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Newsline - December 6, 2001


PUTIN SAYS CLOSER U.S.-RUSSIAN TIES ARE A STRATEGIC COURSE...
During an interview with top editors of Greece's print and electronic mass media on the eve of his visit to that country, President Vladimir Putin said on 5 December that Russia's recent improvement of relations with the U.S. "is not a tactical move, but a strategic policy," RIA-Novosti reported. In this context, Russia is not worried about the United States' development of closer ties with Central Asian states, or the American presence in the region, he continued. Russia intends to develop its relations with the U.S. in such a way that the confidence it has in the relationship will leave no room for such concerns, Putin stressed. VY

...AS ANALYST SAYS PUTIN IS STILL FINDING HIS WAY
Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 5 December, the international relations director at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada, Anatolii Utkin, said that despite Russia's clear moves toward better relations with the West, President Putin has yet to determine the course the country will ultimately take. Utkin said Putin is hesitant to make big concessions to the United States for fear of antagonizing China and the Arab world. VY

PUTIN STILL OPPOSED TO NATO EXPANSION, U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE PLANS
In 5 December interview with Greek journalists, Putin noted that he continues to see the eastward expansion of NATO as a "useless and purposeless endeavor," but that he is ready to change the "quality of relations with NATO" so that Russia can play a bigger role in European security, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin reiterated his opposition to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system, saying that such a system is irrelevant for future security threats. Finally, Putin praised the international antiterrorism coalition, but said that some countries, for example, Saudi Arabia, can make more contributions to it. VY

EU TO RECOGNIZE MARKET STATUS OF RUSSIAN ECONOMY ONLY AFTER REFORMS
Speaking in Moscow following his talks with Russian Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedkov on 5 December, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said his organization will recognize Russia's market economy only if it refrains from raising export duties and halts its practice of double pricing in the energy sector, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the business news agency AK&M, it will be very difficult for Russia to meet Lamy's conditions because export duties account for most of federal budget's customs revenues, and the margin between high international prices and artificially lower domestic prices keeps the Russian energy sector competitive. VY

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES LAW ON ADMISSION INTO RUSSIAN FEDERATION
On 5 December, the Federation Council approved by a vote of 140 to four the bill on the admission of new members to the Russian Federation adopted earlier this week by the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2001), RIA-Novosti reported. According to Viktor Leonov, the head of the council's Constitutional Committee, the bill not only includes a provision to allow entrance to states that do not have a common border with the Russian Federation, but also one to prevent new subjects from forming from within through the merger of two or more entities. VY

PUTIN APPOINTS NEW MINISTER IN CHARGE OF NATIONALITIES
On 6 December, Vladimir Zorin was appointed as minister without portfolio, and will be in charge of coordinating government institutions on nationalities issues, Russian media reported. The position of a minister-coordinator for nationalities was created in mid-October, after the Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationalities, and Migration Policies was abolished and its minister, Aleksandr Blokhin, was dismissed. Zorin started his political career in the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (1987-1991); then worked in Chechnya (1995-1996) and in the Duma where he directed the Nationalities Committee (1996-2000). In May 2000, he was elected as a member of the presidium of the Unity party and, since June 2000, had served as deputy presidential representative to the Volga federal district, where he was in charge of interethnic and religious issues. On 1 November, in a roundtable discussion with U.S. academics on minorities and religious policy in the Volga region, Zorin said that the issue of relationships among ethnic and religious minorities is a strategic issue for the entire country, ntvru.com quoted him as saying on 2 November. Zorin said that establishing good relationships between religious bodies is necessary for the stability and development of Russia. At a previous conference on minorities that took place in Orenburg on 23 November, Zorin said Russia needs to create more "Orthodox and Muslim religious schools," regions.ru reported at that time. For Zorin, encouraging a deeper knowledge of Islam among Russian Muslims is a way to avoid "infiltration" of Russian Muslims by people educated abroad and susceptible to developing nontraditional aspects of Islam in Russia, regions.ru reported. VC

PRIMAKOV FINDS A NEW JOB
Four regional associations of trade and industry chambers support Yevgenii Primakov's candidacy to head Russia's Trade and Industry Chamber, "Vedomosti" reported on 6 December. At the end of October, officials of the chamber delivered a no-confidence vote in then-President Stanislav Smirnov. That vote followed an audit by a controlling commission that had revealed "serious cases of embezzlement and misuse of power," "Vedomosti" added. The Trade and Industry Chamber was created on 19 October 1991 to defend Russian business interests. One of Smirnov's main critics was the chamber's vice president, Sergei Katyrin, who has announced that he will not run for the presidency and supports Primakov's candidacy. VC

TRIAL OF RUSSIAN FOLLOWERS OF AUM SENRIKE IS OPENED IN VLADIVOSTOK
A Primorskii Krai court opened hearings in the case of a group of Russians affiliated with the Japanese extremist sect Aum Senrike who planned terrorist acts against Japan and an operation to liberate imprisoned sect leader Seku Asakhara, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 December. The group of five men in their mid-20s are accused of visiting Japan to establish contacts with their Japanese counterparts and to lay plans for terrorist acts. According to the daily, the group's final goal was to issue an ultimatum to the Japanese government -- release Asakhara or face mass terrorist attacks in Tokyo. The five were arrested by local Federal Security Service agents in the summer of 2000. VY

CREATION OF PUBLIC FOREIGN POLICY COUNCIL CALLED FOR
Speaking at a meeting of the political club Civil Debates, a conservative liberal group close to the government, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy head Sergei Karaganov said that Russia's community of foreign policy experts is on the verge of extinction, rosbalt.ru reported on 5 December. Karaganov said that the Putin administration's foreign policy fails to reflect the interests of society because it lacks independent analytical expertise. He suggested that existing analytical groups, including his own National Council for Foreign Policy, could be used to help formulate Russia's foreign policy guidelines. VY

