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Newsline - December 10, 2001


MOST RUSSIANS REGRET DEMISE OF USSR, BUT DO NOT FAVOR ITS RESTORATION
Over 70 percent of Russians lament the fall of the Soviet Union, and this number continues to rise, lenta.ru reported on 9 December, citing an opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion agency on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the official dissolution of the Soviet Union on 8 December, 1991. But the poll of 1,500 respondents in 44 regions also reported that some 72 percent do not think that restoring the Soviet Union is possible or necessary. The number of those who regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union has grown by 10 percent since 1992, when the first poll on that issue was conducted, lenta.ru reported. VY

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE IN MOSCOW
Colin Powell arrived on 9 December in Moscow for his first official visit in Russia as U.S. secretary of state. Powell began his visit by honoring the victims of the 8 August 2000 unsolved bombing of an underground passage of Pushkin Square, ntvru.com reported on 10 December. The website quoted U.S. officials as saying that "the U.S. and Russia are now both on the same side of barricades." "Fighting against one common evil -- terrorism -- is what brought the two countries closer together," ntvru.com added. Cooperation between the two countries is on the agenda of both President Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Powell. In a television interview broadcast on ORT on 9 December, Powell confirmed that an understanding may be reached between the two sides on the use of armed units in peacekeeping operations and crisis situations, with NATO acting on its own. Powell also said that, even though it has not applied for membership in NATO, Russia will participate in the alliance's governing bodies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). Before leaving Moscow on 10 December, Powell was scheduled to meet with representatives of Russian business circles, RosBusinessConsulting reported. VC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SUMS UP HIS VISIT TO GREECE...
Speaking to journalists in Athens during his visit to Greece, President Putin said on 7 December that he and his Greek counterpart Constantinos Stephanopoulos signed cooperation agreements on combating international terrorism and organized crime, as well as on strengthening cultural, trade, and military ties, Russian and Western media reported. Meanwhile, LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov, who accompanied Putin to Athens, said his company is hoping to take part in the privatization of the Greek national oil company Hellenic Petroleum, "Vedomosti" reported on 6 December VY

...AS LUKOIL PROPOSES EXTENDING BURGAS-ALEXANDROPOULIS PIPELINE
LUKoil President Alekperov told journalists in Athens on 7 December that his company has proposed that the planned oil-export pipeline from Burgas to Alexandropoulis be extended to Thessaloniki, where there is a large oil refinery, Interfax reported. Alekperov said that Russian President Putin and his Greek counterpart Stephanopoulos have already agreed to establish a joint commission to study that option which, Alekperov said, would increase by 25-30 percent the estimated $500 million cost of building the pipeline. LF

IMPROVED RUSSIAN-GREEK RELATIONS LAUDED
Putin also stated in Athens that Russia and Greece are no longer divided by "ideological differences," and are thus able to build a partnership based "on national and geopolitical interests," gazeta.ru reported on 8 December. Putin also called on "foreign powers" to return cultural valuables and historical artifacts taken from Greece. His comments were apparently addressed to those in Europe and America who have criticized Russia's reluctance to return cultural items it took as war trophies from Germany and other European countries during World War II. VY

PUTIN TELLS GERMAN CHANCELLOR HE IS SATISFIED WITH PROGRESS IN AFGHANISTAN
On his way to Moscow from Greece, Putin made a short stopover in Hannover on 9 December to meet informally with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan and further steps to combat international terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin told journalists the same day that he appreciates the efforts Germany made last week in hosting talks on the composition of the future Afghan government. "You cannot reach a situation with which everyone is 100 percent satisfied, but I think the accord was the optimal outcome that could have been reached," AP quoted Putin as saying. VY

BIN LADEN'S BROTHER WAS FREQUENT TRAVELER TO BASHKORTOSTAN
Tariq bin Laden, a brother of Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, on several occasions visited Ufa, Bashkortostan, to meet with Talgat Tadjuddin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 4 December. According to the correspondent, the Muslim Religious Board confirmed the meetings, which were earlier reported by "Moskovskii komsomolets." However, Tadjuddin himself has not commented on reports alluding to his close ties to bin Laden's family. On 5 December, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow met with Tadjuddin and Gabdulla Shakaev, the mufti of Chelyabinsk and Kurgan, in Chelyabinsk. He assured them that U.S. actions in Afghanistan are not directed against Muslims and Afghan citizens. Tadjuddin noted that Russia's Muslims support U.S. policy against international terrorism, adding that terrorism is not a trait of Islam, and is not in the interest of Muslims. JAC

NEW UPPER HOUSE SPEAKER CALLS FOR EXTENDING PRESIDENTIAL TERM
Just two days after being selected for his new post, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov declared on 7 December that he considers Russia's four-year presidential term too short. He did not exclude the possibility that an initiative to amend the Russian Constitution to extend the presidential term might be introduced, Russian agencies reported. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" the next day, the presidential administration appeared surprised by Mironov's statement, and declared that President Putin has said on more than one occasion that he does not favor changing the constitution. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev also responded to Mironov's statement, saying that he considers it inexpedient to lengthen the current presidential term. "This question deals with serious constitutional amendments and cannot be resolved with one stroke [of a pen]," he said. Mironov is a former colleague of Putin from the president's days as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. JAC

MOSCOW WOOS UKRAINIANS IN RUSSIA
In his opening remarks to a congress of ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin said in Moscow on 9 December that President Putin's administration is interesting in creating a "Ukrainian lobby" from the more than 4 million ethnic Ukrainians living in Russia, ORT and NTV reported. Deputy Prime Ministers Viktor Khristenko and Valentina Matvienko, and Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who are all ethnic Ukrainians, sent greetings to the congress. In addition, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Seminozhenko told the audience that "the way of Ukraine into Europe goes through Moscow," and that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has announced that 2002 will be the "Year of Russia in Ukraine." VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES RUSSIAN PLANS IN CENTRAL ASIA...
After inspecting Russian troops in Tajikistan, Sergei Ivanov said one of the purposes of his visit was to negotiate with Tajik leaders for the creation of permanent facilities for the Russian forces deployed there, polit.ru reported on 8 December. He stressed that Russia's plans to construct permanent military housing facilities in Tajikistan have no connection with the arrival of U.S. forces in Central Asian states. He also said Russia has not changed its decision not to send troops to Afghanistan. "Russia is concentrating on humanitarian aid, but if requests come [from the Northern Alliance] to train their military personnel on our territory, we will review it carefully," he said. VY

