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Newsline - January 25, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES INVITATION TO PRAGUE NATO SUMMIT
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 24 January and gave him an invitation from Czech President Vaclav Havel to President Vladimir Putin to attend NATO's summit in Prague this fall, Russian news agencies reported. The move is intended to help forge closer ties between Russia and the Atlantic alliance, according to those reports. Meanwhile, Konstantin Kosachev, a member of the Fatherland-All Russia Duma faction, was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying that Russian participation in the upcoming summit can pay off if "the summit concentrates on the formation of a new security organization that would combine the UN's universality and NATO's efficiency." While in Moscow, Kavan also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss Russia's $1.6 billion debt to the Czech Republic and strengthening bilateral economic ties. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Kasyanov said Prague agreed to Russia's offer to repay some of its debt through the delivery of goods and technologies, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. VY

STATE DUMA SPEAKER SAYS U.S. MUST LEAVE CENTRAL ASIA SOON
"The United States cannot stay in the Central Asian states more than six months because that was the agreed term under which they went there," State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS on 24 January. In addition, he said the U.S. cannot set up military bases in the region without a UN mandate. But polit.ru commented on 24 January that Seleznev's comments are misguided, as General Tommy Franks, who commands the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan, has said twice in the past three days that the U.S. has no plans to set up permanent military bases in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002, and "Transcaucasus and Central Asia" section). Meanwhile, Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as saying the same day that "Russia has no grounds to mistrust repeated statements by American officials that the deployment of U.S. military units in Central Asia will be temporary and transparent." VY

BANKER-OLIGARCH LEAVES IT ALL BEHIND TO BECOME SENATOR...
Sergei Pugachev has officially left his post as chairman of the board of directors for Mezhprombank and does not own even a 5 percent stake in the company, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 January. Pugachev was recently named as a representative to the Federation Council for the Tuva Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). The daily concluded that Pugachev, one of the most influential bankers in Russia, has decided to concentrate on politics. According to unidentified sources in the presidential administration, Pugachev was more attracted to the guarantee of immunity from criminal prosecution that comes with his new position than with the possibility of lobbying for his bank. It also claimed that Pugachev showed his loyalty to the Putin administration by stopping all joint business with associates of former President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

...AS NEW JOB FOUND FOR FORMER SAKHA PRESIDENT
Mikhail Nikolaev, who recently withdrew his bid for re-election as president of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, will now represent the republic's executive in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 24 January, citing the republican administration. According to the agency, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin will attend the upcoming inauguration of the new head of the republic, Vyacheslav Shtyrov. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin also will attend the ceremony, according to ITAR-TASS. Nikolaev will be one of eight former regional heads serving in the Federation Council, which will also include former Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Nazarov and former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko. Both governors decided not to seek re-election and were then chosen by the man they tapped as their successor to serve in the Federation Council. JAC

NEW AND OLD TEAMS AT TV-6 TO BATTLE FOR BROADCASTING RIGHTS...
In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 January, First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii said that his ministry will examine the question of whether or not TV-6 will be allowed back on the air only after a liquidation commission for the station's sister company, Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MNVK), is formed, and only if that commission appeals to the ministry to restore the license. The deadline to submit an application to participate in the tender for the station is 7 March. Meanwhile, journalists currently working for the embattled channel officially registered a limited liability company called TV-6 on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002), Interfax reported. At the same time, the team of journalists that worked for TV-6 prior to its takeover by former NTV personnel is also forming a new legal entity and hopes to compete in the upcoming tender, Mikhail Ponomarev, the former editor in chief of TV-6's information service, told reporters on 24 January. JAC

...AS LESIN SEEN TO PLAY KEY ROLE IN TENDER COMMISSION DECISION...
In an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast" on 22 January, ORT journalist and member of the tender commission that will decide who wins the license, Vladimir Pozner, said he believes that the current TV-6 crowd has a reasonable chance to win the tender. However, Pozner acknowledged that the decision could swing the other way depending on whether or not Media Minister Mikhail Lesin is dismissed, whether the commission retains its current membership, and whether a "strange new" law on issuing licenses is observed. Pozner added that he believes that "trying to detach TV-6 from Boris Abramovich [Berezovsky] was the only correct option." He continued, "The entire struggle surrounding NTV first, then TV-6 -- even though it was called a dispute between managing entities -- was actually a struggle between [Media-MOST head Vladimir] Gusinsky and Berezovsky." JAC

...AND PUBLIC IS FAIRLY INDIFFERENT, ZYUGANOV IS NOT
In a poll conducted among 1,500 people nationwide, the Public Opinion Foundation found that only 51 percent own televisions that could pick up the frequency on which TV-6 operated, Interfax reported on 24 January. In addition, some 63 percent of respondents in the poll said that they were not interested in the ongoing controversy over the station. The poll was conducted on 19 January, two days before the channel was shut down. Thirty-one percent of respondents said that they were following TV-6 developments, and 37 percent said they believed politics was behind the court order to liquidate the company. Meanwhile, KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 24 January that he considers the government's decision to shut down TV-6 as "bigotry and an arbitrary act with no justification." On 24 January, lenta.ru cited the BBC as reporting that more than 1,000 Internet users have logged on to read TV-6 news programs on the ntvru.com website. JAC

PUTIN RAISES JUDGES' WAGES
President Putin has signed a decree raising the wages of judges by some 1.6 times, polit.ru reported on 24 January. Deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak said the measure was necessary to ensure an "independent and dispassionate" judiciary and to raise its prestige and authority. JAC

ANOTHER MILITARY MAN TAPPED FOR THE REGIONS
President Putin appointed former Northern Fleet Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak as first deputy presidential envoy to the Northwestern federal district on 23 January, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Meanwhile, sources close to Motsak's new boss, presidential envoy to the Northwestern federal district Viktor Cherkesov, told "Vedomosti" that federal authorities are contemplating creating "security councils" in each of the seven federal districts, modeled after the special board composed of directors of local force structures that Cherkesov himself created for his district. JAC

