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Newsline - February 5, 2002


RUSSIA AND NATO EXPLORE THEIR DIFFERENCES
Speaking in Rome at the conference of NATO defense ministers on 4 February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said his country is united with the antiterrorism coalition and human rights organizations in their understanding of the threat of terrorism, but has different goals and targets for the next stage of antiterrorist operations, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov reiterated that Russia does not accept U.S. President George W. Bush's definition of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as an "axis of evil" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002) and will continue its relations with those countries. "Russia is supplying conventional weapons to Iran and will continue to do so, because it is a normal commercial deal," Ivanov said, adding, "Russia has its own list of countries of concern." VY

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS ABOUT 'INFORMATION TERRORISM'
Speaking to journalists in Rome the same day, Ivanov said that although future terrorist attacks will likely make use of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, Russia fears a new type of threat -- "information terrorism," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. He argued that the defense and financial security of modern society relies on electronic databases and telecommunication channels that are open to attacks by computer "pirates." The warning is also mentioned in the "White Book of the Russian Intelligence Community" published in 1996, which outlines one possible scenario for such an attack in which terrorists would use powerful electromagnetic pulses to instantly destroy the databases of a country's stock exchanges and financial institutions, and simultaneously erase the data of the largest national television channels. In the aftermath of such an scenario, no further attacks on government or military objects would be needed, as the country would be paralyzed, according to the authors. VY

RUSSIAN MILITARY COURT REFUSES TO RELEASE PASKO PENDING OUTCOME OF APPEALS PROCESS
The military college of Russia's Supreme Court declined to change the terms of punishment for former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February, citing one of Pasko's lawyers, Anatolii Pyshkin. Pasko was recently sentenced to four years imprisonment for espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Pasko's lawyers had asked that he be released while his case is appealed. Yabloko deputy Aleksandr Shishlov reported the same day that a resolution asking the Supreme Court to free Pasko will be considered by the Council of Europe's parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 18 March, ntvru.com reported. JAC

PRIME MINISTER ENDS U.S. VISIT DREAMING ABOUT RUSSIAN OIL EXPORTS TO AMERICA
Mikhail Kasyanov concluded his visit to the U.S. by meeting on 4 February with U.S. President Bush, who conveyed the desire of his administration to promote Russia's joining of the World Trade Organization and upgrading its status to a market economy, Russian news agencies reported. After his talks with Bush, Kasyanov told journalists that a new topic is gaining momentum in relations between Moscow and Washington -- the transformation of Russia into one of the major exporters of oil to the U.S. market. However, "Izvestiya" commented the same day that the premier's statement is a pipe dream at best, arguing that the high transport costs that would be incurred in exporting Russian oil to the United States would make such a venture unprofitable. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER PROMISES MORE AID TO AFGHANISTAN
Igor Ivanov arrived in Kabul on 4 February and said following his talks with Hamid Karzai, the head of Afghanistan's provisional administration, that Russia intends to play an active role in developing the country and rebuilding its economy, ORT reported. Ivanov said that he asked Karzai to draw up proposals to activate Soviet-built energy and mining facilities, and agricultural machinery factories. Ivanov also said that he gave a note from President Vladimir Putin to Karzai and Defense Minister Mokhamad Fakhim to visit Moscow next month. VY

OLYMPIC COMMITTEE TO FORM TV COMPANY...
Russia's Olympic Committee will form a television company called Sport Russia by the middle of March, committee official Rudolf Nezvetskii told Interfax on 4 April. However, Nezvetskii explained that since applications to participate in the tender for TV-6 are due on 6 March, the committee will not be able to make the deadline. The same day, Media Ministry spokesman Yurii Akinshin told the agency that the ministry will only postpone the tender "due to a lack of applications, because of some court rulings, or serious technical problems, but not at someone's request." JAC

...AS GAZPROM MEDIA REPORTEDLY TO BE PUT UP FOR SALE SOON
In an interview with "Profil" on 4 February, Gazprom Media General Director Boris Jordan said that Dresdnerbank will soon submit to Gazprom its suggestions for the best way to sell the Gazprom Media holding. Jordan also revealed that if the conditions of sale are "right," he would personally be interested in purchasing the entire holding. Conditions for bidding for the company will be announced in February, Jordan said. According to Interfax, Gazprom Media currently includes the NTV, TNT, NTV-Plus, and AST TV television channels; the Sport-FM, Open Radio, Ekho Moskvy, RDV, and Do-Radio radio stations; and the publications "Karavan," "Istorii," "7-Days," "Trud," and "Tribuna." Also on 4 February, an unidentified source close to Gazprom's board of directors told Interfax that the board may consider the company's media assets at its next meeting in early March. JAC

STATE DUMA TO DISCUSS BILL ON SHUTTING DOWN MASS MEDIA ENTITIES
The State Duma has included in its agenda an amendment to the Law on Mass Media that would allow for the Media Ministry to close down a mass media outlet in the event that it is found guilty in a slander case filed by a citizen or public entity, Russian news agencies reported on 4 February. The bill was submitted by the Nizhnii Novgorod Duma. Because such suits are a rather routine matter in today's Russia, many analysts feel the amendment if adopted could be used broadly as a tool to silence unwanted media. VY

ENVOYS HOPE TO REPLACE GOVERNORS AS FIRST STOP FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS
"Vedomosti" reported on 4 February that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts are trying to redirect investment flows that were once overseen by regional governors to their offices. The envoys in the Far Eastern, Southern, and Central federal districts have either launched or plan to launch their own investment agencies, and Vneshekonombank plans to partner with each of them. According to the daily, while the envoys have had some success in making regional authorities harmonize their legislation with federal law, regional leaders have retained the main economic instruments such as the ability to bestow tax exemptions, pass local budgets, and issue licenses. With their new agencies, the envoys hope to compensate for their lack of economic levers by offering businesses "political cover." Oleg Mikhailenko, the head of Dalinkom, explained that before the office of the envoys was created, "the problems of minimizing political risks for foreign or domestic investors were being solved with the kind word of a governor. But now Dalinkom has the opportunity to minimize its political risk through the apparatus of the presidential envoy." JAC