...AND CONCERNS OVER GEORGIA
"The situation in Pankisi gorge is posing an acute threat to the national security of Russia," ITAR-TASS reported Defense Minister Ivanov as saying on 8 December. He said that while Russia recognizes Georgia's sovereignty, there are parts of Georgian territory, including Pankisi gorge, that are not being controlled by Georgia's central government, and are "practically occupied." VY

RUSSIAN RECONSTRUCTION EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN CONTINUE
Valerii Vostrotin, the head of the Russian operative group in Afghanistan, said that his people have demined a tunnel through the Salang Pass, and by doing so have opened the strategic highway from Tajikistan to the central provinces of Afghanistan, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 December. According to international experts, however, there are still about 8 million mines in Afghanistan that need to be disabled, which will require about 12 years of work and $500 million to complete, the news agency said. VY

DEBATES ON THE ROLE OF THE EURO CONTINUE...
During a Moscow seminar on the ruble, dollar, and euro on 7 December, State Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov was quoted as saying that the role of the euro in the Russian economy will gradually increase because Russian trade operations are largely oriented toward the European market, Interfax reported on 10 December. Zhukov pointed out that Russia prefers it when the exchange rate of the euro is low because it makes the repayment of Russia's foreign debt, half of which is denominated in euros, less painful. The 2002 draft budget allocates $2 billion to cover possible fluctuations in the exchange rate. VC

...AS 'EURO DAY' IS ANNOUNCED
Also on 7 December, the Delegation of the European Commission in Russia and the European Business Club named 11 December as "Euro Day" in Russia, and announced the holding of an international conference in Moscow that day to discuss the introduction of hard currency in euros, Interfax reported on 10 December. A reception will be held following the conference, at which several euro grants are expected to be allocated for social projects, EC delegation head Richard Wright said. Bringing cash euros into circulation will increase direct investment from the European Union into the Russian economy, Wright said, adding that EU countries account for 35 percent of overall trade with Russia, and that after EU expansion that share is expected to exceed 50 percent, Interfax reported. VC

RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN OPPOSES SINGLE CIS CURRENCY
Viktor Gerashchenko said in Yerevan on 8 December following talks with Armenian President Robert Kocharian that he does not consider either the Russian economy or those of other CIS member states ready for the introduction of a single CIS currency, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the Russian ruble could play that role, but only after it becomes fully convertible. Speaking in Moscow late last month on the eve of the CIS summit, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev raised the possibility of introducing such a single CIS currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). LF

ALFA BANK HEAD SAYS NUMBER OF RUSSIAN BANKS SHOULD BE REDUCED
On 7 December, at The Russian Banking Sector conference organized in London by the Adam Smith Institute, Alfa Bank Chairman Piot Aven said that banking reform should help consolidate the Russian banking sector, Radio Mayak reported the same day. The banks, which Aven said will survive restructuring, will adopt international standards in their accounting systems and amount of capital, according to the station. VC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECIDES NOT TO WEIGH IN ON SAKHA ELECTION CONTROVERSY...
The federal Constitutional Court decided on 7 December during a closed session not to examine the issue of the election registration of incumbent Sakha (Yakutia) President Mikhail Nikolaev, RIA-Novosti reported. Sakha's Supreme Court had directed an inquiry to its federal counterpart -- an effort that some federal officials described as a delay tactic -- in order for Nikolaev's candidacy to remain valid (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 December 2001). Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai commented that the launching of a constitutional legal proceeding on the eve of an election could unjustifiably complicate the electoral process. An unnamed Kremlin source told "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 December that if Sakha's Supreme Court continues to delay consideration of the legality of Nikolaev's registration, it is not impossible that the matter will be directed to a court in another jurisdiction. JAC

...AS EARLY VOTING BEGINS
Also on 7 December, Sakha's election commission canceled the registration of another presidential candidate, Sakha Education Minister Yevgenii Mikhailov, at Mikhailov's request, Interfax-Eurasia reported. On 8 December, early voting for the 23 December ballot began in order to accommodate voters who live in remote regions, such as nomadic reindeer herdsmen, hunters, and geologists, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

TATAR OFFICIALS PROTEST CENSUS PLAN
On 3 December, Tatarstan's legislature adopted an appeal to the Russian State Duma protesting plans to divide Tatars into six ethnic groups in the 2002 census, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 7 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). Deputies said such a move would reduce the overall number of Tatars to a fraction of the 7 million reported in the 1989 census. During the discussion, one Tatar legislator said that in Ulyanovsk he watched videotaped appeals to Tatars telling them that they are "Bulgars" rather than "Tatars." Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Crimean correspondent reported on 5 December that Crimean Tatars are being divided into three ethnic groups -- Nogais, Crimeans, and Crimean Tatars -- in the Ukrainian census scheduled for 5-15 December. JAC

ANOTHER ELECTION IN PRIMORSKII KRAI FAILS DUE TO LACK OF VOTER INTEREST
Despite intensive media coverage both locally and in the national press leading up to the 9 December election, Primorskii Krai's ballot for its legislature was declared invalid due to insufficient voter turnout (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 December 2001). Only 13 of the krai's 39 districts had more than the necessary 25 percent minimum of registered voters participating, according to RIA-Novosti on 9 December. Elections will have to be reheld sometime within the next four to six months. JAC

FIVE-METER MENORAH INSTALLED NEAR KREMLIN
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov joined Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and several hundred people on Manezh Square on 10 December to light a five-meter-high menorah to mark the beginning of Hanukkah. Lazar thanked Luzhkov for his assistance in having the menorah moved closer to the Kremlin. VC

RUSSIAN MUSLIM LEADER APPEALS TO PUTIN TO PARDON CHECHEN FIGHTERS
Nadirshakh Khachilaev, one of the leaders of the Union of Muslims of Russia, has appealed to President Putin to pardon all Chechen fighters "except terrorists and common criminals," Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 7 December. Khachilaev also rejected as untrue reports that he participated in the August 1999 assault on Daghestan by Chechen field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 August 1999). LF

KREMLIN ENVOY SAYS CHECHNYA MAY ELECT NEW PRESIDENT NEXT YEAR
Addressing a meeting of Chechen administration officials and local politicians in Grozny on 7 December, Viktor Kazantsev, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, again denied that during his talks last month with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001) the possibility of changing Chechnya's political status within the Russian Federation was discussed, Russian agencies reported. Kazantsev said that he anticipates that a new Chechen Constitution will be adopted next year after which presidential elections will be held. Maskhadov's five-year term officially expires in January 2002. LF

