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Newsline - February 27, 2002


RUSSIA OFFERED GREATER INFLUENCE IN NATO, BUT NO VETO...
NATO has offered to form a new NATO-Russia Council, or "NATO at 20," which would allow a Russian ambassador to attend meetings to discuss and make decisions on issues of mutual concern, according to "The New York Times" on 26 February. The NATO proposal will be the focus of the meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly that was to open in Brussels on 27 February, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 February. "The idea is to pull Russia into a more permanent relationship with NATO without destroying the alliance as an instrument of collective military defense," a senior Western official told the U.S. daily. "There is a lot we can do with a Russia that isn't an enemy and is becoming more of a friend," the official added. However, Russia would not have veto rights and NATO decisions would continue to be made by the North Atlantic Council, of which Russia will not be offered membership. The new NATO-Russia Council would replace the Permanent Joint Council. MES

...AND ZHIRINOVSKY TO HEAD RUSSIAN DELEGATION TO DISCUSS THE MATTER...
Deputy Duma speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky was to head the delegation assembled from both chambers of the Russian parliament during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting on 27 February, according to RIA-Novosti on 26 February. Aside from the main discussions on the NATO-Russia Council proposal, the delegation will also discuss the prospects of signing a formal agreement pertaining to the new relationship between NATO and Russia at the NATO summit in Reykjavik this summer. The Russian delegation was also to include Duma Defense Committee head Andrei Nikolaev and his deputy Pavel Bezborodov, deputy head of the Duma's Security Committee Vasilii Iver, and Viktor Ozerov, Aleksandr Dondukov, and Nikolai Tulaev from the Federation Council. VY

...AS HE RETURNS TO HIS FORMER SELF
Meanwhile, speaking at the LDPR's regional conference in Moscow, Zhirinovsky retreated from his recent repentance of his longstanding anti-American position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 February. "The United States is moving toward its crash. It has a huge army, a huge propaganda machine, and is trying to govern the world from one center. It will finish as badly as the Soviet Union and Bonaparte's France," he said. VY

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS WIN RARE VICTORY AT RUSSIAN FEDERAL LEVEL
Russia's Constitutional Court ruled on 26 February that a government resolution allowing the storage of spent nuclear fuel from the Pak nuclear power plant in Hungary is invalid, Interfax reported. Residents of Chelyabinsk Oblast, along with the For Nuclear Safety movement and Greenpeace Russia, had filed the suit with the court against the government. For Nuclear Safety head Natalya Mironova said Hungary will have to take back thousands of cubic meters of highly radioactive waste. According to the agency, the Guinness Book of World Records lists Chelyabinsk Oblast as the territory with the highest level of nuclear contamination in the world. JAC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT MORE GOVERNMENT CONTROL OVER NATURAL RESOURCES
Speaking at the meeting of the State Council Presidium on 27 February to address the country's natural resource potential, President Vladimir Putin said that country's natural resources are being exploited inefficiently, Russian new agencies reported. Putin said that most of Russia's 50,000 license holders for exploiting natural resources do not fulfill their obligations to the state. The president claimed that there have been no significant explorations undertaken for new resource deposits, that production is declining, and that equipment is worn out. Putin also said that the issue of the inefficient exploitation of natural resources must be solved between the federal center and the regions. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER PROMOTES MILITARY SPACE CENTER IN PLESETSK...
Sergei Ivanov visited the military space center in Plesetsk on 26 February to observe the successful launching of a "Kosmos" reconnaissance satellite, and said afterward that Russia plans to send 10 additional military satellites into orbit this year, Russian news agencies reported. By 2005, all military and most civilian satellite launches will be transferred to Plesetsk and the standby launch center Svobodnii in Primorskii Krai from Russia's primary Baikonur space center, which Russia currently rents from Kazakhstan, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 February. However, piloted space flights will continue to be launched from Baikonur (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). Meanwhile, the former head of the Svobodnii launch site, Aleksandr Vinidiktov, touted that site for the launching of new Russian satellites, most of which have already exceeded their intended life spans, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. VY

...AND SAYS HE HAS NO REGRETS ABOUT LOURDES
Speaking to journalists in Plesetsk, Defense Minister Ivanov said he has no regrets about the closure of the Russian electronic intelligence center in Lourdes, Cuba, because the military has at its disposal "technical means that can well compensate for the loss," gazeta.ru reported on 26 February. "There is no evergreen technical equipment, and with full confidence we can provide our [security] needs today without equipment that looked indispensable in 1961," he said. "We can achieve [the same results] today many times more cheaply, not to mention what will be possible five or 10 years from now," Ivanov added. The Russian military remains critical of the president's decision to pull out of Lourdes and the Cam Rahn Bay naval base in Vietnam, gazeta.ru commented the same day. Lourdes provided Russia with electronic surveillance over much of the United States, while the Cam Rahn Bay was an important base for the Pacific Fleet's operations in Southeast Asia and around Australia. VY

MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKS HELP FROM MOSCOW
Vasile Tarlev said following his talks in Moscow on 26 February with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov that his country wants Russian assistance in solving its debt issues with Paris Club states as well as its own internal economic problems, polit.ru and ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov said Russia will help Moldova overcome its "temporary economic problems" by supplying the country with inexpensive Russian gas and electricity throughout 2002. He added that to this end Russia has already reached an agreement with Ukraine to transit electricity and gas over its territory for Moldova, which he said will reduce Chisinau's costs for Russian energy sources by 30 percent. Kasyanov also said that Russia wants to purchase shares in and reconstruct the Moldavian Hydropower Station, which he said would not only provide Moldova with cheap energy, but also give it the opportunity to make money from exporting electricity. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO TAKE CONTROL OVER IMMIGRATION POLICIES
President Putin signed a degree on 26 February that tasks the Interior Ministry will overseeing immigration policy, gazeta.ru and polit.ru reported. Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Chernenko was named to head the ministry's new Federal Migration Service. Chernenko told journalists that the service will coordinate the activities of federal and regional Interior Ministry branches on the implementation of immigration policies, initiate legislation on the problems of refugees and displaced persons, and be in charge of granting political asylum to foreign citizens and those without citizenship. Chernenko also said the president urged him "to work for securing the inflow of qualified cadres, which Russia needs." VY

