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Newsline - January 16, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS ALL OFFICIALS FOR CRIMES COMMITTED IN CHECHNYA...
On 16 January during his official visit to Paris, President Vladimir Putin said that in Russia, "all officials, including servicemen, will be prosecuted if it is proved that they have committed crimes in Chechnya," Russian news agencies reported. Putin added that more than 20 servicemen have already been prosecuted in Chechnya, and made it clear that Russia has never denied any humanitarian organization a chance to work on Chechen territory, RIA-Novosti added the same day. After being urged by French President Jacques Chrirac to resume peace negotiations with Chechen separatists and to not limit the Chechen conflict "to its sole terrorist aspect," Putin answered that the Al-Qaeda organization shielded by the Taliban regime also operated in Chechnya "under the cover of another criminal regime." Speaking of the ongoing military operations in the region, Putin emphasized that "we [Russians] have the right to apply any military means to this regime if juridical ones prove to be ineffective," RIA-Novosti continued. Putin also made a parallel with other separatist movements in Turkey and Europe, and said Europe could be "plunged into chaos if these people [separatists] receive further support," international news agencies reported. VC

...AND DENIES ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS UNDERWAY IN CHECHNYA
In an interview on 15 January with the Polish newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza" and the TVP TV channel, President Putin said the Russian armed forces are not engaged in any military activity in Chechnya, only "local operations," Interfax reported. At the same time, Putin said, a political dialogue is being conducted with those members of the population who are willing to participate in such talks. Only through such a dialogue, Putin continued, can a "final solution" be found to the Chechen crisis. Putin characterized the forces in Chechnya that oppose Moscow as "a deadly mixture of international terrorists and separatists." LF

PUTIN ARGUES THAT FRANCE AND THE EU SHOULD CONSIDER RUSSIA AS A PARTNER
During his talks with French President Chirac in Paris, Putin complained about the unwieldy bureaucratic procedures of the European Union, news agencies reported on 16 January. He said he would like to improve political and economic relations between the EU and Russia, saying the current bilateral commodity turnover makes up $3.5 billion, which is far too low, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin added that Russia's trade turnover with Poland amounts to $6 billion, and that Russian-German trade turnover exceeds $20 billion. VC

PUTIN SAYS HE WON'T INTERFERE IN TV-6 AFFAIR...
The day before his state visit to Poland, President Putin told Polish journalists on 15 January that the government will not interfere in the situation around TV-6. Putin described the conflict as "an argument between totally independent economic structures, with which the state has virtually nothing to do." The following day, speaking at a press conference in Paris, Putin added that "at some point, the so-called oligarchs took control over a number of media outlets. We tried to get them back if state interests were involved," Interfax reported on 16 January. JAC/VC

...AS COMMENTATOR SAYS PUTIN IS TRYING TO CREATE A POLICE STATE
Meanwhile, in a piece in "Vremya MN" on 15 January, Leonid Radzikhovskii, formerly of "Segodnya," argued that although TV-6 is not an "opposition channel," the move to close it is part of a larger effort by Putin to "carefully destroy the system established by [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin." According to Radzikhovskii, the elimination of TV-6 along with the case against Sibur officials, the dismissal of Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, and the pressure on presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin are all "elements in a larger picture." Radzikhovskii asserted that Putin is trying to create a "police state" that will put the "stolen Russia" back together again. But he asked, "Where is Putin going to find these 'honest policemen?' And what is he going to do with them afterward?" JAC

TV-6 TRIES TO SEVER TIES WITH BEREZOVSKY...
TV-6 announced on 15 January that it intends to set up a new television company that will be made up of 50 journalists headed by TV-6's current general director, Yevgenii Kiselev. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 January, TV-6 Executive Director Pavel Korchagin explained that TV-6's current chief shareholder, Boris Berezovsky, will not be a part of the new company. Media Minister Mikhail Lesin suggested the previous day that the journalists need to establish a new legal entity in order to compete in a tender for the station's broadcasting licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). Korchagin also told the newspaper that TV-6 has already held discussions with Lesin regarding its future and hopes to get a provisional broadcasting license within a week. The website polit.ru commented that the biggest question regarding Lesin's scheme for TV-6 is how will it be financed -- a question it said Korchagin has been trying to avoid answering. JAC

...ELICITING OLIGARCH'S COMMENTS
In an interview Berezovsky gave to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 January, the embattled oligarch, who holds a 75 percent stake in TV-6, said: "I see Lesin's moves as a game with the journalists... For Lesin, the No. 1 aim has been achieved: Berezovsky will not be a shareholder of the new company. Now he has to ensure the obedience of the journalists," the businessman added. VC

NTV SEEKS CONTROL OVER ITS FORMER WEBSITE
NTV television said it will continue to fight to get exclusive rights to the domain name ntv.ru, RBK reported on 16 January. NTV was informed on 14 January that the Moscow Arbitration Court rejected the appeal the company had made to retain those rights. On 8 January 1999, the Internet company registered the domain name ntv.ru at the Russian Institute for the Development of Public Networks, but the name was later transferred to the Memonet company, which is part of Media-Most. For its part, NTV registered its trademark NTV at the Russian Patent Institute on 11 April 2001. Last summer, the ntv.ru domain name was acquired by the German company Rowe, and NTV filed a lawsuit for its return, RBK reported. VC

GAZPROM DECLINES TO COMMENT ON SALE OF NTV SHARES
Gazprom officials refused comment on the reported sale of the company's stake in the NTV television company, RBK reported on 15 January. Gazprom-Media holds a 65 percent stake in NTV. Rumors abound in Moscow that the deal has already been completed, although no information on the potential buyer nor on the volume of the stake was available as of 16 January. VC

FOUR MEMBERS LEAVE UNION OF RIGHTIST FORCES PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
On 15 January, Boris Nemtsov, who heads the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and has been re-elected as its parliamentary leader, said the interests of SPS do not coincide with those of oligarch Berezovsky, Interfax reported. Nemtsov made the statement in connection with a decision by four SPS members to leave the party: Sergei Yushenkov, Viktor Pokhmelkin, Vladimir Golovlyov, and Yuli Rybakov decided to leave SPS because it is "too close to the Kremlin policy," and plan to create a new party with Berezovsky's financial assistance. VC

RUSSIAN MILITARY OFFICIAL LOOKS FORWARD TO U.S. DEPARTURE FROM CENTRAL ASIA...
Federal Border Guard Service head Konstantin Totskii told reporters in Dushanbe on 15 January that the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia will become unnecessary after the counterterrorist operation is completed in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. The same day, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry announced that its specialists have completely cleared the tunnel through the Salang mountain pass. Russian specialists together with their French and Afghan counterparts are now leveling the road surface for the first humanitarian convoy from Dushanbe. JAC