SAKHALIN GOVERNOR LOBBIES FOR BRIDGE TO JAPAN
Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov told journalists following his meeting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk with Tatsuya Khori, the governor of the Japanese border prefecture Hokkaido, that the two had agreed on the necessity of building a bridge to span the 50-kilometer distance between Hokkaido and Sakhalin, strana.ru and ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. In addition to this, he said that Japan expressed interest in investing in a 20-kilometer bridge linking Sakhalin Island with the Russian mainland. Meanwhile, in Moscow the same day, Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev retreated from his previous statement that he ordered plans for a rail link to Sakhalin be halted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 11 January 2002). He said that the evaluation of the economic feasibility of the project should be left to the government, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 February. VY

SUICIDE ON THE RISE IN MOSCOW
Moscow authorities have registered an increase in the number of suicides in the city, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported 4 February. According to the daily, 1,954 Muscovites committed suicide in 2001, compared to 1,900 in 2000. Men accounted for the largest number of suicides in 2001 with 1,395. The most frequent method of killing oneself was by hanging, followed by jumping from tall buildings, and poisoning. However, the figure was far from the record of 2,365 suicides recorded in 1993. According to the newspaper, former President Boris Yeltsin's decision to shoot at the Russian parliament building with tanks during the failed coup attempt that year led to a wave of public depression. VY

ORTHODOX PATRIARCH AGAIN INSISTS ON RELIGIOUS STUDIES IN STATE SCHOOLS
The Russian Orthodox Church continues to lobby for the introduction of a course on the "foundations of Russian Orthodox culture" in secondary schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2002), "Novaya gazeta" reported on 4 February. According to the daily, Patriarch Aleksii II said in Moscow on 1 February that all Russian "compatriots should know the national culture." However, his comments received a strong rebuttal from Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who said that "according to the constitution, [no organization], including the Russian Orthodox Church, can assign itself the status of a state religion." VY

ARMY PREDICTED TO BE HALF MUSLIM WITHIN 10-20 YEARS...
"Rossiya" reported on 4 February that half of the Russian army's soldiers may be Muslim within 10 to 20 years. However, the publication noted that there are currently no mosques available for Muslims serving in the army even though there are now churches and chapels in military units. In addition, some units are even attached to monasteries where novices serve. The newspaper concluded that "there must be mullahs in the army at last" so that Muslim youth are persuaded that the army "is ready to take into account their peculiarities." It also suggested that forming units based on soldiers' religions, as was done in Tsarist Russia, is another option. JAC

...AS TATARSTAN'S MUSLIM COMMUNITY KEEPS ON GROWING
At the second congress of Tatarstan's Muslims held on 2 February, Mufti Gusman Iskhakov was re-elected to chair the republic's Muslim Religious Board, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 February, citing strana.ru. The last congress was held four years ago, and during that time the number of Muslim communities in the republic grew from 200 up to 1,000, while new mosques were opened in cities and villages, according to ITAR-TASS the previous day. At the congress, the more than 600 delegates discussed the spread of extremism and Wahhabism in Islam and concluded that promoting peaceful Islam is the best way to prevent the radicalization of the Muslim community. Congress delegates also appealed to the State Duma to introduce tax breaks for Muslim property funds. JAC

FORMER PARDONS COMMISSION HEAD TO PROPOSE DISTRICTS TAKE OVER CONSIDERATION OF PARDONS...
Presidential adviser and former head of the Pardons Commission Anatolii Pristavkin told reporters in Moscow on 4 February that he believes an expert council should be formed that would be composed of some members of the former Pardons Commission to assist regions in establishing their own such commissions. Pristavkin said that he is not excluding the possibility that transferring the pardons process to the regional level will slow down the consideration of cases. He added he is going to propose raising the status of regional commissions to that of the federal districts. JAC

...AS SHAIMIEV SAYS REGIONS ARE BEST PLACE
On 2 February, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev issued a decree establishing a pardons commission in his republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 February. Shaimiev told Interfax on 4 February that he believes that the transfer of the pardon function to the regions will make the process more effective. Shaimiev added that he does not agree with the accusations of some human rights activists that the transfer will lead to the corruption of the process as particular cases are not considered objectively. JAC

BUS TO FINLAND TO BECOME AVAILABLE
A bus route will connect border districts in Finland and Russia as early as the summer of 2002, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. The bus will travel between Rovaniemi and Murmansk. JAC

VILLAGERS PROTEST NEW CHECHEN 'SWEEP'
Some 100 residents of the villages of Starye and Novye Atagi picketed the government building in Grozny on 4 February to protest a new search action launched in those villages by Russian troops the previous week, Interfax reported. "Dozens" of Chechen civilians have reportedly been detained during the search action, including nine representatives of the Grozny municipal police department. Russian First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev said last month that the ministry's troops would not conduct any further large-scale random "sweeps" of Chechen villages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2002). LF

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ANNOUNCES PLANS TO VISIT ARMENIA
Following a recent meeting with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Mohammad Koleini announced on 4 February that preparations are now underway for a visit to Armenia by the Iranian defense minister, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The visit by Ali Shamkhani, the first visit to Armenia by such a senior Iranian defense official, will reportedly focus on establishing bilateral military cooperation. Although Armenia and Iran already have significant ties in terms of trade and economic cooperation, this is the first attempt at establishing bilateral military ties. The Iranian government also introduced new measures on 4 February to ease its visa policies for visiting Armenians. RG

RUSSIAN AND ARMENIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS REGIONAL ISSUES AND NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Robert Kocharian held a wide-ranging discussion of regional issues during a telephone conversation on 4 February, Interfax reported. The presidents reviewed the status of the international mediation effort by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to seek a negotiated resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and discussed tentative plans for the Armenian president to meet Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev during next month's summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In recent weeks, Russia has accelerated its diplomatic activity regarding Nagorno-Karabakh in its capacity as a co-chair, along with the U.S. and France, of the OSCE's Minsk Group, which is empowered to mediate the conflict. RG