MEDIA MINISTER OUTLINES PLANS
Mikhail Lesin said at the congress of his ministry on 26 February that most mass media organizations will work with the state commission [what state commission?] during 2002 in order to determine the financial situations of broadcast and printing outlets, strana.ru reported. Lesin said that the ministry will strive to develop "genuine public television" in Russia. However, he refused to explain to journalists how the state plans to develop public television, according to Ekho Moskvy radio. VY

FOREIGN MINISTRY TAKES OFFENSE TO VATICAN'S TITLE
In an official statement released on 26 February, the Russian Foreign Ministry reprimanded the Vatican for using the Japanese name for the Sakhalin Islands in its title for newly appointed archbishops on that territory, NTV reported. The statement described Erhi Mazur's appointed title of "archbishop of Eastern Siberia and the Prefecture of Karafuto" as an unfriendly act and interference in Russia's internal affairs. The statement also said that Russian geographic names are "protected by law and their arbitrary substitution opposes Russian legislation and cannot be tolerated." VY

EKHO MOSKVY ANTICIPATES VACANCIES SOON
Ekho Moskvy radio will hold a shareholders meeting on 31 May to consider the resignations offered by Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov and General Director Yurii Fedutinov, Interfax reported on 26 February. Venediktov announced that the nomination procedure to replace him would begin immediately, and that he does not intend to stay at the station since it is still not known how Gazprom intends to shed its stake in the radio. JAC

KOKH LANDS ANOTHER JOB
Former Gazprom-Media head and former head of the State Property Committee Alfred Kokh was selected on 26 February as the Leningrad Oblast legislature's representative to the Federation Council. Interfax-Northwest had reported the previous day that Oleg Safonov, a former colleague of President Putin's from the office of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, was slated to get the position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). However, according to "Izvestiya," 29 of 45 legislators in St. Petersburg supported Kokh's candidacy. According to the daily, almost all of the seats in the Federation Council have now been filled. Meanwhile, polit.ru reported that Kokh said he will support the positions of Unity and the Union of Rightist Forces. JAC

COMMISSION MEMBERS SELECTED FOR ST. PETERSBURG FEST
Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii has been selected as deputy chairman of the state commission for preparations for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg, polit.ru reported on 26 February. Other members of the commission are presidential office administrator Vladimir Kozhin, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Duma Deputy Chairman (Fatherland-All Russia) Artur Chilingarov, All-Russia State Television and Radio Company head Oleg Dobrodeev, Russian Public Television General Director Konstantin Ernst, Federation of Independent Trade Unions head Mikhail Shmakov, and St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anatolii Aleksashin. The website did not specify who will serve as chairman of the commission. JAC

DEPUTIES MULL CYRILLIC-ONLY BILL
The State Duma's Committee on Nationalities Affairs voted on 22 February to recommend the approval of a draft bill obliging all peoples living in Russia to use the Cyrillic script, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 February. If enacted, the draft bill would pose a setback to Tatarstan's five-year effort to reintroduce a Latin-based script. Committee members rejected a draft bill giving different ethic groups the right to choose scripts that was offered by Duma deputy (Russian Regions) and former Tatarstan Public Center Chairman Fandas Safiullin. JAC

LOCAL ELECTIONS BEING BYPASSED IN BASHKORTOSTAN
Several Tatar rights organizations in Bashkortostan on 25 February appealed to Russian President Putin, the prosecutor-general, and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, complaining that federal laws are frequently violated in the republic, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported on 26 February. According to the statement, residents of Bashkortostan are being denied their right to elect regional administration heads and mayors, who continue to be appointed and dismissed by presidential decree. Salavat Mayor Azgat Galiev and a number of regional administration heads, who are ethnic Tatars, have recently been dismissed. Galiev was accused of dragging his feet in preparation for the national census, but the Communist Party branch in the republic suggests that he was fighting the government's attempts at "Bashkirizing" the Tatar population of his city, the service reported, citing the local weekly "Nash Vibor." JAC

NORTHERN CAPITAL OFFERS FAVORABLE CONDITIONS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?
Some 12.5 percent of all of Russia's small businesses are located in St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said in a speech on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Yakovlev, the share of small businesses in the city's economy is three times higher than the average countrywide. JAC

SMOLENSK SLATE SET
Seven candidates will vie for the governor's post in Smolensk Oblast on 19 May, RosBalt reported on 26 February. The last day to register for the race was 21 February, and as of 26 February, incumbent Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov was expected to compete against Federal Security Service Directorate for Smolensk Oblast head Viktor Maslov, Smolensk administration head Ivan Averchenkov, Promyshlennii Raion head Sergei Lebedev, Smolensk TV cameraman Dmitrii Pavlov, Moscow-based Flora-Group General Director Andrei Atrokhov, and Smolensk University Professor Valerii Fateev. Fateev headed the oblast from 1991-93. JAC

NEW MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED IN CHECHNYA
A mass grave containing the bodies of both men and women was discovered on 20 February between the villages of Mesker-Yurt and Tsotan-Yurt, chechenpress.com reported on 27 February. The bodies had been burned; some had been dismembered. The exact number of victims is unclear. LF