BENDUKIDZE BUYS INTO BIOLINK TECHNOLOGIES
"Vedomosti" reported on 6 December that Kakha Bendukidze, the head of the Unified Machine-Building Plants group, has purchased a 30 percent stake in the U.S. Biolink Technologies company, which specializes in technology of personnel identification through fingerprints. One of the company's best-known products, "Vedomosti" said, is the Biolink Mouse, a computer mouse with a scanner that can recognize fingerprints. Biolink Technologies was born from Compulink, a Russian company specializing in computer trading in the United States. "Vedomosti" added that earlier this year, Unified Machine-Building Plants bought another high-tech company, the St. Petersburg-based Soft System Service. VC

VNESHTORG BANK HEADS LIST OF TOP RUSSIAN BANKS
According to the ranking of the 50 biggest Russian banks published in the December issue of the London magazine "Banker," the top place is held by Vneshtorg Bank, which boasts assets worth $1.43 billion, Prime-TASS reported on 5 December. In second place is Sberbank ($970 million), and third goes to Gazprombank ($647 million). Although the Russian banking sector is undercapitalized by international standards, the fact that a ranking of Russian banks has been published for the first time since 1998 should taken by the global financial community as an indication of the marked economic improvement in Russia, the news agency said. VY

PUTIN MAN INSTALLED IN UPPER LEGISLATIVE CHAMBER
Following former Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev's formal resignation, senators voted on 5 December to approve Sergei Mironov, former deputy speaker of St. Petersburg's legislature, to replace him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). The vote was nearly unanimous with 150 in favor, two against, and four abstentions, Interfax reported. According to polit.ru, among Mironov's first suggestions was that the upper house create a special commission for examining candidates for the posts of deputy speakers and heads of committees. Also on 5 December, senators voted to support the package of pension system and legal reforms earlier supported by the Duma (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 3 December 2001). JAC

YAKOVLEV UNDER PRESSURE?
St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Aleksandr Potekhin reported on 5 December that his boss, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, has given his consent to Potekhin's resignation, polit.ru reported. According to the website, Potekhin argued "not too convincingly" that his resignation had nothing to do with a criminal proceeding that has been launched against him. Potekhin is suspected of pursuing private business interests while working in the city government from 1999 to 2000. The website ntvru.com noted that this is the second criminal case launched against a deputy governor of St. Petersburg in the past two months. Last October, Yakovlev's "right-hand man," Valerii Malyshev, was accused of taking large bribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2001). JAC

ZHIRINOVSKY FAILS TO IMPRESS SOME FELLOW LEGISLATORS
The possibility of stripping Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky of his post as Duma deputy speaker was raised at a meeting in Moscow between State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and representatives of Duma associations on 5 December, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, deputy (People's Deputy) Gadzhi Makhachev complained that Zhirinovsky's public statements foment interethnic strife and that Zhirinovsky is becoming a "mouthpiece of nationalistic ideology." Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Boris Nedelin told the agency that attendees at the meeting -- since they do not have the power to strip Zhirinovsky of his office -- agreed to distribute materials about him among the various factions as well as to forward them to the Duma's Ethics Commission. The previous day, Zhirinovsky, speaking before the National Press Club in Washington, jokingly suggested that Cuban leader Fidel Castro might have ties with the Taliban, judging by his unkempt facial hair. JAC

PROBLEM REGIONS IDENTIFIED
On 4 December, Deputy Finance Minister Bella Zlatkis announced that her ministry is examining the possibility of proclaiming seven subjects of the Russian Federation bankrupt, but that she wasn't at liberty to name names (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). However, "Kommersant-Daily" the next day was willing to step into the void and suggested that there are at least seven economically plagued regions that would qualify -- the Koryak and Evenk Autonomous Okrugs, and the republics of Sakha, Adygeya, Buryatia, Altai and Kabardino-Balkaria. However, the daily also suggested that there are eight regions that have not fulfilled their federal tax obligations that could possibly be considered -- the republics of Tuva, North Ossetia, Buryatia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia; and the Kurgan, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Omsk Oblasts. JAC

ANOTHER ELECTION IN PRIMORE, ANOTHER ASSAULT
Vladimir Maksunov, a candidate in 23 December elections for Primorskii Krai's legislative assembly, told reporters in Vladivostok on 5 December that two unknown men attacked him the previous day, striking him over the head with a blunt object and causing him to be hospitalized, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to NTV, Maksunov also claimed that one of his attackers had a knife and that he had been receiving telephone threats demanding that he drop out of the race. Maksunov is a supporter of former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, who himself claimed that during the krai's gubernatorial elections someone from the opposing candidate's team was plotting to kill him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2001). Meanwhile, that candidate, current Primore Governor Sergei Darkin, has joined the Union of Rightist Forces, SPS leader Nemtsov announced on 5 December. JAC

MAYOR SEEKS TO SOLVE FEMALE UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM
Vorkuta Mayor Igor Shpektor has suggested that his city could solve the problem of high unemployment among females there by legalizing prostitution and building a large brothel, ntvru.com reported on 5 December, citing moskau.ru. The website also cites "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," which concluded that Shpektor is not trying to create a "Bangkok in the Arctic," but is merely suggesting that a workspace of maximum comfort be created. He is also guaranteeing workers at the brothel a 46-day paid vacation and 75 percent salary bonus -- which is the usual subsidy for work performed in Russia's Far North. JAC

