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Newsline - February 28, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT CRITICAL OF UNFINISHED WORK IN CHECHNYA...
Speaking at the meeting of the Russian Security Council devoted to the situation in Chechnya on 27 February, President Vladimir Putin said he is very unhappy with the activities of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Finance Ministry, and the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya as far as stabilization in the republic is concerned, gazeta.ru and "Krasnaya zvezda" reported. The situation in the republic reveals ambivalence on the part of those organizations, Putin continued. While there are signs of stabilization and reduced military activities, the Russian military and the FSB have not reached the goals set by the government. "The channels of arms and money supplied to the illegal bandit formations have not been completely disrupted, the most dangerous leaders of the formations have not been neutralized, and the channels for trafficking of foreign mercenaries have not been closed," he said. In the economic sphere, the president said that money being supplied to the republic through a labyrinth of federal and local organizations and banks have created conditions for misusing funds. In addition, the republic has very high unemployment and crime rates, Putin said. VY

...CALLS FOR MORE GOVERNMENT PROPAGANDA IN REPUBLIC
Addressing the council after FSB Director and Deputy Prime Minster Viktor Khristenko reported on the military and economic aspects of the Russian operation in Chechnya, Putin said in closing that he "thinks that the information vacuum in Chechnya is being filled too slowly," RIA-Novosti reported. "Although ORT and RTR [television] and state radio [are broadcast], and newspapers and journals are issued in the 16 regions of the [Chechen] republic... Information work remains [to be done] in the zone where counterterrorist operations are being conducted," he remarked. VY

RFE/RL BROADCASTS TO NORTH CAUCASUS 'DELAYED TEMPORARILY'
The chairman of RFE/RL's oversight body, Marc Nathanson, announced a last-minute delay in the U.S.-backed broadcaster's plans to offer local-language news in the North Caucasus on 27 February, RFE/RL reported. He cited "serious" and "real" security issues. Broadcasts in Avar, Chechen, and Circassian were slated to begin on 28 February. Nathanson said his Broadcasting Board of Governors expects to meet "in a few weeks with the [Bush] administration" following White House consultations with the U.S. Congress, which has already approved funding for the broadcasts. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the same day that the administration "felt that perhaps broadcasts in these local languages...could be counterproductive to the overall effort to get a dialogue started in Chechnya," RFE/RL reported. Sergei Yastrzhembskii, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechen affairs, told Russian media in late January that the Putin administration would "pay special attention" to the broadcasts, and hinted that authorities could take away RFE/RL's local broadcast license if they detected a pro-rebel bias, news agencies and local media reported. AH

RUSSIA EXPRESSES WARINESS OF NEW U.S. MILITARY ROLE IN GEORGIA...
Reacting to the announcement of a new U.S. effort to militarily train and equip several Georgian battalions for security operations in the volatile Pankisi Gorge, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russian public ORT television on 27 February that a deployment of U.S. troops in Georgia would "further aggravate the situation in the region." Russian Defense Ministry officials also expressed apprehension over the U.S. grant of 10 UH-1 Huey combat helicopters to Georgia. Russia has repeatedly criticized the Georgian government for being unable or unwilling to stabilize the Pankisi Gorge and has recently offered joint security operations between Georgian and Russian forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 February 2002). RG

...AND FEELS A BIT SLIGHTED
Foreign Minister Ivanov also told ORT that Russia has repeatedly offered its own military help to confront terrorist groups in Pankisi Gorge, but that Tbilisi declined it. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Volin, the deputy chief of the presidential staff, said that the U.S. decision shows that the "international coalition will pay more attention to the Caucasian front in combating terrorism," strana.ru reported on February 27. VY

CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS AGREE ON JOINT AIR-DEFENSE SYSTEM
Speaking after the meeting of the CIS defense ministers in St. Petersburg on 27 February, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that the participants agreed to restore an integrated CIS air-defense system, and that they elected Russian air force commander Colonel General Aleksandr Mikhailov to head it, the Military News Agency reported on 27 February. Ivanov also said that his counterparts from the other CIS countries agreed that they too should share with Russia the burden of peacekeeping in Abkhazia. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA READY FOR NEW FORMAT OF COOPERATION WITH NATO...
Sergei Ivanov said in St. Petersburg on 27 February that in the event that Russia and NATO ink an agreement on new forms of cooperation at the Atlantic alliance's ministerial meeting in Reykjavik on 14-15 May, both sides will bear responsibility for the implementation of jointly made decisions, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 February. Ivanov also expressed Russia's readiness to intensify its partnership with NATO, because new security threats are directed not only against members of the Atlantic alliance, but against the entire world. VY

...AS DUMA CRITICIZES APPOINTMENT OF ZHIRINOVSKY TO HEAD TALKS WITH NATO
Russian news agencies reported on 27 February that State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said in Moscow that the decision to appoint Vladimir Zhirinovsky to head the Russian delegation during discussions with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly that began on 27 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002) was not discussed or approved by the Duma. Yabloko faction member Vladimir Lukin, one of the leaders of Yabloko faction, added that he is bewildered by the decision, as first deputy speaker Lyubov Sliska is the Duma's permanent coordinator to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Meanwhile, Konstantin Kosachev, the deputy head of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, said he is afraid that Zhirinovsky might undermine Russia's national interests. VY

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES NORTH-SOUTH TRANSPORT CORRIDOR
The Federation Council ratified the agreement for the development of an international North-South transport corridor that was signed by Russia, India, and Iran in September 2000, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February. The head of the Federation Council's Foreign Relations Committee, Mikhail Margelov, said the agreement will pave the way for goods from India and the Arabian Peninsula through Iran and the Caspian region to Russia and Europe, and vice versa. According to the agreement, all signatories to the agreement will get relief from import tax and customs duties, and will provide multiple-entry visas and other privileges to personnel involved in the project. The new route is expected to reduce transport costs by 20 percent, and delivery times by 15-20 days compared with the old route via the Suez Canal. Margelov added that Russia expects to make an additional $5 billion to $6 billion a year in transport revenues from the new route. VY