FSB ACCUSES BEREZOVSKY OF FUNDING CHECHEN TERRORISTS...
Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev said during his visit to Chechnya on 24 January that his agency has information linking Berezovsky to "Chechen terrorists," and will formally ask foreign security service services for any information they may have on the embattled oligarch's involvement in such activities, Russian news agencies reported. Patrushev said the FSB is preparing an international warrant for Berezovsky's arrest as well as materials "containing documented facts regarding Berezovsky's bankrolling of terrorists." The documents will be hand over to the "foreign partners" of FSB, added Patrushev. He described as "nonsense" Berezovsky's repeated claims that he has proof that the FSB organized the bombings in August and September 1999 of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. VY

...DETAINS TERRORIST/BUS DRIVER
A resident of Chelyabinsk has been telephoning a number of foreign embassies in Moscow declaring that he represents "an extremist Islamic organization with ties to the Taliban," according to a source in the FSB office in Chelyabinsk Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. The caller also claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts in New York and Washington and reportedly made political demands, which if not fulfilled would result in new terrorist acts. According to ITAR-TASS, the Chelyabinsk resident in question is an ethnic Tajik by the name of Furkat Ibragimov, who works as a trolley bus driver. According to ntvru.com, Ibragimov is being charged with making false reports about acts of terrorism, which could result in a maximum sentence of three years in prison. JAC

NEW RUSSIAN PASSPORTS TAKE SHAPE
The Russian government announced on 24 January that the future Russian external passport will upon the request of the bearer include their tax identification number, blood type and Rh factor, and data about previously issued identification documents, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, the government has decided to extend by one year to 1 January 2004 the deadline for exchanging old Soviet external passports for Russian ones. VY

PROPOSED LAW IS FOR THE DOGS
Members of the city of Ulyanovsk's Center for Assistance to Animals have appealed to local legislators to alter a law limiting residents to only one dog or cat per apartment, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 January. The group suggested instead a limit of 12 animals, a number that Irina Rodina, the director of the center, said would not pose a disturbance to neighbors. The center, which is staffed by 17 people who spend their spare time rescuing homeless cats and dogs, has also appealed to the mayor for funding for a 24-hour shelter for homeless animals; however, Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko said that while he considers the idea a fine one, there is insufficient financing for it. JAC

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS CHECHEN OFFICIAL'S MEETINGS IN U.S.
In a statement released on 24 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized as "an unfriendly step vis-a-vis Russia" a meeting the previous day in Washington between U.S. State Department officials and Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmedov, Russian agencies reported. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S ENVOY SAYS CONTACTS WITH KREMLIN CONTINUE
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, told Reuters on 24 January that contacts are continuing between himself and Russian representatives, but that no further meetings between himself and presidential envoy to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev are currently planned. The two met in Moscow last November for inconclusive talks on conditions for ending the war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 November 2001). Zakaev affirmed that the Chechen side is still "ready for talks without preconditions." In an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 23 January, Zakaev dismissed as "one more way of dragging out a peaceful solution to the Russian-Chechen conflict" the Consultative Council created in Chechnya under the auspices of PACE (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 33, 8 October 2001). LF

AUSHEV DENIES MOSCOW FORCED HIM TO QUIT AS PRESIDENT OF INGUSHETIA
Ruslan Aushev, who resigned one month ago as president of Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 1, 3 January 2002), told journalists on 24 January that his decision to quit was not the result of pressure from either President Putin or the Russian government, "The Moscow Times" reported on 25 January. But other Ingush officials have suggested that Moscow had lost patience with Aushev's frequent criticisms of the war in Chechnya, and that he had been offered the choice of resigning or risking corruption charges. Aushev was subsequently named Ingushetia's representative on the Federation Council, a post that carries immunity from prosecution. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMAN DENIES KILLINGS WERE PREPLANNED
Edik Grigorian, one of five gunmen on trial on charges of killing eight senior Armenian politicians in the parliament building in October 1999, told the court on 24 January that the group did not plan to shoot anyone, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Grigorian, who did not commit any of the killings, said that the original plan was for the gunmen's leader, Nairi Hunanian, to take hostage Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and his fellow ministers and coerce them to resign. Testifying in court last year, Hunanian likewise said repeatedly that the shootings were not premeditated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May and 26 July 2001). Hunanian and his brother Karen both said they opened fire only in self-defense. Also on 24 January, Groong cited Mediamax as reporting that that day's edition of the newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak" printed an open letter from Hunanian to Armenian President Robert Kocharian claiming that during the initial stage of the investigation, Military Prosecutor Gagik Djahangirian tried repeatedly to demonstrate that Kocharian was behind the killings. Hunanian called on Kocharian to dismiss Djahangirian. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT, ARMENTEL REACH AGREEMENT ON TELEPHONE TARIFFS
Following two months of talks, on 24 January the Armenian government and the Greek-owned telecommunications monopoly Armentel finally reached a solution to the dispute that erupted last year over Armentel's plans to introduce per-minute telephone charges, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 September 2001). Under the new agreement, which was mediated by Justice Minister David Harutiunian, Armentel is empowered to charge 4 drams (less than $0.01) for each minute of local calls over and above a six-hour monthly limit covered by the current flat fee of 900 drams (about $2) for private households and 2,700 drams for registered businesses. LF

PACE CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS
In a resolution adopted on 24 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Azerbaijan to "give renewed consideration to the political expediency of releasing" former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov, former Defense Minster Rahim Gaziev, and Alikram Gumbatov, all of whom it considers political prisoners. In addition, the resolution called on the Azerbaijani authorities to review, "as a gesture of goodwill," the cases of five more alleged political prisoners, including recently sentenced former naval Captain Djanmirza Mirzoev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT BEGINS STATE VISIT TO MOSCOW...
Heidar Aliev flew to Moscow on 24 January for a three-day state visit that an unnamed Russian diplomat told ITAR-TASS is intended to cement Azerbaijan's status as "a strategic partner of Russia in the Transcaucasus." Aliev met that evening for an informal dinner with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, with whom he is to hold more extensive talks on 25 January. LF

