Accessibility links

Newsline - March 7, 2002


RUSSIA STRONGLY CRITICIZES U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS
A statement of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, released on 7 March, characterized the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights as "surprising, to say the least," RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported the same day. The statement read in particular that the bulk of a "long, 45-page chapter" dedicated to Russia, and especially its emphasis on Chechnya, "makes the [Russian Foreign Ministry] think that those who compiled it have simply reprinted old headlines. It seems that there have been no changes either in Russia or the United States, that there was nothing like the September 11th tragedy and the international community has not united in a bid against terrorism." The statement went on to say that "there are groups" in the United States that "are persistently trying to focus on 'the Chechen issue' and once again make it an obstacle in Russian-American dialogue." In this context, the authors of the Russian statement conclude that the United States "should better focus on its own domestic problems, primarily on the issue of capital punishment, prior to claiming the role of a judge in the sphere of how other countries should observe human rights." The Russian Foreign Ministry added that the Russian side is still waiting for the United States to ratify a whole range of cornerstone international agreements dealing with human rights, Russian agencies noted. VC

LIBERAL RUSSIA WANTS TO SEE BEREZOVSKY'S FOOTAGE ON RUSSIAN TELEVISION
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Russian Duma deputy Sergei Yushenkov said that the political movement Liberal Russia he chairs will try to convince Russian television networks to broadcast the nine-minute film "Attack on Russia," which was aired by self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky in London on 5 March, ntvru.com reported on 7 March. Yushenkov added that the film will also be distributed on videotape. Yushenkov, who left the Union of Rightist Forces to create Liberal Russia with Berezovsky's financial backing, said Russia should launch a thorough investigation on the bombings in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002) "under civil society's control," ntvru.com quoted him as saying. Yushenkov added that he feels the Duma should play a major role in controlling the investigation process. He also said that Liberal Russia is preparing to ask the European parliament to organize hearings on the fall 1999 attacks. VC

STATE DUMA ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON SITUATION IN GEORGIA
The Duma adopted on 6 March by a vote of 364 to three a nonbinding resolution on the U.S. military's presence in Georgia, saying that presence of U.S. troops "may complicate the already difficult situation in the region," NTV reported. The resolution expressed hope that U.S. military aid to Tbilisi "does not lead the Georgian leadership into seeking a military solution to armed conflicts In Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Meanwhile, Duma International Relations Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin said he dropped his proposal to recognize the sovereignty of Abkhazia after President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said they do not object to the presence of U.S. troops in Georgia. VY

BRZEZINSKI ADVISES MOSCOW TO CHOOSE 'LESSER OF TWO EVILS'
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is visiting Moscow with a group of prominent Western politicians, told ORT on 6 March that for the U.S., "new partnership with Moscow means stability in Europe and the world, and increasing mutual trust on both sides of the Atlantic." In addition, he said that "closer relations help both countries address common threats such as terrorism and [nuclear] proliferation." He also said while in Moscow that he is sympathetic to Russia's concerns regarding its geopolitical situation: "If [the U.S.] had [to the south of its border] in Mexico, both a stronger economy and 1.5 billion Chinese and [had to the north] 300 million Muslims in Canada, then [the U.S.] would also be very concerned about its national security." Vesti.ru commented on 6 March that what Brzezinski was hinting at is that Russia should seek improved relations with NATO. VY

DUMA GIVES BANKRUPTCY BILL THE INITIAL NOD...
Duma deputies adopted a law on bankruptcy in its first reading on 6 March, Russian agencies reported. The government considers the draft bill, which updates a 1998 legislative act, one of its highest priority pieces of legislation, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the law, a debtor can file for bankruptcy in an arbitration court only if he or she has a debt of no less than 1,000 minimum monthly wage units (an artificial number used for indexing inflation) that has gone unpaid for at least three months. Under the current law, that minimum is set at 500. Mikhail Ymelyanov (Yabloko), deputy chairman of the Duma's Property Committee, said that the legislation is more progressive than the existing law because it defends both the debtor and the creditor. In addition, it takes into account the special conditions faced by defense enterprises or companies that have an effective monopoly. However, the Yabloko faction spoke out against the bill, saying that it preserves too many of the insufficiencies of the old law, polit.ru reported. In particular, Yabloko's specialists believe the minimum debt level should be set at 10,000 minimum monthly wage units. The vote was 253 in favor, with 39 against and three abstentions, according to rosbalt.ru. JAC

...APPROVES BILL REGULATING NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS
Also on 6 March, deputies adopted a bill amending the law on the use of atomic energy in its third and final reading. The bill regulates the import of spent nuclear fuel onto Russian territory. The bill established a special 20-member presidential commission, composed of five representatives each from the office of the president, Federation Council, State Duma, and the government, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the law, the commission has to sign off on any transport of spent nuclear fuel from a foreign country. The commission must also present the president with an annual report on such shipments. The law passed with 347 votes in favor, two against, and zero abstentions, according to rosbalt.ru. JAC

SUTYAGIN TO GET HIS DAY IN COURT
The Russian Supreme Court will consider an appeal on 13 March by political scientist Igor Sutyagin challenging a ruling of a Kaluga oblast court. That court decided last December to send Sutyagin's case back for further investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Sutyagin has been accused of espionage for providing analysis, which he based on open sources, of the military readiness of Russia's nuclear forces and rocket attack warning system. Despite finding little merit in the prosecutors' original case against Sutyagin, the oblast court refused to release him from jail pending the outcome of his appeal JAC

BIDDERS LINE UP FOR TV-6
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told reporters in Moscow on 6 March that his ministry has received 15 applications in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting frequency, Russian news agencies reported. Among the groups that applied were Channel Six, which was founded by former TV-6 journalists including Yevgenii Kiselev; Medium-Socium, which was founded by Arkadii Volskii's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and Yevgenii Primakov's Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Vashe Televideniye, which is headed by former TV-6 Editor in Chief Mikhail Ponomarev; the Gorbachev Foundation; and the Russian Olympic Committee. Negotiations to merge the bids of Channel Six and Medium-Socium failed to be resolved by the deadline for submitting the applications, but an unidentified Media Ministry official told Interfax that one of the two sides could withdraw its application before the tender is held on 27 March. JAC