...AS NATIONALITIES MINISTER SAYS FIGHT BEING WAGED OVER ISLAM WITHIN RUSSIA
Russia's minister without portfolio for nationalities issues, Vladimir Zorin, told a gathering in Tyumen Oblast that agitation among Muslims in Russia is currently his most acute policy problem, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 15 January, citing strana.ru. Zorin said the struggle for a "Russian Islam" has begun, adding it is not yet clear if this religion will take a similar form to that in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. He added that the state is responsible for the rights of each of its citizens, and should fight extremism and criminality. During his visit, Zorin made a donation to the restoration of Orthodox monuments in Tyumen Oblast. Meanwhile, Zorin's former boss, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko, told Interfax on 9 January that traditional Islam needs to be strengthened in Russia in order to avoid the penetration of radicalism into the religion. Kirienko complained that over the past few years, hundreds of religious leaders have returned to Russia from training in Arabic countries such as Saudi Arabia, and started spreading radical versions of Islam such as Wahhabism, which he said are alien to Russian Muslims. JAC

PUTIN EXPRESSES WILLINGNESS TO INVITE POPE AS HEAD OF VATICAN STATE TO RUSSIA
In his interview with Polish media, Putin also stated that he is ready to invite Pope John Paul II to Russia "at any moment." However, he added that "if the pontiff thinks that if he goes to Russia he must go there on a full-fledged basis based on full relations with the Russian Orthodox Church -- then this [decision to invite him] is not based on me alone." JAC

EES HEAD PLANS TO GET OUT OF TV BUSINESS
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 15 January that EES intends to sell its shares in REN-TV, in which it owns a controlling stake. According to Chubais, EES is going to concentrate on its main task, generating investment funds for its core business. RFE/RL political correspondent Mikhail Sokolov noted that Chubais currently has a strong political position, having finally won approval both for a plan to reform EES and for a 32 percent rate hike for electricity beginning in February. JAC

MUSCOVITES CLASH WITH ST. PETERSBURGERS IN UPPER CHAMBER...
Former Federation Council press service Director Yurii Argunov told reporters in Moscow on 15 January that he is resigning because of his disagreement "with the new rules of the game in the information field," RIA-Novosti reported. However, Lyudmila Fomicheva, the press secretary for Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, told reporters Argunov has violated civil service ethics, and that ever since he lost the struggle to retain his position he is acting like a "dishonorable and unscrupulous" person. She added that the ethics of many Muscovites in the civil service leaves something to be desired, according to regions.ru. "Vremya MN" noted on 15 January that Fomicheva was recently transferred to Moscow from St. Petersburg, and like President Putin she also worked in the office of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. JAC

...AS MORE RESIDENTS FROM NORTHERN CITY MOVE SOUTH
Fomicheva worked both as Sobchak's press secretary and headed the office of then-Deputy Mayor Putin. Other former St. Petersburg officials now in the Federation Council are Petr Tkachenko, the director of the chairman's apparatus; Vasilii Arzhantsev, the head of the speaker's secretariat; and deputy head of the secretariat Yevgenii Chaikovskii. The likely new head of the press service, according to the daily, is Aleksei Kedrin, who headed the press service of the St. Petersburg administration during Sobchak's tenure. JAC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TINKERS WITH ELECTION RULES
The Constitutional Court ruled on 15 January that an election result can be overturned if a court finds that a candidate has been unlawfully removed, Ekho Moskvy reported. According to the radio station, it was previously thought that an election could be annulled only if the unlawful removal of a candidate was proven to have affected the election's outcome. The State Duma's envoy to the Constitutional Court, Valerii Lazarev, told the station that the "authorities will now find it harder to get rid of inconvenient candidates." The court also ruled that some provisions of the federal election laws violate the constitution, such as three points of Article 64 of the law on basic guarantees of the electoral rights and the right to take part in referendums, as well as three points in Article 92 of the law on elections of State Duma deputies, according to ntvru.com. JAC

DPA CANDIDATE EYES PENZA OBLAST
Viktor Ilyukhin, the leader of the Movement to Support the Army (DPA), and a member of the Communist faction in the State Duma, has registered as a candidate in 14 April gubernatorial elections in Penza Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 January. Ilyukhin has wide support in the oblast, having been elected to the Duma from a single mandate district there three times. Incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev told the daily that he considers Ilyukhin to be his main competitor. According to the newspaper, Bochkarev announced his intention to seek re-election, but has not yet filed an application with the local election commission. JAC

ARMENIAN PATRIARCH CONCERNED AT POSSIBLE NEW CHURCH RIFT
Bishop Yeznik Terterian, a spokesman for Catholicos Garegin II, expressed concern on 15 January over the possible repercussions of the recent unilateral decision by Lebanon-based Catholicos Aram I to open a new diocese for Canada's Armenian community, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Garegin said Aram's move jeopardizes the rapprochement between the Echmiadzin- and Lebanon-based catholicosates that began in 1988. The Echmiadzin-based church already has a diocese in Canada. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER CHALLENGES ECONOMIC DATA FOR 2001, ADVOCATES DEVALUATION OF DRAM
In an interview with Noyan Tapan on 15 January, Azatutiun party Chairman Hrant Bagratian, who served as Armenian prime minister from February 1993-November 1996, claimed that GDP growth in Armenia last year was only 3-5 percent, rather than over 9 percent as claimed. He added that GDP growth has remained constant at 3-5 percent since 1994, but that output of many industrial goods has fallen since 1996. Bagratian further argued that a devaluation of the Armenian currency is the only way to resolve the problem of domestic nonpayments that have risen from 100 billion drams in 1996 to 520 billion drams (about $920 million) in 2001, which is equal to 50.2 percent of GDP. He did not suggest by how much the dram should be devalued. LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA REACH AGREEMENT ON LEASE OF RADAR STATION
During talks in Moscow on 15 January, visiting Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov reached an agreement whereby Russia acknowledges that the Gabala radar facility in central Azerbaijan is the property of Azerbaijan, and will be granted a 10-year lease of that facility, Turan reported on 16 January, quoting an unnamed Azerbaijani diplomat. The fee that Russia will pay has yet to be agreed, as Moscow has made clear it cannot pay the $5 million annually that Baku initially demanded. A formal agreement on the lease is to be signed, along with several other documents that were to be finalized during Rasizade's ongoing talks, during President Heidar Aliev's state visit to Moscow on 24-27 January. LF