...AS ENVOYS COME CLOSER TO ACCORD ON LEGAL STATUS OF CASPIAN
During two days of talks in Moscow on 23-24 January, the deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states made progress in resolving their differences over the legal status of the Caspian, Turan and Interfax reported. Russian presidential envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuzhnii said after the talks that he believes only one further round, which will take place in Ashgabat in late April, will be needed to finalize the text of the Caspian Declaration to be signed by the five states' respective presidents at a summit in Ashgabat later this year. LF

AZERBAIJAN MAY SELL PART OF ITS STAKE IN EXPORT PIPELINE PROJECT
Baku may sell a 20 percent stake in the sponsor group formed to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, Turan on 24 January quoted Natik Aliev, who is president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, as saying. Azerbaijan currently has a 45 percent stake in that project. Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and Russia's LUKoil have all signaled their wish to join the sponsor group. Aliev also said that recent talks in Washington have definitively laid to rest lingering doubts about the pipeline's profitability. LF

RUSSIA THREATENS TO WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPING FORCE FROM GEORGIA...
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN Andrei Granovskii warned on 24 January that Moscow may withdraw the peacekeeping troops it has deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis if Georgia continues to delay taking a decision on whether to renew their mandate, or if Georgian guerrillas who recently mined the approaches to a Russian post attack the peacekeeping force, ITAR-TASS reported. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 December. The Georgian parliament has called for their withdrawal, but President Eduard Shevardnadze has argued against it, as the UN cannot deploy a replacement force. LF

...AS GEORGIAN SPOKESMAN CRITICIZES UN SECRETARY-GENERAL
Interfax on 24 January quoted Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze as criticizing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's demand in his recent report to the UN Security Council that Georgia withdraw the troops it sent into the Kodori Gorge last fall. Aleksidze says that demand is tantamount to support for the Abkhaz regime. Abkhaz parliament in exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili similarly condemned Annan's statement, saying a Georgian withdrawal from Kodori would make it impossible for Tbilisi ever to restore its control over Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. In Sukhum, Abkhaz Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Arshba told Interfax the same day that the Abkhaz leadership is ready to resume talks with Tbilisi as soon as the Georgian troops are withdrawn from Kodori. LF

GEORGIAN TEACHERS DEMAND PAY INCREASE
The head of a Georgian organization to defend teachers' rights has written to President Shevardnadze asking him to raise teachers' monthly salaries from the present 30-60 laris ($13.6-$27.2) to 120 laris, which is the subsistence wage, Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. During the parliament debate on the budget for 2002, several parliament factions argued that increased revenues from the excise on cigarettes should be used to raise teachers' wages, but Shevardnadze rejected that proposal. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S SON-IN-LAW AGAIN DISMISSED
Rakhat Aliyev, the husband of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's elder daughter Darigha, has been dismissed from the post of deputy head of the presidential bodyguard to which he was appointed in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2001), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 24 January, quoting the presidential press service. No reason was given for Aliyev's dismissal. On 12 January he was elected chairman of Kazakhstan's Olympic Committee. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT DISCUSSES BILATERAL TIES IN KAZAKHSTAN...
Elizabeth Jones, the U.S. Secretary of State's special envoy for European and Eurasian matters, met in Almaty on 24 January with Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov, with whom she discussed the implementation of the U.S.-Kazakh bilateral agreements signed by Presidents Nazarbaev and George W. Bush on 21 December during Nazarbaev's visit to Washington, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Those documents included agreements on exploitation of mineral resources in Kazakhstan, and supporting small and medium businesses in Kazakhstan. Also discussed were the situation in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan's possible contribution to the process of Afghanistan's recovery. LF

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES MOVE TO STRIP ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY OF MANDATE
The local authorities in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast are pressuring local residents to sign a petition demanding that arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who was elected to parliament from the Djalalabad district of Aksy, be stripped of his deputy's mandate, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 24 January, quoting Tolekan Ismailova, president of the Coalition of NGOs. Ismailova said that to date some 190 people have signed that petition. But 240 of Beknazarov's constituents have addressed an appeal to Legislative Assembly speaker Abdygany Erkebaev demanding that he take measures to secure Beknazarov's release. Meanwhile, 49 people in Bishkek, 278 in Aksy, and nine in Chu Oblast are continuing their hunger strike to demand Beknazarov's release. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT'S MOST IMPORTANT PRIORITY IS ECONOMY
Addressing an expanded government session on 24 January that was also attended by oblast governors, President Akaev told the government that their main objective for 2002 should be to ensure 7 percent GDP growth and to reduce the poverty level, Interfax reported. GDP growth in 2001 was 4.6 percent. LF

INTERIM AFGHAN LEADER VISITS TAJIKISTAN
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov held talks in Dushanbe on 24 January with visiting interim Afghan government head Hamid Karzai, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. At a subsequent press conference, Rakhmonov pledged support for the Afghan interim government, affirming that "we will make every effort to deepen our relations." He said Tajikistan is ready to provide any assistance it can to Afghanistan, including training personnel and helping to overcome problems with electricity supplies. LF

U.S. GENERAL DISCUSSES COOPERATION IN TAJIKISTAN...
Continuing his tour of Central Asian capitals, General Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S.-led antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan, met in Dushanbe on 24 January with President Rakhmonov, Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, and other senior military personnel to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and thank Dushanbe for its "critical support" for Operation Enduring Freedom, Interfax reported. Franks told journalists after his meeting with Rakhmonov that the U.S. has no intention of establishing a military base on Tajik territory. He also rejected a suggestion that the U.S. and Russia are engaged in a competition for influence in Central Asia, describing Russia as "a strong friend" and a member of the antiterrorist coalition. LF

