty between the two countries is "practically finalized," and the sides are now working on a joint declaration to be appended to the treaty and which will deal with "problems of common interest," Romanian radio reported. MS

...WARNS AGAINST ARAFAT'S POLITICAL DEPARTURE
Against the background of the current Israeli retaliations against the Palestinian Authority, Iliescu warned on 3 December that the authority's leader, Yasser Arafat, must not depart from the political scene, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said Arafat "played and continues to play an essential role" in the Middle East peace process and that "it would be a great mistake to try doing away with him," since "he would be then replaced by 10 different 'Arafats' who would only complicate the political dialogue." Iliescu also released a statement deploring the loss of life as a result of the terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa on 2 and 3 December. The government published a similar declaration on 3 December, denouncing the terrorists' "criminal acts." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres both arrived in Bucharest on 4 December and will meet to discuss the current tense situation. MS

ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS STATUS LAW
Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, who is attending the OSCE Bucharest meeting, received from Geoana a written response by the Romanian government to Premier Viktor Orban's earlier letter on the Status Law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Martonyi said that he is "moderately optimistic" because both sides have the "political will" to reach a compromise on the dispute, and that negotiations will continue. Geoana said he will discuss the matter again with Martonyi when they meet later this week in Brussels at a NATO conference of foreign ministers. Also on 3 December, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said at a forum organized by the National Liberal Party in Bucharest that Budapest is ready to "make compromises" on the law, which will be reflected in the decrees for its implementation. He denied that the government failed to consult Romania on the law's stipulations, adding that "if the situation of national minorities were perfect, there would be no need for such a law." MS

UDMR DISCIPLINES SENATOR FOR INITIATING NATIONAL DAY BOYCOTT
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Senator Csaba Sogor resigned on 3 December as secretary of the UDMR parliamentary group in the Senate after the group's members asked him to do so, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Senator Attila Verestoy, who heads the UDMR parliamentary group in the upper house, said the formation's disciplinary commission will also discuss the case, but that it is unlikely that Sogor will be expelled, since it was his "first offense." Sogor, who initiated the call to boycott the 1 December National Day ceremonies, claimed the uproar was caused by a "mistaken translation from Hungarian into Romanian." He said the appeal called on Hungarians to wear black armbands "only in the event that they are forced to participate in the celebrations, as in communist times." MS

MOLDOVAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS DIFFER ON INTERPRETING MEETING RESULTS
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 3 December that during his 29 November meeting with Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh on the eve of the CIS summit in Moscow, Ukraine undertook to set up seven joint customs unions on its territory, Infotag reported. He added that Moldova hopes a formal bilateral agreement on doing so will soon be signed, Infotag reported. Tarlev said that during his talks with Kinakh he succeeded in clarifying a "misunderstanding" that arose in connection with President Vladimir Voronin's statements of 26 November, which triggered an official Ukrainian protest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2001). According to the Moldovan premier, the "misunderstanding" was due to the Ukrainian leadership's having been "misled by biased information." But Kinakh said Ukraine "rules out any dialogue" as long as Moldova continues to exert political or international pressure on Ukraine. Kinakh said the deadline for signing the accords on the customs posts reached in Odessa on 22 November "expires today and all indications are that no document will be signed" on the matter. MS

MOLDOVAN COURT ORDERS RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE WEEKLY CLOSED DOWN
A Chisinau court of justice on 3 December ruled that the Russian language weekly "Kommersant Moldovy" must be closed down for "unconstitutional activity," Infotag reported. The court was acting on a legal suit launched by the Prosecutor-General's Office, which claimed that "Kommersant Moldovy" supports the separatist Transdniester regime and thereby infringes on the constitutional provision stipulating that Moldova is a "unitary state." The staff of the weekly responded that the ruling was politically motivated and signifies "the end of Moldovan democracy." They said that "Kommersant Moldovy" has "occasionally reprinted Transdniester mass media reports for the purpose of providing readers with a multifaced access to information." They also warned that opposition parties in Moldova can now "expect a similar fate." MS

SMIRNOV'S ELECTORAL RIVALS SUBJECTED TO INTIMIDATION
Unidentified assailants on 3 December beat up the driver of Alexei Belinskii, who heads the electoral campaign for Tom Zenovich, one of separatist leader Igor Smirnov's challengers in the "presidential election" scheduled for 9 December, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokeswoman for Zenovich's staff said that "not finding Belinskii in the car, the attackers beat up the driver, who has been hospitalized with injuries." Earlier on 3 December, Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay demanded that the Central Election Commission ban a television clip of the Zenovich campaign in which Litskay was shown vacationing abroad, and voters were asked whether this was why they paid taxes. MS

BULGARIA TO TAKE OVER OSCE ROTATING CHAIRMANSHIP IN 2004
Bulgaria will take over the OSCE rotating chairmanship in 2004, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 3 December at the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Meeting in Bucharest, Mediafax reported. Pasi said "intensive preparations" for doing so are already being made, and expressed gratitude for the support his country's candidacy for the position has received from OSCE members. Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said Slovenia will succeed Bulgaria in the rotating chairmanship in 2005. MS

TURKISH MUFTI PLEDGES DURING BULGARIAN VISIT TO FIGHT RADICAL ISLAM
Turkey's top spiritual leader Mufti Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz pledged on 3 December during a three-day visit to Bulgaria to fight the spread of radical Islam in his country and among Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish community, AP reported. The mufti, who also heads Turkey's governmental agency on religious cults, said he plans to work with Bulgaria's Muslim minority to prevent "fundamentalist groups from infiltrating Islamic education." Yilmaz said he is taking steps to keep teachers and books preaching radical Islam out of schools in Turkey and ethnic Turkish communities in Bulgaria. Turkey finances a number of Islamic schools in southern Bulgaria and provides training for many of the community's teachers. Yilmaz met with Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and with leaders of Bulgaria's Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities. MS

There is no end note today.


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