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Newsline - March 5, 2002


RUSSIA HOLDS OFF ON PROMISES TO OPEC
Visiting OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez said after his talks on 4 March with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Energy Minister Igor Yusufov, and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi that he hopes Russia will continue to curb its oil exports into the second quarter of this year, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001, and 12 and 21 February 2002). However, Kasyanov told journalists that the Russian decision on whether to continue cutting back exports over the next three months will depend not on the country's perceived obligations to OPEC, but on the "current condition of the Russian and world economies, the status of oil reserves, and demand on the world oil market." Meanwhile, presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov told "Izvestiya" on 4 March that Russian oil exporters are against further restrictions. He said that if Russia were to continue reducing oil production it would lose markets to competitors Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, as well as to other non-OPEC members such as Norway, Mexico, Oman, and Angola. VY

DUMA BACKTRACKS OVER ABKHAZIA
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 4 March that the possibility of recognizing Abkhazia's independence would not be placed on the agenda for the Duma's 6 March session, NTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). Seleznev explained that Duma deputies had initially demanded such a debate in an "emotional" reaction to the news that the U.S. planned to send troops to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, but that it subsequently became clear that neither U.S. nor Russian troops will participate directly in antiterrorist operations in Georgia. The Duma's Committees for International Affairs and for CIS Affairs will, however, discuss the situation on the Russian-Georgian border during a joint session on 5 March, International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy radio, according to ITAR-TASS on 5 March. LF/VY

RUSSIA DENIES SELLING WEAPONS IN PANKISI GORGE
There is no truth to Georgian claims that weaponry from Russian military bases in Georgia, including that at Akhalkalaki, has been sold to Chechen militants ensconced in the Pankisi Gorge, Colonel Aleksandr Lutskevich, who is a press spokesman for the Russian Group of Forces in the Caucasus, told Interfax on 4 March. Lutskevich added that an inventory conducted last month established that no weaponry has gone missing. Turan on 5 March quoted Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Lasha Natsvlishvili as confirming a report aired on Georgian television the previous day that a large consignment of arms was found near the Akhalkalaki base. He said the weapons were stolen by Russian and Georgian citizens employed at the base and were destined for transportation to Pankisi. LF

FOREIGN MINISTRY CREATES LIAISON OFFICE TO PROTECT COMPATRIOTS ABROAD
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced on 4 March that his ministry has created a new department to work with and protect Russian expatriates, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 March. The new department will follow "a special program" in helping the expats increase the number of Russian cultural- and language-studies centers in foreign countries, Ivanov said. The goal of department will be to protect Russians living abroad from discrimination and "to secure equal conditions of life for them," he said. VY

EURASIA LEADER PLEDGES SUPPORT TO PUTIN
Speaking at a conference of the Eurasia political movement in Moscow 1 March, Eurasia leader Aleksandr Dugin announced that Eurasia is seeking to gain official status as a party, according to the movement's official website (http://www.eurasia.ru). Dugin stressed that modern Eurasianists consider President Putin to be "a statist patriot, an Orthodox Christian faithful to his Russian roots, but tolerant to other confessions." Moreover, Dugin said the Eurasia movement supports the president's domestic policy because it prioritizes the strengthening of Russia's geopolitical homogeneity, the uprooting of oligarchic clans, and combating separatism. The website also added that it encourages the development of "Eurasian federalism" through the present transformation of political autonomies into ethno-cultural autonomies, as well as the creation of a "Eurasian economy" by subordinating the market economy to national interests. Dugin claimed that the movement is gaining in popularity not only in Russia but also in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, and Latvia. VY

SAKHA'S HARMONIZATION EFFORT FOUND FAULTY...
Legislators in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic approved a bill on 4 March amending and changing 11 articles of the republican constitution -- a measure designed to bring the latter document into compliance with the federal constitution, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Legislators repealed the stipulation banning the storage of spent nuclear fuel or the placement of any weapons of mass destruction on the republic's territory. Sakha legislators had resisted making the changes in the constitution for some months last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). However, the republic's prosecutor, Nikolai Polyatinskii, was not pleased with their effort and said he is going to recommend that Sakha President Vyacheslav Shtyrov seek to dissolve the legislature. According to Interfax-Eurasia, he said that five laws making changes and amendments to the constitution adopted during 2001-2002 introduced new violations of the federal constitution. JAC

...AS FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS TATARSTAN'S REVISIONS INSUFFICIENT...
Following the passage in its first reading of Tatarstan's new constitution in the republican legislature, State Duma Legislation Committee head (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov has declared that some paragraphs of the draft constitution contradict laws crafted by his committee, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 March. Specifically, he said stipulations regarding republican citizenship may spark new protests by prosecutors. JAC