...AND UZBEKISTAN
Franks also held talks in Tashkent on 24 January with President Islam Karimov, Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov. Franks thanked the Uzbek leaders for their support. As in Dushanbe, he told journalists in Tashkent that the U.S. has no plans for a long-term military presence in Central Asia, that it has not signed a secret agreement with Tashkent on leasing an Uzbek military base for 25 years, and that "there is no competition whatsoever between Russia and the U.S. for spheres of influence" in the region, Interfax and dpa reported. Franks confirmed earlier media reports that Djuma Namangani, one of the leaders of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was killed late last year fighting on the side of the Taliban in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 November and 7 December 2001), adding that "we will continue our efforts to destroy the remnants of this organization," Reuters reported. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG SLAMS UZBEK REFERENDUM
In a press release issued on 25 January, Human Rights Watch criticized as "fatally flawed" the referendum to be held in Uzbekistan on 27 January on creating a bicameral parliament and extending the presidential term from five to seven years. The statement says conditions for the vote "fall below basic international standards" given that Uzbekistan does not allow either a free press or independent political opposition. Elizabeth Eagen, who heads the organization's Europe and Central Asia division, said the timing of the referendum suggests that President Karimov "is testing the international community to see what he can get away with now that he's viewed as a critical partner" in the ongoing antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. The U.S. has also condemned the planned referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). LF

BELARUS CONTINUES TUG-OF-WAR WITH OSCE...
Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou has sent a letter to Uta Zapf, the head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, in which he expressed his readiness to meet with her in Minsk, Belapan reported on 24 January. Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka said Khvastou wants to discuss ways of intensifying relations between Belarus and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly during Zapf's upcoming visit. Meanwhile, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin said in Strasbourg the previous day that Zapf will not be able to visit Belarus in early February because the Belarusian authorities "placed unreasonable conditions on the modalities of the visit." Minsk has previously demanded that the OSCE change the mandate of its Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus. "The Belarusian authorities are extending one hand to shake it with the West, even if not too strongly, while holding a stone behind their back in the other hand to hit on the head those whom they appear to welcome," Belarusian opposition leader Uladzimir Nistsyuk commented to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM

...WHILE OSCE PLEDGES TO STICK TO ITS 'MORAL, POLITICAL STANDARDS'
Severin also told a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg that the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament recognize that "the isolation of Belarus is bad for both the Belarusian society and the Western democracies," but added that "Belarus is itself responsible for its isolation, in which case we may refer to self-isolation," Belapan reported. Severin noted that the European organizations are ready to normalize relations with Belarus, but added that "we cannot and we will not accept that the conditions for the normalization are imposed on us by threat and political blackmail; nor will we accept that the normalization is done at the expense of our moral and political standards." JM

MELNYCHENKO TO BE ARRESTED IF HE APPEARS IN UKRAINE
Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets said on 24 January that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will be arrested if he returns to Ukraine from his asylum in the U.S. to participate in the parliamentary election campaign, Interfax reported. Melnychenko was proposed as a candidate on the Socialist Party's election list. Bahanets noted that prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation against Melnychenko, who is charged with abusing his office when he served as President Leonid Kuchma's security officer, and with divulging state secrets. Bahanets added that if Melnychenko is elected to the Verkhovna Rada, the Prosecutor-General's Office will appeal to the parliament to strip him of his legislative immunity. JM

IRAQ OPENS EMBASSY IN UKRAINE
An Iraqi embassy was opened in Kyiv on 24 January in response to the opening of the Ukrainian Embassy in Baghdad last year, Ukrainian media reported. According to 1+1 Television, the opening ceremony was ignored by prominent Ukrainian politicians, whereas the Ukrainian government was represented by Foreign Ministry deputy secretary Volodymyr Yelchenko. Yelchenko said the current Ukrainian-Iraqi cooperation does not contradict international laws and U.N. sanctions imposed for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Ukraine and Iraq have not yet exchanged ambassadors. JM

UKRAINE TO DISCUSS TRADE SANCTIONS WITH U.S. OFFICIALS
Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy and Finance Minister Ihor Yushko are to hold consultations on the U.S. trade sanctions against Ukraine with U.S. officials during the World Economic Forum in New York next week, AP reported on 24 January. Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko told Interfax the same day that Kyiv is currently "clarifying" the reaction of the U.S. side to Ukraine's law against CD piracy that was passed earlier this month. The U.S. trade sanctions over what the U.S. sees as Ukraine's inadequate measures to curb CD piracy took effect earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002). JM

UKRAINE POSTS 34 PERCENT RISE IN FARM PRODUCE EXPORTS IN 2001
Agriculture Ministry official Serhiy Ryzhuk told journalists on 24 January that Ukraine exported $1.8 billion worth of farm produce in 2001, a 34 percent rise compared to 2000. Ryzhuk added that farm produce accounted for 12 percent of Ukraine's total exports last year. JM

MOODY'S RAISES RATING OF UKRAINE'S FINANCIAL CREDIBILITY
The rating agency Moody's on 24 January upgraded Ukraine's foreign currency ceiling for bonds and bank deposits, citing a sharp improvement in the country's macroeconomic indicators over the past two years, the "Financial Times" reported. Moody's raised the country's rating for bonds by two notches from Caa1 to B2 and the ceiling for bank deposits by one notch from Caa1 to B3. The move reflects the country's strong exports, tighter budgetary policies, reduction in some arrears, and growth in foreign exchange reserves. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT VISITS FINLAND
Arnold Ruutel held talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen in Helsinki on 24 January, ETA reported. He briefed Halonen on the formation of the new government coalition and both presidents expressed satisfaction that it plans to continue the same foreign policy priorities of quickly joining the EU and NATO. At a speech at Helsinki University later in the day, Ruutel said Estonian membership in NATO would not adversely affect its defense cooperation with Finland. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NATIONAL SECURITY CONCEPT
Prime Minister Andris Berzins presented a report to the parliament on 24 January on the national security concept, BNS reported. The concept is based on the assumption that the country's security situation is affected not only by military and political situations abroad, but also by domestic factors, such as economic development, social security and welfare, crime, social factors, and other aspects. It also outlines guidelines on how state institutions should act to support the state's general security policy and develops plans and programs for specific branches. Berzins noted that it was the first time the parliament was invited to participate in the discussion of the national security concept, as it was previously developed and approved by the government and assessed by the National Security Council. Although some opposition deputies declared that the concept is not based on an analysis of the actual situation, the parliament approved it. SG