YELTSIN REPORTEDLY CRITICAL OF PUTIN
Following a visit to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's home on 27 February, Union of Rightist Forces head Boris Nemtsov told reporters that Yeltsin said that the Kremlin "should surround itself not so much with loyal people as with professionals." Nemtsov said Yeltsin was also very alarmed by the state of freedom of speech in Russia. Yeltsin reportedly said, "I tolerated any criticism and today find it difficult to make even a justified remark out loud." Nemtsov also said that he presented Yeltsin with a bust of Tsar Aleksandr II, a memento that Yeltsin appreciated, "saying that he understood what I am implying." JAC

EKHO MOSKVY JOURNALISTS TO SET UP NEW HOME
A company established by Ekho Moskvy radio journalists won the tender to broadcast on the 87.5 FM frequency, the Media Ministry announced on 27 February, RIA-Novosti reported. According to ntvru.com, 58 out of the 80 journalists at Ekho Moskvy who participated in a secret ballot said that they would like to work at the Arsenal radio station. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov revealed that he has obtained funding for Arsenal from some "Soros Fund structures," as well as from Urals media tycoon Nikolai Grakhov, according to RIA-Novosti. "Vremya novostei" reported the same day that a U.S. investment fund has given Venediktov a credit of $3 million, and that Venediktov together with Grakhov will receive a 50 percent stake in the new radio station. JAC

TUVA CANDIDATE BUMPED OFF BEFORE ELECTION
Vyacheslav Darzha, a candidate in the 17 March elections for the head of the Tuva Republic, was killed when an unknown assailant shot him in the back on 26 February, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. Some local observers link Darzha's assassination with his earlier statement on local television that he possessed compromising materials about the republic's current president, according to the agency. Darzha headed the republic's legal department. There are now seven candidates in the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2002). JAC

SENATORS GAIN ANOTHER COLLEAGUE
On 27 February, the Federation Council approved two bills recently passed by the State Duma. Senators approved amendments to the law on organs of judicial associations and amendments to the Criminal Code, which clarify the definition of self-defense. According to RIA-Novosti, the later bill was passed with 113 in favor, 13 against, and 10 abstentions. Also on 27 February, legislators in the Komi Republic confirmed Rakhim Azimov as their representative to the upper chamber, Interfax-Northwest reported. Azimov has been executive director of the Northern Regional Fund for Presidential Programs since 1996. Earlier, he earned a degree at the Leningrad Mining Institute. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov as well as presidential office head Igor Sechin both studied at that institute (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 18 December 2001). JAC

HAS NORILSK NICKEL FURTHER EXTENDED ITS GRASP IN SIBERIA?
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed signed a decree on 27 February naming his nine new deputy governors, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Lebed dismissed all of his previous deputies on 28 January and announced a competition for their positions. According to polit.ru, local analysts, who had predicted that the dismissals were merely a pretext for Lebed to introduce new people from Norilsk Nickel into his team, turned out to be correct. Lebed and the leadership of Taimyr Autonomous Okrug have been battling over control of the region's tax revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002). The okrug is headed by former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin, and the okrug's legislature is headed by another former Norilsk Nickel executive, Vladimir Sitnov. The legislature has spearheaded efforts to free the okrug from the krai's economic authority. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported last year that soon after he was elected, Khloponin told corporations registered in Taimyr to pay their taxes there rather than to Krasnoyarsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). JAC

MORE REGIONAL BUSINESSMEN APPEAL TO PUTIN
The Congress of Entrepreneurs of Pskov Oblast has appealed to President Putin asking him to pay attention to the activities of the oblast administration regarding local tax policies, nns.ru reported on 27 February, citing "Pskovskaya guberniya." The businessmen charge that because of higher taxes, up to 30 percent of small and medium-sized businesses in the oblast will be forced to go out of business. And within another six months, they will likely be joined by an additional 30 percent. JAC

ONE FAR EAST REGION EASES TRAVEL TO CHINA...
Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov issued a decree on 27 February pertaining to the opening of an office in Blagoveshchensk for registering visas to China, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Korotkov's administration, previously the nearest office for registering for visas was located in Khabarovsk, which was not always convenient for organizations and individuals engaged in foreign economic activities. JAC

...WHILE ANOTHER CLOSES DOOR TO CHINESE TRADERS
Kamchatka Oblast administration announced on 27 February that it will no longer allow new Chinese traders who are not already located in the oblast to sell goods in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, following protests from local businessmen that the traders are "dumping" their goods on local markets, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Colonel Ivan Dankulints, deputy head of the Interior Minister's regional administration, said that "we are a civilized society, so we cannot let troops on the streets to go after Chinese citizens. Only lawful actions can be implemented. At the moment, we can promise that exclusively Chinese trade districts and markets will no longer exist." JAC

AND NOW FOR A MOMENT OF REFRESHING CANDOR
At a press conference in Pskov on 27 February, when asked whether the recent arrest of a local legislator was linked to an upcoming election in which the legislator was participating, Pskov Oblast prosecutor Nikolai Lepikhin said that "prosecutorial offices fulfill political orders all the time," and that he does not exclude the possibility that "the Prosecutor's Office was carrying out the political aims of the local elite," regions.ru reported. However, he added that his office "investigates criminal matters independently of who provides the materials." JAC

