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Newsline - February 20, 2002


FORMER RUSSIAN PREMIER READY TO DEFEND MILOSEVIC
Chamber of Trade and Industry head Yevgenii Primakov said he is prepared to speak out in defense of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in his ongoing trial at The Hague's international war crimes tribunal, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 February. Primakov, who was prominent in diplomatic activity surrounding the Kosova crisis in 1999, added that the tribunal should take in account the positive role Milosevic played in negotiating the Dayton accords. VY

PRESIDENT COULD BECOME PARTY MAN
At a meeting of the Unified Russia party on 19 February, deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov said that the law on state service will be amended next year to allow top state officials, such as the president, to join a political party, ITAR-TASS reported. Surkov added that those political parties that win in the 2003 State Duma elections will also be freed from the requirement of gathering signatures and paying a pledge for future elections. JAC

ANOTHER NOVAYA GAZETA JOURNALIST FACES THREATS
The family of State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin has been placed under guard, Interfax reported on 19 February. Shchekochikin received threats following the 18 February publication of an article in "Novaya gazeta" (No. 12) about a recent session of the Duma's Security Committee at which Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov spoke. JAC

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER POSTPONES VISIT TO MOSCOW FOR 'TECHNICAL REASONS'
Iranian Foreign Minster Kamal Kharrazi's much anticipated visit to Moscow, initially scheduled for 19-20 February, was unexpectedly postponed, Russian news agencies reported on 19 February. On the eve of Kharrazi's expected visit, many leading Russian mass media reported that the Iranian foreign minister had arrived in Moscow for bilateral discussions. However, later the same day Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced that Kharrazi's mission was cancelled due to "the need to work out certain questions of bilateral cooperation." Vesti.ru commented the same day that the visit was likely postponed by the Kremlin because it did not want to irritate the United States by highlighting Russia's good relations with Iran. VY

PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES EU ISSUES WITH RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT MANUFACTURERS
Speaking at a working meeting with aircraft designers of the Aviastar company in Ulyanovsk on 19 February, Mikhail Kasyanov discussed the recent ban the EU imposed on flights by Russian passenger planes over EU territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 1 February 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 19 February. He called on the aircraft manufacturer to increase production of its Tu-204 passenger jets, which comply with environmental standards set by the EU, and offered state assistance to the company. He also added that "the government will restructure those aviation enterprises whose [obsolete production] is not fitted to developing the Russian economy." VY

INDUSTRIAL ACCIDENTS ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA
Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said on 19 February that, due to violations of labor safety regulations and negligence by management, more Russians have died or become invalids as the result of industrial accidents than in the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya combined, pravda.ru reported. According to the State Statistics Committee, some 45 percent of Russia's industrial enterprises are not in compliance with the most basic safety regulations, which results in about 500,000 workers sustaining some degree of invalidity each year, Pochinok said. He added that in the past few years the rate of industrial invalidity and trauma has risen by 15-20 percent. VY

RUSSIAN SUSPECTED OF SELLING ARMS TO AL-QAEDA
U.S. and Belgian security services along with Interpol suspect retired Soviet army officer Viktor Boot of illegally supplying weapons to Al-Qaeda cells, gazeta.ru reported on 18 February. Those services have long been tracking Boot activities, but until recently had considered him to be a supplier of arms to Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. However, one of Boot business partners, following his arrest in Belgium last September, told investigators that Boot has provided weapons over the last two years to the Al-Qaeda network via his Air Cess Liberia company, which is based in the United Arab Emirates. If those claims are proven, it will not be easy to arrest Boot, as he holds at least seven different foreign passports and his current whereabouts are unknown, gazeta.ru commented. VY

AUDIT CHAMBER TO PROBE AUDITORS OF GAZPROM AND EES
Audit Chamber inspector Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn told a press conference in Moscow on 19 February that his agency will conduct an investigation into the work of the Russian and foreign auditors of Gazprom, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Russian news agencies reported. In addition, Beskhmelnitsyn said the agency will also look into Gazprom's mass media holdings, as well as the regional entities of Unified Energy Systems -- particularly in regard to the transparency of the latter's activities in the Chechen Republic. VY

RUSSIA TAKES STEPS TO FACILITATE WTO ENTRY
Maksim Medvedkov, the deputy minister of Economic Development and Trade, announced on 19 February that by mid-March the government will make "minor adjustments" to several sectors of its economy aimed at aiding Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), polit.ru reported. The changes will primarily affect banking, insurance, equities, audits, telecommunications, transport, and tourism. He added that by that date Russia will have formulated its position on how to modify its agricultural market to meet WTO requirements. VY

TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN FROM RUSSIA AND OTHER CIS STATES NUMBERS IN THE MILLIONS
The number of sales of girls and women for prostitution from Russia, Ukraine, and the other post-Soviet countries reached 10 million over the last decade, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 February. According to the daily, women from the CIS are being exploited as sex slaves in over 30 countries, particularly in Germany, Poland, Turkey, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, the Middle East, and Latin America. The problem is compounded by the lack of legislation in Russia and the other CIS states that would make the trafficking of women a crime, as the governments argue that the women themselves enter the sex industry for financial reasons. VY