ARMENIA PLEDGES TO COMPLETE RESTORATION OF EARTHQUAKE ZONE
Reconstruction of housing and infrastructure in northwestern Armenia destroyed during the December 1998 earthquake will be completed before the end of 2002, Urban Development Minister David Lokian told journalists in Yerevan on 5 December, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said a three-year $150 million reconstruction program begun in 1999 is on schedule. That program is being funded almost entirely by donations from the diaspora. Lokian said that almost 2,000 families made homeless by the earthquake were allocated new housing this year. According to Noyan Tapan, some 14,000 families are still accommodated in temporary housing. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT 'READY' TO VISIT IRAN
During a meeting on 5 December with Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ahad Gazai, Heidar Aliev said he is ready to begin his planned visit to Iran even before the end of Ramadan on 16 December, Turan reported. The visit has been repeatedly postponed over the past three years, most recently in September on the eve of Aliev's scheduled departure. The rationale cited at that time for the delay was that the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation to be signed during the visit had not been finalized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 September 2001). Gazai said on 5 December that the document is now ready, but he nonetheless proposed that Baku send a delegation of experts to Tehran to lay the groundwork for Aliev's visit. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER CONDEMNS PARLIAMENT SPEAKER'S COMMENTS ON ARMY'S COMBAT READINESS...
In an interview with Turan on 5 December, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev affirmed that Azerbaijan's armed forces "are diligently strengthening their moral and psychological grounding and are ready to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan at any time." Abiev was responding to remarks made the previous day by parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, who said that a military solution to the Karabakh conflict is not an option as the Azerbaijani armed forces are not capable of winning a war with a country that is backed by the military bases of a great power, meaning Armenia and Russia respectively. He added that the international community would condemn Azerbaijan if it began a new war. Both Alesqerov and Abiev acknowledged that the prospects for resolving the conflict peacefully have not yet been exhausted. LF

...AS DO OPPOSITION POLITICIANS
The progressive wing of the opposition Democratic Congress similarly rejected Alesqerov's statement as "defeatist," Turan reported on 5 December. Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 5 December, Civic Solidarity Party leader Sabir Rustamkhanli said comments such as Alesqerov's undermine morale. He added that Azerbaijan "has international law on its side." LF

SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF GEORGIAN JOURNALIST
Georgian police detained on 5 December, but have not yet formally charged, former police officer Grigol Khurtsilava on suspicion of having murdered TV journalist Giorgi Sanaya in July, newly appointed Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili told journalists the same day, Caucasus Press reported. Narchemashvili added that Khurtsilava has confessed to the murder, and that Sanaya was shot with a police firearm that Khurtsilava failed to surrender when he was dismissed from the police force in August 2000, according to Reuters. The motive for the killing remains unclear. LF

OSCE ADOPTS STATEMENT ON GEORGIA
Participants at the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Council meeting in Bucharest on 3-4 December adopted a statement affirming support for Georgia's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported on 5 December. The statement stressed for the first time the need to clarify the formal relations between the Georgian central government and the unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. It also called on Russia to comply with its obligations undertaken at the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul to close its military bases in Georgia. In addition, the ministers asked the OSCE Permanent Council to prepare a formal resolution on beginning international monitoring of Georgia's border with Ingushetia. OSCE monitors have been deployed on the Georgian-Chechen border since February 2000. LF

GEORGIA CLARIFIES STANCE ON CIS PEACEKEEPERS
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 December, Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze confirmed statements attributed to her predecessor Zurab Zhvania and to President Eduard Shevardnadze on the conditions under which Tbilisi would endorse the continued deployment in Abkhazia of the CIS peacekeeping force. The Georgian parliament voted two months ago to demand the peacekeepers' immediate withdrawal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2001). Burdjanadze said that if the peacekeepers' mandate is changed to deploy them along the Galidzga River, instead of along the Inguri River that forms the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, and if contingents from other CIS states also join the mission, then a discussion on their continued deployment would be possible. But, Burdjanadze said, "the final word" belongs to Shevardnadze. Moving the peacekeepers northward would mean removing any controls between Georgia proper and Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, the population of which prior to the 1992-1993 war was almost 90 percent Georgian. The peacekeepers' mandate may not, however, be amended without the consent of the Abkhaz side and Sukhum would be most unlikely to agree to such a change. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET ON FIRST READING
A joint session of both chambers of Kazakhstan's legislature approved the draft budget for 2002 on first reading on 4 December, Interfax reported. Ignoring a plea by Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev not to raise revenues in the light of falling world oil prices, the parliament's conciliatory commission decided to increase both revenues and expenditures by 5 billion tenges. The original budget proposed by the government allowed for revenues of 520.4 billion tenges ($3.49 billion), and expenditures of 600.9 billion tenges; the ensuing 80.5 billion tenges deficit is equal to 2.3 percent of GDP, which was planned at 3.49 trillion tenges, which is 7 percent higher than in 2001. LF

KAZAKHSTAN AGAIN SAYS IT MAY JOIN ANTITERRORISM COALITION...
Speaking in Bucharest, where he attended the OSCE's Ninth Ministerial Council meeting, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov said he does not exclude the possibility of his country contributing to the humanitarian and economic dimensions of the international antiterrorism coalition, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 December. President Nursultan Nazarbaev said in Moscow last week that Astana is ready to consider requests to station international troops on Kazakh territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). LF

...AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESERVING ABM TREATY
During talks in Moscow on 5 December with his Russian counterpart Georgii Mamedov, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov affirmed the importance of preserving and building on the 1972 ABM Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

JAPAN TO HELP MODERNIZE KAZAKH OIL REFINERY
Senior officials of the state-owned KazakhOil and Japan's Marubeni Corporation signed an agreement on 5 December under which Marubeni and Japanese banks will provide the lion's share of the $308 million required to modernize the Atyrau oil refinery, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The two sides agreed in May to conduct a feasibility study for the reconstruction, which will take two years and raise the quality of the refinery's output to meet international standards. Gasoline production will double from 326,000 to 699,700 tons per year, and aviation fuel production will increase from 43,000 to 87,200 tons. In addition, the yield from crude will rise from 59 percent to 82 percent, Interfax reported on 11 May. LF