ARMENIAN-AMERICAN CHARITY ORGANIZATION EXTENDS GRANTS TO ARMENIAN SCHOLARS
A U.S.-based Armenian-American organization, the Fund for Armenian Relief, awarded grants of $5,000 each to 26 selected scholars and scientists at a ceremony in Yerevan on 4 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. The grants, funding varied research projects for one-year periods, are awarded primarily to researchers working in Armenia's beleaguered state-affiliated institutions and universities, with most recipients having been forced to undergo drastic cuts in state funding and pay for the past decade. The program is now in its second year, with 22 recipients selected from more than 80 candidates last year, and seeks to help curb the severe emigration of the country's leading scientists over the past several years. The grants program has expanded this past year with more than 260 applicants competing for the coveted research grants. RG

DATE SET FOR PAPAL VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN...
Pope John Paul II will travel to Baku in May to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and the Vatican, Caspian News Agency reported on 4 February. The pope will meet with President Aliev and with the head of the Muslim Spiritual Board, Sheikh-uk-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade. LF

...WHILE THAT OF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO IRAN STILL UNCLEAR
President Aliev's much-postponed visit to Iran (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 2, 10 January 2002) will take place from 18-20 February, Caucasus Press reported on 4 February. At least 10 bilateral documents are to be signed during the visit, including an Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation. But the daily "Sharq" on 5 February quoted presidential administration official Ali Hasanov as saying the dates for the visit have not yet been determined, Turan reported. LF

PRINCIPAL WITNESS SAYS HE WAS FORCED TO TESTIFY AGAINST AZERBAIJANI NAVAL CAPTAIN
Aliyusif Tayirov, whose testimony was conclusive in securing the conviction on charges of conspiracy to murder of former Azerbaijani Naval Captain Djanmirza Mirzoev, told a court of appeals in Baku on 4 February that he testified under pressure, Turan reported. Tayirov withdrew his earlier testimony. Mirzoev, who campaigned to publicize corruption within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, was sentenced last November to eight years imprisonment on charges of plotting the 1993 murder of the head of Baku's Higher Naval College (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October and 6 November 2001). LF

BAKU MUNICIPAL AUTHORITIES TOUR DISTRESSED VILLAGES
A delegation of the capital's municipal authorities led by Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov and Baku Chief of Police Maharram Aliev, toured the nearby villages of Bilgah, Kurdakhani, and Mashtaga on 2 February to investigate reports of sharply declining living conditions facing local residents there. According to ANS, the delegation examined the severe shortages of potable water and energy in the villages, and noted the residents' lack of proper sanitation and heat in their homes. In concluding their visit, the officials promised the villagers that conditions will be improved shortly by a pending presidential decree calling for the installation of two new electrical transformers and an extension of a nearby natural gas pipeline to provide much-needed energy supplies. RG

INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY COMPLETES MISSION TO GEORGIA
A delegation of inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed their mission to Georgia on 4 February, Reuters reported. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency successfully recovered two titanium-based ceramic containers filled with deadly radioactive material and has stored them at a safe location. The radioactive material, strontium-90, was first discovered in Abkhazia by several local villagers who were hospitalized soon afterward with severe radiation poisoning after they attempted to use the containers as a heating source for their homes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). Georgian National Security Ministry officials expressed concern that the material could be potentially utilized as a core component of a "dirty bomb." RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT COMMENDS CIS PEACEKEEPERS FOR GUARANTEEING STABILITY
In comments on 4 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze welcomed the UN extension of the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces deployed in Abkhazia as creating "definite guarantees of stability in the region," PrimeNews reported. The Georgian president added that any suggestion of the CIS forces' withdrawal would only lead to renewed conflict in the region, a reference to the Georgian parliamentary vote last October demanding the withdrawal of all CIS peacekeepers from the region by the end of March 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 October 2001). The CIS peacekeepers have been stationed along the Georgian-Abkhazian border area since 1994. RG

SHEVARDNADZE APPOINTS NEW GOVERNOR FOR SOUTHERN GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN-POPULATED DJAVAKHETI REGION
Commenting on President Shevardnadze's recent dismissal of the governor of the Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti, Gigla Baramidze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, 31 January 2002), the "Georgian Times" daily reported on 4 February that the move followed heated discussion within the Georgian National Security Council of an internal report on the situation in the troubled region. The newspaper cited the appointment of Temur Mosiashvili, the former chief of the state department for CIS affairs, as a sign that Shevardnadze is increasingly concerned with indications of greater instability in the strategic region. The Samtskhe-Djavakheti region is one of the country's most economically depressed and remains a key issue in Georgian-Armenian relations. Given its increased dependence on imports of electricity from Armenia, the Georgian government has sought to diffuse tensions in the region over the past several months, including pledges to develop the regional economy. The region is also home to a Russian military base, the primary source of employment in the region. RG

MASS MEETING HELD IN SUPPORT OF KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT...
At least 20,000 people from 18 cities converged on Almaty on 2 February to participate in a mass meeting to demonstrate support for the policies of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RIA-Novosti reported. Participants specifically rejected the claims made by participants at a meeting convened two weeks earlier by the Forum of Democratic Forces that the country's leadership systematically violates citizens' political and economic rights. LF

...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SLAM PRO-GOVERNMENT MEDIA
In a statement made public on 1 February and posted on the website of the Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan (FDSK) (http://www.forumkz.org), four parliament deputies deplored the failure of pro-presidential media outlets to provide coverage of the emergence of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), or the meetings organized in Almaty on 19 and 20 January by those two opposition groups. They also condemned Nazarbaev's instructions on 25 January to the Prosecutor-General's Office to bring to trial all persons who have criticized Nazarbaev and his family, describing those orders as being "in the best traditions of 1937," the year of one of Joseph Stalin's most notorious purges. The four proposed summoning the prosecutor-general to address parliament deputies on his response to Nazarbaev's orders. LF

DATE SET FOR TRIAL OF ARRESTED KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY
The trial of Azimbek Beknazarov on charges of abuse of his official position will open in the town of Toktogul in southern Kyrgyzstan on 12 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 4 February. Beknazarov is accused of failing to arrest and charge a man who killed another in self-defense in a fight in Toktogul in early 1995. Meanwhile, Beknazarov's supporters continued their picket of the Prosecutor-General's Office in Bishkek for the 27th consecutive day on 4 February to demand Beknazarov's release. Interior Ministry spokesman Joldoshbek Busurmankulov on 4 February denied opposition claims that over 400 Beknazarov supporters are on hunger strike, saying the true figure is only 11. LF