VOTE ON LITHUANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT POSTPONED
The parliament decided on 24 January to postpone from 25 January to the spring session, which begins on 28 February, the first vote on amending Article 47 of the constitution to allow legal entities and foreign nationals to purchase farmland in Lithuania, ELTA reported. The deputies could not reach an agreement on how long a transition period to request in the country's membership negotiations with the EU before the provision would take effect. By a vote of 64 to one, with seven abstentions, the parliament also adopted the court bill, which gives details of the future national court system, as well as the nomination, administration, competence, and social guarantees of judges. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ADDRESS LIFTING LEPPER'S IMMUNITY...
The Sejm on 24 January failed to discuss a motion to strip former deputy speaker Andrzej Lepper of his parliamentary immunity because of the "indisposition" of deputy Witold Firak from the Democratic Left Alliance, who was to be the reporter of the motion, Polish media reported. "I got the impression that he [Firak] had abused alcohol," Sejm speaker Marek Borowski told Polish Television after he went to Firak's hotel room to investigate what happened. Earlier the same day, lawmakers from Lepper's Self-Defense impeded the discussion on Lepper's immunity by blocking the parliamentary rostrum. The Sejm is expected to vote on Lepper on 25 January. Prosecutor-General Barbara Piwnik requested that the Sejm lift Lepper's immunity for his public slandering of five prominent politicians, including Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 and 11 December 2001). JM

...WITNESSES PRAYERS BY RIGHT-WING DEPUTIES
Polish Television reported that later the same day the parliament became a stage for "even more unprecedented behavior" than the confusion over Lepper's legislative immunity. Lawmaker Anna Sobecka from the right-wing, pro-Catholic League of Polish Families initiated a recitation of the prayer "Our Father" before the start of the Sejm's afternoon deliberations. Sobecka explained that Sejm speaker Marek Borowski consented to the prayers. JM

POLISH TELEVISION TO LAY OFF 1,000 IN 2002
Polish Television spokesman Janusz Cieliszak said on 24 January that more than 1,000 employees in the company will lose their jobs in 2002, PAP reported. Cieliszak explained that the redundancies are the result of a crisis in the advertising market and a drop in license-fee revenues. The public Polish Television currently employs 5,930 people. JM

POLISH POLICE NET RECORD COCAINE HAUL
Police officers seized 400 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $35 million in what was the country's largest drug bust ever, Polish media reported on 24 January. The drugs were found in a warehouse on the outskirts of Wroclaw, southwestern Poland. JM

AUSTRIA SAYS COALITION SURVIVES, WILL SPEAK WITH CZECHS AFTER JUNE ELECTIONS...
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Susanne Riess-Passer, the leader of coalition partner Freedom Party, told journalists on 24 January that they have overcome the recent coalition crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002), and that the government will not block the Czech Republic's entry into the EU, CTK reported. But the two leaders said talks with Prague on the Temelin nuclear power plant and the 1945 Benes decrees will only be conducted with the Czech government that emerges after the elections that will take place there in May or June. Schuessel said Vienna will closely watch the implementation by Prague of the agreement reached last year in Brussels between himself and Czech Premier Milos Zeman. Riess-Passer said that under those conditions she is "not against the admission into the EU" of the Czech Republic, but that her party's goal remains "the definitive halt" of Temelin. MS

...WHILE CZECHS PREPARE TO FUEL TEMELIN'S SECOND REACTOR
Dana Drabova, the chairwoman of the Czech Office for Nuclear Safety, told the daily "Lidove noviny" on 24 January that the second reactor at the controversial plant may be loaded with nuclear fuel within two weeks and begin tests by April, dpa reported. Drabova said the second reactor can be launched more quickly than the first, which was started in October 2000 and remains in a testing phase, although it has been operating at 100 percent capacity for the past two weeks. Both reactors could be fully operational by August, she said. MS

GERMAN OPPOSITION FIGURE DEMANDS THAT CZECHS RETRACT PREMIER'S SUDETEN REMARK
Germany's opposition candidate for the post of chancellor, Edmund Stoiber, on 24 January demanded that Czech Premier Zeman retract his recent remarks on the Sudeten Germans, dpa reported, He called the remarks a "blatant injustice" and said he has written to Zeman that it was wrong to "collectively condemn" the Sudeten Germans. "Their expulsion can never be justified," Stoiber said. Also on 24 January, the German dailies "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder intends to cancel his planned March visit to the Czech Republic in protest against Zeman's statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). While on a visit to Moscow, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said he "does not underestimate" these reports, but believes they reflect a "misunderstanding" of Zeman's statement, which is likely to be clarified during German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher's visit to Prague later this month. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT PROMULGATES ELECTORAL AMENDMENT
President Vaclav Havel, who recently returned from convalescence, signed into law the electoral amendment that will make it possible for elections to the Chamber of Deputies to be held in May or June, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 23 January 2002). The same day, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus said he disagrees with Havel's position on holding the ballot in May, since this would shorten the electoral campaign by one month. Klaus called Havel's proposal "unbelievable willfulness" that goes "beyond all understanding," and said he "cannot possibly imagine" what the president is hoping to achieve. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER AGREES TO SDL-PROPOSED FINANCE MINISTER...
Mikulas Dzurinda agreed on 24 January to replace Brigita Schmognerova as finance minister with National Bank economist Frantisek Hajnovic, Reuters reported. President Rudolf Schuster will formally appoint Hajnovic, but he is obliged to accept the premier's decision. The move ends a weeklong political row and follows Schmognerova's announcement the previous day that she would tender her resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 January 2002). The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) has threatened to leave the government if its decision to replace Schmognerova with Hajnovic is not heeded, raising fears that the fragile Slovak coalition might collapse. MS

