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Newsline - January 29, 2002


KREMLIN SPOKESMAN WARNS RFE/RL
The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, said in an interview published in "Gazeta" on 28 January that the Russian government will carefully monitor Radio Liberty broadcasts to Russia and could revoke RFE/RL's broadcasting license in Russia if its coverage is deemed to have taken a "biased and prejudiced form." The comments were an apparent response to RFE/RL's plans to open a North Caucasus Service in late February, which will broadcast in the Chechen, Avar, and Circassian languages. Yastrzhembskii said the Russian Constitution and laws impose "certain restrictions on the mass media in Russia, of which the lawyers and journalists of RFE/RL are well aware," which provide for an official warning from the Media Ministry and the possible revocation of the broadcasting license should that warning go unheeded. Yastrzhembskii said the Media Ministry and Department of Information of the presidential administration will be tasked with monitoring RFE/RL's "behavior." VY

LIBERAL DEPUTY PREDICTS DAYS OF INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN RUSSIA ARE 'NUMBERED'...
Human rights activists have called on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to examine the situation around TV-6, Interfax reported on 28 January. They argue that the conditions under which the station went off the air violate both the European Convention on Human Rights as well as Russian legislation. The human rights groups include Civic Assistance, the Information Center of the Human Rights movement, For Human Rights, and the Union of Russian Journalists. Meanwhile, State Duma deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin told Ekho Moskvy radio on 28 January that he believes that the days of independent media such as Ekho Moskvy, "Kommersant-Daily," and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" are "numbered." Pokhmelkin predicted that Russian authorities will not provoke a direct clash, but will instead make attempts to achieve "a political reorientation of the independent media." In an interview with "Novoye Vremya" on 27 January, TV journalist Vladimir Pozner said he will conclude that the "dangerous hour" for freedom of speech in Russia has been reached if the tender for the TV-6 broadcasting license is not held fairly. JAC

...AS OLIGARCHS REPORTEDLY PLAN TO SET UP SURROGATE TV BROADCASTER IN GERMANY
"Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 29 January that Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky have a new plan to broadcast TV-6 programs from Cologne in Germany. According to the daily, under the plan several dozen of TV-6's best journalists would move to Germany to begin broadcasts to the world's Russian-language audience, while another group would remain in Russia to prepare the program on location. "Argumenty i fakty" also reported on 23 January that Gusinsky intends to start a Russian-language television channel in Cologne, and is ready to invite TV-6 journalists to work there. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" reported that so far it appears that only the current team of TV-6 journalists headed by Yevgenii Kiselev and the old team headed by Mikhail Ponomarev are planning to participate in the tender for the station's broadcasting rights. According to the daily, REN-TV, which is owned by Unified Energy Systems and Moskoviya, which is controlled by oligarch/Senator Sergei Pugachev, do not intend to participate. JAC

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS LOAN TO ORT...
Prime Minster Mikhail Kasyanov announced on 28 January that the government will extend the terms of the $100 million loan provided to ORT by the state-run Vneshekonombank, smi.ru reported. In December, the management of ORT sent President Vladimir Putin a letter saying it had no funds to repay the government loan and requesting that he intervene. ORT officially has the status of "public television," although 49 percent of its shares are controlled by the state and semi state-owned entities. VY

...AS STS TELEVISION TAKES OVER REGIONAL NETWORKS
Since the closure of the TV-6, its partner radio stations in Novosibirsk, Vologda, Orel, Kaluga, and eight other provincial Russian cities have been relaying STS television broadcasts, strana.ru reported on 28 January. The STS television company is owned by StoryFirst Communications, which is controlled by media magnate Rupert Murdoch and the Russian holding company Alfa Group. STS broadcasts entertainment programs and no news, and has officially announced that it will not take part in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. VY

PUTIN ACCUSES REGIONS OF BLACKMAIL...
In a meeting with Duma faction leaders last week, Russian President Putin joined Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin in accusing some regions of exaggerating their financial difficulties, according to ORT on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Putin said that "the government must not allow itself to be blackmailed by difficulties where they do not exist or where they are far-fetched, or else where the regions, or in some cases, the natural monopolies do not want or are unable to curtail ineffective expenditures quickly." JAC

...AS ROSSEL PLANS CHALLENGE TO FEDERAL FINANCE MINISTRY
The same day, Sverdlovsk Oblast Economy Minister Galina Kovaleva told strana.ru that the oblast government has prepared an appeal to Putin asking him to re-examine the method by which regional budgets are formed. Kovaleva said Sverdlovsk officials want Moscow to calculate regional budgets not on the basis of gross regional product, as is currently done, but based on the volume of the tax base. Kovaleva said Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel already proposed the idea during presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin's recent trip the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002) and that he plans to discuss the idea directly with President Putin. The website reported earlier in the month that Rossel has called for the establishment of a political party to defend the interests of donor regions; that is, those regions that direct more tax revenues to the federal center than they receive back in the form of transfers. JAC

KUDRIN PROMISES GOVERNMENT WILL CONSIDER CONSTRUCTING A RAIL LINK TO SAKHA...
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin told reporters in Yakutsk on 28 January that the federal government will consider plans for the construction of a railway to Yakutsk at an estimated cost of some 7 billion rubles ($228.68 million), Interfax-AFI reported. Kudrin was in Yakutsk to attend the 27 January inauguration of President Vyacheslav Shtyrov. Also in attendance were presidential administration head Voloshin, former Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, a government delegation from Angola, "the directors of some of Russia's largest companies," and the Moscow representative of DeBeers, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

...AND REPUBLIC CHOOSES ANOTHER SENATOR
Following the selection of former Sakha (Yakutia) Republic President Mikhail Nikolaev to represent the republic's executive in the Federation Council, republican legislators on 28 January chose Robert Burnashov as their representative. Burnashov is a former deputy chairman of the republican government. JAC