U.S. CASPIAN ENVOY DECRIES CASPIAN CORRUPTION
The U.S. special envoy to the Caspian region, Ambassador Steven Mann, expressed frustration with the corruption and lack of legal guarantees that have increasingly hindered the development of the Caspian region, stating that "the Caspian region has not shown the progress we expected," according to AP and the Caspian News Agency. The comments were made on 26 February at the opening of a two-day international conference in Moscow addressing the disputed division of the Caspian Sea among the five littoral states. The dispute centers on the clash between the Russian, Azerbaijani, and Kazakh positions to divide the Caspian Sea into national sectors, and the Iranian insistence on an equal 20 percent division. Turkmenistan remains noncommittal in the dispute. Russia has been seeking to accelerate negotiations to resolve the conflict over the Caspian and is hoping to convene a subsequent summit in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat later this fall. RG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENT IN THE ECONOMY
In comments during a state visit to Austria, Armenian President Robert Kocharian vowed on 26 February that "two or three" years of continued growth will "substantially improve the economic situation" in Armenia, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Assuring stable growth for the next several years, Kocharian added that his government will be able to quickly reverse the significant economic hardships facing the population. In a speech to the ethnic Armenian community in Vienna, the Armenian president also called for greater "political and economic support" for his government from the Armenian diaspora. RG

ARMENIAN DEPUTY CALLS ON GEORGIA TO PROVIDE AUTONOMY FOR DJAVAKHETI
Armenian parliamentarian Armen Rustoumian called on Georgia to provide autonomy for the Armenian-populated southern Georgian region of Djavakheti on 27 February, Armenpress reported. The deputy specifically called for a formal designation of Djavakheti as "an autonomous self-governing unit...within the framework of the Georgian Constitution," highlighting the need for such a move to better address the severe socioeconomic crisis and poor living conditions affecting the region. Adding that his call for autonomy should not be misinterpreted as "separatism," Rustoumian said such a step would only strengthen Armenian-Georgian relations and noted that Armenia's recent rescheduling of Georgian debt affirms Armenia's good "neighborly intentions." RG

AZERBAIJAN CALLS FOR RENEWED DRILLING OF CASPIAN OIL FIELD
On 26 February, officials of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR called on Exxon-Mobil to drill a second test well in the offshore Nakhchivan-1 Caspian oil field following the company's announcement that it plans to suspend drilling after its first test found no oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). The statement, issued by SOCAR President Natik Aliev, contended that the failed test "in no way means that there are not big reserves" in the field, ANS reported. Exxon-Mobil and SOCAR each hold a 50 percent share in the consortium, although Exxon-Mobil is the sole operator. Three other test wells in 2001 also failed to find any significant oil in the field. RG

U.S. MILITARY ANNOUNCES COUNTERTERRORISM INVOLVEMENT IN GEORGIA
Senior U.S. Pentagon officials released details on 27 February of a new U.S. counterterrorism aid program intended to strengthen Georgia's "internal security and stability," the U.S. Armed Forces Press Service reported. The U.S. assistance, which is to include the deployment of 200 special operations forces, is to focus on coordinating antiterrorism security measures in the increasingly lawless Pankisi Gorge along the Georgian border with Chechnya and is part of a larger overall program to provide the Georgian armed forces with training and equipment to "improve internal security." Pentagon officials also confirmed that a 40-member U.S. military detachment with some Special Forces personnel has arrived in Georgia in recent weeks. The Pankisi Gorge, about 150 kilometers northeast of Tbilisi, has been used as a logistical staging area by a number of Chechen rebels for cross-border operations in Chechnya. Some of the Chechen rebels have been linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. The U.S. has been engaged in military cooperation with Georgia since 1996, and has trained much of Georgia's officer corps. RG

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS MEET U.S. MILITARY TEAM IN TBILISI
Senior Georgian Defense Ministry officials met with a visiting five-person U.S. military team on 27 February to review plans for the new U.S. "train-and-equip" program of military and security aid for the Georgian armed forces, Reuters and Groong reported. According to one member of the group, Elmer Guy White, the Eurasia branch chief of Allied Command Europe, said that the U.S. program "is designed to allow the Georgian military to better secure its territorial integrity and provide its own security," and seeks to enhance Georgian defense reforms. Georgian Defense Ministry spokesperson Mirian Kiknadze added that the U.S. military will "train our rapid reaction force, which is guarding strategic sites in Georgia -- particularly oil pipelines." RG

INVESTIGATION INTO SUICIDE OF GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL CONTINUES
The investigation into the suicide of Georgian National Security Council Secretary Lieutenant General Nugzar Sadzhaya continued with testimony by Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights Chairwoman Elena Tevdoradze to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 27 February, Prime-News reported. Tevdoradze confirmed recent reports linking the death of Sadzhaya to a defamation campaign on behalf of Russian intelligence, contending that Ajarian Parliamentary Chairman Aslan Abashidze was responsible for driving the security official to take his life on 25 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 February 2002). The 60-year-old Sadzhaya was a close ally of President Eduard Shevardnadze and served in the small but powerful security group for nearly a decade. RG

GEORGIAN COURT PAROLES FORMER DIPLOMAT CONVICTED FOR CAUSING DEATH OF U.S. TEENAGER
Former Georgian diplomat Georgi Makharadze, convicted in the United States for the January 1997 drunk-driving death of a 16-year-old girl in Washington D.C., was granted an early parole by a Tbilisi district court on 27 February, AP reported. The diplomat began serving his prison sentence in the U.S. before being returned to Georgia in January 2000 to finish his seven-year term. Makharadze, formerly the second-highest diplomat at the Georgian Embassy in Washington, has been confined to a prison hospital for several months. On 14 February, 163 Georgian parliamentarians appealed for his release, citing his serious health problems. RG

