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Newsline - February 19, 2002


U.S., RUSSIA CONTINUE START-3 TALKS
Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Oleg Chernov met in Moscow on 18 February with visiting U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton to discuss radical reductions in strategic weapons, regional and international stability, and preparations for the Russian-U.S. summit scheduled for late May 2002, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 February. Moscow is trying to convince Washington to sign a treaty on "real and verifiable" reductions in both countries' strategic arsenals in the next 10 years to the level of 2,200-1,700 warheads, but understands that because of different approaches it may not be possible to sign such a treaty during the forthcoming summit. VY

GRU CHIEF IN WASHINGTON FOR TALKS ON TERRORISM
The chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate, Colonel General Valentin Korabelnikov, met in Washington on 16 February with U.S. Joint Chief of Staff General Richard B. Myers and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Thomas Wilson to discuss cooperation among military intelligence agencies to combat international terrorism, ITAR-TASS and "The Washington Times" reported. Korabelnikov expressed his agency's interest in interrogating Russian citizens who were captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting on the side of the Taliban. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" on 16 February mentioned that among the Taliban prisoners brought to the U.S. base at Guantanamo are two Russian citizens whose extradition Moscow will request. VY

MANILOV SAYS TALIBAN NOT DEFEATED
Valerii Manilov, former first deputy chief of the Russian Army General Staff and currently a representative of Primorskii Krai in the Federation Council, said in Moscow on 18 February that "the Taliban have not been destroyed yet and euphoria over the ultimate eradication of the nest of terrorism is unfounded," gazeta.ru reported on 18 February. Under certain circumstances, "the Taliban still have resources and weapons to counter-attack and then Russia will again find itself close to a dangerous enemy," he added. Manilov also said that Russia does not subscribe to the U.S. definition of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran as states which support terrorism. The official position of Moscow is that "the situation in these states may be normalized only by inviting them to participate in joint international projects," Manilov said. VY

PUTIN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER INFLATION
Speaking at a meeting of Premier Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet on 18 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that the government tighten financial discipline and take measures in response to recent economic developments, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin added that "there are certain seasonal fluctuations in the economy," but that "the situation is not catastrophic." The government should nonetheless pay more attention to the timely payment of salaries and pensions as they are crucial to social welfare and the well-being of the population, Putin said. Despite his optimistic tone, Putin is clearly concerned by the inflationary surge that former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov recently warned of (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" commented on 18 February. Rising inflation caused by the rise in tariffs on services on "natural monopolies" could cancel out the increase in social security payments and thus generate social tensions, the newspaper noted. VY

KHRISTENKO ASKS EUROPE TO LIFT TRADE BARRIERS
Speaking at a roundtable of Russian and European businessmen in Turin on 17 February, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko sharply criticized the trade barriers imposed by the EU over the last few years on Russian goods and services, in particular quotas on the export of Russian steel and the ban on flights of Russian aircraft on European routes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 February. Addressing the same forum, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais said that European bureaucrats and businessmen are united in their reluctance to recognize the "market nature of the Russian economy." If the EU continues to do so, Russia may revise its contribution to European energy security and "find its way to world markets without Europe's help," Chubais said. VY

CHUBAIS WARNS OF STRUGGLE WITHIN KREMLIN LEADERSHIP
In a profile of Chubais published in its edition for 17/18 February, the "Financial Times" quoted him as openly admitting that there is a danger Russia may be transformed into a "police state," and that there is a fight under way within the Kremlin leadership between those who favor such a development and those who oppose it. "It is serious. There are political forces not far from Putin who would support exactly that style of development for Russia," Chubais admitted. But he added that there are also political forces who strongly oppose that option, including the Union of Rightist Forces. Chubais also said that he admires Putin, whom he thinks "is making courageous long-term decisions in economic and foreign policy." VY

KLEBANOV DEMOTED
At the recommendation of Prime Minister Kasyanov, President Putin relieved Ilya Klebanov of his position of deputy prime minister on 18 February, leaving him with the post of minister of industry, science, and technology, Russian agencies reported on 18 February. An unnamed source on the presidential staff told gazeta.ru the same day that Klebanov lost his position simply because of his bad work record. First, he irritated the Kremlin last year by his botched attempt to sell Russian MIGs to Austria, and embarrassed Putin by involving him personally in that deal. Second, Klebanov promised in 2001 to sell the aircraft carrier "Admiral Gorshov" to India for $1 billion but failed to do so. Third, he publicly boasted that last year Russia would become the world's second-largest arms exporter, but according to preliminary estimates Russia only ranked fourth, the source said. Klebanov's demotion will strengthen the position of Kasyanov, who will take under his direct control the Railways and Atomic Energy ministries previously supervised by his deputy, gazeta.ru predicted. Both ministries are soon to undergo reforms and privatization. The assets of the Railways Ministry are valued at $10 billion and those of the Atomic Energy Ministry at $3 billion, gazeta.ru added. VY

PUTIN INSTRUCTS MVD TO MONITOR EMIGRATION, FIGHT CORRUPTION IN ITS RANKS
At a meeting in the Kremlin on 18 February with Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, President Putin directed him to strengthen his agency's control over emigration and immigration to Russia, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. "Entrance to the country must be liberal, but emigrants must settle down in those locations where their presence will be profitable for the Russian economy," Putin said. Gryzlov told Putin that in the last few months, his ministry has detained 81,000 persons who violated residence permit registration, closed 62 companies engaged in obtaining Russian entry visas, and expelled 120 foreigners who were in Russia illegally. Putin, unimpressed, commented that "120 people is a drop in the ocean." He also asked Gryzlov to intensify the struggle against crime within the ranks of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Gryzlov responded that the ministry's Internal Security Service detained 23 of its own officers on 16-17 February engaged in extorting money at various Moscow markets. Putin similarly commented that that figure "is good, but not high enough." VY