GROWING MUSLIM COMMUNITY COURTED IN SIBERIA
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed personally led the first session of the regional Council of Muslims created by the krai administration, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. According to the daily, the number of Muslims in the krai has sharply increased over recent years because of migration from former Soviet republics and other regions of Russia. In fact, according to recent data Islam is the second most popular religion in the region with more than 100,000 followers. Mosques have been erected in two of the krai's largest cities, Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. Local Muslims also have their own schools and cemeteries. At the council's first session it became clear that local Muslims were hoping to get financial assistance from the krai government for the construction of more schools and mosques. Lebed responded that the krai does not have enough funds, but pledged to include a Muslim representative on the new regional Pardons Commission. JAC

RUSSIA SEEKS TO SELL FIGHTERS, DOUBLE TRADE WITH AUSTRIA
Prime Minster Kasyanov said following his meeting in Moscow with visiting Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel that the two countries want to double their $1.9 billion in trade over the next five years, ORT and "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. Russia would also like to restructure its exports to Austria, 90 percent of which are currently composed of hydrocarbons, and increase the share of manufactured goods. In this context, Moscow is putting great stake in its efforts to sell MiG-29 fighters to the Austrian air force, and hopes to construct a factory in Austria that would produce Russian MiG-110 business-class jets, Kasyanov added. Both aviation deals, should they materialize, would partially be used to help pay off the $2.8 billion Soviet debt owed to Austria. VY

RUSSIAN BUSINESS DELEGATION MEETS WITH PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
The leadership of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) headed by Arkadii Volskii met with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to express their concerns about the way his agency is investigating recent economic affairs including case of Sibur (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002), polit.ru reported on 28 January. Oleg Deripaska of Siberian Aluminum, Ruben Vardanyan of Troika-Dialog, and Vladimir Shcherbakov of Interprivatizatisiya told Ustinov that they are particularly worried that law enforcement agencies tend to protect state but not private property. They also said that there are no grounds for the Prosecutor-General's Office to hold Sibur managers Yakov Goldovskii and Nikolai Koshits in custody. However, Ustinov said he has serious reasons for detaining Goldovskii and Koshits. "The Prosecutor-General's Office sometimes should arrest businessmen to prevent their escape abroad as was done by [oligarchs] Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, because it would cost us much in efforts and funds to try to get them back from there," Ustinov explained. VY

HEAD OF FAMOUS MOSCOW HOTEL KILLED
Konstantin Georgiev, the CEO of one of largest and most prominent hotels in Moscow, the Pekin, was gunned down in the center of Moscow on 28 January by a lone assassin, RTR television reported. Interior Ministry investigators believe that Georgiev's killing might be linked to the fact that his hotel housed the lucrative Grand Club casino. Georgiev's death is the third among managers of Moscow hotels, a business that is considered to be one of the most criminalized in the city. On 3 January 1998, Yevgenii Tsimbalistov, the CEO of Moscow's largest hotel, the Rossiya, was killed. And on 3 November 1996, Paul Tatum, a U.S. citizen and co-owner of the "Radisson-Slavyanskaya," was shot dead. VY

HACKER IN WEST SIBERIA REINVESTS PROCEEDS
A 21-year-old in the city of Surgut managed to hack into the network of a well-known U.S. bank and access its database, "Surgutskaya tribuna" reported on 25 January, citing ORT. The hacker managed to gain access to the names, account numbers, and other confidential information of some 500 bank clients. The young adult then demanded that the bank give him or her $10,000 within three days or the information would be published on the Internet. By the time Russian police working with the FBI apprehended the suspect the bank had already paid out the money, some of which the hacker had already spent on new computer equipment. JAC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT TAKES CONTROL OF PROBE INTO HELICOPTER CRASH
President Putin announced that he will personally oversee the investigation of the Mi-8 military helicopter crash that killed 14 senior army and Interior Ministry officers -- including Interior Minister Lieutenant General Nikolai Rudchenko -- along with four bodyguards and three crew members on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 28 January. But the head of the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service, Major General Sergei Babkin, told Interfax the same day that he thinks the most likely cause of the crash was a technical malfunction. He ruled out either a terrorist attack or a missile attack from the ground. The Military Prosecutor's Office has nonetheless opened a criminal investigation on suspicion of "terrorism." VY

ARMENIA, RUSSIA FORMALIZE DEFENSE AGREEMENT
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Russian Ambassador to Armenia Anatolii Dryukov exchanged documents on 28 January certifying the ratification by their countries' respective parliaments of a bilateral agreement, signed last year, on the joint use of Armenian and Russian forces for "ensuring common security," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). That agreement paves the way for the creation of a joint military unit that Dryukov said would be used primarily to fight terrorism. Armenian military officials said earlier that the force will probably be composed of troops from the 5th Corps of the Armenian army and from the Russian military base in Armenia. Its anticipated strength is not clear. LF

ARMENIA APPROVES AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN RAPPROCHEMENT
Oskanian told journalists on 28 January that Yerevan sees no cause for concern in Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's visit last week to Moscow, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Oskanian said that improved relations between Caucasus and neighboring states impact favorably on the overall situation in the region. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OPENS OFFICE IN ARMENIA
The Council of Europe has opened a permanent representation in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 January. Its primary function will be to coordinate Armenia's implementation of programs relating to commitments Yerevan gave on being accepted into full membership of the council in January 2001. Those programs are primarily related to human rights, local government, and legislative reforms. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT SUSPENDS SANCTIONS AGAINST AZERBAIJAN
President George W. Bush finally signed on 25 January the long-anticipated waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which barred direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as that country persisted in its blockade of Armenia. The waiver is in acknowledgement of Azerbaijan's support for the international antiterrorist coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 26, and 31 October 2001), and will enable Azerbaijan to receive some $50 million in aid this year, according to Turan on 28 January. Commenting on the waiver on 26 January, President Aliev said its significance is political, rather than economic, according to the independent broadcaster ANS-TV, as cited by Groong. LF