...AND NATIONALISTS PLAN PROTEST
Meanwhile, some 15 public organizations held a meeting on 1 March in Kazan to establish an organization called the Popular Front for the Defense of Human and People's Rights and Tatarstan's Sovereignty, the bureau reported, citing Tatar-inform. Representatives from the Tatar Public Center, the Idel-Ural movement, the Magarif association, and the Azatlyq Tatar youth union attended. Participants at the meeting criticized the planned revision of the Tatarstan Constitution and called for maintaining the republic's decade-old constitution. JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA SPREADS ACROSS THE LAND
Regional organizations of Unified Russia have been formed in 56 of Russia's 89 federation subjects, Aleksandr Bespalov, the chairman of Unified Russia's General Council, announced on 4 March, RIA-Novosti reported. Bespalov admitted that the process has not been completely smooth. He said that in some regions leaders of local party organizations have resorted to "administrative-command methods," and have tried to use "the language of diktats" in their negotiations during the party formation process. Rosbalt.ru reported on 25 February that three of the 23 persons elected to Unified Russia's political council in St. Petersburg had not been members of either Unity, Fatherland, or All Russia. However, State Duma deputy (Unity) Frants Klintsevich said that their inclusion does not violate any rules. Yurii Solonin, Unified Russia's leader in St. Petersburg, explained the appearance of "nonparty people" in the organization in terms of their "business-like qualities." JAC

LEADING GOVERNOR CALLS FOR DIRECT ELECTIONS TO UPPER HOUSE
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 4 March, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov spoke in favor of holding direct elections to the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported. However, Titov said that before such elections are held, "it will be necessary to make corresponding changes to the constitution." JAC

ANOTHER RUSSIAN CITY PLANS TO OFFER ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE
The mayor of Petrozavodsk, Andrei Demin, announced on 1 March that he plans to introduce an experimental program for alternative military service, RFE/RL's Petrozavodsk correspondent reported on 4 March. Demin plans to offer no less than 300 spots for young men seeking to declare themselves as conscientious objectors. He is also planning on suggesting that the term of alternative service be 2 1/2 years. A federal bill on alternative military service is expected to be considered by the State Duma this session. JAC

HEADS ROLL IN BASHKORTOSTAN
President Putin has signed a decree dismissing Major-General Viktor Yevtushenko from his post as head of the Federal Security Service directorate in Bashkortostan, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service reported on 4 March, citing Bashkortostan's presidential press service. Replacing Yevtushenko will be Colonel Igor Chernokov, formerly deputy head of the FSB's directorate in Omsk Oblast, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Also on 4 March, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov sacked his deputy prime minister, Midkhat Shakirov, ITAR-TASS reported. He will be replaced by Engels Kulmukhametov, formerly head of the Federal Tax Police Service's branch in Bashkortostan. JAC

RUSSIAN FORCES LAUNCH NEW 'SWEEP' IN GROZNY
Russian troops and Chechen police began a major operation in Grozny on 1 March to identify and detain supporters of President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. On 1 March, some 100 people were detained at the city's central market. On 4 March, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov again criticized the Russian practice of cordoning off for several days villages where such operations are underway. Residents have reported during earlier such searches that food and water supplies ran out and villagers wounded during indiscriminate shooting by Russian forces could not get emergency medical treatment. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE REPRESENTATIVES CRITICIZE ARMENIA'S NEW DRAFT MEDIA LAW
At a meeting in Yerevan on 4 March with editors of Armenian media outlets, three visiting Council of Europe media experts expressed their concern over specific provisions of the government's proposed new law on the mass media, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The experts singled out for special criticism the provision ordering the creation of a government agency charged with the "state oversight" of the media, and which would also issue and revoke the license without which media outlets would not be permitted to function. In a statement released last month, Armenian journalists argued that the bill poses a threat to media freedom in Armenia and should not be submitted for parliamentary debate (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 7, 21 February 2002). LF

AZERBAIJAN DRAFTS NEW ELECTION LAW
A new election law has been drafted and will be submitted first to the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and then to the legislature for approval, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told Turan on 4 March. During the run-up to the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the OSCE proposed numerous amendments to the existing election legislation, not all of which were adopted. Meeting in Baku on 1 March, the leaders of the opposition National Independence, Progress, Civic Solidarity, Adalet, and Azerbaijani Popular Front (reformist wing) parties called for the adoption of a new election law to pave the way for the presidential ballot due in October 2003. LF

NEW CHILL HITS AZERBAIJANI-TURKISH RELATIONS?
The Turkish government has sent a series of diplomatic notes to Baku protesting actions that "by no means meet the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation," Caspian News Agency reported on 4 March, quoting unidentified "reliable diplomatic sources." Ankara was reportedly particularly incensed at Azerbaijan's failure to condemn the resolution adopted on 28 February by the European Parliament reaffirming its recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide and calling on Turkey to "take appropriate steps in accordance with its European ambitions, especially concerning the termination of the blockade against Armenia." LF