RUSSIA REQUESTS USE OF KYRGYZ AIR BASE FOR HUMANITARIAN PURPOSES
Meeting in Bishkek on 5 December with President Askar Akaev, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii asked for the use of the Osh air base in southern Kyrgyzstan to transport humanitarian aid to northern Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, CHINA DISCUSS SECURITY ISSUES
Chinese and Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry officials discussed regional security issues in Bishkek on 4 December, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau and Caspian News Agency reported the following day. The two sides' positions regarding the principal aspects of preserving peace and stability in Central Asia and the postwar development of Afghanistan are close or coincide, according to an official communique. LF

FRENCH TROOPS ARRIVE IN TAJIKISTAN
An advance guard of 40 French marines landed in Dushanbe on 5 December. They will proceed to Afghanistan, where they will guard the airfield at Mazar-i-Sharif, which is to be used for aircraft transporting humanitarian aid, Interfax reported, quoting an unnamed French military attache in Dushanbe. Also on 5 December, Tajik Deputy Premier Saidamir Zukhurov confirmed that U.S. planes will use the air base at Kulyab in southern Tajikistan, primarily for rescue missions. The air base at Kurgan-Tyube is suitable only for light aircraft and helicopters, he added. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattarov said the same day that U.S. experts are still assessing the condition of the Kulyab base. LF

UZBEKISTAN ASKS FOR MORE AID FROM JAPAN
Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, who is on an official visit to Japan, on 5 December asked Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka to provide additional aid to Tashkent to cover expenses resulting from the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Japan has supplied Tashkent with some $500 million since 1993. Last week, Uzbek and U.S. officials signed an agreement whereby Washington will provide up to $100 million to fund a broad reform program in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). LF

POLAND TO BOOST TRADE WITH BELARUS BY CUTTING CUSTOMS TARIFFS
Polish Deputy Economy Minister Andrzej Szarawarski told a Polish-Belarusian economic forum in Minsk on 5 December that Poland wants to cut customs tariffs on Belarusian goods before it enters the European Union, PAP reported. Szarawarski said lower customs tariffs will help boost the exchange of Polish-Belarusian trade, and allow for leveling the Belarusian deficit in turnover with Poland that last year amounted to some $400 million. Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Mikalay Krechka told the agency that reduced competitiveness of Belarusian goods, as well as "political reasons," were behind a 17 percent drop in Belarusian exports to Poland and 25 percent fall in Polish exports to Belarus last year. JM

BELARUSIAN JUDGE FAILS TO TRY JOURNALIST BECAUSE OF LOST CASE FOLDER
The judge of a district court in Hrodna on 5 December canceled the case of Mikola Markevich, the editor in chief of the recently banned independent weekly "Pahonya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 20 November 2001), Belapan reported. Markevich was to stand trial for organizing an unauthorized picket in defense of his newspaper last month. After ransacking the courtroom for the missing case folder, the judge told the journalist to come a few hours later. However, the folder was lost for good. Markevich called the happening symbolic, adding that "there cannot be order in this country under this regime." JM

UKRAINE ASKS CANADA FOR HELP IN JOINING WTO
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko on 5 December asked his Canadian counterpart John Manley for Canada's help in expediting Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization, AP reported. Zlenko said Ukraine's bid should be considered at the same time as that of Russia, which has recently received vigorous support from U.S. officials. "It would be undesirable if Ukraine is left behind Russia," Zlenko told journalists. Manley, who was on a one-day trip to Kyiv, declared that Canada is ready to "provide technical support" to Ukraine on its way to the WTO. Ukraine's New Channel Television quoted Manley as saying that Ukraine and Russia will both join the WTO at the same time. JM

WORLD BANK APPROVES $50 MILLION TO REDUCE POVERTY IN UKRAINIAN COUNTRYSIDE
The World Bank on 5 December proposed a $50.21 million loan aimed at reducing poverty in Ukraine's rural areas, AP reported. The loan is to sponsor from 750 to 900 small projects in Ukraine's poorest regions over six years to support health, education, and other facilities. These projects will be created and controlled by local communities, and will be selected in a competition. The communities are to sponsor 10 percent of the projects' cost with the rest funded by the bank. The biggest possible grant may not exceed $150,000. The World Bank urged the Ukrainian government and lawmakers to approve the loan project as soon as possible. JM

REFORM PARTY TO LEAVE COALITION IN ESTONIA'S CAPITAL
Reform Party regional board and city council deputies decided in Tallinn on 5 December to leave the coalition that rules the capital's city council, ETA reported. Regional board Chairman Urmas Paet said that there were two main reasons for the decision: the plan by Mayor Tonis Palts of the Pro Patria Union to borrow 1.5 billion kroons ($86 million) next year, and the recent mismanagement of finances by the city's Security and Integration Department. Negotiations have been started with the Center Party on the formation of a new coalition, which could be formed by the two parties alone as they have 34 deputies in the council. However, not all Reform Party deputies back this decision since it could affect the coalition of the Reform Party, Pro Patria Union, and the Moderates, which is ruling the country. SG

EUROPEAN COMMISSION ENLARGEMENT HEAD VISITS LATVIA
Eneko Landaburu held a meeting on 5 December with members of the parliament's European Affairs Commission to discuss EU enlargement matters, LETA reported. He praised Latvia's progress toward integration into the EU, but mentioned areas that need to be improved, such as enhancing the administrative capacity for administrating EU's structural funds, increasing the independence and efficiency of courts, and controlling the country's external borders. Landaburu stressed the importance of informing the population about the meaning of EU enlargement, and said that although the EU does not require candidate countries to hold a referendum on EU membership since a decision by the parliament is sufficient, it generally expects such referendums to be held. In talks with International Financial Affairs Minister Roberts Zile, he noted that Latvia will have to do a lot of work to improve its public administration capacity. SG

