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Newsline - February 4, 2002


PREMIER LAUDS IMPROVED U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS...
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in New York on 2 February, Mikhail Kasyanov said that "despite several negative points, Russia and the U.S. are developing a framework for new relations," and announced that U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Moscow on 23-25 May, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov also said that Russia hopes to attract considerable investment from the U.S. this year because Russia's gross national product is expected to rise by a "robust 3.5 percent" and "the sources of this growth are sustainable." VY

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT PARTICIPATE IN CAMPAIGN AGAINST 'AXIS OF EVIL'
Addressing the international military-political forum "Wehrkunde" in Munich on 2 February, Sergei Ivanov said that Russia "does not share the U.S. point of view that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea pose a terrorist threat to mankind," and will neither support nor take part in any military operation against them, ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. President Bush accused those countries of being an "axis of evil" supporting terrorism during his State of the Union address on 29 January. However, Ivanov said that Russia "is very concerned by the situation in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, where Chechen fighters concentrate." He said "the government of Georgia recognizes the existence of a problem there, but hardly can cope with it." Ivanov added that Russia, while it respects Georgia's sovereignty, "cannot tolerate near her borders pocket of terrorism and criminality." VY

MEDIA BATTLE SEEN AS PREPARATION FOR UPCOMING ELECTIONS...
"Ekspert," No. 4, argues that the main explanation for "chaotic and scandalous" developments around TV-6 is that various groups such as the so-called "Family" and the St. Petersburg group within the Kremlin are fighting to redistribute ownership and control in the Russian media market before the end of the year. That way, the situation in the media market will have time to settle before Duma elections in 2003. The weekly also argues that the theory widely propagated in Western media that President Vladimir Putin "personally hates" oligarch Boris Berezovsky has no basis, because it was Berezovsky who "did everything he could to bring Putin to power." It instead suggests that Putin wanted to get rid of NTV and TV-6 because he believes that their owners, Vladimir Gusinsky and Berezovsky, through their rapacious behavior in the domestic economy, undermine Russia's international reputation. JAC

...AS BEREZOVSKY SAYS PUGACHEV APPROACHED HIM TO BUY TV-6...
In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 8, Berezovsky said that Federation Council representative (Tuva) and Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev approached him on behalf of the Kremlin telling him to sell his stake in TV-6 -- an offer that Berezovsky refused. Berezovsky added that the only thing they did agree on was not to discuss their meeting -- an agreement he said Pugachev has already violated, which led Berezovsky to confirm that the meeting took place. JAC

...AND THAT IN 1999 HE HAD CONTACT WITH BASAEV, BUT FSB FAILED TO REACT
Berezovsky said in interview with the Swiss daily "Le temps" on 1 February that he will publish evidence he has repeatedly claimed to possess that allegedly links the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the terrorist explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk in the fall of 1999. He added that the evidence includes video materials and electronic documents. Berezovsky admitted that in summer 1999 he had contact with Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, who made it clear that he was preparing an invasion of Daghestan. Berezovsky added that he immediately relayed this information to the FSB, but that the agency failed to react "because it [the war] was in their interests." According to Berezovsky, the FSB just waited for the explosions to signal the beginning of Russian troops' march on Chechnya. VY

POLICE IMPOUND KISELEV'S LAND ROVER
Moscow police stopped the car of TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev on 2 February and then seized it, Interfax reported. Kiselev was told that the car had been wanted since 11 January under a decision of the bailiff service. The Land Rover automobile has belonged to Kiselev personally since 1999, according to Ekho Moskvy. The website ntvru.com reported that police officials said Kiselev can get the vehicle back when he pays the 5,000 rubles ($160) he owes to former Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Leonid Gorbenko. The sum was awarded as the result of a lawsuit in December 2000. JAC

PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES AMBITIOUS CHANGE IN RUSSIA'S OIL-EXPORT POLICY...
Russia's new energy strategy is to expand its share of the world oil-export market, and in that context Russia does not exclude supplying oil to the United States, Kasyanov told journalists at the World Economic Forum on 2 February. "We have no obligations to OPEC, we are just consulting with this organization," he said, while adding that within the framework of these consultations Russia had made the tactical decision to cut its oil exports. However, he said that now "Russia is considering as a fair oil price a range of between $20-25 a barrel, and not [the] OPEC price corridor of $25-28." As a result, over the next 1 1/2 years Russia plans not to extend constraints on its oil exports and will once again seek to expand them, according to Kasyanov. He said that by 2020 Russia plans to increase its oil exports to 370-375 million from the levels of 348 million tons over the last few years. VY

...DISCUSSES INVESTMENT PROJECTS WITH U.S. COMPANIES
Kasyanov has also met with Royal Dutch/Shell board chairman Phillip Watts, who confirmed that his company intends to expand its participation with Exxon-Mobile on the $10-billion "Sakhalin-2" project. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). In addition, following his meeting on 1 February with Citibank Vice President Stanley Fischer, Kasyanov said the U.S.-based bank is interested in participating in the privatization of Vneshtorgbank. According to the plan, the government would purchase 40 percent of Vneshtorgbank's shares from the Central Bank, and those shares would then be offered to foreign investors, Russian news agencies reported. VY

