Accessibility links

Newsline - February 8, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER...
Vladimir Putin met with Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) head Gennadii Zyuganov on 7 February to discuss "legislative work in the Duma," Russian agencies reported, citing the presidential press service. It was the first meeting between the two leaders since Zyuganov described the president's policies as the "third stage of treason of national interests after Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin" at the last KPRF congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2002.) VY

...TO DEFUSE KPRF'S CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION OF EES?
According to gazeta.ru on 6 February, the KPRF began collecting signatures in the State Duma the same day in support of a request that the Audit Chamber investigate any links that Unified Energy Systems (EES) might have with the controversial Czech Republic-based company Falkon Capital. In the fall of 2001, the Czech government sold the debt owed to it by Russia to Falkon Capital for $580 million. Since then, reports have alleged that Falkon Capital is a subsidiary of the Saudi Binladen Group, the main source of terrorist Osama bin Laden's fortune (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2002). VY

PUTIN SEES RUSSIAN JEWISH EMIGRE COMMUNITIES AS POTENTIAL RESOURCE...
President Putin met with Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar on 7 February, RTR reported. Putin noted that Jews who emigrated from Russia to Israel, the U.S., and Germany are feeling a new sense of closeness to Russia and understand that it is now an open country. Putin also told Lazar that Russia is views Russian Jewish emigre communities abroad as a future resource of "great economic potential," and at the same time the Russian government is ready to " to address Jewish communities' concerns and to help them." VY

...AS CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM IN CENTRAL RUSSIA
According to Interfax, Lazar on 7 February called on Kostroma Oblast Governor Vladimir Shershunov to restrain the ultra-nationalist group Russian National Unity (RNE), as he claims it has been engaging in anti-Semitic activity in that region. A local Jewish community leader told Lazar that RNE has been distributing leaflets all over the town of Nerekhta, thus covering buildings with anti-Semitic and anti-Caucasian statements. The next day, a newspaper in Birobidzhan reported that the number of people emigrating from the Jewish Autonomous Oblast to Israel is decreasing sharply. In 2000, some 2,700 people left for Israel compared with just 250 in 2001. In addition, last year 110 former emigrants returned to the oblast from Israel. JAC

MOSCOW UNHAPPY WITH CIA'S EVALUATION OF RUSSIA'S 'DEVOTION'...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said Russia has asked the U.S. for an "official explanation" of CIA Director George J. Tenet's questioning of Russia's "devotion, desire, and ability" to prevent leaks of crucial weapons technology and production methods abroad, ITAR-TASS reported. The spokesman said that the wording Tenet used in his address to the U.S. Congress on 7 February is "absolutely unacceptable" and ignores Moscow's "principal policy and practical steps to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." He added that Russia has adopted a Law on Export control and is presently consulting with the U.S. on a new list of goods prohibited for export to Iraq. VY

...AND WITH JAPANESE PREMIER'S STANCE ON KURILES
Yakovenko also took offense to statements made in Tokyo on 7 February by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi regarding the ongoing dispute over the Kurile Islands, ITAR-TASS reported. Koizumi said that his country will sign a peace treaty with Russia only after all four of the islands are returned to Japan. The agency quoted Yakovenko as saying that as far as Russia is concerned its understanding of the dispute is different from that of the Japanese. He said Moscow's negotiations with Japan will be based on all agreements reached between the two countries after World War II -- including the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of 1956 that included a stipulation that two of the islands would be returned once a peace treaty was inked. Another basic document for Moscow is the joint declaration signed last year in Irkutsk by President Putin and Koizumi's predecessor, Yoshiro Mori. That document formulated joint principles while preserving different interpretations by each side, Yakovenko added. Polit.ru commented the same day that "it will be difficult to deal with Koizumi as he is much more pro-American than his predecessors." VY

ST. PETERSBURG COMPANY TO COMPETE IN TV-6 TENDER...
St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has discussed with President Putin the possibility of transferring control of TV-6 to the St. Petersburg Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on 8 February. However, he did not report on how Putin responded to his suggestion. When asked whether he meant that a tender should not be held, Yakovlev responded by saying that "a certain order exists in the country, and I cannot tell you now how the issue will be considered within the framework of this order." Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg company's board chairman, Aleksandr Potekhin, confirmed that his company will participate in the upcoming tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. Also on 8 February, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii in a press conference in Moscow appeared to criticize the idea of creating a sports channel on the basis of TV-6. He said that the idea "should be discussed and seriously examined, but there is no analogous example in world broadcasting of a separate sports channel operated in the meter frequency range." He noted that to reach the widest audience, the channel should focus on "sports, youth, and entertainment." JAC

...AS TV-6 WORKERS GIVEN THE PINK SLIP
Regional television affiliates of TV-6 have received a letter from the federal Media Ministry, informing them that they may for the time being fill the free airtime created by the disappearance of TV-6 in Moscow with their own programming, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 February. They are also free to rebroadcast the sports programming from NTV-Plus that is currently airing. The same day, workers at TV-6 received official notification that they should consider themselves fired as of 11 February, ntvru.com reported, citing presscenter.ru. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 8 February, State Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Konstantin Vetrov (LDPR) charged that a "permanent" smear campaign against Media Minister Mikhail Lesin is being waged "simply because he is the media minister." JAC

NEW TV-VI JUST SOUNDS LIKE THE FIRST
Viktor Merezhko, a popular film director and TV personality, announced on 7 February that he has registered the name of a new television company that sounds identical to TV-6 but uses Roman numerals -- TV-VI. The former TV-6 cofounder also said he submitted an application that the new entity be given TV-6's broadcasting frequency. Merezhko, who is known as a Putin loyalist, made his name in 1980's when he anchored the popular Soviet Television show " Cinema Panorama." VY

CHEKIST CALENDAR LOST IN TIME
The Federal Security Service's (FSB) calendar for 2002 features a picture of the KGB headquarters on Lubyanka Square as it looked in the Soviet era and marks many former Soviet holidays, pravda.ru reported on 6 February. The calendar, which was issued to FSB officers and was obtained by journalists from the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera," highlights 20 December as a day to celebrate the founding of the VChK-KGB as well as the birthday of that agency's first police chief, Felix Dzerzhinskii. The Chekist leader was born on 11 September. VY