PATRIARCH CONSECRATES CHURCH AT FSB HEADQUARTERS
Patriarch Aleksii II consecrated the Church of St. Sofia of God's Wisdom on the grounds of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) headquarters on Lubyanka Square on 6 March, Russian and international media reported. During the ceremony, Aleksii II said the restoration of the church for the FSB, which was initiated by the service, serves as a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness between the Russian Orthodox Church and the KGB's successor. The Church of St. Sofia of God's Wisdom was rebuilt in stone in the mid-17th century after the original wooden church built in 1480 was destroyed by fire, according to "The Moscow Times." It served as a storehouse during the Soviet era. Moscow's Moldovan Orthodox community was granted the rights to the church in 1991 only to have them taken away in 2001. According to the daily, the head of the community, Stanislav Terzii, has claimed that the FSB blocked his group's bid for the church. VY

RUSSIA, EU PUBLICLY CLASH OVER KALININGRAD'S FUTURE STATUS...
Speaking at a 6 March meeting in Kaliningrad of prime ministers of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov said Russia hopes that, in the event Poland and Lithuania join the EU, Kaliningrad Oblast can become a bridge between Russia and Europe, Russian news agencies reported. "One should not turn Kaliningrad into a European "dead-end zone,'" Kasyanov told the assembled premiers. Russia is seeking EU conditions that would allow for the free movement of labor and goods from the Russian exclave into the EU, and wants the union to provide non-visa status for Kaliningrad residents. However, European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten said at the meeting that the EU "cannot override its basic rules, including the so-called 'Schengen' regulations imposing strict border controls on non-members of the EU." VY

...AS RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TAKES HARD LINE ON MILITARY SECURITY IN THE REGION
Addressing the same meeting, Foreign Minister Ivanov said Russia is against extending the council's prerogatives into the sphere of military security, and has no plans to reduce the Russian military presence in Kaliningrad, Interfax reported. "We will always keep as many troops as we need here for our own security," he said. Ivanov added that he hopes any EU expansion will not "violate the civil rights of Kaliningrad inhabitants. It is unacceptable if a good thing for one group of states becomes a source of trouble for another." VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER HOPES WAGE HIKE WILL IMPROVE TROOP MORALE
Sergei Ivanov said on 7 March that the "general situation in the Russian army is quite difficult, primarily because of the loss of its prestige," "Izvestiya" and NTV reported. Ivanov also said that more than 5,000 soldiers desert from the Russian armed forces annually, which he said is the result of the "weak work of senior commanding officers." He said he has strictly reprimanded Georgii Shpak, the commander of the Airborne Troops, regarding the recent incident in which two deserters from his units killed 10 policemen and civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 February 2002.) Ivanov also said he hopes to see an increase in troop morale following President Putin's decree to raise military salaries to the level of those adopted by the federal civil service. VY

MOSCOW INTERIOR MINISTRY LAUNCHES DISCRIMINATION ACTION AGAINST ROMA
"Moskovskii komsomolets" claimed on 6 March that the Moscow Interior Ministry's main directorate is conducting a secret police action named "Tabor" against local Roma in an effort to register them and evict them from Moscow. Interior Ministry documents cited by the daily dubbed Roma as "socially dangerous criminals," and directed the ministry's officers to identify not only Romany communities, but also those who cooperate with Roma by renting them housing. Meanwhile, the Romany rights activists called the operation "a disgraceful action," and added that "it is a shame to call a nationality a 'social criminal group,'" BBC reported the same day. VY

SWISS PROSECUTOR FINDS BORODIN GUILTY OF MONEY LAUNDERING
Geneva Cantonal Prosecutor Bernard Bartossa ruled on 6 March that Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin is guilty of laundering $22.4 million through Swiss banks while he headed the presidential property office during the former President Boris Yeltsin's reign, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Bartossa handed down a fine of 300,000 Swiss franks ($175,000) and closed the case. Vesti.ru commented on 6 March that Bartossa's verdict is certainly bad news for Russia as it give more fuel to arguments for keeping the country on the international blacklist of countries that fail to combat corruption. VY

SOUTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT RAISES QUESTIONS DURING LEAD-UP TO APEC SUMMIT
Following an attack on him by unknown assailants on 3 March, Lee Joong Hwa, South Korea's consul general based in Vladivostok, told Interfax three days later that the attack against him "is of considerable diplomatic significance, and is likely to influence the region's reputation worldwide... If a consul general, who is protected by law, is attacked," then no foreign national can feel safe there. Last month, Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov signed an ordinance "recommending that managers of trade, catering, and consumer business of all types make nameplates in both Russian and English and display them on their premises by 1 May in preparation for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum scheduled for September 2002. The city is expecting to host several thousand people from APEC member countries. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY SEES OPPORTUNITIES FOR EXPANSION IN PERM?
The deputy presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Valentin Stepankov, announced the results of an opinion survey conducted by FAPSI among residents of Perm Oblast, regions.ru reported on 6 March, citing Region-Inform-Perm. Stepankov highlighted one particular finding: 22 percent of respondents said they would turn to a criminal group rather than to the police if their rights were violated or they were victims of a crime. Stepankov added that only two law enforcement structures are under the control of the envoy's office in Perm, the offices of the Federal Tax Police and Interior Ministry. JAC

ANOTHER SENATOR SELECTED
Adygeya Republic President Khazret Sovmen tapped Andrei Vorobev, a member of the Unified Russia party's General Council, as his representative to the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. Vorobev, according to the agency, is an international economics expert. JAC

EIGHTY DETAINED IN CHECHNYA IN NEW RUSSIAN 'SWEEP'...
Russian forces have detained at least 80 Chechens in recent days in new search operations in Grozny, Argun, Gudermes, Tangi-Chu, and Roshni-Chu for suspected guerrilla fighters, AP reported on 6 March, quoting an unnamed Chechen administration official. On 7 March, chechenpress.com reported that new sweeps are also underway in the villages of Starye and Novye Atagi, which were subjected to a protracted search last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 19 February 2002). Some 350 residents of the two villages have been killed by the Russian military since the war began in October 1999, the website said. LF