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SLAMS PLANNED DISPATCH OF U.S. TROOPS TO GEORGIA
On his arrival on 4 March in Yerevan for a two-day official visit, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani made clear Tehran's displeasure at the planned dispatch to Georgia of a 200-man U.S. army unit that is to help train Georgian forces to combat suspected Islamic militants entrenched in the Pankisi Gorge, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "The Islamic Republic's policy has always rejected the military presence near our borders of forces based outside the region," Shamkhani said. He also reaffirmed that Tehran is keen to develop closer security and defense cooperation with Armenia, stressing that such cooperation will not be directed against any third country. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY DIVISION OF 'SPHERES OF INFLUENCE'
Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze on 4 March rejected as unfounded Russian media speculation that Russia and the U.S. have reached agreement between themselves on their respective "spheres of influence" in Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. He specifically denied that Washington agreed to cede to Moscow control of the airfield near Gudauta in Abkhazia in return for the use of that at Vaziani near Tbilisi from which Russian troops withdrew last summer. Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had similarly denied on 28 February and 1 March respectively that Moscow and Washington reached a "secret deal" on spheres of influence in Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS AGREE TO AMEND MANDATE OF CIS PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIA
During their 1 March talks on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Almaty, Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladimir Putin agreed that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis will be altered to meet three conditions set last year by Georgian officials for that force's continued presence, Caucasus Press reported on 5 March, citing Georgian Foreign Ministry officials (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 2, 10 January 2002). The peacekeepers will in future be deployed not along the Inguri River that marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, but along the Galidzga River that marks the northern boundary of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. They will also be empowered to undertake police duties to maintain law and order and protect Georgians who fled Gali during the 1992-1993 war and now wish to return. In addition, at last week's meeting in St. Petersburg of CIS defense ministers, Tevzadze and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov agreed that the Russian peacekeepers will be augmented by contingents from other states that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. LF

PHONE-IN WITH FORMER KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER DISRUPTED
A 1 March phone-in organized by the independent newspaper "Nachnem s ponedelnika" with former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin was disrupted by "technical problems," Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Kazhegeldin, who left Kazakhstan two years ago and has since lived in Europe and the U.S., heads the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan. He told listeners that the time frame for his return to Kazakhstan depends not only on him but on the Kazakh people, implying that only mass popular pressure could force major political concessions out of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. LF

SCHOOL BOYCOTT TO PROTEST KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY'S ARREST CONTINUES
Classes have been suspended since 16 February in six schools in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast as parents keep their children at home to protest the arrest and trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The number of children involved is estimated at between 1,200 and 3,600. LF

TWO UZBEK BORDER GUARDS ARRESTED IN KYRGYZSTAN
Police in Djalalabad Oblast arrested two Uzbek border guards on 2 March and charged them with illegally crossing the state border, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The two Uzbeks had entered Kyrgyz territory and opened fire on a Kyrgyz villager, but caused no injuries. LF

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY PROTESTS RUSSIAN SLUR
The Tajik Foreign Ministry released a statement on 4 March protesting as "incorrect and insulting" a statement made last month by Aleksandr Kotenkov, who is Russian President Putin's representative to the Russian State Duma, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 5 March. Kotenkov remarked on 20 February during a Duma debate on the new Russian citizenship bill that "Moscow...is full of beggars and Tajiks" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002).

TURKMEN SECURITY OFFICIAL CRITICIZED, DEMOTED
At a cabinet meeting on 4 March, President Saparmurat Niyazov criticized the work of the National Security Committee and of its chairman, Mukhammed Nazarov, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported. According to Western diplomats in Ashgabat, Nazarov is (or was) the second most powerful man in Turkmenistan. The heads of the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office cited "numerous" instances in which State Security officials exceeded their authority and interfered in the work of those agencies. Pronouncing the committee's work "unsatisfactory," Niyazov fired Deputy Chairmen Khayyt Kakaev and Orazmukhammed Berdyev. He also demoted Nazarov to the rank of lieutenant general and fired him from his post as an adviser to the president. LF

AFGHAN LEADER ENDS VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN
On the final day of his visit to Tashkent, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai met with Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, to discuss regional security, bilateral cooperation, and postconflict reconstruction in Afghanistan. Karzai thanked his host for Uzbekistan's efforts over two decades to end the fighting in Afghanistan, and for its current support and assistance. The two signed a joint statement pledging to cooperate in the fight against all forms of terrorism. LF

LICENSES CURTAILED FOR SIX BELARUSIAN BANKS OVER INSUFFICIENT CAPITAL
Belarus's National Bank has banned six Belarusian banks from opening accounts for and accepting deposits from individuals until the end of 2002, Belapan reported on 4 March. The National Bank said each of the six banks has failed to accumulate the capital of no fewer than 10 million euros ($8.65 million) which, under regulations enacted on 1 January 2002, Belarusian banks are required to possess in order to have the right to conduct operations with deposits of individuals. JM

BELARUSIAN WEEKLY WARNED OVER MENTIONING UNREGISTERED ORGANIZATION
The Prosecutor-General's Office has issued an official warning to the private Belarusian-language weekly "Nasha Niva" for publishing a statement by a priest of the unregistered Belarusian Autocephalous Church, Belapan reported on 4 March. Belarus's restrictive media law prohibits publications from running statements by unregistered organizations. "Nasha Niva" Editor in Chief Andrey Dynko said he is surprised by the warning, since the weekly published only a Christmas message by priest Ivan Spasyuk in the "Letters to the Editor" section, and it was not an official statement of the Belarusian Autocephalous Church. "Nasha Niva" is planning to contest the warning in court because two official warnings within a 12-month period could lead to a publication's closure. "It's very difficult to work in a country where most national organizations ranging from the Youth Front to Regional Belarus are unregistered," Dynko noted. JM