KYRGYZ FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER ASKS MEDIA NOT TO CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT
Nikolai Tanaev met on 4 February in Bishkek with representatives of 11 electronic media outlets, whom he begged to portray events in Kyrgyzstan fairly and objectively, rather than focus only on negative aspects, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Tanaev argued that it is not possible to solve all of Kyrgyzstan's economic problems immediately. LF

FORMER TAJIK REGIONAL GOVERNOR ON TRIAL
The trial began on 4 February at the Tajik Supreme Court of Abdudjalil Khamidov, former governor of the Leninbad (subsequently renamed Soghd) Oblast, Interfax reported. Khamidov is accused of having begun, immediately after the signing in the summer of 1997 of the peace agreement that ended the Tajik civil war, conspiring to murder his successor as oblast governor, Kasym Kasymov, Dushanbe Mayor Makhmadsaid Ubaidulloev, and Emergency Situations Minister Mirzo Zioyev. Khamidov was arrested in December 2000 together with 11 men whom he recruited to commit those killings. LF

INDIA TO HELP TRAIN TAJIK AIR FORCE
A visiting Indian military delegation held talks in Dushanbe on 5 February with Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Agreement was reached that India will help train personnel for the Tajik air force and contribute to modernizing the Ayni air force base. France recently rejected an offer of the use of that facility because it would have required extensive repairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002). LF

ANOTHER SENIOR TURKMEN DIPLOMAT RESIGNS, JOINS OPPOSITION TO PRESIDENT
Nurmuhammed Khanamov resigned his post as ambassador to Turkey on 3 February and announced that he intends to fight the regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov "with all possible means," RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the following day. Khanamov characterized the current situation in Turkmenistan as worse than that in the USSR under Stalin, noting that Niyazov frequently acts in a way that is inconsistent and illogical. In November 2001, Turkmen Ambassador to China Boris Shikhmuradov similarly declared his opposition to Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," Vol. 2, No. 4, 24 January 2002). LF

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY MISSION VISITS MINSK
Uta Zapf of Germany, the head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, and two other European lawmakers met with Council of the Republic Chairman Alyaksandr Vaytovich and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou in Minsk on 4 February, Belapan reported. Zapf urged Vaytovich to use his influence to end uncertainty over the mandate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Belarus. Zapf said Dr. Eberhard Heyken, Germany's former ambassador to Ukraine, is ready to succeed Hans Georg Wieck as the AMG head, but expressed her concern over Minsk's signals that it wants changes in the mandate of the group. Zapf added that the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament will offer a new policy regarding Belarus after it meets four conditions -- giving meaningful powers and functions to the legislature, establishing an ombudsman's office, as well as democratizing the election and media laws. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'COMPETENT' NEW PARLIAMENT...
Speaking to foreign diplomats in Kyiv on 4 February, President Leonid Kuchma said he would like to see "a competent and structured parliament after the [31 March] elections with a permanent and not a circumstantial majority," Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma urged the diplomats to ignore deliberately false statements on the undemocratic conduct of the election campaign, and decried the use of dirty election techniques by those who are unable to win "in an honest battle." JM

...PLEDGES TO STIMULATE RELATIONS WITH U.S., NATO...
Touching upon Ukraine's foreign policy priorities, Kuchma said these include enhancing relations with NATO and filling Ukraine's strategic partnership with the United States with specific content, New Channel Television reported. Kuchma described Ukraine's multidirectional approach in foreign policy as justified and successful. He stressed that despite numerous foreign friends, the country will decide on its policy on its own. "One cannot see our country as a small child who has already learned how to take some steps, but continues to hold on to somebody's hand," Kuchma added. JM

...AND VETOES BILL ON LOCAL ELECTION
President Kuchma has vetoed the Law on Election of Local Council Deputies and Heads of Villages and Towns, UNIAN quoted parliamentary deputy speaker Stepan Havrysh as saying on 4 February. The bill will be discussed during the last session of the current Verkhovna Rada, which opened on 5 February and will continue for the next three weeks. JM

POLISH PREMIER VOWS TO PROMOTE UKRAINE'S INTERESTS IN WEST
Leszek Miller paid an official visit to Kyiv on 4 February, where he met with Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, President Kuchma, and parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, Polish and Ukrainian media reported. Miller promised that Poland will continue to act as an advocate of Ukraine's interests in the West, including giving assistance to Ukraine toward associate membership in the EU. Miller also promised that his government will extend support to Polish companies that will take part in the construction of an oil pipeline stretching from Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa to Poland's Baltic Sea port of Gdansk. Kinakh stressed that Poland's accession to the EU would contribute to deepening democratic and market reforms in Ukraine. Miller refused to comment on Gazprom's reported intention to scrap its plan for constructing an oil pipeline bypassing Ukraine. JM

UKRAINE TO FORM SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES BY 2005
Lieutenant General Mykola Palchuk, the first deputy chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces, told journalists on 4 February that Ukraine is to form a special operations forces by 2005 within the front-line defense forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Palchuk said the main purpose of the special operations forces will be to carry out reconnaissance, sabotage, and special operations inside enemy territory, as well as to be involved in fighting terrorism. Palchuk also said that a new draft of Ukraine's military doctrine does not provide for conducting combat actions along the entire perimeter of the country's border, unlike the previous doctrine of 1993. "This is impossible and not expedient, both from the economic point of view and in terms of defense sufficiency," he added. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER, COMMUNIST PARTY HEAD MEET ON RFE/RL AIRWAVES
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 4 February broadcast live a discussion between former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the Our Ukraine election bloc, and Communist Party head Petro Symonenko. It was the second high-profile political debate aired by RFE/RL during the election campaign in Ukraine, following a meeting between Yuliya Tymoshenko and Viktor Medvedchuk two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 January 2002). Symonenko slammed the reforms undertaken by all governments of independent Ukraine, including Yushchenko's, as detrimental to the interests of the people. Yushchenko stressed the importance of a democratically elected parliamentary majority in pursuing changes to the economy and society. JM