GOVERNMENT TO REVIVE PRIVATIZATION...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced at a meeting of his government on 7 February that he will push ahead the program of reorganization and privatization of inefficient state enterprises that has been suspended for the last few years, RBK reported. He said that, as far as privatization is concerned, the first priority is the banking sector, where the government wants to sell its stake in more than 400 credit institutions. Overall, the government plans to put 150 enterprises and 426 holdings on the trading block. Among those earmarked for sale are Slavneft and the state share in LUKoil. Other attractive offers will be the Mosfilm and Lenfilm studios, according to Kasyanov. VY

...OUTLINES MICROECONOMIC STABILIZATION MEASURES
Addressing the same government sitting, Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich said that his agency has prepared a plan for ensuring the stabilization of the economy based on the coordination of budgetary and financial and credit policies, RBK reported on 7 February. The plan contains measures to reduce inflation through the build up of a financial reserve and through a tight budget expenditure policy. Other measures include the introduction of clearly defined tariff policies for natural monopolies, and the elimination of all forms of barters. In addition, incentives to increase the use of credit cards and energy-saving technologies will be created. VY

NEW PARTY OF POWER WANTS TO TINKER WITH ELECTION LAWS...
The Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions have drafted a bill that would attach a variety of amendments to Russia's current election laws, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 February. Duma Deputy (Unity) Vladislav Reznik explained that his party, Unified Russia, believes that the current electoral system violates people's rights. For example, "if only 15 percent of the population of a region has elected a governor, then it would be better if the governor were appointed by the president," he said. Under the proposed amendments, the support of over 50 percent of an entire list of registered voters would be required to elect a regional leader. According to "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, the bill would also stipulate a new formula for regional election commissions. One-third would be appointed by the region's legislative branch, one-third by its executive, and one-third by the Central Election Commission (TsIK). The TsIK currently has no power to appoint officials to regional commissions. JAC

...SO GOVERNORS CAN BE APPOINTED...
According to "Rossiiskaya Gazeta," TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov is opposed to the suggestion, noting that in some cases voter turnout is low because the voters do not want to participate in what they believe is a "dirty election." "Vremya MN" reported on 6 February that other top officials believe the bill would essentially make elections "unrealistic." The Yabloko faction also opposes the bill, arguing that it would undermine the main principle of democracy -- elections. "Vremya MN" also reported that under the bill, should no candidate receive enough votes, regional leaders would be appointed by the president. Anvar Amirov, a political analyst with the Panorama think tank, told "The Moscow Times" on 8 February that he believes President Putin is most likely behind the initiative because its "ideology is vertical power-building." He added that he does not think the bill will pass and is probably "a trial balloon [floated] to gauge society's reaction." JAC

...AND SOME GOVERNORS ARE WILLING
On 5 February, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed told local reporters that he believes governors should be appointed by the president, regions.ru reported, citing RIA-Press-Line. According to Lebed, "elections are a caprice -- an additional nonessential expense." Lebed also noted that the system of appointing regional and town governors existed in Russia for more than 300 years. JAC

DEPUTIES GIVE SELF-DEFENSE BILL THEIR FINAL APPROVAL
Duma deputies approved on 8 February in its third and final reading a bill amending Article 37 of the Criminal Code, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill both broadens and refines the earlier section of the code regarding citizens' rights to self-defense (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 21 2001). The vote was supported by 365 deputies, with zero votes against and only one abstention, according to gazeta.ru. JAC

KREMLIN GUARDS PUT KIBOSH ON PUTIN TETE-A-TETE
A 38-year-old man with a history of mental illness identified himself as "Ivan Zaitsev, the president of Russia" and asked to see Vladimir Putin on 7 February. He then attempted to drive past the Borovitskie Gates of the Kremlin in his blue Lada, but was stopped by Kremlin security officers and taken to a psychiatric hospital, "Izvestiya" and "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 February. It was Zaitsev's second attempt to enter the Kremlin -- the last time he tried to enter the Kremlin through the Spasskie Gates in a Volga, "Izvestiya" reported. A psychiatrist at the hospital Zaitsev frequents explained that Ivan appears to be perfectly normal until conversation turns to a political theme. "He won't explain why he wants to meet with the president, and says only that it is a 'state secret' and that he wants to chat with him, 'president to president,'" the psychiatrist said. JAC

ANOTHER SPY FOR CHINA NABBED?
The operational department of the FSB for Lipetsk Oblast arrested Ivan Trunov, a 65-year-old resident of the region, on suspicion of conducting industrial espionage for China, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 February. According to the daily, Trunov works at the Novolipetsk metallurgical combine (NLMK), which at the end of last year concluded an agreement with a Chinese company to supply slabs. Trunov represented NLMK in the negotiations. NLMK's security director told the daily that he has information that Trunov was looking for a document that had information that was the company's intellectual property. Trunov was then put under observation and was apprehended holding some documents about the "technology for raising the quality of the slabs," which the security director said could "interest industrial circles in China." If convicted, Trunov could be sentenced to five years in prison. According to the daily, last month the FSB uncovered another attempt at industrial espionage on behalf of the U.S., Japan, and China in Omsk Oblast at the Catalyst Institute of the Siberian department of the Academy of Science. JAC

SIBERIA CONTINUES TO REMEMBER KOLCHAK
A requiem in memory of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak was held in Irkutsk on 7 February, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, a local Lutheran society together with the Russian Orthodox Church conducted the requiem on the banks of the Ushakov River, where Kolchak was shot by Bolsheviks on 7 February 1920. Kolchak was the leader of the Russian White Movement during the Russian Civil War. JAC