TWO CHECHEN PROSECUTORS KILLED
Two Chechen prosecutors died on 8 December when their car hit a remote-controlled mine in Grozny, Russian agencies reported. A Chechen woman was detained later that day on suspicion of laying the mine. LF

ARMENIA MARKS EARTHQUAKE ANNIVERSARY
President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and other senior government officials traveled on 7 December to the city of Gyumri in northern Armenia that was devastated by an earthquake 13 years earlier, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Implicitly contradicting the pledge made two days earlier by Urban Development Minister David Lokian that all housing and infrastructure destroyed by the quake will be rebuilt by the end of 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001), Markarian said that housing reconstruction may take a further two years. Unemployment in Gyumri and the surrounding area remains high, despite the creation this year of 4,000 new jobs, according to Noyan Tapan. Economist Tatul Manaserian argued on 7 December during a discussion convened by the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party that only by designating Gyumri a free-trade zone will it be possible to eliminate the economic consequences of the earthquake. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION STAGES ANTIGOVERNMENT DEMO
Some 2,000 people attended a demonstration in Baku on 8 December convened by the opposition Democratic Congress to protest the Azerbaijani leadership's Karabakh policy and its abolition of social allowances, Turan reported. Geyrat Party leader Ashraf Mekhtiev and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party conservative wing leader Mirmahmud Fattaev both demanded the resignation of President Heidar Aliev, while Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar called for free presidential elections to prevent Aliev from ensuring that his son Ilham succeeds him as president. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER SAYS HE WAS MISQUOTED
Addressing parliament on 7 December, speaker Murtuz Alesqerov claimed that the independent ANS TV station misrepresented comments he made three days earlier about the inadvisability of Azerbaijan beginning a new war to restore its control over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Turan reported. Journalists initially quoted Alesqerov as saying that military action is inadvisable as Armenia's military strength is superior to Azerbaijan's (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001). Alesqerov added that now that the EU and the Council of Europe have joined the mediation process, the prospects for resolving the conflict peacefully are better than ever. The Council of Europe has expressed an interest in joining the mediation process, but no formal decision on whether it should do so has been made, and Russia would in all likelihood oppose any such involvement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH DEMONSTRATORS
As she earlier offered to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001), Nino Burdjanadze met on 7 December with representatives of the students and opposition activists who resumed their picket of the parliament building two days earlier to demand preterm presidential and parliamentary elections, Caucasus Press reported. She reportedly tried to persuade the picketers to abandon further such protests and instead to agree to a regular exchange of views with the parliament. Addressing the first session of the new Georgian government on 8 December, President Eduard Shevardnadze rejected proposals for preterm elections, arguing that they would exacerbate the already tense situation on the country, Caucasus Press reported. LF

EU REPRESENTATIVE MURDERED IN GEORGIA
Guenter Beuchel, a German diplomat with the European Commission representation in Tbilisi, was found bludgeoned to death outside his apartment building late on 9 December, Caucasus Press and Western agencies reported. He had been robbed. LF

ABDUCTED SPANISH BUSINESSMEN RELEASED IN GEORGIA
Two Spanish businessmen abducted in Georgia in November 2000 were freed late on 8 December following what Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania termed a series of operations by his ministry. He did not elaborate. A spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed the same day in Madrid that a ransom of 50 million pesetas ($270,000) was paid this summer to secure the men's release, AP reported. A Japanese journalist reported missing after setting out in June to travel from Georgia to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2001) was freed in the Pankisi gorge in eastern Georgia on 7 December, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN CATHOLICS DEMAND RETURN OF CONFISCATED CHURCHES
Georgia's tiny Roman Catholic community has appealed to the Georgian government to return to them five churches, including those in the cities of Kutaisi, Gori, and Batumi, that were handed over to the Georgian Orthodox church in 1998, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN OFFERS USE OF FACILITIES TO ANTITERRORISM COALITION
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists in Astana on 9 December following talks with President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov that the Kazakh leaders will make the country's military bases and airspace available to the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition, Western agencies reported. Powell expressed appreciation for that offer and extended an invitation from U.S. President George W. Bush to Nazarbaev to visit Washington later this month. Nazarbaev said in late November that he would consider any U.S. request for use of Kazakhstan's military infrastructure, but that no such request had been made at that time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2001). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S DEFENSE MINISTER DISMISSED
President Nazarbaev dismissed Lieutenant General Sat Toqpaqbaev on 7 December from the post of defense minister to which he was named two years earlier, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev simultaneously appointed former air force commander Mukhtar Altynbaev, who was dismissed in August 1999 following a scandal concerning the sale of MiG fighter aircraft to North Korea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August and 14 October 1999), to succeed Toqpaqbaev. LF

SNOW THWARTS U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE'S PLANNED VISIT TO KYRGYZSTAN
Heavy snowfall prevented U.S. Secretary of State Powell from traveling on 8 December from Tashkent to Bishkek for talks with President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER...
During three hours of talks in Dushanbe on 7 December, Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev discussed with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov military and other aspects of bilateral cooperation, Interfax reported. Rakhmonov and Ivanov agreed on the need to strengthen and re-equip the 201st Motorized Infantry Division that is permanently stationed in Tajikistan. Ivanov stressed that the positions of Moscow and Dushanbe on many issues relating to the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan are "practically identical." LF

...AND AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER
President Rakhmonov met on 8 December in Dushanbe with interim Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the political situation in Afghanistan, the Bonn accord, and the relevance of Tajikistan's post-civil war reconciliation to Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. Also on 8 December, a Tajik government official said that the first consignment of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan via the Nizhnii Pyandj ferry border crossing was to be shipped on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). LF

TAJIK SECURITY OFFICIAL SEES ROLE FOR 'SIX PLUS TWO' IN AFGHAN PEACEKEEPING
UN peacekeepers should be deployed in Afghanistan to safeguard the implementation of a political settlement, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov told Interfax on 7 December. He proposed that those countries that belong to the UN-sponsored "Six-Plus-Two" group, except for Pakistan, should provide troops for such a force. The "Six-Plus-Two" grouping is made up of China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, along with Russia and the U.S. LF