LITHUANIA ASKS EU TO EXTEND TRANSITION PERIOD FOR CIGARETTE EXCISE TAX
The government on 6 December instructed the European Committee and the Foreign Ministry to negotiate with the EU for a transition period until 31 December 2010 for raising excise duties on tobacco products to EU-required levels, BNS reported. Lithuania had earlier requested a transition period until 1 October 2009, but the European Commission responded by suggesting a transition period until 1 January 2007. Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief EU negotiator, said that the reason for asking for a longer transition period was the directive by the EU Council in November to introduce from 2002 a minimum excise tax of 64 euros ($56) per 1,000 cigarettes instead of the current 57 percent of the average retail price of the most-popular brand of cigarettes. The new tax rate would increase the cost of a pack of Klaipeda cigarettes, the most popular locally produced brand, from the current price of 2.11 litas to 7.80 litas ($1.95). SG

POLISH PREMIER DECLARES READINESS TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN...
Premier Leszek Miller met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson in Brussels on 5 December, PAP reported. Miller told journalists after the meeting that Poland and NATO have "converging views" on all issues discussed, which included the international fight against terrorism, NATO expansion, and NATO cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. "If our allies had requested our larger participation [in the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan], there would have been a larger participation," Miller commented on Warsaw's recent decision to send 300 troops to Afghanistan following a request from the U.S. government. JM

...SAYS EU ENTRY RACE AMONG VISEGRAD FOUR UNNECESSARY
Miller said at a meeting in Luxembourg on 5 December between the Visegrad Four and Benelux countries that a race to the European Union among the Visegrad countries is unnecessary, Polish Radio reported. Miller responded to Hungarian Premier Victor Orban's remark that, although Hungary does not want to pressure other countries in the EU integration, "we would not like to wait for anybody." Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstad hastened to assure Orban that Poland is back among the top candidate countries to the EU, while Miller said: "There is no reason to show off. In the Visegrad Group this issue should not be seen as a race, but a partnership-like cooperation and coordination of mutual activities." JM

RFE/RL URGES CZECH AUTHORITIES TO RELEASE SOLIH
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine sent a letter on 5 December to the Public Prosecutor of the city of Prague and the Municipal Court of Prague, calling for the release from detention of Uzbek human rights activist Mohammad Solih, while vouching for his character and guaranteeing that Solih would remain "within the Czech Republic until a decision is entered by the court." Earlier the same day, Solih's defense lawyer also asked the court to release him from custody, CTK reported. The Justice Ministry on 5 December received the official request by Uzbekistan for Solih's extradition. MS

NO DEFECT FOUND IN CZECH ALTIMETERS
Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy told the BBC on 5 December that examinations carried out on about one-third of the altimeters used in the Czech Republic's MiG-21 fighters and L-39 subsonic planes have not produced evidence "of any major problems," CTK reported. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik recently decided to ground the two types of planes after receiving information from the Interior Ministry that some altimeters may be defective and that corruption might have been involved in the decision to purchase the altimeters, since a tender was changed to ensure that only one bidder met conditions. The Prague-based Miktotechna Modrany company, which supplied the altimeters, denied manipulating the tender. MS

CZECH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS PLEA TO ABOLISH LUSTRATION LAWS
The Constitutional Court on 5 December rejected a plea by 44 deputies from the Social Democratic Party to abolish the lustration laws, CTK reported. The court ruled that the legislation continues to be "vital" for democracy. Lustration laws were approved in 1991 and in 1992 banning former prominent communists, secret service agents, and members of the communist militia from serving in the civil service, the judiciary, the army, the public media, the Czech National Bank, state-owned companies, police, the prison authorities, and the Interior Ministry. The laws were originally intended to be valid for five years but were extended for four more years in October 1995, and for an indefinite period in late 2000. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT VETOES CHURCH LAW
Vaclav Havel vetoed on 5 December the law on churches passed by the Chamber of Deputies on 27 November and returned the legislation to the chamber for renewed deliberation, CTK reported. He said the law infringes on the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, since it prevents churches from running their own hospitals and charity foundations. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Czech Bishop's Conference welcomed Havel's decision. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER OPPOSED TO 'CREEPING UNIFICATION OF CONTINENT'...
Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels on 5 December on the future of the EU, Chamber of Deputies Chairman and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus called for stopping the "creeping silent unification of the continent," CTK reported. Klaus said it is necessary to keep national parliaments in place, and to curb the "automatically increasing role of the European Parliament." He said the time has come to reconsider the integration process, which has considerably intensified in the last decade, and "stop moving to supra-nationalism." Klaus said he opposes "misusing the tragic events of 11 September for the creeping Europeanization of internal security and defense policies," and that a draft resolution of the European Parliament on those matters diverts attention from "the real causes and the real roots of terrorism and violence in today's world." Those roots, he said, are the "antiliberal, antidemocratic, antimarket, anticapitalist, and anti-American positions we see displayed around us." Klaus also criticized the proposed resolution calling for the introduction of a majority vote to enhance the legitimacy and effectiveness of EU decision-making, saying that there is "no connection between legitimacy and a majority-vote system." MS

...AND PROMPTS HARSH CRITICISM AT HOME
Reacting to Klaus's speech, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky said on 5 December that Klaus "fails to comprehend the essence of European integration," CTK reported. Rychetsky also said Klaus might have been engaging in electioneering with an eye to the 2002 parliamentary election at home, and added that he hopes the ODS "will show more responsibility" after the poll. Daniel Krupa, who heads the Freedom Union-Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) group in the Senate, said Klaus has damaged the Czech reputation abroad and commented with disdain that some European Parliament members said after his speech that he would do well to seek professional medical advice. MS

