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Newsline - March 8, 2002


RUSSIA AND EU NEGOTIATE ON STEEL QUOTAS...
Moscow and the European Union are negotiating a deal to boost Russian steel exports to the EU market over the next three years, AFP reported on 8 March. The accord aims to increase the amount of Russian steel exported to Europe by 28 percent this year, and by an additional 2.5 percent each subsequent year, according to Maksim Medvedkov, Russia's deputy minister for economic development. The accord is due to be signed in April and would take effect in June. Both Russia and the EU have voiced opposition to U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to introduce tariffs of up to 30 percent on steel imports to the U.S. over the next three years. The tariffs could cost the Russian economy as much as $1.5 billion over the next three years, Russian Chamber of Trade and Industry President Yevgenii Primakov told ITAR-TASS on 7 March. BW

...AS U.S. VETERINARY OFFICIALS' VISAS DELAYED
Negotiations between Washington and Moscow over a planned ban on U.S. poultry imports hit a snag on 8 March when Russian officials delayed granting visas to a delegation of U.S. government veterinary experts, AFP reported. Jim Sumner, president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, said the same day that the delegation should have already arrived in Moscow, but the Russian Embassy in Washington delayed their visas. Russia's deputy agriculture minister, Sergei Dankvert, said on 6 March that Moscow decided to ban all imports of U.S. poultry beginning on 10 March on health grounds. Dankvert denied the move was in retaliation for Washington's decision to impose tariffs on most steel imported to the U.S. BW

WOMEN GET HOLIDAY BREAK FROM TRAFFIC FINES...
In honor of the 8 March International Women's Day holiday, female drivers in the city of Yekaterinburg will be free from traffic fines, ITAR-TASS reported. During the holiday, police in the city will hand out flowers and perfume to women who violate traffic rules. The Union of Russian Women, meanwhile, is calling upon their female compatriots to defend rights, the agency reported on 8 March. The group is launching a signature drive to protest the plight of women in Russia. "Given low salaries in Russia in general, women are paid even 30 percent less on average than men," said Alevtiya Fedulova, the head of the Union of Russian Women. Unemployment among Russian women is 8.5 percent, Interfax reported the same day. The group plans to gather signatures over the next six months and turn them over to the Russian government on 17 October, when international day of the struggle for elimination of poverty will be observed. BW

...AS PUTIN LAMENTS LACK OF WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
President Vladimir Putin criticized the low representation of women among Russia's political elite, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March. "The extent of freedom and democracy of society is judged by the position of women in society," Putin said. "Regrettably, we have very few women in power structures in Russia, and we have many problems in this field." Women occupy only 10 percent of the positions in Putin's Kremlin administration. BW

BEREZOVSKY'S WITNESS PROVIDES MORE DETAILS ON FSB INVOLVEMENT
Nikita Chekulin, the Russian government's former expert on explosives, said on 7 March that, as a former secret informer of the Federal Security Service (FSB), he initially did not believe embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky's claims that the FSB was involved in terrorist explosions in Russia in the fall of 1999, "Gazeta" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 March 2002). However, during his work in 2000 in the government's center for experimenting with explosives, Chekulin changed his mind because he ascertained the facts and saw documents that confirmed Berezovsky's accusations. VY

PRIMAKOV REITERATES OFFER TO DEFEND MILOSEVIC
Chamber of Trade and Industry President Primakov, who was Russia's prime minister during NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, repeated his willingness to testify on behalf of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague war crimes tribunal, gazeta.ru reported on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). Primakov told reporters he is ready to testify regarding the role Milosevic played in the Bosnia and Kosova conflicts in the 1990s. "I can testify to the positive role of Milosevic. It was not the negative role they are trying to ascribe to him at the trial," Primakov said. "I am not testifying in defense of anybody. I am speaking out against the court becoming a political kangaroo court. I can testify to what role Milosevic played in those episodes in which I took a direct part," he said. Moscow staunchly supported Milosevic throughout NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia but eventually helped negotiate Belgrade's withdrawal from its ethnic Albanian Kosova province. Primakov, who was flying to the United States when bombing began, turned his plane back and cancelled his trip in protest. BW