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE VISITS UZBEKISTAN
On a two-day working visit to Tashkent, U.S. Secretary of State Powell met on 7 and 8 December with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and President Islam Karimov to discuss bilateral relations, which Powell subsequently told journalists have been raised to a "qualitatively new level," Russian agencies reported. Affirming Washington's intention to expand political and economic cooperation with Tashkent, Powell admitted that there are disagreements between the two countries concerning the optimum pace of democratization, according to Interfax. On the eve of Powell's arrival, and just days after the signing of an agreement under which Washington will provide Uzbekistan with up to $100 million in aid, Uzbek parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov proposed holding a referendum to extend Karimov's presidential term by two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). LF

UZBEKISTAN FINALLY OPENS BORDER BRIDGE WITH AFGHANISTAN
Powell also announced in Tashkent on 8 December that the Uzbek authorities had agreed to open the border bridge at Termez the following day to accelerate the transportation of humanitarian aid from Uzbekistan to northern Afghanistan, Reuters reported. Karimov said on 6 December that the bridge would not be opened until security had been tightened in Termez to protect its inhabitants from possible attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). LF

UZBEK PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET
Uzbekistan's parliament voted on 6 December in favor of the 2002 draft budget that sets revenues at 1.77 trillion sums ($2.6 billion), and expenditures at 1.87 trillion sums, Interfax reported. The resulting deficit is equal to 1.5 percent of GDP and will be financed by short-term government bonds issued by the Central Bank. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION RALLIES TO DEMAND TRUTH ABOUT DISAPPEARANCES
Some 500 opposition activists staged an unauthorized demonstration called "The Chain of Indifferent People" in Minsk on 9 December to demand from the authorities the truth about the disappearances of opponents to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime, including Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, Belapan reported. Similar, albeit less numerous demonstrations, were held in Homel, Brest, and other Belarusian cities. Police arrested 20 protesters in Brest and Baranavichy. JM

LUKASHENKA DOWNSIZES CITY ADMINISTRATION STAFFS BY 10 PERCENT
President Lukashenka has issued an edict setting model structures and staff memberships for city executive committees and cities' district administrations, Belapan reported on 8 December, quoting official sources. The edict stipulates that the staff memberships of city executive committees and cities' district administrations should be reduced by 10 percent. JM

UKRAINE NOT TO CONDUCT MAJOR PRIVATIZATIONS BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Premier Anatoliy Kinakh has announced that the government will not offer strategic enterprises for privatization in the first quarter of 2002. Inter television commented on 9 December that Kinakh's announcement makes pointless allegations that privatization revenues may be used for election purposes in the 31 March 2002 parliamentary ballot. Kinakh explained that the government's decision was due to the upcoming ballot and a global economic downturn. "During election-related political campaigns, as is the case now in Ukraine, investors take a wait-and-see attitude. They wait for election results. Given the slump on the global market and the lack of investor interest due to the high risks involved in elections, nobody will think we are clever if we offer a great number of strategically important enterprises for privatization. In this situation, all those enterprises would be sold for a song," Kinakh said. JM

ANTICORRUPTION FORUM EMERGES IN UKRAINE
A number of NGOs and government officials on 10 December set up a nationwide anticorruption forum, New Channel television reported. Party of Regions leader and State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov -- who was an initiator of the forum -- said the country needs to fight corruption at all levels of power and establish public control over corrupt groups. According to Azarov, the forum can initiate a code of good practice for bureaucrats, expose officials' corrupt actions, and help establish closer contacts between Ukraine and Western anticorruption organizations. JM

WORLD BANK APPROVES $100 MILLION FOR UKRAINE
The World Bank on 9 December decided to disburse $100 million to Ukraine, Interfax reported. The sum is the second part of the first tranche of the bank's $750 million adjustment loan. Ukraine received the first tranche of $150 million in September. According to the bank, its adjustment loan provides substantial support for the government's program of reforms, which may result in 8 percent economic growth in Ukraine this year. JM

NEW POLITICAL PARTY ESTABLISHED IN ESTONIA
The political association Res Publica became the political party Union for the Republic Res Publica at its founding congress on 7 December in Tallinn, ETA reported. The party unanimously elected 68-year-old emigre political science professor Rein Taagepera as its chairman, even though he said that he would serve in the post for only six months. Taagepera promised that the new party will be more transparent in its decision making, and expressed hope that it will win at least 15 seats in the next parliamentary elections in March 2003. The party also intends to participate in the elections to local councils in October 2002. Former President Lennart Meri welcomed the formation of the new party, while criticizing the current government for its plans to privatize Estonia's energy system. SG

LATVIA AGREES TO COMPENSATION FOR MARCH OIL SPILL
Latvia's Maritime Environment Administration Director Guntis Drunka has agreed to accept the offer of Mazeikiai Oil to pay $40,000 in compensation for the oil spill of the Butinge floating oil terminal in March, BNS reported on 7 December. Latvia initially asked for 62,000 lats ($98,000) in damages, and threatened court action when Mazeikiai Oil offered only 6,000 lats. About three tons of oil were spilled at Butinge on 6 March, some of which drifted into Latvian waters. Fortunately for Latvia, the oil from the much-larger oil spill on 23 November, which is now estimated to be at least 59 tons, drifted south and not into its waters. Mazeikiai Oil announced that the cause of the November spillage was caused by the deterioration of an underwater hose, and not poor maintenance of the operations. SG

LITHUANIAN, KALININGRAD BORDER OFFICIALS AGREE TO COMBAT SMUGGLING
The chief of Kaliningrad regional board of Russia's federal border service, Lieutenant General Vyacheslav Prokhoda, and acting commander of the Lithuanian State Border Protection Service Vaclovas Zabarauskas signed a protocol in Kaunas on 7 December after two days of talks, BNS reported. They agreed to combat smuggling together and make efforts to reduce lines at the borders. The most common goods smuggled from Kaliningrad to Lithuania are cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, and gasoline, which are cheaper in Kaliningrad. Prokhoda said that the technology at Russian border checkpoints is significantly inferior to Lithuania's. While Lithuania introduced a modern border checkpoint at Kybartai, which allows up to 2,100 vehicles to cross each day, the infrastructure of the Chernyakhovskoye checkpoint on the Kaliningrad side remains unchanged and far below the capacity of the Lithuanian side. The two countries plan to issue special temporary permits that will allow Russian and Lithuanian residents who work in the neighboring country to cross the border without having to wait in line. SG

POLISH PROSECUTOR SAYS TESTIMONY IN LEPPER'S CASE NOT CREDIBLE
Prosecutor Zygmunt Kapusta on 8 December said the evidence provided by Bogdan Gasinski, a witness in the case of bribery allegations presented by Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper in the parliament on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001), is "improbable and not very credible," PAP reported. Gasinski, Lepper's key witness to alleged corruption practices by five prominent Polish politicians, was questioned by prosecutors earlier on 8 December. Later the same day, Lepper made public some documents that he passed to the prosecution to support his allegations. They implicate Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and former Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski in taking bribes. Both Szmajdzinski and Piskorski have previously denied Lepper's allegations. JM