CZECH PARTY SAID TO HAVE RECEIVED 'DIRTY MONEY'
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 6 December that the ODA received in the first half of 1990s money from entrepreneur Frantisek Rigo, who is now on trial for embezzlement, CTK reported. The daily said that in the charges against Rigo, the prosecution claims that part of the money from Rigo's embezzlement of the Plzen Kreditni banka went to the ODA, which is today the smallest member of the Four Party Coalition. Former ODA Chairman Jan Kalvoda said in response that he never realized the "origin of the money," and thought it belonged to the party's treasury. MS

FORMER HEAD OF CZECHOSLOVAK SECRET POLICE SENTENCED IN SLOVAKIA
A military court in Bratislava on 5 December sentenced Alojz Lorenc, the last chief of the Czechoslovak communist secret police, to a suspended sentence of 15 months in prison, CTK and international agencies reported. Lorenc was found guilty of abuse of power for jailing dissidents without legal grounds in the 1980s. He is to serve the term if he commits a similar crime within the three-year probation period. Both Lorenc and the prosecution said they will appeal the sentence. In 1992, a military court in the Czech Republic sentenced Lorenc to four years in prison on similar charges, but he escaped punishment after moving to his native Slovakia in 1993. MS

SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS PROPOSE 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) proposed on 5 December that parties opposed to the return to power of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) should conclude an "opposition agreement" that would make it possible for a minority government to block Meciar's return, CTK reported, citing the daily "Pravo." Under the proposed agreement, the minority cabinet would be supported in the parliament by the signatories who do not join the cabinet. KDH Deputy Chairman Vladimir Palko said a right-wing cabinet supported in the legislature by left-wing parties would enhance Slovakia's image abroad and make it possible for it to join NATO. Under the proposed agreement, which is based on the current Czech model, the anti-HZDS opposition would get the posts of parliamentary deputy chairman, Security Information Service chief, and the chairmanship of the Supreme Inspection Office. In return the opposition would pledge not to support motions of no-confidence. Peter Weiss, former leader of the Party of the Democratic Left, said in response that the plan "creates conditions for a coalition between the KDH and the HZDS." Meciar called the proposal "unfortunate even for the Christian Democrats." MS

NEW POLITICAL PARTY EMERGING IN SLOVAKIA
Parliamentary deputies Peter Tatar, Frantisek Sebej, and Peter Osusky, who earlier this year resigned from the Democratic Party, announced on 5 December that they are setting up a new formation that will be called the Civic Conservative Party (OKS). The founding conference will take place on 8 December in Bratislava, CTK reported. Tatar said the government has "lost its ability to implement reforms," and that it is necessary to set up a formation based on an "honest promotion of reforms, not on dubious deals and false compromises." Observers say the OKS has little chance of passing the 5 percent parliamentary threshold in the general elections next autumn. MS

CANADA IMPOSES VISA REQUIREMENTS ON HUNGARY
On 5 December, Canada imposed visa requirements on Hungarian citizens, arguing that the move is a response to the increasing number of asylum seekers and refugees, Hungarian media reported. Canadian Ambassador to Hungary Marta Moszcenzka said that some 8,000 Hungarians have applied to Canada for asylum since 1998, of whom only 8-15 percent were accepted. While Canadian officials would only say that some of the applicants based their asylum request on the fact that they were part of a persecuted minority in Hungary, many of the Hungarians requesting refugee status are known to be members of the Romany community. The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the Canadian decision and said it hopes the measures will be reviewed within a short time. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the cabinet will decide at its next meeting whether to impose visa requirements on Canadians. Orban told Hungarian radio that he believes "large-scale organized groups" are behind the emigration of Hungarian Roma to Canada. MSZ

FIDESZ OFFICIAL EXPLAINS REJECTION OF PARTNERSHIP WITH MIEP
FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover, speaking on 5 December at a local forum in Dunajska Streda, Slovakia, said that "regrettably," the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) cannot be accepted as a potential governing coalition partner in light of Hungary's planned accession to the EU. MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori said his party is not saying that Hungary should not join the EU, but he "regrets the government's failure to sufficiently inform Hungarians about the requirements of EU." Meanwhile, an article in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" said that the MIEP's parliamentary representation may grow after next year's elections. The paper quoted MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka as telling Western reporters that the assertion that his party is anti-Semitic is "an ugly lie." The paper said that while FIDESZ rejects what it reportedly considers as MIEP's extremist views, Orban may have no option other than to include Csurka in a coalition. MSZ

SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION SET TO SPLIT
The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, which has governed Serbia since the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, seems finally set to split after months of infighting and public feuding, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 5 December. Supporters of pragmatic Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic want to oust Dragan Marsicanin as speaker of the parliament over a vote-rigging charge in a session scheduled for 6 December. He belongs to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), which is the single largest potential vote-getter in the DOS. The DSS appeals to traditional nationalists who supported either or both of the two towering figures of the 1990s, namely Milosevic and opposition leader Vuk Draskovic. The rest of the DOS is broken down into 17 parties or groupings, most of which have similar center-right nationalist programs but have strong charismatic leaders who are often at odds with each other. The DSS left the government in August but stayed within the DOS. If the DOS splits, the most likely result would be early elections, pitting Kostunica against the less popular Djindjic. PM

NATO SUPPORT FOR SERBIA IN KOSOVA?
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels on 5 December that the threat of terrorism, violence, and organized crime remains in the Balkans, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. They apparently did not elaborate. Upon returning to Belgrade, Covic said that the leaders of NATO told him that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia and Serbia will be respected in Kosova. PM

KOSTUNICA: CHANGES COMING IN YUGOSLAV ARMY
Kostunica told the Belgrade weekly "Blic njuz" that "there will be significant changes in the Yugoslav army by the end of the year," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He did not elaborate. PM