HEAD OF GROZNY TV COMPANY REPORTED MISSING
Ilyas Magomedov, who is head of an independent Grozny TV channel, has disappeared after setting out on 21 February from his home in the village of Beloreche in Gudermes Raion to drive to Grozny, Interfax reported on 26 February. Magomedov never arrived in the capital, and his car has not been found. Also on 26 February, Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii told Interfax that he cannot confirm a report on the website kavkaz.org that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's brother has been killed in an exchange of gunfire with Russian troops in Nozhai-Yurt Raion. LF

RUSSIAN MINISTER SLAMS CHECHEN ADMINISTRATOR'S DRAFT CONSTITUTION
The draft constitution for Chechnya proposed by Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov is "too radical," and "looks rather like the first constitution of Tatarstan, which proclaimed the independence of the republic within the Russian Federation," Vladimir Yelagin, who is federal minister for reconstruction in Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Yelagin added that no decision has yet been made on whether Chechnya will be a presidential or a parliamentary republic, and that no elections can be scheduled before the end of this year as too many of Chechnya's prewar population have not yet returned to the republic. On 21 February, ITAR-TASS quoted the head of Chechnya's constitutional commission, Musa Vagapov, as saying that at least 10 drafts have been submitted to date; the deadline for doing so is 20 April. The final draft chosen will be put to a referendum (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 41, 13 December 2001). LF

GROUP CREATED IN MOSCOW TO SUPPORT ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Young Armenian professionals and businessmen in Moscow have founded an informal group that plans to support incumbent Armenian President Robert Kocharian in his bid for re-election in the presidential ballot due in March 2003, Caspian News Agency reported on 26 February. The group also hopes to promote closer ties between Russia and Armenia and more Russian investment in the Armenian economy. Observers in Yerevan believe it may be financed by Armenian millionaire Ara Abrahamian, who two years ago founded the Union of Armenians of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2000). LF

ARMENIAN MAJORITY PARTY RULES OUT ELECTION COALITION
The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, which with 46 deputies is the largest single faction within the 131-member Armenian parliament, will not join forces with any other political party to contest next year's parliamentary poll, HHK faction head Galust Sahakian told journalists on 26 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he did not exclude "cooperation" with other political parties. The HHK contested the 1999 elections as part of the Miasnutiun bloc with Karen Demirchian's People's Party of Armenia. LF

EUROPEAN DIPLOMATS STAGE WALKOUT TO PROTEST AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT SLURS
German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Klaus Grevlich and several French diplomats walked out of an Azerbaijani parliament session on 26 February to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 613 Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh village of Khodjaly, AP and RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). Parliament deputy Shamil Gurbanov of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party called French President Jacques Chirac "a bandit" who "had a real nerve" to acknowledge that the 1915 killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire constituted a genocide, without also acknowledging that Armenians committed genocide against Azerbaijanis in Khodjaly. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN LONDON EN ROUTE FOR HOME
Heidar Aliev arrived in London on 26 February and will return to Baku on 28 February, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told Turan on 26 February. Mekhtiev added that Aliev feels "wonderful." But Interfax on 26 February quoted unnamed government sources in Baku as saying that Aliev still needs to undergo a course of rehabilitation treatment following prostate surgery on 14 February, and that for that reason he will not attend the informal CIS summit in Almaty on 1 March. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES REPORTS OF MILITARY OPERATION BY FOREIGN TROOPS IN PANKISI
ITAR-TASS on 27 February quoted an unidentified Georgian Defense Ministry official as saying there is no truth to reports by CNN and other international media that the U.S. is planning to send U.S. commandoes to mount an operation to neutralize Afghan mercenaries and Chechen fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. Nor, he said, has a contingent from Germany's Bundeswehr arrived in Georgia for that purpose. Also on 27 February, Reuters and the "International Herald Tribune" reported that the U.S. will, however, send elite military forces to help train Georgian army troops, and will also provide unspecified military equipment. The paper quoted a U.S. administration spokesman as saying "We've told [Georgian President Eduard] Shevardnadze we're going to help him on this... The purpose is to strengthen Georgia's ability to maintain sovereignty over its territory." Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman Mirian Kiknadze told journalists in Tbilisi later on 27 February that a group of five U.S. experts is currently in Georgia assessing the defense agreements the country has signed. LF

GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR OPENS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY'S SUICIDE
In line with repeated official claims that National Security Council Secretary Nugzar Sadzhaya was driven to kill himself by media allegations implicating him in political murders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 February 2002), the Prosecutor-General's Office has opened a criminal case against unspecified individuals, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament deputy Djemal Gogitidze, who last week accused Sadzhaya of plotting to kill Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, has refused to give evidence, but a second parliament deputy, Boris Kakubava, who accused Sadzhaya of being behind three political assassinations, has agreed to do. The opposition Revival Union faction to which both men belong has distanced itself from the accusations they leveled against Sadzhaya, and Kakubava has offered to quit the faction. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO ATTEND CIS SUMMIT
Due to Sadzhaya's suicide, President Shevardnadze will not attend the informal CIS summit in Almaty on 1 March, Caspian News Agency reported on 26 February. LF

GEORGIAN NATIONAL MOVEMENT UNVEILS PROPOSED NEW CODE OF ETHICS
Mikhail Saakashvili, who is one of the leaders of the opposition National Movement, on 26 February unveiled a draft declaration on moral and ethical conduct in politics that he intends to submit to parliament for approval, Caucasus Press reported. The declaration was drafted jointly by the National Movement and the Industry Will Save Georgia parliament faction, and has the support of the Union of Citizens of Georgia, Union of Traditionalists, and New Right Wing factions. Signatories will pledge to refrain during parliamentary debate from invective, unfounded allegations and comments on opponents' private lives. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH IMF OFFICIAL
Imomali Rakhmonov held talks in Dushanbe on 26 February with a visiting IMF delegation headed by Rupert Christiansen, who pledged the fund's continued support for economic reform in Tajikistan, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The delegation is to monitor economic trends and fulfillment of a six-month program being implemented under the fund's supervision. LF