WASHINGTON CALLS FOR FAIR ELECTION IN UKRAINE
U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in a live television link between Washington and Kyiv on 4 March that the United States is watching Ukraine's election campaign very carefully in order to assess "whether Ukraine will show in a clear way that it is ready to be a member of the international community of democratic states," 1+1 Television reported. Rice suggested that the further improvement of U.S.-Ukrainian relations is dependent on whether the election will be fair and democratic. Rice also rejected a Ukrainian journalist's suggestion that Washington is trying to influence the Ukrainian election campaign in an effort to place pro-U.S. politicians in government. In answer to a question about a possible meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Rice said such a possibility will be considered by Washington after the election, provided that "there is an opportunity to move the U.S.-Ukrainian relations forward." Rice also said the U.S. is interested in seeing the completion of the investigation into journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's murder, adding that a team of FBI experts will arrive in Ukraine in April to assist the investigation. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF KUCHMA
The Verkhovna Rada on 5 March asked Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to open a criminal investigation against President Kuchma, Interfax reported. Its resolution said the president may be guilty of "actions that helped Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko organize the killing of Ukrainian people's deputies Yevhen Shcherban and Vadym Hetman." In particular, the parliament requests an answer to the question why Kuchma, "while knowing about Lazarenko's criminal activities, did not take appropriate measures to stop those activities and to make him accountable under the Criminal Code. But [to the contrary], awarded Lazarenko and appointed him to especially important posts." JM

REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS OF CRIMEAN CANDIDATES DISAPPEAR...
Crimean Election Commission chief Ivan Polyakov announced on 4 March that the registration documents of some 900 parliamentary candidates have disappeared from the office of the commission, Ukrainian media reported. Polyakov blamed the disappearance on Antonina Ustynova, a member of the commission, who allegedly transferred the documents from the commission's office to that of the Republican Council of World War II Veterans and Veteran Workers, to protest against the ousting of Crimean Communist leader Leonid Hrach from the election race (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 March 2002). Ustynova told journalists on 5 March that she transferred the documents in order to protest "the unhealthy situation" in the commission, and declared that she is prepared to return them. Interfax reported that Crimean prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation against Ustynova. JM

...WHILE HRACH HOPES TO FIND JUSTICE IN SUPREME COURT
In a press interview published on 5 March, Crimean parliament speaker Hrach said he hopes that Ukraine's Supreme Court will heed his complaint and reinstate him as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean legislature, Interfax reported. Hrach did not rule out that the annulment of his registration last week was instigated by "Ukrainian nationalists" who want to exacerbate the situation in Crimea in order to force Kyiv to introduce direct presidential rule on the peninsula and liquidate Crimea's autonomous status. Hrach divulged that he often hears calls to hold a referendum on whether Crimea should become part of the Russian Federation. "A referendum means a head-on collision with Kyiv, a terrible danger, and blood," he said. JM

REFORM PARTY AND RUSSIAN BALTIC PARTY IN ESTONIA TO MERGE
Chairmen of the Reform Party and Russian Baltic Party in Estonia (RBPE) Siim Kallas and Sergei Ivanov signed a preliminary agreement in Tallinn on 4 March on forming a union of the two parties, ETA reported. According to the agreement, RBPE deputies in the parliament and Tallinn City Council will participate as full members of the respective Reform Party factions beginning on 11 March. If the two parties are not fully merged by the fall elections to the local councils, they will have a common list of candidates in the name of the Reform Party. Kallas said: "Political division based on nationality will inevitably disappear and be replaced by positions based on one's world view." Ivanov said that efforts to unite the various Russian parties in Estonia have failed, and that those parties have been unable to defend the interests of the Russian-speaking population. The Reform Party's partner in the ruling coalition, the Center Party, recently approved a cooperation agreement with another Russian party, the Estonian United People's Party. SG

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER MEETS LATVIAN COUNTERPART
Jose Maria Aznar made a short official trip to Riga in the evening of 4 March for talks with Andris Berzins, LETA reported. Aznar's earlier planned visit to Latvia was called off in mid-flight due to the terrorist attacks on 11 September in New York and Washington. As Spain is presiding over the EU in the first half of the year, the meeting of the premiers primarily focused on EU expansion. Aznar expressed his hope that the decision on whether to admit new members to the union will be made by the end of the year, and said that new member states would be allowed to participate in European Parliament elections in 2004. Considerable attention was devoted to the recent European Commission proposals for agricultural subsidies, which have been criticized by EU candidate countries. Aznar said that the agricultural production quotas proposed by the EC "comply with financial options" and are rational and good, but that the size of the quotas must be agreed through negotiations. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN VISITS SWEDEN
Arturas Paulauskas flew to Stockholm on 3 March at the invitation of his Swedish counterpart Birgitta Dahl, ELTA reported. The next morning he traveled to the port of Malmo for talks with the director of Copenhagen-Malmo port, Lars Karlsson; Malmo Mayor Kjell-Arne Landgren; and representatives of the Swedish Commerce Chamber for Malmo, which plans to open a Lithuanian business club soon. Paulauskas gave Landgren a letter from Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas encouraging closer cooperation between the two cities following the signing of a mutual cooperation agreement in 2001 between the Vilnius and Skane regions around the cities. Paulauskas also met with Dahl and King Carl XVI Gustaf. Paulauskas was scheduled to meet on 5 March with Urban Ahlin, the chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee; members of its European Committee, and Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow. SG