PRESIDENT CLAIMS MOST GEORGIANS OPPOSE WITHDRAWAL OF PEACEKEEPERS FROM ABKHAZIA...
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 28 January, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that despite the ongoing protest picket by displaced persons from Abkhazia, he will not ask for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping troops deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, as their departure could lead to new bloodshed and the exodus from Abkhazia's Gali Raion of the Georgian population, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said that he believes an opinion poll would show that most people believe the peacekeepers should stay. Abkhaz government in exile head Londer Tsaava has rejected an offer by Shevardnadze to meet with the Inguri picketers, Caucasus Press reported on 29 January. LF

...SAYS PANKISI GORGE 'RELATIVELY CALM'...
In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, Shevardnadze said on 28 January that the situation in the Pankisi Gorge, where police two weeks ago launched a special operation to round up criminals and secure the release of hostages (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 3, 16 January 2002), is "relatively calm," ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. He said several hundred Chechen refugees have already left the region and returned to Chechnya. LF

...WHILE LOCAL RESIDENTS DEMAND REPATRIATION OF CHECHEN REFUGEES
Residents of Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, in which the Pankisi Gorge is located, decided at a meeting on 28 January to form their own armed groups to enter the gorge and try to secure the release of the hostages being held there, Caucasus Press reported. They demanded that Shevardnadze travel to Akhmeta within three days to meet with them. They also began collecting signatures to a petition demanding that all of the estimated 7,000 Chechen refugees in Pankisi be required to leave Georgia. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT NAMES NEW PRIME MINISTER...
Addressing parliament late on 28 January, President Nursultan Nazarbaev proposed as Kazakhstan's new prime minister deputy premier responsible for social issues and interethnic relations Imangali Tasmagambetov, and a special session of both chambers of parliament duly endorsed that choice unanimously, Reuters reported. Tasmagambetov, who is 45, is a trained teacher who began his career in the Komsomol. He was elected first secretary of the Kazakh Komsomol in 1989, at a time when Nazarbaev was first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and Nazarbaev characterized him on 28 January as having been "a member of his team" for the past 13 years. Since then, Tasmagambetov has broadened his experience, serving as an assistant to Nazarbaev and for two years as governor of oil-rich Atyrau Oblast. He was named deputy prime minister 13 months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). A new government must be formed within 10 days. LF

...PRAISES HIS PREDECESSOR
At the same 28 January parliament session, Nazarbaev praised outgoing Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, who submitted his resignation earlier that day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Nazarbaev noted that Toqaev's cabinet had ensured GDP growth of 24.4 percent in 2000-2001, but singled out as Toqaev's most important achievement his "constructive dialogue with parliament," according to Interfax. He noted that Toqaev had offered to resign in November 2001 but that he rejected that offer, Reuters reported. On 29 January, Nazarbaev named Toqaev to his old post of foreign minister, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

NEW KAZAKH PREMIER OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Speaking to journalists late on 28 January after parliament confirmed his nomination as premier, Tasmagambetov pledged to promote democratization and social accord, Interfax reported. He said the government's short-term priorities as listed by Nazarbaev are the development of the oil and gas transportation sector; social reform; and broadening cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Cooperation Organization. Tasmagambetov described the emergence of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) as "not an extraordinary event." He said constructive opposition is the hallmark of a civilized society, but added that it is not yet clear how constructive DVK will prove to be. On 25 January, representatives of political parties and organizations representing Kazakhstan's Russian and Slav minorities had condemned DVK outright for allegedly "attempting to destroy ethnic harmony and stability" (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 25 January 2002). LF

FIVE INDEPENDENT KYRGYZ PAPERS CALL FOR HALT TO REPRISALS
The editors of the newspapers "Res Publica," "Aghym," Moya stolitsa-novosti," "Litsa," and "Tribuna" addressed an appeal on 28 January to the country's leadership to end the repression of the independent press, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They condemned as persecution and a violation of the law the refusal by the state-owned publishing house Uchkun to publish "Moya stolitsa-novosti" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002) and the weekly "Res Publica," the 29 January issue of which was banned on 23 January by a Bishkek district court ruling. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY ACCUSES LEADERSHIP OF CREATING SOCIAL TENSION
Erkin Kyrgyzstan party Chairman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu told a press conference in Bishkek on 28 January that his party has sent an open letter to the Kyrgyz leadership blaming its members for what he termed the socioeconomic tensions that have arisen in Kyrgyzstan since the October 2000 presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bakir Uulu also called for the release of imprisoned former Vice President Feliks Kulov and of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, saying both men were arrested for political reasons. LF

POLICE DENY FUGITIVE FORMER KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SUBJECTED TO POLITICAL PRESSURE
A Bishkek city police official told a specially convened press conference in Bishkek on 28 January that former presidential candidate and Social-Democratic Party Co-Chairman Almaz Atambaev did not flee the country as a result of political pressure, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). The official said Atambaev hoped to escape an attempt on his life. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES ECONOMIC MINISTRIES
At a 24 January cabinet session, President Imomali Rakhmonov criticized the work of the Economy and Trade and Finance Ministries, the National Bank, the Committee for State Property, and the Social Fund, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Rakhmonov also called for changes to the relevant legislation to facilitate an increase in both domestic and foreign investment and ensure payment of taxes and customs tariffs. On 25 January, Rakhmonov issued a decree creating a ministry of industry on the basis of six government bodies including those responsible for industry, precious metals, construction, and the military-industrial complex, and named Zaid Saidov, the former chairman of the State Committee for Industry, to head it. Rakhmonov also created a separate tax ministry, which will be headed by his former economic adviser Gulomdjon Babaev. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT AGAIN GIVEN CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
German cardiologist Hans Meissner, who in the fall of 1997 performed bypass surgery on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, said in Ashgabat on 28 January that Niyazov's condition is "excellent," ITAR-TASS reported. Since the fall of 1998, Meissner has traveled to Ashgabat at approximately six month intervals to examine his patient. The last such visit took place in late September 2001. LF