SERBIAN MILITARY DEFENDS ROLE
General Vladimir Lazarevic -- who commanded the Prishtina Corps during the 1999 Kosova conflict and is now in charge of the Third Army in southern Serbia -- said in Nis on 5 December that he is "ready to appear before all responsible military and state bodies and respond" to questions about his role in the conflict, "Vesti" reported. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal and Human Rights Watch have recently called attention to Serbia's war crimes in Kosova in 1998 and 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). Members of the Third Army have openly expressed support for their former commander, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who now heads the General Staff. They called on the government and people to "support the soldiers who fought for them." The Hague has launched an investigation of Pavkovic's role in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). PM

SERBIAN GENERAL TO BE INDICTED?
Hague Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt told AP on 5 December that Pavkovic "is alleged to have been a member of the joint criminal enterprise. What that means is that he is a suspect and will be treated as such. He may or may not be indicted." PM

ONE MORE DAILY NEWSPAPER FOR SERBIAN CAPITAL
Editor in Chief Predrag Popovic presented the first issue of "Nacional" to a 4 December press conference at Tanjug's Belgrade offices, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He said he is sure that the new daily will find a solid readership because its journalists are "exclusively" young people without ties to older media organizations. Popovic denied that there is any link between his paper and the Croatian weekly of the same name. The new daily will have a print run of 50,000 copies, printed by Borba, and published by NIP Info Orfej. Many observers regard the Belgrade newspaper market as already saturated and in need of a shakeout. Serbs are traditionally avid newspaper readers, but the growth of poverty since the late 1980s has forced many to limit their expenditures for newspapers and magazines. The market in the more affluent diaspora is heavily dominated by "Vesti," which was founded in Germany by Serbian journalists a decade ago in response to the sanctions imposed on Belgrade. PM

MONTENEGRO ACCEPTS EU INITIATIVE
The pro-independence government of President Milo Djukanovic has accepted an EU proposal to restart talks between Podgorica and Belgrade on redefining the relations between them, AP reported on 5 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). The government called on EU security policy chief Javier Solana to take part and "help the dialogue." Serbia's answer is expected shortly. PM

MONTENEGRO'S 'THIRD WAY'?
Speaking in Moscow on 5 December, Dmitrii Rogozin, who heads the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Montenegro will probably find a "third way" between independence and its present type of federal relations with Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He made the remarks after talks with Svetozar Marovic, who is his Montenegrin counterpart. PM

NATO SET FOR MACEDONIAN PEACE MISSION
Reuters reported from Brussels on 5 December that the Atlantic alliance is likely to extend soon the mandate of Operation Amber Fox by an additional three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2001). The Macedonian authorities and ethnic Albanian leaders alike have requested the extension. PM

EU CALLS ON MACEDONIA TO PASS SELF-GOVERNMENT REFORM
Alain Le Roy, the EU's chief negotiator in Skopje, appealed to the parliament to pass quickly a local government reform package aimed at giving ethnic Albanian areas a greater say in running their own affairs, AP reported on 5 December. Passage of the legislation is a prerequisite for a long-planned international donors conference. On 6 December, Macedonia and the IMF reached an agreement on the Macedonian state budget, which is another precondition for the gathering, Reuters reported. Macedonia has agreed to keep its budget deficit within 3.5 percent of its GDP. PM

NGO SLAMS MACEDONIAN PARAMILITARY POLICE
The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights said in a statement on 4 December that the special police unit known as the Lions "places the peace process in Macedonia at risk" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 November 2001). The NGO noted that some of the members of the Lions are professionals, but that others have criminal backgrounds or incomplete training. The unit is close to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 October 2001). The party's symbol is a lion rampant. The NGO also noted that the Interior Ministry, which is headed by VMRO-DPMNE hard-liner Ljube Boskovski, has recently named Orthodox St. Dimitri as patron saint of the ministry. The NGO said that establishing a tie between the ministry and a particular religion runs counter to the spirit of the Ohrid peace agreement. Most Macedonian Albanians are Muslims. PM

HAGUE COURT FREES SERBIAN CAMP GUARD
The tribunal freed Dragan Kolundzija for "exemplary behavior" on 6 December, Reuters reported. The former Keraterm concentration camp guard had served most of a three-year sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). PM

TWO ARRESTED OVER HERZEGOVINIAN MOSQUE INCIDENT
Local police arrested two unidentified persons in connection with a recent incident at the construction site of a mosque in Stolac, dpa reported on 5 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). Police also issued arrest warrants for two additional suspects who are still at large. PM

HOLOCAUST EXHIBITS RETURN TO CROATIA
Exhibits and archives from the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp officially returned there from the Washington Holocaust Memorial museum on 5 December, Reuters reported. Serbian forces sent the materials to the U.S. for safekeeping in 2000. The news agency notes that independent historians say that up to 85,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and opposition Croats died at the camp run by the pro-Axis Ustasha movement, although the exact number is the subject of a heated controversy and may never be known. The return of the exhibits is widely seen as a move by Croatia to confront the darker side of its history. In 1999, a Croatian court sentenced the camp's now-elderly commander, Dinko Sakic, to 20 years imprisonment. PM

CROATIA SELLS OFF BANKRUPT IRON WORKS
The board of creditors of the Sisak Iron Works said in Zagreb on 5 December that the bankrupt company will be sold for a symbolic price of $0.12 to the Austrian-Russian Turbo Impex company, Hina reported. Some 1,700 out of 2,032 jobs will be saved. PM

SACKED CROATIAN POLICE PROTEST AT RACAN'S OFFICE
Some 160 recently fired police demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Ivica Racan in Zagreb on 6 December, dpa reported. The sackings were imposed in late summer in an effort to shrink what many regard as a bloated ministry heavily staffed by supporters of late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