EU COMMISSIONER FINDS POLAND'S POSITION ON LAND SALE ACCEPTABLE...
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on 5 March that the conditions for the purchase of land in Poland presented by the Polish government last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002) are acceptable for EU countries, PAP reported. Premier Leszek Miller told Polish Radio the previous day that of all the countries aspiring to EU membership, Poland has negotiated the best conditions with regard to the purchase of land by foreigners. "A 12-year transition period for the purchase of arable land and forests will be in force, and no other country has obtained permission for such a long transition period," Miller said. "We negotiated a five-year transition period for the purchase of second homes, the so-called 'summer houses.' Other countries do not enjoy a transition period. And finally, we negotiated the division of Poland into two zones for land lease: three years in eastern provinces and seven in western and northern provinces. This solution is not to be found outside Poland," Miller added. JM

...WHILE SOME IN POLAND THINK OTHERWISE
Poland's Farmer Circles organization has protested against the government's decisions on land sales to foreigners, PAP reported on 4 March. Farmer Circles head Wladyslaw Serafin said the government violated the constitution by deciding the fate of national property without consultations with the parliament or public opinion. Meanwhile, the right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR) has launched a protest against the government's decisions regarding the sale of land to foreigners. The LPR has drafted a protest declaration to be signed by Polish politicians and public figures. "Sell-offs of Polish land are one of the biggest threats to the country today. I consider them a sign of Poland's ultimate disintegration," LPR lawmaker Gabriel Janowski commented. JM

CZECH COUNTERINTELLIGENCE CHIEF SUSPECTED OF INVOLVEMENT IN FALSE SCREENING CERTIFICATES
The Interior Ministry has asked police to investigate whether Czech Security Information Service (BIS) Director Jiri Ruzek was involved in the issuing of illegal screening certificates in 1991-1992, CTK reported on 4 March, citing the daily "Hospodarske noviny." The daily reported that police will investigate whether Ruzek and four of his colleagues at the former Office for Foreign Relations and Information (UZSI) issued the screening certificates to former communist secret police members, with the intention of continuing to use them as sources of information. Among those also suspected is former UZSI head Radovan Prochazka. Ruzek, Prochazka, and the Interior Ministry refused to comment on the report. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE...
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said after talks in Prague with his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana on 4 March that NATO "could extend an invitation" to Romania to join the alliance at its November summit meeting in the Czech capital city, and that he would "welcome" such a decision, CTK reported. He said Romania has proven its willingness to contribute to the international struggle against terrorism and is the only non-NATO member that has sent a police unit to Afghanistan. Geoana said he sees in the Czech Republic a "natural partner" for his country, and indicated that Bucharest will support the Czech candidacy for the presidency of the UN General Assembly. The two ministers described bilateral relations as "good," but added that economic cooperation should be improved. Kavan said Romania has taken "extremely efficient measures" to curb illegal immigration to the Czech Republic. Geoana was to meet on 5 March with Prime Minister Milos Zeman and President Vaclav Havel before traveling to Bratislava. MS

...VISITS RFE/RL HEADQUARTERS
Following his talks with Kavan, Geoana visited RFE/RL headquarters, where he was welcomed by President Thomas Dine. Geoana said RFE/RL has made "perhaps the greatest contribution of all" to demolishing the communist regimes. He added that RFE/RL's task "is still not over," and that it now makes an important contribution to the process of consolidating the new democratic systems. He said he is optimistic about Romania's chances in both the NATO and EU expansion processes. Geoana said that it would be "unrealistic" to expect that his country will meet all the membership "value criteria" ahead of the summit, among which he counted transparency, the struggle against corruption, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Roma prejudice. However, what is expected of Bucharest is that it produce a "short-term blueprint" for coping with these problems, which he said Romania intends to do (see "End Note"). MS

SECOND TEMELIN BLOCK GETS FUEL-LOADING PERMISSION
The State Office for Nuclear Safety on 4 March gave permission for loading nuclear fuel into the second reactor at the Temelin plant, international agencies reported. Plant spokesman Milan Nebesar said the second reactor will become fully operational within 10 months. Commercial power generation is expected to begin in late 2003. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE LAUNCHES PETITION FOR DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The opposition Coalition alliance of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union launched a campaign on 2 March to gather signatures supporting a petition in favor of direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Coalition intends to submit a draft law on direct presidential election in March, and says the parliament elected after the June ballot should debate and approve the bill. In other news, Jiri Lobkowicz was elected on 2 March as chairman of Path of Change, a party established in 2001 by civil society activists. A rival wing split from the group and elected Monika Pajerova as its chairwoman in September 2001, establishing at the time a different formation named Hope. MS