AFGHAN INTERIM GOVERNMENT HEAD TO VISIT TURKMENISTAN
President Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 28 January with Afghan Ambassador Shakhmardan Kul to discuss plans and the date for a planned visit to Turkmenistan by Afghan interim government head Hamid Karzai, Interfax reported. LF

RELEASED BAPTIST STILL 'UNDER SURVEILLANCE' IN TURKMENISTAN
Shageldy Atakov, who was unexpectedly released from prison earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2002) is under surveillance by state security officials and has been warned not to re-establish contacts with fellow Baptists, Keston News Service reported on 27 January. LF

BELARUSIAN NGO FINED FOR VIOLATING DECREE ON FOREIGN AID
A court in Homel, southeastern Belarus, has imposed a fine of 1 million Belarusian rubles ($600) on Viktar Karneyenka, the leader of the Civic Initiatives organization, for violating President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's restrictive decree on the use of foreign humanitarian aid (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 March 2001), Belapan reported on 28 January. The court also ordered the forfeiture of most of the equipment that Civic Initiatives received under foreign grants. Last August, the KGB seized six computers, a printer, and a copy machine from Civic Initiatives and charged the organization with using the equipment for election observation in violation of the decree. Last December in Homel, the KGB seized computers of the youth group Hart. The same court ordered the equipment to be forfeited and imposed a fine equal to $630 on Hart leader Syarhey Adzinets. JM

UPPER HOUSE SPEAKER WANTS BELARUS TO COPY CHINESE ECONOMY
After returning from a trip to China, Council of the Republic Chairman Alyaksandr Vaytovich told journalists on 28 January that Belarus should copy China's economic model, Belapan reported. According to Vaytovich, China's experience proves that the keys to economic success include economic openness, the creation of an attractive investment climate, preferential treatment for new manufacturing companies, internal stability, and encouraging private companies. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER HOSPITALIZED AFTER CAR CRASH...
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the antipresidential National Salvation Forum and the election bloc bearing her name, was hospitalized with head and chest injuries after her automobile collided with another in Kyiv on 29 January, Interfax reported. The accident occurred when Tymoshenko was on her way to the Kyiv Appeals Court. Oleksandr Turchynov, a leader of the Yuliya Tymoshenko election bloc, told UNIAN that, according to doctors, Tymoshenko's condition is "serious." JM

...WHILE COURT SUBMITS HER TO ANOTHER ORDEAL
The Kyiv Appeals Court on 29 January rescinded a previous decision by the Pecherskyy District Court in Kyiv, which ruled that law enforcement bodies may not take any actions against Tymoshenko that would violate a deputy's immunity. This ruling allowed Tymoshenko to defy her former written pledge to the Prosecutor-General's Office not to leave Kyiv, and to make election campaign trips to the provinces. The Appeals Court's decision restored the restriction on her freedom of movement as well as legal proceedings in connection with a corruption case being conducted against her. JM

TAPE-SCANDAL MAN SAYS AUTHORITIES AFRAID OF HIS RETURN TO UKRAINE
Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko said on 28 January that the Central Election Commission (CEC) refused to register him as a parliamentary candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002) because CEC head Mykhaylo Ryabets, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn, and others are "terribly afraid" that he will return to Ukraine having parliamentary immunity, UNIAN reported. Melnychenko added that if he were to arrive in Ukraine with parliamentary immunity, the Prosecutor-General's Office would have to launch a criminal investigation of the above-mentioned individuals regarding the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, as well as a host of other corruption cases. JM

NEW ESTONIAN SOCIAL AFFAIRS MINISTER CALLS FOR CHEAPER MEDICATION
Shortly after assuming her new duties, Siiri Oviir said it is necessary to revise Estonia's prescription drug policies by reducing the price of medications, thus making them more available to the people, ETA reported on 29 January. She noted that the prices of medications have increased by 2.8 times over the past five years, and that one-fifth of the Sick Fund resources are being spent on compensation for expensive drugs. Oviir suggested that medicines permitted in the European Union could be allowed in the Estonian market without any additional laboratory tests, which boost their prices. She also said cheaper analogs of the more expensive drugs should be allowed, and that medicines produced in former socialist countries are not necessarily poisonous. But she added, "this, however, should not mean that we should let low-quality drugs into our market." SG

IMF PRAISES LATVIA'S ECONOMIC GROWTH
The IMF Executive Board praised the pace of the development of the Latvian economy in 2001, saying in its assessment that it was one of the best economies among EU applicant countries, BNS reported on 28 January. The growth, it said, reflects Latvia's long-standing commitment to macroeconomic stability and the success of earlier structural reforms in creating a flexible and resilient market economy. The IMF said that although the slowdown in the global economy is likely to place greater stress on Latvia's external current account, the Latvian authorities should continue their privatization of large-scale public enterprises and the fight against corruption. However, the IMF expressed reservations about Latvia's expansionary fiscal policy in its 2002 budget, in which the estimated deficit reaches 2.45 percent of GDP, as this could exacerbate pressure on the external current account. In the report the IMF recognized the spending needs associated with trying to join the EU and NATO, and expressed support for Latvia's desire to gradually reduce the tax burden on its economy. SG

RUSSIA TO SUSPEND TIGHTER CONTROL MEASURES ON LITHUANIAN ROAD TRANSPORT
Lithuanian Deputy Transportation Minister Valerijus Panamariovas told a press conference on 28 January that in talks with Russian Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin in Moscow on 25 January, he and Customs Department Director Valerijonas Valickas succeeded in obtaining a suspension until 30 April of the tightened customs control measures on Lithuanian road carriers, BNS reported. Late last year, Russia announced that some Lithuanian transport companies had carried goods to their customers in Russia without paying customs duties, and that Russia was establishing tighter control over Lithuanian carriers as a result. On 17 January, Russia introduced a mandatory convoy procedure for all consignments from Lithuania, which resulted in greater costs and delays. During the meeting Lithuania agreed that the Lithuanian national road carriers' association, LINAVA, and the Russian carriers' association, ASMAP, would draw up a schedule for the payment of compensation to Russia for the lost revenues. SG