TV-6 JOURNALISTS BELIEVE MANY OLIGARCHS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
The Media Ministry announced on 7 March that it has received a letter from Channel Six, the company founded by TV-6 journalists, informing the ministry that it is withdrawing its application from the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Channel Six said that it has joined with Media-Sotsium, which was founded by Arkadii Volskii's Union of Russian Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and Primakov's Chamber for Trade and Industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). When asked about mechanisms to safeguard the freedom of editorial policy, former TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev said that "full mutual understanding" was reached on all the necessary judicial and legal safeguards to protect editorial policy at the very beginning of negotiations. JAC

DOES STATE SEEK TO REGAIN CONTROL OVER 'IZVESTIYA'?
The Kremlin is claiming that the brand name of the daily newspaper "Izvestiya" is a federal asset and should not be owned by a private company, "Vremya novostei" reported on 7 March. Although Kremlin spokesman Viktor Khrekov told reporters on 6 March that the government does not plan to take over the brand name, the issue has raised fears that the state may seek to take over the popular daily. The government already controls the leading national television channels, radio stations, and publishing houses. What can prevent it from regaining control over "Izvestiya?" asked "Vremya novostei." VY

PRO-KREMLIN GROUPS IN DUMA TRY TO TRIM SELEZNEV'S POWER
State Duma Regulations Committee Chairman (Unity) Oleg Kovalev announced on 7 March that a group of "centrist" deputies has introduced amendments to Article 13 of the Duma's standing orders, which would deprive the lower chamber's speaker of a decisive vote in the Duma Council, ITAR-TASS reported. Kovalev said that the amendments are necessary because the current allotment of votes in the Duma Council "does not correspond in full measure with the political situation in the Duma." He said that because State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev is a member of the Communist faction, that faction essentially gets two votes, "which isn't right." Kovalev predicted that the full Duma will consider the proposed amendments at the end of March. JAC

RUSSIA MIGHT KEEP WARHEADS
A top Russian military official said Moscow will consider retaining its arsenal of multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) if strategic arms reduction talks with the United States fail. Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, the first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, made the comments to reporters in Moscow on March 5, saying if Moscow fails to reach an agreement with Washington to reduce the number of strategic offensive weapons, Moscow would keep the MIRVs in its arsenal. Baluevskii also said Moscow will insist that all nuclear warheads dismantled as a result of the pending agreement be destroyed, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported the same day. Washington has suggested that the warheads be stored rather than destroyed. Baluevskii also expressed doubts that the U.S. would be able to develop and deploy a National Missile Defense in the near future. VY

EURASIA LEADER CIRCLES THE WAGONS AGAINST 'ILL INTENTIONS OF THE WEST'
In an online question-and-answer session on the smi.ru website on 7 March, Aleksandr Dugin, the leader of the Eurasia political movement, said he believes the West has evil intentions toward Russia and that the country should mobilize to resist it. "All direct [anti-Western] strategies including [attempts] to restore [the old regime] and opposition [to reforms] have failed tragically and must find another form of resistance," Dugin wrote. He reiterated his previous statements that Eurasianists support President Putin's foreign policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002), but added that Putin is "hostage to the unfavorable external and internal correlation of forces, and therefore his policy...cannot be successful." VY

RUSSIAN PREMIER PICKS UP DELYAGIN AS HIS ECONOMIC ADVISER
Mikhail Kasyanov has appointed Mikhail Delyagin, the 34-year-old director of the Institute of Globalization and an ardent critic of the economic policies of Kasyanov's cabinet, as his economic adviser, Russian news agencies reported on 7 March. Delyagin began his career as an analyst working for former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, and later worked on Boris Yeltsin's presidential staff as the chief specialist in the Analytical Department. He has also served as an economic consultant for such politically different figures as former Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov, Yurii Maslyukov, Nikolai Aksenenko, and Anatolii Kulikov, and former Prime Minister Primakov. Sharp-minded and erudite, Delyagin has authored a book, "Practice of Globalization," and many articles critical of the Western attitude toward Russia. He is also known as an opponent of Andrei Illarionov, President Putin's economic adviser. VY