CHECHEN POLICE, RUSSIAN MILITARY CLASH IN SHALI...
Several local Chechen police and Russian servicemen were wounded in an exchange of fire on 8 February in the town of Shali southeast of Grozny, where Russian servicemen under the personal direction of commander of the combined Russian forces Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi are conducting an ongoing search for Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002), Chechenpress reported on 8 February. The Chechen police were attempting to wrest from the Russian troops, many of whom were drunk, property they had stolen during the search from "dozens" of Chechen households. LF

...AS RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER CONDEMNS VIOLATIONS
In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" summarized on 7 February by Interfax, presidential Commissioner for Human Rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov admitted that "an enormous number" of violations of the law occurred during what he termed "the last three operations" conducted by Russian troops in Chechnya. On 6 February, ITAR-TASS quoted Kalamanov as saying that he could not confirm reports of such violations during the search operation in Novye and Starye Atagi that ended that same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002). LF

ANOTHER RUSSIAN MILITARY HELICOPTER CRASHES IN CHECHNYA
A Russian army helicopter crashed on 7 February shortly after takeoff from the military base at Khankala near Grozny, killing nine of the 10 passengers and crew, Russian agencies reported. As in the case of a similar crash 10 days ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002), it is believed that engine or mechanical failure was the cause of the disaster. LF

ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR SARGSIAN PROBE
The daily "Hayots ashkhar" on 7 February quoted Prosecutor-General Aram Tamazian as explaining that the investigation into claims that former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian was involved in the 1995 beating of arrested police officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002) is intended to demonstrate that those charges are unsubstantiated and thus clear the slain premier's name, rather than to blacken his reputation as his supporters and members of his family have charged, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In separate comments published in other papers the same day, Sargsian's mother and his younger brother Aram both condemned the investigation as "a disgusting smear campaign" undertaken by the present Armenian leadership. LF

ARMENIAN CABINET APPROVES NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW
The Armenian government approved on 7 February a new draft media bill that would abolish the present requirement that all media outlets register with the Justice Ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Instead, media outlets will merely have to apply for a license to operate. Deputy Justice Minister Ashot Abovian said the draft was sent to leading editors two months ago, but that the ministry has received no feedback from them. But at a seminar in Yerevan last month, Mesrop Harutiunian, a former director of the state-run news agency Armenpress, condemned the proposed licensing system as an "inadmissible" attempt by the state to retain maximum control over the media, according to Noyan Tapan on 31 January. LF

ARMENIAN LEFT-WING BLOC HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS
The Socialist Armenia bloc composed of seven small left-wing parties held its founding congress in Yerevan on 7 February, calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian and preterm presidential elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 31 January 2002). Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian said the seven parties share a common ideology, advocating greater state control over the economy and closer ties with Russia. LF

OPPOSITION SAYS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SHOULD QUIT DUE TO FAILING HEALTH
At a meeting in Baku on 7 February, the political parties aligned in the United Opposition Movement called on President Heidar Aliev to step down in accordance with the country's constitution on the grounds that his failing health does not permit him to discharge his duties any longer, according to "Yeni Musavat" on 8 February, as quoted by Turan. Aliev entered a clinic in Cleveland on 3 February for a medical checkup (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). A spokesman for the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington said on 5 February that Aliev could be discharged later that day. "Azadlyg" on 8 February reported that Aliev's son Ilham has unexpectedly departed for the U.S., a move the paper interpreted as indicating that the 78-year-old president's health has deteriorated sharply. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL ARGUES AGAINST AMENDING PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE IN GEORGIA...
In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 7 February, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said he opposes Georgian demands that the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis be given broader powers to maintain order and protect the local Georgian population. He said army personnel are not trained to discharge such functions, which should be undertaken by the Georgian and Abkhaz Interior Ministries. LF

...AS ABKHAZ PREMIER SAYS UN HAS NO RIGHT TO IMPOSE SETTLEMENT
Speaking in Sukhum on 7 February, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia argued that the UN is not empowered to dictate to Georgia and Abkhazia how to resolve the conflict between them, Caucasus Press reported. Djergenia noted that the most recent UN Security Council resolution on the conflict merely proposed that the two sides should take as a basis for further talks the "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi" drafted under the supervision of UN special envoy Dieter Boden. Djergenia also pointed out that the UN resolution insists that the Georgian government take measures to end the activities of Georgian guerrillas operating in southern Abkhazia. And he construed the UN's appeal to the Abkhaz leadership to ensure the physical safety of Georgian displaced persons who return to Abkhazia as tacit recognition of the legitimacy of the government of the unrecognized republic. LF

PRESIDENT ISSUES INSTRUCTIONS TO NEW KAZAKH CABINET...
Addressing the first meeting of the new cabinet on 7 February, Nursultan Nazarbaev advised ministers to clarify the division of authorities at each level of the bureaucracy, to avoid creating excessive paperwork, and not to refer to him decisions that lie within their competence, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev criticized unnamed outgoing ministers for taking too many trips abroad. He also repeated the criticism he expressed last spring of government personnel who commute each week between Astana and Almaty, and gave new ministers one month to move their families to the new capital or resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). Nazarbaev also criticized unnamed heads of state-owned companies for running those companies as their own private fiefdoms, but had only praise for National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko, one of those whom he criticized by name last April for his fondness for foreign travel. LF

...AS PREMIER OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Imangaliy Tasmagambetov told his cabinet colleagues in Astana on 7 February that his top priority is structural and institutional reforms that will sustain an annual rate of 7-8 percent GDP growth and thus ensure a steady rise in living standards, Russian agencies reported. He said the problems facing the financial sector can be best addressed by further liberalization of the exchange rate, reform of the banking sector, and developing the capital market, but argued at the same time that the state must continue to play a role in regulating the economy. LF