POLISH, SWEDISH PREMIERS DISCUSS AIRCRAFT TENDER
Leszek Miller said at a news conference with his Swedish counterpart Goeran Persson in Stockholm on 28 January that Poland will decide on the purchase of multitask jet fighters in "September or October," AP reported. "By then all bids will have been carefully reviewed," Miller added. Swedish Gripens are competing against U.S. F-16s and French Mirages in what is widely seen as a very lucrative contract to upgrade Poland's air forces to NATO standards. Persson downplayed the role of the jet tender in his talks with Miller, telling reporters, "I am not selling any air fighter." But he added that he looks at a possible sale of Gripens as not a Swedish but "European affair," since the Gripen is manufactured by Sweden's Saab and Great Britain's BAE Systems. JM

POLISH POLICE MAKE FIRST ARRESTS IN CORPSE-TRADE SCANDAL
Police have detained two doctors and five employees of funeral firms in Lodz in what appears to be Poland's most socially resonant criminal investigation of the past decade, Polish media reported on 28 January. Last week "Gazeta Wyborcza" revealed that emergency service employees in Lodz sold bodies of deceased patients to chosen undertakers and put pressure on patients' relatives to make funeral arrangements through them. Another charge concerned the alleged hastening of patient deaths by overdoses of the drug Pavulon, an antirespirant that is lethal in large doses. Justice Minister Barbara Piwnik divulged on 28 January that cash-for-corpses scams were also uncovered in three other Polish cities. JM

CZECH PREMIER REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO BAVARIAN COUNTERPART
Milos Zeman said on 28 January that he will not apologize to Edmund Stoiber, who is the Bavarian premier and the conservative German alliance's candidate for the post of chancellor, CTK reported. "One does not apologize for telling the truth," Zeman told journalists in Hradec Kralove, east Bohemia. Stoiber has called on Zeman to apologize for the remarks on the Sudeten Germans he made on 21 January in an interview with an Austrian weekly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). Zeman said Stoiber "misinterprets" his remarks when he claims that they are an accusation of "collective guilt." MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ARMY WANTS 'LESS BUREAUCRACY, MORE DRILLS'...
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told journalists on 28 January that the government intends to cut 1,800 clerk positions in his ministry, which will save more than 500 million crowns ($13.6 million) and free up funding for more training exercises, CTK reported. Tvrdik said the cabinet the same day approved an amendment to the Armed Services Law that intends to abolish compulsory military service by 2006 and have a fully professional army in place by 2010. Under the bill, soldiers will be called up for drills for up to twice the current 12 weeks annually for soldiers and 18 weeks for officers. MS

...POSTPONES VISIT TO GERMANY
Tvrdik canceled at the last moment a visit to Germany scheduled for 29 January, CTK reported. As grounds for the cancellation he mentioned his desire to attend the Chamber of Deputies' debate on the purchasing of supersonic fighters, which was to begin the same day. On 28 January, Tvrdik said the Czech air force is at present "just on the brink" of what is acceptable, and the best way out of the situation is to purchase new aircraft. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE AGREES ON ODA DEBT SETTLEMENT
The agreement reached on 27 January among the three formations that make up the Four Party Coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002) stipulates that the ODA is to pay its remaining debt of 68 million crowns (some $1.85 million) over 14 years in annual installments of 5 million crowns, CTK reported. The agreement also stipulates that the ODA will release the names of supporters who lent it 12 million crowns to cover part of its debt to the Ceska Pojistovna insurer, and that the ODA will choose a foundation other than the Educational Programs Foundation (which the ODA cofounded) to which it will transfer the remaining debt. The daily "Lidove noviny" wrote on 29 January that the ODA has an additional 6 million crown debt that its leaders say they "forgot" about and failed to report to their partners in the alliance. The 27 January agreement stipulates that "the ODA declares that it has no other debts to any creditor." MS

CZECH INTELLECTUALS RALLY BEHIND SENTENCED 'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER
Several hundred people have signed a petition condemning the prosecution of Michal Zitko, the publisher of a translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," Zitko told CTK on 28 January. The signatories include writer Arnost Lustig, political scientist Bohumil Dolezal, film director Antonin Kachlik, as well as Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova. Zitko appealed in November 2001 against a verdict that sentenced him to three years in prison with a five-year probation, and fined him 2 million crowns ($54,400). The signatories say the verdict is "an attack on the freedom of speech," and that Hitler's book cannot serve to support "any contemporary [political] movement." In related news, Holocaust Day was marked in the Czech Republic on 27 January, and for the first time representatives of the country's Jewish and Romany communities observed the day in a joint ceremony. MS

FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS FROM SLOVAK GOVERNMENT
Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova on 28 January officially handed in her resignation as finance minister, AP and CTK reported. President Rudolf Schuster accepted the resignation and is to appoint Frantisek Hajnovic as Schmognerova's successor on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, 24, and 25 January 2002). MS

POLL SHOWS SLOVAKS OPPOSED TO CHURCHES' CALL FOR BAN ON SUNDAY SALES
Fifty-six percent of Slovaks disagree with the call issued earlier this month by Slovak Roman Catholic bishops to ban sales on Sundays, CTK reported on 28 January, citing a survey carried out by the Polis polling institute. The ban is supported by 32.6 percent, while 11.3 percent have no opinion on the matter. The country's Protestant churches also support the ban. MS