AZERBAIJAN YIELDS TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE PRESSURE OVER POLITICAL PRISONERS
Returning to Baku on 14 January from talks in Strasbourg, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev told journalists he informed Council of Europe officials that Azerbaijan has complied with its obligations to that body on pardoning or releasing political prisoners, Turan reported. An Azerbaijani Appeal Court official told AFP the same day that the court will review the convictions of three prominent former officials whom the council regards as political prisoners (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 2, 10 January 2002). They are former Defense Minister Rahim Kaziev, former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov, and Alikram Gumbatov, who declared an independent republic in southeast Azerbaijan in the summer of 1993. The review process will take place behind closed doors and will begin next week, lawyer Chingiz Ganizade told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service on 15 January. LF

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA BEGIN TALKS ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL
Abkhaz and Georgian government officials, together with representatives of the UN and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, attended a meeting in western Georgia on 15 January to discuss the Abkhaz demand that 350 Georgian army troops deployed last October in the Kodori gorge be withdrawn, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The UN has endorsed that demand, arguing that the deployment violates the ceasefire agreement Georgia signed in May 1994 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 November and 14 December 2001). But Georgian Defense Ministry officials say the Georgian contingent will remain there. The talks will be continued on 17 January. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS CONFER
On a working visit to Moscow on 14-15 January, Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, Caucasus Press reported. Issues discussed included the situation in Abkhazia and cooperation in the struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking. On 14 January, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze denied that Khaburzania would discuss the possibility of joint Georgian-Russian action against Chechen militants encamped in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. LF

POWER SUPPLIES FROM RUSSIA TO GEORGIA RESUME
Following repairs to the Kavkazioni power line that was damaged by heavy snowfall earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2002), electricity supplies to Georgia were resumed on 15 January, Caucasus Press reported, quoting the Georgian Fuel and Energy Ministry. LF

GEORGIAN CONTROL CHAMBER FOCUSES ON EXILE ABKHAZ BODIES' SPENDING...
An audit conducted by Georgia's Control Chamber revealed that since late 1993 the Abkhaz government in exile, whose members are Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1993, and the Abkhaz parliament in exile made up of Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1991 spent a total of 425,700 laris ($194,800 at the current exchange rate) on purchasing 30 automobiles, and spent on average 77,600 laris annually on their upkeep, Caucasus Press reported on 15 January. That sum is equal to 13 percent of the annual funding provided by the Georgian government for both bodies. The Abkhaz Council of Ministers claims to have spent 7,000 laris annually on rent for its offices, even though it is supplied with office space free of charge. Parliament-in-exile deputies spent an average of 353,400 laris annually on business travel. At the same time, the Georgian government owes displaced persons 10.6 million laris in unpaid allowances for 2001. LF

...FRAUD IN CLAIMING DISPLACED PERSONS' ALLOWANCES
The Control Chamber audit also uncovered a total of 1,321 violations in claiming the monthly allowances to which displaced persons are entitled, Caucasus Press reported on 15 January. Between 1996-2000 in four districts surveyed 476,400 laris was paid to persons who do not exist, while 81 cases in which persons were registered twice were uncovered in a fourth district. On 11 January, the Control Chamber reported that staff members of the Post Bank in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi have embezzled 4 million laris in allowances for displaced persons. Displaced persons stormed the Post Bank in Zugdidi last month to demand payments of their overdue allowances for the past six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). LF

KAZAKH DISSIDENT CHARGED WITH INSULTING PRESIDENT
Karishal Asanov was summoned on 15 January to the Almaty City Prosecutor's Office where he was informed that he has been charged with insulting the honor and dignity of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the same day. Asanov told a press conference in Almaty in November that Nazarbaev has neither the skills nor the moral right to remain in office and should resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). LF

SUPPORTERS OF DETAINED KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ARRESTED, IMPRISONED
Some 20 people who participated in a protest on 15 January in the village of Kara-Suu in Djalalabad Oblast to demand the release of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov were detained, tried, and sentenced to prison terms of five to 10 days or small fines, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Up to 130 people participated in a similar protest in Kara-Suu the previous day. A similar protest that got under way in Bishkek on 8 January has entered its second week. Meanwhile, the number of participants in hunger strikes in Bishkek and the Aksy district of Djalalabad to call for Beknazarov's release has risen to 30. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT OUTLINES PRIORITIES IN COMBATING POVERTY
Addressing the second session of the National Forum of Fighting Poverty on 15 January, President Askar Akaev singled out as one of the most important and effective means of achieving that objective doubling the annual volume of microcredits to individual families to 5 billion soms ($116 million), Interfax reported. At present, 51.8 percent of the rural and 39.1 percent of the urban population live below the poverty line, which is set at the official subsistence level of $20 per person per month. LF

KYRGYZSTAN DEMANDS EXPLANATION OF FRONTIER SHOOTINGS FROM UZBEKISTAN
The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has sent a formal note to its Uzbek counterpart requesting an explanation of the 11 January incident on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border in which Uzbek border guards opened fire on three Kyrgyz herdsmen, killing one and wounding a second, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). LF

UZBEKISTAN TO REOPEN CONSULATE IN AFGHANISTAN
Uzbekistan will open its consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which it closed in 1997, but has no plans at present to reopen its embassy in Kabul, Interfax reported on 15 January, quoting the Uzbek Foreign Ministry press service. LF

ARGUN RESIDENTS DEMAND END TO SPECIAL OPERATIONS...
Some 500 residents of the Chechen town of Argun staged a demonstration there on 15 January to demand that the Russian military discontinue special operations in urban areas to identify and detain Chechen fighters, Interfax reported. Argun has been subjected to five such operations in the past six months, and two since early December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 December 2001, and 9 and 10 January 2002), and speakers at the protest rally claimed that a further such search is scheduled for 23 February. Also on 15 January, residents of the village of Tsotan-Yurt, where drunken Russian troops reportedly killed dozens of civilians during a special operation in early January, staged a similar protest in Grozny. But those protests are unlikely to achieve their objective, given that Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov argued on 13 January that it is essential to continue special operations to identify and detain Chechen fighters. LF

MEMORIAL REDEDICATED AT STALIN-ERA MASSACRE SITE NEAR MINSK
Several hundred people participated on 15 January in a rededication ceremony of a small granite bench at Kurapaty outside Minsk, the site of mass executions during the Stalin era, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The memorial, originally unveiled by U.S. President Bill Clinton in January 1994, was destroyed by vandals last summer. According to Belarusian opposition activists, up to 250,000 people were killed and buried at Kurapaty in the 1930s and '40s by the NKVD, while officials assert that no more than 7,000 people are buried there and question whether they were victims of Stalin or Hitler. "The victims of Kurapaty were killed by the ruling government," U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak said at the rededication ceremony. The Belarusian government was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Sychou. JM