ANALYST SAYS RUSSIA STANDS TO GAIN FROM U.S.-CHINA BASE JOCKEYING
Russia's withdrawal from its electronic intelligence center in Lourdes, Cuba, and naval base in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, is part of a Kremlin strategy to take advantage of the country's Soviet-era policies and adapt them for use in 21st-century geopolitical games, political analyst Mikhail Leontiev said on ORT television's "Odnako" program on 1 February. While in the Cold War era the Cuban base was aimed against U.S. and the Vietnamese base was targeted against China, Leontiev argued that with the Russian withdrawals has come the real possibility that China could take over Lourdes, while the U.S. could rent Cam Rahn for its Pacific fleet. "If both plans materialize, a new Chinese base will emerge near American shores, and an American one near China, [which would form] an axis of confrontation, a development that is favorable to Russia," Leontiev commented. VY

RUSSIA HINTS AT CONCESSIONS WITH JAPAN OVER KURILE ISLANDS
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said following his talks with his Japanese counterpart Yoriko Kawaguchi in Tokyo on 2 February that the two countries have agreed to resume negotiations next month on the long-disputed Kurile Islands and on signing the Russia-Japan peace treaty, gazeta.ru reported. He said the talks on the territorial issue will be based on previously reached agreements, including the Russian-Japanese Declaration of 1956 in which Moscow promised to return two of the four Kurile Islands to Japan, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov also mentioned that both Moscow and Tokyo support the idea of holding a comprehensive international convention to discuss the combating of antiterrorism, and that he delivered a personal message relating President Putin's views on the subject to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. VY

RUSSIA REMAINS ON MONEY-LAUNDERING BLACKLIST
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an anti-money laundering arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, announced in Paris that Russia remains on its blacklist of states that do not efficiently combat criminally obtained capital, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 February. Russia was first included on the blacklist in February 2000, and despite the fact that Russia has since adopted a law to fight money laundering and has set up entities to monitor financial intelligence and suspicious deals and transactions, it has not done enough to cause FATF to drop the country from its list. "It is worth it to first see how Russia will implement the law and monitoring in practice," "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an FATF spokesman as saying. VY

EUROPE MAY ALLOW RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT OVERFLIGHT RIGHTS
The European Conference on Civil Aviation (ECCA) and the Russian Transport Ministry have signed a document in Paris allowing Russia additional time to bring Russian aircraft up to European ecological standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002), RBK reported on 2 February. A spokesman for the ECCA said his organization decided to help Russia in its efforts to reduce the noise levels of its aircraft, because a simple ban would only serve to disrupt not only Russian airlines but also European tour operators. VY

PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS RUSSIA IS 'ONE STEP' FROM AUTHORITARIANISM
Writing in "Vek," No. 5, Duma deputy Vladimir Lysenko said that the political strength of President Putin is based not on the consolidation of society around him and his policies, but rather on the weariness felt by the Russian people as a result of those policies. Lysenko said that it has become clear that the negative effects of Putin's monopolization of political power have outweighed the positives resulting from liberal economic reforms. Should a dismantling of the political monopoly be made from above and very quickly, Lysenko argued, Putin's regime of "directed democracy will make the step that separated it from authoritarianism." VY

MAYOR WANTS TO EDIT TV NEWS
The administration of the city of Astrakhan has started to openly exert pressure on its journalists, RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent reported on 1 February. Astrakhan Mayor Igor Bezprukavnikov has accused Natalaya Filatova and Olga Dyakova, journalists with the Lotos television company, of being "unprofessional" and "corrupt." On 29 January, Mayor Bezprukavnikov arrived at the station and addressed the entire workers' collective there. In a long speech, he emphasized his achievements and enumerated at great length the number of awards and other honors bestowed upon him during his tenure as mayor. He also explained that there are a few deputies in the city's legislature who are in what he calls the "destructive opposition" and "only interfere with work." Dyakova and Filatova are following the political orders of this opposition with "their one-sided reporting," according to the mayor. In response, Dyakova said that she tried to present the administration's point of view, but the deputy mayor refused to meet with her and called the TV station's management to ask that another journalist be sent. According to the correspondent, this is not the first time that the city administration has refused to meet with independent journalists and tried to stop their reports from appearing. JAC

CONFLICT OVER NORILSK FLARES UP
Taimyr Autonomous Okrug representative to the Federation Council Leonid Roketskii told journalists in Moscow on 1 February that authorities in neighboring Krasnoyarsk Krai are trying to appropriate okrug territory. Taimyr legislators do not agree with a point in the krai's charter that makes the industrial city of Norilsk subordinate to the krai, according to Roketskii. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed dismissed the Taimyr authorities' recent demarche by saying the question of control over Norilsk was resolved by federal authorities in 1993. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 February, Taimyr legislators believe the stipulation regarding Norilsk violates the Russian Constitution and plan to appeal to the prosecutor-general and Constitutional Court if the charter is not canceled. The governor of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug is former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin. JAC

POLICE, COSSACKS JOIN FORCES IN NORTH CAUCASUS REGION
The head of the Stavropol Krai police department, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Saprunov, and Ataman of the Terek Cossack brigade Vasili Bondarev have agreed to form a joint unit to protect public order in their region. Bondarev is also head of the krai's Security Council. According to the agency, the Cossack police units will patrol streets, monitor immigration flows, and prevent acts of terrorism, banditry, and illegal weapons shipments. JAC

LENINGRAD OBLAST REGISTERS BIG INCREASE IN HIV CASES
In Leningrad Oblast, the number of registered persons with HIV has risen 2.3 times by the beginning of this year compared with 2000, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February, citing Aleksei Podlovskii, the director of the oblast center for the prevention and struggle against AIDS. According to Podlovskii, there are some 2,929 HIV cases in Leningrad Oblast, of which 85 percent are people between the ages of 14 and 30 who use narcotics. In addition, the number of pregnant women with HIV has also increased sharply. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 February, citing "Vechernyaya Kazan," that World Health Organization experts believe that the official figure of 4,000 HIV carriers in the republic of Tatarstan would be more likely to represent the real number of HIV cases if it were multiplied by 10. JAC