TURKMENISTAN REFUSES TO RESTRUCTURE GEORGIA'S DEBTS
Ashgabat "categorically refuses" to restructure Georgia's $300 million debt for deliveries of Turkmen natural gas, Deputy Minister of State Koba Gvenetadze stated in Tbilisi on 26 February, Caucasus Press reported. Turkmenistan is the only one of Georgia's creditors that has refused to restructure its debts. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO KEEP IDEOLOGY UNDER STATE CONTROL...
Belarusian Television reported on 26 February that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has approved former National State Broadcasting Company chief Ryhor Kisel as the head of the second nationwide television channel (BT-2) that is to be launched on 1 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2002). The channel will be run by a closed joint-stock company in which the state will hold a 51 percent stake. "As regards the controlling stake [in the second channel], we cannot allow the privatization of ideology, or subjects and objects of ideology. This should remain under the state's influence," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

...AND POLISH UP SOVIET EDUCATION MODEL FOR SCHOOLS
Speaking to two newly appointed deputy education ministers, Lukashenka said the general education system should switch to the five-day working week, Belarusian Television reported. He suggested however, that children should remain at school six days a week. "We cannot cast children on Saturdays upon the shoulders of their parents...or into the street -- they should remain at school. Mondays and Tuesdays are workload days. Wednesday is for labor education -- work [skills] and physical education. Saturday will be for children's health, for their relaxation. Sunday will be for rest," the president elaborated. Lukashenka also stressed the importance of links between the current and the Soviet education systems. "We have not wasted the best [experience] of the Soviet-era education system... I'm sure that we will preserve the best of the Soviet school system, we will polish it a little and make the education process more interesting for students," Lukashenka added. JM

CRIMEAN ELECTION COMMISSION OUSTS 30 CANDIDATES FROM ELECTION RACE
The Election Commission of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on 26 February canceled the registration of 30 candidates seeking mandates in the 100-member Crimean legislature in the 31 March ballot, UNIAN reported. A majority of those ejected from the election belong to two groups opposing the Crimean Block of Leonid Hrach: the Kunitsyn Team and the Transparent Power Civic Committee. The ousted candidates include former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, who heads the election bloc bearing his name. The previous day, a court in Simferopol annulled the registration of Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). Crimean Election Commission Chairman Ivan Polyakov denied that the commission took Hrach's side by canceling the registration of his key political opponents, Interfax reported on 27 February. Meanwhile, Crimean Communists have pitched seven tents on Simferopol's central square, protesting the annulment of Hrach's registration. JM

UKRAINIAN PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC DENIES SEEKING RIVALS' SUPPORT
Volodymyr Lytvyn, the leader of the For a United Ukraine bloc, has dismissed as "cynical lies" reports referring to sources in the presidential administration that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "allegedly asked two renowned politicians to assist the bloc," UNIAN reported on 26 February. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 25 February that President Kuchma asked Oleksandr Volkov (an influential oligarch running on the list of the Democratic Party and the Democratic Union bloc) and Viktor Medvedchuk (the leader of the United Social Democratic Party bloc) for logistical and organizational support to boost the rating of the For a United Ukraine bloc. JM

THREE UKRAINIAN ELECTION BLOCS REPORTEDLY TO CONDUCT ALTERNATE VOTE COUNT
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party headed by Oleksandr Moroz have pooled their efforts to organize an alternative vote count in the 31 March parliamentary election, UNIAN reported on 27 February. This news was communicated to journalists by Yuliya Tymoshenko in Kharkiv. According to Tymoshenko, the collection of the officially confirmed voting results from polling stations will allow the three blocs to announce election results ahead of the Central Election Commission and, in this way, "to prevent [the commission] from falsifying the results as they did in the past election." Tymoshenko added that one should expect falsification of election results primarily from the For a United Ukraine bloc, which has "zero percent" support among voters but will obtain 10-12 percent of the vote "owing to compulsion and force [applied to] people." JM

RUSSIA ANNOUNCES UKRAINIAN COMPENSATION FOR DOWNING OF AIRLINER
Aleksei Sazonov, a counselor at the Russian Embassy in Ukraine, told journalists on 26 February that the family of each person who died when a Russian Tu-154 passenger plane was downed on 4 October 2001 by a Ukrainian S-200 missile over the Black Sea will receive at least $10,000 in compensation from Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 and 16 October 2001), RIA-Novosti reported. According to Sazonov, the agreement to this effect was reached last week when Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo met with Ukrainian President Kuchma. JM

UKRAINE TO DESTROY 400,000 LAND MINES
Representatives of NATO and Ukraine's defense industry complex signed an accord on 26 February whereby Ukraine obliged itself to destroy 400,000 land mines, New Channel Television reported. Canada, Poland, and Hungary have disbursed nearly $1 million to fund the destruction of the munitions. According to the agreement, those mines whose storage life has expired will be the first to be destroyed. Ukrainian representatives said all of the 5.5 million mines that Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union are to be destroyed in the future. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA AGREE TO PRODUCE NEW PASSENGER AIRCRAFT
Ukraine's Antonov design bureau and the aircraft plant in Ulan-Ude (Russia's Republic of Buryatia) signed an accord on 26 February on the joint production of the An-148 passenger jet, UNIAN reported. Petro Balabuyev, Antonov's chief designer, said the plane will be a highly efficient 80-seat aircraft, with a top speed of 850 kilometers per hour and a flying range of 2,500-14,000 kilometers. The aircraft will be equipped with a new version of the D-36 engine which, according to Balabuyev, is the best in the world. JM