KAZAKH ELECTORATE INDIFFERENT, POLL SAYS
On 27 February, the newspaper "Argumenty i Fakty Kazakhstan" reported the results of a poll by the Kazakh Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists, which found that only 17.2 percent of the population is pleased with the recent appointment of Imangaliy Tasmagambetov as prime minister, and 27.7 percent are not. However, the newspaper drew special attention to the fact that 34 percent of respondents are simply "indifferent" to his appointment, and concluded that trust in the government and interest in politics altogether had fallen off over the last decade as a result of the electorate's disappointment with economic reforms and increasing corruption. AA

NEW ANTHRAX WORRIES IN KAZAKHSTAN
Two men from separate villages in eastern Kazakhstan have been hospitalized under suspicion of being infected with anthrax, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The patients are a 39-year-old man from the village of Naryn who is thought to have contracted the disease while slaughtering a calf, and a 26-year-old man from Kokterek who had collected infected cattle hides. They are the first suspected cases of anthrax in Kazakhstan this year. The country was last hit by an anthrax scare in the summer of 2001, when more than a dozen people were hospitalized amid fears that the outbreak was connected to leftover spores from the Soviet biological weapons station on Vozrozhdenie Island in the Aral Sea. AA

BEKNAZAROV TRIAL TO RESUME IN KYRGYZSTAN
On 27 February, a spokesman for arrested Kyrgyz parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov announced that his trial has been rescheduled for 11 March and will take place in the town of Kara-Kul, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The trial, which opened earlier this month in the city of Toktogul, was abruptly adjourned after Beknazarov expressed doubt that he would receive a fair hearing anywhere in Djalalabad Oblast and demanded a different venue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002). Also on 27 February, Tursunbek Akunov, chairman of the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek that 167 people in the country have begun hunger strikes to protest Beknazarov's arrest. The majority of the hunger strikers are from Djalalabad Oblast, which Beknazarov represents in parliament. AA

FRENCH FIGHTER PLANES ARRIVE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Three French Mirage-2002D fighter jets landed at Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport on 27 February, with three more expected to arrive by the following day, Interfax and Asia-Plus reported. The jets were to be used in practice flights over Kyrgyz territory immediately. The U.S. military's public relations representative, Captain Richard Esserly, hailed the fighter planes' arrival as the true beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom on Kyrgyz territory, adding that there are presently 700 U.S. troops and 460 French troops at Manas, and that the international contingent in total now numbers some 1,200 men. Meanwhile, Askar Aitmatov, the head of the Kyrgyz presidential office's Foreign Policy Department, stressed to journalists that the decision to allow NATO forces on Kyrgyz soil was made "in regard to national interests and for ensuring regional security," Interfax reported. He was addressing criticisms published in local media last week that questioned the benefit to Kyrgyzstan of having opened its air base to Western, especially U.S., troops. AA

HEROIN HAULS INCREASING ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER
On 27 February, troops of the Russian Border Service arrested smugglers at Khatlon along the Panj River carrying almost 10 kilograms of heroin, making a total of 155 kilograms of heroin seized by them in the last two months, Asia-Plus reported. According the press department of the Russian Border Service, the service has already intercepted more than 180 kilograms of narcotics this year. Afghan heroin is the main narcotics problem for Tajikistan, Tajik Drug Control Agency Director Rustam Nazarov said the same day at a press conference in Dushanbe, noting that 85 percent of the heroin seized in Central Asia was stopped in Tajikistan. Nazarov said that some 237 kilograms of drugs were seized in the country in January of this year. AA

WILL U.S. INTRODUCE SANCTIONS AGAINST BELARUS OVER ARMS SALES?
The U.S. State Department on 27 February alluded to possible sanctions against Belarus over allegations that Minsk is selling arms to countries or groups supporting terrorism, Reuters reported. "The U.S. takes reports of arms transfers to countries or groups sponsoring or fostering terrorism very seriously. We use a variety of means, including bilateral approaches to supplier countries and, where necessary, application of our sanctions laws to prevent such transfers," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. The agency recalled that U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, who visited Minsk last week, told reporters in Minsk that the United States possesses hard evidence that Belarus is involved in arms smuggling in breach of UN sanctions. Pifer also said the United States has evidence that Belarus trains Iraqi military personnel to work with S-300 missiles. "The deputy assistant secretary reiterated the U.S. position that Belarus should not be in the business of selling arms to countries with histories of supporting terrorism or fomenting regional conflict," Boucher commented on Pifer's trip to Minsk. JM

TENSIONS MOUNT IN CRIMEA OVER BAN ON HRACH'S ELECTION BID...
Addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters in Simferopol on 27 February, Crimean speaker and local Communist Party leader Leonid Hrach suggested that he will appeal to Crimean residents to boycott the 31 March legislative election if he is not reinstated as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean legislature, Interfax reported. "The election in Crimea will take place only if Hrach and his bloc participate in it as candidates," he said. Hrach was banned from running by a court decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). Hrach did not rule out the possibility of holding a referendum in Crimea to accede to the Russian Federation. "If Kyiv and its vassals continue what they are doing by bringing unprecedented political and legal pressure to bear on us, we will reserve the right, in particular, to speak of a referendum," Hrach said. Moreover, Hrach announced that he intends to run in the presidential election in 2004. "Let them fear me," he told the rally in Simferopol. JM

...WHILE RUSSIAN POLITICIANS APPEAL TO KUCHMA TO 'RESTORE JUSTICE'...
A group of prominent Russian politicians -- Sergei Shoigu, Yurii Luzhkov, Gennadii Zyuganov, Boris Nemtsov, and Gennadii Raikov -- have appealed to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to "restore justice" with regard to Hrach by giving him the opportunity to take part in the upcoming election, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February. "The removal from the electoral campaign under invented pretexts of Leonid Hrach, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic [of Crimea], is evidence of the activation of the forces that intend to undermine the relations between Ukraine and Russia," the agency quoted from the appeal. UNIAN quoted presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn as saying that statements of "some Russian politicians" regarding the ban on Hrach's election bid "are coming close to interference in Ukraine's internal affairs." JM