POLISH CULTURE MINISTER VISITS ESTONIA
Andrzej Celinski completed a two-day visit to Tallinn on 4 February by signing a bilateral cultural cooperation agreement with his Estonian counterpart Signe Kivi, BNS reported. They also agreed that the Chopin Institute in Warsaw and other institutions will continue to be involved in the organization of a young pianists' competition in Tallinn devoted to Frederic Chopin's works. Celinski handed over the first prize in this year's competition to Gintaras Janusevicius, a young pianist from Lithuania. He also extended an invitation to Kivi to visit Warsaw and Gdansk at the end of April. SG

NEW PRESIDENT OF LATVIAN SAVINGS BANK ELECTED
The shareholders meeting of Latvijas Krajbanka (Latvian Savings Bank) on 4 February elected Latvijas Unibanka Vice President Zigurds Jerumanovs as president and board chairman, LETA reported. The meeting was called because Latvijas Krajbanka President Arnolds Laksa, who owns 12.5 percent of the bank's shares, submitted a letter of resignation on 31 January, apparently over continued conflicts with the shareholders from three Ventspils companies that own a combined 30.4 percent stake in the bank. The Latvian state is the bank's largest shareholder with a 32.1 percent share. The bank's vice president, Gundars Sturis, also resigned. SG

PRIVATIZATION OF LITHUANIAN AGRICULTURE BANK APPROVED
Lithuanian Privatization Commission Chairman Eduardas Vilkas announced on 4 February that the commission has approved the sale of a 76 percent stake in Zemes Ukio bankas (Agriculture Bank) to the German bank Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale (Nord/LB), ELTA reported. The State Privatization Fund also approved the sale and submitted it to the government for approval on 6 February. Although the sale price was not officially announced, sources indicate that Nord/LB will pay 71 million litas ($17.75 million) for the shares and invest a further 145 million litas in the bank. According to preliminary data, Zemes Ukio bankas posted an unaudited net profit of 8.46 million litas in 2001, making it the second most profitable bank in Lithuania for the year. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT TO REVAMP HEALTH SYSTEM...
Health Minister Mariusz Lapinski unveiled a program of changes in the health system on 4 February whereby the regional health funds introduced by the former Solidarity-led cabinet will be abolished as of 1 January 2003 and replaced by the National Health Protection Fund that is subordinate to the health minister, PAP reported. Lapinski explained that by taking over the supervision over the operations of health funds, the health minister will be able to standardize the principles of providing health services in all health funds to give Poles equal access to health care. JM

...AND WILL INTRODUCE ROAD TAX IN 2003
The Infrastructure Ministry expects to collect 1.5 billion zlotys ($360 million) annually from a new road tax on passenger cars that will take effect as of 1 January 2003, PAP reported. The new tax will replace current fees collected from international carriers at border check points, in line with EU requirements providing for equal treatment of domestic and foreign carriers. During the three years to come, the government plans to spend 36.8 billion zlotys for road modernization and construction. During this period the government wants to construct 550 kilometers of highways and 200 kilometers of expressways. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The government approved a constitutional amendment on 4 February aimed at facilitating the transit of foreign troops across Czech airspace, CTK reported. The bill was drafted jointly by Civic Democratic Party parliamentary Defense Commission Chairman Petr Necas and Social Democratic Party parliamentary deputy Milos Titz. It stipulates that the cabinet must no longer separately approve each overflight and submit each request to the legislature for approval. Instead, the amendment entitles the cabinet to approve several requests at once and to submit a report on them to the parliament twice a year. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky explained that there are "several hundred such requests" coming from NATO every year. CTK said that the draft is likely to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies before the June elections. MS

CZECH ANTICHEMICAL UNIT TO DEPART FOR MIDDLE EAST WITHIN TWO MONTHS
The Czech antichemical warfare unit will be dispatched to the Middle East within 60 days, AP quoted U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton as saying on 4 February. Stapleton made the announcement after meeting with Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy. Sedivy said the Czech contingent will initially be sent to Kuwait, but declined to give details about a possible further deployment. MS

CZECH PREMIER REJECTS AUSTRIAN DEMAND TO REOPEN DEBATE ON BENES DECREES
"The Czech government does not consider reopening the issue of the Benes decrees [to negotiations or debate] to be necessary or even possible." This is how Prime Minister Milos Zeman responded on 4 February to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002) that the two countries' governments should issue joint declarations describing the decrees as "dead wrong." Zeman said the issue of the decrees was already solved in negotiations with Germany, and there is no reason to begin talks about it now with Austria. MS

CZECH STEEL INDUSTRY TO BE RESCUED BY BRITISH-INDIAN CONCERN?
The Czech Republic's struggling steel industry may be rescued by Ispat International, a subsidiary of the world's largest steelmaker, LNM Group, which is owned by Indian-born British billionaire Lakshmi N. Mittal, dpa reported on 4 February. Finance Minister Jiri Rusnok announced the same day that the government has approved a plan dealing exclusively with Ispat International as a possible purchaser of the country's largest steelmaker, Nova Hut. CTK said the plan also envisages integrating Nova Hut and two other steelmakers, Vitkovice and Vysoke Pece. Mittal, who is best-known for having rescued Chicago-based Inland Steel in 1998, last year purchased Romania's largest steelmaker, Sidex. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER EXPECTS POSITIVE NATO EVALUATION
Defense Minister Jozef Stank told journalists on 4 February that he expects the next NATO report on the Slovak army to be "very positive," CTK reported. Stank said the group of NATO experts headed by Deputy Secretary-General Guenter Altenburg that recently reviewed progress in the Slovak army "highly appreciated" the changes introduced in its organizational and personnel structure, and said "substantial progress" has been made in all areas. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT HALTS DEBATE ON SAME-SEX PARTNERSHIP
The parliament on 1 February voted 53 to 15 in favor of stopping debate on a bill that would have granted same-sex partners rights nearly equal to those enjoyed by heterosexuals, CTK and AP reported. The draft bill would have allowed homosexual partners to register marriages at municipal offices, share the same last name, and support each other financially, but would not have allowed church weddings or adoption of children. Ivan Pozgay, the chairman of the Inakost (Uniqueness) association of Slovak homosexuals, said in response: "We are not thrilled with the outcome of the vote, but have not lost. We managed to open a debate on this subject at parliamentary level." MS