PRESIDENTIAL COALITION IN DUMA SPLITS OVER DEATH PENALTY...
State Duma deputies voted on 15 February to support a proposal by the People's Deputy group and the Fatherland-All Russia faction to adopt an appeal to President Putin asking him to cancel Russia's moratorium on the death penalty. Some 266 deputies voted in favor of the measure, with 85 against, according to Interfax. At the same time, the deputy head of Unity's faction, Vladislav Reznik, spoke against the measure, noting that his faction's position on the issue coincides with President Putin's. According to polit.ru, Putin has publicly stated twice that Russia cannot restore the death penalty. Twenty-nine of the 47 members of the Russian Regions group, the fourth member of the so-called presidential coalition in the Duma, voted for the measure. Of Unity's members, 44 didn't vote, 36 voted no, and one member voted in favor of the measure. JAC

...AS RELIGIOUS LEADERS ALSO DIFFER
On 16 February, Tamara Morshchakova, deputy chair of the Constitutional Court, called the appeal a populist measure which cannot be implemented because the death penalty is prohibited under the Russian Constitution. Also on 16 February, Talgat Tadzhuddin, the supreme mufti of Russia and the European countries of the CIS, spoke in favor of restoring the death penalty -- a position at odds with that taken by the Russian Orthodox Church, polit.ru reported. JAC

ANOTHER ELEMENT OF JUDICIAL REFORM CLEARS DUMA...
Duma deputies approved on 15 February in the third and final reading a law on judicial associations, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 February 2001). Under the law, the highest organ of judges is the All-Russia Congress of Judges. It is subordinate to the Council of Judges which selects judges for membership in the Higher Qualifications Collegium. According to polit.ru, under the bill, judges will lose three seats on the collegium and instead three representatives of the legal community will be appointed by the president. These appointees will have to be confirmed by the Duma. JAC

...AND SPORT TV MEASURE NARROWLY FAILS
Also on 15 February, deputies failed to approve an appeal to the president asking the government to "examine opportunities to preserve sports broadcasting on TV-6." The appeal, which was sponsored the People's Deputy group, was supported by 203 deputies; however, 226 votes were needed in order to pass, Interfax reported. People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov reported that some 10-15 letters a day have been arriving asking that sports broadcasting be preserved on channel six. JAC

SKINHEADS GO ON RAMPAGE IN ST. PETERSBURG, MOSCOW
Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 February that there have been attacks by skinheads in both St. Petersburg and Moscow. In Moscow, a 10th-grade Azerbaijani student was beaten up by five unidentified men with shaven heads. Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, about 200 skinheads went on a rampage on Prospekt Kultury, beating up passers-by and smashing shop windows and advertising billboards. According to the city's MVD authorities, the youths were not drunk or under the influence of drugs. JAC

FINANCIAL-INDUSTRIAL GROUPS DRIVING TRANSFORMATION OF REGIONAL ELITES
In an article in "Izvestiya" on 17 February, political analyst Sergei Porshakov argues that because of a series of regional elections at the executive and legislative level, a number of elites at the regional level have experienced a transformation. "The generation of leaders of the old nomenklatura type, who came to power during the 'Yeltsin epoch' is gradually leaving the political scene in large Russian oblasts," according to Porshakov. The new generation is "pragmatic" and acts with an eye on the federal center and presidential representatives. Driving this transformation, according to Porshakov, has been the expansion of large Russian financial and industrial groups into the regions. For example, the arrival in Irkutsk of Yukos and Russian Aluminum and then MDM-Group and TNK "has fundamentally changed not only the economic but also the political landscape of the region along the Angara River." In Stavropol Krai, according to Porshakov, 13 of the 25 deputies in the krai duma are either directors or chairmen of large to medium-sized firms. JAC

WAGE ARREARS GROW...
The State Statistics Committee reported on 18 February that the level of wage arrears nationwide grew 9.6 percent to 32.829 million rubles ($1.1 million) as of 1 February from 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 February. Wage arrears due to under-financing from the federal budget totaled 610 million rubles and were the cause of wage payment delays in 30 regions, according to the agency. The largest backlogs were recorded in the Tuva and Sakha (Yakutia) republics, Kamchatka and Irkutsk oblasts, and Primore and Krasnoyarsk krais. JAC

...AS MORE MINERS RESTIVE IN REGIONS
In Amur Oblast, workers at the Yerkovetskiy Mine, which is owned by Dalvostugol, have stopped work and are demanding that wage arrears that have accumulated since last December be paid off, Ekho Moskvy reported on 18 February. One group of miners also traveled 80 kilometers to the oblast capital, Blagoveshchensk, to picket the oblast administration. The press service of the oblast administration told Interfax that the workers have not received their wages in full or on time since 1997. The oblast administration also reported that Dalvostugol owes workers some 30 million rubles, according to lenta.ru. Meanwhile, the situation in another coal-mining region in Krasnodar Krai was described last week as being "red-hot" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). JAC

STAROVOITOVA AIDE SUGGESTS LOOKING FOR MURDERERS CLOSER TO HOME
Two Russian citizens, Yuriii Biryuchenko and Viktor Kudryashov, were extradited on 18 February from the Czech Republic and sent to Russia on suspicion of murder, extortion, and other crimes, RIA-Novosti reported. Biryuchenko, who also goes by the alias "the Tankist," and Kudryashov are suspected of murdering State Duma deputy from St. Petersburg Galina Starovoitova in November 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998). However, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 15 February, Starovoitova's former assistant Ruslan Linkov said that to find the persons who ordered and carried out the murder of Starovoitova "it is not necessary to travel to Riga or Prague -- [it would be] sufficient to search the closest associates of State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev or St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev." Linkov added that he spoke with some members of the special services about this and they said that there was simply "no political will or agreement from above" to extend the investigation to Yakovlev or Seleznev. JAC

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ROMA CONVENES IN SAMARA
An international seminar on the "Integration of Roma Communities in Modern Society" has opened in the city of Samara, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 February. More than 60 representatives of Roma communities and public organizations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Komi Republic, the Urals region, Volgograd Oblast, and a number of countries in East and Central Europe and the CIS, were in attendance together with government representatives from the Baltic states. In addition, representatives from the Council of Europe, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Russian governmental organizations, such as the MVD, participated. At the four-day meeting, delegates are expected to discuss civil rights for Roma and the provision of a social and legal defense for the Romany population. JAC