ONE MORE NEO-REPUBLICAN PARTY SET UP IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Several former members of Miroslav Sladek's Assembly for the Republic-Czechoslovak Republican Party (SPR-RSC) on 4 March announced the formation of a party calling itself The Republicans and elected Jan Vik as the new party's chairman, CTK reported. The SPR-RSC went bankrupt in 2001, and last week Sladek announced that he had set up a new party, to be known as the Republicans of Miroslav Sladek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). The founders of the separate Republicans said they "want to follow the program of the SPR-RSC, a party that was liquidated...by Miroslav Sladek under suspicious circumstances," and to run in the June elections. Apart from Vik, the leadership includes former SPR-RSC far-right politicians Josef Krejsa, Pavel Maixner, and Milan Loukota. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER, CRITICIZE MECIAR'S STATEMENT ON NATO...
President Rudolf Schuster on 4 March criticized the statement made one day earlier by Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar that Slovakia might face the possibility of not being invited to join NATO after the September elections, if his party were to win the ballot, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). Schuster said that he is "not afraid" of such a scenario, and explained that even if the HZDS were to win the elections -- as happened in 1998 -- a coalition would be formed by other parties. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan called Meciar's statement a "punishable political irresponsibility," and added that if Slovakia fails to receive an invitation to join NATO it is also likely that it will not be invited to join the EU. In addition, Kukan said it is unlikely that another wave of NATO expansion will follow the one expected in the fall. MS

...WHILE HZDS SAYS ALLEGED STATEMENT BASED ON 'WRONG INTERPRETATION'
The HZDS sharply protested against the criticism by Schuster and government officials, saying that it is based on "wrong and expedient interpretations" of Meciar's declarations carried by the daily "Sme," CTK reported. The HZDS said that "Meciar has not admitted and is not accepting any other alternative for Slovakia other than integration into Euro-Atlantic structures." The party also said it intends to take "all legal steps" to force "Sme" to "correct the statements and apologize to the HZDS." MS

'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE CREATES UPROAR IN HUNGARY
Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said on 4 March that he is confident that U.S. officials will deny claims published the same day in an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" by columnist Jackson Diehl, Hungarian media reported. Diehl wrote that U.S. officials are disappointed with Hungary and the Czech Republic's evolution following their admission to NATO. He said Prime Minister Viktor Orban has "embraced a nationalist agenda worthy of the 1930s while tacitly allying himself with anti-Semites," and that Czech Premier Milos Zeman has "become notorious for his attacks on the free press and connections to gangsters." Diehl also said that because of his "toxic talk of Lebensraum for Hungarians," Orban "has been refused a White House visit." Horvath said that attributing to Orban the term "Lebensraum" (living space), which he said Orban never used, was "unacceptable," and that during a telephone conversation with the premier on 14 February while Orban was visiting Boston, U.S. President George W. Bush said nothing that revealed any dissatisfaction with Hungary's record following its NATO admission. MS

MEDGYESSY CHALLENGES ORBAN TO DEBATE
On 4 March, Socialist Party prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy sent an open letter to Premier Orban challenging him to an audience-free debate on 26 or 28 March. Citing what he called his loss of confidence in recent years regarding the impartiality of the public service media, Medgyessy said the debate should be broadcast on commercial television, and should include discussion of topics such as social inequality, the economy, poverty, the government's record on health care and agriculture, and the country's current "tense" foreign relations. "Nepszabadsag" reported that in his reply, Orban is expected to insist that the debate be conducted in front of a live audience and be broadcast on public service media. Cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai said Orban will stick to traditional protocol and will first relay his answer to Medgyessy before informing the general public. Borokai said he "found it strange" that Medgyessy's letter reached the press before arriving at the prime minister's secretariat. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS LEADER COY ON ELECTION, COALITION PLANS
Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 4 March declined to rule out the possibility of the party's entering into election cooperation and a post-electoral coalition with the Socialists, despite an earlier requests by FKGP candidates for parliament to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). In his statement, Torgyan firmly denied that he is engaged in secret talks with either the Socialists or FIDESZ, while leaving open the question as to which party he will negotiate with after the first round of elections. In other news, Workers' Party Deputy Chairman Attila Vajnai has appealed to President Ferenc Madl to convene talks between the political parties fielding candidates on national election lists and Hungarian Television. Vajnai has said that the network's plan for its election coverage practically bars the Workers' Party and other extraparliamentary parties from getting airtime. He has threatened to go on hunger strike in protest as of 6 March. MSZ

HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN OFFICIALS COMPARE NOTES ON STATUS LAW
The implementation of Hungary's Status Law in Romania is proceeding smoothly, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said in Budapest on 4 March after meeting with Romanian Senator Adrian Severin, who is the chairman of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly. Nemeth said the two countries are discussing at expert level the provision in the memorandum agreed between them on work permits for Romanian nationals seeking jobs in Hungary. Severin and Nemeth both said "a relationship of trust" has developed between the two countries over the past few months. "The memorandum of understanding on the Status Law signed last December is a good example of how to settle delicate issues," Severin said, adding that bilateral relations are key to regional stability. Nemeth told Hungarian media that Hungary has a "vested interest" in seeing Romania join NATO in the next round of the alliance's expansion. MSZ