REPRISALS AGAINST KAZAKH OPPOSITION SYMPATHIZERS CONTINUE
The independent newspaper "Respublika-delovoe obozrenie" has been constrained to suspend publication after the managers of the state-owned Dauir publishing house in Almaty said they can no longer print it, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 7 February. The paper is financed by businessman and former Industry and Trade Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, who is one of the cofounders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, local officials in Akmola Oblast have begun harassing delegates who attended the 19 January meeting in Almaty convened by the Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan, the press service of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan reported on 6 February, according to forumkz.org. LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DIES AFTER HUNGER STRIKE
Sherali Nazarkulov, a 51-year-old economist who was deputy head of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan, died in a Bishkek hospital early on 7 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Medical personnel said at a press conference later that day that the cause of death was a heart attack, while other human rights activists say Nazarkulov died as a result of the hunger strike he began on 16 January to protest the arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. LF

TURKMEN SECURITY OFFICIALS TRY TO SEIZE EX-AMBASSADOR
On 6 February, a group of Turkmen security officials were prevented by Turkish police from forcing their way into the residence of former Ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov, who announced three days earlier that he was resigning to join the opposition to President Saparmurat Niyazov, Deutsche Welle and the independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Ekho" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2002). "Vremya novostei" on 8 February quoted Khanamov as saying that he has since left Turkey. LF

BELARUS INSISTS ON REVIEWING MANDATE OF OSCE GROUP IN MINSK...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka said on 7 February that Belarus requires that the mandate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Minsk be reconsidered, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "The group may not pursue political goals," Latushka added. He also noted that the Belarusian authorities do not link this issue with the accreditation of new AMG head Eberhard Heyken. Reuters previously quoted Latushka as saying that Heyken's accreditation in Minsk is conditional on the revision of the AMG mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2002). "We do not link these two issues," Latushka said, adding that the agency distorted his words in translation. JM

...WANTS EVIDENCE FROM U.S., ISRAEL ABOUT ALLEGATIONS OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE
Latushka also said Minsk is still waiting for answers to its notes sent to Washington and Tel-Aviv in mid-January over media reports in those countries accusing Belarus of illegal arms sales to rogue states (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 31 October 2001 and 10 January 2002), Belapan reported. Latushka added that Belarus asked the U.S. and Israel to produce evidence supporting those allegations. JM

BELARUSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER WANTS TO TAKE 'ALL THAT IS POSSIBLE' FROM TOURISTS
Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Drazhyn told the Ministry of Trade on 7 February that it should look for revenues among tourists who travel across Belarus, Belapan reported. "I realize that we won't see a mass inflow of tourists in the near future. But today we have transit tourists -- from Russia to our western border and in the opposite direction. We should take from them all that is possible for services we will render to them during two or three days [of their stay in Belarus]," Drazhyn advised. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST WARNED OVER REPORT ON POLICE BRUTALITY
Iryna Makavetskaya, a correspondent for the Minsk-based "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," has received a warning from the Prosecutor-General's Office for her article on police brutality, Belapan reported on 7 February. She was accused of "spreading false information, making baseless conclusions, and discrediting the law enforcement and judicial authorities." Makavetskaya told the agency that she reported on how police officers severely beat three young men in Homel in 2000. The father of one of them subsequently sued the officers but they got off with minor sentences. The KGB then accused the man of taking bribes. He was sentenced to five years in prison despite the fact that people who testified against him later confessed that they had given false testimony under pressure. "My article was based on comparison. Policemen who brutally beat innocent people get nonprison sentences, while a man goes to jail for five years for some mythical bribes that were never proven," Makavetskaya commented. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS TO CHARGE FORMER PREMIER FOR CONTRACTING MURDERS
Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod told journalists on 7 February that prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to officially charge former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko with ordering the killings of prominent businessman Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 and former National Bank Chairman Vadym Hetman in 1998, Ukrainian media reported. Obikhod said Lazarenko paid $850,000 to kill Hetman and more than $2 million for the murder of Shcherban. Obikhod added that police have arrested Shcherban's and Hetman's executioners. Obikhod said his office has again asked "the competent U.S. authorities" to extradite Lazarenko. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILLS ON JUDICIAL SYSTEM, ELECTION DEBATES, AND LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on 7 February on the judicial system in the country, Interfax reported. The same day, the parliament passed a new version of the bill on television and radio debates during election campaigns, which was vetoed by President Leonid Kuchma last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2002). The former bill obliged all candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections to take part in such debates, while the current bill makes the participation in them voluntary. In addition, the current bill obliges only the state-controlled radio and television channels to organize such debates, while its previous version extended this obligation to private channels as well. The parliament also adopted a new version of the local election bill, which was also vetoed by President Kuchma in January. JM

UKRAINE WANTS TALKS ON HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
On 7 February, Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and Hungarian President Ferenc Madl visited Zakarpatska Oblast, which is inhabited by a Hungarian ethnic minority. Hungarian Radio reported that Madl and Kinakh spoke about the opportunities of bilateral cooperation and the effects of Hungary's Status Law on Ukrainian Hungarians. Kinakh said the implementation of the Status Law regarding Ukrainian Hungarians must be based on European standards and Ukrainian laws. Kinakh proposed to set up a Ukrainian-Hungarian intergovernmental committee to deal with the issue. Asked by journalists whether Kyiv will ask Budapest to find work in Hungary for Ukrainian citizens of Hungarian origin, Kinakh replied that, given Zakarpatska Oblast's good economic performance in 2001, the government will do everything possible to provide jobs for those people in their native region. JM

EIGHT UKRAINIAN PILOTS DIE IN AIRCRAFT CRASH
A Ukrainian An-12 cargo plane crashed on 7 February in southern Morocco, killing eight pilots on board, Interfax reported, quoting a government official. JM

U.S. EXPERT SAYS MELNYCHENKO'S RECORDINGS ARE AUTHENTIC
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 7 February aired a live program with the participation of Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary parliamentary commission dealing with the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, whose secret recordings in President Kuchma's office provoked Ukraine's "tape scandal" in 2000. Zhyr said that according to an examination made by prominent U.S. forensic specialist Bruce Koenig of samples of Melnychenko's recordings pertaining to Heorhiy Gongadze, the samples are authentic and do not bear any signs of doctoring or editing. "I regret that such a high-level professional examination [of my recordings] was not made a year ago. Then its consequences for the Ukrainian people would have been much better," Melnychenko commented. JM