OUR UKRAINE HAS UNWANTED ALLY
The Our Ukraine election bloc led by former Premier Viktor Yushchenko opened a congress on 16 January to approve its election list, but Yushchenko's name has already appeared on a list of another election bloc, Ukrainian media reported. On 15 January, Yushchenko was proposed as a candidate on the list of the bloc "For Yushchenko!," which was organized by lawmaker Oleksandr Rzhavskyy, the leader of the One Family All-Ukrainian Union. Rzhavskyy originally intended to join Our Ukraine but was rejected. "We cannot allow people's trust [in Yushchenko] to be privatized or usurped by a narrow political circle, by the right-wing parties that are now part of the Our Ukraine bloc. But we are willing to cooperate with them and to create a united caucus in the parliament," 1+1 Television quoted Rzhavskyy as saying. Yushchenko said he has not authorized anybody to create blocs in his support, while Our Ukraine called Rzhavskyy's initiative a "provocation." JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS (UNITED) APPROVE ELECTION LIST
At a congress on 15 January, the Social Democratic Party (United) (SDPU-O) approved its election list and manifesto, Interfax reported. The top five on the list are SDPU-O leader Viktor Medvedchuk; Tamara Proshkuratova, a teacher from Cherkasy Oblast; SDPU-O deputy head Oleksandr Zinchenko; Volodymyr Ryabika, the head of the National Committee of Youth Organizations; and Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of independent Ukraine. Medvedchuk told the congress that an SDPU-O caucus in the future parliament will seek to create a centrist majority, including with the For a United Ukraine bloc, the Green Party, the Democratic Union, and the Yabluko Party. JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS WANT TO OUST CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko appealed to the parliament on 15 January to dismiss Central Election Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Symonenko said Ryabets and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual recently signed an accord on U.S. assistance to Ukraine's Central Election Commission in organizing the parliamentary election. According to Symonenko, this accord is a "brutal interference" on the part of the United States in Ukraine's internal affairs. Ryabets commented later the same day that the accord does not provide for financing the election campaign but only for technical assistance measures, including training sessions for judges and an international conference to sum up election results. JM

UKRAINE WILLING TO SELL MILITARY HARDWARE TO UAE
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said in Abu Dhabi on 15 January that the support provided by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for Ukraine's entering the World Trade Organization can become an important tool for improving bilateral cooperation, UNIAN reported. In particular, Zlenko noted that Ukraine is ready to supply military and transport aviation, armored vehicles, and radar equipment to the UAE. The Ukrainian side also expressed interest in receiving humanitarian aid from the UAE for the resettlement of deported Crimean Tatars, and for cooperation programs to build residential housing and establish the necessary infrastructure in Crimean Tatar settlements. JM

HEAD OF ESTONIAN TELEVISION DISMISSED
The Estonian Broadcasting Council fired state-owned Eesti Television (ETV) board chairman Aare Urm on 15 January, ETA reported. The decision preempted his plans to resign after the Eurovision song competition. Urm was charged with being unable to cooperate with the broadcasting council and ignoring laws by continuing the sale of airtime for commercials until the end of last year, even though the new broadcasting act abolished commercials on ETV beginning on 1 July 2001. He was also accused of increasing the broadcasting share of entertainment and sports, such as purchasing the right to air Formula I racing, at the expense of education, culture, and public information programs. SG

BALTIC PRESIDENTS MEET IN RIGA
Presidents Arnold Ruutel (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), and Valdas Adamkus (Lithuania) met in Riga on 15 January to discuss Baltic cooperation and accession to NATO and the European Union, LETA reported. They confirmed that relations between the three countries are sound, and expressed their readiness to develop cooperation further. Adamkus had called for the meeting after he received a call from the White House suggesting that he move up the dates of his planned visit to Washington from 22-23 January, as U.S. President George W. Bush would only be able to meet him on 17 January. Ruutel was to meet with Adamkus that day in Vilnius as part of his planned first visit as Estonian president to his Baltic neighbors. Ruutel was scheduled to hold talks on 16 January with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, and parliament chairman Janis Straume. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT OVERTURNS PRESIDENTIAL VETO
By a vote of 81 to 30, with two abstentions, the parliament on 15 January overturned the veto by President Valdas Adamkus of amendments to the law it adopted in December on the restoration of ownership rights to nationalized real estate, ELTA reported. All the members of the ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals, as well as the Peasants and New Democracy Party faction present at the meeting supported leaving the amendments in force. The chairman of the recently formed Independent faction, Eugenijus Maldeikis, said its members did not participate in the vote, as they "did not wish to attend an anticonstitutional act." The parliament by a vote of 84 to six, with nine abstentions, approved changes to Article 47 of the constitution, which will allow foreigners to purchase farmland, but postponed debate on when the changes will take effect. It also voted strongly in favor on amending the constitution's Article 119 to extend the term of local governments from three to four years, and to allow all residents and not just citizens to vote and run in local elections. SG

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT STARTS OFFICIAL VISIT TO POLAND
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 16 January started his official two-day visit to Poland with a face-to-face meeting with his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish media reported. Prior to the meeting, Putin gave Kwasniewski copies of documents from Russian archives concerning General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Poland's prime minister in 1939-43 who signed an accord with Stalin on re-establishing Polish-Soviet relations. ITAR-TASS reported that after meeting with Kwasniewski, during larger-format talks, Putin said the past decade was "a period of lost opportunities" in relations between Russia and Poland. He added, however, that these relations have now moved to a qualitatively new and positive level. JM