...AS CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IS IMPROVING
Commenting on the recently released U.S. State Department report criticizing Russia's conduct of the war in Chechnya, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that while he regrets "individual violations of human rights and freedoms" in Chechnya, the human rights situation in the republic has improved over the past year, Interfax reported on 6 March. Kadyrov said his leadership is taking "large-scale measures" to prevent human rights violations and to apprehend and punish those responsible for them. LF

ARMENIAN PROSECUTORS BRING CHARGES IN CONNECTION WITH PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS INVESTIGATION
The Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office has launched criminal proceedings against several unnamed members of the team of military prosecutors who investigated the October 1999 parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 6 March. Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who perpetrated the killings, has repeatedly claimed he was subjected to physical and psychological abuse during the pretrial investigation in an attempt to force him to incriminate President Robert Kocharian. A second gunman, Derenik Bejanian, made similar allegations during his testimony on 6 March. LF

ARMENIA HAILS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
In a statement released on 6 March, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian welcomed the 28 February resolution on the South Caucasus passed by the European Parliament, which he described as "a serious political document providing a clear framework for EU-Caucasus cooperation," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That resolution reaffirmed the parliament's recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide and urged Turkey to lift its blockade of Armenia. The Turkish parliament has denounced the resolution as a concession to "baseless Armenian claims." LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT UNYIELDING ON INDEPENDENCE
Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told journalists in Yerevan on 6 March that formal recognition of the unrecognized republic's de facto independent status is the sole guarantee of peace and stability in the region, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that the OSCE Minsk Group, which is mediating peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, largely supports that position. Ghukasian said the main obstacle to resolving the Karabakh conflict is the "destructive" position taken by Azerbaijan. He said that once a peace deal is signed, his republic would be ready to forge "serious economic and political links" with Azerbaijan. Ghukasian met later on 5 March with President Kocharian to discuss the Karabakh peace process, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WARNS OF GROWING TERRORIST THREAT
Meeting on 6 March with senior border guard officials, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev warned that Azerbaijan's geographical position renders it vulnerable to infiltration by international terrorists, Interfax and Turan reported. Aliev called on the border guards to show greater vigilance in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CONDEMNS INTERIOR MINISTER'S ENDORSEMENT OF PRESIDENT'S SON
Leaders of two Azerbaijani opposition parties on 6 March condemned Interior Minister Ramil Usubov's statement the previous day that he would welcome the election of President Aliev's son Ilham as a future president of Azerbaijan, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Sardar Djalaloglu, who is general secretary of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, said Usubov's statement proves that "the Interior Ministry represents...a subdivision of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party," while Mirmahmud Miralioglu, who heads the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, attributed Usubov's excessive loyalty to the Aliev family to the fact that he owes his job to the incumbent president. Adalet party leader Ilyas Ismailov, who is a former justice minister and prosecutor general, said that Usubov's statement represents "his personal opinion." LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS RUSSIAN STATE DUMA RESOLUTION...
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 7 March condemning as "a gross violation of international law" the resolution adopted the previous day by the Russian State Duma condemning the Georgian government's failure to prevent international terrorists from infiltrating the Pankisi Gorge and its rejection of Russian offers of assistance in countering that threat while accepting U.S. military aid (see "Russia"). The resolution expressed support for Georgia's territorial integrity, but reserved the right, "if relations [with Georgia] develop unfavorably," to consider the formal requests by the leaders of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for "associate membership" of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). The Georgian statement said the resolution "does not facilitate" the development of friendly relations between the two countries. LF

...WHILE PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS IT
President Eduard Shevardnadze on 6 March sought to downplay the significance of the Duma resolution, pointing out that he attaches weight only to pronouncements on bilateral relations by Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to those of other Russian political figures, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 6 March, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo met in Moscow with Georgian Ambassador Zurab Abashidze to discuss the situation in Pankisi. LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE VISITS GEORGIA
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaime Gama held talks in Tbilisi on 5-6 March with Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and President Shevardnadze, Russian and Georgian news agencies reported. Gama told Menagharishvili he is "dissatisfied" with Russia's failure to comply with the commitment it made at the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul to withdraw by 1 July 2001 from two military bases in Georgia. He also condemned the 2 March parliamentary elections in Abkhazia as not conducive to progress in the UN-mediated talks aimed at resolving the conflict. On 6 March, Gama traveled to the Georgian-Chechen border to meet with the OSCE monitors deployed there. LF

FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES U.S. WILL LAUNCH ATTACK ON IRAQ FROM GEORGIA
Speaking in Tbilisi on 6 March, Menagharishvili dismissed as "from the realm of science fiction" U.S. media reports that Georgia may make its military bases available to Washington for use in international airstrikes against Iraq, Russian media reported. LF

ABKHAZIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PREPARING NEW ATTACK
Abkhaz Security Service head Zurab Agumava accused Georgia on 6 March of preparing to kidnap members of the UN Observer Mission in Sukhum to create a pretext for an armed intervention in Abkhazia with the aid of the U.S., according to Apsnipress, as cited by Caucasus Press. Agumava claimed that the rationale for Georgia's request to the U.S. to help train an "antiterrorist" division is to launch a new full-scale war in Abkhazia. LF

COURT IN KAZAKHSTAN ORDERS INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER TO SUSPEND PUBLICATION
The Bostandyq district court in Almaty on 6 March ordered the independent newspaper "Nachnem s ponedelnika" to cease publication for three months due to its alleged failure to comply with the requirement that each issue indicate the paper's address and print run, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. On 1 March, "Nachnem s ponedelnika" hosted a talk show with former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who now heads the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). LF

SCHOOL BOYCOTT IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN CONTINUES...
The deputy head of the Aksy district council in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast admitted to an RFE/RL correspondent on 6 March that teaching in local schools has been disrupted by parents keeping their children at home to protest the arrest and trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). Oblast officials earlier denied that any such boycott is underway. LF