ESTONIA TO CONTINUE ON NATO PATH
Prime Minister Siim Kallas told NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Political Issues Gunther Altenburg in Tallinn on 7 February that Estonia will continue with preparations for speedy NATO membership, BNS reported. Kallas noted that the coalition agreement of the new government states that Estonia will keep defense expenditures at 2 percent of gross domestic product as "the obligation to make preparations for NATO membership is extremely important for the new government." Altenburg is heading a delegation of NATO experts who are studying Estonia's defense structures to prepare a report to NATO member governments assessing Estonia's readiness for alliance membership. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and armed forces commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT LECTURES ON FOREIGN POLICY IN HOUSTON
Vaira Vike-Freiberga delivered a lecture on Latvian foreign policy at the Baker Institute in Houston on 7 February, BNS and LETA reported. She asserted that EU and NATO membership are of equal importance to her country, saying: "You might as well have asked me which hand I would rather have cut off. I need both." She said that, following 50 years of Soviet occupation, Latvia yearns to return to Europe and that NATO would provide the security it needs "as it is a small country with sad experience." Vike-Freiberga also met with Houston Mayor Lee Brown. She was to travel to Salt Lake City on 8 February to participate in the opening of the Winter Olympics. SG

LITHUANIA, POLAND TO SHARE INFORMATION ON MONEY LAUNDERING
Chief Commissioner of the Lithuanian Tax Police Department Darius Samuolis and Polish Deputy Finance Minister Jacek Uczkiewicz signed a memorandum in Vilnius on 7 February regulating the exchange of information about the prevention of money laundering, BNS reported. After the signing, Uczkiewicz rejoiced at the new cooperation with Lithuanian institutions in exposing financial crimes. Lithuania has signed similar memoranda on the exchange of information with the financial intelligence agencies of Latvia, Estonia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Croatia, while the Tax Police has cooperation agreements with law enforcement institutions of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. SG

POLISH SENATE AMENDS LOCAL ELECTION BILL TO SUIT RULING PARTY
The Senate on 8 February amended a local election bill by shifting the election date from autumn to spring and changing the method for calculating seat allocations to one favoring large political groups, PAP reported. The changes to the bill reflect the position of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which controls the upper house. The bill will now return to the Sejm, in which the SLD earlier could not push through the amendments because its coalition partner, the Peasant Party, sided with the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002). JM

NATO COMMANDER PRAISES POLAND'S EFFORTS TO INTEGRATE WITH ALLIANCE
On 7 February in Warsaw, General Joseph Ralston, the supreme commander of the joint NATO forces in Europe, positively appraised Poland's army modernization program and progress in the country's efforts to integrate with the alliance, Polish Radio reported. As an argument showing that Poland has made significant progress, Ralston cited the fact that this year Poland will host NATO's largest exercises, which will involve 30,000 troops at seven training grounds. Ralston also gave assurances that he will not intervene in Poland's choice of a multitask aircraft. "It is the Poles who should decide whether the aircraft is U.S.-made, Swedish-made, French-made, or made elsewhere. But as commander I shall pay attention to whether I have well-trained airmen who use appropriate technology which is interoperable with that used in the alliance," he noted. JM

CZECH CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES APPROVES BILL ON REFERENDUM...
The Chamber of Deputies approved an amendment to the constitution on 7 February, making possible the carrying out of referenda, CTK reported. The requirement for constitutional amendments to be supported by three-fifths of the 120 deputies was met, as only the Civic Democratic Party voted en bloc against it. The deputies increased from 300,000 to 500,000 the minimum number of supporting signatures necessary for a plebiscite to be called. MS

...COMPENSATION FOR CZECH GULAG INMATES
On 7 February, the Chamber of Deputies also approved a law compensating Czechs sent to labor camps in the former Soviet Union in the late 1940s and in the 1950s, CTK and AP reported. The law must yet be approved by the Senate. Under the law's stipulations, each victim would receive 12,000 crowns ($324) for each month spent in the Soviet Gulag. Spouses or children of inmates who are dead will receive half of that sum. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE AGREES ON CANDIDATES FOR ELECTIONS
The two remaining members of the Four Party Coalition agreed on 7 February on the principles under which their joint lists for the June parliamentary elections are to be selected, CTK reported. Earlier, the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) decided to accept the Freedom Union-Democratic Union's proposal that independent candidates representing civil society should be included on the lists. KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda told journalists that these candidates will have to endorse the alliance's electoral manifesto and be approved by the regions they are to represent. The independents are to fill the slots on the list originally reserved for the Civil Democratic Alliance. Svoboda said he expects the lists to be finalized in a few weeks. MS

CZECH PREMIER READY TO MAKE 'HUMANITARIAN GESTURE' TO ANTIFASCIST SUDETEN GERMANS
Milos Zeman said on Germany's ARD television channel on 7 February that he would back making a "humanitarian gesture" to those Sudeten Germans who suffered under Nazi occupation because they were antifascist and were nevertheless deported under the Benes decrees, CTK reported. "Such a symbolic gesture would show that the dividing line is not between Czechs and Germans or Sudeten Germans, but between collaborators with, and fighters against, totalitarianism," he said. Zeman explained that he favors compensating "in some form" antifascist Sudeten Germans, but is "against compensating those who were Hitler's fifth column in Czechoslovakia and participated in the genocide of the Czech people." MS

TEMELIN IN TROUBLE AGAIN
A faulty generator switch triggered the automatic shutdown of the Temelin nuclear power plant on 7 February, but testing will be resumed shortly, AP reported, citing the State Office for Nuclear Safety. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER BELIEVES COALITION WILL SURVIVE -- MAYBE...
Mikulas Dzurinda said on 7 February that he does not intend to link the expected no-confidence vote in his deputy in charge of the economy with a no-confidence vote in the government as a whole, CTK reported. However, Dzurinda added that if any of the coalition members were to support the expected no-confidence motion in Ivan Miklos submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, a new coalition would automatically emerge, and it would have to bear full responsibility for the country's future development. In an obvious allusion to the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), Dzurinda said: "I have never linked a vote about dismissing a minister with a no-confidence vote in the government. I have always trusted our coalition partners." MS