FSB SAYS IT EXPELLED NATO 'SPIES' FROM KALININGRAD OBLAST LAST YEAR
Georgii Kornilov, the head of the Kaliningrad Oblast's Federal Security Service (FSB) Directorate, told local journalists at a press conference on 19 February that last year his agency thwarted several spy operations by intelligence services from NATO states, Baltic News Service and strana.ru reported the same day. "Seven foreign citizens were expelled as spies and entrance for them to Russia was closed," Kornilov added. He added that his agency together with other regional law enforcement organizations has managed to regain control over the oblast's economy and to expel organized crime groups from the region. Finally, Kornilov announced that he will leave his position, as President Vladimir Putin appointed him earlier this month as the chief of the FSB's Transport Counterintelligence Protection department within the central apparatus. VY

PREMIER PROMISES TO STABILIZE SITUATION IN ULYANOVSK
Prime Minister Kasyanov wrapped up a visit to Ulyanovsk Oblast on 19 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov told local reporters that the federal government has worked out a series of measures to stabilize the region's financial situation, strana.ru reported. According to Kasyanov, Ulyanovsk is a region in crisis, where there are problems with paying wages and a number of enterprises have accumulated large debts for a variety of services including electricity. JAC

GOVERNOR CLAIMS PUTIN AGREED TO LET REGION REACH ITS OWN DECISION ON LAND SALES
An unidentified high-level source in the presidential administration denied a recent claim by Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev that he has won President Putin's agreement that any federal law on the buying and selling of agricultural land would not have to be implemented in his region, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 February. According to the daily, following a meeting with Putin on 16 February Tkachev said that "we agreed with the president that the law on land will be adopted by the Federal Assembly, but it will not come into force on the krai's territory -- unless krai authorities decide. I insisted on this. A market for arable land should not exist in the Kuban for the next 10 years -- let our children and grandchildren take up this question." The anonymous Kremlin source said that such an "agreement" is "in principle impossible and absurd." Last February, President Putin told members of the State Council that Russia's regions should be "given maximum freedom in setting the land problem within the framework of the basic law" (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 February 2001). JAC

REFORM FROM BELOW FOR FORESTRY SECTOR
At the 22 February meeting in Syktyvkar of the Union of Forest Industrialists and Exporters of Russia it is expected that one of the basic themes of the discussion will be the possible creation of a single federal department concerned with the problems of the country's forestry sector, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 February. According to the daily, the situation in the timber industry is considered critical. The Natural Resources Ministry estimates that Russia could receive as much as $100 billion a year from the world timber market, but instead revenues do not top $4-5 billion and the bulk of this money "is looted or winds up in offshore bank accounts." Union members believe that more government regulation of the sector would help the situation, and that the current arrangement in which the industry answers to two ministries, the Natural Resources Ministry and the Ministry for Industry, Science, and Technology is less than optimal. In May 2000, President Putin eliminated the federal forestry service as part of a reorganization of the federal government. JAC

LAMAS TOLD TO GET THE VOTE OUT?
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 February that leadership of the Buddhist community in the Tuva Republic has recently become a highly contested element because of the upcoming 17 March election for the head of the republic. At the last extraordinary congress of the Buddhists of Tuva, a new Xambo Lama, Khelin Lobsan Tubten, was elected -- the third in the last two weeks. Local observers believe that Vladimir Orus-ool, who is a local legislator and supporter of the existing presidential administration, was behind Tubten's appointment. In the opinion of many, according to the daily, the proteges of Orus-ool seized power in the Buddhist community because Buddhist priests have a "not small authority" in the republic, and the political leanings of the new Xambo Lama could influence the vote of practicing Buddhists. JAC

SOBCHAK REMEMBERED
A number of politicians, public activists, and residents of St. Petersburg gathered on 19 February to honor the memory of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, who died two years ago, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, several hundred people gathered at Sobchak's grave, including presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Viktor Cherkesov. Yurii Gladkov, a deputy from St. Petersburg's legislature, declared that each year more people gather at Sobchak's grave as the significance of what Sobchak accomplished for Russia is better understood. JAC

STEPASHIN SAYS ARMENIA IS RUSSIA'S SOLE STRATEGIC CAUCASIAN PARTNER
Visiting Russian Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin held talks in Yerevan on 18 February with Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and on 19 February with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and President Robert Kocharian, Armenian agencies reported. Stepashin assured Khachatrian that Armenia "was and will be Russia's only strategic partner in the South Caucasus," Caucasus Press reported. Stepashin and Kocharian discussed regional security issues and the prospects for expanding economic cooperation. LF

PROCEDURAL DISPUTE THWARTS DEBATE ON ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Debate on the alternative draft constitutional amendments jointly authored by six opposition parties was postponed indefinitely on 19 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. National Democratic Party leader Shavarsh Kocharian withdrew the bill after the majority rejected the opposition's demand for an extended debate that would be broadcast on state television and radio. LF