SLOVAK CUSTOMS OFFICIALS SEIZE EXPORT-BOUND MILITARY EQUIPMENT
Customs officials last week confiscated machinery used in ammunition production that was bound for Myanmar, the former Burma. The seizure was made at a Slovak-Hungarian border-crossing point, CTK and AP reported. The officials' suspicions were prompted by the fact that the transport's paperwork indicated the machinery was used for shoe production. A spokeswoman for Slovak customs declined to name the Slovak company that produced the machinery. The EU has imposed an embargo on exports of military materiel to Myanmar. MS

HUNGARY WELCOMES RETURN OF VOJVODINA AUTONOMY
Foreign Minister State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said on 4 February that Budapest welcomes the approval by the Serbian legislature the previous day of a law reinstating partial autonomy in 24 administrative areas in Vojvodina, Hungarian media reported (also see "Southeastern Europe"). Nemeth called the measure "a major step forward for ethnic Hungarians" in that province and an indication of the return of the rule of law and democratic progress in Serbia. MS

HUNGARY'S CURRENT-ACCOUNT DEFICIT AT NINE-YEAR LOW
The National Bank on 4 February released preliminary figures showing that Hungary's 2001 current-account deficit totaled 518 million euros ($446.3 million), making it the lowest deficit in nine years and significantly lower than the 900 million euro deficit forecast by many analysts, Hungarian media reported. The bank decided the same day against lowering key interest rates. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER, OPPOSITION LEADER EXCHANGE BARBS OVER LINKS TO EXTREMISM
During a debate in the parliament on 4 February, Free Democratic Party Chairman Gabor Kuncze accused the government of "flirting with extremists," which "fosters mistrust in Hungary abroad." Prime Minister Viktor Orban responded by saying that Kuncze does not speak the truth, since "we are not flirting with you," Hungarian media reported. In related news, Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) spokesman Bela Gyori announced on 4 February that all MIEP candidates in the April parliamentary elections must sign a declaration pledging that they are not alcoholics, drug addicts, or homosexuals. "No one who is gay should become a member of the parliament, because people who live a double life are unreliable," Gyori explained. MS

META PROPOSES MAJKO AS ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER
Former Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 4 February that his predecessor, Pandeli Majko, is the best candidate to succeed him, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). Majko enjoyed a good reputation abroad for his handling of the 1999 Kosova crisis, AP reported. Other Socialist Party (PS) candidates for the top government post are Kastriot Islami, a former deputy prime minister, and Ermelinda Meksi, the minister of economic cooperation. Islami is backed by party leader Fatos Nano, while Meksi is considered an independent. A meeting of the PS leadership approved the three candidates. A larger PS meeting on 6 February will choose the winner. Meta told reporters on 4 February that "Nano is not irreplaceable," suggesting that Meta believes his fight with his rival is far from over. Nano hopes to succeed President Rexhep Meidani when his term runs out later this year. PM

PROTESTS IN KOSOVA...
Some 5,000 protesters marched in Prishtina on 4 February to demand the release of three men recently arrested by KFOR and UN police for war crimes against fellow Albanians, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). Some of the demonstrators pushed their way through a police barricade, but a UN police spokesman called it a "minor disturbance," adding that "the crowd was generally well behaved." PM

...AS KFOR SUSPENDS KOSOVA CORPS SPOKESMAN
A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 5 February that the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) and KFOR have suspended Muharrem Mahmutaj for three weeks from his post as spokesman of the Kosova [Civilian] Protection Corps (TMK), dpa reported. Mahmutaj recently accused UNMIK of launching a "campaign against the TMK" by arresting the three men. The KFOR spokesman commented on 5 February that Mahmutaj "made biased and unfounded accusations against the international community by wrongly commenting on police and justice matters. Such accusations coming from a member of a government organization directed to another government organization would be punished in the same way, even in a more severe one, in every democratic country." PM

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES TRIAL ADJOURNED AFTER BOMB THREAT
Judge Ika Saric adjourned his court in Rijeka on 5 February after an anonymous caller said that a bomb was in place there and set to go off, Reuters reported. Police then began to search the premises. The trial is that of General Mirko Norac and four other men -- known as the Gospic Five -- investigated by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal for crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in 1991. The Hague allowed a Croatian court to try them in what is regarded as a test case of the credibility of the Croatian judiciary. The trial began in late January after months of delays and legal wrangling by the defense. Many Croats regard Norac and his co-defendants as heroes and believe former members of the military should not be put on trial. Others feel that guilty people should be put on trial even if they were soldiers, and that dragged out trials only divert attention from more pressing social and economic concerns. PM

CROATIAN BANK CONSOLIDATION
Dalmatinska Banka on 4 February acquired control of Dubrovacka Banka from the government agency seeking a new owner for the institution, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Dubrovnik. Dalmatinska Banka also controls Istarska Banka and Sisacka Banka. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES VOJVODINA PARTIAL AUTONOMY PACKAGE
Some 118 of the 223 members of the Serbian parliament who were present on 4 February approved a package of legislation aimed at partially restoring the autonomy that former President Slobodan Milosevic took away from Vojvodina in 1990, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 22, 24, 25, and 29 January 2002). Those casting their ballots in favor were deputies from the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, while the 72 opposed were from Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, and the late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan's Party of Serbian Unity. The 42 deputies from Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia abstained. Vojvodina's political leaders consider the new legislation the bare minimum they will accept and want to further broaden the province's autonomy. PM