...AS SDL WILL NOT BACK OUSTING MIKLOS -- OR WOULD IT?
Milan Istvan, a member of the SDL leadership, told Reuters on 7 February that his formation will not support in the parliament a no-confidence vote in Miklos. "We are convinced that coalition problems should be solved within the coalition -- not by cooperating with the opposition," Istvan said. In response to a question, however, he said that it is "theoretically possible" that the SDL would change this position should no agreement be reached in the coalition on the SDL's demand to halt the privatization of the state-owned SPP gas utility. MS

FORMER SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER SETS UP NEW PARTY
Brigita Schmognerova told journalists on 7 February that she will head a new political formation, CTK reported. Schmognerova, who was forced to resign by her own SDL, said that "there is a strong demand [in society] for a new social democratic party." She said the SDL faction known as the Social Democratic Alternative will serve as the basis for the formation of the new party. Schmognerova said the party is to adhere to the values of the Socialist International, encourage professionalism, and oppose corruption, populism, and nationalism. She said a few independent deputies in the current legislature, and even "two members of the government," are interested in joining the party. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVE DECLARATION AGAINST HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW...
The parliament approved the government-drafted declaration against the Hungarian Status Law on 7 February, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 February 2002). The declaration was backed by 112 out of the 129 deputies who attended. The 15 lawmakers representing the Hungarian Coalition Party voted against and two deputies did not vote. MS

...AND HUNGARY REACTS
On 7 February, Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth sharply condemned the resolution passed by the Slovak parliament, Hungarian media reported. Nemeth said that in condemning the law, Slovakia "is not arguing against Hungary, but against Europe, the Venice Commission, and itself," as Slovakia has its own law similar to Hungary's. Nemeth also characterized as "unprecedented" a meeting that took place before the debate in the Slovak parliament between Hungary's Socialist Party leaders and Peter Weiss, the chairman of the Slovak parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Weiss's subsequent criticisms of the Status Law mirrored the arguments used by Socialists in Hungary, Nemeth charged. MSZ

PREMIER PREDICTS BRIGHT FUTURE FOR HUNGARY
In what was his last "state of the nation" speech before the April elections, Viktor Orban said on 7 February that Hungary is like "a rocket," quickly catching up with the EU, which it hopes to join by 2004. In looking ahead, Orban said that for the first time in history the Hungarian economy has managed a growth rate double that of the EU. "We have created the opportunities to raise [Hungary] to the European level within a generation," he said, pledging broader family subsidies, free school meals to children in need, more state aid for housing, and doubling wages by 2006. "We're in orbit now and, once the rocket has lifted off, it can't be ordered back," Orban said. Regarding the Status Law, he said Hungary enacted the measure because "a nation is like a family -- the larger, the stronger." He described the law as a great success "even if some people throw salt on still-hurting, 80-year-old wounds." MSZ

EX-MIEP DEPUTY HEADS NEW SMALLHOLDER PARTY IN HUNGARY
Former Hungarian Justice and Life Party parliamentary member Sandor Cseh on 7 February announced the formation of a new conservative political party to be called the Smallholders' Party-Party of the Smallholder Federation. The new party merges the Democratic Federation of Smallholders and a movement led by former Smallholder parliamentary group leader Attila Bank. The new formation intends to field candidates in all 176 individual constituencies in the upcoming elections, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS MAJKO AS PREMIER
Rexhep Meidani asked Pandeli Majko to form a cabinet on 7 February at a ceremony in Tirana, AP reported. Majko has 10 days to form a cabinet and prepare a program that will need the approval of the parliament, which is dominated by the Socialist Party, of which he is a member. The appointment comes after the 29 January resignation of Ilir Meta. Majko has pledged to resolve the country's political crisis by appointing ministers to his cabinet who are broadly accepted among rival political factions. Majko's appointment is seen as a clear setback for Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, who did not support Majko for the post of premier. Nano is thought to have presidential ambitions, and the parliament will choose a new president in June. PB

YUGOSLAVIA TO CUT OFF MILITARY AID TO BOSNIAN SERB ARMY
Yugoslavia's government announced that it will cease providing financial aid on 1 March to the Defense Ministry of the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity of Bosnia, dpa reported on 7 February. The move comes as part of Yugoslavia's efforts to comply with the Dayton agreement, which is one of the conditions attached by the U.S. to qualify for aid. DW

SERBIAN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCES LOCAL ELECTIONS IN PRESEVO VALLEY
Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic announced at a meeting of the OSCE in Vienna on 7 February that early local elections will be held in the troubled Presevo Valley in southern Serbia, Reuters reported. He said the polls will be held on 15 or 16 June. The ethnic Albanian majority of the area bordering Kosova has said many of the local councils are Serb-dominated remnants of the rule of former President Slobodan Milosevic. "The local Albanian population needs to work and become integrated in all state and social structures through their legally elected politicians and not through those who call for violence," Covic told the OSCE's Permanent Council. OSCE mission to Yugoslavia head Stefano Sannino praised the decision to hold the elections some two years ahead of schedule, adding that it is "an essential element of the ongoing democratic process in south Serbia." DW

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON CD PIRACY
The Serbian government said on 7 February that it has begun a crackdown on the audio and video piracy rampant in the country, AP reported. Police raided hundreds of retail shops and street vendors, seizing about 47,000 compact discs, 23,000 videotapes and DVDs, and nearly 27,000 audiotapes. The illegal copies will be publicly destroyed within weeks, the government statement said. DW

ONE KILLED IN KOSOVA EXPLOSION
A KFOR spokesman said on 8 February that one man was killed and another badly injured in an explosion on the outskirts of Prishtina, dpa reported. Spokesman Daz Slaven said, "the explosion is thought to have been either a mine or a cluster bomblet that had been disturbed by the two men." He said the incident occurred in the late afternoon of 7 February, but mine experts had to work for hours to clear a safe passage to reach the body of the dead man, which was recovered the next morning. DW