...BUT NEXT COALITION CRISIS IS AROUND THE CORNER
Reuters also reported on 24 January that the coalition faces "further turbulence" in upcoming weeks over the sale of the state-owned gas monopoly SPP. The agency reported that most coalition parties hope a deal whereby a 49 percent stake would be sold to a foreign investor for at least 3 billion crowns (some $62.5 million) will be signed next month. But the leftist SPP is opposed to the sale and wants to limit it to 24 percent to the investor while keeping the remaining 25 percent under the management of the state-run Social Insurance company. Analysts say the SPP could join Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in voting in the parliament against the sale, which is regarded as a key factor in financing further reforms and whose passage is expected by the EU, the IMF, and international rating agencies. MS

SLOVAK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HALTS LEGISLATION ON DECLARATION OF ASSETS
The Constitutional Court ruled on 24 January that a recently passed law under which Slovaks were obliged to submit declarations of their assets by the end of this month is unconstitutional, CTK reported. The court ruled that the legislation infringes on the right to protection against illegal interference in private and family life, as well as on the right to protection against unlawful data collection by the authorities. The appeal against the law was made by a group of deputies and is believed to have contributed to the political storm that led to Schmognerova's resignation. MS

DZURINDA SAYS SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY READY TO SIGN STATUS LAW AGREEMENT
After meetings with President Schuster and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and his deputy, Jaroslav Chlebo, Premier Dzurinda said on 24 January that his country and Hungary are now ready to sign an agreement on the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law, TASR and CTK reported. Chlebo said upon his return from Budapest that the agreement is likely to be signed "within a few days" by either the two countries' foreign ministers or premiers. Hungarian media quoted Chlebo as saying in Budapest that the document will stress Slovakia's inviolable sovereignty and that the Status Law is to be applied within the framework of the Venice Commission's recommendations. Slovakia remains opposed to Hungarian financial support of families whose children study in schools that teach in the Hungarian language. Bratislava says this is unnecessary, since the right to study in native languages is respected in Slovakia, Chlebo said. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY'S STATUS LAW OPPONENTS HAVE NO PLACE IN PUBLIC LIFE
Viktor Orban told the meeting of the Economic Council on 24 January that those Hungarians who do not support the principles of the Status Law should not be active in public life, Hungarian media reported. Orban stressed that the government does not consider any organization or body as a partner if they do not share the "strategic goal" of improving conditions for ethnic Hungarians in the entire Carpathian Basin. Orban stressed that setting a ceiling on the number of foreign workers in Hungary is needed not for economic but for political reasons. MSZ

FIDESZ POLITICIAN REVEALS STRATEGY TOWARD HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS
A FIDESZ politician speaking on condition of anonymity told "Magyar Hirlap" on 24 January that his party is convinced that no Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) candidates will win any seats in the first round of the elections. FIDESZ is also aware, he continued, that MIEP voters will concentrate on making sure that the opposition Socialist Party does not win. Thus, governing politicians are calculating that MIEP voters will support FIDESZ-Hungarian Democratic Forum candidates in the second round, even if MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka refuses to withdraw his candidates, he added. The politician remarked that "not much should be given to the radical right," but some "prizes" must be given as a "[political] gesture," lest MIEP voters opt for Smallholder Chairman Jozsef Torgyan. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS PLAN 'INFORMAL' REFERENDUM
The Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) announced on 24 January that it is initiating a drive for collecting signatures in support of three referendum questions in an effort to exert pressure on the government, Hungarian media reported. The three questions will ask: "Do you support the restoration of the former retirement age?"; "Do you want health care to be free of charge?"; and "Should Hungarian land remain the property of Hungarians?" Party Deputy Chairwoman Agnes Maczo Nagy said the party does not want the signatures to be verified by the National Election Commission, as this referendum will be an "unofficial" initiative. Under the law, no referendum can be staged before the April parliamentary elections. FKGP Chairman Torgyan said FIDESZ is preoccupied with its unsuccessful attempt to "crush the FKGP instead of governing the country." MSZ

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LOCAL AUTONOMY LAW...
On 24 January, 84 out of 120 legislators approved a proposed law on local autonomy that leading ethnic Macedonian and Albanian parties recently agreed on, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 24 January 2002). Details of the measure are sketchy, but local communities have won the right to build, finance, and administer schools, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Primary health-care facilities will be under local control, but financing will remain centralized. One ethnic Macedonian deputy expressed concern that the result will be some communities paying for others. New controls over expenses are foreseen in the legislation. Another point is that mayors rather than local councils will name the directors of state enterprises. PM

...AS CONTROVERSY REMAINS
Even though the local autonomy law was passed by parliament on its first vote on 24 January, controversy remains, international and local media reported. Many leading politicians tried to present the compromise in positive terms. But many Macedonians feel that the law goes too far in reducing central control, while many Albanians believe that too much power remains in Skopje. On 25 January, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" quoted Minister for Self-Government Faik Aslani, an ethnic Albanian, as saying that the law "paves the way for real decentralization." But Naser Zebra of the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), which approved the compromise, said, "we are not entirely satisfied." PM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS IMMUNITY OF PPCD LEADERS
The parliament on 25 January lifted the political immunity of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca, PPCD parliamentary group leader Vlad Cubreacov, and deputy Stefan Secareanu, Flux reported. It thus partially heeded the request submitted by Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu that the immunity of eight out of 11 PPCD deputies be lifted for organizing and participating in the protests against obligatory Russian-language classes in schools (see also "End Note" below). The PPCD boycotted the vote. The previous day, Cubreacov was not allowed by parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc to read out a question addressed to Rusu about Justice Minister Ioan Morei's alleged implication in several assassinations. Ostapciuc told Cubreacov to "get out and read it to the protest demonstrators." Also on 24 January, several participants in the ongoing demonstrations were fined by a tribunal in Chisinau, RFE/RL's bureau reported. MS