...AND HRACH'S OPPONENTS COMPLAIN OF HIS 'REVENGE'
Transparent Government Civic Committee head Andriy Senchenko on 27 February said the decision of the Election Commission of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to cancel the registration of 30 candidates from his group and the Kunitsyn Team (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002) is Hrach's "revenge" for the court decision annulling his election bid, UNIAN reported. Former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, who leads the election bloc bearing his name, expressed a similar view by saying that Crimea's Election Commission is being "controlled" by Hrach. "What is going on in Crimea is an attempt to exert pressure on and to blackmail the Ukrainian political authorities. Can you imagine a governor banished from the race somewhere in Russia threatening with a referendum to join Ukraine or some other country?" New Channel Television quoted Kunitsyn as saying. JM

EIGHT UKRAINIAN PARTIES TO WIN PARLIAMENTARY SEATS, ACCORDING TO POLL OF 30,000
A poll conducted by the Center of Political Analysis and Consulting (associated with the "Politychna dumka" magazine) from 5-22 February among 30,000 voters in one-third of Ukraine's election districts found that eight parties and blocs would be able to overcome the 4 percent voting threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation, Interfax reported on 27 February. If the elections had been held at the time the poll was taken, Our Ukraine would have obtained 16.3 percent of the vote, the Communist Party 13.7 percent, the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc 7.7 percent, the Greens 5.1 percent, Women for the Future 4.4 percent, the Socialist Party 4.3 percent, the Social Democratic Party (United) 4.2 percent, and For a United Ukraine 3.6 percent. The report did not cite the margin of error in the poll. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REFORMING ENERGY INDUSTRY
In a speech to the parliament on 27 February, Arnold Ruutel declared that Estonia should end its policies of ensuring concessions to oil shale-based energy production by law, and begin a gradual transition to the principles of an open energy market, ETA reported. He noted that the failure to privatize Narva Power Plants -- which supply more than 90 percent of the country's electricity -- to the U.S. firm NRG Energy after six years of negotiations indicates that the state-owned energy utility Estonian Energy, which controls the plants, should be split into parts dealing respectively with the generating, transmission, distribution, and sale of electric energy. Ruutel said there is no question that Narva Power Plants, which generate power from oil shale, will remain in operation for 20 or more years. But he said consumers will not be able to finance the renovation of the entire energy complex, which would cost some 25-30 billion kroons ($1.39 billion to $1.67 billion). He said the state should retain control of the transmission lines, support the use of renewable sources of energy, and move toward transparent energy prices. SG

CONSULTANT CHOSEN FOR PRIVATIZATION OF LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY
The board of the Latvian Privatization Agency on 27 February approved the choice of the Riga Stock Exchange to select the international investment company Williams de Broe as its consultant for selling a 51 percent stake in Latvijas Kugnieciba (Latvian Shipping Company), LETA reported. These shares will be sold for cash on the Riga Stock Exchange, while another 32 percent of the company's shares will be sold for privatization vouchers. SG

EU REITERATES PRECONDITION FOR LITHUANIAN MEMBERSHIP
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told his Lithuanian counterpart Algirdas Brazauskas on 27 February that the country must make a firm pledge to close both reactors of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina by 2009 if it wants to join the EU, ELTA reported. During his one-day visit to Vilnius, which is part of his plan to visit all EU candidate countries before Denmark takes over the EU presidency from Spain in July, he also met with President Valdas Adamkus and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas. Rasmussen noted that Lithuanian farmers who have expressed dissatisfaction over the EC recommendations to provide new EU member countries with only 25 percent of agricultural subsidies given to current EU members should remember that there will be no subsidies if Lithuania is not admitted to the EU. He affirmed Denmark's firm support for the three Baltic states' aspirations to join NATO at the Prague summit in November. There was no indication of whether Rasmussen and Adamkus discussed Adamkus's statement the day earlier that Lithuania should not close the Ignalina plant by 2009 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS ECONOMIC STRATEGY
The Sejm on 28 February adopted the government-proposed economic strategy "Entrepreneurship, Development, Labor," PAP reported. The document, which consists of three packages, provides for measures to cut red tape in setting up new businesses, spur economic growth, and ease regulations on the labor market for first-time job seekers. The strategy envisages 1 percent economic growth in 2002, 3 percent growth in 2003, and 5 percent growth in 2004. JM

POLISH PREMIER SEES NO THREAT OF COALITION BREAKUP
Leszek Miller said on 27 February that "for the time being, there has been no threat" that the governing coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Peasant Party (PSL) may split over disagreements regarding Poland's EU membership talks, PAP reported. Miller was commenting on the SLD-PSL controversy over how to calculate the leasehold period after which EU farmers would be able to purchase Polish land (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said the same day that the government will make a decision on the controversial issue this week, following Miller's talks with the EU's commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen. JM

POPE ACCEPTS INVITATION TO VISIT POLAND IN AUGUST
Pope John Paul II on 28 February accepted an invitation to visit Poland in August, AP reported. The invitation was presented by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during a 30-minute meeting the same day with the pope in the Vatican. It is to be the John Paul's ninth trip to his homeland since he assumed the papacy. JM

GERMANY SAYS 'MISUNDERSTANDINGS' OVER, BUT NO DATE SET FOR CZECH VISIT
German government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye told journalists on 27 February that the "irritations and misunderstandings" with the Czech Republic have been cleared up, but there is still no date for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Prague, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). According to the daily "Pravo," the German side wants to replace the visit to the Czech capital with a meeting between Schroeder and Prime Minister Milos Zeman on the border between the two countries. Most German dailies on 28 February said the visit is unlikely to take place because Schroeder does not want to become involved in the dispute on the Benes Decrees with his challenger, the conservative Edmund Stoiber, who is calling for their abolition and has harshly criticized Zeman's statement in which he referred to the Sudeten Germans as being Hitler's "fifth column." MS