ROMANIAN ANTI-SEMITE FINDS STRANGE ALLIES
Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist and anti-Semitic Greater Romania Party (PRM), said on 5 December that his parliamentary immunity, which was recently lifted by the Senate, must be returned to him in light of recent events in the Middle East, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tudor "explained" that his immunity was lifted on the grounds that he said Hamas terrorists had been trained in Romania, and that recent attacks by Israel against Palestinian Authority forces prove that he had spoken the truth when claiming that Romania had trained terrorists (when rejecting Tudor's allegations, the government said personal bodyguards of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, not Hamas members, received training in Romania). In other news, the Constitutional Court on 5 December rejected an appeal by 74 PRM deputies who claimed that the recently passed 2002 budget infringes on constitutional stipulations. The budget law can now be promulgated by President Ion Iliescu. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, UDMR REVIEW COOPERATION
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who is also leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), and Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), agreed on 5 December to set up a joint commission to examine how the cooperation agreement between the two formations has been implemented at political, parliamentary, state and local government levels, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They also discussed the recent report by the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) on the situation in Harghita and Covasna counties. Nastase said after the meeting that the report does not reflect a "loss of state authority" in the two counties, but a general problem of infringement on legislation, which is encountered in other counties as well. They also agreed that consultations must continue between Bucharest and Budapest on the Hungarian Status Law. The UDMR is to decide next month whether to extend its collaboration agreement with the PSD. MS

BRASOV MARCHES AGAINST POVERTY
Some 10,000 workers from several large Brasov factories working for both the civil and military sectors took to the streets on 5 December in protest against falling living standards and job insecurity in what the protest's organizers called a "March Against Poverty," Romanian television reported. Prime Minister Nastase said the government "understands" the workers' apprehensions and "is searching for a suitable solution" to their problems. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ATTENTIVE TO UKRAINIAN CENSUS
Mircea Geoana said on 5 December that Romania is "watching attentively" the population census now under way in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana explained that Romania is insisting that Ukraine do away with "the artificial distinction made there between Moldovans and Romanians." He admitted that some ethnic Romanians in Ukraine declare their national identity as "Moldovan," but stressed that those are "people who were subjected to ideological intoxication throughout the long tears of Soviet occupation." Geoana also said Romania intends to "clarify this mystification of history and call a spade a spade," namely that one deals with "Romanians who are loyal citizens of Ukraine." MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REGRETS 'EMOTIONAL REACTION' FROM UKRAINE
The Foreign Ministry said on 5 December that it "regrets the emotional reaction of Ukrainian authorities to public statements made by the Moldovan leadership," Infotag reported. In a diplomatic note responding to a 29 November Ukrainian protest following President Vladimir Voronin's criticism of Ukraine's reluctance to agree to set up joint customs checkpoints, the ministry said Moldova highly appreciates "the bilateral friendship and cooperation ties [with Ukraine] based on the principle of good neighborly relations, noninterference in domestic affairs, mutual understanding, and trust." It added that the statements made by Voronin and other Moldovan leaders were presented in the Ukrainian media "out of their immediate context." The ministry also said Moldova "highly estimates the role played by Ukraine in efforts to settle the Transdniester conflict," and added that "restoring [Moldovan] customs controls on the common border would make an invaluable contribution to the conflict settlement process." But the statement also reiterated Moldova's regret that "Ukraine allows the transportation [from Transdniester] of commodities across the border without valid customs documents, and demands the immediate termination of this practice." MS

CROATIAN PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA
On 5 December, visiting Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Moldovan counterpart Voronin signed agreements on stimulating and protecting mutual investments, while the two countries' deputy foreign ministers signed an agreement on canceling visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports, Infotag and Hina reported. Voronin said Mesic's visit "opens the way for real cooperation" between the two countries, and added that Moldova and Croatia share a "situation of a transition to a market economy, the quest to join the EU, and both countries are members of the World Trade Organization and of the Balkan Stability Pact." Mesic said that "to make our cooperation more efficient, it is necessary to jointly work for democratic development, human rights observance, and for building a state based on the rule of law." Mesic also met with Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to discuss economic cooperation. MS

HOMBACH SAYS MOLDOVA MUST BE HELPED
Balkan Stability Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach, in an interview with RFE/RL in Bucharest, said on 5 December that Moldova must receive aid from European countries because once Romania joins the EU, Moldova will become the union's immediate neighbor. Hombach said the "Schengen border" will then be the border with Moldova. MS

MOLDOVA SAYS TRANSDNIESTER ELECTIONS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The Moldovan Central Electoral Commission said on 5 December that the Transdniester "presidential" elections scheduled for 9 December are unconstitutional and illegal, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The commission called on the population of Transdniester, as well as on "diplomatic missions, international organizations, foreign citizens, and nongovernmental organizations, to refrain from participating in any form in voting or sending observers to the ballot," which is "designed to undermine Moldova's sovereignty." OSCE mission spokesman Matti Sidoroff said the mission will not monitor the elections as the "OSCE does not monitor elections in separatist regions." MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT ACCUSES PREDECESSOR OF 'ROBBERY'
The cabinet headed by Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 5 December published a 63-page "White Paper" in which it accused its predecessor of "unscrupulous robbery," Reuters and AP reported. The cabinet also said that it is setting up an ad hoc "White Commission" to investigate the alleged misdeeds of the cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov. Justice Minister Anton Stankov said he will chair the commission, which will also include officials from the Interior and Finance Ministries. The incumbent government said it took more than four months to collect facts on the rule of the United Democratic Forces (SDS), because of "the scale of the unscrupulous robbery that was becoming clear while we were clarifying the real state of our country" after taking over. The government also said that the privatization process under the previous cabinet was slow and marked by low revenue and corruption, and that as a result Bulgaria's assets were sold at 20 percent of their real value. SDS Deputy Chairman Dimitar Abadzhiev said in response that the government has "realized its inability to tackle the hard problems facing the country and is using the so-called White Paper to justify its incompetence." Kostov himself did not react, but his former finance minister, Muravei Radev, dismissed the allegations and said he will comment in detail later. MS

There is no End Note today.


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