POLISH PREMIER WANTS TO 'DEFROST' RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
Premier Leszek Miller told Polish Radio on 7 December that Poland "must defrost" its economic and political contacts with Russia. Miller is due to visit Moscow on 19-20 December. "A lot of Polish entrepreneurs dream about being more active on the Russian market. I think that the better political relations are, the better the situation is in economic relations," Miller added. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE SAYS EU INTEGRATION IS A PRIORITY
The Chamber of Deputies on 7 December passed a resolution at the end of its debate on speaker and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus's 5 December speech to the European Parliament, reaffirming that EU integration is a foreign policy priority for the Czech Republic, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 2001). The resolution was proposed by Premier Milos Zeman and was supported by 122 out of the 133 deputies present. Earlier, the chamber passed by a vote of 76 to 38 a resolution saying that it has "taken note" of the speaker's speech. Addressing the chamber, Klaus said that in his speech he did not speak out against integration, but had only drawn attention to the dangers of intensifying current policies. "I could not believe the hysteria about the speech, which was provoked absolutely artificially," he said. ODS shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil said the attempts by "some politicians" to "monopolize" official speeches regarding EU integration is reminiscent of communist practice, "when only one opinion was allowed." MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES FIGHTER OPTIONS
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on 7 December that the government will have to choose the best option among four on the modernization of the Czech air force during its meeting scheduled for 10 December, CTK reported. The first option, he said, is to renounce modernization and the second is to modernize the current MiG-21 fleet. If, however, both these options are ruled out, the cabinet will have to decide between purchasing the JAS-39 Gripen supersonic fighters offered by BAE Systems -- the only bidder in the tender published by the government -- or to lease older aircraft, such as the U.S.-made F-16. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS SOLIH IS INNOCENT BUT CANNOT BE GRANTED PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
Vaclav Havel said in an interview with RFE/RL on 7 December that Uzbek human rights activist Mohammed Solih is innocent of the charges levied against him by Uzbekistan, and expressed his conviction that Solih will not be extradited to that country and will be allowed to return to Norway, where he has been granted refugee status. Havel said Solih's detention by the Czech authorities "should never have happened" and "harms" the Czech Republic, but added that the Uzbek dissident cannot be granted a presidential pardon under existing legislation. Havel also said in the interview that the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan will "not end the danger of terrorism" because the danger of individual terrorist attacks still exists. He said it is now necessary to target terrorist training camps in countries other than Afghanistan, "in the interest of mankind as a whole." MS

AUSTRIAN GOVERNMENT SAYS AGREEMENT ON TEMELIN MUST BE MADE LEGALLY BINDING
The Austrian government on 8 December approved a resolution drafted by the far-right Freedom Party saying that the agreement reached in Brussels on 29 November by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Czech Premier Zeman must be endorsed by both governments in order to come into force. The Austrian cabinet said it "reserves the right" to reopen the energy chapter in the Czech negotiations with the EU and to demand that the agreement be included as an addendum when the treaty on the Czech Republic's admission to the EU is signed. Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement who mediated the agreement between Schuessel and Zeman, said on 9 December in an interview with the Austrian magazine "Format" that he is "disappointed," and added that chapters preliminary closed in negotiations can be reopened only "when there is a very good reason for it," CTK reported. MS

FORMER CZECH DISSIDENT, COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AGENT, CHARGED
The Internet magazine "iDnes" reported on 7 December that Vladimir Hucin, a former dissident and later an officer of the post-communist Security Information Service (BIS), has been charged on seven accounts by the Prerov Prosecutor-General's Office, CTK reported. Hucin, who has been dismissed from the BIS, has been accused of abuse of public office, unauthorized carrying of arms, scare mongering, and failure to obey orders. If convicted, he faces seven years in prison. "iDnes" reported that police also suspect Hucin of inciting an agent of the BIS to plant a bomb in Prerov. Hucin denied the charges and claimed that police are trying to frame him because he has "unveiled a plot" by former communists and unmasked former communists who "penetrated into high levels of state administration and security services." MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RAPPORTEUR REFUSES TO SPECULATE ON MECIAR'S RETURN...
Jan Marinus Wiersma, European Parliament rapporteur for Slovakia, said in Bratislava on 7 December that he believes Slovakia's chances of joining the EU are equal to those of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia, TASR and CTK reported. Wiersma said this is due to the successful efforts of the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda to close the gap for which previous governments were responsible. But he refused to speculate what would happen in the event of a victory in the 2002 parliamentary elections of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) headed by former Premier Vladimir Meciar, saying only that the ballot will "prove whether Slovakia is prepared for EU and NATO membership." MS

...CRITICIZES ANTI-HUNGARIAN POSTURES AND STATUS LAW ALIKE
Wiersma expressed disappointment at the low 26 percent turnout in the first round of the 1 December regional elections and said he hopes the 15 December second round will see more Slovaks casting their ballots, TASR reported. He said some politicians are calling on Slovakians to vote only "for Slovaks" in the runoffs for regional head, and called those appeals "unacceptable." He emphasized that "[ethnic] Hungarians are also citizens of Slovakia, and have the right to be elected." He also expressed "concern" about the Hungarian Status Law and said Hungary should consult neighboring Slovakia and Romania on the law's implementation as of 1 January 2002. The EU, Wiersma said, will monitor that implementation. He also said it will be important for Slovakia to secure its border with Ukraine. He spoke after meeting Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Figel. MS

NEW CONSERVATIVE PARTY SET UP IN SLOVAKIA
The Civic Conservative Party (OKS) headed by three former Democratic Party deputies held its founding conference in Bratislava on 8 December, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001). The conference elected parliamentary deputy Peter Tatar as OKS chairman. Frantisek Sebej, who is chairman of the parliament's European Integration Commission, was elected as deputy OKS chairman, as were parliamentary deputy Peter Osusky, Pezinok District Authority Chairman Rene Bilik, and businessman Juraj Lang. Tatar said he rules out any future cooperation with the HZDS, with the Party of the Democratic Left, with Smer (Direction), or with the Slovak National Party. However, he did say that the OKS is open to cooperation with the Christian Democratic Movement and the Hungarian Coalition Party. Tatar said the policies pursued by Premier Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union are not clear because that party "speaks about reforms and acts against them," and is thus an "unreliable partner." MS