PRELIMINARY ARMENIAN CENSUS DATA PUBLISHED
Armenia's National Statistics Service released on 15 February the preliminary findings of the national census conducted in October 2001, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2001). The country's permanent population at that time was 3,020,768, which means that some 950,000 people have left the country since the last Soviet census in early 1989, according to National Statistics Service head Stepan Mnatsakanian. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS AGAIN CALL FOR JOINT ACTION AGAINST 'TERRORISTS' IN GEORGIA...
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 19 February that Georgia's Pankisi Gorge has become "a stronghold of...international terrorists," and that Russia has more than once offered to help Georgia eliminate the threat they pose, ITAR-TASS reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov similarly again accused Georgia, as he did last December, of being unable to control the Pankisi Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). He said Moscow is concerned by the situation in the gorge, as it is so close to the Russian-Georgian border. But he added that any decision on a joint operation to apprehend the "bandits" should be taken by the political leaderships of Russia and Georgia, Russian agencies reported. LF

...WHICH GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES IS NECESSARY
Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Zurab Abashidze, told Russian journalists on 19 February that the Georgian leadership is not currently discussing the possibility of joint military action in Pankisi with any other country, nor is there any need for foreign troops to participate in any such action. He added that Georgia would, however, welcome technical assistance or intelligence information that would facilitate such action. Abashidze said there is no evidence to substantiate claims that Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden may be in Pankisi. Igor Ivanov raised that possibility on 15 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). Interfax on 19 February quoted Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania as saying that Russian officials should produce "at least some operational data" to substantiate their claims that bin Laden is hiding in Pankisi. Both Khaburzania and Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili also denied that there is any need for a "large-scale armed operation against terrorists" in Pankisi. Speaking in Tbilisi on 19 February, former Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania denied that the U.S. is planning to send troops to Pankisi, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ABKHAZ INTELLIGENCE SERVICE CLAIMS CHECHEN WARLORD HAS AGAIN ENTERED ABKHAZIA
At some point in the past few weeks Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev again entered Abkhazia from elsewhere in Georgia and is believed to be in the Sanchar pass, Abkhaz State Security Service chief Zurab Agumaa told Interfax on 19 February. Agumaa said Gelaev may be planning to seize the village of Pskhu close to the border with Karachaevo-Cherkessia. He said that it is unlikely Gelaev could have again entered Abkhazia, as he is believed to have done with a band of fighters last fall, without the assistance of Georgian military and security agencies (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 34, 12 October 2001, and No. 35, 22 October 2001). Reports that Gelaev was seriously wounded during the fighting last fall in the Kodori Gorge and underwent medical treatment in Tbilisi have never been confirmed. Under an agreement signed in Sukhum last month, on 20 February, joint Abkhaz-Georgian patrols of the Kodori Gorge are to begin under the aegis of the UN Observer Mission. LF

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS BEGUN AGAINST GEORGIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN
The Georgian prosecutor-general has opened a case against Djemal Gogitidze, the leader of the Revival Union parliament faction, in connection with his allegations that Georgian Intelligence Service head Avtandil Ioseliani is plotting the assassination of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). On 18 February, President Shevardnadze expressed his confidence in Ioseliani, whom he described as enjoying the respect of his colleagues and the trust of the Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KIDNAPPED GEORGIAN POLICE OFFICERS RELEASED
Following "negotiations" with their abductors, the four Georgian police officers taken hostage late on 17 February in the Pankisi Gorge were unconditionally released late on 19 February, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Narchemashvili identified the kidnappers as relatives of arrested drug baron Yuri Baghatashvili. The kidnappers apparently waived their demand that Baghatashvili be freed in exchange for the police officers' release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS ECONOMIC, MILITARY COOPERATION
The sixth session of the Kazakh-Russian intergovernmental cooperation commission took place in Moscow on 19 February, Russian agencies reported. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who co-chaired the session together with his Kazakh counterpart Karim Massimov, said that the two countries will draft long-term agreements on cooperation in the fuel and energy sectors, including the expansion of Russian export pipeline capacity, Interfax reported. In addition, a special subcommission will draft a new agreement on defense cooperation over the next nine years. Khristenko denied that Moscow plans to stop using the Baikonor cosmodrome, noting that the two countries have signed an agreement on its long-term use. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WILL RECEIVE 'FAIR TRIAL'...
In his first public comment on the domestic political crisis precipitated by the arrest last month of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, President Askar Akaev said on Kyrgyz state television on 18 February that Beknazarov will receive a fair trial, Interfax reported. Akaev added that only a court can establish whether or not Beknazarov is guilty, and that the nationwide protests and hunger strikes to demand his release constitute "undemocratic" and unlawful pressure on the country's authorities, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 19 February, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court ruled that Beknazarov's trial should resume in the town of Kara-Suu in Djalalabad Oblast. When proceedings began one week ago in the town of Toktogul, Beknazarov demanded that the case be heard outside Djalalabad in order to ensure a fair trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002). LF

...AS SUPPORTERS MEET WITH HIM IN DETENTION...
Also on 19 February, two of his fellow parliament deputies met with Beknazarov in detention in Djalalabad, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov denied in the presence of two police colonels that he has been beaten in custody, but whispered to one of the deputies just before they left that he had in fact been mistreated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). The two reported that Beknazarov was limping. LF