ESTONIA APPOINTS PROVISIONAL DELEGATES TO FUTURE OF EUROPE CONVENTION
The board of the Estonian parliament decided on 26 February to send to the Future of Europe Convention a provisional delegation consisting of parliament Deputy Chairmen Peeter Kreitzberg of the Center Party and Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria Union, ETA reported. The parliament on four attempts failed to appoint the delegate who will represent the opposition. The first choice of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Moderates Chairman and former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was opposed by the ruling coalition, and the People's Union offered Janno Reiljan as a substitute. The Moderates and Pro Patria Union, however, did not consider the People's Union to be part of the opposition and, after Ilves withdrew his candidacy, decided to back Kelam. Both Kelam and Reiljan, however, failed to receive sufficient backing in the parliament, which will debate the appointment of permanent delegates in March. The government appointed former President Lennart Meri as its delegate with former Economy Minister Henrik Hololei as his substitute. SG

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER ASSERTS ELECTION LAWS WILL BE AMENDED BEFORE NATO SUMMIT
Andris Berzins assured U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Riga on 26 February that the laws requiring candidates to the parliament and local councils to be fluent in the Latvian language will be amended before the NATO summit meeting in Prague in November, LETA reported. Burns also met with Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, and at a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga -- also attended by Heather Conley, the deputy undersecretary of state for Eastern Europe -- praised the progress Latvia has made since his last visit five years ago. British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon told Vike-Freiberga the same day that amendments to the election law are a matter of Latvia's internal affairs, but that it is nevertheless very important to NATO that Latvia comply with the requirements for democratic countries. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT RESISTS EU PRESSURE TO CLOSE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Valdas Adamkus told a press conference on 26 February that the government should not yield to EU pressure and close the second reactor of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina by 2009, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Lithuania has agreed to close the first reactor by 2005. Adamkus said: "We have the right, based on Lithuania's needs, to decide what source of energy we need." He denied that the plant is a danger to the environment, and noted that nuclear energy is the clean energy source of the future. The previous day, parliament deputy Kazimiera Prunskiene said it would be impossible to close the second reactor before 2013-2015. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas later that day asserted that all Lithuanian state institutions -- the president, the parliament, and the government -- should make the decision on closing the plant together before July, because the European Union is demanding a clear decision by then. SG

RUSSIAN LAWMAKER SEEKS TO EASE POLAND'S PLANNED VISA REGIME
Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, said in the Sejm on 26 February that Poland and Russia should jointly seek to lessen the consequences of the introduction of visas between the two countries, PAP reported. To comply with the Schengen Treaty, Poland is planning to introduce visas for Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians as of 1 July 2003. "If we apply together to Brussels on the issue of the visa obligation, and in particular in relation to Kaliningrad Oblast, [then] we will force a number of bureaucrats in Brussels to tear their behinds from their chairs, to be competent and professional, and to cease to pretend that nothing can now be done on this matter," Rogozin said after his meeting with the Sejm's Commission for Foreign Affairs. JM

JARUZELSKI'S TRIAL FOR 1970 MASSACRE STARTS ANEW
The trial of Poland's last communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, had to start anew on 26 February because of a three-month break in the proceedings that was caused by an illness of the chief judge, Polish media reported. Polish procedure allows such a motion if the break in the trial exceeds 35 days. Jaruzelski and six co-defendants are charged with ordering and perpetrating the massacre of Polish workers in December 1970 during protests in Polish coastal cities against price increases. JM

WILL POLISH COALITION COLLAPSE OVER EU CONTROVERSIES?
Jozef Oleksy, the head of the parliamentary European Integration Commission, told Polish Radio on 27 February that the ruling coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc with the Peasant Party (PSL) may collapse because of differences of opinion concerning talks with the European Union. Oleksy said Leszek Miller's cabinet failed on 26 February to adopt a position on how to calculate the leasehold period after which EU farmers would be able to purchase Polish land because PSL leader and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski had a different opinion on the issue than other ministers. JM

GERMAN CHANCELLOR'S VISIT TO CZECH REPUBLIC STILL UNCERTAIN
The German government press office on 26 February told CTK that the visit by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, originally planned for 22-23 March, is not yet certain. The office thus confirmed reports in the German daily "Die Welt" and the British "The Guardian" that said Schroeder has not yet decided whether to come to Prague, and that relations between the two capitals are tense due to Prime Minister Milos Zeman's reference to Sudeten Germans as "Hitler's fifth column." According to "The Guardian," the visit has been suspended. Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said no one has informed his ministry about such a decision. MS

CZECH EMBASSY IN VIENNA PROTESTS MEDIA'S 'HISTORY MANIPULATION'
The Czech Embassy in Vienna officially protested on 26 February against the "manipulation of history" in Austrian media, CTK reported. On 3 February, the mass-circulation "Kronen Zeitung," which backs the far-right Freedom Party, alleged that the June 1942 massacre in Lidice was committed by "30 Czech gendarmes of the Prague security police." The massacre, which eventually became a symbol of Nazi atrocities, was committed by German "Schutzpolizei," the embassy said, and Nazi regulations would not have even allowed Czechs to be members of that police force. The embassy added that Austrian and Sudeten Germans participated in the massacre. The embassy also protested against an article published in the rightist publication "Zur Zeit" on 8 February which claimed that during the "German protectorate" no Czechs were dispossessed or forced to leave. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS VISEGRAD COOPERATION TO CONTINUE...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Pospisil the same day told CTK that although cooperation among the four Visegrad countries has been "hampered" by the recent statements made by Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban on the Benes Decrees, it will continue because of its "great significance." Pospisil quoted Foreign Minister Jan Kavan as telling a forum of senior government members on 26 February that Orban's statement was "inappropriate" and "unacceptable." Pospisil also said that the Visegrad Four leaders should "take a short time-out" and "clear the situation up." MS