RUSSIAN MILITARY SUSTAIN LOSSES DURING FIGHTING IN STARYE ATAGI
Russian troops apprehended eight people suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen resistance during an ongoing search operation in the village of Starye Atagi south of Grozny on 14-15 February, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). The Russian troops engaged in heavy gun battles with Chechen fighters that resulted in an unspecified number of Russian dead and injured. Russian military spokesmen claimed on 15 February to have killed 15 Chechens, including field commander Khizir Khachukaev, Interfax reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL
Robert Kocharian returned to work on 16 February, two days after undergoing emergency surgery for appendicitis, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian met on 16 February with Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Armenia, Kemelbek Nanaev, to discuss a visit by Kocharian to Kyrgyzstan scheduled for April. LF

ARMENIA PROTESTS TO ISRAEL OVER AMBASSADOR'S GENOCIDE COMMENT
The Armenian Foreign Ministry sent a formal diplomatic note to Tel Aviv on 15 February protesting the comment made in Yerevan on 8 February by Israeli Ambassador to Armenia and Georgia Rivka Kohen that the Armenian genocide of 1915 was merely "a tragedy" that cannot be compared with the Holocaust, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The note characterized that comment as "unacceptable" and an attempt to deny or belittle the Armenian genocide. It further pointed out that Armenia "has never aimed to draw parallels between the Armenian genocide and the Jewish Holocaust because every crime [against humanity] is unique." LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER WANTS REFERENDUM TO ENCOMPASS BOTH SETS OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) leader Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 15 February that he supports demands by other opposition parties to submit their proposed constitutional amendments to a nationwide referendum along with the package of amendments prepared by a presidential commission on constitutional reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January and 15 February 2002). Demirchian said the 10 HZhK parliament deputies will back that demand in the legislature. LF

NEW EVIDENCE EMERGES AGAINST TWO FORMER SUSPECTS IN ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING
Military prosecutors said in Yerevan on 15 February that the trial of six men accused in connection with the October 1999 shooting in the Armenian parliament of eight senior officials has brought to light new evidence against two men who were initially suspected of involvement but were subsequently cleared of suspicion, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two men are both friends of Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who perpetrated the bloodbath. Pollster and former journalist Nairi Badalian was charged with complicity in the killings and spent several months in detention but was then released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2000), while former police officer Armen Harutiunian was released in July 2001 under a general amnesty. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SEEKS TO DISPEL CONCERN OVER HIS HEALTH
Azerbaijan's state television on 18 February screened an address by President Heidar Aliev, who four days earlier underwent prostate surgery in a Cleveland clinic, ITAR-TASS reported. The 78-year-old Aliev said there is "no basis" for "concern" over his health. It is not clear whether the address was filmed after Aliev's operation or before, as was believed to have been the case in May 1999 when he had coronary bypass surgery. Speaking in Baku on 18 February, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev similarly said there are no grounds for concern, and that the president "continues to run the country." Mekhtiev did not, however, say when Aliev is likely to return to Baku, noting that 7-10 days' convalescence after such an operation is normal. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE BREAK UP UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION
Some 100 police officers armed with rubber batons forcibly dispersed a group of some 80 members of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party on 16 February, Reuters and Turan reported. The demonstrators, who had not received official permission from the municipal authorities to stage a rally, were calling for the resignation of the Azerbaijani leadership. Police detained between 20 and 40 protesters. On 15 February, Democratic Party General Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu and the chairmen of the Musavat, Civic Unity and Liberal parties decided to begin mass protest actions beginning next month to demand Aliev's resignation, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER UPBEAT AFTER TALKS IN MOSCOW
Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said after talks in Moscow on 15 February with Russian State Duma Commission on CIS Affairs Chairman Boris Pastukhov that he is pleased with the progress made on drafting a new bilateral framework treaty, and believes that the document may be ready within two months, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. Pastukhov for his part noted that solutions were found to unspecified political and economic issues, and that it has been decided to extend the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS EXCLUDE BIN LADEN'S PRESENCE IN PANKISI...
Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze on 16 February rejected as unfounded a suggestion made in Paris the previous day by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that Osama bin Laden may have taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania similarly told Georgian National Television late on 18 February that there are no grounds for suspecting that bin Laden is in Georgia. Alluding to the offer made last week by U.S. charge d'affaires Philip Remler of U.S. help to apprehend Afghan fighters in Pankisi, Khaburzania said there is "no need" for joint operations with either the U.S. or Russia to locate and apprehend those fighters, but that Tbilisi would welcome "methodological and technical assistance" from either country. AP on 18 February similarly quoted Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze as saying that a joint operation with Russia against suspected mercenaries in Pankisi "is inadmissible." LF

...WHERE CRIMINALS ABDUCT FOUR POLICE OFFICERS
Also on 18 February, Shevardnadze appealed to village elders in the Pankisi Gorge to help secure the release of four Georgian police officers kidnapped there the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. The abduction is believed to have been in retaliation for the recent arrest of a local Georgian drug trafficker. Shevardnadze said he has given Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili carte blanche to take any measures necessary to free the hostages. LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF DENIES PLANNING TO ASSASSINATE LOCAL LEADER...
Georgian Intelligence Department chief Avtandil Ioseliani asked the Prosecutor-General's Office on 16 February to investigate "absurd and insulting" accusations that he personally is plotting the assassination of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. Djemal Gogitidze, who heads the Georgian parliament faction of Abashidze's Revival Union, made the accusation at a congress in Tbilisi on 15 February attended by some 12,000 displaced Georgians who were forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war. He called for Ioseliani's immediate dismissal. LF

...IN WHOSE MEDIATION SKILLS DISPLACED PERSONS EXPRESS CONFIDENCE
Delegates to the displaced persons' congress on 15 February unanimously expressed their confidence in Abashidze, whom Shevardnadze named last year as his personal envoy to mediate a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTRY SEEKS TO DISPEL CONCERN OVER AFGHAN PEACEKEEPING
Speaking on 16 February in Almaty at a roundtable discussion of the situation in Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry official Yerzhan Kazykhanov appealed to the Kazakh media not to "over-dramatize" the decision to send a contingent from the country's peacekeeping force, Kazbat, to serve in Afghanistan under UN auspices, Interfax reported. Kazykhanov stressed that the Kazakh servicemen will not be involved in hostilities but will be engaged in "mine-clearing and engineering work." Informal organizations representing Kazakh veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-89 have on at least two occasions protested the planned dispatch of Kazakh peacekeepers to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 12 and 18 February 2002). LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIALS DENY ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WAS BEATEN IN CUSTODY
Parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov told a Kyrgyz parliament session on 18 February that arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov was beaten up in custody three days earlier, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A relative of Beknazarov told RFE/RL on 18 February that Beknazarov had told him personally that he had been beaten in his cell by two masked men. But Kyrgyzstan's First Deputy Interior Minister Sadyrbek Dubanaev officially denied on 18 February that Beknazarov had been mistreated, and read out what he claimed was a letter from Beknazarov saying that he is in good health. Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov and Aksy district police chief Akjol Kambarov similarly denied any knowledge of an assault on Beknazarov, who is charged with failing in 1995 to arrest a man who killed another in self-defense. LF