COUNCIL OF EUROPE LISTS DEMANDS ON BOSNIA
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer on 7 February set out 91 demands that Bosnia must meet following its admission to the organization, expected by May, AP reported. While Schwimmer said the commitments "are not there to satisfy the Council of Europe," the country has three years after entry to Europe's foremost human rights guardian to comply or face expulsion. He added that the moves are required "to secure a good, democratic future for the country," which has been divided along ethnic lines since the end of the 1992-95 war, AP reported. The conditions include strengthening institutions that foster cooperation between the governing Muslim-Croat and Serb entities, handing over war crimes suspects to The Hague, permitting the return of refugees, and reforming the constitution, the agency said. AH

ACCUSED UN OFFICERS HAVE LEFT BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
A dozen police officers working for the UN's Bosnia-Herzegovina mission who are accused of participating in human trafficking have been expelled or left the country voluntarily, UN representatives said on 7 February, dpa reported. Charges against the men include running, protecting, or patronizing sex clubs in Bosnia. A recent internal investigation reportedly cleared the mission of broader allegations, and mission chief Jacques Klein said in a statement that the men were "shown to have patronized commercial sex establishments." The UN mission played down the threat to the mission's credibility, saying there is "no evidence of widespread or systematic involvement" in trafficking by the International Police Task Force (IPTF), which has more than 10,000 members, according to the agency. Klein has pledged "zero tolerance" for misconduct by UN personnel, whose stated aims include the stamping out of trafficking in girls and women by raiding such clubs in Bosnian cities. The mission said 266 raids were carried out by the IPTF in 2001 and 800 women and girls were interviewed. Half required assistance and some have since been repatriated, while 42 of 182 establishments identified as bordellos have been closed, dpa reported. AH

UN MISSION CHIEF EXPLAINS REMARKS TO BOSNIAN PREMIER
The UN secretary-general's special representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jacques Klein, called it "regrettable" that local officials chose to focus on private statements rather than issues of real significance in a letter to Council of Ministers Chairman Zlatko Lagumdzija, Onasa reported on 7 February. Klein has come under heavy criticism from various sides over comments he made to Croatian television on 5 February, saying wartime Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic "had offered" Herzegovina to Croatia and adding that "the difficulty lies in the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina never in its history has been a state." The Bosnian Foreign Ministry asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for an official clarification of the statements, prompting the letter from Klein to Lagumdzija. While reportedly reiterating his faith in the federation's citizens and its sovereignty, Klein said it is a shame that some officials chose to comment on private statements concerning the "historical context in which we are all working," Onasa reported. Klein said the citizenry has more pressing concerns at a time of mass unemployment, empty budgets, and weary donors, Hina reported. AH

BOSNIAN WAR VETERANS MARCH FOR PENSIONS, HEALTH CARE
About 500 veterans of the Bosnian war turned out to protest in front of the government building in Sarajevo on 7 February, demanding that officials make good on pledges of pensions and provide health care, AP and local media reported. Chanting "Down with the government!" and vowing that other veterans will join in if demands are not met by 1 March, the demonstrators got sympathetic words but no meeting with government officials. "We don't have the money, but we are trying to find a way to meet our obligations to this population," Minister for War Veterans Suada Hadzovic said, according to AP. Hadzovic told Bosnian public radio that "the government still has not taken a stand on this issue," adding that officials "considered as many of their objections as possible" when drafting a law aimed at regulating veterans' status. AH

CROATIAN UNEMPLOYMENT RATE HITS 23 PERCENT AS VETERANS JOIN RANKS OF JOBLESS
Croatian TV reported on 7 February that the country's jobless rate topped 23 percent at the end of January as legions of veterans rushed to collect benefits under the new Law on War Veterans. Some 1,500 veterans are registering each week, the station said, representing an increase of 16,000 and putting the unemployed figure at 411,000 people. AH

ZAGREB WEEKLY PUBLISHES TRANSCRIPTS OF MILOSEVIC TAPES
The weekly "Globus" has published excerpts of telephone conversations by former Yugoslav leader Milosevic it says were taped by Croatian intelligence services from early 1996 to mid-1998, AP reported on 7 February. Coming less than a week before the start of Milosevic's trial at The Hague on war crimes and genocide charges, the transcripts reflect a leader keen on preserving his international image, AP reported. Milosevic's Socialist Party has dismissed the tapes as "pure fabrication" and part of an effort to discredit their former leader ahead of the trial. AP said the tapes do not include much political material but cited Croatian government sources confirming their authenticity. They reportedly contain snippets of a conversation between Milosevic and then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, as well as Milosevic's chiding of a newspaper editor for his coverage of Clinton's visits to Sarajevo and Belgrade in 1996. The weekly "Globus" noted that the ease with which the tapes were apparently made suggests Yugoslav authorities were at least aware the phones were bugged. AH

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS FOR AMNESTY AND EARLY ELECTIONS IN MACEDONIA
Lord George Robertson said in Skopje on 7 February that an amnesty for former ethnic Albanian rebels and early elections in the country are essential to continuing the peace process, dpa reported. Robertson said that "the situation in Macedonia is now clear, and the Macedonian people should be congratulated for progress accomplished. Macedonia can be united and avoid violence." Robertson, who met with the leaders of international organizations in Skopje after his arrival, will meet on 8 February with President Boris Trajkovski, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, and parliament speaker Stojan Andov. Robertson said that the issuance of a broad amnesty law is the "way to secure justice." He added that the "EU, NATO membership, implementation of the Ohrid peace accord, and amnesty are related, and they offer the vision for prosperity in Macedonia." Robertson said that early elections will stabilize the country. PB

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER ARRIVES IN SKOPJE
Goran Svilanovic arrived in Skopje on 8 February for a one-day visit with Macedonian officials to discuss regional security and bilateral relations, dpa reported. Svilanovic will meet with Macedonian President Trajkovski and Prime Minister Georgievski as well as the leaders of Social Democratic Union, Branko Crvenkovski, and the Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi. Svilanovic is not slated to meet with visiting NATO Secretary-General Robertson. PB