POLAND WANTS TO SIGN NEW ACCORD ON RUSSIAN GAS SUPPLIES
Economy Minister Jacek Piechota said on 15 January that Poland wants to sign a new accord on Russian gas supplies by the end of 2002, PAP reported. Poland currently receives more Russian gas than it needs. Piechota did not rule out that during talks on the new gas accord with Russia, Poland may agree to building a link between the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline and Slovakia to enable Russian gas supplies to Western Europe to bypass Ukraine. ITAR-TASS quoted Polish Deputy Premier Marek Belka as saying earlier the same day that Warsaw "fully backs" Moscow's idea of building a gas pipeline to circumvent Ukraine. Asked to comment on this report, Piechota said the Polish government has not made any decision on this issue. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTIES DEMAND CLARIFICATION ON FALKON CAPITAL DEAL
On 15 January, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) called on the government to clarify allegations that the Falkon Capital company, which last year purchased the Russian debt to the Czech Republic, might be owned by terrorist Osama bin Laden's family, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer demanded that the cabinet make public the contents of the agreement it signed with Falkon Capital, and that if there are reasons to keep the agreement secret its details should be discussed at a closed meeting of the Chamber of Deputies. Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) Chairman Michael Zantovsky told CTK that the cabinet must freeze the agreement until the allegations are clarified and "reliably refuted." Social Democratic Party Chairman and Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla said in response that the Czech side cannot publish the contents of the agreement without Russia's consent. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said the Czech Security Information Service has looked into the matter and has not found any connection between Falkon Capital and bin Laden. MS

AUSTRIAN DEPUTY CHANCELLOR CRITICIZES CZECH PREMIER...
Austrian Deputy Chancellor and Freedom Party (FPO) Chairwoman Susanne Riess-Passer sharply criticized Czech Premier Milos Zeman on 15 January for saying the previous day that her party is pro-fascist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). Riess-Passer said, "people who show so much democratic immaturity will above all have problems in elections in their own country but also prove that they have not understood what it means to become a member of the EU, which is [an organization] based on the principles of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law." She also said Zeman was "left behind in time somewhere before 1989, when it was still possible to get rid of politicians." Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she is "officially protesting" against "this type of interference in internal Austrian affairs," and that the Austrian ambassador to the Czech Republic has been instructed to protest Zeman's statement, AP reported. MS

...WHO RESUMES ATTACK ON AUSTRIA'S HAIDER...
In an interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 16 January, Zeman said former FPO leader Joerg Haider is "an expert in nothing but populism." Zeman said the petition launched by the FPO for conducting an Austrian referendum on Temelin is "a kind of cheat," and is in fact aimed against the Czech Republic's admission to the EU rather than against the nuclear power plant itself. Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Cyril Svoboda said on 15 January that Haider has adopted a "clearly hostile attitude" toward the Czech nation, and that in Haider's speeches one can "sense Adolf Hitler's spirit." On 16 January, Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, told the German daily "Frankfurter Rundschau" that the FPO will fail in its "attempt to block the EU enlargement." MS

...AND SAYS GOVERNMENT IS CONSIDERING LOAN FOR PURCHASE OF SUPERSONIC FIGHTERS
In his interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 16 January, Premier Zeman also said the government is considering financing the planned purchase of JAS-39 Gripen supersonic fighters from funds received from the privatization of state-owned companies, but that a loan offered for the purchase by the British-Swedish consortium that produces the fighters would be more advantageous, CTK reported. He said the loan would provide for a five-year postponement of the payment, and the offer also includes assistance by the consortium in the sale of Czech-made L-159 aircraft. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE TALKS WITH ODA INCONCLUSIVE
The Political Council of the Four Party Coalition failed to reach a conclusion on 15 January on whether it will accept the ODA's plans for settling its 70 million crown ($1.93 million) debt to the Ceska Pojistovna insurer, CTK reported. The ultimatum by the KDU-CSL that it would act to strike out the names of ODA candidates from the Four Party Coalition joint lists in the 2002 elections unless the ODA came up with a plan to settle the debt expired on 14 January. The same day, the ODA agreed with Ceska Pojistovna on a timetable for settling the debt under which the party will pay the insurer 10 million crowns within 30 days and another 2 million crowns within 18 months, with the remaining debt to be settled on a long-term basis. The KDU-CSL said it is not sure that the proposed plan is acceptable. Its representatives are to review it together with representatives of the Freedom Union-Democratic Union later this week. MS

PRAGUE COURT NULLIFIES SENTENCE AGAINST COMMUNIST PROSECUTOR
The Prague High Court on 15 January heeded an appeal by former communist prosecutor Karel Vas against a sentence passed on him by a lower court last year, CTK and AP reported. Vas was sentenced to seven years in prison for the "judicial murder" of General Heliodor Pika in 1949. The prosecution said at an earlier Vas trial that he inserted forged documents into Pika's files, which were used to convict him for spying for the British Intelligence Service. The High Court ruled that a five-year statute of limitations applies to the case, and that the status ran out in 1994, five years after the fall of the former regime. Pika was executed after a show trial in June 1949. MS

CZECH POLICE FREE MEDIA MOGUL'S LAWYERS FROM DETENTION
On 15 January, police released Ondrej Kuchar and Edita Panuskova, who were detained one day earlier on suspicion of assisting media mogul Vladimir Zelezny and his lawyer Ales Rozenhal in suspected criminal activities, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). Financial Crime and State Protection Squad spokeswoman Sona Jindrakova said police have gathered all the evidence they need in the case, and that there is no reason to suspect Kuchar and Panuskova of attempting to influence witnesses. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER PLEDGES SUFFICIENT FINANCING FOR NBU
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 15 January that the National Security Office (NBU) will receive sufficient funding in 2002 to enable it to carry out its activities, CTK reported. Dzurinda spoke after meeting staff members of the Defense and Foreign Ministries. The NBU, whose chief task is to vet persons who could work with NATO classified information if Slovakia is admitted to the organization, requested a budget of 500 million crowns (some $10.4 million) but received only 117 million crowns. "I have come to the conclusion that my personal intervention is necessary," Dzurinda said, but failed to specify what sum the NBU will receive from this year's budget. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SUPPORTS AGREEMENT WITH HUNGARY ON STATUS LAW
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists on 15 January that an agreement with Hungary on the Status Law is possible and that Slovakia wants to sign a document that "would not hurt" its interests. Kukan said such an agreement is possible if it includes a stipulation clarifying that the Status Law will not apply outside Hungary itself. He said, "the door has not been slammed for now, and there is still room for maneuvering." Kukan said he disagrees with Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's statement that the Status Law provides a legal framework for the reunification of the whole Hungarian nation, but he added that Slovak nationalist parties' demands that Bratislava abrogate its treaty with Budapest is "a big mistake." The abrogation was demanded by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and by the Slovak National Party. The Christian Democratic Movement called for "countermeasures" to be taken against the Status Law. MS