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS OF 'FRAGILE' PEACE
Slobodan Casule said in Vienna on 24 January that the international community did not fully disarm ethnic Albanian fighters in 2001 and that renewed fighting remains a possibility, "Die Presse" reported. He stressed the importance of police redeployment to former guerrilla strongholds, noting that some areas remain "without law and order just as before, under the control of Albanian clans" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January 2002). He nonetheless hailed the passage of the local autonomy legislation. Casule stressed that Macedonia's stability hinges on its eventual membership in the EU and NATO, AP reported. EU envoy to Macedonia Alain Le Roy has dismissed suggestions that renewed violence is a serious possibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002). Speaking in Skopje on 25 January, EU security policy chief Javier Solana warned all sides against any "provocations" that could upset peace, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2002). He added, however, that preparations for a donors conference have begun, AP reported. PM

SERBIAN POLICE LAUNCH MASSIVE ANTIPROSTITUTION SWEEP
Serbian Interior Ministry forces have raided some 400 bars and nightclubs across the country, arresting at least 150 people, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 25 January. The move is aimed at curbing human trafficking, mostly from other Balkan countries and the former Soviet Union. Most of those arrested were involved in prostitution, but others dealt in illegal arms sales or drugs. PM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDED VERSION OF ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION
The parliament on 24 January approved the amendments proposed by President Vladimir Voronin to a recently passed law that reintroduces the Soviet-style administrative division in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin requested that a 31st "raion" be added to the division as well as several other minor changes. MS

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT WADES THROUGH AMENDMENTS TO VOJVODINA BILL
One day after passing legislation restoring Vojvodina's autonomy, the parliament began considering "a hundred" amendments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). The parliament approved two government-backed proposals and turned down 10 supported by the opposition. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition recently passed the autonomy legislation to please its 19 deputies from Vojvodina, who insisted on the bill. Djindjic needs those 19 votes for his government to stay in office. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNING PARTY WANTS TO RESOLVE MONTENEGRIN DISPUTE
Cedomir Jovanovic, the vice president of Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS), said in Belgrade on 24 January that the 25 January talks between Serbian and Montenegrin leaders will provide an opportunity to wrap up the discussion on future relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that Serbian politicians want to resolve the matter and will not meddle in Montenegrin internal affairs. In Podgorica, Miodrag Vukovic, who belongs to the steering committee of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told RFE/RL that Montenegro wants independence, Serbia advocates a reformed joint state, and Solana -- who is scheduled to join the talks -- is the only one favoring the Yugoslav federation. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PANS HIS CRITICS ON MOLDOVA
Ion Iliescu told participants in the National Unity Forum symposium in Iasi on 24 January that he disagrees with a draft resolution on Moldova submitted to that forum, a local RFE/RL correspondent reported. The resolution described Romania's 1991 recognition of Moldova as an independent state as a "political mistake," implicitly criticizing Iliescu himself. He said nobody in "the Republic of Moldova" would have understood a refusal to acknowledge this "major political act." Iliescu also said that "some aggressive slogans uttered by politically immature Romanians" have served the objectives pursued in Moldova by pro-Russian elements, who know how to exploit the ongoing economic difficulties. "How have the Communists in Moldova" won the last elections, he asked rhetorically, "when the Romanians are in a majority of 65 percent?" Iliescu called on participants to display sensitivity and renounce "arrogance" toward Moldovans, which "only served [the pro-Russian forces'] purpose of liquidating the Romanian political parties." MS

NATO TELLS BOSNIA: ONLY ONE ARMY
A high-ranking NATO delegation has visited Sarajevo and Banja Luka to discuss Bosnia's possible membership in the Partnership for Peace program, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 24 January. The visitors made it clear that Bosnia must have a unified army if it wishes to join the program, and that NATO has no interest in dealing with two armed forces, namely the army of the Republika Srpska and that of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation. In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic expressed a willingness "to compromise" on the question of armed forces, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But in Mostar, a spokesman for the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said the Croats have already had bad experiences with the former Yugoslav army and want their own armed forces. PM

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY LEADER: JOINT CONSTITUTION HAS PRIORITY
Jozo Krizanovic, the president of the joint presidency, told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service in Cologne on 24 January that the Bosnian Constitution set down in the 1995 Dayton agreements must take precedence over those of the Republika Srpska and the federation. He was specifically referring to the issue of making Muslims, Serbs, and Croats legally equal throughout Bosnia. Observers note that the Dayton agreement was put together with the goal of stopping the war and launching the peaceful reconstruction of Bosnia. It contains some loopholes and apparent contradictions that many feel should be re-examined (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 December 2001). PM

BOSNIA AND SLOVENIA STUDY OIL TRANSIT ISSUE
The governments of Bosnia and Slovenia are studying Croatian policies on overland oil transportation and have suspended any countermeasures for the time being, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 24 January 2002). PM

ALBANIAN ALTERCATION IN BRUSSELS
Some 20 persons attacked Albanian Minister for European Integration Paskal Milo and Ambassador to NATO Ilir Bocka in a Brussels hotel lobby in the early hours of 24 January, AP reported. Bocka required brief hospitalization. Details are sketchy, but the parliament in Tirana said in a statement that the attackers are supporters of former President Sali Berisha, whose party is boycotting the legislature. Political analyst Remzi Lani told the news agency: "We want to start negotiations with Europe when we haven't started negotiations with each other yet." PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS OUTGOING RUSSIAN TRANSDNIESTER COMMANDER
On 24 January, President Voronin told the outgoing commander of the Russian contingent in the Transdniester, General Valerii Yevnevich, that the separatists' attempt to prevent the evacuation of the Russian arsenal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002) was "a gross and inadmissible interference" that can lead to "serious consequences not only for Russia, but for all of Central Europe," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin also said he "does not rule out" the participation of Transdniester officials in the envisaged joint customs control checkpoints on the border with Ukraine, "provided that Moldovan single customs space is respected and that foreign observers participate as well." He reiterated that negotiations with the separatists "can only be resumed at expert level." MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF SAYS SEPARATISTS 'GROSSLY INFRINGED' ON EVACUATION AGREEMENT
David Schwartz, the OSCE mission chief in Moldova, told journalists on 24 January that the authorities in Tiraspol have "grossly infringed" on the agreement concerning the withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Swartz said the OSCE is "determined" to start the destruction of the ammunition not evacuated by Russia, and that some of the equipment needed for this purpose has already arrived from the U.S. He urged that negotiations be resumed between Chisinau and Tiraspol. On 23 January, Vyacheslav Sapronov, who heads the separatists' military-industrial complex, said Tiraspol no longer agrees to receive scrap metal from decommissioned Russian tanks in line with the agreement earlier reached with Moscow in November 2001 and wants undestroyed tanks to be handed over instead. He also said Moscow has compensated Tiraspol for only half of the equipment evacuated, and that the Transdniester armed forces will obstruct the departure of further trainloads. MS