...AND VILLAGERS TAKE LOCAL OFFICIALS HOSTAGE TO DEMAND HIS RELEASE
Meanwhile, residents of Kara-Suu claim to have taken eight local officials and four drivers hostage to demand an end to the beating of Beknazarov in custody and his release, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 19 February. But a spokesman for Djalalabad Oblast Governor Sultan Urmanaev denied on 19 February that any such hostage taking has occurred. LF

BOMB BLAST FOILED IN TAJIK CAPITAL
A homemade bomb planted in one of Dushanbe's tallest buildings failed to explode on 19 February, Reuters and Russian media reported. Police said the device consisted of about two kilograms of TNT with two detonators, one of which exploded but caused no material damage. LF

UZBEKISTAN, LITHUANIA PLAN TO EXPAND COOPERATION
Visiting Lithuanian Premier Algirdas Brazauskas met in Tashkent on 19 February with his Uzbek counterpart Utkir Sultanov and with parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov, Russian media reported. The talks focused primarily on expanding economic cooperation and trade; Lithuania imports raw materials from Uzbekistan for its textile sector. Brazauskas and Sultanov signed intergovernmental agreements on encouraging and protecting investments, the prevention of dual taxation and tax evasion, and fighting crime. LF

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 1 COUNTRIES

Through 19 FEBRUARY

Country_________Gold___Silver___Bronze___Total


Russia_____________5_______5_______3_______13
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

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BLAMES ALLEGATIONS OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE ON OPPOSITION...
Belarusian Television on 19 February broadcast excerpts of an interview given by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to "The Wall Street Journal." Lukashenka denied that Belarus has traded in weapons in violation of UN sanctions, and accused the opposition of being behind the media reports alleging that Belarus sells arms to countries supporting terrorism. "The information [about Belarus's illegal arms trade] was thrown into the West and your media by our opposition. Following the elections, there was a need for some other topic, there was a need to stage a subsequent provocation against their own state," Lukashenka said, adding, "we have never traded in arms in violation of UN sanctions. Never. You will not find any such fact." JM

...SAYS OSCE GROUP MAY STAY IN MINSK, BUT ON NEW CONDITIONS...
Lukashenka also said the mandate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk has expired, adding that either the group should leave the country or "new conditions should be determined" for its stay in Belarus, Belarusian Television reported. JM

...TELLS RUSSIANS HOW MUCH BELARUSIAN BREWERY COSTS
Lukashenka reportedly assured "The Wall Street Journal" that the government is doing everything possible to create attractive conditions for foreign investors in Belarus. Touching upon the recent move of the Russian beer producer Baltika to withdraw its assets from the privatization of the Krynitsa brewery in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002), Lukashenka said the Russian company has not invested enough to obtain a controlling stake in Krynitsa. "We had a [verbal] agreement [with Baltika] -- as soon as they invest $50 million, they will get a controlling stake. As of today, they invested $10-15 million. It is easy to calculate how many shares they can get -- 10-15 percent. If they invest $50 million, they will get 50 percent." JM

BELARUSIAN YOUTH LEADER HEAVILY FINED FOR VALENTINE'S DAY MARCH
A district court in Minsk on 19 February imposed a fine equal to 300 minimum wages ($1,800) on Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets for organizing an unauthorized march in downtown Minsk to commemorate Valentine's Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). Belapan reported that such a verdict came as a surprise to both Sevyarynets and the policemen escorting him, since all of them were convinced that he would be given a prison sentence. Last year, Sevyarynets was jailed four times for participating in unauthorized rallies. JM

POLL SAYS OUR UKRAINE, COMMUNISTS LEAD ELECTION RACE
A poll conducted by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies and the Social Monitoring Center from 7-9 February among 2,012 respondents found that if the parliamentary election had been held at that time, Our Ukraine led by former Premier Viktor Yushchenko would have obtained 19.7 percent of the vote, while Petro Symonenko's Communist Party would have garnered 13.3 percent, Interfax reported on 19 February. The 4 percent voting threshold would have also been overcome by the Social Democratic Party (United) -- with 5.6 percent of the vote; the Green Party -- 5.6 percent; Women for the Future -- 5 percent; and For a United Ukraine -- 4.4 percent. The groups below the 4 percent threshold were: the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc -- with 2.9 percent of the vote; the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- 2.5 percent; and the Socialist Party -- 2.4 percent. The reported margin of error in the poll was 2.2 percent. JM

UKRAINIAN POLITICIAN ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF OVERSTATING POPULARITY OF PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC
Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told UNIAN on 19 February that the state-controlled media have recently publicized an intentionally overstated popularity rating of the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine by saying it is supported by more than 9 percent of voters. According to Kostenko, real support for the bloc, as testified by opinion surveys, is around 4 percent. Kostenko noted that in recent years the authorities have perfected the technique of manipulating voter behavior through publishing misleading data about the relative popularity of various politicians. And he added: "This time the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine is an evident example [of such manipulation in the media]. This is an attempt to persuade voters to accept the results that will be released by the Central Election Commission." Kostenko believes that the election law "minimizes" the possibility of rigging a vote count by the authorities as regards parties and blocs running in the countrywide constituency, but admits that such a possibility exists in single-seat constituencies. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT STOPS 'BRAND ESTONIA' PROJECT
The cabinet on 19 February decided to end the Brand Estonia project of the Enterprise Estonia Foundation, which was to cost some 40 million kroons ($2.2 million), ETA reported. The project's purpose was to build an easily identifiable image for the country that would help increase exports, foreign investments, and the number of tourists to Estonia. The proposal of Economy, Transportation, and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson to form a marketing department at the Business Development Foundation to fulfill this task was approved. The cabinet set the immigration quota for 2002 at 665 persons, or 19 less than in 2001. It also allocated 1 million kroons in humanitarian aid for Afghan refugees, and another 1.8 million kroons for donations to international organizations and programs. SG