MYSTERY CONTINUES OVER ALLEGED BETRAYAL OF ATTEMPT TO CATCH KARADZIC...
"The Daily Telegraph" reported on 5 March that NATO has begun an investigation into charges raised in "The Times" and the "Hamburger Abendblatt" that a French SFOR officer betrayed the recent mission to catch Radovan Karadzic to a Bosnian Serb police officer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson called the charges "pure speculation," Reuters reported from Brussels. In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the allegations are "intolerable and unacceptable," and that French policy is that "all war criminals be transferred" to The Hague. In Banja Luka, the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry denied any role in the incident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Investigators are concentrating their attention on the content of the French officer's telephone call and why he made it. If the allegations prove true, it would reinforce the belief of many Muslims and Albanians that French forces are basically pro-Serb and that a U.S. presence is needed to ensure fairness. PM

RUGOVA PLEDGES FAIR DEAL FOR KOSOVA'S MINORITIES
Speaking in Prishtina after his election as president of Kosova on 4 March, Ibrahim Rugova said that his first priority is to get state institutions up and running, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). He also repeated his commitment to independence for Kosova, which is supported by all political parties of the 90 percent Albanian majority. Rugova added: "We will work on the integration of [all] ethnic groups into the political, economic, and social life of Kosova. We will develop a society of tolerance, understanding, and conciliation among people, and respect for one another," Reuters reported. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi stressed that "everything is a priority." PM

...AND OVER DEAD 'TERRORISTS' IN MACEDONIA
Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said in Skopje on 4 March that the seven men recently killed by his forces included two Pakistanis, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). He added that the Pakistanis were veterans of fighting in Afghanistan. It is not clear how he knows this or what happened to the bodies of the seven men. Elsewhere, the illegal Albanian National Army (AKSH) said that the incident was a "setup" involving kidnapped foreigners, whom the police had dressed in uniforms of the former National Liberation Army (UCK). An Interior Ministry spokesman called this charge "ridiculous and insane," AP reported. Observers note that for the Macedonian police to kill seven armed combat veterans without taking any casualties themselves would suggest a degree of fighting efficiency for which the Macedonian forces have not previously been known. PM

WAY OUT OF CROATIAN CABINET CRISIS?
Zlatko Tomcic, who is head of the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS), said in Zagreb on 4 March that he thinks that the governing coalition will survive its present crisis, which is the worst since it came to power at the start of 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). Observers note that none of the major players in the coalition has an interest in forcing early elections, and that Social Liberal Party leader Drazen Budisa, who is largely responsible for the present uncertainty, is an old hand at political brinkmanship. An unnamed European diplomat told Reuters that the coalition leaders "are arguing like children in kindergarten, but I still think they will work out an agreement because everyone knows there are no better options available." PM

CROATIAN MILITARY VETERANS STAGE PROTEST IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Members of the Croatian veterans association (HVIDRA) blocked traffic at several spots in Herzegovina along the Croatian border and in central Bosnia on 4 March to protest cuts in benefits, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The veterans are adversely affected by the Croatian government's recent benefits program, which is much more restrictive than that of the late President Franjo Tudjman. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, delegations of the Bosnian and Croatian Foreign Ministries met and said they are determined to resolve bilateral differences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002). PM

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT RATES FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS
The latest issue of the State Department's report on human rights gave top grades to Slovenia alone of the Yugoslav successor states, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 March. Macedonia received the worst marks among those republics. The report noted that the situation varies greatly from place to place in Bosnia, with the most human rights problems being in areas with a Serbian or Croatian majority. PM

ROMANIA'S HUNGARIANS WANT 'PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION' IN STATE STRUCTURES
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Borbely said on 4 March that the UDMR is asking for the "proportional representation" of national minorities in all state structures, Mediafax reported. The demand was first raised recently by UDMR Senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs. Borbely spoke after a meeting of the UDMR-Social Democratic Party (PSD) commission that monitors the implementation of the two parties' agreement. PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc said in response that the UDMR's demand "does not pose a problem" as long as the required professional skills criteria are met. "For example," Hrebenciuc said, he wonders whether any ethnic Hungarian has the skills required for working in the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), or if any Magyars have attended the SRI school at Baneasa, in the vicinity of Bucharest. MS

STEINER SAYS KOSOVA SERBS HAVE THEMSELVES TO BLAME
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), denied charges by the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition that they were not consulted in setting up the government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 4 March. Steiner said that the Serbs first sought control of a nonexistent "Energy Ministry" and then balked. He added that the Serbs could have had more than the one cabinet post they received -- that of agriculture -- if they had joined in the negotiating process. Meanwhile in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March that "it is believed in the Russian Foreign Ministry that Serbs, just as other non-Albanian representatives, will have the opportunity to influence the activity of new power structures in Kosovo in the interests of building a truly multiethnic democratic society." PM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS ANTIGOVERNMENT PROTESTS ARE FINANCED BY SMIRNOV
Vladimir Voronin said on Moldovan television on 4 March that the protests organized by the Popular Party Christian Democratic are financed from "the secret funds" of separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Mediafax reported. He said every protest day "costs $30,000." Meanwhile, Larisa Manole, a member of the Teleradio Moldova strike committee, said on 4 March that the government continues to "exert pressure" on journalists and to censor reports on the ongoing protests, Romanian radio reported, citing BASA-Press. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS MAKING RUSSIAN AN 'OFFICIAL LANGUAGE'
The Constitutional Court ruled on 4 March that a draft law initiated by 27 Communist deputies for making Russian the country's second "official language" is not lawful, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The deputies asked the court to examine the draft, and the judges ruled that the envisaged legislation does not specify whether it is in line with either the constitution or with international agreements to which Moldova is a signatory. MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPEALS DECISION AT EUROPEAN COURT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
The government on 4 March appealed the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg pertaining to the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, and asked the court to reconsider the verdict in an expanded panel of judges, Flux reported on 4 March, citing anonymous governmental sources. On 13 December 2001, the court heeded the complaint of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church against the government's refusal to register it and ruled that the government must pay 27 million euros ($23.3 million) in "moral and material damages." MS