ENVOY SAYS CHECHEN PRESIDENT REMAINS IN CHARGE
In an interview with "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 5, Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev affirmed that contrary to repeated Russian media statements, Maskhadov "controls more of Chechnya and more in Chechnya" than does Russian President Putin, although Maskhadov's control does not extend to those Chechens who have laid down their arms and quit the resistance. Zakaev reaffirmed that "Chechens want only one thing: sovereignty as a guarantee of security for the people." For that reason, he said, political dialogue is essential. Zakaev also said that the Chechen fighters have no shortage of either Russian weaponry and ammunition or of money, as funds sent to Grozny for reconstruction are channeled to the resistance by members of the pro-Moscow Chechen government. LF

FORMER GROZNY MAYOR PREPARING POLITICAL COMEBACK?
Interfax and "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 February quoted Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as saying that former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov has resigned his post as an inspector on the staff of presidential envoy to Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev, and will shortly be appointed Chechen media minister. "Kommersant-Daily" quoted unidentified sources as saying that Gantemirov wants that post in order to control the Chechen media during the run-up to presidential elections, in which he intends to run and which he anticipates will be held next year. LF

ARRESTED DAGHESTANI POLITICIAN ON HUNGER STRIKE
Nadir Khachilaev, the leader of Daghestan's Lak minority, has embarked on a hunger strike following his arrest in Makhachkala last month, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 2 February. Khachilaev is suspected of involvement in the 18 January bombing in Makhachkala that killed seven Russian servicemen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). LF

MORE DETAILS EMERGE OF ARMENIAN SPY CASE...
The daily newspaper "Azg" on 1 February identified the Armenian arrested several days earlier for espionage for Turkey as Murad Bojolian, a former specialist on Turkish affairs with the Armenian Foreign Ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). Bojolian, who is 51, left the ministry under circumstances that are unclear and in recent years made a living from retail trade. LF

...AS ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OPTIMISTIC THAT RELATIONS WITH TURKEY WILL IMPROVE
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL on 2 February that his meeting the previous day on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in New York with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem was "useful." Oskanian said he thinks "there will be a continuation of that meeting in the near future," adding that "both sides are in the mood to try to address our bilateral issues through direct dialogue. In that sense this was a positive development in our relations." LF

ITERA CONTINUES GAS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA
The Russian gas exporter Itera failed to cut off supplies to Armenia on 1 February despite a warning that it would do so if Yerevan failed to pay a $6 million debt for gas supplies last year and $3.85 million for supplies in January 2002, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002). Energy Minister Armen Movsisian denied that Itera had issued a written warning to Yerevan, and disputed the $3.85 million sum. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT SENDS MESSAGE TO ARMENIAN COUNTERPART
Following a session in Yerevan in late January of the U.S.-Armenian intergovernmental task force to discuss U.S. government assistance to Armenia and cooperation to combat terrorism, U.S. President George W. Bush has sent a message to his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian through U.S. Ambassador to Yerevan John Ordway, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian and Ordway discussed ways of deepening bilateral cooperation. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REJECTS PROPOSAL TO EXTEND PRESIDENTIAL TERM...
Speaking on 2 February in New York, where he attended the World Economic Forum, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said he sees no need to amend the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic to extend the presidential term from five to seven years, ITAR-TASS reported. On 1 February, parliament deputies from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party had suggested doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002), a proposal that met with criticism from the opposition Musavat, Liberal, Democratic, and Civic Unity parties, which in a joint statement condemned it as a violation of constitutional norms that would damage Azerbaijan's international image, Turan reported. LF

...MEETS WITH OSCE MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN...
President Aliev met in New York on 1 February with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and assured them that he considers negotiations within that format the optimum approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Caucasus Press reported. He characterized the search for a solution as "slow and painful." Also on 1 February, Caucasus Press reported that Aliev and Kocharian will meet on 7 March in Astana to discuss the Karabakh conflict on the sidelines of an informal meeting of CIS heads of states. LF

...PRIOR TO UNDERGOING MEDICAL CHECKUP
Aliev flew on 3 February from New York to Cleveland for medical tests at a clinic where he underwent coronary bypass surgery in 1999 and a medical checkup last year, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 11 May 1999, and 13 April 2001). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT LAUDS UN SECURITY COUNCIL STATEMENT...
Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists on 2 February that the resolution on Abkhazia adopted by the UN Security Council two days earlier is "the most serious" such document to date, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. He noted that the document insists that the final definition of Abkhazia's status must be based on Georgia's territorial integrity, and stresses that displaced persons must be allowed to return to their homes without preconditions. The document also calls on both sides, in particular the Abkhaz, to accept as a basis for negotiations the UN-drafted "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi," calls on Georgia to comply with the 17 January agreement under which Georgian troops are to be withdrawn from the Kodori Gorge, and stresses the responsibility of the Abkhaz side to ensure the safety of and provide Georgian-language education for the Georgian population of Gali Raion. LF

...EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR EXTENDING CIS PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE...
Shevardnadze also told journalists that the UN Security Council would not have worded its resolution so strongly if Tbilisi had not agreed to extend until 1 July the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Reuters reported. "All this is so important for us it does not matter whether the peacekeepers will stay in Abkhazia a bit longer," he said. The Georgian parliament voted last October to demand the peacekeepers' withdrawal after their mandate expired on 31 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2001). LF