...AS SUPPORTERS OF ARRESTED KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY HOLD NEW DEMONSTRATIONS
Also on 6 March, some 80 residents of the village of Djalgyn in Djalalabad Oblast convened a meeting at which they drafted an appeal to the Kyrgyz leadership to release Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Some 100 people attended a similar meeting in the town of Naryn the same day at which they pledged their support for the January call by 12 parliament deputies for President Askar Akaev's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO GERMANY
President Akaev ended on 6 March a visit to Germany during which he met in Berlin with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Johannes Rau and traveled to Munich for talks with Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akaev also met in Berlin on 5 March with Federal Development Aid Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who pledged in a statement that Germany will continue to support the "difficult" process of economic reform in Kyrgyzstan, dpa reported on 6 March. The statement noted that Berlin earmarked 19 million euros ($16.4 million) in aid for Kyrgyzstan in 2001-2002, but did not mention any additional sum beyond that date. LF

U.S. PRESIDENT ACKNOWLEDGES TAJIK SUPPORT FOR ANTITERRORISM OPERATION
Franklin Huddle, who is the U.S. ambassador to Dushanbe, on 6 March conveyed to President Imomali Rakhmonov a message of thanks from U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for Dushanbe's support for the ongoing antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported. Huddle and Rakhmonov discussed economic cooperation and the situation in Afghanistan. Huddle told journalists after the meeting that the U.S. will provide additional aid to Tajikistan in the form of food, and for the irrigation and education sectors, and will help to build an unspecified number of bridges on the Tajik-Afghan border. LF

BELARUS TO SEEK MEMBERSHIP OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE?
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 6 March that Belarus sees the Council of Europe as "the most important partner in dialogue with the community of European states," Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka pledged that Belarus will make every effort to become a full-fledged member of the Council of Europe. "We are part of the European home," Lukashenka emphasized. JM

SENTENCING OF FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER'S SON SEEN AS POLITICAL REVENGE
United Civic Party head Anatol Lyabedzka commented on 6 March that the seven-year sentence handed down to Alyaksandr Chyhir for alleged car theft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002) is the authorities' revenge for the opposition activities of his father, former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, Belapan reported. According to Lyabedzka, Alyaksandr Chyhir may be considered another prisoner of conscience in Belarus. "For the past several years, our family has been living as if in the hands of a maniac," Alyaksandr's mother, Yuliya Chyhir, told the agency. In October 2000, Yuliya Chyhir received a two-year suspended prison term for putting up resistance to police. In 1999, Mikhail Chyhir spent five months in jail, and in May 2001 he received a three-year suspended prison term for abuse of power; the sentence was subsequently canceled by the Supreme Court and the case returned to a lower court. Mikhail Chyhir challenged Belarus's ruling regime in 1999 by participating as a candidate in the opposition-organized presidential elections. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES PRESIDENT OF INVOLVEMENT IN ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE
Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary parliamentary commission dealing with the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told the Verkhovna Rada on 7 March that the commission possesses materials testifying to President Leonid Kuchma's complicity in illegal arms trade, UNIAN reported. Zhyr said such information is on audio recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, adding that the authenticity of the audiotapes was confirmed by a recent U.S. expert examination (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 February 2002). Lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych proposed to give Zhyr's commission the right to deal with issues connected with Kuchma's impeachment, but deputies declined this proposal. Zhyr subsequently proposed that the parliament hold a special session on 12 March to discuss the situation in Ukraine in view of the fact that Melnychenko's tapes were confirmed as authentic, but lawmakers rejected this motion as well. JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIALIST PARTY WARNED OVER CAMPAIGN VIDEO
The Central Election Commission has warned the Socialist Party for broadcasting an election campaign video on Ukrainian Television on 21 February in which President Leonid Kuchma, presidential staff chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko were accused of involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze (see RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 February, and 1 March 2002), UNIAN reported. The commission said the video violated the constitutional right of every citizen to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a court ruling. The Socialist Party's video presented excerpts from Melnychenko's tapes, in which Kuchma, Lytvyn, and Kravchenko appear to discuss how to get rid of Gongadze. JM

CRIMEAN SPEAKER APPEALS AGAINST ELECTION DISQUALIFICATION
Crimean Supreme Council Chairman Leonid Hrach on 6 March said he has filed an appeal with the Crimean Court of Appeals against the decision of the Central District Court in Simferopol to rescind his registration as a Crimean parliamentary candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002), UNIAN reported. Speaking on ICTV Television the same day, Hrach said the annulment of his election registration in Crimea is an attempt at his "political assassination." ICTV reported that the work of the Crimean Election Commission has been paralyzed because of continuing sick leaves of five commission members, who are supporters of the Hrach-led Crimean Communist Party. Meanwhile, the acting head of Ukraine's Supreme Court, Volodymyr Stefanyuk, told UNIAN that the annulment of Hrach's registration as a candidate in Crimea cannot be rescinded by any authority, since the court decision on this was final and not subject to appeal. JM

UKRAINIAN TV STATION CLOSED AFTER BROADCASTING YUSHCHENKO'S ADDRESS
The Kanal-5 local television channel in Nikopol, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, has been closed after broadcasting an address by Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko on 2 March, the Our Ukraine press service reported on 6 March. Kanal-5 Director Kostyantyn Lyashchenko, who is running for Nikopol mayor, said Yushchenko was denied airtime on other channels, therefore he gave some of his own airtime for Yushchenko's address when Yushchenko was visiting Nikopol. Lyashchenko added that the local state electricity board unlawfully switched off the television company's transmitter on 5 March. JM