HUNGARIAN RULING PARTY ACCUSED OF CONCEALED FUNDING OF ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN...
Hungarian opposition parties have accused the government and the major coalition party FIDESZ of using public funds to further the governing parties' election campaigns, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 10 December. The Socialist Party objected to the fact that FIDESZ used the National Image Center's funds to buy full-page ads to publish a "Parliamentary Report" in four national newspapers on 7 December and in 20 county newspapers on 8 December, at a total cost of 37 million forints ($132,000). Free Democrat parliamentary deputy Ivan Peto said the ad disguised as a parliamentary report is part of a government campaign. Independent Smallholders' Party Deputy Chairman Bela Beres said he was "shocked" to hear that FIDESZ bought advertising with public funds. He added that the National Image Center is spending the governing party's campaign funds in advance. MSZ

... MAY CLOSE ELECTORAL PACT WITH LARGEST ROMANY ORGANIZATION
A agreement between FIDESZ and the Romany organization Lungo Drom on electoral cooperation in 2002 is "already taking shape," and is expected to be signed before the end of the year, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni told Hungarian media on 8 December. Pokorni said the pact will include a plan to establish an office for the integration of Roma. He added that Hungary's largest political party and its largest Roma organization "share a historical responsibility" to ensure that such cooperation prevails, and that Roma should not appear as a political force organized on ethnic grounds against the majority of people. Lungo Drom President Florian Farkas said members of his organization will run on FIDESZ's national and county electoral lists. MSZ

HEGEDUS WILLING TO FOREGO PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
Calvinist pastor Lorant Hegedus Jr., the deputy chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), on 7 December asked the parliament to suspend his immunity from prosecution, after the Prosecutor-General's Office proposed last week that his immunity be lifted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). Expressing faith in the independence of the judiciary, Hegedus said he hopes that despite the "ultraliberal hysteria campaign," the judges will assess without bias the content of his allegedly anti-Semitic article published in an MIEP magazine. In other news, Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya David on 6 December met in Washington with U.S. State Department Assistant Undersecretary Rand Beers, who raised the issue of anti-Semitic phenomena in Hungary. David noted that a Constitutional Court ruling restricts action against "verbal incitement," and that ways of taking action against such phenomena without affecting freedom of speech are being investigated. MSZ

FORMER SMALLHOLDER OFFICIAL ESCAPES HUNGARIAN JUSTICE IN ISRAEL
Israeli authorities have informed Hungarian crime-fighting authorities that Laszlo Simon, senior adviser to former Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan, is unlikely to be extradited to Hungary because he has Israeli citizenship, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 8 December. The Prosecutor-General's Office issued an arrest warrant for Simon last summer on suspicion of misuse of funds. The daily reported, however, that Hungary has not even requested Simon's extradition from Israel, and police have given up hope that they can question him in the foreseeable future. It is not known when Simon obtained Israeli citizenship. MSZ

KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENT HOLDS FIRST SESSION...
Kosova's 120-member legislature began its first session on 10 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) is the largest single faction with 47 seats, but he needs partners to form a viable government. So far, he has failed to put together a workable coalition. The Serbian minority, which constitutes less than 10 percent of the population, is represented by the Povratak (Return) coalition, which has 22 seats. This is the first time that Serbs and Albanians have sat together in a Kosovar legislature since former President Slobodan Milosevic ended the province's autonomy in 1988-1989, after which the Albanians set up their own parallel "shadow state." Security is tight for the opening session. Representatives of all ethic communities in Kosova have been invited to attend, but not Belgrade officials. Local Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije and Father Sava are on the guest list. PM

...HEARS ADDRESS BY HAEKKERUP...
The parliament will have some authority over matters of local self-administration, but real political power remains in the hands of Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN's civilian administration, AP reported from Prishtina on 10 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 December 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). Haekkerup told the Kosova legislators at their opening session that "this is a historical day for Kosovo... For the first time in history, we are now participating in the opening of a truly democratically elected assembly representing the people of Kosovo." He reminded his listeners that they face "a very demanding task, taking decisions that will influence the life of each and every citizen in Kosovo. [That will require] a high degree of wisdom and moderation... You will also bear the responsibility for ensuring that interethnic and political reconciliation takes firm root in Kosovo, and that all communities enjoy equal rights and responsibilities free from any form of discrimination," he added. PM

...AND MESSAGE FROM ANNAN
Speaking to the Kosova parliament in Prishtina on 10 December, Haekkerup read a message from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said: "This is a day of hope, but also an occasion for reflection and renewed resolve. You face the challenge of achieving efficient daily government in particularly difficult circumstances... At the same time, you have an important task in overcoming the legacy of the past and establishing a political culture of tolerance, mutual respect, and constructive compromise," AP reported. PM

KOSOVAR ASSEMBLY GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS
After hearing Haekkerup's opening remarks on 10 December, legislators voted 78 to three to elect the assembly's seven-member presidency, AP reported. There were two abstentions, and 11 deputies did not cast votes. Prior to the ballot, Hashim Thaci and his 25 deputies from the Democratic Party of Kosova left the hall to protest Haekkerup's refusal to let him speak before the vote. Nexhat Daci, who is one of the two presidency members from the LDK, took the floor as president of the assembly. At that point, Thaci and his 25 colleagues returned to the hall. He has yet to nominate his two representatives to the seven-member presidency. The session ended two hours after it began. PM

REPORTS SLAM EU AID TO MACEDONIA, ALBANIA
Two independent reports -- one French and one Italian -- have criticized the EU's aid program for Macedonia and Albania as having failed to create civil society institutions or to fight corruption, the "Financial Times" reported from Brussels on 10 December. The reports added that the EU aid program is "formalist," too tied up in bureaucratic infighting, and lacking in focus. Since 1991, the EU has given $1.35 billion to the two countries. PM

SERBIA 'QUIETLY' FREES PROMINENT KOSOVAR ACTIVIST
Student leader Albin Kurti, who until recently was the most prominent Kosovar activist still held in a Serbian jail, has been quietly released from prison in Nis, "Danas" reported on 10 December. He was arrested in Prishtina by police loyal to Milosevic on 27 April 1999. The Belgrade authorities subsequently ignored numerous pleas from Western leaders and human rights organizations for his release. It is not clear why he was released precisely now, but some observers suggest a link to French President Jacques Chirac's recent visit. Kurti's last political role in Kosova was as spokesman for Adem Demaci, who was a political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) at the time. PM