...MEETS WITH INGURI PROTESTERS...
On 3 February, Shevardnadze met with representatives of the Georgian guerrillas and displaced persons who began a picket on 19 January at the Inguri bridge linking Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia to demand that the CIS peacekeepers' either be withdrawn, or that they be redeployed on the northern border of Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 January 2002). No agreement was reached. The picketers were to meet on 4 February to decide whether Shevardnadze's arguments that the peacekeepers should stay are convincing, and if not, whether or not to demand his resignation. LF

MAVERICK GEORGIAN EX-PRIEST AGAIN TARGETS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Defrocked Father Basil Mkalavishvili and several dozen of his followers seized four tons of leaflets and other literature belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses from a Tbilisi warehouse on 3 February and burned them, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. LF

PRELIMINARY GEORGIAN CENSUS RESULTS UNVEILED
Georgia's population is currently 4.4 million people, 900,000 fewer than at the time of the 1989 Soviet census, Caucasus Press and Interfax quoted Statistics Department head Temur Beridze as telling journalists on 1 February. The decrease is primarily the result of emigration in search of employment. More detailed results of last month's census, which did not encompass Abkhazia or South Ossetia, will be released before the end of the year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 2, 10 January 2002). LF

KAZAKH WORKERS MOVEMENT AGAIN SIDES WITH OPPOSITION
At a press conference in Almaty on 1 February, Saqyp Zhanabaeva, one of the leaders of the Almaty Workers Movement, condemned what she termed attempts by the pro-presidential OTAN, Civic and Agrarian parties to neutralize the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The movement had convened a press conference the previous day to demand the publication of a report compiled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, on top-level corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT WANTS CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN TO EXPLAIN COLLAPSE OF COMMERCIAL BANK
Deputies of the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament) on 1 February harshly criticized Central Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko for ignoring their request to report to the legislature on the circumstances surrounding the bankruptcy of Business-Bank, one of Kazakhstan's largest, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

KYRGYZ POLICE DETAIN PICKETERS
Police on 1 February detained for several hours and then released some 30 people who tried to stage a picket outside the government building in Bishkek to demand the release of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. As of 2 February, the number of people on hunger strike across Kyrgyzstan to demand Beknazarov's release reached 408. LF

FRENCH MILITARY ENGINEERS ARRIVE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Some 60 French military engineers arrived in Bishkek on 31 January and more on 2 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They will set about modernizing the Manas airport. The total number of French servicemen in Kyrgyzstan is now around 200. LF

RUSSIA NAMES CONSULAR OFFICIAL FOR SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN
The Russian Foreign Ministry has named Professor Yurii Ivanov, a former department head at the ministry, to serve as consul for the Osh, Djalalabad, and Batken Oblasts in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 2 February. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT HOPES TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH IRAN
During talks on 2 February with visiting Iranian First Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsin Aminzade, President Imomali Rakhmonov termed cooperation with Iran one of the most important aspects of Tajikistan's foreign policy, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. But he likewise deplored the fact that five years after the end of the Tajik civil war the two countries have still not adopted a comprehensive program of economic cooperation. The two men agreed that the joint Tajik-Iranian commission on trade and economic cooperation should work more intensively and effectively. They also discussed the planned visit to Tajikistan of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and the situation in Afghanistan. LF

FINAL RESULTS OF UZBEK REFERENDUM PUBLISHED
Turnout in the 27 January referendum in Uzbekistan was 13.26 million, or 91.58 percent of the total electorate, the National Information Agency of Uzbekistan reported on 2 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). Of those, 93.65 percent approved the creation of a bicameral parliament, while 6.35 percent voted against. And 91.78 percent of respondents approved the proposal to extend the presidential term to seven years from the current five, while 8.22 percent voted against that proposal. LF

BELARUS'S NATIONAL BANK ORDERS TERRORIST ACCOUNTS FROZEN
The National Bank has issued a resolution instructing the country's banks to stop "income and expenditure transactions on the accounts of terrorists, terrorist organizations, and individuals connected with them," Belapan reported on 1 February. National Bank spokesman Mikhail Zhuravovich said the document stipulates that the central bank provide information on such organizations and individuals after obtaining it from the Foreign Ministry. Zhuravovich added that the Foreign Ministry currently requires that the bank freeze financial assets on Belarusian accounts of Afghanistan's Taliban movement and of Angola's Unita group. No further details have been released. JM

BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA MAY CUT GAS PRICES...
Deputy Premier Syarhey Sidorski told Interfax on 1 February that Russia may reduce the price of natural gas supplied to Belarus from $30 to $19 per 1,000 cubic meters; that is, to the price paid by Russia's domestic consumers in Smolensk and Bransk Oblasts. Sidorski said Belarus's gas debt to Russia now stands at $200 million, adding that it was accumulated not in 2001, but in "previous years." JM

...EXPECTS MASSIVE INVESTMENTS IN PETROCHEMICAL SECTOR
Sidorski said the government hopes that the earlier announced privatization of six petrochemical giants in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002) may bring $100,000 to $800,000 worth of investments to each privatized plant. Sidorski added that such companies as LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz, Itera, and Slavneft are expected to take part in the privatization. JM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES PENSIONS
Beginning on 1 February 2002, pensions in Belarus will be increased by 20 percent, Belarusian Television reported on 31 January, citing the Labor and Social Security Ministry. The maximum monthly pension for women who served 40 years and for men who served 45 years is to be 128,854 rubles ($78). JM

UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS SEEKING PARLIAMENTARY SEATS URGED TO TAKE LEAVE
Premier Anatoliy Kinakh on 1 February pledged to ensure that all government officials seeking parliamentary mandates in single-seat constituencies as well as "a maximum number" of those officials running as party-list candidates will take leave during the election campaign, Interfax reported. Kinakh noted that the election law does not include such a requirement, but added that he will insist on this measure in order to avoid possible accusations that government officials use "administrative leverage" to help their election bids. He did not say whether he himself will take such leave. Kinakh is running on the list of the For a United Ukraine election bloc. JM

FOR A UNITED UKRAINE LEADER REJECTS INVOLVEMENT IN 'TAPE SCANDAL'
Presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn, who leads the For a United Ukraine election bloc, said on 1 February that he has no connection to the "tape scandal" provoked by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Melnychenko's secret recordings from the president's office, which were made public by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in 2000, suggested that President Leonid Kuchma, former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Lytvyn might have been involved in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Last week, Moroz made public five questions about the "tape scandal" that he would like to pose to Lytvyn in their anticipated public debate on radio or television. "Let Moroz elucidate this problem with Melnychenko or the Prosecutor-General's Office, while I am ready for debates on election programs," Lytvyn responded. JM

UKRAINE TO GET $60 MILLION FROM WORLD BANK TO FIGHT AIDS, TUBERCULOSIS
The World Bank is ready to allot $60 million to Ukraine to combat AIDS and tuberculosis, New Channel Television reported on 1 February, quoting unnamed World Bank officials who spent two weeks in Ukraine studying the situation pertaining to those illnesses. The money will be primarily channeled into diagnosing AIDS and tuberculosis, supplying medicines, and monitoring infected people. Meanwhile, a World Bank mission led by its director for Belarus and Ukraine, Luca Barbone, has arrived in Kyiv to discuss conditions for a $250 million loan. The funds are part of the World Bank's $750 million loan program to Ukraine announced in 2000. Last year, Ukraine received a $250 million tranche of the package. JM

EU TO SCRAP SUBSIDIES ON FOOD EXPORTS TO ESTONIA
At a meeting of Estonian and EU delegations on 1 February, the EU agreed to end export subsidies on foodstuffs exported to Estonia, with the exception of sugar and rice, which are not produced in Estonia, BNS reported. According to supplementary terms of the agreement, this measure must be preceded by Estonian readiness to register goods of EU origin on which no subsidy is paid. During the talks it was agreed that various trade limits on a number of agricultural products, such as berries, fruits, mushrooms, vegetables, certain meat products, and honey, would be scrapped. The same day, an agreement between Estonia and the EU which will eventually end quotas on Estonian fish and fish products exported to the EU went into effect. SG

NEW LATVIAN PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS
The founding congress of a new right-wing political party Jaunais laiks (New Era) was held in Riga on 2 February and as expected elected former Bank of Latvia President Einars Repse as its chairman, LETA and BNS reported. He told the congress that as soon as the party gains power it will begin restoring the welfare of the people in Latvia; honest businessmen will be guaranteed support of the state, and residents -- security. Repse also pledged that the party will fight corruption and drug dealing. The congress also elected Valdis Dombrovskis, Edgars Jaunups, Ausma Ziedone-Kantabne, Grigorijs Krupnikovs, and Karlis Sadurskis to the party's board. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT ATTENDS WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
Vaira Vike-Freiberga began an extended visit to the U.S. on 29 January in New York, ELTA reported. On 1 February at the World Economic Forum she spoke in a panel discussion led by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) about Latvia's role in trans-Atlantic security, and led a discussion on European identity. That day she also visited UN headquarters and signed two additional protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child directed against child prostitution and trafficking as well as against involvement of children in armed conflicts. During the forum she also met with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev. On 4 February she flew to Washington for scheduled meetings with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. SG

LITHUANIA SHIFTS PEG FROM U.S. DOLLAR TO EURO
Bank of Lithuania President Reinoldijus Sarkinas announced on 1 February that the Lithuanian litas will be pegged to the euro at a rate of 3.4528 litas to one euro as of the following day, ELTA reported. The rate was determined by taking the U.S. dollar/euro exchange rate ($0.8632 per euro) announced by the European Central Bank earlier that afternoon and dividing it by four, as the litas had been pegged to the dollar at a rate of four to one since April 1994, when Lithuania adopted a currency board arrangement that will be retained. The decision to shift the peg was made so that there would not be any more exchange rate fluctuations in trading with the EU, which Lithuania hopes to join in 2004. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT READY TO RELIEVE THE POOREST OF TAXES
Prime Minister Leszek Miller said during a meeting with the Confederation of Polish Employers in Warsaw on 1 February that his cabinet is ready to introduce a 0 percent tax rate for the worst-off in 2003, PAP reported. Miller also said that the government is working on changes to the tax system that would introduce a single corporate and personal income tax. Miller declared that the "entire tax system will undergo fundamental simplification." JM

POLAND WANTS SECONDHAND NORWEGIAN SUBMARINES
Polish Radio reported on 2 February that Warsaw is currently negotiating with Oslo for a free-of-charge takeover of four secondhand Norwegian submarines. "These warships underwent general overhaul and modernization in the '90s, so they have state-of-the-art equipment from the period when they were modernized. And that would be very satisfactory for us, since the warships that we have now are of similar age but have not undergone any modernization. And the costs of modernization would be enormous " Polish navy commander Janusz Walczak commented. JM