HUNGARIAN MINISTERS DEFEND CABINET'S RECORD...
Finance Minister Mihaly Varga told a businessmen's forum in Budapest on 28 January that economic growth of 5 to 7 percent can be attained only if new and inexpensive labor is attracted to the country to prevent manpower shortages, Hungarian media reported. Thus, Varga said, the government has made the right move with the Status Law. Social and Family Affairs Minister Peter Harrach said at the conference that in contrast to the previous cabinet, the present cabinet has increased pensions in real terms, amended the Child Protection Law, provided disabled people with easier access to public buildings, and has permitted more people to adequately raise their children as a result of its family-friendly policy. MSZ

...AS ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN GETS UGLY
On 28 January, Free Democrat Executive Chairman Balint Magyar presented a campaign poster featuring Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka on a bottle of shampoo bearing the slogan "Two in One," Hungarian media reported. Magyar charged that for four years MIEP has been the government's "outside partner," and has cooperated with the government in media affairs in a way that could be considered as a tacit alliance. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Janos Martonyi met with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on 28 January and is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Moshe Katzav, and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, Hungarian media reported. Martonyi told reporters that as a small country, Hungary cannot act as a go-between between Israel and the Palestinians, but is prepared to help in U.S. or EU mediation efforts. Martonyi also said the Hungarian government dissociates itself from, and will take action against, anti-Semitic phenomena in the country. All of Hungary's citizens, including the Jewish community, are protected against extremists, he said. MSZ

MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER THREATENS MILITARY OFFENSIVE
"We will work for the peaceful reintegration of Macedonia's western area. If we are not successful, we will immediately respond with decisive action by our security forces in order to re-establish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country," Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski told a meeting in Bitola, "Dnevnik" reported on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Responding to recent accusations by Macedonian human rights activists, Boskovski said: "[So, now it is] my Macedonians of Macedonian descent [who want to] send me to The Hague. It is they who convince the world public that the defense of Macedonian sovereignty is extremism, that the formation of the holy police [unit], the Lions, is extremism as well." The Lions are a controversial paramilitary police unit linked to Boskovski's party, the International Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June and 21 September 2001). UB

POPULATION CENSUS IN MACEDONIA DELAYED AGAIN
The census commission met on 24 January with representatives of the state statistics authority to assess prospects for the long-overdue national headcount, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 25 January. As a result, the census scheduled for the first half of April 2002 was put off again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2002). According to "Dnevnik" on 29 January, the census will take place in either July or October. Holding a census is of central importance for implementing the Ohrid peace accord. According to the peace agreement, minority languages will be official languages in those municipalities where minorities make up at least 20 percent of the population. UB

EU SEEKS TO TAKE OVER BOSNIAN POLICE WORK...
EU foreign ministers agreed in principle in Brussels on 28 January to take over international police functions in Bosnia from the UN force (IPTF), the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 January 2002). The 500-strong operation would begin at the start of 2003 and cost up to $43 million per year. A mandate has yet to be designed but is likely to stress the training of local police forces and cultivating respect for the rule of law. The EU has had mixed results in launching its common security and defense policy (ESDP) in the face of competing national interests and often shrinking defense budgets. It expects to have a 60,000-strong rapid reaction force in operation by mid-2003, and 5,000 police and other civilian forces as well. The UN police operation has sometimes been tainted by sex and corruption scandals. Jacques Klein, who heads the IPTF, has praised the force for having achieved much under difficult conditions. International operations in the Balkans have often been plagued by problems in recruiting qualified staff. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
Ilir Meta quit his job on 29 January after months of feuding with Fatos Nano, the head of Meta's own Socialist Party, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001, and 10 and 17 January 2002). His decision was prompted by repeated attempts by Nano to prevent the prime minister from filling vacancies in his cabinet. The dispute between the two men had acquired a dynamic of its own, but the central issue was whether the party or the cabinet should set government policies. PM

KLEIN SLAMS HERZEGOVINIAN ARMY PROPOSAL
Jacques Klein, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia and is a former U.S. general, said in Sarajevo that recent proposals by some Croatian politicians in Bosnia for a separate Croatian army are a nonstarter, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 29 January. NATO has also made it clear that Bosnia must move toward having only one army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2002). PM

...DISCUSSES OTHER BALKAN ISSUES
Meeting in Brussels on 28 January, EU foreign ministers also hailed increasing cooperation between Belgrade on one hand and Zagreb and Sarajevo on the other, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ministers warned all parties in the dispute over the future of relations between Serbia and Montenegro against what they called "unilateral" actions. Finally, the ministers announced that the much-postponed Macedonian donors conference will take place on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2002). The Macedonian government is hoping to raise $90 million after a conflict that has cost the country some $700 million, Reuters reported. PM

THREE KOSOVAR ALBANIANS ARRESTED FOR WAR CRIMES
Following a massive sweep in Prishtina, KFOR and UN police arrested three ethnic Albanian men in Prishtina on 28 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Their names have not been made public. They are suspected of taking part in "illegal abductions, physical attacks, and in some cases murders," between September 1998 and June 1999," UN spokeswoman Andrea Angelli told AP. The three were military police for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in Podujeva at the time. Their victims were fellow Albanians who worked for the Serbian authorities and rival Albanian groups. This is the first arrest of ethnic Albanians for war crimes. An unnamed "senior international official" told Reuters: "Investigators have been working on this case for a very long time. These detentions are a very significant step in the investigation of the killings during the war." UN officials briefed Kosovar political leaders before the arrests. None of the leaders have commented on the developments. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER PLEDGES NEW GOVERNMENT IN MARCH...
Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 28 January that he plans a "small-scale" cabinet reshuffle in March, suggesting that he does not expect Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to return to the government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that the return of the DSS to the cabinet would mean a "major restructuring." That seems increasingly unlikely, because Dragan Marsicanin, who is a DSS leader and a key protagonist in the split between the DSS and its nominal allies, accused Djindjic's government on 29 January of "illegally bugging, threatening, and blackmailing" its opponents, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). PM