RELATIVES OF DECEASED KYRGYZ HUNGER STRIKER PROTEST ATTEMPT TO BLACKEN HIS NAME
Twelve relatives and friends of human rights activist Sherali Nazarkulov, who died on 7 February after three weeks on hunger strike to protest Beknazarov's arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002) themselves began a hunger strike on 18 February in the southern city of Osh to protest attempts in the official Kyrgyz media to blacken Nazarkulov's name, and to demand the release of both Beknazarov and imprisoned former Vice President Feliks Kulov and the resignation of President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

U.S. DEFENSE CHIEF VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
General Richard Myers, who is chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met in Bishkek on 18 February with President Akaev, whom Myers thanked for his country's support for the ongoing antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, and with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topeev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Echoing recent statements by other visiting U.S. officials, Myers told journalists after those talks that the duration of the U.S. military presence in Central Asia will depend on how long the Afghan campaign lasts, but that it will not be permanent. He also said the U.S. plans to expand military cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, including joint military exercises and the training of Kyrgyz military personnel in the U.S., AP reported. Also on 18 February, Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, who just returned from a visit to Washington, said in Bishkek that the U.S. will provide Kyrgyzstan with aid worth some $50 million, including deliveries of grain, Interfax reported. LF

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDALS COUNT -- PART 1 COUNTRIES

Through 18 February

Country______Gold__Silver__Bronze__Total


Russia_________4_____5_____3______12
Armenia_______ 0_____0_____0______0
Azerbaijan_____0_____0_____0______0
Georgia________0_____0_____0______0
Kazakhstan____0_____0_____0______0
Kyrgyzstan_____0_____0_____0______0
Tajikistan______0_____0_____0______0
Uzbekistan_____0_____0_____0______0

U.S. CONGRESSMEN VISIT BELARUS OVER REPORTS OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE...
U.S. Representative Jim Saxton, a Republican from New Jersey, and two other U.S. congressmen visited Minsk on 16 February to raise their concern about media reports that Belarus sells weapons to countries that support terrorism, Belapan reported. The U.S. legislators met with Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau, and Security Council Secretary Henadz Nyavyhlas. "We encouraged these officials to take steps to ensure that Belarus make its system of arms sales and military training, and its financing, transparent to ensure that weapons sold are not delivered or diverted to terrorist groups," Saxton commented. He noted that the Belarusian officials expressed their readiness to cooperate in instituting an international system of arms sales verification, adding that such a system would be a major step in re-establishing normal relations between the United States and Belarus. JM

...WHILE BELARUSIAN LEADERSHIP DENIES ANY WRONGDOING
Defense Minister Maltsau told journalists on 18 February that Belarus does not violate any international regulations regarding weapons sales. He dismissed as press canards foreign media reports accusing Belarus of selling arms to rogue states. "One paper refers to another and then it is passed round," Maltsau said. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Khvastou told Belarusian Television on 16 February that an official from the U.S. Department of State will be in Minsk on 20-21 February to discuss Belarus's arms trade. "We answered the questions the congressmen had. We made it clear that we had no problems in terms of illegal arms trade. What Belarus does is strictly in line with UN Security Council resolutions," Khvastou commented on his meeting with the U.S. congressmen earlier the same day. JM

FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE CONCERNED OVER UKRAINIAN ELECTION...
Last week, Ukraine was visited by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who voiced concern over media freedom ahead of Ukraine's parliamentary ballot and urged the government to ensure a free and fair poll, Reuters reported on 17 February. "At this moment, it is unclear whether the 31 March elections will mark a step forward for Ukraine's democratic future," she told journalists on 17 February. Albright, who now heads the nongovernmental National Democratic Institute, said members of her delegation have observed or received "credible reports" of election abuses in Ukraine, including intimidation of journalists, candidates being denied access to the media, unbalanced news coverage, and illegal use of public funds and facilities. JM

...WHILE CANADIAN OFFICIAL HEARS NO 'ALARM BELLS'
Gar Knutson, Canada's secretary of state for Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East, met with Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko in Kyiv on 18 February to discuss bilateral relations, AP reported. "There's been a tremendous improvement over the last two years in terms of the potential that Ukraine offers for Canadian investment," Knutson said, adding that he will pass on this message to potential Canadian investors. Knutson also touched upon Ukraine's upcoming parliamentary ballot, saying it will be an important step in the country's post-Soviet development. "We were following the elections with interest. There are no particular alarm bells going...right now," Knutson added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES LAW ON CABINET OF MINISTERS...
President Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a law on how to appoint the Cabinet of Ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002), UNIAN reported on 15 February. Kuchma reportedly disagreed with the provision obliging the president to hold consultations with the parliamentary leadership and factions on candidates for a new prime minister. Kuchma also objected to consulting the parliamentary leadership on the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers. JM

...CANCELS DECREE SENDING KYIV MAYOR ON CAMPAIGN LEAVE
President Kuchma has annulled his decree of 11 February ordering Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko to take leave for the period of the election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002), Interfax reported on 19 February. Omelchenko is running for the parliament on the election list of the Unity Party he leads, as well as for the post of Kyiv mayor in the local elections which will be held on the same day as the parliamentary ones. Kuchma's decision followed a meeting with Omelchenko on 18 February. The details of the meeting have not been made known. JM