RUSSIA DOESN'T WANT TO CHANGE FORMAT OF KURILE ISLANDS TALKS WITH JAPAN
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 7 March that Moscow rejects any new approach in tackling the issue of the disputed Kurile Islands, including the proposed idea to first solve the fate of just two of the islands and then the rest, Interfax reported. "We are trying to understand what Tokyo wants, to solve the problem in essence or introduce a new format for discussion," he said. "Russia wants to debate the fate of all the islands at once and believes that a new format for the talks will not overcome the differences in positions of the two sides," the Russian diplomat added. VY

WILL KREMLIN MAKE OVERTURE TO VATICAN?
Polit.ru commented on 7 March that, contrary to popular opinion, President Putin is determined to extend an offer to Pope John Paul II to visit Moscow and has reportedly told Russian Orthodox Church leaders last January there will be a papal visit with or without their consent. The news website said that although Patriarch Aleksii II and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church are not pleased with being squeezed by the Vatican and the Kremlin, such a position gives the patriarch a very good bargaining chip in relation to the Russian government. Should Aleksii II finally agree to take a more neutral stance on a papal visit, polit.ru speculated, he could demand some very substantial concessions. VY

MOSCOW POLICE BUST SLAVE RING
Moscow's Anti-Organized Crime Task Force has broken up a slave-trade ring, allegedly run out of the Russian capital's bustling Kazan Railway station, Interfax reported on 8 March. A group of about 15 to 20 men from Uzbekistan and Russia's Tatarstan Republic were abducting people arriving in Moscow in search of work and selling them as cheap labor to foremen at construction companies, Interfax reported, citing unidentified police sources. BW

NEW AMBASSADOR TO BE SENT TO NOVOSIBIRSK TO OVERSEE REGIONAL FOREIGN POLICY...
A branch of the Foreign Ministry is being established in Novosibirsk, the capital of the Siberian federal district, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii announced on 7 March. The head of the mission will have the rank of ambassador and will "orchestrate the expansion of relations between regions and neighboring countries, such as China," ITAR-TASS reported. According to Drachevskii, "quite a few border problems have accumulated in this sphere." JAC

...AS ENVOY RAISES QUESTION OF MERGER...
Drachevskii, who was visiting the Ust-Ordinskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug on 7 March, also commented on proposals that the okrug should be absorbed into neighboring Irkutsk Oblast, regions.ru reported. According to Drachevskii, such a merger should be undertaken only if the populations of the two regions agree. "This step should be painstakingly thought out and considered," he added. According to APN, he also said that "so far there is no defined plan for a merger and no analysis of the costs and benefits of such a step." Last April, the head of the okrug, Valentin Maleev, spoke in favor of a merger with Irkutsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2001). JAC

...AND SENATOR SUGGESTS RETHINKING STATUS OF AUTONOMOUS OKRUGS
Meanwhile, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 March, Aleksandr Nazarov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Issues of the North, declared that liquidating all of the autonomous okrugs would trigger a "political collision," and that the status of autonomous okrugs needs to be "examined within the parameters of the federal Constitution." He said that the autonomous okrugs need to find a way to preserve their languages and their cultures, but at the same time they must build up their economic relations. "Of course, to preserve the [ethnic] minorities, the autonomous [okrugs] should exist. But at the same time, the form of their existence should not cause damage to the federation," he concluded. JAC

SAKHA POLITICAL OFFICIALS SAYS THEY HAVE DONE ENOUGH WITH CONSTITUTION...
At a press conference in Yakutsk, the speaker of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic's upper house, Vasilii Filippov, acknowledged that he and his colleague have not gotten rid of all the inconsistencies between the republican constitution and the federal constitution, Interfax reported. In particular, deputies did not agree to exclude the requirement that speakers of both chambers in the republican legislature must have mastery of both Yakut and Russian language. However, President Vyacheslav Shtyrov declared on 7 March that the republican legislators have removed "practically all" of the conflicts between the republican constitution and its federal counterpart, and he thinks that the republican prosecutor's recommendation that the parliament be dissolved would be "politically inappropriate" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). JAC