...AND COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
Djindjic also noted in Belgrade on 28 January that he "has no dilemma" over further extraditions of Serbian citizens to The Hague if that means better relations with the U.S. and EU, AP reported. Djindjic stressed that "the destiny of the country will not depend on the fate of one or two former state officials" indicted by The Hague. He also acknowledged that "there are indications...that [former Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic is on the territory of Yugoslavia. There are indications, but no proof." Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman for Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service that the tribunal believes that Mladic continues to live in Belgrade. Del Ponte has charged that the army and others subordinate to Kostunica are harboring Mladic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES WANT INVESTIGATION OF BOSNIAN EX-MINISTER
The Serbian State Security Council assigned the Interior Ministry the task of investigating the possible criminal activities of Alija Delimustafic in Serbia prior to his recent arrest, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Djindjic hinted that persons close to his rivals may have long known that Delimustafic was living in Serbia under an assumed name and conducted deals with him despite the fact that Bosnia has issued two international arrest warrants for him through Interpol. PM

KEY EVIDENCE OFFERED IN SERBIAN MURDER CASE?
Mihalj Kertes, who was former President Slobodan Milosevic's head of the customs service and a member of his inner circle, told a Belgrade court on 28 January that among the 1,800 cars and trucks that the customs office turned over to the police and the military was the truck used more than two years ago in an assassination attempt against Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic was injured in the mysterious accident and four of his party were killed. Kertes told the court that Milosevic-era security chief Radomir Markovic had asked for use of the truck. The attempt on Draskovic is one of the great unsolved political crimes of the Milosevic era. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES VOJVODINA AMENDMENTS
The legislature adopted a package of government-sponsored amendments to the recent Vojvodina autonomy legislation on 28 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 22, 24, and 25 January 2002). The measures fall far short of Vojvodina's pre-Milosevic autonomy and are regarded by many there as a bare minimum. Many nationalists think that the recent legislation is at the expense of Serbian unity. PM

COZIER ECONOMIC RELATIONS BETWEEN CROATIA AND SERBIA?
The Croatian Chamber of Commerce opened an office in Belgrade on 28 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Nadan Vidosevic, who heads that body, said Croatian business wants a direct role in the food industry in Serbia as well as joint production for third markets. He predicted that a free-trade agreement between Belgrade and Zagreb will be signed within six months. PM

MONTENEGRIN LIBERALS TO KEEP BACKING GOVERNMENT
Miodrag Zivkovic, who heads the pro-independence Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (LSCG), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 28 January that his party will continue to support the government so long as the authorities go ahead with plans for a referendum on independence. His remarks were a response to a recent call by the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) for the LSCG to end its support of the government on the grounds that the government's policies have reached a dead end. PM

ITALY PRAISES BOSNIAN EXTRADITION OF AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS
Italian Interior Minister Claudio Scajola told reporters in Sarajevo on 28 January that his government will soon open an office in the Bosnian capital to exchange information on organized crime, smuggling, human trafficking, and terrorism, Reuters reported. Scajola praised Bosnia's recent controversial extradition of six Al-Qaeda suspects to the U.S. as evidence of its cooperation in the war against terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 22, and 23 January 2002). PM

BOSNIA DEMANDS CROATIA REVOKE OIL TRANSPORT RESTRICTIONS
Bosnian customs officials stopped 30 Croatian fuel trucks from entering Bosnia on 28 January in response to Croatia's imposition of restrictions against fuel trucks crossing its territory, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2002). Bosnia wants the restrictions lifted entirely. Talks to resolve the dispute began in Sarajevo on 29 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN POLICE INVESTIGATE SUSPECTS IN LARGE-SCALE FRAUDS
Police officially launched an investigation against tycoon Sorin Ovidiu Vantu and his former associate-turned-rival Mihai Iacob, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 28 January. Vantu is suspected of having caused the collapse of the National Investment Fund and of stealing funds from the Romanian Bank for Loans, of which he was co-owner with Iacob (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 16, and 17 January 2002). The two have been banned from leaving Romania until the completion of the investigations. Also on 28 January, Vantu handed the parliamentary commission supervising the activity of the Romanian Information Service (SRI) a list of 40 former SRI officers and other staff members who can, he claims, testify about the links between SRI Director Radu Timofte and Vantu. He said these people are now employed by a security company owner by Vantu himself. MS

FIRST ROMANIAN PEACEKEEPING TROOPS DEPART FOR AFGHANISTAN
The first 12 out of a total of 48 Romanian military police departed on 28 January for Afghanistan aboard a Hercules C130 Romanian military plane that is also to be used in the peacekeeping operation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN PSD GETS ASSOCIATE MEMBERSHIP IN EUROPEAN SOCIALIST PARTY
Social Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Cosmin Gusa announced on 28 January that the PSD has been granted "associate member" status in the European Socialist Party, the umbrella organization of European social democratic formations, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The status was extended after the PSD was granted " consultative membership" in the Socialist International. The international is to discuss PSD's candidacy for full membership at its 2002 congress. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY 'COMMENTS' ON HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW DISPUTE
PSD Secretary-General Gusa also said on 28 January that the ongoing disputes in Hungary about the Status Law are part of the electoral campaign under way in that country, and refused to comment on the position of the Hungarian Socialists, who oppose the memorandum signed by the two countries' premiers. The memorandum will be discussed with the Socialist Party "if and when that party wins the elections" in the neighboring country, Gusa said. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES INTERFERENCE IN MOLDOVAN AFFAIRS
Adrian Nastase on 28 January denied he is interfering in Moldova's internal affairs, saying he respects the right of every country to decide for itself what policies suit it best and will continue to do so, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. However, he added that it is "natural" for Romanians to be "constantly concerned" about developments in Moldova, bearing in mind that "two-thirds of that country's population is Romanian." Nastase added: "If we wished to interfere in Moldova, we would have annexed Bessarabia in 1991, as suggested [at that time] by those who ruled [Romania] before us. Instead...we were the first to recognize the Independence of the Republic of Moldova and we are convinced that cooperation will be resumed after the current departures from the course of democracy are ended." MS