...AS DOES SLOVAKIA
Maros Sefcovic, the head of the Foreign Ministry's Bilateral Cooperation Section, told journalists on 26 February that Orban's statement on the Benes Decrees will not end cooperation among the Visegrad Four, but that Bratislava expects a "positive statement" from Hungary to calm down the situation," TASR and CTK reported. "In a year that is vital for EU and NATO integration," Sefcovic said, "we should not deal with historically dead issues that do not create the best atmosphere." He added that the tension could be eased if senior Hungarian officials, "possibly Orban" himself, publicly display an interest in the development of relations among the four, as well as in bilateral relations. MS

SLOVAKIA, ARMENIA PLEDGE TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
During talks in Bratislava on 26 February, Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster noted the absence of any problems in bilateral relations, but agreed at the same time that trade and economic ties should be expanded, Slovak and Armenian agencies reported. Bilateral trade turnover for the first 10 months of last year amounted to only $800,000. CTK quoted Schuster as suggesting the two countries could cooperate in the sphere of nuclear energy. He also expressed an interest in Slovak participation in the construction of the planned gas-export pipeline from Iran to Armenia. Kocharian told a news conference that Armenia is interested in Slovakia's experience in European integration and its "civilized divorce" from the Czech Republic which, Kocharian said, should serve as an example for the decoupling of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic from Azerbaijan. LF

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT IN BRATISLAVA
Visiting Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said on 26 February that his country "has a great interest in cooperating with Central and Eastern Europe, and Slovakia is a good gateway to the region," CTK reported. Cardoso and his Slovak counterpart Schuster discussed ways to increase Brazilian investment in Slovakia, and the participation of Slovak companies in tenders for constructing electrical power plants in Brazil. MS

ZELEZNY-OWNED COMMERCIAL TV TO BEGIN SLOVAK BROADCASTS IN MARCH
TV Joj, which is owned by Vladimir Zelezny, is to begin broadcasting in Slovakia on 2 March, Richard Rybnicek, the director of the new station and of Czech Nova TV, told journalists in Bratislava on 25 February, CTK reported. He said the station will cover more than half of Slovakia's territory and will reach two-thirds of its population. Zelezny himself said the broadcasts are "not a victory over Markiza," the private channel owned by Pavol Rusko, and added that "it will be a long fight, with many rounds. But we know that the referee will declare the victor after two years, and we know who that victor will be." MS

SLOVAK INVESTORS FEAR LOSS OF SAVINGS
Tens of thousands of Slovaks who invested in two unlicensed schemes promising interest rates as high as 30 percent are fearing for their investments after two investment firms went out of business, AP reported on 25 February. The AWG company said it will stop accepting and repaying money as of 25 February, and BDV Drukos followed suit. Representatives from both companies said their collapse is the result of an "avalanche effect" caused by people massively withdrawing money after a similar investment company went bankrupt earlier this month. MS

AUSTRIAN PROVINCES OPPOSE ELECTRICITY PURCHASES FROM SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY, SLOVENIA
The Salzburg province parliament decided on 26 February to file a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court against the central government's decision to import electricity from Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia, CTK reported. Representatives of the Upper Austrian government said they will join the suit. The Salzburg lawmakers said the safety of nuclear power plants in the three countries is much worse than that at the controversial Czech Temelin nuclear power plant, which has been sharply criticized in Austria. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO AMEND MEDIA LAW
During its last session before the April general elections, the parliament failed on 26 February to agree on changes to Hungary's media law. The FIDESZ-led coalition had hoped to push through changes allocating seats on boards of state-run public service media in a fast-track vote, but it failed to get the majority needed to hold the vote. Opposition Socialist Party deputies, who withdrew from parliamentary debates earlier this month accusing Prime Minister Viktor Orban of calling them "traitors," showed up in parliament only to reject its agenda, but refused to participate in the ensuing voting. The Free Democrats voted against the proposed agenda and then exited, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

FIDESZ POLITICIAN TELLS SOROS FOUNDATION TO STAY OUT OF ELECTIONS
FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover told an electoral campaign forum in Budapest on 26 February that Hungarian-born U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros has no right to engage in Hungary's forthcoming election campaign, Reuters and Hungarian media reported. Kover was alluding to giant posters, sponsored by the Soros Foundation and currently on display in Budapest, that urge Hungarians to participate in the ballot. The foundation has spent some $125,000 to print and display 5,000 posters featuring rock stars, the disabled, a Romany family, and a seminaked lesbian couple, carrying the slogan "We're going to vote. Are you?" Anna Belia, executive director of the Soros Foundation in Hungary, said the election posters do not favor any party. "We don't need the government to give us any rights regarding the elections. Only the citizens are empowered to decide the outcome," she said. Voter turnout in Hungary's elections in 1994 and 1998 was just above 50 percent, and political analysts say that low turnout this year would favor the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. MSZ

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION WANTS BENES DECREES EXAMINED BY EXPERTS
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 26 February requested that a panel of independent legal experts examine the 1945 Benes Decrees. Committee Chairman Elmar Brok said scholars from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and Hungary will be tasked with determining the legacy of the Benes Decrees and what they represent today. Prime Minister Orban recently set off a diplomatic row by suggesting that the decrees be revoked before the Czech Republic and Slovakia are allowed to join the EU. Foreign Ministry Martonyi released a statement to the effect that Hungary continues to consider its relations with other Visegrad Four countries as an important element of cooperation in Central Europe, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES SOLANA PLAN, HAGUE PROSECUTORS
Speaking in Helsinki, Finland, on 26 February, Goran Svilanovic that the plan put forward by the EU for a future federation of Serbia and Montenegro does not offer sufficient cohesion economically, Reuters reported. Echoing the criticism of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002), Svilanovic said that what the plan put forward by EU security chief Javier Solana proposes "is not viable, particularly as far as the economic issues are concerned." Svilanovic also criticized the prosecutors at the UN war crimes tribunal for taking the wrong approach in their case against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "The way it has started has turned it into a soap opera," he said. "I think the case should have started from the bottom up with concrete crimes, and then tried to build a chain of responsibility." DW