AUSTRIA ACCEPTS CZECH PROTEST 'WITH UNDERSTANDING'
Czech Ambassador to Austria Jiri Grusa told the daily "Pravo" on 28 February that the Czech protest against media "manipulation of history" in Austria has been met "with understanding" among Austrian political circles, CTK reported. Grusa said these circles "have their own fresh experience with tabloids" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). MS

CZECH PREMIER CALLS KLAUS PROPOSAL ON BENES DECREES 'TOO RISKY'
Premier Zeman said on 27 February that a proposal by Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus to introduce in the accession treaty with the EU a clause specifying that the post-World War II international agreements will not be challenged has "more cons than pros" and is "too risky," CTK reported. The Klaus-proposed "safety valve" would prevent any further pressure from EU members to have the Benes Decrees canceled. The premier said that EU accession is not hampered by the decrees, and that the European Commission has made it clear that it considers the matter a bilateral affair that is not part of the accession parleys. MS

U.S. WARNS AGAINST RETURN OF MECIAR
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said in Washington on 27 February that "there is no evidence" that the leadership of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has changed, which "remains a fundamental concern of our government," international agencies reported. Burns said the cabinet headed by Vladimir Meciar "did not demonstrate a commitment to democracy and the rule of law," and this is why the U.S. was unable in 1997 "to support Slovakia's candidacy to NATO." Reuters called the statement "one of the clearest messages" that Slovakia "could miss out again on membership of NATO " if the September elections bring Meciar back to power. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DISSATISFIED WITH JUDGES' 'LACK OF COURAGE'
Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky complained on 27 February that none of the former Slovak Counter-Intelligence Service (SIS) members charged with involvement in illegal activities under the Meciar government have yet been sentenced, CTK reported. The charges are mainly connected with the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son, and with the attempt to discredit Roman Catholic Bishop Rudolf Balaz. Both events are believed to have been masterminded by former SIS Director Ivan Lexa, who is now a fugitive hiding abroad. Carnogursky said the delays in passing sentences on the Lexa associates may be due to a "lack of courage" by the judges, who might also "calculate" that the next elections will bring Meciar back to power. MS

HUNGARIAN GOVERNING COALITION THWARTS OPPOSITION INITIATIVE ON VISEGRAD FOUR...
The parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 27 February voted down an opposition initiative to send a goodwill mission to the capitals of Hungary's fellow Visegrad partners to reinforce regional cooperation. The commission's governing coalition majority opposed the initiative, saying that it would be tantamount to Hungary admitting that it was responsible for the cancellation of a Visegrad summit scheduled for 1 March. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's opinions on the Benes Decrees are in line with Hungarian foreign policy "both in substance and phrasing." Orban cannot help it if the Visegrad summit fell through, Martonyi said, as its cancellation was an "ill-considered and hasty move" on the part of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He said it is regrettable that the leftist opposition has backed the Czech and Slovak position by blaming Orban for the situation and launching an unjust attack against him. MSZ

...WHILE ORBAN DEFENDS STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES...
Premier Orban on 27 February said Hungary must emphasize that it stands "on the side of human dignity, human rights, justice, and modern European ideas" in connection with the Benes Decrees. In his regular weekly interview on Hungarian radio, Orban said that in his recent comments on the Benes Decrees, he strove to phrase his words "politely" so as not to harm Hungarian-Czech relations, adding that Hungary will not burden bilateral relations with the issue. Orban also said that he hopes an international museum commemorating the victims of communism similar to Hungary's House of Terror will be established within three years in a large U.S. city. He said the cabinet has already delegated Maria Schmidt, the director-general of the House of Terror, to be its representative on an East-Central European foundation set up for this purpose. If the present coalition wins the elections, it would support the establishment of such a museum, Orban concluded. MSZ

...AND DEFLECTS SPECULATION OVER COALITION WITH MIEP
Orban also said on 27 February that "with elections due soon, it is not timely to speculate on a possible coalition between FIDESZ and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP)," adding, "I would not speculate either." He made the comment after "Nepszabadsag" reported that in exchange for certain appointments, MIEP is prepared to extend its tacit support to a minority FIDESZ government after the elections. The Socialist Party said in a statement that it expects FIDESZ leaders to follow MIEP's example by clearly stating to voters its true coalition plans. The statement said the argument used by FIDESZ before the last elections, namely that it is capable of forming a majority government on its own, is "transparent, false, and misleading." MSZ

NATO HUNTS KARADZIC IN BOSNIAN VILLAGE...
SFOR troops blocked off the village of Celebici near Foca and the Montenegrin border on 28 February in an apparent hunt for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported. An SFOR spokesman said that "we do have an ongoing operation, but we cannot confirm the exact location or the exact purpose of the operation." Bosnian Serb media reported explosions and gunfire in the area, adding that Bosnian Serb forces are not involved in the hunt. NATO forces include several helicopters, which landed in the village. Dpa reported that 1,500 Montenegrin police have sealed off their side of the border under orders from President Milo Djukanovic. Karadzic is a native of Montenegro and is believed to cross between there and Bosnian Serb territory frequently. There has been widespread speculation following the 11 September terrorist attacks that the international community will become more resolute about arresting war criminals still on the loose. Dpa reported that U.S. forces have succeeded in cracking Karadzic's system of communications with his bodyguards. PM

...BUT FAILS TO CATCH BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
NATO later issued a statement in Brussels on 28 February saying that "Karadzic was not found" in Celebici, Reuters reported. The BBC confirmed the story from Sarajevo, adding that only some arms caches were found. PM