CZECH PREMIER WANTS OMBUDSMAN AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Milos Zeman said in an interview with the daily "Pravo" on 2 February that he would like the Social Democratic Party to field Ombudsman Otakar Motejl as its presidential candidate in 2003, CTK reported. Zeman ruled out seeking the post himself, but as in the past he added that he would accept to be the CSSD candidate only "in the very unlikely emergency situation in which no other candidate has a chance to succeed." Motejl, who is 69, is not a member of any political party. He told CTK last month that he does not know whether he would run for the position and that this depends on the situation ahead of the presidential election and on who would propose his candidacy. MS

CZECH SENATOR LEAVES PARTY IN PROTEST...
Former Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) leader Daniel Kroupa, who is now a senator, announced on 1 February he is resigning from the ODA in protest against the breaking up of the Four Party Coalition and the conduct of the ODA leadership in the crisis, CTK reported. ODA Chairman Michael Zantovsky said in response that he regrets Kroupa's decision and believes that Kroupa was not well-informed about the positions the leadership has taken during the crisis. Kroupa said he intends to stay on as leader of the Freedom Union-ODA parliamentary group in the Senate if his colleagues in the parliamentary faction do not object. MS

...AND ODA LEADER SAYS SPLIT IS NOT END OF COOPERATION
Zantovsky told journalists on 1 February that the ODA's decision to leave the Four Party Coalition does not necessarily signify ending all cooperation with ODA's former allies, CTK reported. He said cooperation could continue at regional and local government levels, as well as in the Senate, where the joint Freedom Union-ODA group should not be disbanded. Freedom Union officials said they share Zantovsky's views. Similar opinions were registered from regional leaders of the different parties that belonged to the Four Party Coalition. Also on 1 February, Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Cyril Svoboda told journalists that the KDU-CSL still intends to run in the June elections in alliance with the Freedom Union-Democratic Union. Svoboda called Karel Kuehnl's decision to resign as head of the Four Party Coalition a "responsible step." MS

SUDETEN GERMANS MULL LAWSUITS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC...
Gerhard Zeisel, the chairman of the organizations representing the Sudeten Germans expelled under the 1945 Benes decrees, said on 3 February that the Sudeten Germans in Austria intend to launch in the Czech Republic a lawsuit demanding the abolition of the decrees, dpa reported. In reaction, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky and Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik reiterated that the decrees cannot be abolished. MS

...WHILE KLAUS, SCHUESSEL DIFFER ON THE ISSUE
Speaking on Austrian television on 3 February, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel called for the dispute on the decrees to be settled by a joint Czech-Austrian governmental declaration that would "say once and for all that the Benes decrees are no longer valid and that they represent a dead wrong." Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the Austrian weekly "Profil" the same day, said the demand to abolish the decrees is "unrealistic," CTK reported. Klaus said "symbolic moves" may have become "fashionable," but that they cannot achieve anything. He also rejected any claims for compensating those who were expelled. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER WANTS TO FORGE NEW 'RIGHT BLOC'
Mikulas Dzurinda said on 2 February that his Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) is conducting "so far unofficial" talks aimed at forging a new alliance ahead of the September 2002 parliamentary elections, CTK reported. Dzurinda said the new alliance might be called "The Right Bloc" and include the Hungarian Coalition Party, the Democratic Party, and the now extraparliamentary ANO, which is headed by former Markiza television Director Pavol Rusko. CTK said the Christian Democratic Movement, of which Dzurinda is a former member, is skeptical about participating in the new alliance, in view of the disintegration of the Dzurinda-led Slovak Democratic Coalition, which won the 1998 elections. The SDKU the same day approved a timetable for choosing in primaries the party's candidates in the next elections. MS

SLOVAKIA WANTS 'BASIC BILATERAL PRINCIPLES' DEFINED IN STATUS LAW AGREEMENT
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo said on 3 February that Bratislava wants the planned joint declaration with Budapest to address not only the controversial Status Law, but also to define the "basic principles of bilateral relations," CTK reported. Chlebo said Hungary might have some reservations about the Slovak proposals, but that a consensus could be reached "through diplomatic channels." He said the principles should include a general provision saying that foreign laws are invalid in Slovakia without Bratislava's consent, and that no legislation can grant preference to one nationality over another. "It is impossible to make compromises on principles," Chlebo said. MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS CONTINUE CRITICISM OF EU PROPOSALS...
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 3 February that Hungary has not been "caught unaware" by the European Commission's recent proposal on EU agricultural subsidies and that he is confident that "in the next six to seven months we can negotiate essentially more favorable terms and conditions than those offered by the EU," Hungarian media reported. Orban reiterated that "Hungary wants equal treatment." Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi likewise said on 2 February that "We do not ask for more [than current EU members get], but cannot accept less than that." Martonyi said Budapest could agree to a short "transition period," but that this "cannot go beyond 2006." Meeting in Budapest on 1 February, representatives of the Visegrad Four criticized the EU proposal as infringing on "the principle of equality." They decided that the four countries' premiers will meet in Hungary on 19 February to agree on a common stand in the negotiations. MS

...AND OPPOSITION GRABS CHANCE TO ATTACK GOVERNMENT AGAIN
On 3 February, the main opposition Socialist Party criticized the EU proposals as unfair, but also accused the government of being weak in the negotiations with Brussels, Hungarian media reported. The Socialists' leadership said the government has made poor compromises on issues such as allowing foreigners to buy land in Hungary and the free movement of labor. It also said the government has largely ignored the European Commission's criticism of the state budget, corruption, and its media policy. Peter Medgyessy, the Socialists' candidate for premier, criticized Orban's statement last week that "there is life outside the EU," saying this is "the road to isolation and poverty," Reuters reported. MS