UKRAINE'S DIVIDED RUKHS MOVE TO REUNITE
On 16 February in Kyiv, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine led by Hennadiy Udovenko and the Ukrainian Popular Rukh of Yuriy Kostenko held a congress devoted to the reunification of their parties, Interfax reported. Rukh split acrimoniously in 1999 following the death in a car crash of its leader, Vyacheslav Chornovil. The congress adopted a declaration pledging "to restore the unity of Rukh." The two parties are planning to hold another congress in the autumn in order to elect a single Rukh leadership. The Udovenko and Kostenko Rukh factions are both members of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko's election bloc Our Ukraine. JM

ESTONIA WILL IGNORE RUSSIA'S DEMANDS
The Estonian Foreign Ministry has decided not to respond officially to seven demands submitted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov to Estonian Ambassador Karin Jaani as preconditions for developing better bilateral relations, ETA reported on 18 February. The demands were given orally and as an unsigned text. They are: accelerating the tempo of the naturalization process, so that 15,000-20,000 Russians would be granted Estonian citizenship every year; registering the Estonian Orthodox Church subject to the Moscow Patriarchy; creating favorable conditions for the use of the Russian language in the regions where a majority of the population is Russian-speaking; legal guarantees for the continuation of Russian-language secondary education and allocation of more funds for Russian-language higher education; providing social guarantees to former KGB officers and their families by changing the relevant provisions in the Estonian law on aliens; and halting any investigation into crimes against humanity committed by former Soviet army veterans. These demands have dashed hopes for improved relations with Russia which arose after rumors of a potential meeting of the presidents of Estonia and Russia. SG

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LATVIA
On a two-day official visit to Tallinn on 17-18 February, the Czech Republic's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan met with Estonia's leaders, LETA reported. His talks with Prime Minister Andris Berzins focused on the need to increase economic cooperation and trade between the two countries and their shared dissatisfaction with the level of the EU's promised agricultural support for new members. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed satisfaction with Czech support for Latvia's entry into NATO. Kavan discussed bilateral cooperation in the political, defense, and economic sectors with parliament Chairman Janis Straume and the advantages of having a common stance in the EU accession negotiations. He also met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and delivered a lecture on Czech-Latvian relations at the University of Latvia. Kavan concluded his visit with a joint press conference with Foreign Minster Indulis Berzins during which he noted that before the NATO summit meeting in Prague in November at which new members will be invited to join the alliance, its current members will meet in Reykjavik to agree on the framework of the expected NATO enlargement as well as on NATO's future relations with Russia. SG

AGREEMENT SIGNED ON PRIVATIZING LITHUANIA'S LAST STATE-OWNED BANK
Lithuanian State Property Fund Director Povilas Milasauskas and Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale (Nord/LB) board member Joergen Koesters and executive vice president Sven Herlyn signed an agreement on 17 February in Vilnius on the sale of a 76.01 percent share of the Zemes Ukio Bankas (LZUB) [Agriculture Bank], BNS reported. Nord/LB will pay 71 million litas ($17.9 million) for the shares and invest a further 145 million litas in the bank. LZUB is the third-largest bank in Lithuania with total assets accounting for around 13 percent of all the domestic bank market. In 2001 it had an estimated pre-audit net profit of 8.46 million litas. Nord/LB ranks 10th among Germany's banks in terms of assets and has the highest possible rating of AAA from the Fitch rating company. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2002 BUDGET...
The Sejm on 15 February voted by 254 to 188 to pass a 2002 austerity budget projecting revenues at 145 billion zlotys ($34.8 billion) and a deficit at 40 billion zlotys, or some 5 percent of the country's GDP, Polish media reported. GDP is to go up by 1 percent in 2002, against 1.2 percent in 2001. Average annual inflation is to fall to 4.5 percent from 5.5 percent in 2001. JM

...WHILE RADICAL AGRARIAN LEADER WARNS AGAINST 'SOCIAL EXPLOSION'
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper said on 16 February that Poland's budget situation may trigger a "social explosion" and early parliamentary elections in the country, PAP reported. Lepper thinks that the budget deficit this year will exceed the 40 billion zlotys planned in the budget bill and total some 70 billion zlotys. "This [social explosion] may take place in July or August, when the government assumes that incomes from taxes and from Social Welfare Agency (ZUS) payments will [still] be as in November or December [2001]. But we know that thousands of enterprises went bankrupt in January...so there will be neither taxes nor ZUS payments," Lepper said. JM

POLISH PEASANT PARTY WANTS COALITION TO NEGOTIATE BEST EU TERMS
The Supreme Council of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) has appealed to all farmers' groups, trade unions, and organizations as well as political parties in both the ruling coalition and the opposition to set up an alliance for negotiating the best membership conditions with the European Union, Polish Television reported on 16 February. "Bypassing the principle of equal rights and equal obligations, the European Commission, by presenting such unfavorable conditions for agricultural integration, can condemn the integration process to a fiasco by undermining the Polish farmers' and rural residents' confidence in the idea of integration in the face of the approaching referendum," PSL leader and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski said, referring to Brussels' recent proposals of scaled-down EU farming subsidies to EU newcomers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 February 2002). Kalinowski said in Brussels on 18 February that Warsaw may suspend talks on the liberalization of agricultural trade with the European Union until the EU offers better membership conditions for Polish farmers, PAP reported. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT TO RECEIVE JUSTICE MINISTER IN MARCH
Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek told CTK on 15 February that Vaclav Havel will receive Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures on 1 March. Bures recently asked for a meeting with the president, criticizing Havel's appointment of Eliska Wagnerova as a Constitutional Court judge without prior consultation with the Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). Also on 15 February, Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla acknowledged Havel's prerogative to make the appointment, but added that he should consult on candidates for key posts with the main political parties. In response, Havel told journalists on the same day that he was ready to discuss his intentions to make appointments but would never follow the principles of the so-called opposition agreement. That agreement de facto provides for the parties to divide influential posts between them. MS

CZECH SOCIALISTS PLANNING COALITION WITH THE COALITION?
The daily "Pravo" on 16 February reported that CSSD Chairman Spidla and Cyril Svoboda, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL), have began exploring the possibility of setting up a coalition between the CSSD and the Coalition alliance after the April elections, CTK reported. The Coalition includes the KDU-CSL and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union. Svoboda later denied the report, as did CSSD Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross. Spidla said the same day that any consideration "with whom to rule in the event of an electoral victory is premature." However, he added that the CSSD has "never made it a secret" that its program is closest to that of the KDU-CSL. Spidla is likely to head the next government if the CSSD wins the elections. Current Premier Milos Zeman, in an interview with "Lidove noviny" on 16 February, also said that his party would prefer a coalition with the KDU-CSL. MS