JOCKEYING IN SERBIAN COALITION
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has written to the members of the presidency of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, calling for the reinstatement of Dragan Marsicanin as speaker of the Serbian parliament, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). Democratic Center leader Dragoljub Micunovic said that a meeting of the DOS presidency to review the terms of the coalition agreement is slated for the evening of 10 December. He added that there is no need to call for a vote of confidence in the government, "Danas" reported. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic suggested that the shaky coalition might well survive the latest in a series of crises. For his part, Marsicanin said in Pancevo that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has damaged his country's image abroad by creating a political "scandal" on the eve of a visit by French President Chirac. PM

FREED KOSOVAR ACTIVIST TELLS RFE/RL: 'NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE HAS CHANGED' IN SERBIAN PRISONS
In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Albanian and South Slavic Service on 9 December, Kurti said that "what happened was what I least wanted: I was released while others remain hostages in Serbian prisons." He stressed that the "semidemocratic regime in Belgrade has used my freedom in order to prolong the slavery of my friends and keep them in jail." Kurti said that the prison authorities used to mistreat the Albanians for no reason, while now they find an excuse that the Albanians allegedly broke some rule. "Nothing of substance has changed," Kurti noted. He added that "Kosova is now free from Yugoslavia and Serbia, but it is not yet free in the sense that it can freely determine its own destiny." PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT PARDONS ALBANIANS
On 7 December in Skopje, President Boris Trajkovski pardoned 22 additional ethnic Albanians charged in connection with the recent uprising, bringing the total pardoned to 33, Reuters reported. Some 55 Albanians still await pardons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001). Former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti called on parliament to pass an amnesty bill, dpa reported on 10 December. PM

WORLD BANK CALLS FOR NEW BOSNIAN VETERANS' LEGISLATION
Philip O'Keef, who heads the World Bank team for social welfare projects, said in Sarajevo on 7 December that Bosnia needs new veterans' legislation that will reduce unsustainable high payments and distribute available funds more evenly, Hina reported. O'Keef noted that Croatia introduced similarly painful changes earlier in the year and that these have shown "good results." PM

INTERNATIONAL EXPERTS TO REDRAFT CONTROVERSIAL MACEDONIAN LAW
The planned EU donors conference for Macedonia has been postponed indefinitely following the parliament's failure to pass a bill on local self-government, which is an integral part of the peace plan, Reuters reported from Skopje on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001). An unnamed Western diplomat told the news agency that it is "surprising" that "no one [among the politicians] seems desperate or upset now that it has been put off." Macedonian legislators objected to several provisions of the proposed legislation, especially one allowing municipalities to merge. Many ethnic Macedonian legislators see this as a first step toward the setting up of "cantons," or an ethnically based partition on the Bosnian model. But leaders of the four largest political parties met unexpectedly on 9 December and called for international mediation. EU envoy Alain Le Roy said World Bank experts will help revise the controversial legislation. PM

EU FUNDS FOR DEMOCRATIZATION IN BOSNIA
The EU has approved $57 million for projects to promote democracy and a civil society in Bosnia, AP reported from Sarajevo on 7 December. The money will be distributed among 20 NGOs. PM

BOSNIA'S LEADING SPORTSMAN DIES
Former basketball star Mirza Delibasic died in Sarajevo on 8 December after a long illness, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The 47-year-old man was considered Bosnia's greatest athlete of all time. PM

CROATIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF TUDJMAN'S DEATH
Several thousand Croats marked the second anniversary of the death of President Franjo Tudjman on 9 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. President Stipe Mesic said that it is only now that the ideals of the 1971 Croatian Spring reform movement, which Tudjman headed, are being realized. Ivo Sanader, who heads Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said that the current government has failed to deliver on its promises and will not last much longer. PM

APPEAL FOR MONTENEGRIN JOURNALIST
The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders appealed on 9 December for the release of Montenegrin journalist Vladislav Asanin, who is serving a three-month sentence, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Asanin was chief editor of the pro-Belgrade daily "Dan," which reprinted articles from a Croatian weekly linking President Milo Djukanovic to a cigarette-smuggling racket. The charges and countercharges have figured prominently in the Montenegrin press for months. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER PRAISE LIFTING OF EU VISA REQUIREMENT...
On 7 December, both Ion Iliescu and Adrian Nastase praised the EU's decision to lift visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to the Schengen area as of 1 January 2002, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). Both politicians called on Romania's citizens to strictly observe the regulations accompanying the decision to avoid damaging the country's image abroad. The decision does not apply to travel to the U.K. and Ireland, but applies to tourists traveling to Norway and Iceland, which are not signatories to the Schengen agreement. Romanians traveling to those countries will have to produce proof that they have at least 100 euros ($88.90) to cover daily expenses for a minimum of five days, as well as medical insurance and a return ticket or international automobile insurance. Those traveling to countries out of the Schengen area must produce proof of being able to cover expenses of 50 euros per day. MS

...AND ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO CZECH REPUBLIC HOPES PRAGUE WILL NOT IMPOSE VISAS
The new Romanian ambassador to the Czech Republic, Gheorghe Tinca, told CTK on 7 December that he hopes that in the wake of the EU decision, the Czech Republic will renounce its intention to impose visa requirements on Romanian citizens as of 1 January 2002. The decision has twice been postponed, and Tinca said Romania has taken "resolute measures" to curb the number of Romanian Roma who, he said, apply for asylum in the Czech Republic and later try to cross the border into Germany. Tinca was Romania's defense minister from 1994 to 1996. MS

GREATER ROMANIA PARTY WANTS 'MILITARIZATION' IN TRANSYLVANIA
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor was expected to officially request on 10 December that a Bucharest court outlaw the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). Announcing his intention to do so on 7 December, Tudor said the UDMR's representation in the parliament is unconstitutional, since according to the basic document only political parties can run for the parliament, while the UDMR is an "ethnic association," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He also called the UDMR "a terrorist-type organization," and added that consequently the demand to outlaw it "falls in line with international efforts to combat terrorism." Tudor also said the counties of Harghita and Covasna should be "militarized" by transferring to those counties all officer schools of the army, the Interior Ministry, and the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). He also announced that the PRM will support in the parliament a motion initiated by the National Liberal Party on Premier Nastase's refusal to report to the parliament about the situation in the two counties following the controversy caused by the SRI report. MS