BODIES FOUND IN SERBIAN MASS GRAVE IDENTIFIED AS AMERICAN BROTHERS
Three bodies found in a mass grave in Serbia have been identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the Albanian-American Bytyqi brothers, Reuters reported on 26 February. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that an investigation to find the killers is under way, but that it will be "difficult" to identify who killed Mehmet, Agron, and Ylli Bytyqi. He said the U.S. certainly intends to pursue the investigation, adding that "we have heard from the governments involved that they intend to pursue it with us as well." The three were arrested by Serbian police near Kosova's boundary with Serbia proper on 26 June 1999, a few weeks after the end of NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. They were accused of being in Yugoslavia illegally and sentenced to 15 days in jail. DW

YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT REVOKES IMMUNITY OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECT
The Yugoslav parliament on 26 February revoked the parliamentary immunity of a key lieutenant of Milosevic's who was indicted by The Hague tribunal in 1999, AP reported. Vlajko Stojiljkovic, a former interior minister and deputy in Milosevic's Socialist Party, had his immunity removed at the request of a Belgrade investigating judge so that he may be prosecuted and tried in a Yugoslav court. Stojiljkovic was under investigation last year for alleged abuse of power and fraud, but he refused to appear before the court, claiming immunity. It is not clear if and when he might be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal, as legislators ruled that Stojiljkovic cannot be arrested without prior parliamentary approval. DW

...AND OPPOSITION LEADER HINTS AT EASING DEMAND FOR INVESTIGATION
Democratic Party Chairman Sali Berisha suggested on 26 February that his party might drop demands for an investigation into last June's elections if the ODIHR recommendations are carried out, ATA reported. Berisha was speaking after a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Joseph Limprecht at which the two discussed the formation of a committee to address electoral reform. Berisha blamed delays in setting up the committee on Fatos Nano's Socialist Party of Albania. He said that "an inquiry into what happened in the June elections is necessary with the aim of improving the legal framework," but hinted that following the ODIHR counsel on electing a president based on consensus could suffice, according to the agency. AH

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMNESTY FOR ETHNIC ALBANIAN REBELS
The Macedonian government on 26 February approved the draft law on amnesty for some 3,000 former ethnic Albanian rebels, AP and dpa reported. The bill's approval by parliament will mark the last step in implementing the Ohrid peace plan signed in August between the rebels and the Macedonian government. The starting date from which the amnesty would be valid is still under contention, as Albanian parties are pushing to extend it to before the first clashes in early 2001. The amnesty does not include crimes committed after the official end on 26 September 2001 of the NATO mission to collect arms from the rebels. DW

CROATIAN COALITION PARTY DEMANDS CABINET RESHUFFLE
The Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) said on 26 February that it will replace three of its five government ministers, Reuters reported, which would place a heavy strain on the country's governing coalition. Representing the second-strongest grouping in the five-party coalition, the HSLS move could force the country into early elections. The HSLS Executive Council proposed that re-elected party leader Drazen Budisa replace Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic, Hina reported, while it said it would oust Economy Minister Goranko Fizulic and Transportation Minister Alojz Tusek, who left the party last year. Their proposed replacements were not named. Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Ivica Racan recently indicated his opposition to a government "reshuffle" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2001), but he has also left the door open to some changes as the coalition revisits its agreements for governing. A party spokesman said the HSLS Council has entrusted Budisa to begin negotiations with Racan on the new candidates for the government posts, according to Hina. AH

...AS RULING PARTY SAYS IT IS READY FOR REFORMS...
The ruling Socialist Party of Albania's parliamentary caucus said on 26 February that it is ready to make room for improving the country's electoral process based on the ODIHR's recommendations, ATA reported. "We are ready to put right all remarks in the OSCE/ODIHR report on elections, but everything should be in conformity with the constitution," the parliamentary group's spokesman, Bardhyl Agasi, said. He said calls by the opposition Democratic Party to open ballot boxes to confirm the June results run counter to the constitution. AH

CROATIAN COURT SENTENCES CROATIAN SERB WAR CRIMINAL TO 12 YEARS IN PRISON
A court in the central Croatian town of Karlovac sentenced a 67-year-old former commander of Serbian paramilitary troops, Miljan Strunjas, to 12 years in prison on 26 February, Hina reported. Strunjas was found guilty of ethnic cleansing of Croats and violations of the Geneva Conventions in Krajina during the war in 1991, dpa added. The presiding judge said his "objectives and subjective responsibility for the crimes under the command with which he was charged was indisputably proven," Hina reported. Strunjas' lawyer said he will appeal the sentence. AH

CROATIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE MILITARY PENSION AMENDMENTS
Legislators adopted amendments on 27 February to the Law on Pension Insurance for active military and other authorized personnel that should help pave the way to significant cuts in the size of the armed forces, Hina reported. The legislation should allow the Defense Ministry to retire some 10,500 active military personnel over the next decade, the agency added. The amendments also include changes to the calculation of military retirement pay. AH

BOSNIAN CROAT PARTY ANNOUNCES RETURN TO UPPER HOUSE
Hina reported that Bosnia's Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) intends to end its boycott of the upper house of the Bosnia-Herzegovinian federal parliament, which was begun last year to protest what it considered unfair electoral treatment ahead of elections in 2000. The party, in a 26 February statement by Secretary-General Josip Merdzo, said its decision to take up seats in the House of Peoples was the result of changes to the electoral law, the agency reported. In a letter to Bosnian Election Commission Chairwoman Lidija Korac, Madzo reportedly informed her of the HDZ's intention and requested instructions for filling 16 seats in the chamber. AH