MEETING OF ESTONIAN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS
During the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in the Svetlogorsk resort in Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast on 6 March, Kristiina Ojuland and Igor Ivanov discussed ways to improve their countries' relations, ETA reported. The last meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries was in November 1996 in Petroskoye, northwestern Russia, where Siim Kallas and Yevgenii Primakov initialed a border agreement that has not yet been signed. Ivanov suggested that experts from the ministries should hold regular consultations and that Estonia should not regard Russia's statements about the situation of the Russian-speaking population as extortion. Ivanov accepted Ojuland's invitation to visit Estonia in the second half of the year. Ojuland raised the issue of Russia's higher tariffs on imports from Estonia, and noted that several agreements have been prepared that Estonia is ready to sign. She said the agreement regulating shipping on the Peipsi Lake and Pskov Lake will probably be the first one to be signed. SG

LATVIA'S PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS COURT SYSTEM NOT TOTALLY CORRUPTED
In an interview in the daily "Neatkariga Rita Avize" of 6 March, Janis Maizitis said that the prosecutions of prosecutors and policemen who have been found guilty of accepting bribes is an indication that the court system is "not totally corrupted." Nevertheless, he said that if even one prosecutor takes a bribe he is harming fellow prosecutors, because people will stereotype all of them as bribe takers. Maizitis claimed that the development of the court system has been hampered by a lack of political support, and that the government should make reform of the judicial system a top priority. He also noted that the investigation of complicated crimes carried out by officials in Latvia is marred by the lack of knowledgeable specialists in intelligence services. He also said Latvia's internal security will improve after the privatization process is completed. SG

FINNISH PRESIDENT SAYS LITHUANIA NEEDS AID TO CLOSE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Tarja Halonen began a two-day visit to Lithuania on 6 March with a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. Having visited Lithuania 11 years ago, she said she beheld "the same beauty [Lithuania] wearing a new dress, with nicely done hair, but with the same heart." She expressed support for Lithuania's efforts to join the EU and NATO, and noted that the Baltic region needs a common energy strategy as no state there possesses large natural resources for energy production. Halonen told a later press conference that Lithuania needs considerable financial aid to close the nuclear power plant at Ignalina, but it has the sovereign right to have a nuclear industry. Halonen was scheduled to meet parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas on 7 March. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT IN GERMANY
On his first official visit to Germany on 6 March, President Aleksander Kwasniewski met with German President Johannes Rau and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, PAP reported. Both German statesmen assured Kwasniewski of their support for Poland's aspirations to be in the first group of newly admitted EU members. Speaking at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation later the same day, Kwasniewski suggested that Germany and Poland need to reject an "advocate-client" model in mutual relations and switch to a new stage in which the two countries could become political partners in discussing regional and European issues. Kwasniewski also said new EU members will need as much "solidarity" from the EU's current 15 states as those states are now enjoying among themselves. Otherwise, he argued, a new West-East split may occur in the enlarged EU along the German-Polish border. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC LEADER WILL RESIGN IN CASE OF ELECTORAL FAILURE
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla said on 6 March that he will resign as CSSD head if the party loses the June parliamentary elections, CTK reported. Spidla will head the CSSD lists and is to inherit from Milos Zeman the position of premier in the event of an electoral victory. In November 2001, his chief rival, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus, also said he would step down as party leader if the OSD were to lose the election. Spidla also said he wants to discuss with the ODS the termination of their so-called "opposition agreement" before the June ballot. MS

EUROPEAN CONSERVATIVES WANT 'MATTER-OF-FACT' DEBATE ON BENES DECREES...
Members of the strongest parliamentary group in the European Parliament on 6 March called for a "matter-of-fact debate" on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. The European People's Party (EPD-ED) deputies said it is in the interest of "both sides" to assess whether the decrees are now putting some EU members at a "legal disadvantage." They said the EU membership criteria do not allow for any "discrimination" among citizens of member states stemming from "national legislation." EPD-ED parliamentary group Chairman Hans-Gert Poettering told the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 6 March that "No one must be discriminated against in the EU, which the Czech Republic is expected to join in 2004." MS

...AND FORESEE 'COMPLICATIONS' WITH CZECH EU ACCESSION
Juergen Schroeder, who is also a member of the EPD-ED and European Parliament rapporteur for the Czech Republic, on 6 March told Prague's German-language "Prager Zeitung" that in the "hypothetical case" that some decrees are found by the EU experts to "include injustice" and the Czechs persist in their refusal to declared them invalid, "the timetable for the Czech Republic's accession to the EU may be postponed." Schroeder added that "the Czech Republic naturally belongs to the EU, but not under the leadership of people such as Klaus, Social Democrat Premier Milos Zeman, and the like." MS

DOUBTS EMERGE OVER CZECH POLICE OFFICIAL'S VETTING...
Jitka Smidova, a member of the National Security Office (NBU) board, resigned from the NBU on 6 March, CTK reported. According to Czech television, Smidova had opposed the vetting of Deputy Police Chief Vaclav Jakubik last December. Jakubik supervises the elite squads of Czech police. He was cleared only one day before the 10th and last-possible "exceptional term" for his vetting expired. The vetting grants him access to classified information. The weekly "Respekt" wrote in January 2001 that Jakubik was until recently a business partner of a former communist spy, and that his appointment has raised many doubts in Western countries. In October 2001, German and U.S. police demanded that Jakubik be excluded as "unreliable" from tripartite talks with the Czech police. NBU spokeswoman Alena Cechova said the NBU is considering suing Smidova for "endangering secret data and spreading false alarm." MS

...BUT PRIME MINISTER IS UNCONCERNED
Prime Minister Zeman said the controversy around Jakubik's vetting "cannot damage the reputation of the Czech Republic" among its NATO allies, CTK reported. Zeman said NATO has carried out five in-depth probes of the NBU and "each inspection resulted in an excellent evaluation." Former Interior Minister Jan Ruml, on the other hand, said on the BBC that the NBU is a "state within a state," being an institution uncontrollable from outside and whose performance is "dubious." MS

'RESPEKT' EDITOR APPEALS TO OMBUDSMAN
Milan Holub, editor in chief of the weekly "Respekt," announced on 6 March that he will take his dispute with the cabinet to the country's ombudsman, CTK reported. Holub said he will recommend a change in the law to protect the freedom of speech. After "Respekt" claimed earlier this year that the cabinet has failed to tackle corruption and is itself corrupt, Prime Minister Zeman responded by threatening a barrage of lawsuits for slander, saying he wanted to force "Respekt" out of business. The government later chose to file criminal charges instead. Holub has filed countersuits, but both cases were eventually dismissed by police. MS