TRANSDNIESTER'S SMIRNOV ELECTED FOR THIRD 'PRESIDENTIAL' TERM
Preliminary results from the 9 December "presidential" elections in the Transdniester indicate that separatist leader Igor Smirnov has won more than 80 percent of the votes, Infotag and Reuters reported on 10 December, citing Central Electoral Commission Chairman Piotr Denisenko. Voter turnout was 64 percent, making the ballot valid, ITAR-TASS reported after the closing of the polling stations. While the Russian agency said Romanian observers were present alongside observers from the Russian State Duma and the Ukrainian parliament, Romanian radio mentioned only the presence of Russian and Ukrainian observers. The OSCE did not send observers, heeding an appeal by Moldovan authorities. Parliamentary deputy Aleksandr Radchenko polled 4.1 percent of the vote, and Tom Zenovich, the dismissed former head of the Bendery/Tighina administration, took 5.7 percent. MS

HOMBACH TEACHES GEOGRAPHY IN CHISINAU
Balkan Security Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach said in Chisinau on 7 December that the pact is worried about the recent deterioration in Moldova's relations with Romania, and noted that Bucharest has significantly promoted Moldova's interests in the pact and in the EU, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Hombach, who participated in a conference on Moldova's membership of the Stability Pact, told participants that European integration is based primarily on "good neighborly relations," and that "unfortunately, one does not choose one's neighbors and there is no room for Moldova between Denmark and Germany." Hombach also said Europe is "happy" to hear the Moldovan leadership's assurances that European integration is a priority for it, but "it is not enough to make statements, it is also necessary to act on them." He told Moldovans: "Nobody will carry you through Europe's open door in his arms, like a bride; you are free people and must march on this road by yourselves. The pact can only accelerate this process." MS

SOFIA MAYOR FORMS NEW POLITICAL PARTY
Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski on 9 December launched his new political party named Union of Free Democrats, international agencies reported. Sofiyanski left the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) last month following months of infighting. He wanted the SDS to cooperate with the National Movement Simeon II, which won the parliamentary elections in October, and to carry out internal reforms after its electoral defeat. Sofiyanski, one of the most popular Bulgarian politicians, said the new rationale for the new formation was "concern that unfulfilled expectations and broken promises have made a considerable part of the population give up participation in public life," and because "after twelve years of painful reforms, a large number of Bulgarians [still] live in hardship." MS

FORMER UKRAINIAN, BELARUSIAN LEADERS SPEAK ON DISSOLUTION OF USSR


Ten years ago, on 8 December 1991, Belarus's Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a document stating that "the Soviet Union as a geopolitical reality [and] a subject of international law has ceased to exist." The document simultaneously announced the creation of a new entity in the post-USSR territory -- the Commonwealth of Independent States. The document -- now widely known as the Belavezha Agreement -- was signed in a government villa in Viskuli in Belarus's Belavezha Forest, which is Europe's only primeval wooded area. On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, stepped down, delivering a coup de grace for the 69-year-old superpower that was vilified for posterity by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as the "Evil Empire."

Commenting on that momentous event to a number of media outlets last week, both Shushkevich and Kravchuk admitted that they did not expect any historic act to take place during their meeting with Yeltsin in Viskuli on 7-8 December 1991.

"Nothing had been done [in advance], all was written down on the spot [in Viskuli]," Shushkevich told the Minsk-based "Nasha svaboda" on 7 December. "In any case, if something had been prepared beforehand, I didn't know about that. Of course, there were some prepared documents, but not for the agreement [on the dissolution of the USSR]. The talks between the government delegations concerned economic issues."

In the Kyiv-based "Fakty" on 7 December, Kravchuk added an interesting detail to the meeting in the Belavezha Forest. "After we considered everything in the evening of 7 December in Belavezha, Yeltsin ordered his team to draft a document -- a statement or declaration. We had not yet decided on a name for the document. Yeltsin's aides wrote that document and left it for a woman to type it up in the morning (we had only one typist in the Belavezha Forest). Since her office was already locked, they slid the document into the office through a slit under the door. But in the morning the typist said: 'I haven't found anything.' There was no document! It turned out that a cleaning woman, who came to the office earlier, saw some papers on the floor and swept them away. Korzhakov [first deputy chief of Russia's Main Protection Directorate] was sent to look for the missing document... Frankly speaking, I didn't know then that the draft agreement was lost. I was told about that only recently by [former Russian Foreign Minister] Andrei Kozyrev."

Kravchuk dismissed the rumors circulating especially among post-Soviet communists that Yeltsin was talked into signing the Belavezha Agreement after he had too much to drink. "We came to the forest on 7 December in the evening. We had a dinner. During the dinner -- yes! -- there was Belavezha vodka [Belarus's fine herbal vodka] there. I drank it, too. I don't know what Yeltsin was doing after we parted. But on 8 December in the morning, when we met to work on the document, Yeltsin was as sober as a judge. I don't exaggerate! He was in good form, vigorous, he had ideas... All of us [present there] saw him and everybody can confirm that Yeltsin and all of us were fully aware [of what we were doing]."

Kravchuk underscored the impact of Ukraine's independence referendum on the adoption of the Belavezha Agreement. A week earlier, on 1 December 1991, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians supported the country's independence in a referendum. The same day, Kravchuk was elected as the first president of independent Ukraine with some 63 percent of the vote.

"I said there: Ukraine voted for independence and elected me as president. So, may I have a position different from that of the people? [It would be] ridiculous. Therefore, I am obliged to act as the people willed... In other words, the 1 December referendum had a historic importance. If there had been no Ukrainian referendum, the Belavezha Forest meeting would have produced no result," Kravchuk said.

After the agreement was signed, Yeltsin telephoned U.S. President George Bush and told him what had happened. And then Shushkevich briefed Gorbachev.

"He [Gorbachev] inquired in a very haughty manner, 'Have you considered how the world will react?' I said Yeltsin was on the phone to Bush and he had taken it well," Shushkevich told Reuters.

Today, Shushkevich assesses the Belavezha Agreement as historic not only for Belarus and Ukraine, but also for Russia itself. Until that day, Russia -- which was automatically associated or even identified with the Soviet Union -- did not exist as a separate political entity.

"The Belavezha Agreement has an all-important, historic significance in terms of our sovereignty. For the first time in the past 200 years, Russia recognized Belarus's independence, as well as that of Ukraine. This is what the Belavezha Agreement meant to me and Kravchuk. But we also recognized the independence of Russia -- her independence from the Soviet Union. So here you have the [whole] meaning of the Belavezha Agreement," Shushkevich told "Nasha svaboda."

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