CZECH PREMIER COMPARES ARAFAT WITH HITLER
Zeman told the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" on 18 February that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat can be compared with Adolf Hitler because of his support for terrorism, and that expelling terrorists is legitimate, international agencies reported. At a news conference after talks with Premier Ariel Sharon, Zeman expressed strong support for Sharon's refusal to negotiate with Arafat as long as violence persists. Zeman drew a parallel between ethnic Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia prior to World War II, whom he called "Hitler's fifth column," and Palestinians. Just as the Sudeten Germans should have been expelled from Czechoslovakia to avert that war, he said, the Palestinians should be expelled for not accepting Israel's peace proposals. Zeman also met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and with President Moshe Katzav. MS

TESTING RESUMED AT TEMELIN
Testing was resumed at the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant on 17 February, AP reported, citing plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. Nebesar said the tests will continue for five days, after which the plant will be shut down for about one month for what he termed "technical revision," and the replacement of the faulty valves that caused the most recent malfunction. MS

SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS WANT TO FORM NEXT GOVERNMENT
Pavol Hrusovsky, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), told journalists on 16 February that his party expects to have the largest representation in the parliament after the autumn elections and to form the next coalition, CTK reported. He said such a right-wing coalition could include the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the ANO Party of television mogul Pavol Rusko, the Democratic Party, and the Civic Conservative Party. Observers said the KDH's chances are slim, as the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia continues to lead in polls. Furthermore, the KDH-SMK relations are tense following the KDH announcement that it plans to submit a draft law aimed at preventing the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law in Slovakia. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS TO LAUNCH COMPLAINT AGAINST BUGAR
The opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) on 17 February said it will file a complaint with the Mandate and Immunity Commission of the parliament, demanding that SMK Chairman Bela Bugar be stripped of his mandate, CTK reported. Bugar earlier announced that he has received the Hungarian ID card to which he is entitled under the Status Law. The SNS described his behavior as "outrageous," saying that a deputy chairman of the legislature cannot treat the country's laws with "impudence and arrogance." Also on 17 February, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan criticized the KDH for having drafted the so-called "Sovereignty Bill" against the Status Law (see above). He described the step as a "premature and unnecessary initiative," since the government is about to discuss how to react to the parliament's binding resolution of 7 February against the Hungarian law. MS

FIDESZ SIGNS 'CONTRACT WITH CITIZENS' AHEAD OF BALLOT
"The forces of the future will do battle with those of the past" in the April parliamentary elections, but "we have the strength [to win that battle]," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 16 February at the FIDESZ party conference. Orban remarked that all European ideologies have merits which are "worth combining," but "care must be taken to ensure that everything is put in its proper place," adding that "if God were a liberal, we would have 10 proposals instead of 10 commandments." At the end of the conference, Orban and the delegates signed an extensive "Contract with Citizens," in which the party pledges to double average wages by 2006. FIDESZ plans also include achieving full employment, along with an annual tax-free allowance of 1 million forints ($3,500) per child for families with up to three children. The party promised to increase current funds for health care by 606 billion forints ($2.1 billion) and for agriculture by 800 billion forints. MSZ

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK CORRECTS DEFICIT FIGURES
Hungary's current account deficit for 2001 was 1.2 billion euro ($1.04 billion), not the previously announced 519 million, the National Bank of Hungary announced on 18 February. Deputy Governor Werner Riecke told a press conference that the bank has amended all the monthly figures for 2000 and corrected the current account for that year to 1.4 billion euro, from the previously reported 1.6 billion. The errors were blamed on incorrect data reporting by an unnamed multinational company in Hungary, which did not report relevant foreign transactions recorded in a bank abroad. The correction effectively demolishes the concept of the "Hungarian miracle" that prompted Orban to say earlier that Hungary's economic performance proves economic textbooks can be wrong. "This is a huge slap in the face for the market," said senior analyst Zoltan Torok, adding that the case "raises questions of trust." MSZ

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BUDAPEST
Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi signed a joint declaration in Budapest on 18 February marking the fifth anniversary of the signing of the basic treaty between the two countries, Hungarian media report. Regarding the right of Romanians to work in Hungary, as set out in the bilateral memorandum of understanding on Hungary's Status Law, Geoana said the quota of 81,000 foreign workers cannot be applied automatically to Romanians. He said a solution must be found taking into account the market situation in Hungary and the stipulations of the memorandum of understanding. Geoana said the Romanian government agrees to Orban's proposal made last year, which includes the joint construction of a motorway through northern Transylvania with Hungarian funding and the establishment of a joint guarantee fund for small and medium-sized enterprises. "This meeting has given us the impetus to strengthen the Hungarian-Romanian relationship as a whole," Martonyi concluded. MSZ

MONTENEGRO REPORTEDLY BUCKLING UNDER EU PRESSURE
London's "The Guardian" reported on 19 February that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has yielded to EU pressure and decided to accept the recent demands set down by Brussels' security policy chief Javier Solana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 February 2002). Montenegro will hold a joint seat in the UN with Serbia on a rotating basis. The mountainous republic will have the right to maintain its own foreign and trade offices abroad -- as it does now -- but without the international diplomatic recognition it has sought. It will have a joint system of defense, customs, and money with Belgrade. Some ministries and other federal offices will be based in Podgorica. In recent days, U.S. diplomats reportedly gave their support to the EU position. On 19 February, Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Brussels: "We are backing efforts by Javier Solana to find a solution. We are following [closely] what is going on, but it is up to people in Serbia and Montenegro to decide," AP reported. PM

WHAT FUTURE FOR MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM?
According to "The Guardian" of 19 February, Djukanovic is holding out only for the right to keep the euro and for "clarification" that the army cannot be used for domestic political purposes. The daily added that Djukanovic's reported decision to accept Solana's demands is likely to lead to new elections because two of his allies -- the Social Democrats and the Liberal Alliance -- will not accept it. It is not clear what the future of the long-planned referendum will be. Solana demanded that any referendum on independence be postponed for five years. It is possible that Djukanovic will hold a referendum, but on the Solana package, not on independence. PM