MECIAR PARTY'S POPULARITY KEEPS GROWING IN SLOVAKIA
If elections were held in January, the HZDS would garner 32.5 percent, CTK reported, citing a public opinion poll conducted by the Slovak Statistics Office (UVVM). The figure represents an increase of four percentage points over the support registered for the HZDS in December 2001. Placed second is the extraparliamentary Smer (Direction) formation led by Robert Fico, which has 13 percent support, and in third place is the Hungarian Coalition Party with a backing of 11.3 percent. The Christian Democratic Movement would garner 8.8 percent, ahead of Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, which holds 7.2 percent support. The Party of the Democratic Left, which is a member of Dzurinda's current coalition, would not pass the 5 percent electoral hurdle, as it polled only 3.8 percent support. MS

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT SETS WORK-PERMIT CEILING
The cabinet decided on 15 January that the maximum number of work permits that can be issued to foreigners in 2002 will be 81,320, a figure equal to the number of jobs that remained vacant in 2001, government spokesman Gabor Borokai announced. Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy will finalize the figure after the next session of the National Labor Council, but the number must not exceed 81,320, according to Hungarian media reports. "Nepszabadsag" observed that the cabinet is implicitly responding to opposition criticism of the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on the implementation of Hungary's Status Law, which allows Romanian citizens to work in Hungary for up to three months. Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs commented that the question is whether the work-permit ceiling also applies to those who only seek seasonal work, because such people will not apply for vacant positions. If the decision does apply to them, he argued, the government is practically nullifying the preferential right of ethnic Hungarians to work in Hungary. As a result, he continued, not only Hungarian workers but ethnic Hungarians abroad will pay the price of the agreement with Romania. MSZ

HUNGARIAN RULING PARTIES CONSIDER MEMORANDUM DISPUTE CLOSED
FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum consider the domestic dispute regarding the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on the implementation of the Status Law closed, Jozsef Szajer and Istvan Balsai, the parliamentary group leaders of FIDESZ and Democratic Forum respectively, announced on 15 January. Szajer dismissed as "groundless" all statements claiming that the Hungarian labor market will be threatened as a consequence of the memorandum, and noted "with regret" that the Socialists withdrew their support for the Status Law, Hungarian media reported. In response, Kovacs denied that his party had withdrawn its support for the law. He said that by signing the memorandum, Prime Minister Viktor Orban had arbitrarily changed the content and effect of the law without parliamentary authorization. For his part, opposition Free Democrat Matyas Eorsi observed that although the two governing parties consider the dispute closed, they are unable to solve the domestic and international problems resulting from the Status Law. MSZ

ISRAEL PROTESTS SERBIAN ANTI-SEMITIC BROADCAST
Yugoslav Foreign Minster Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 15 January that Israel has formally protested anti-Semitic remarks in a recent New Year's broadcast on Yu-Info television, which is subordinated to the government of President Vojislav Kostunica, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The broadcast included remarks by one Zarko Gavrilovic, a former Serbian Orthodox priest, who said Jews are "born defective because of incest." PM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS HATE SPEECH
Svilanovic told a press conference in Belgrade on 15 January that "it is unacceptable that the language of hate is kept alive after having killed tens of thousands of this country's people in the last 10 years alone," Reuters reported. He noted that there are daily expressions of hate in the media and in the public toward non-Serbs. The minister called on top leaders to speak out against hate speech: "Their silence when these things are said is louder than all the incidents that have happened in the past year, such as expressions of hate toward Jews, Muslims, Albanians, and Croats. This silence is something that must stop." Observers note that it is very rare for any top Serbian official to suggest that national intolerance is a problem in that country. In related news, the Yugoslav ministry dealing with minority affairs called on the public Prosecutor's Office to file charges against politicians and media who make ethnic slurs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER QUITS
Slobodan Krapovic resigned as federal defense minister "for reasons of health," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 16 January. Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party denied reports that he resigned because of differences with General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the General Staff. The party proposed Velimir Radojevic as Krapovic's successor. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS TUDJMAN
President Stipe Mesic told the parliament on 15 January that former President Franjo Tudjman "consciously antagonized members of the Serb minority," and thereby played into Milosevic's hands, AP reported. Mesic said the fact that Croatian leaders can now openly air their country's dirty linen in public shows that Croatia is now a mature and democratic country. He added that his remarks show that "we are determined never to repeat such failures and mistakes." Opposition leader Ivo Sanader called the speech "a catastrophe." PM

PETRITSCH SACKS HERZEGOVINIAN MAYOR
Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, fired Croatian Mayor Ivan Mandic of Mostar for failing to implement legislation on property rights, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 15 January. The legislation is aimed at enabling persons subjected to ethnic cleansing during the war to reclaim their property. Petritsch also banned Mandic from holding other elected or political party posts. PM

CRITICISM OF ORTHODOX METROPOLITAN IN MONTENEGRO
Leaders of NGOs and representatives of most parties in the parliament criticized recent New Year's remarks by Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church as inflammatory and an incitement to hatred and violence, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 15 January. The pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party has not commented on the remarks by Amfilohije, whose church is a bitter rival of the breakaway Montenegrin Orthodox Church. The season of Christmas and New Year according to the traditional Julian calendar has become a time of deliberate political provocations in Montenegro -- much like rival marches in Northern Ireland. PM

DJINDJIC MOVES TO REIN IN SERBIAN SECURITY FORCES
The new Serbian Security Council will be chaired by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and will supervise the work of security bodies until the parliament can take over the task, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 16 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2002). Other council members are: Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic; Deputy Prime Ministers Nebojsa Covic, Zarko Korac, and Momcilo Perisic; as well as Justice Minister Vladan Batic, Agriculture Minister Dragan Veselinov, and Zoran Janusevic, who is Djindjic's security adviser. The setting up of the new body was prompted by a mutiny of the elite Red Berets unit late in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 November 2001). Djindjic has criticized the security forces for failing to solve some politically motivated crimes dating from the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

HUGE COMMEMORATION OF MASSACRE IN KOSOVA
Up to 20,000 persons attended a ceremony in Recak on 15 January to mark the third anniversary of the massacre of several dozen ethnic Albanians by Milosevic's security forces, Reuters reported. One speaker noted that the massacre "was a historic turning point for Kosova. The international community recognized what the Serbs were doing in Kosova, and we got their support." PM

CROATIA BARS OIL DELIVERIES BY ROAD
New legislation came into effect in Croatia on 16 January banning the transport of crude oil and oil products by road, Reuters reported. Slovenia, which ships such goods to Bosnia by truck, has protested the move as a breach of free trade. A Slovenian Embassy official said in Zagreb: "This is absolute protectionism, hampering free-market competition and trade. We hope Croatia will reconsider it, or we will have to report it to international institutions, including World Trade Organization." The Bosnian government has also protested the Croatian move. The new measures allow transport of oil and oil products by ship, train, or pipeline, and are similar to those in much of the rest of Europe. PM