CZECH AMBASSADOR TO NATO WARNS AGAINST MECIAR'S RETURN...
Czech Ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda told TASR on 6 March that "for some NATO countries, [former Prime Minister Vladimir] Meciar's presence in the next Slovak government would help them vote against Slovakia's bid" to join the organization. He added that for several countries, the presence of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) even without Meciar in the next coalition would be sufficient grounds to veto the bid. Kovanda said he does not believe the HZDS has changed by any considerable extent over the last few years, adding that NATO representatives will wonder to what extent they can believe the declarations of the HZDS on its allegedly changed positions. He said the Czech Republic "wants Slovakia in NATO," but that he is "not sure" that Prague would back the Slovak candidacy "under any circumstances." MS

...AS DOES NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Marius Meckel, deputy chairman of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, said in a lecture at the Defense Ministry in Bratislava on 6 March that Slovakia will not be invited to join NATO if Meciar becomes its next premier, CTK reported, citing Radio Twist. MS

HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS MAKE OFFICIAL OFFER TO FIDESZ...
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka on 6 March officially offered to the governing FIDESZ a "fair and open agreement," whereby MIEP would withdraw candidates in more than 100 constituencies in favor of FIDESZ before the second round of next month's elections, in exchange for FIDESZ's reciprocation in 10-20 constituencies, Hungarian media reported. Csurka said it is the "moral duty" of MIEP members and voters to support the "national forces" in the elections and prevent a return to power of the Socialists and the Free Democrats. The MIEP Governing Board and its parliamentary group separately issued a statement saying that if the next government is formed with MIEP support, it will have to implement the MIEP program "proportional to the party's parliamentary support." MS

...PROMPTING EXPECTED REACTIONS
The FIDESZ National Board said in response to Csurka's offer that in view of the government's positive four-year record, and judging by the support candidates of FIDESZ and its allies receive in collecting "recommendation slips," it expects to win an outright parliamentary majority. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said Csurka's offer shows that "as of now, the choice in the elections is between freedom, democracy, and the rule of law as opposed to a far-right dictatorship." He also said the "hide-and-seek" game played by FIDESZ with MIEP "has ended." Free Democratic Party Chairman Gabor Kuncze said Hungary will not be able to join Europe if its next government is based on cooperation between FIDESZ and MIEP, whose set of values are "not European." MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES OPPOSITION'S STAND ON FOREIGN POLICY
Viktor Orban, speaking on his regular weekly broadcast on Hungarian radio on 6 March, said the opposition is jeopardizing important interests of the entire Hungarian nation in its electoral campaign. He exemplified by addressing the issue of the Benes Decrees, saying the Socialists wish to create the impression that they have "no problems" with those decrees. The decrees, Orban added, have "no place in the EU's future." Also on 6 March, Orban told an economic forum in Budapest that the country's future economic policy must reflect its "national characteristics." He said that Europe's postwar reconstruction demonstrated that the state must play a role and be involved in investing in economic development. Among the "national characteristics" that Hungary should take advantage of, Orban mentioned its geographical location at a trading crossroads and improving trade relations with neighbors, particularly Romania and Croatia. MS

SMALLHOLDERS' LEADER TO FACE ELECTION AFTER ELECTIONS
Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Joszef Torgyan will call for party presidential elections within 60 days after the parliamentary elections, FKGP Secretary-General Geza Gyimothy, cited by "Magyar Hirlap," said on 6 March. MS

STEINER TELLS SERBIA: KOSOVA IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS
Michael Steiner, who is the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told Serbian Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Prishtina on 6 March that the Belgrade authorities have no right to interfere in Kosova's affairs, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). Steiner added that he will talk directly with members of the Serbian minority's Povratak (Return) coalition about their role in the government and not with Belgrade, as Covic has demanded. Steiner stressed that "Prishtina is not Belgrade and Belgrade is not Prishtina. This means that I will not [meddle] in Belgrade affairs and Belgrade will not [meddle] in Prishtina affairs. This is for me the red line concerning cooperation." Covic nonetheless called a meeting with Povratak leaders for 7 March -- in Belgrade. PM

U.S. DENIES REPORTS OF ALLEGED MACEDONIAN TERRORIST HANDOVER
On 7 March, the U.S. Embassy in Skopje denied reports in "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" that the Macedonian authorities have handed over some alleged terrorist suspects to the U.S., RFE/RL reported. The two Jordanians and two Bosnians were allegedly turned over two weeks ago. "The Washington Post" suggested that recent revelations in Skopje about reputed Islamic terrorists "dovetail too neatly with [what some observers] call a desire by parts of the Macedonian government to demonize the country's ethnic Albanian minority" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). PM

EU CALLS ON MACEDONIA TO ALLOW INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
Brussels has appealed to the Macedonian authorities for an independent investigation of their recent claim that their forces killed seven "Islamic terrorists," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). EU spokeswoman Irena Guzelova said: "There is still a lot of inconsistency surrounding this case. A lot of things need to be clarified. Who were these seven people who were killed? What were they doing in Macedonia? Where did they come from? Did they have any local support? None of this can be clarified until there is independent forensic access to the bodies." PM

SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN TALKS ENTERING FINAL STRETCH?
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 6 March that he expects that talks between Serbia and Montenegro on their future relations will be concluded by 15 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that "details of an agreement and the text of a new constitution" will require one or two more months to finalize. Igor Luksic, a spokesman for Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said in Podgorica that the focus is now on economic issues. He added that Montenegro wants to ensure a liberalized customs system, a foreign trade policy that is up to international standards, and the euro as its currency. Montenegro has introduced the euro to replace its former currency, the German mark, even though it does not formally belong to the euro zone. The government argues that to go from the euro to the Yugoslav dinar or a new currency would be a step backward. PM