LATVIAN-EU ASSOCIATION COUNCIL MEETS OVER INTEGRATION EFFORTS
The fifth session of the European Union's Association Council in Brussels on 19 February praised Latvia's achievements in its bid for EU membership, particularly noting its efforts to facilitate the integration of noncitizens, LETA reported. Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins headed the Latvian delegation while Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, assisted by EU commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen and Danish Foreign Ministry State Secretary Friis Arne Petersen, led the EU delegation. The council said Latvia maintained macroeconomic stability and showed strong growth last year, but requires further measures to reduce unemployment and must maintain its policy of fiscal discipline. The council also noted initiatives aimed at amending the language requirements for candidates in the election laws, and the commitment of the Latvian government to go on with public administration and judicial reforms as well as with anticorruption efforts. It looked favorably upon Latvia's progress in harmonizing its laws with the EU acquis communautaire, but said more needs to be done in such areas as agriculture, energy, environment, and regional policy. SG

SWEDISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA
Lena Hjelm-Wallen discussed EU and NATO expansion and bilateral ties with President Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 19 February, ELTA reported. She said that although Sweden is not a member of NATO, it supports Lithuania's efforts to join the Atlantic alliance. In regard to EU agricultural policy she asserted that Sweden is opposed to the current system of direct subsidies to farmers, as this encourages surplus production. Hjelm-Wallen noted that all applicant countries must reform their agriculture sectors by reducing the number of people involved in it. Her talks with Deputy Foreign Ministers Evaldas Ignatavicius and Rytis Martikonis primarily focused on EU enlargement. Being a member of the executive board of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, she also met with members of the parliament's Social Democratic faction. SG

CORRECTION:
"RFE/RL Newsline" on 19 February should have read that the Czech Republic's foreign minister, Jan Kavan, visited Riga for talks with Latvian officials on 17-18 February, and not Tallinn for talks with Estonian officials.

POLISH GOVERNMENT APPROVES SECRET SERVICE REFORM BILL
Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet has approved a bill to reform the country's special services, PAP reported on 19 February. Under the proposed reform, the current State Protection Office is to be disbanded and replaced by two bodies: an Internal Security Agency to deal with counterintelligence activities and grave crimes, and an Intelligence Agency to gather intelligence abroad. The two agencies are to be headed by civilians appointed by the prime minister for three-year terms. JM

POLISH SHIPYARD WORKERS STRIKE OVER WAGES, LAYOFFS
Some 500 workers in the Stocznia Gdynia SA shipyard started a sit-in strike on 19 February to demand higher wages and to protest planned restructuring and layoffs, Polish media reported. Production has been paralyzed, and the management sent some 8,000 other employees on leave until the end of this week. JM

POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN INDICTED ON SEVEN COUNTS
Warsaw prosecutors charged Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper on seven counts of slander on 19 February, Polish media reported. Last November, speaking on a local radio station, Lepper called Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz a "scoundrel" and Cimoszewicz's father a "criminal who killed Poles." Addressing the parliament in December, Lepper accused five prominent politicians of taking bribes and having contacts with the mafia. Because of these pronouncements, Lepper was stripped of the post of deputy speaker and of his parliamentary immunity. Lepper pleaded not guilty and said the charges were unfounded. No trial date has been set. JM

CZECH PREMIER DENIES HAVING COMPARED ARAFAT WITH HITLER...
Milos Zeman denied on 19 February that in his recent interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" he compared Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, international news agencies reported. Zeman said he was "surprised" to read about the alleged comparison, which, he explained, was based on a misquoted statement he made while on his visit to Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). MS

...AFTER TRIGGERING CRITICISM AT HOME...
President Vaclav Havel said in response to the alleged statement by Zeman that it is "inadmissible" to take two different historical experiences out of context and to "apply the principle of collective guilt." Havel said Zeman's statement "might escalate Middle Eastern tension," CTK reported. Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus called the statement "absurd" and said Zeman is doing "unprecedented harm" to the Czech Republic." MS

...AND ABROAD
Egypt announced it has asked Zeman to postpone a visit planned for 28 February in a sign of protest against the statement, and the Arab League issued a strongly worded protest, CTK and international agencies reported. The European Commission initially said that this is "not the language we expect from a future EU member," AP reported. Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori called Zeman's remarks "unhelpful," and said he wishes to remind Zeman that the Czech Republic has pledged to support EU foreign policy during its membership negotiations. Later on 19 February, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said he considers Zeman's explanation "satisfactory." MS