BULGARIA INVESTIGATING DOZENS OF FORMER SENIOR OFFICIALS
The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched criminal investigations against 42 former senior government officials, AP reported on 24 January, citing reports in the Bulgarian media. Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev said that those investigated include 13 former ministers, a former counterintelligence chief, and six former deputy ministers. The charges range from embezzlement and abuse of power to illicit deals linked to the privatization of state assets. Most of the suspects are former members of the government headed by Ivan Kostov. The most prominent suspects on the list are former Deputy Premier and chief negotiator with the EU Alexander Bozhkov, former Deputy Premier Evgeni Chachev, and former Defense Minister Boiko Noev. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS' SUSPENSION OF OPPOSITION PARTY SPARKS CRITICISM ABROAD


Moldova's Communist government on 22 January temporarily suspended the activity of the country's main opposition party for inciting public demonstrations protesting official measures to boost the status of the Russian language.

Moldovan Justice Minister Ion Morei said the decision to hand down a one-month suspension on the activities of the Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) was made because the protests were called illegally.

Under the suspension, the PPCD cannot access its bank accounts or publish newspapers, nor can it organize street protests. Morei also warned that if the antigovernment demonstrations -- which have been held daily in the capital Chisinau for the past two weeks -- continue, the party may be permanently banned.

In addition, Morei said on 23 January that "every protest that is organized and takes place in a manner violating the law on public meetings will result in the verification of the political forces involved, and those parties which violate the law or their own regulations will be suspended."

The PPCD-organized demonstrations began on 9 January to protest what the party is calling the "re-Russification of Moldova" -- a trend they say is illustrated by the government's decision to make Russian-language classes compulsory in the country's schools as of this year.

The measure has stirred protest in Moldova's pro-Romanian circles, with critics accusing the government of Communist President Vladimir Voronin of trying to bring Moldova back into Russia's sphere of influence.

Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and some 65 percent of its 4.5 million citizens speak what is locally called Moldovan, but is virtually identical to Romanian. Russian-speakers are mainly concentrated in larger cities and in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region near the border with Ukraine.

Moldova is Europe's poorest country, with an average monthly salary of just $30. Voronin brought in the country's first post-Soviet Communist government last year on pledges to bring Moldova closer to Russia and restore living standards to Soviet-era levels.

Communists currently control more than two-thirds of the Moldovan parliament's 101 seats, while the pro-Romanian PPCD has only 11 seats. But despite its limited leverage in parliament, the PPCD has vowed to mobilize the public in fighting efforts by Voronin's government to re-Russify the country.

PPCD leaders say they are not intimidated by the Communists' decision and will continue the demonstrations. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov told protesters on 23 January that despite the one-month suspension, the party still feels free to express its opinions openly. "Our actions and our demands are based within a legal framework," he said. "What we are asking for is absolutely legitimate. Our action is a European one, and will always be based on the same [European] principles."

The party's one-month suspension has sparked harsh criticism abroad, with international bodies and neighboring Romania accusing Moldova's Communist leadership of openly violating democratic principles.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin, speaking on 23 January at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, said: "We have acknowledged with great concern the deterioration of the political dialogue in Moldova, as well as the ever-increasing number of measures taken by the country's leadership that might decouple the country from European value structures and institutions. Democracy does not mean the right of the majority to rule according to its tastes, but the obligation to pursue a political dialogue that could integrate the minority's opinions and aspirations with the majority's programs."

The European People's Party, which groups European Christian Democrats and their allies and holds a third of the European Parliament's mandates, has also expressed its concern regarding the suspension.

PPCD Deputy Chairman Cubreacov said on 23 January that European People's Party President Wilfried Martens warned in an open letter that the suspension of the Moldovan opposition party is an "antidemocratic act" and that Moldova is becoming a "European pariah" and "a second Belarus."

Romania leveled sharp criticism of its own. Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase both said that by suspending Moldova's main opposition party, the Communist authorities are "skidding away" from European democratic values and violating human rights. Nastase, using unusually harsh words, added that Moldova's Communist rulers are engaging in what he called "totalitarian behavior."

The Romanian delegation at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly submitted a resolution on 23 January calling on Moldovan authorities to cancel their decision to make Russian a mandatory subject in the country's schools.

Meanwhile, Severin the same day attempted to cool down the dispute, saying: "I call on all parties concerned [in Moldova] to have a reasonable attitude that should demonstrate, at the same time, respect and understanding for all communities' aspirations to preserve their identity, as well as the freedom of all citizens to make their cultural choice and to determine their own future within a pluralistic, free, and open society."

But neither side seems prepared to make concessions. Communist education officials announced on 24 January that more than 90 percent of Moldova's schools have already made Russian a mandatory subject. Most of the remaining 10 percent are schools in Chisinau.

Meanwhile, the protests continue in the capital, and opposition officials say almost 60,000 people have already signed a petition against obligatory Russian-language study.

In the latest sign of growing antagonism between the PPCD and the Communists, PPCD Deputy Chairman Cubreacov was banned on 24 January from addressing the parliament to read out a question addressed to PPCD Chairman Iurie Rusu about Justice Minister Morei's alleged implication in several assassinations.

Communist speaker Eugenia Ostapciuc refused to let Cubreacov take the floor, telling him to "get out and read it to the protest demonstrators."Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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