KOSOVARS CUT POWER-SHARING DEAL
Ending three months of political deadlock, the leaders of Kosova's three largest ethnic Albanian political parties reached an agreement late into the night on 27 February in Prishtina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) will take the presidency and the post of speaker of the parliament. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) will hold the premiership, which seems likely to go to Bajram Rexhepi of Mitrovica. Ramush Haradinaj's smaller Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) also took part in the deal but did not receive a top post. Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration (UNMIK), hailed the deal as a step toward Kosova's integration into Europe. The outlines of this deal were clear already after the November elections. But the egos of Rugova and -- to a lesser extent -- Thaci led to a stalemate that caused many observers to wonder whether the Kosovars are capable of running a modern state. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER SHOWS LENIENCY TOWARD NEW FELLOWS' PASTS
Premier Nastase said on 27 February that one should take a "pragmatic view" of the political past of the two former Greater Romania Party (PRM) members who recently join the ruling Social Democratic Party, Mediafax reported. He said that what is really important is for PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor to be left with "as few people as possible," and that the departure of deputies Sever Mesca and Ilie Neacsu from the PRM "is a clear signal that this radical party does not enjoy the backing of either the population or even of its own members." Nastase said he would not "wish to discuss" what Sever and Neacsu were "before they became politicians," and added that "not even in the parliament does one find only perfect people." Neacsu was editor in chief of the ferociously anti-Semitic weekly "Europa," and Mesca is a former member of the communist secret police. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO ENVISAGED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Ion Iliescu said in Craiova on 27 February that the constitutional provision stipulating that the president be elected by popular vote should not be amended, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the presidential institution is viewed by citizens as "prestigious," and the population would be "frustrated" if the right to elect the president was taken from it. He said he believes his view is "objective," and he intends to respect the constitutional provision that does not allow him to seek a new presidential mandate. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase recently said that the envisaged constitutional amendments should include elections of the president by the parliament. MS

GERMAN NAMED TO HEAD KOSOVA POLICE
UNMIK announced in Prishtina on 27 February that Stefan Feller, who is chief of police in Duesseldorf, has been proposed to head the Kosova force, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UNMIK chief Steiner is also from Germany. PM

THOUSANDS OF KOSOVARS HONOR SLAIN ALBANIAN-AMERICAN BROTHERS
Several thousand people gathered in Prishtina on 27 February to honor Chicago-born Mehmet, Agron, and Ylli Bytyqi, Reuters reported. They are believed to have been killed by Serbian forces while serving a 15-day jail sentence in 1999 for illegally crossing into that country, and Washington has asked Belgrade to find the killers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). The brothers' bodies were found in a mass grave in eastern Serbia. They belonged to the 400-strong Atlantic Battalion of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), which consisted of ethnic Albanians from the U.S. At the ceremony, their coffins were draped with the Albanian and U.S. flags. Their father told those present that "my sons have not died. They live forever, because they fought for something which merits the sacrifice of one's life: freedom." The three brothers will be buried in the United States. PM

SERBIA DISSOLVES KOSOVA COMMITTEE
Legislators in the Serbian parliament belonging to the governing coalition voted on 27 February to abolish the Temporary Supreme Council of Kosovo, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Justice Minister Vladan Batic said that the body has no real authority but is costly to maintain. Belgrade has additional bodies that deal with Kosova-related issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 26 November 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS ENTER MAINSTREAM POLITICS
Ali Ahmeti, who led the former National Liberation Army (UCK), signed an agreement setting up a "coordinating body" in Mala Recica on 27 February with representatives of the two main ethnic Albanian parties, Reuters reported. Ahmeti said that "the priority of this council is to realize [the enactment of] the Ohrid [peace] agreement and other obligations that arise from it." Ethnic Albanian leaders said that the purpose of the council is to build confidence in the peace process among ethnic Albanians, but an unnamed senior Macedonian official said that "it looks like they are trying to form a parallel government and misuse the peace process to make more demands." An unnamed Western diplomat declined to comment on the purpose of the council, but added that it is better to have the former UCK people in politics than in the mountains. PM

MACEDONIAN POLICE ARREST 12 EX-GUERRILLAS
Police arrested 12 ethnic Albanians in Skopje for arms smuggling and "plotting terrorist attacks," dpa reported on 28 February. Police found 12 hand grenades and 258 unspecified other pieces of ammunition in a search of former UCK members' homes. Police recently arrested an additional eight ethnic Albanians in Skopje and Ohrid on similar charges. PM

MACEDONIA AND BULGARIA AGREE ON RAIL LINK
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov held meetings with top officials in Skopje on 26 and 27 February aimed at promoting closer ties between his country and Macedonia, dpa reported. Parvanov and his host, President Boris Trajkovski, agreed on the importance of developing economic and infrastructure links, including a railway linking their two capitals. One of the regional priorities of the post-communist Balkans has been the construction of an east-west route linking the Albanian Adriatic coast with Istanbul. The east-west link will enable Macedonia to reduce its economic and political dependence on the north-south trade route connecting it with Serbia and Greece. PM

YUGOSLAV MILITARY STARTS REFORMS
General Branko Krga said at a ceremony in Belgrade on 27 February that the Yugoslav army (VJ) has begun implementing a package of reforms aimed at making it more cost-effective and efficient, "Vesti" reported. The army will be shrunk from 105,000 to 80,000 troops, and from 120 to 86 brigades. A single unified command in the General Staff will lead the First (Belgrade), Second (Montenegro), and Third (southern Serbia) Armies, as well as the navy and air force. Krga said that the reforms were not introduced in response to "outside pressure," but the VJ has long eyed membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace, which calls for smaller, streamlined military structures. PM