NO BOSNIAN SERB SUPPORT FOR HAGUE CASE
Zivko Radisic, the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency, told Serbian state television that Bosnian Serb deputies will not vote for a bill to appropriate $200,000 to pay expenses of Bosnia's representatives in The Hague in a case against Belgrade, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 15 January. Bosnia has filed a suit with the International Court of Justice against Yugoslavia for genocide and aggression in conjunction with the 1992-1995 war. The Kostunica government, which tries to portray Serbia as a victim of "misunderstandings" that have been righted since the fall of Milosevic in 2000, has sought to persuade Sarajevo to drop the case. In related news, "Vesti" reported on 16 January that recent criticism by Pavkovic of former Chief of Staff General Momcilo Perisic includes material that could bolster Sarajevo's case against Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). On 16 January, Perisic rejected Pavkovic's accusations. PM

SLOVENIA SAYS RECOGNITION CAME TOO LATE
Former Prime Minister Lojze Peterle said in Ljubljana on 15 January that international recognition of his country 10 years ago came several months too late, Reuters reported. He noted that the delay in recognition by six months "made it possible for Milosevic to use the former federal army against non-Serbs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). The belated recognition of Slovenia and Croatia -- six months after they declared independence and began to face Milosevic's armed forces -- was simply a recognition that former Yugoslavia had ceased to exist. PM

LE ROY: NO EVIDENCE OF MACEDONIAN UNREST
Alain Le Roy, the EU's envoy in Macedonia, said in Skopje on 15 January that there is no evidence of any "significant group" preparing for a spring offensive, as some media reports have suggested, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 January 2002). In related news, ethnically mixed Macedonian police re-entered three villages near Tetovo. PM

MACEDONIAN-UKRAINIAN MILITARY COOPERATION
A Macedonian military delegation led by the Chief of General Staff General Metodi Stamboliski paid an official visit to Ukraine, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). Stamboliski was scheduled to discuss cooperation with his Ukrainian counterpart Pyotr Shulyak, Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko, and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, Interfax reported. The visit was not billed as an arms-buying mission. According to dpa, the Ukrainian government said that it has already provided Macedonia with 4 Mi-8 general-purpose helicopters, 4 Mi-24 helicopter gunships, 4 Su-25 ground attack jets, and 31 T-72 tanks. Including two recently acquired Mi-24 helicopters from Ukraine, the Macedonian army now has 12 Mi-24, four Mi-8, and three Mi-17 helicopters, "Dnevnik" reported. The newspaper added that the Macedonian Interior Ministry has also shown strong interest in buying four Mi-24 helicopter gunships. UB

MACEDONIAN CENSUS SCHEDULED FOR APRIL
According to the State Census Commission, the preparations for the next population count are under way, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 15 January. The census is scheduled for the first half of April 2002. The European Commission will deploy an international monitoring team, which is expected to arrive in Macedonia by the end of January. The Macedonian government postponed the census on two previous occasions in 2001 -- because of the security situation during the fighting between government forces and the ethnic Albanian rebels, and because of the large number of internally displaced persons (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 27 June 2001). At present, the government has registered about 16,000 displaced persons. UB

RULING ROMANIAN PARTY DECIDES TO SET UP ANTICORRUPTION PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE...
The permanent delegation of the ruling Social Democratic Party recommended on 15 January that the government set up a special prosecution office to deal with widespread corruption in the country. The office is to be called National Anticorruption Prosecution (Parchetul National Anticoruptie). The delegation also decided to recommend that the government dismiss four prefects for unsatisfactory activity, and that the number of state secretaries be reduced, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...AS BANKING SCANDAL AMPLIFIES
In related news, Jonathan Steele, the head of the EU mission in Romania, said on 15 January that the country will not be able to fulfill the economic criteria for EU membership unless a solution in found for the troubled Romanian Bank of Loans, AP reported. An investigation is pending into suspicions that irregularities at the bank involved several financiers with possible links to political parties, and that the Romanian Intelligence Service may also have been involved or withheld information on the bank's malfunction. The bank was put under special supervision last week by the National Bank, after the investigation revealed that millions of dollars were missing from the accounts of the state-owned Astra insurance company and the National Post Office. The bank's general manager and the director of Astra were detained under suspicion that they knew about the fraud. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN STATE PRIVATIZATION FUND CHIEF QUESTIONED AGAIN BY POLICE
Adrian Sarbu, the former chief of the State Privatization Fund, was questioned again by police on 15 January, Mediafax reported. The agency said Sarbu and four of his former associates are being prosecuted under suspicion of illegal dealings related to the privatization of the Bucharest Turism state company, and that Sarbu has been charged with abuse of office and harming public interest last November. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SETS UP ECONOMIC-SOCIAL COUNCIL
President Ion Iliescu on 15 January inaugurated at the presidential palace in Bucharest the new Economic-Social Council, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The council is a consultative body made up of academic specialists, economic experts, representatives of banks, as well as representatives of employers' and employee's associations. MS

LARGE-SCALE LAYOFFS TAKE TOLL ON ROMANIA'S MILITARY INDUSTRY
Some 10,000 people will lose their jobs in Romanian military industries as of 1 February, Mediafax reported on 14 January. Decebal Ilina, the state secretary in the Ministry of Industries, said the next day that due to the cuts in military personnel the military industries are receiving considerably fewer orders and that the equipment those industries have produced is not compatible with NATO standards. He said the industries have been a "heavy burden" on the state budget and have been subsidized to cover between 90 to 95 percent of their losses over the last four years. Ilina said that the needs of the Romanian army will continue to be met by local production geared in the future toward improved standards and competitiveness on foreign markets, and that part of the workforce hitherto employed in military industries will be shifted to production in the civil sector. MS

MOLDOVAN PROTESTS CONTINUE
Some 3,000 people participated in a protest in Chisinau on 15 January against the enforced Russification of schools, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Education Ministry failed to discuss the protest against its decision to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes forwarded by the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2002). Romanian presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said the same day in Bucharest that President Ion Iliescu "is following with concern" the events in Moldova and hopes the government of that country "will abide by the wish of its population" to preserve its national identity. Romanian Senate Foreign Policy Commission Chairman Gheorghi Prisacaru said in Bucharest that "granting a privileged status" to the Russian language is an infringement of the provisions of the Moldovan Constitution. Prisacaru said the "abusive political measures" undertaken by the Moldovan government could "negatively impact the use of the country's official language." He also said the Senate commission he heads is "concerned" about the possible outlawing of the Moldovan PPCD. A meeting of solidarity with the Moldovan protesters was held in Cluj the same day. MS