BIG BELGRADE BANK ROBBERY
An 18-year-old driver sped off on 6 March in a van with $4.8 million in euros, AP reported. He had driven the van to a garage where bank workers began to unload it for the private Delta Bank. Police guards stood by and watched as the driver took off with his loot in one of the biggest Serbian bank robberies in years. "I wonder what the police will say about this," the bank's spokeswoman wondered. "We have been paying the police a huge amount of money for security -- and they sat and watched." Meanwhile, police officials blamed the bank employees for the driver's escape, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER: GOVERNMENT CRISIS NOT SOLVED
Ivica Racan said in Zagreb that it will take longer than he expected to sort out the composition of the new, reshuffled cabinet, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). He added that a solution may not be in sight and that early elections are still a possibility. Racan said that Social Liberal leader Drazen Budisa walked out of a meeting of coalition leaders just as the discussion turned to Budisa's future role in the cabinet. Budisa left without giving a reason for his departure, Racan added. PM

DID SFOR IGNORE CROATIAN TIP-OFFS ON KARADZIC?
The Rijeka daily "Novi List" wrote that the Croatian Information Service told SFOR three separate times in the past two months of the precise location of Radovan Karadzic on Bosnian Serb territory, but that SFOR took no action, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 6 March. In related news, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Paris that recent reports that a French officer betrayed NATO attempts to catch Karadzic "lack any and all foundation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 March 2002). PM

CROATIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CONFIRMS CHARGES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN ARMY
Jozo Rados said in Zagreb on 6 March that "one officer on two occasions verbally harassed two women on the staff," dpa reported. The officer has been suspended and disciplined. This is the first admission by a Croatian defense minister of sexual harassment in the military, but it is widely believed that the few cases reported are only the tip of an iceberg. PM

FORMER LEADER DEMANDS THAT GREATER ROMANIA PARTY BE OUTLAWED
Ilie Neacsu, a former deputy chairman of the Greater Romania Party (PRM), announced on 6 March that jointly with "parliamentary deputies and civic organizations" he will seek the outlawing of the PRM, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Before doing so, Neacsu said, he will first sue PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor for "calumny." He said the PRM must be outlawed for disseminating "fascist propaganda and racial hatred." Neacsu said he will present in court a U.S. State Department report that defines the PRM as "extremist" because of the identity of its leader. PRM First Deputy Chairman Corneliu Ciontu said in response that Neacsu "forgets that he was the editor in chief of a publication considered to be anti-Semitic in the same State Department report." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES CONSULTATIONS WITH POLITICAL PARTIES
Ion Iliescu on 6 March received representatives of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Party, the Romanian Humanist Party, and parties representing minorities other than Hungarian, to discuss the proposed constitutional amendments, the struggle against corruption, and current economic problems, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu told Iliescu that the best indication of willingness to act against corruption would be to dismiss members of the government suspected of illicit deals, naming Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Agriculture Minister Ilie Sarbu, Government Secretary Serban Mihailescu, and Transportation Minister Miron Mitrea among them. MS

CROATIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: THE EU HAS MISSED THE BOAT
Ivo Sanader, who heads the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), told Vienna's "Die Presse" on 7 March that the EU has missed a series of unspecified opportunities in the Balkans. He added that the Stability Pact -- which is a chiefly but not exclusively EU-sponsored clearinghouse for development projects -- has brought Croatia "nothing." Sanader stressed that Croatia wants to join both the EU and NATO, but added that the EU will remain subordinated to the U.S. unless it develops a truly unified and effective foreign and security policy. Sanader is in Vienna for meetings with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and leaders of his Austrian People's Party (OVP). PM

CLUJ MAYOR REFUSES TO PUT UP BILINGUAL SIGNS
Gheorghe Funar said on 6 March that he cannot comply with a government ordinance that bilingual signs be put up prior to the census scheduled to take place later this month, Mediafax reported. The ordinance stipulates that such signs must be displayed in localities where national minorities make up 20 percent or more of the population. Funar, who is also PRM secretary-general, said he can "give assurances" that the census results will show that Hungarians in Cluj make up less than 20 percent of the town's population, adding that "the census is organized by the mayor, and I assure you we shall make no mistakes in counting." Earlier the same day, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania demanded that Funar be sanctioned for refusing to respect the 7 March deadline for the ordinance's implementation. MS

STEINER DEFENDS KOSOVA PRIME MINISTER AGAINST SERBIAN CHARGES
Speaking in Prishtina on 6 March, Steiner said he knows of nothing to substantiate Covic's recent charges that Kosova Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi was involved in atrocities against Serbs in the 1999 Kosova conflict, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Rexhepi said that the charges were made "in order to block the further development of the democratic institutions, to cause a delay. If there are arguments against me, I'll be here to face them." He is a surgeon who served as a field doctor with the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, SOME TRADE UNIONS SIGN 'SOCIAL PACT'
Representatives of the government, employers, and three out of Romania's five largest trade unions have signed a "social pact" agreement for the year 2002, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 6 March. The agreement provides for a 25 percent increase of minimum wages, a 4 percent hike in real wages, and the creation of 100,000 new jobs. The Cartel Alfa and the National Syndicate Bloc refused to sign the pact, accusing the government of having failed to respect the stipulations of last year's agreement. MS

TROUBLED ROMANIAN BANK'S LICENSE REVOKED
The National Bank announced on 6 March that it has revoked the license of the troubled Romanian Bank of Loans and has started bankruptcy procedures, Romanian radio reported. The fraud at the bank is estimated at some $19.2 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 16, 17, and 29 January 2002). MS