CONTROVERSIAL BOOK DISAPPEARS FROM HUNGARIAN BOOKSTORES
A recently released critical biography of Premier Orban, authored by journalist Peter Kende, has been disappearing from bookstores, dpa reported. The agency, citing a Kende interview with the daily "Nepszabadsag," said that Kende claims that offers have been made to purchase the book to prevent it from being distributed to book sellers and that an anonymous buyer has offered to purchase all the copies distributed to the Auchan and Tesco supermarket chains. Recently, a popular television show hosted by Kende was taken off the air by the public service broadcaster Magyar Televizio (MTV). MS

CROATIAN PRESIDENT: NEW ELECTIONS UNLIKELY
Stipe Mesic said in Brijuni on 3 February that it is unlikely that the parliament will call for early elections, because current deputies know that they are not assured of re-election, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He was responding to a reporter's question regarding the possibility of a new vote following the election of Drazen Budisa as chairman of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) the day before. Budisa defeated incumbent Jozo Rados, who is also defense minister, by a 759-333 vote. Budisa headed the HSLS for many years until he resigned in 2001 to protest the government's decision to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He recently criticized the government for not doing enough against corruption and poverty. He has also demanded additional posts in the cabinet for the HSLS, which holds six out of 21 positions. If Budisa forces new elections by making demands that Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan cannot accept, polls suggest that the HSLS and other conservative parties are likely to gain seats in a new election. PM

FORMER TOP SERBIAN GENERAL DEFENDS HIS RECORD
Ojdanic told "Vesti" on 5 February that he and his army always acted according to international conventions and rules of warfare. He specifically denied charges that the army was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of ethnic Albanians whose bodies have been found dumped in the Danube and elsewhere. Ojdanic added that no one from the government has asked him to voluntarily go to The Hague. He nonetheless fears that he may be "abducted" because "people are up to all sorts of things." He denied any knowledge of a possible coup by his predecessor, General Momcilo Perisic, against the opposition in 1997, as Ojdanic's successor, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, has charged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2002). Ojdanic said that he is willing to defend his record -- before a domestic court. PM

MILOSEVIC TO FACE ONLY ONE TRIAL
Officials at The Hague-based tribunal announced on 1 February that Milosevic will face one single trial for charges stemming from his wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). The trial will begin on 12 February. In related news, the Croatian weekly "Globus" published extensive transcripts of telephone calls by Milosevic in its 1 February issue. The calls were intercepted by Croatian intelligence between 1996 and 1998 and involve top Belgrade officials as well as members of the Milosevic family, among others. The language can be described as lively Serbian. PM

EU TRIES ONCE AGAIN TO HOLD SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TOGETHER
Top-level delegations of experts from Belgrade and Podgorica are scheduled to begin talks with EU officials in Brussels on 4 February, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). The EU wants to convince the Montenegrins that their own economic and social interests are best served by maintaining a joint state with Serbia. Montenegro argues that the process of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia that began more than a decade ago is continuing, and that the Montenegrins will decide their own fate in a referendum. PM

MONTENEGRO SLAMS SERBIAN PROPOSAL FOR SECURITY COUNCIL
Miodrag Vukovic, who is a leading official of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said in Podgorica on 2 February that a recent proposal by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to set up a security council at the federal level is a "ruse" by the president aimed at strengthening central power at the expense of Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRO POSTPONES CENSUS
On 1 February, the Montenegrin government announced that it is postponing the national census from April 2002 to April 2003 because it expects to hold the referendum in the spring of 2002, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The opposition has protested the decision to put off the headcount. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS PROTEST 'DISAPPEARANCE'
Some 3,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Bujanovac on 2 February to mark the second anniversary of the kidnapping of a local man, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic praised the missing man and stressed that an official inquiry into the case is continuing. PM

BOSNIA AND YUGOSLAVIA CONCLUDE TRADE PACT
Officials from the two states signed a free-trade agreement in Belgrade on 1 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Yugoslavia expects to sign a free-trade agreement with Hungary on 8 March. PM

HAS THE HAGUE SINGLED OUT TWO SERBIAN AIDES?
Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade that he recently spoke by telephone with Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 3 February, citing B92 radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). Djindjic added that the tribunal is particularly interested in the extradition of former Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic and former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic. The two men were indicted in 1999 together with former President Slobodan Milosevic, as were Serbian President Milan Milutinovic -- who is still in office -- and General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who was chief of the General Staff during the 1999 war in Kosova. PM

SFOR CALLS ON WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TO SURRENDER
On 1 February, SFOR troops arrived near Sokolac to arrest former Bosnian Serb General Vinko Pandurevic, whom The Hague has indicted for war crimes associated with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, dpa reported. Pandurevic was not at home, so the troops left a copy of the indictment with Pandurevic's father as a summons for the general to turn himself in. The news agency quoted unnamed sources in Sarajevo as saying that this was the second unsuccessful attempt to capture him in 30 days. PM

FUEL TRUCKS CROSS INTO BOSNIA
More that 40 Slovenian and Hungarian fuel trucks crossed into Bosnia from Croatia at Orasje and Bosanska Gradiska on 2 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The trucks had been waiting for clearance for days as part of the ongoing dispute between Bosnia and Croatia regarding overland transportation of fuel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). PM