NEW BALKAN STABILITY PACT CHIEF VISITS SOFIA
Erhard Busek, the new head of the Balkan Stability Pact, said in Sofia on 15 January that he will seek to accelerate regional infrastructure projects that were stalled due to the pact's structural problems, dpa reported. Following discussions with Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, Busek blamed "problems of structural character in banks and in the EU" for the delays in the implementation of the projects. He also met with Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski and with President Petar Stoyanov. MS

BULGARIAN UNEMPLOYMENT ON THE RISE
Unemployment in Bulgaria grew by 0.14 percent last month, primarily due to the loss of seasonal jobs in tourism, agriculture, and construction, BTA reported on 15 January, citing the Employment Agency. The total unemployment figure for December was 662,260, which is 17.32 percent of the labor force. Of these, 341,189 are women and 95,683 are people under 24 years of age. Most of the layoffs in December (76.6 percent) were in the private sector. MS

THE COMMUNIST PARTY, THE EXECUTIVE, AND UKRAINE'S APPROACHING ELECTION


Two recent decisions by the Constitutional Court and the executive in Ukraine have again raised the question of the relationship between the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and the executive. The timing of those decisions, during the run-up to 31 March parliamentary elections, is in itself suspicious.

First, on 29 December 2001 the Constitutional Court rejected as unconstitutional a decade-old ban on the KPU and stated that only the courts have the power to declare political parties illegal. The KPU was suspended and subsequently banned by two resolutions of the parliamentary presidium on 26 and 30 August 1991. All KPU property and other assets were nationalized by the Ukrainian state, although the Constitutional Court rejected calls for these assets to be returned to the post-Soviet KPU. The Constitutional Court's December 2001 ruling was the result of a motion submitted by 139 left-wing deputies as far back as 23 January 1997.

With 3.5 million members, the KPU was the largest republican communist party in the USSR until the Russian SFSR created its own republican branch in 1990. The KPU was fortuitously registered as a party independent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only on 22 July 1991, a month before Ukraine declared independence and the KPU was banned. Allowed to re-establish itself in October 1993, the current KPU claims to be the direct descendant of the Soviet-era KPU. Nevertheless, it has only managed to attract approximately 150,000 members, or less than 5 percent of its Soviet-era membership.

The relative weight of the KPU within Ukraine's multiparty system is therefore less due to its size than to Ukraine still being an unconsolidated democracy, the weakness and diffusion of Ukraine's remaining 129 political parties, and the ideological amorphousness of the oligarch center. Support for the KPU during the 1990s has declined from approximately 30 percent to 20 percent of the electorate, and is drawn mainly from pensioners and veterans (former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc is the first Ukrainian political force to be more popular than the KPU). This support ranges from its high concentration of voters and members in the industrialized east and the Crimea, to very low support in western Ukraine.

Throughout the 1990s, pro-statehood ideas evolved across the Ukrainian political spectrum from the center-right, which propelled Ukraine to independence, through the oligarch center to the center-left (including the Socialist Party). The only main party to escape this evolution was the KPU. Ukraine's ethnic and linguistic divisions have prevented the evolution of the KPU into a postcommunist or national communist party (the national communists left in 1990-1991). The Socialist Party has therefore taken upon itself the role of a pro-statehood, left-wing postcommunist party.

At its height, the combined left bloc had 170-180 deputies in the 1998-2002 parliament, still less than a majority but more united than the factitious nonleft. This unity of the left was ended in November 2000 by the "Kuchmagate" scandal that opened a wide gulf between the KPU and the Socialist Party, which played a central role in the crisis and remain one of the two wings of the radical anti-Kuchma opposition. Mykola Melnychenko, the presidential guard who recorded audio tapes of conversations in Kuchma's office, is to run for election on the Socialist Party list.

The second recent development concerns the relationship between the executive and the KPU. President Leonid Kuchma has repeatedly reiterated that "there is only one real opposition in Ukraine," the KPU, and has refused to recognize any non-KPU opposition to his "pragmatic centrism." Kuchma identifies "opposition" to him in the Soviet sense as opposition to the state he supposedly personifies. Consequently, by definition only the KPU can be in "opposition" as it is the only major party that is opposed to Ukraine's independence.

The KPU had shielded Kuchma from blame during the height of the Kuchmagate crisis by not supporting parliamentary votes of no-confidence in Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko. This was despite Potebenko's inept and unsympathetic investigation of the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September-November 2000. Commenting on Potebenko, KPU leader Petro Symonenko said this month that "there is nothing to reproach him for." The KPU will again abstain from the parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Potebenko's record as prosecutor-general in the near future. Potebenko is No. 20 on the KPU list of candidates to be elected by proportional voting. He has refused to relinquish his post before the March election. In return for shielding Kuchma, the KPU has been promised executive "support" in the March elections, the prosecution of young nationalists who seized the party's Kyiv headquarters on 9 March 2000, and recognition that it "the sole opposition party" in Ukraine.

The KPU ceased to be a threat to the executive following Kuchma's defeat of KPU leader Symonenko in the second round of the presidential elections in November 1999. The executive had always wanted to be challenged by the KPU -- not Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz -- in that round. A KPU candidate provided negative votes for Kuchma (who could not count solely on positive votes to win a victory) because of the KPU's hostility to independence and its hard-line Marxist ideology.

After Kuchma began his second term, the KPU complained that "anticommunist hysteria" was sweeping Ukraine. The left had been removed from the parliamentary leadership in a "velvet revolution" in the spring of 2000 and, for the first time, the nonleft had created a majority in parliament. At the same time, oligarch Oleksandr Volkov initiated the launch of a rival pro-statehood KPU(o) (revived) on behalf of the executive. The KPU also accused the executive of being behind a split in the Komsomol when a new Communist Youth Union was created in March 2000. Later that year, the Kuchmagate scandal led to the collapse of the nonleft parliamentary majority, and no more has been heard of the executive-backed KPU(o) ever since.

The need for a pro-executive KPU(o) to split the communist vote would not have arisen if the nonleft parliamentary majority were still united and able to do the executive's bidding. Since the collapse of this majority the executive is facing -- for the first time - a bigger threat from Yushchenko, whose popularity rating has fluctuated between a high of 60 percent and its current 30 percent. The executive has therefore resumed its mutually beneficial relationship with the KPU because, together with the oligarchs, the KPU represents a second anti-Yushchenko force. This oligarch-KPU alliance successfully worked together during the Kuchmagate crisis and brought down the Yushchenko government on 26 April 2001.Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

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