CZECHS RESPONSIBLE FOR FALSE LUSTRATION CERTIFICATES MAY ESCAPE PUNISHMENT
Five former employees of the Interior Ministry are responsible for the issuance of more than 100 false lustration certificates between 1991 and 1993, but they are likely to escape punishment, CTK reported on 20 February, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." The issuance of the false certificates was announced in June 2001 by Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. "Lidove noviny" said the five can be charged with negligence in performing their duties, but that the offense falls under the statute of limitations and prosecution is unlikely. MS

GERMAN CHANCELLOR BACKS CURRENT SLOVAK CABINET
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking to journalists in Berlin after discussions with Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, said he believes Slovakia will be "in the first wave" of both EU and NATO expansion, CTK and Reuters reported. Schroeder said he does not want to interfere in Slovakia's internal affairs, but wishes to emphasize that the performance of the cabinet headed by Dzurinda has been "remarkable and very good." As Schroeder's statement came in response to a question concerning the possible return to power of former Premier Vladimir Meciar, observers say this amounted to support for Dzurinda ahead of the parliamentary elections this autumn. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER CALLS EU PLAN ON AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES 'UNACCEPTABLE'
Viktor Orban told his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern in Dublin on 19 February that Hungary finds "unacceptable" the European Commission's proposal to require a 10-year transition period before giving full agricultural subsidies to new members. Orban said Hungary's agriculture is currently competitive with that of the EU, but such status would be in jeopardy if the EU does not guarantee equal treatment for Hungarian farmers once the country joins the organization. He said Hungary seeks an ad hoc agreement that would not extend into the EU's next budget term, which begins in 2007. According to "Magyar Nemzet," Ahern admitted that the proposed transitional period is too long. In related news, Hungarian deputy government spokesman Tamas Kubinyi confirmed that the prime ministers of the four Visegrad countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia -- will meet in Keszthely on 27 February to discuss the EU's proposed agricultural policy. He said Hungary is probably the only one of the four that "will not give in to the EU," and will request 100 percent subsidies, rather than the 25 percent of that given to current EU members that was proposed by the European Commission. MSZ

HUNGARIAN RADIO, TV BOARD 'ADMONISHES' PRO-MIEP STATION AGAIN
The National Radio and Television Board (ORTT) on 19 February "admonished" Pannon Radio for its failure to report changes to its ownership structure. The board discovered that the Istvan Bocskai Foundation for an Open University, an organization founded by Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka, obtained a 26 percent stake in the radio station's operator, Gido Media Ltd., in August 2000. The Media Law bans political parties from obtaining direct influence in a broadcaster. Gido Media's statute stipulates that decisions can only be made with the agreement of at least 75 percent of the owners, therefore the Bocskai Foundation's 26 percent stake gives it veto power. The station was given 30 days to rectify the situation. The ORTT's decision follows recent protests by some 60 leading Hungarian musicians against what they call the station's "openly racist and anti-Semitic tone." MIEP spokesman Bela Gyori has recently referred to Pannon as "MIEP radio," and the ORTT declared in January that the station promotes ideas advocated by MIEP, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT BACKING DOWN ON REFERENDUM
In a further sign that he has bowed to EU pressure to remain in a joint state with Serbia, Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 19 February that a planned referendum on independence may not take place in the spring, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). Djukanovic noted that he previously "believed that the first half of the year was most suitable for the referendum, but, we heard otherwise. We know we are not alone here...so we are willing to hear other proposals." He added nonetheless that "Montenegro has the indisputable right to determine its own future as all other nations and states have had. Nobody should dare take that away from us" (see "Balkan Report," 14 December 2001). Djukanovic was presumably alluding to the facts that Montenegro was an independent state before 1918 and that the international Badinter commission ruled in 1991 that all former Yugoslav republics have the legal right to independence. Djukanovic made the statement after meeting with OSCE chairman and Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT: PARLIAMENT HAS THE LAST WORD
Vesna Perovic, who heads the Montenegrin legislature, said in Podgorica on 19 February that the parliament and not Djukanovic has the final say in deciding on any document codifying relations with Serbia, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. Miodrag Ilickovic, who is deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said that EU security chief Javier Solana is behaving in a one-sided fashion. PM

STEINER ANNOUNCES FALL LOCAL VOTE IN KOSOVA
Speaking in Prishtina on 19 February, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said local elections will take place on 21 September provided that appropriate government structures are in place by then, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He appealed to political leaders to "overcome narrow party interests" and form a cabinet. He added that Kosova will be judged on how it treats its minorities. Steiner stressed that the province will not develop unless it promotes relations with Tirana, Skopje, and especially Belgrade. Meanwhile in the Serbian capital, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, said he will meet with Steiner on 28 February and hopes to agree on "basic principles of cooperation" between his government and UNMIK. Observers note that Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing more to do with Serbia and that signing an agreement with Belgrade cost Steiner's predecessor, Hans Haekkerup, much of his standing with the Albanians. PM