BULGARIA GETS NEW STATE TELEVISION CHIEF
The Council on Electronic Media appointed Kiril Gotsev as the new director of state television on 4 March, AP reported. Gotsev has been in charge of state television since December 2001, when the council dismissed Lilyana Popova from the post because she did not meet the legal requirements stipulating that the state TV director must have at least five years of experience as a television journalist. Popova had long-term experience as a radio journalist when she was appointed to the post. At that time, the law did not include the requirement, which was added to the legislation after the June 2001 elections and the victory of Simeon Saxecoburggotski's National Movement Simeon II. Popova was considered to be a supporter of former Premier Ivan Kostov. Gotsev has worked in state television for more than two decades, mainly in administrative positions. MS

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON RAIL LINK
Visiting Macedonian Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule and his Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi called on 4 March for international funding for a project aimed at linking their respective railway systems, AP reported. The project is part of a larger EU-sponsored plan for a railroad, a highway, and an oil pipeline transiting Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania, and linking the Black Sea with the Adriatic. The plan requires 58 kilometers of railroad, mostly in Macedonia, to link it to Bulgaria. Pasi and Casule signed a joint letter to the EU, NATO, the World Bank, and the Balkan Stability Pact, asking for $191 million to fund the project. MS

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ROMANIA DETERMINED TO SECURE INVITATION TO JOIN NATO


In addition to meetings with top Czech officials, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana took the opportunity during his two-day visit to the Czech Republic to hold a news conference on 4 March at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters.

During the news conference, Geoana -- who met earlier the same day with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan -- discussed a variety of topics, including Romania's efforts to join NATO later this year and Romania's relations with its neighbors.

At a summit scheduled for November in Prague, NATO is expected to proceed with its first expansion wave since 1997, when it invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join the alliance. At that time, Romania -- together with Slovenia -- was nominated as a front-runner for a possible second wave of enlargement.

But since then, Romania seems to have lost ground in favor of other candidates. Analysts now see Slovenia, Slovakia, and the three Baltic countries -- Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia -- as the favorites to gain membership. The remaining three candidates are Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia.

Romania, which has also been left out of the European Union's anticipated 2004 expansion due to its failure to achieve required economic and institutional reforms, has now launched a diplomatic offensive to secure an invitation to join the 19-member military alliance.

Foreign Minister Geoana said that Romania, together with neighboring Bulgaria, has great potential strategic value for the alliance and could help secure greater stability in Southeastern Europe.

However, analysts say Romania's bid has only a 50-50 chance of success, and only then provided that the country speeds up military and political reform -- including decisive measures to fight widespread corruption.

"I would say that on the defense side, things are looking much better than one or two years ago," Geoana said. "We have increased our defense budget -- it's now 2.38 percent [of GDP] -- and it will stay like this for some time to come." As for downsizing the military, he said that "Romania in 1990 had 320,000 people in service and now we are down to 120,000. So we downsized by three times and increased our defense budget by two times in dollar terms over the last 10 years." Describing such achievements as "spectacular," Geoana said: "We are far from being perfect, but I think we have scored some points."

The foreign minister went on to say that Romania's economy also picked up last year, with a 5 percent growth of GDP, while reform and privatization measures continued. But he admitted that economic reform in Romania has caused significant social problems.

Geoana also said that measures adopted to fight corruption must be integrated into a broader category of what he called "the values dimension" required of NATO candidate countries before they can join the alliance; that is, issues related to transparency, bureaucracy, independence of the judiciary, reducing anti-Semitism, and improving the treatment of the Romany minority and the situation of institutionalized children.

"Let me put it like this: We know exactly what we need to do and by when in order to make it for the Prague [NATO summit in November]," Geoana said. "And my government -- and I think the Romanian society [too] -- are fully determined to go by this and do it." He added that "it's not easy" and can be "painful because we have to cut even among our own lines in terms of party politics," but, "we have to do it. It's about the health of our society, it's about Romanians' dream to join the West."

Geoana said he strongly believes Romania will receive an invitation to join NATO this year if it focuses its political energy "in the right direction." He also expressed his belief that NATO is ready to make "a seven out of seven enlargement," referring to seven candidates who could secure NATO membership this year -- Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. But Geoana added that it will depend on each country's individual efforts to gain membership:

In conclusion, Geoana said that Romania hopes to resolve its border disputes with neighboring Ukraine by the time Romanian President Ion Iliescu visits that country in June. But for the disputes to be solved, he said, both sides must show "flexibility, goodwill, and hard work."Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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