ALBANIA GETS A NEW GOVERNMENT
Prime Minister-designate Pandeli Majko presented to the public his nominations for his 18-member cabinet on 15 February, AP reported. Only four members of his previous proposed government, including Foreign Minister Arte Dada, remain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002). Both of the two main Socialist rival factions are represented in the cabinet. Some critics -- both from the governing Socialists and from the opposition -- have charged that some of the nominees were picked because they are not controversial, rather than because they are competent. PM

MACEDONIA WANTS GERMANY TO REMAIN HEAD OF NATO MISSION
Plans for Italy to replace Germany later this spring as head of the armed NATO mission in Macedonia have been scrapped because of opposition by the Macedonian authorities, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 18 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). In Brussels, NATO ambassadors approved a three-month extension for the Amber Fox mission once its deadline runs out on 26 March, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson confirmed that Germany will continue to head it. PM

STEINER MEETS WITH KOSOVAR LEADERS
Michael Steiner, who is the new head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova, met separately in Prishtina on 16 February with ethnic Albanian leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci, and with Serbian leader Rada Trajkovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). Each of the three politicians later expressed satisfaction with the meeting. Observers in Prishtina suggest that voter impatience with Rugova and Thaci is growing, and that the two will have to reach a compromise soon if they want to save their standing with the electorate. Some observers add that both men may have permanently damaged their political careers by feuding for weeks over the formation of the new government. Those observers suggest that publisher Veton Surroi or some other "dark horse" may emerge as the province's new long-term leader. In related news, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported on 17 February that Bujar Bukoshi, who was prime minister in Rugova's "shadow state" government in the 1990s, has decided to form his own political party. PM

FORMER KOSOVAR LEADER TAKES STAND AGAINST MILOSEVIC
Mahmut Bakalli, who was a leader in Kosova during communist rule, testified against Milosevic on 18 February as the first prosecution witness, international media reported. Bakalli described how he and other top Kosovar leaders tried to negotiate with Milosevic in 1998 to prevent a conflict in Kosova. Bakalli said that he learned in 1997 from Serbian security chief David Gajic of a plan by "Serbia or Milosevic...to destroy 700 Albanian populated settlements,...property, and...people." When Bakalli told Milosevic in 1998 that his forces were killing women and children, the Serbian leader responded that he was "fighting terrorism." PM

YUGOSLAV MILITARY CONTRADICTS FOREIGN MINISTER
On 16 February, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade that former Defense Minister Slobodan Krapovic resigned in January because army chief of staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic had cashiered some officers loyal to the minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2002). But on 18 February, the General Staff said in a statement that the military had acted according to the rules in retiring the unnamed officers. PM

SERBIAN EX-DICTATOR BLAMES OTHERS FOR HIS LOST WARS
Speaking at his trial in The Hague on 18 February, former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic continued to blame the recent Balkan conflicts on the Western powers, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, 14, and 15 February 2002). He said: "As regards the Slav and Muslim nations...attempts are being made to weaken them further by causing mutual wars or at least confrontations. The Yugoslav peoples, unfortunately, since the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, were a testing ground for training and trying out different things and were victims of that strategy." He added that "in the process of realizing the policy of domination -- economic, social, political, cultural, [and] psychological domination -- over the areas of Southeast Europe, the Western governments, as protagonists of that process of domination, have opted for the method of national conflict, the goal being that these conflicts should destroy the former Yugoslavia." Milosevic did not offer evidence for his charges. PM

SERBIAN FORMER LEADER CALLS FOR RECOGNITION OF 'TRUTH'
Speaking at his trial in The Hague on 18 February, Milosevic added that "there are some people who still haven't realized the truth today, that the war on the territory of the former Yugoslavia is the result of the will and the interest of others -- the great Western powers," RFE/RL reported. Most foreign observers have noted all along that a central difference between the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the "classic" Balkan wars of earlier times was that all the major foreign powers tried to stop or contain the disputes in the1990s and did not wage proxy wars. By appealing to traditional Balkan beliefs that international conspiracies are the bane of the region, Milosevic appears to be seeking the support of the Serbian public. On 15 February, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Kragujevac that Milosevic is trying to improve his image in Serbia, but will not succeed. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SLAMS MILOSEVIC'S HAGUE TRIAL
Vojislav Kostunica, who has long regarded the tribunal as an anti-Serb tool of U.S. foreign policy, said in Belgrade on 18 February that "so far we have seen much politics, a huge media spectacle, but least of [all] what this court should be about: trying the defendant for serious crimes," AP reported. He added that "the prosecution's opening statement had little to do with law but was full of shallow misinterpretation of history." Kostunica argued that "the prosecution's claim that this trial is against one person, not all Serbs, that there is no collective guilt but only individual [guilt], sounds extremely stretched. There is certainly room to ask the question" whether Milosevic can get a fair trial. In the spring of 2001, Kostunica opposed the extradition of Milosevic to The Hague. Elsewhere, Reuters reported that 40 percent of the Serbian respondents to a poll by the Belgrade-based firm Strategic Marketing gave Milosevic "full marks" for his testimony. PM

EU AGREES TO TAKE CONTROL OF INTERNATIONAL POLICE IN BOSNIA
EU foreign ministers voted in Brussels on 18 February to take over full control of the 500-strong international police mission (IPTF) in Bosnia from the UN at the end of 2002, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). The broadcast noted that this is the first time that the EU will fully run and fund such an operation. The bill will be about $35 million per year. PM

POWER STRUGGLE SHAPING UP AMONG CROATIAN CONSERVATIVES
Ivic Pasalic, who is a member of the parliament and a former adviser to the late President Franjo Tudjman, said in Zagreb on 15 February that he will run for the presidency of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) at its upcoming convention, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He will oppose current party leader Ivo Sanader, who says he expects to be re-elected. For many Croats, Pasalic represents the least savory side of the HDZ, having been linked to scandals, cases of influence-peddling, and possibly outright criminal offenses. He was long regarded as leader of the unpopular "Herzegovinian lobby." Sanader has a cleaner image but has been criticized by some for failing to repudiate the less popular aspects of Tudjman's rule and to redefine the party. His principal tactic has been to wait for voters to become disenchanted with the current government and find their way back to the HDZ. PM