MACEDONIAN POLICE TO RETURN TO ARACINOVO
Local Albanians who had been blocking the return of police returned to their homes in Aracinovo late on 19 February, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). The local people reached an agreement with the Macedonian authorities on the deployment of the multiethnic police force in the community near Skopje. The local police chief will be an Albanian, and the checkpoint nearby will be manned by ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians. Tensions rose in the area earlier in the day after a reported incident in which a Macedonian policeman allegedly slapped an Albanian at the checkpoint, which touched off a demonstration. Police denied the charges, saying they had detained two Albanians for illegally cutting firewood but did not slap anyone. PM

NATO WARNS AGAINST MACEDONIAN RUMORMONGERING
Alliance spokesman Craig Ratcliff said in Skopje on 19 February that speculation by some Macedonian hard-liners that a conflict might resume is counterproductive, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). He argued that "we have said repeatedly that there are no signs of an offensive," and that rumors are "not helpful in building the confidence of the international community and their desire to donate money and assistance to Macedonia." PM

SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION STILL WITHOUT DRAFT LAW ON THE HAGUE
Members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition have formed a "working group" to draft a proposed law on cooperating with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal within four days, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 February. The coalition has been promising such legislation ever since it came to power at the end of 2000. The main stumbling block is that the Democratic Party of Serbia of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica favors legislation that critics say will hinder cooperation rather than promote it. Most of the other parties in DOS want legislation that will win approval from The Hague in order to reduce Western pressure on Serbia and encourage donors and investors. In related news, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said he does not know where indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic is. PM

DIPLOMATIC TENSIONS CONTINUE BETWEEN CROATIA AND BOSNIA
Bosnia has recalled its new ambassador to Croatia, Zlatko Dizdarevic, to Sarajevo "for consultations," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 February. The move came after Croatian parliament speaker Zlatko Tomcic said that his schedule was "too full" to receive Dizdarevic. Tomcic nonetheless found time to meet with the ambassadors of Belgrade and Tokyo. Relations between Sarajevo and Zagreb have been strained for some weeks because of Croatian legislation on overland transport of fuel and fuel products (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002). PM

UN SACKS THREE BOSNIAN SERB POLICE
The UN mission that supervises police work in Bosnia has dismissed three Bosnian Serb policemen, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 19 February. The three were interrogators during the 1992-1995 conflict at various prisons mentioned in the indictment against former Yugoslav and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. It is not clear whether there are war crimes charges against the three men. Once dismissed by the UN, a person cannot be legally employed in police work in Bosnia again. PM

EU COMMISSIONER WARNS AGAINST 'DOUBLE REJECTION' OF ROMANIA, BULGARIA
Addressing NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels on 19 February, Guenter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner in charge of enlargement, said he favors a "big bang" NATO expansion that would include those countries that are not yet ready for EU membership, Reuters reported. Verheugen said that a possible "double rejection" of Romania and Bulgaria would "create a very difficult situation in those countries." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN TURKEY
Adrian Nastase, on a one-day visit to Turkey on 19 February, held talks with his counterpart Bulent Ecevit and with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Romanian radio reported. Nastase and Ecevit signed several agreements on economic cooperation. One of them provides for Romanian delivery of equipment from a Brasov-based tractor manufacturer for assembling over 1,000 tractors in Turkey in 2002, and some 40,000 tractors over the next 12 years. Nastase called on Turkish businessmen to invest in his country, particularly in the energy sector. He expressed his gratitude to Ecevit, who reiterated Turkey's determination to back Romanian and Bulgarian bids for NATO membership at the Prague summit this autumn. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SUSPECTS HIS TELEPHONE IS BUGGED
Emil Constantinescu has written to Prosecutor-General Tanase Joita asking whether telephone conversations conducted by himself, his family, and the staff of a foundation he is heading are being monitored, Mediafax reported on 19 February. Former presidential counselor Zoe Petre said Joita replied that the Prosecutor-General's Office "strictly abides by legal provisions," and that the office is not legally allowed to make public which conversations are placed under surveillance in line with the letter of the law. Petre said the reply was "equivocal" and "does not deny that our telephone conversations are being eavesdropped on." She said she wonders how the former president, his family, and the foundation's staff could possibly "endanger national security"-- the only reason for which the current legislation permits telephone surveillance. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY PLAGUED BY INTERNAL RIFT
According to a Mediafax report on 19 February, the leadership of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) has decided to replace parliamentary deputy Ilie Neacsu as chairman of the Agricultural Commission in the Chamber of Deputies with deputy Ioan Bildea. The report said the PRM is dissatisfied that Neacsu has backed in the commission legislation promoted by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD). Mediafax also said other prominent PRM leadership members, among them parliamentary deputies Sever Mesca and Anghel Stanciu, are likely to be disciplined at the next PRM National Conference in March because they rallied to Neacsu's defense. MS