EU PRESSURES MONTENEGRO TO STAY WITH SERBIA
As part of the EU's policy to halt the further disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, security policy chief Javier Solana told visiting Serbian and Montenegrin experts in Brussels in a statement on 4 February that "the expert discussions...have shown clearly that staying together is by far the best and fastest way for Serbia and Montenegro to participate in European integration. Now it is for the political leaders in Belgrade and Podgorica to draw the necessary conclusions and to overcome their differences," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 4 February 2002). Unnamed EU experts were more blunt, saying: "Separation...would create uncertainties and might lead to serious delays... [It would also entail] serious economic costs." An unnamed EU official also warned against "open-ended discussions," adding that Brussels wants "to reach something by the end of the month." RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service called the warnings the toughest ones to date. Montenegrin leaders say that a referendum on independence is the only democratic way to determine the country's future. The EU is opposed to such a vote. PM

SLOVENIA CALLS EU FARM QUOTAS 'UNACCEPTABLE'
Agriculture Minister Franc But told a press conference in Ljubljana on 4 February that quotas set by the European Commission on agricultural production by candidate members are in some cases "below the production we have today. We cannot accept this and we must not, even if that provokes a delay in negotiations," Reuters reported. In one example, But noted that "the milk quota for Slovenia means the first year after accession, we would have to reduce by 12 or 15 percent our last year's production of milk, and that is absolutely unacceptable." Farmers' groups called on the government to be firm and renegotiate the quotas. PM

OSCE: TIME TO SLIM DOWN BOSNIAN MILITARY
OSCE mission chief Robert Beecroft told the members of Bosnia's joint presidency on 4 February in Sarajevo that the country can no longer afford its bloated military, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He called for reducing the forces from 35,000 to 10,500, as SFOR commander General John Sylvester recently recommended. Federal Defense Minister Mijo Anic said that federal forces will be reduced from 23,000 to 13,000 by 1 April. The army of the Republika Srpska is slated to be cut from 10,000 to 6,000 by the end of 2002. The main practical issue standing in the way of force reduction is the problem of finding new jobs for the demobilized men in a country where unemployment is already high. PM

CROATIAN LEADERS DISCUSS SECURITY SHAKE-UP
President Stipe Mesic, Prime Minister Ivica Racan, and an unspecified number of aides held the first of a series of meetings near Zagreb on 4 February to plan in detail a long-discussed shake-up of the intelligence and security services, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Racan stressed that the situation in those services is "catastrophic." He added, however, that a shake-up will be politically easier now than it would have been two years ago, when the current government ousted the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of the late President Franjo Tudjman after a decade in power. The security services were widely regarded as political tools of Tudjman and his party. PM

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADERS WANTS ARAFAT, SHARON QUESTIONED AS WITNESSES
Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, currently under investigation on suspicion of having disseminated false information, on 4 February asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to call Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as witnesses in his case, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tudor also wants the prosecutors to call as witnesses President Iliescu, former Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Virgil Magureanu, and several other SRI officials. Tudor's parliamentary immunity was lifted after he claimed that Romania trained Hamas terrorists. MS

UN CLEARS ITS POLICE FORCE IN BOSNIA OF WRONGDOING
A UN spokesman said in New York that the world body has found that charges of corruption and prostitution racketeering by the international police in Bosnia (IPTF) are groundless, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 February. He added that the IPTF will improve its public-relations work in Bosnia so that people can better understand its activities. Critics have previously charged the UN with covering up wrongdoing by its police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DOES NOT RULE OUT BASIC TREATY WITH RUSSIA IN APRIL
Ion Iliescu told foreign journalists on 4 February that he "does not rule out" the possibility that the basic treaty with Russia will be signed during his planned April visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Iliescu said "important progress" has been made in the treaty's negotiations and that he hopes the visit will "give a powerful signal for resuming and consolidating bilateral relations." He added that the main purpose of the visit will be the examination of ways to shrink the "huge deficit" in Romanian trade with Russia, and that concrete steps in this direction will earlier be examined during a visit to Moscow by Premier Adrian Nastase on 21-22 February. MS

ROMANIAN CIVIL SOCIETY PERSONALITIES CRITICIZE CLASSIFIED INFORMATION LAW
Four prominent civil society personalities on 4 February criticized the law on classified information currently being examined by the parliament and said the government-sponsored bill endangers Romania's democratization process and the country's integration in Euro-Atlantic structures, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Gabriel Andreescu, Doina Cornea, Smaranda Enache, and Renate Weber also called on the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) to refrain from supporting the bill in the legislature. The UDMR has recently extended its agreement with the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on cooperation in the parliament and at the local government level. MS

ROMANIAN PSD THREATENS TO END PARTNERSHIP WITH MINOR ALLY
Viorel Hrebenciuc, the leader of the PSD parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, told Mediafax on 4 February that his party may withdraw from its agreement with the Humanist Party of Romania (PUR) if the PUR sets up its own parliamentary group (see RFE/RL "Newsline," 4 February 2002). Deputies representing the PUR in the chamber the same day notified speaker Valer Dorneanu of the PUR's intention. Dorneanu said the request will be examined by the chamber's Permanent Bureau. MS

ROMANIANS BELIEVE CORRUPTION IS STRONGER THAN THE LAW
Four out of five Romanians believe that corruption is stronger than the letter of the law in their country, Romanian television reported on 4 February, citing a public opinion poll conducted by IRSOP. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they had "solved personal problems" through bribes during the last year. Sixty percent believe that corruption is stronger in the state-owned sector than in the private sector, and 25 percent are persuaded that there is no difference between the two sectors. Forty-seven percent believe the recent anticorruption measures taken by the government will succeed, and an equal proportion is of the opposite opinion. MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ASKS MOLDOVA TO EXPLAIN PPCD SUSPENSION
The Council of Europe asked the Moldovan government on 4 February to provide explanations for its decision to suspend the activities of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) for one month, AP reported. In a letter handed to Vitalie Gordas, Moldova's permanent representative at the organization, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said he expects an answer by 22 February on how the restrictions on the PPCD comply with the articles in the European Convention on Human Rights covering elections, freedom of thought, expression, and organization. This is only the second time in its history that the Council has used its right to ask a member about possible clashes between national legislation and the convention. On 2 February, the new chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Peter Schieder, said the suspension of the PPCD represents "a real threat to [Moldova's] democratic functioning," Flux reported. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS...
Deputy Premier Andrei Cucu resigned on 4 February after President Vladimir Voronin's demanded a day earlier that he be dismissed from the cabinet, Romanian radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). Voronin accepted the resignation. Political analysts cited by Reuters said the resignation may have been prompted by the government's dissatisfaction with Cucu's inability to convince the IMF to resume financing to Moldova. Cucu, who was in charge of the economy, was one of two ministers in the cabinet who did not belong to the Party of Moldovan Communists. MS