MOLDOVA RESPONDS TO UKRAINIAN INITIATIVE
In response to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's calls earlier this month for the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, the Foreign Ministry on 28 January said it "appreciates" Kyiv's "efforts as a mediator," but rejected the initiative in practice, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The ministry said that "taking into consideration the well-known intransigent position of the Tiraspol leadership and the fact that the negotiations between Moldova and Ukraine on strengthening controls at borders and at custom points have not been finalized," Moldova believes it is "more opportune" to convene "as soon as possible" a meeting between the Ukrainian and Moldovan presidents. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER PROMISES 'BALANCED SOLUTION' TO KOZLODUY
Simeon Saxecoburggotski said after a visit to the Kozloduy nuclear power plant on 28 January that the government will make a decision on when to close reactors No. 3 and No. 4 at the plant that will suit both the EU's and Bulgaria's interests, international news agencies reported. The premier rejected calls for a referendum on the issue. He said that his remarks last week to Greek Premier Kostas Simitis were "misinterpreted" and that he did not pledge to shut down the two reactors by 2006. "I only said that we shall try to make every effort to take into consideration what Europe wants from us. This did not mean dates, compromises, or predetermined decisions," the premier emphasized. Bulgaria has agreed to shut down the two oldest nuclear reactors at Kozloduy by the end of this year, and to negotiate a timetable by 2004 for the closure of two more reactors. MS

CAN DECENTRALIZATION BRING DEMOCRACY TO KAZAKHSTAN? PART 2


In his apparent bid to co-opt those moderate opposition figures who are prepared to work with him to effect gradual political liberalization, Kazakhstan's embattled president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, has focused on an issue on which all opposition groups are in broad agreement: the need for the decentralization of power. Addressing a meeting in Astana on 25 January of government ministers, oblast governors, and hand-picked parliament deputies, Nazarbaev extended an invitation to all "constructive" political forces to "sit down at the negotiating table" with members of a specially created government commission to draft laws on decentralizing state power and creating elected organs of local government. A nationwide referendum on whether regional and local administrators should be elected, rather than appointed by the president (in the case of the oblast governors) or the oblast governor (in the case of lower level officials) was one of several key demands raised at the landmark meeting convened by the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces (FDS) in Almaty on 19 January

Both the moderate Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) and the more radical FDS argue that the existing system, under which the president appoints the governors of the country's 14 oblasts and major cities, who in turn appoint local district administrators, is corrupt and ineffective. (Legal expert Andrei Chernyakov recently described it as a semifeudal system under the guise of democracy.) Instead, the opposition argues that administrators at all levels, from oblast governors and the mayors of Astana and Almaty, whom they regard as little more than Nazarbaev's henchmen, down to the estimated 7,000 heads of village councils, should be publicly elected for a limited term, and that a mechanism be created under which they can be held responsible for their actions. At present, according Irina Savostina, who heads the Pokolenie movement, they are beyond criticism. "It is impossible to fire them and pointless to try to begin legal proceedings against them," she said.

The demand that oblast and local administrators be elected is not new. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL in the spring of 1999, Nazarbaev objected that such elections could undermine "social and economic stability." That argument is valid insofar as a poll of some 2,000 citizens of Kazakhstan conducted in the summer of 1997 indicated that people are more inclined to blame local administrators for social and economic problems than either the national government or the president. In a free election, voters might therefore reject the present governors, who were selected for their personal loyalty to the president.

At the same time, Nazarbaev said he intended to increase the responsibility of the oblast governors for the social and economic well-being of a population. But recent criticisms by Chernyakov, Savostina, and others suggest that little, if anything, has changed, and that local administrators continue to behave "like petty princes" plundering the local economy and ignoring the needs and grievances of the population.

Opposition politicians are nonetheless aware that simply making such local administrative posts elective will not lead to greater democracy overnight. Some argue that such elections are pointless under the present leadership, given that oblast governors have all the levers at their disposal to falsify the outcome of the ballot and ensure their own re-elections and that of their trusted minions, and that the constitution and election laws must be amended first.

Former Prime Minister and opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan Chairman Akezhan Kazhegeldin, for example, in a recent interview with the opposition newspaper "Sol-Dat" argued that simply campaigning for regional and local administrators' posts to be made elective fails to address the primary problem of how to transform Kazakhstan into a democracy. He pointed out that it is "just plain silly to imagine that there can be people's power [narodovlastie] at the urban level, and arbitrary dictatorial rule" by Nazarbaev's family in the capital. Kazhegeldin implicitly criticized the DVK for making that their most radical demand, rather than campaigning for more sweeping changes. If the DVK insists on the gradual approach, spending five years trying to persuade Nazarbaev to agree to local mayors being publicly elected, then another five years lobbying for elections for local governors, then a further five years to promote the election of a "normal parliament," Kazhegeldin continued, "we stand no chance of becoming a civilized society before 2030."

Other Kazakh politicians, however, reason that the transition from appointing to electing administrators should be embarked on as soon as possible, however lengthy and difficult it may prove to be. Mazhilis deputy and failed presidential candidate Ghany Kasymov acknowledged that "there will inevitably be mistakes" in the transition process. Nurbulat Masanov, who is president of the Association of Politologists of Kazakhstan and a leading member of the FDS, admitted that at least during the first round of such elections "the possibility cannot be excluded that people favored by the authorities" will win. For that reason, he proposed that the governors' terms be limited to four years, and that no individual be permitted to serve more than two consecutive terms.

(This is the second of a two-part series; the first ran on 28 January 2002.)

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