BOSNIANS CLAIM WORLD WAR II COMPENSATION
More than 10,000 citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina have filed formal requests for compensation from the German Forced Labor Compensation Program, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 4 February, quoting officials of the International Organization for Migration. Some 6,432 of the claimants appear eligible for consideration from the fund set up by the German government in 2000. PM

MACEDONIAN POLICE ENTER ADDITIONAL VILLAGES
On 1 February, ethnically mixed police entered Lipkovo and Otlja near Matejce, northeast of Skopje, and Orizari to the east of the capital, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES EARLY ELECTIONS INTENTION
Adrian Nastase denied on 3 February that the Social Democratic Party (PSD) is contemplating the possibility of calling early parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Nastase was responding to a declaration by Interior Minister Ioan Rus, who said in Cluj on 1 February that the PSD is ready to "assume all the consequences" deriving from its determination to pursue reform and combat corruption, including "loss of popularity." Rus said the possibility of early elections "has been taken into consideration." Nastase said he does not know whether Rus "has more information than I have," but that the latest opinion polls show that the government enjoys "considerable backing." MS

HUNGARIAN PARTY APPROVES AGREEMENT WITH RULING ROMANIAN FORMATION
The Council of Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) met in Targu Mures on 2 February and voted 78 to 11 in favor of approving the recent extension of the agreement between the UDMR and the PSD, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On the eve of the meeting, UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes harshly criticized the agreement, saying it contains no "concrete obligations" on the side of the PSD. Toekes said he is considering proposing to his own Reformed Church and to the other "historic Hungarian churches" in Transylvania that they cut off relations with the UDMR, Mediafax reported. Romanian media reports said the PSD-UDMR agreement stipulates, among other things, that in localities with a large Hungarian-speaking population, 20 percent of the police force will also be made up of Hungarian speakers. MS

NEW PARLIAMENTARY GROUP IN ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT?
The leadership of the Humanist Party of Romania (PUR) decided on 2 February to set up an independent parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PUR Chairman Dan Voiculescu, who made the announcement, said that according to house regulations, a separate parliamentary group can be established by 10 deputies and the PUR meets that requirement. The PUR ran in the 2000 elections on joint lists with the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR), which later merged to form the PSD. MS

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL DENIES SAYING TROOPS WILL STAY IN TRANSDNIESTER
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov denied on 1 February that he said in Tiraspol the previous day that the contingent stationed in the Transdniester will not be withdrawn from the separatist region, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2002). Trubnikov, who met with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, said that Moscow will fully implement the OSCE resolutions. He said that following his talks in Tiraspol he believes that the withdrawal of the Russian arms "will be resumed soon" and that the leadership there "will not obstruct" the process. Trubnikov also met with Premier Vasile Tarlev and, according to a Flux report, told him that the ratification by the State Duma of the basic treaty signed last year could be speeded up if Russia gets Chisinau's accord to open a consulate in Tiraspol. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT READY TO MEET SMIRNOV AS 'HEAD OF LOCAL ADMINISTRATION'...
After his talks with Trubnikov, who urged a resumption of the parleys with Tiraspol, President Voronin told journalists that the negotiations can only be resumed at "expert level," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said he is ready to meet separatist leader Igor Smirnov only in Smirnov's capacity as head of "the local public administration" in Transdniester in order to discuss with him "problems of the local population." Voronin also said that he has proposed to Trubnikov that the custom checkpoints that Moldova wants set up on Ukrainian territory be manned -- in addition to those of Moldova, the Transdniester, and Ukraine -- by custom officials from neutral states "such as Germany, Austria, and Portugal." Voronin said Ukraine and the Transdniester are opposed to the checkpoints, "and we well-know why." MS

...ASKS GOVERNMENT TO DISMISS DEPUTY PREMIER, AMBASSADOR TO U.S.
President Voronin asked the government on 1 February that Deputy Premier in charge of the economy Andrei Cucu along with his deputy Marian Lupu be dismissed, and that Moldovan Ambassador to the U.S. Ceslav Ciobanu be recalled, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The Presidential Office said Voronin has concluded as a result of controls carried out at the Economy Ministry that the three officials had acted "contrary to Moldovan interests" by attempting to "promote on the U.S. market the interests of the Rybnitsa metallurgical factory." The factory is in the separatist region and the three are suspected of having worked for reducing the antidumping 233 percent levy imposed on its products to a 10 percent import tax. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI CONFLICT ERUPTS
Deputies in the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz Yeri autonomous region called on the population on 2 February to participate in the envisaged early local elections and in a referendum they intend to call for dismissing the autonomous region's governor, ("Bashkan") Dumitru Croitor, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The appeal comes after a draft resolution to dismiss Croitor as governor failed on 1 February, falling three votes short of the 24 votes needed for it to pass. The deputies claim Croitor has mismanaged the region's budget to his personal benefit. Croitor and his supporters accuse their rivals of being in the service of the "Communists in Chisinau," and of former region Governor George Tabunshik. MS

BULGARIANS MARCH AGAINST TAX INCREASES
Some 2,000 small business owners demonstrated on 1 February outside the parliament in Sofia, protesting tax hikes that, they claimed, will force hundreds of industries to shut down, AP reported. The 40 percent tax increases were introduced in a bid to meet the budget guidelines drawn by the International Monetary Fund. The demonstrators complained that the hike "collides with promises about encouraging small businesses" that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski made before the June 2001 elections. MS

There is no End Note today.


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