POLL SUGGESTS CROATIA MOVING CLOSER TO TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
A poll published by "Jutarnji list" on 18 February shows the HDZ winning 49 out of 150 seats in the parliament, up from the present 41 if elections were to be held now. But the Social Democrats also would gain, winning 62 instead of their present 45. The Social Liberals and Peasant Party would drop from a combined total of 39 seats to 19. PM

CONTROVERSIAL CROATIAN TV PROGRAM YANKED FROM AIRWAVES
A scheduled broadcast of television personality Denis Latin's long-standing program "Latinica" was not aired on 18 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. An announcer said that the program, which dealt with Croatia's fascist past, was not up to professional standards. Latin said that he was "shocked" by Croatian Television's decision, of which he was not informed in advance. PM

TRANSVESTITE TRIO TO REPRESENT SLOVENIA IN EUROVISION SONG CONTEST
A trio called Sisters won the right to represent Slovenia in the 46th annual kitschy Eurovision song contest, to be held in Estonia, Reuters reported from Ljubljana on 18 February. Miss Marlena, Daphne, and Emperatrizz wear stewardess-style uniforms with white gloves and red hats. Critics said that their song "Only Love" is "not especially bad," and seems certain to attract attention for the small republic that bills itself as "the sunny side of the Alps." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES ASIAN TOUR
President Ion Iliescu met on 19 February in Manila with his Philippine counterpart Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, international agencies reported. They agreed to support each other's candidacies for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Several accords on the promotion of agricultural trade and on agricultural, scientific, and technological cooperation were signed. One day earlier, Iliescu ended a four-day visit to Vietnam, during which he met with President Tran Duc Luong, Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, and other officials. Talks focused on improving bilateral trade, which last year was only $30 million. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES CONFLICT WITH PRESIDENT
In an interview with Mediafax on 17 February, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase denied reports in the media about a conflict between himself and President Iliescu. He said he has always functioned as a "harmonious team" with the president, and that their political roles are "complementary." Nastase said Iliescu's role as president is "essential," and that he is "one of those wise men which Romania needs in this complicated moment." Reacting to an earlier statement by Iliescu that he intends to "be involved" in the leadership of the Social Democratic Party after the end of his presidential mandate in 2004, Nastase said: "We shall be jointly looking for the best formula," and added, "Iliescu has still a lot to say." MS

U.S. CITIZEN DETAINED FOR CARRYING CONCEALED WEAPON ON PLANE
Sorin Dragoi, a U.S. citizen of Romanian origin, was detained on 17 February after he managed to smuggle a pistol on board a TAROM flight from Detroit to Timisoara, AP reported. The gun was hidden in the false bottom of a jewelry box and was discovered during an x-ray check at Timisoara after Dragoi's arrival. He claimed to have hidden the gun there to prevent his 5-year-old son, who traveled with him, from playing with it. MS

ROMANIAN SENATOR OFFERS HIMSELF AS DEFENSE WITNESS FOR MILOSEVIC
Senator Adrian Paunescu, a former Ceausescu "court poet," said on 18 February in the Senate that he is volunteering to be a defense witness in The Hague for former Yugoslav President Milosevic, Mediafax reported. Paunescu said he can testify that late Hungarian Premier Jozef Antall and former Foreign Minister Geza Jeszenszky were involved in smuggling arms to Croatia. MS

LIBYAN COURT TRANSFERS BULGARIANS' CASE TO LOWER JURISDICTION, ORDERS NEW PROBE
The Libyan People's Court on 17 February said that it has found no evidence that the trial of the six Bulgarians accused of having deliberately infected children with the HIV virus is a matter of state security or that the defendants' actions constituted acts of sabotage, international agencies reported. The court ordered that the case be returned to the Prosecutor-General's Office for a new probe and said that it should be tried before an ordinary criminal court, as it does not fall within its jurisdiction. The charges in the lower court would carry lighter sentences than those reserved for offenses against state security, which could incur the death penalty. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov called the decision "encouraging" and said he wants to personally thank Seif el-Islam, Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi's son, for his "role as an impartial monitor" at the trial. MS

MINOR BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski dismissed three deputy ministers on 19 February, in what is the first reshuffle since the government took office in July 2001, AFP reported. No reason was given for the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Atanas Katzarchev, Deputy Economy Minister Lubka Katchakova, and Deputy Culture Minister Gantcho Karabadzhakov. Katzarchev was in charge of fiscal policy, and his recent decision to increase several indirect taxes has sparked public protests. Katchakova was responsible for the privatization of the Bulgartabac tobacco factory and had been involved in several disputes with Finance Minister Nikolai Vasiliev. MS

BULGARIA OPTS FOR MIG MODERNIZATION BY PLANE'S PRODUCER
The Russian company RSK-MiG, which produces MiG-29 fighter planes, has been chosen to modernize 20 Bulgarian MiG-29s, Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov, cited by AFP, announced on 18 February. Four of the 20 aircraft are expected to be modernized by the end of 2002. The European Aeronautic Defense Space Company, as well as the Israeli Elbit and Israel Aircraft Industries, also bid to modernize the planes but a Bulgarian Defense Ministry expert said the choice is due to the fact that the Russian company holds the license for the plane's operation. The deal is to cost between $43.5 million and $104.5 million. Bulgaria has decided for budgetary reasons not to buy U.S. F-16 fighters planes. MS

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDALS COUNT -- PART 2 COUNTRIES

Through 18 February

Country______Gold__Silver__Bronze__Total


Bulgaria_______0_____1______2_____3
Estonia_______1_____0______1_____2
Croatia_______1_____1______0_____2
Poland_______ 0_____1______1_____2
Czech Rep.____0______0_____1_____1
Slovenia_______0______0_____1_____1
Ukraine_______0______0_____0_____0
Romania______0______0_____0_____0
Slovakia______0______0______0_____0
Belarus_______0______0_____0_____0
Hungary______0______0_____0_____0
Lithuania______0______0_____0_____0
Yugoslavia_____0______0_____0_____0
Latvia_________0______0_____0_____0
Bosnia-Herzeg.__0______0_____0_____0
Macedonia_____0______0_____0_____0
Moldova_______0______0_____0_____0

There is no End Note today.


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SM
MD
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