...AS GAZPROM CUTS SUPPLIES TO CONTROVERSIAL TRANSDNIESTER STEELMAKER
Officially, Cucu's resignation was prompted by suspicions that he had acted to help the Rybnitsa metallurgical mill in the Transdniester avoid antidumping levies in the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). Last weekend, Gazprom cut gas supplies to the Rybnitsa region and the mill there on the grounds that it has not been paid debts for gas deliveries. On 4 February, separatist "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay accused Russia of trying to put economic pressure on the self-proclaimed republic, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the decision to cut the supplies coincided with the visit to the region of Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. Trubnikov is trying to bring about the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION SUBMITS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
The Union of Democratic Forces (ODS) opposition alliance submitted a motion of no-confidence in the cabinet headed by Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 4 February, BTA reported. The motion was supported by 50 ODS deputies and must be debated within three to seven days after its submission. Ekaterina Mihailova, the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces, which is the largest ODS component, said the motion was submitted on 4 January -- the day marking the fall from power of the Socialist Party government five years earlier -- "as a warning sign" to the current cabinet. The motion cites the introduction of VAT on medicine and the cabinet's taxation policies in general as reasons for dismissing it. MS

SURVEY SAYS BULGARIANS WANT TO JOIN EU FOR THE WRONG REASONS
Some 95 percent of Bulgarians would vote in favor of joining the EU in a referendum, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Group for European Projections and Surveys, BTA reported on 4 February. Of those supporting accession, 85 percent associate EU membership with high living standards and very few believe there is a connection between EU membership and a democratic value system. Most Bulgarians do not believe that their own government or Bulgarian society at large are responsible for the country's failure to join the EU thus far. Presenting the survey's results, Svetlana Lomeva, a member of the staff of the Political Academy for Central and Eastern Europe, said that for Bulgarians, "European citizenship is a set of rights and involves no responsibilities." MS

LEARNTEC 2002 SEEKS TO DEVELOP EMERGING MARKETS IN EASTERN EUROPE


Learntec 2002 opens its doors in Karlsruhe, Germany, on 5 to 8 February -- the 10th anniversary of Central Europe's leading industry trade fair and meeting of the minds for educational and information technology.

The conference and trade fair caters to users of technology for training and educational purposes, training coordinators, providers and developers of technology-based training programs, and companies that provide software and hardware for e-learning activities in the fields of financial services, science, information technology (IT) qualification, medicine, e-commerce, and trade.

As was the case last year, the conference is being staged in cooperation with UNESCO and will bring experts on distance learning from the U.S., Latin America, Africa, and Europe together to discuss the global problems of education and knowledge transfer. One of the topics that is likely to re-emerge at this year's event is the information gap between first- and third-world countries. The issue has gained in importance in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States, which highlighted the need to better establish means and methods of education and permanent dialogue between these countries. In addition, the attacks have led to a decrease in people's willingness to travel, hampering the development of new business links and educational, political, and cultural exchange -- problems that modern technology can help alleviate.

Professor Winfried Sommer, one of the founding organizers of Learntec, said e-learning will get increased attention in the states of Eastern Europe, as their continuing inroads to the West make inexpensive and efficient learning programs increasingly important.

"Developments like the activities of the Institute of Vocational Training in Warsaw, scientific projects in Hungary, or the work of the well-known International Research and Training Center for Information Technologies and Systems (IRTC) in Ukraine are examples for this trend," Sommer said. "Another important sign for Eastern Europe is the fact that UNESCO established its Institute for Information Technologies and Education in Moscow," he added.

Of the Eastern European countries aspiring to eventually join the EU, many analysts feel that Poland has the most potential for the IT industry. According to rankings by the German magazine "Computer Reseller News" on 1 November 2001, the Polish market is just 10 percent smaller than that of Russia, and with investment of $3.1 billion in 2000, Poland's expenditures in the industry matched those of the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania combined.

Germany is Eastern Europe's biggest foreign investor in the IT market, followed by the U.S. and France, according to the magazine. But while traditional business links between Germany and Eastern European countries have been developing for years, the e-learning markets in those countries have been playing catch-up to their Western counterparts. As analysts from Germany's Berlecon Research institute are predicting that 2004 and 2005 will be boom years for the global e-learning industry, it is important for Eastern European countries to prepare themselves for this challenge.

Of those countries, e-learning experts consider Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland as having the most potential, as their efforts to accede to the EU have attracted many global companies and investments and have sped up the pace of privatization.

But as foreign companies have developed business partnerships with Eastern European counterparts, many are experiencing difficulties in fully understanding the peculiarities of local business and labor markets, and in promoting their own company identities. One recent study by the Polish Agency for Foreign Investment (PAIZ) found that only 5 percent of German companies working in Poland have succeeded in adapting to the Polish market.

In the coming years, the ability to accumulate information quickly will become increasingly important both for companies and their employees seeking a competitive advantage. Internet-based e-learning could bring advantages for both by combining technologies and services that enable companies to offer interactive training opportunities to any environment and location, while saving money on travel expenses.

Experts from Russia, Moldova, the Czech Republic, Belarus, and Ukraine met in Karlsruhe for last year's Learntec, and even more are expected to attend Learntec this year, but Professor Sommer expects Eastern European countries to play an even stronger role on future Learntec agendas. Until 2006 there are no concrete plans for special programs featuring any of the Eastern European countries during the congress.

However, as the economic gap between Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic and the West narrows, their counterparts in Eastern and Southeastern Europe will be following events closely as they try to attract more foreign investment. Forums like Learntec 2002, by providing a setting where all options are displayed and up for discussion, can help lay some important groundwork for the future.

Christian Buric is a free-lance writer based in Munich. (christian.buric@gmx.de)

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