SENIOR SLOVENIAN ARMY CHIEFS SET OUT REORGANIZATION GOALS
The deputy chief of the Slovenian Army General Staff, Brigadier Bojan Suligoj, said his country is seeking to field a military with "no more than 26,000 members" by 2004, Slovenian radio reported on 7 February. That figure represents 1.3 percent of the population, he added. Speaking at a press conference dedicated to reorganization plans aimed at NATO entry, senior officers said efforts to revamp the military begun in 1995 are continuing. The moves are aimed at joining the NATO alliance and improving the country's security, Suligoj said. Specific goals include establishing and arming intervention forces as soon as possible, bolstering the command-and-control system, and making units more independent in terms of logistics, he added. A group of NATO experts are bound for Slovenia next week to evaluate the country's preparedness to join the alliance, the station said. AH

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY PROPOSES PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC
At the 6 February meeting of the Social Democratic Party's (PSD) Executive Bureau, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase proposed that the PSD support a constitutional amendment that would transform Romania into a parliamentary republic, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the change, the country's president would be elected by the legislature, rather than by popular vote as is currently the case. PSD sources confirmed that the party is "analyzing the suggestion," without attributing it directly to Nastase. A number of political analysts attribute the initiative to the fact that Nastase -- a likely candidate in the 2004 presidential elections -- is lagging behind his own party's popularity in the latest polls. The National Liberal Party (PNL) welcomed the initiative, but pointed out that the change was first proposed by the PNL. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Democratic Party -- both led by personalities considered to be charismatic -- rejected it. MS

ROMANIAN UDMR TO FORM 'CIVIC-CHRISTIAN' FACTION
Nine deputies from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) announced on 7 February that they are setting up a "Civic-Christian wing" within the formation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Most of these deputies belong to the Reform Group in the party, which is close to the radical views of UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Tokes. Tibor Toro, who is chairman of the Reform Group, said that the deputies belonging to the new wing "do not intend to be a voting machine" and will monitor the implementation of the renewed PSD-UDMR agreement, supporting only those measures that serve the interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said after a meeting with the nine deputies that the UDMR is a pluralist formation, but that it "remains to be seen" what the nine have in mind regarding their action. MS

IMF DELEGATION LEAVES ROMANIA, WILL BE BACK
The International Monetary Fund's chief negotiator for Romania, Neven Mates, said in a press release distributed before his departure on 7 February that so far Romania's microeconomic performance has been "by and large" in line with the stipulations in last year's standby accord, but that wages in the state sector have grown above the envisaged ceiling. Mates also said that despite the privatization of the giant Sidex steelmaker, progress in privatization has been "modest," as were the solutions advanced for coping with the state-owned loss-making enterprises. Neven said he "assumes" that the IMF delegation will "soon" return to Bucharest for further discussions. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO RETURN ROMPRES TO OWN CONTROL
The Chamber of Deputies on 7 February approved a law returning the control over the official news agency Rompres to the legislature, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The law was drafted by PNL deputy Mona Musca. Soon after the change of government following the 2000 elections, Rompres was subordinated to governmental control, a move that met with international criticism. The PSD now backed the decision to restore control over Rompres to the parliament. MS

PPCD LEADERS SUMMONED TO MOLDOVAN POLICE FOR INTERROGATION
Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca, his deputy Vlad Cubreacov, and PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu were stopped on the street on 7 February after leaving the square where the protest organized by the PPCD continues and were told they should come to the Chisinau municipal police the next day for "questioning." Earlier the same day, another PPCD deputy was similarly summoned to police as he left the demonstration in the National Assembly Square, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The officer who summoned them said written summons "will be delivered to the domicile" in the evening and that he does not rule out that the three will be arrested. Their parliamentary immunity has been lifted. MS

SMIRNOV APPOINTS HIS SON AS TRANSDNIESTER CABINET MINISTER
Separatist leader Vladimir Smirnov on 7 February signed a decree transforming Transdniester's Customs Committee into a ministry and appointed his son Vladimir to head it, Flux reported. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ACTION PLAN FOR FAST TRACK TO EU
The government on 7 February approved a six-month "action plan" aimed at mobilizing the country to catch up with the advanced candidates for EU membership and join the EU by 2004, Reuters reported. The plan must be approved by the parliament. The document stipulates that the cabinet will tackle all the problems named by the EU as being chief obstacles to Bulgaria's accession -- lack of a functional market economy, a weak judicial system, corruption, discrimination against Roma, insufficient investments, and slow pace of energy reforms. The plan is to be updated in July. MS

INVESTORS SAY BULGARIA MUST CONTINUE ECONOMIC REFORMS
Following a two-day meeting in Sofia, the Business Council of the Balkan Stability Pact said on 7 February that Bulgaria still lacks transparency and suffers from too much corruption to attract significant foreign investments, AFP reported. The council released "a list of suggestions" to improve the situation, recommending that the government consult with investors before passing legislation. Addressing the council one day earlier, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said his country aims to become the Balkans' main electricity supplier, and in the process hopes to attract more than $15 billion in foreign investments, AP reported. Bulgaria's electricity exports to its Balkan neighbors increased by 42 percent last year compared with 2000, to a total of 7 billion kilowatt hours. Its electricity output totaled 43.9 billion kilowatt hours last year, up 8 percent from the 2000 level. MS

BULGARIA HIRES BRITISH COMPANY TO HELP IT RUN CUSTOMS
Finance Minister Milen Velchev announced on 7 February that Bulgaria has hired the Crown Agents Company from the U.K. to help it run its customs services over the next three years, AP reported. The decision is part of the government's plan for reforming the economy and fighting corruption. Some 40 Crown Agents specialists are to work alongside Bulgarian customs officials in an effort to improve revenue collection, intelligence work, and law enforcement, according to Velchev. MS

There is no End Note today.


XS
SM
MD
LG