HUNGARIAN LEADER IN ROMANIA RECEIVES MAGYAR ID CARD
On 19 February in Cluj, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth personally presented Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko with the Hungarian ID card Marko is entitled to under the provisions of the Status Law, a local RFE/RL correspondent reported. Earlier on 19 February, the opposition parties walked out of the Chamber of Deputies in protest against the new Police Law. The law stipulates that in localities where national minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population, policemen who speak the languages of those minorities must be employed in the local force. The legislation was approved with the support of the UDMR, the PSD, and formations representing other national minorities. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OUTLAWS LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Constitutional Court ruled on 19 February that the law passed on 5 February by the parliament on holding early local elections on 7 April is unconstitutional, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. President Vladimir Voronin said in response that he has asked central and local authorities, as well as political parties, to "respect" the court's decision, since no law "can infringe on the constitution." Victor Stepaniuc, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group, said the decision is "surprising" but that the parliament "will respect it." The court thus heeded an appeal against the parliament's decision by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), which said reducing the four-year mandate of local authority officials elected in May 1999 is an infringement on the basic law. MS

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY BACKS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT...
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 19 February that the ongoing demonstrations against the Moldovan government "organized by the radical nationalist PPCD" have been accompanied "in some instances" by "anti-Russian actions, directed against the Embassy of the Russian Federation" in Moldova's capital city, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The statement said that such actions "do not promote civil accord in the multiethnic Moldovan society," and that their organizers "from inside the country or outside it" should "realize that they may thereby create one more hotbed of conflict in Southeastern Europe." MS

...AS CHISINAU PROTESTS CONTINUE
PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said in response to the Russian statement that this is not the first time Moscow has displayed "a hostile attitude toward Moldovan realities," but that it "is the first time that it has done so openly," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He described the Russian declaration as "one made in imperial style," and added that the PPCD "cannot but reject it." Cubreacov also said that the Moldovan cabinet has launched "the persecution of Romanians in Moldova" at "the orders of the Kremlin." Meanwhile, the protest demonstrations continued in Chisinau and over 40 high schools and elementary schools announced they are joining the "general strike" declared by the PPCD. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca told the crowd: "The time has come to save democracy and end communism once and for all." MS

BRAGHIS ALLIANCE JOINS DEMAND FOR MOLDOVAN CABINET'S DISMISSAL
The parliamentary group of the Braghis Alliance demanded on 19 February that the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Tarlev resign, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The group said the cabinet "has proved its incapacity to rule." In response to a journalist's question as to whether he would agree to return at the head of the government, Dumitru Braghis said: "This depends on who would ask me to form one." He added that he is not backing the PPCD's demand that President Voronin resign as well. MS

MOLDOVA REFUSES TO PARTICIPATE IN OSCE TALKS WITH TRANSDNIESTER
Moldova on 19 February said it will not send its negotiators to a new round of talks with the separatists, planned under the sponsorship of the OSCE in Bratislava, on 19-20 February, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the resumption of the negotiations is "senseless as long as Tiraspol rejects any concessions." The ministry said Chisinau continues to adhere to negotiations as the only means to solve the conflict, but that "talks can yield concrete results only when the participants display genuine political will and flexibility." MS

WORLD BANK WARNS MOLDOVA
The World Bank representative in Chisinau, Carlos Elbirt, said on 19 February that unless Moldova abides by its obligation to implement market reforms and scraps plans to renationalize privatized companies, it risks losing millions of dollars in vital loans, AP reported. Elbirt said the bank is worried about the cabinet's intention to renationalize 25 already privatized companies and to subsidize loss-producing state farms and enterprises. Elbirt also called on the government to quickly appoint new economy and finance ministers, saying the recent departure of ministers Andrei Cucu and Mihai Manoli has left vacant "two of the most critical positions in terms of reform." MS

U.S. OFFICIAL PROMISES BULGARIA HELP AHEAD OF NATO SUMMIT
U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, met in Sofia on 19 February with President Georgi Parvanov to discuss Bulgaria's quest to join NATO as well as military reforms, BTA reported. Presidential adviser Zlatin Trupkov told journalists following the meeting that Burns said the U.S. will assist Bulgaria in reforming its military ahead of the NATO summit in Prague. Burns also met with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. MS

BULGARIAN ROMA RIOT IN PROTEST OF POWER OUTAGE
Hundreds of Roma rioted in the Plodviv suburb of Stolipinovo on the night of 18 to 19 February after the authorities cut off power to their houses in response to unpaid electricity bills, AP and dpa reported. No one was seriously injured, but stones were thrown at police officers, roadblocks were set up, and there were reports on pillaged stores and vehicles. Police sealed off the area, but did not intervene. The 35,000 Roma living in the neighborhood complain of high unemployment and poverty. MS

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 2 COUNTRIES

Through 19 FEBRUARY

Country_________Gold___Silver___Bronze___Total


Bulgaria___________0_______1_______2_______3
Croatia____________1_______1_______0_______2
Estonia____________1_______0_______1_______2
Czech Rep._________1_______0_______1_______2
Poland_____________0_______1_______1_______2
Belarus____________0_______0_______1_______1
Slovenia___________0_______0_______1_______1
Bosnia-Herzeg.______0_______0_______0_______0
Hungary___________0_______0_______0_______0
Latvia_____________0_______0_______0_______0
Lithuania__________0_______0_______0_______0
Macedonia_________0_______0_______0_______0
Moldova___________0_______0_______0_______0
Romania___________0_______0_______0_______0
Slovakia___________0_______0_______0_______0
Ukraine____________0_______0_______0_______0
Yugoslavia_________0_______0_______0_______0

There is no End Note today.


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SM
MD
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