CROATIA HEADING FOR CABINET CRISIS?
All five members of the Social Liberal Party (HSLS) have resigned from the government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 27 February. The following day, Alojz Tusek -- who heads the transport ministry and is a former member of the HSLS -- agreed the next day to quit the cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). Prime Minister Ivica Racan said that "this is a serious situation, both for the government and for myself." Observers suggest that the resignations are part of a gambit by HSLS leader Drazen Budisa to increase his party's influence in the government at the expense of Racan's Social Democrats. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNING PARTY SLAMS RIVAL FOR 'PLOTTING'
The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of President Djukanovic charged in a statement in Podgorica on 27 February that the opposition Together for Yugoslavia coalition -- which takes part in the federal government that Podgorica does not recognize -- is engaged in "carrying out [unspecified] political plans against Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The DPS suggested that its rivals are active in "blocking the Montenegrin democratic project," which presumably means a referendum on independence. PM

ROMANIAN SENATE CHAIRMAN RULES OUT PRM MOTION
Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu announced on 27 February that he has decided to accept the recommendations of the Senate's Judicial Commission and reject as "unconstitutional" the "Abandonment of Transylvania" motion submitted by the PRM. He added that the "PRM colleagues" have agreed to "reformulate the motion and resubmit it," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES ANY INTENTION TO INTERFERE IN MOLDOVA...
Premier Nastase said in The Hague on 27 February that Romania "never intended to interfere in Moldova's internal problems," Romanian radio and Flux reported. He reiterated that Bucharest does not want to "create the impression that Romanian and Russian interests confront each other in Chisinau." The Romanian reaction, Nastase explained, "has not been against the Russian language, but against certain tendencies to reduce the significance and importance of the Romanian language" in Moldova. Nastase added that he does not rule out that "some [Russian] radical groups" in Moldova are attempting to change the country's "identity," and create for it "a new role" in the "buffer zone" between Russia and the rest of Europe that Moldova shares with Belarus and Ukraine. MS

...BUT MOLDOVAN PREMIER ACCUSES ROMANIA OF 'INTERFERENCE IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS'
Vasile Tarlev on 27 February accused Romania of "interference in Moldova's internal affairs," Mediafax reported. Tarlev said that the cabinet in Bucharest allotted $3.5 million in February for financing cultural and economic programs in Moldova without the prior consultation of Moldova's government. The governmental Office for Relations with Moldova in Bucharest rejected the accusations. It said that all assistance programs for Moldova were negotiated with Chisinau within the joint governmental commission of the two countries. The office said it is "surprised that Premier Tarlev distorts without justification a cooperation program that benefits all Moldovan citizens," and added that Tarlev does so "with the sole purpose of seeking justification for his allegations of Romania's interference" in Moldovan affairs. MS

MOLDOVAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS
Vasile Draganel resigned from the cabinet on 27 February, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In submitting his resignation, Draganel said it was not in any way linked to the current protest demonstrations in the Moldovan capital. Reuters, however, cited "local analysts" who said that Draganel resigned because he refused to crack down on the protesters, as was demanded from him by the government. President Vladimir Voronin appointed George Papuc as Draganel's successor. Papuc previously headed a Moldovan elite unit in the Interior Ministry. MS

MOLDOVAN RADIO, TV JOURNALISTS THREATEN TO STRIKE...
Some 300 journalists who work for Teleradio Moldova submitted to the management a list of demands on 27 February and threatened to go on strike if those demands were not met within two weeks, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The journalists demand that Teleradio Moldova become a broadcasting authority independent of the government, that the cabinet stop the process of "enforced Russification" of the broadcast media, and that it lift "the taboo imposed on the words 'Romanian,' 'Romanian language,' 'Bessarabia,' 'History of Romanians', 'totalitarian regime,'" and others. The journalists are also demanding that Teleradio Moldova present "an undistorted image of the current protest demonstrations." Meanwhile, the company's management refused to receive on 27 February representatives of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) to discuss their demand that they be allowed to present their views on television. MS

...PROMPTING VORONIN TO RUSH TO TELERADIO MOLDOVA
President Voronin met later with representatives of the journalist's strike committee and promised that all censorship on broadcasts will be lifted, Romanian radio reported. He also promised to reply to all the journalists' other demands. Voronin asked the journalists to present "balanced" reports, and to refrain from "favoring any political formation." But he rejected the journalists' demand that the PPCD be granted "equal coverage" in broadcasts. MS

IMF APPROVES BULGARIAN STANDBY LOAN...
The International Monetary Fund approved on 27 February a two-year $299 million standby loan to Bulgaria, international agencies reported. The loan replaces the $781 three-year credit that expired in September 2001. The IMF said Bulgaria can immediately draw $40 million. IMF Deputy Managing Director Shigemitsu Sugisaki said that the fund "supports the Bulgarian authorities' economic program, centered on the currency board arrangement, prudent and flexible fiscal policy, a strict incomes policy, and privatization and other structural reforms." It also said that the outlook for Bulgaria's economy in 2002 is "generally favorable," forecasting an economic growth of 4 percent, somewhat lower than the approximately 4.5 percent registered last year. MS

...AND WORLD BANK TO LOAN BULGARIA $500 MILLION
Andrew Vorking, World Bank director for Southeastern Europe, said in Sofia on 27 February that the bank intends to extend up to $500 million in loans over the next three years to promote market reforms and aid the struggle against poverty in Bulgaria, AP reported. Deputy Premier Nikolai Vasiliev said the aid is conditional on Bulgaria's privatization of four of its largest state-owned companies by mid-2002. The companies include Bulgartabac, the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, the State Insurance Institute, and the Sofia-based Biochim Bank, which is Bulgaria's fourth largest. Under the terms of the agreement, the government must also work out a privatization plan for the State Savings Bank. MS

There is no End Note today.


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