ROMANIAN SENATE COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE PRIVATIZATION DEAL
The Standing Bureau of the Romanian Senate on 6 March approved setting up an ad hoc commission to investigate the privatization of the RAFO Onesti refinery. The demand was initiated by the Democratic Party and supported by a total of 55 senators from that party, the PNL, and the PRM. RAFO Onesti was privatized when a Romanian-Portuguese consortium acquired a 59.9 percent stake for $7.48 million and pledged to invest $80 million into the company. The consortium also took over the company's $20 million debt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN TELEVISION SHUTS UP PROTESTING JOURNALISTS
The management of Moldova state television on 5 March forbade journalists to broadcast images from the ongoing protests in Chisinau, Infotag reported. When the news announcer attempted to read the text of the station's report on the protests, audio was cut off and the broadcast was interrupted. After being restored, the announcer attempted to read out the text of a protest by journalists against President Vladimir Voronin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002), whereupon audio transmission was again cut. Some 4,000 employees at Teleradio Moldova are continuing what they call a "Japanese strike." They are performing their duties but have declared that they are on strike and are wearing white armbands to demonstrate the labor action. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS PRIVATIZATION LAW...
President Georgi Parvanov on 6 March vetoed the privatization and post-privatization control act, which was adopted on 21 February, BTA reported. It is the first law returned by the new president since he took office in January. As Nikolai Genov, the president's secretary for social policy, pointed out, "the motives for the veto are of a social nature." According to Parvanov's official explanation for the veto, important points of the privatization process are not regulated by the act. He reasoned that it is unacceptable that guarantees for foreign investors and Bulgarian entrepreneurs would be reduced by the act. "I cannot but return the act for further consideration, because it eliminates important social and economic rights of the Bulgarian people," Parvanov said. UB

...AND PREPARES JOINT STRATEGY WITH TRADE UNIONS
"Only cooperation among the pertinent institutions and improvement of legislation will combat poverty," President Parvanov said after meeting with the leaders of Bulgaria's main trade unions, the KNSB and KT Podkrepa, "Standart" reported on 7 March. "Today Bulgaria is in a worse economic situation than one year ago," Zhelyazko Kristov, the leader of the KNSB trade union declared after the meeting. According to the newspaper, the president and the trade unions will coordinate their efforts to ease social tensions in the country. UB

NO KARABAKH PEACE DEAL LIKELY BEFORE ELECTIONS IN ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN


The U.S., Russian, and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group presented their new "practical ideas" to Armenian President Robert Kocharian in Vienna last week. However, no clear sign emerged from the meeting whether the Armenian leader accepted or rejected them. U.S. mediator Rudolf Perina said only "I think we can just say it was a very good meeting." Armenian officials were equally vague. "We agreed that the co-chairmen will activate their efforts. Today I cannot underline any practical result," Kocharian commented.

In the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks, the three chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks announced that they would redouble their efforts to find a swift solution to the conflict, confident that after Armenia and Azerbaijan offered their support and help in the war against terror, the prospects of peace in the region would improve. In fact, both Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and his Armenian counterpart Kocharian echoed the co-chairs' optimism.

But the potential for cooperation that emerged in the aftermath of 11 September between the two South Caucasus republics proved short-lived, and both leaders soon changed their tone. Claiming that Azerbaijan is also a victim of terror, politicians in Baku began portraying the Armenian population of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as in league with international terrorism. Last month, Azerbaijan's parliamentary delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was lobbying European lawmakers to pass a resolution calling Nagorno-Karabakh a "breeding ground" for international terrorism and urging the international community to expand the fight against terror to encompass Nagorno-Karabakh. President Aliev himself accused Armenians of being part of the international terrorism network during a panel discussion on the security of South Caucasus at the World Economic Forum in New York in January-February.

President Aliev's visit to Moscow in January and his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was perceived by many in Baku as another boost for the Azerbaijani negotiating position in an ongoing competition with Armenia for Russia's backing. The two presidents announced their shared intention of elevating relations between their countries to the level of a "strategic partnership." Describing his visit to Moscow as a diplomatic success, Aliev predicted that improved relations with Moscow would weaken Armenia's unique position as the only military ally of Russia in the region and thus would make Russia's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict more favorable toward Azerbaijan.

The Armenian leadership in turn toughened its position, saying that Nagorno-Karabakh has never been and will never be a part of Azerbaijan. In all his recent comments on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, President Kocharian has unequivocally ruled out any solution that would restore Baku's territorial control over the enclave. "Nagorno-Karabakh has never been part of Azerbaijan and never will be. This is the bottom line. Beyond it one can think of some solutions and invent new statuses," Kocharian said last month.

Then came the 78-year-old Aliev's unexpected surgery last month in the U.S., which had a major impact on the negotiating process. Concern over Aliev's health could have been one of the reasons of why the three co-chairman unexpectedly traveled from Washington, Moscow, and Paris to Vienna to meet with Kocharian, who was on an official two-day visit to Austria.

Although fears about Aliev's health subsided after his return to Baku, uncertainty over who will succeed him as president in the elections scheduled for October 2003 remains a major concern not only for the U.S., Russian and French mediators, but also for the Armenian President. Aliev believes that a swift solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in which Azerbaijan does not make major concessions would help his son Ilham to succeed him, and he wants to expedite the signing of a peace deal in part precisely for that reason. However, there is no clear sign that any future Azerbaijani president, whether powerful oil-magnate Ilham Aliev, or any other candidate, would honor and implement a peace agreement signed by his predecessor.

But Kocharian too is by no means certain to win his bid for re-election in March 2003. According to the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, although Kocharian has retained the upper hand in Armenian politics, "the lack of a solid support base is expected to weaken his position over the next year."

Brought to the power as a strongman who successfully won the war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharian would certainly risk losing his re-election bid if he agrees to make concessions to his Azerbaijani counterpart. And in fact he left no doubt in his early pre-election campaign statements that he will not accept any proposed solution that would jeopardize Nagorno-Karabakh's independence. "Armenia supports Nagorno-Karabakh's desire to become an independent republic. There is a perfect legal ground for that," Kocharian said during a joint press conference with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster in Bratislava last week.

This week, the OSCE co-chairmen will meet both Aliev and Kocharian on their home turf. But the hope of a breakthrough or progress in the peace process is fading quickly as election year nears for both leaders, and a genuine compromise for the sake of peace could become an easy target for opposition candidates who will not hesitate to label the compromise deal as a "sellout" of Nagorno-Karabakh.Harry Tamrazian is deputy director of RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

XS
SM
MD
LG