OSCE ENVOY SAYS ELECTORAL RECOMMENDATIONS 'CRITICAL' TO ALBANIA'S INTEGRATION...
The OSCE representative in Tirana has advised the Albanian government to heed election experts' recent recommendations "with a view to remedial proposals for the future," ATA reported on 26 February. Speaking in the wake of an 18-26 February visit by representatives of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Geert Hinrich Ahrens called implementation of their proposals "a critical step for Albania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, and [it] is important in view of the opening of negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement." The mission was aimed at helping see through changes based on shortcomings during last June's parliamentary elections. A bipartisan committee will be established to investigate the international community's concerns based on a January vote in the Albanian parliament. "This must be an Albanian-led exercise, but the OSCE presence and ODIHR stand ready to monitor and assist the work of the committee," Ahrens said. "This will be done in full cooperation with the Council of Europe." Albanian officials must still present proposals on the formation and mandate of the committee. AH

MEDIA WATCHDOG CHIDES BOSNIA'S BROADCASTERS OVER MILOSEVIC COVERAGE
The Communications Regulatory Agency said on 26 February that the federation's public broadcasters have failed to offer full and accurate information in coverage of the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Milosevic, Onasa reported. The group cited fundamental failures by the Public Broadcasting Service, Federation TV, and Republika Srpska's Radio-TV -- criticizing them for ignoring aspects of the trial such as the Republika Srpska broadcaster's exclusion of the indictment related to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The agency stressed that it does not wish to interfere with editorial policy, but added that the choice to broadcast the Milosevic trial imposes additional responsibilities to the public on broadcasters. AH

WEAPONS-SMUGGLING TRIAL BEGINS IN BOSNIA
The trial of seven suspects on charges of arms smuggling to ethnic Albanians in Kosova began on 26 February, dpa reported. The case involves several high-ranking officers in Bosnia-Herzegovina's federal army, including General Hamid Bahto, who is suspected of withholding weapons for trade after the 1992-95 war despite an obligation to turn them over to NATO peacekeepers. Several hundred automatic rifles were seized by UN and KFOR troops in mid-June, sparking the investigation. AH

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN HOLLAND
Adrian Nastase discussed Bucharest's quest to become a member of the EU and NATO with his Dutch counterpart Wim Kok on 26 February, Romanian radio reported. Kok promised Dutch assistance in preparing Romania for both processes. He said Bucharest "can count on Dutch support" at the November 2002 summit in Prague, but added that the process of NATO enlargement must be "orderly" and that "at this point, one cannot predict which states will be admitted" to the expanded organization. Nastase refuted interpretations by accompanying Romanian journalists that the Dutch are "reserved" toward Romania's inclusion, but added that "failure to do so" could create a "sense of frustration" among Romania's population. Nastase was also received by Queen Beatrix, with whom he discussed the problem of homeless children in his country. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION ON AGRICULTURE
By a vote of 177 against and 52 in favor, the Chamber of Deputies on 26 February rejected a motion to debate the situation of Romanian agriculture and to dismiss Agricultural Minister Ilie Sarbu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The motion was submitted by the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, and enlisted the support of deputies representing the Greater Romania Party (PRM). The Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) voted against it. Also on 26 February, the Senate's Judicial Commission ruled that a motion submitted by the PRM to debate the "Abandonment of Transylvania" by the ruling PSD minority government is unconstitutional. The commission said the motion deals with relations between the PSD and the UDMR and not with government policies. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu must now rule on whether to submit the motion to debate. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SACKS EDUCATION MINISTER
Vladimir Voronin dismissed Education Minister Ilie Vancea on 26 February, shortly after Vancea apologized to protest demonstrators for having signed the decree introducing compulsory Russian-language classes in schools, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Vancea is to be "assigned other duties." Voronin appointed George Sima as Vancea's successor. Sima was elected to the parliament on the lists of the Braghis Alliance, but has since left its parliamentary group, becoming an independent deputy who supports the ruling party. Voronin the same day appointed Zinaida Greceanii, former deputy finance minister, to succeed Mihai Manoli, who resigned as finance minister three weeks ago. MS

PROTESTERS MARCH ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA
Demonstrators in Chisinau marched to the seat of Moldovan television on 26 February and handed its management a letter of protest against its alleged distortion of information on the events, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca read out the protest, which said that the state radio and television company Teleradio Moldova "hinders the opposition's access" to presenting information in the broadcast media and thus "deprives the population of its right to information other than official information." The statement demanded that the opposition be allowed prime-time access. Teleradio Director Iulian Magaleas received the protesters, but rejected the demand. Meanwhile, some 150 journalists working for Teleradio Moldova signed the protest petition and the Moldovan Union of Journalists announced that it backs the demands. MS

TIRASPOL RECEIVES U.S. ENVOY
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer discussed the Transdniester conflict with the separatist leadership in Tiraspol on 26 February, Flux reported. Separatist "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay said the talks were "satisfactory" and that they focused on the relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, the evacuation of the Russian troops and weapons from the region, and on the activity of the OSCE mission. Summing up his visit to Moldova the same day, Pifer said the U.S. is "concerned" about the changes introduced in Moldova's territorial administrative system, and that the concern is shared by the EU. He also said the Transdniester must abide by the 1993 agreement to ensure the freedom of movement of OSCE mission members, and that Tiraspol should itself be interested in the withdrawal of the Russian weapons, which pose "a serious danger." Pifer said the U.S. is prepared to help the separatists gain "a broad autonomy status" that respects Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity. MS

U.S. NATO COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ON MOLDOVA
U.S. NATO Committee Chairman Bruce Jackson, speaking in Bucharest, said on 26 February that Moldova has two problems: "democracy deterioration," and that of interethnic conflict, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Jackson said the first problem must be solved by Moldova itself, and that the second is a "problem that must be solved by Europe and not by Romania." He explained that the interethnic conflict "generates instability, and that instability affects the entire [European] community." MS

There is no end note today.


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