...AND TATARSTAN DOES THE SAME
Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told visiting U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow on 7 March that there will be no further serious changes in the bill amending Tatarstan's Constitution since it has already been passed in its first reading, Interfax reported. Shaimiev explained that it is necessary that Russia remain a federal government and not become a unitary one. On 6 March, Vershbow declared that Russia's future depends on the development of its regions, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Vershbow also said that the potential for cooperation, particularly in trade and economic sectors, between the U.S. and Tatarstan has not yet been exhausted. He added that the U.S. is interested in the way that federative relations are arranged in Russia during President Putin's tenure, and in how people in territorial entities evaluate these relations. According to Interfax, Vershbow also noted the tolerance that exists between different ethnic groups in the republic, and expressed his desire that people from the Islamic world such as students from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come to Kazan to learn "from your example of how to live in the world." JAC

CONFLICT BETWEEN NORILSK NICKEL AND KRASNOYARSK CONTINUES
Legislators in Krasnoyarsk Krai gathered for an emergency meeting on 6 March at which they ratified an agreement about interbudgetary relations between the krai and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. However, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed recalled his signature from the document. Taimyr authorities have recently objected to the fact that all tax revenues from the city of Norilsk flow to Krasnoyarsk Krai's budget rather than the okrug, despite the fact that Norilsk is located in the okrug. Under the new budget agreement, 60 percent of the revenues would flow to Taimyr and 40 percent to the krai's budget. Krasnoyarsk would be left not only with a smaller share but also one from a shrinking pot because of last year's drop in world prices for copper, nickel, and palladium. Meanwhile, krai legislators held off on sending an appeal to President Putin to resolve the situation, and have instead directed Governor Lebed to seek a solution with Taimyr during the first half of 2002. JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE MEETS WITH DEL PONTE
Akhmed Zakaev, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative, met on 7 March in The Hague with Carla Del Ponte, who is the international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Interfax reported. According to Zakaev, they discussed "the situation in Chechnya, particularly the human rights violations and military crimes that are currently taking place there." LF

ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES DENOUNCE CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST NEWSPAPER EDITOR
Representatives of Armenia's major parliamentary parties on 7 March criticized the criminal case for libel brought against Nicol Pashinian, editor of the newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Pashinian is accused of slandering Hovhannes Yeritsian, head of the Armenian civil aviation agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). On 6 March, the National Press Club appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office to drop the case against Pashinian, an outspoken critic of the government's new draft media law, which he denounced last month as "the declaration of a legal war against the mass media." Also on 6 March, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said the government will not withdraw the draft bill but is ready to hold discussions with journalists on amending it to ensure that "it will satisfy everyone," Noyan Tapan reported. LF

TURKISH-ARMENIAN RECONCILIATION COMMISSION PRONOUNCED DEFUNCT
The bilateral commission established last year to promote a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey will not resume its work, Arminfo as cited by Groong reported on 7 March, quoting former Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Ross Vartian. Following a meeting of the commission in November, its four Armenian members said no further such talks would be held because the Turkish representatives had unilaterally instructed a New York-based human rights organization not to proceed with a planned study of whether the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide is applicable to the 1915 Armenian genocide. Turkish representatives said in January, however, that they believed the reconciliation effort could be salvaged (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 41, 13 December 2001, and Vol. 5, No. 3, 17 January 2002). LF

ARMENIAN POLITICIAN CALLS FOR REVERTING TO CLASSICAL ORTHOGRAPHY
Soviet-era dissident and chairman of the Self-Determination Union Paruyr Hairikian has expressed indignation at the Armenian authorities "stubborn disinclination" to revert to the classical Armenian orthography abolished in the 1920s after Armenia's incorporation into the USSR, according to Arminfo on 7 March, as cited by Groong. He argued that it would take only two-three years to reinstate the old spellings, and termed the present leadership's refusal to do so "a disgrace to the nation and a violation of human rights." LF

AZERBAIJAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER ACCUSES OSCE OF PRO-ARMENIAN BIAS
Meeting in Baku on 7 March with visiting OSCE Chairman in Office Jaime Gama, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev accused the OSCE of having failed 10 years ago to use the opportunities that existed at the time to resolve the Karabakh conflict before Armenian forces occupied swathes of Azerbaijani territory, triggering the exodus of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Guliev said that by insisting that Azerbaijan agree to compromises, the OSCE is favoring Armenia. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev for his part told Gama the same day that the Azerbaijani people "have every reason" to criticize the OSCE Minsk Group for failing to resolve the conflict. He urged Gama to try to engineer a peaceful solution to the conflict by the end of this year, according to ANS TV, as cited by Groong. Gama told journalists that the OSCE will indeed intensify its efforts to mediate a settlement, stressing that the organization "is not a judge but a mediator," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S STATE OIL COMPANY TO SELL PART OF STAKE IN EXPORT PIPELINE?
Azerbaijan would be satisfied with a 25-30 percent stake in the consortium created to build the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Turan quoted Natik Aliev, who is president of Azerbaijan's state oil company Socar, as saying on 7 March. Socar currently has a 45 percent stake in that project, but has reached a preliminary agreement on selling part of that stake to Russia's LUKoil and will finalize that agreement in late March or early April, Aliev said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001, and 11 and 25 January 2002). LF

PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS POSSIBILITY OF GEORGIA HOSTING U.S. MILITARY BASES...
Speaking on the independent Rustavi-2 TV station on 7 March, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that with the recent agreement that U.S. military instructors will train a Georgian antiterrorism force, Georgia's military cooperation with the U.S. has entered "a more effective phase," Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. He characterized bilateral relations in general as "special relations of strategic cooperation." But Shevardnadze stressed that the possibility of the U.S. establishing a military base in Georgia has not yet been discussed, and will depend how Georgia's relations with Russia develop. Also on 7 March, Interfax quoted Georgian presidential adviser Shalva Pichkhadze as telling journalists in Tbilisi that close military cooperation with the U.S. could enhance Georgia's chances of NATO membership. LF

...AS U.S. OFFICIAL RULES OUT USE OF ANTITERRORIST FORCE IN GEORGIAN DOMESTIC CONFLICTS
In a statement that could be construed either as a warning to Tbilisi or as reassurance to the governments of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 7 March quoting U.S. State Department official Rudolf Perina as assuring Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin during talks in Moscow earlier that day that "the U.S. expects that the Georgian military units that will receive training as part of the American assistance program will not be used in the Georgian-Abkhazian or Georgian-Ossetian conflicts," AP reported. Over the past week several Abkhaz officials have expressed concern that the real rationale for the U.S. military assistance is to launch a new war against Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). LF

HAS CHECHEN FIGHTERS' EXODUS FROM GEORGIAN STRONGHOLD BEGUN?
The announcement that the U.S. will train a crack Georgian antiterrorist force has already induced "a small group" of Chechen fighters to leave the Pankisi Gorge in northeastern Georgia and return to Chechnya, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said on 7 March, Reuters reported. He predicted that up to 90 percent of the remaining Chechen fighters will follow. Also on 7 March, Interfax quoted a Russian Defense Ministry official as saying he estimates that it will take the U.S. instructors no less than a year to train the Georgian antiterror contingent. LF

GEORGIA AGAIN REFUSES TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM KODORI...
During talks in western Georgia on 7 March, Georgian and Abkhaz officials again failed to reach agreement on either the withdrawal of the 300 Georgian troops deployed in the Kodori Gorge, or on the date for beginning joint patrols of the gorge together with members of the UN Observer Mission and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2002). LF

...AS GEORGIAN, CHECHEN REPRESENTATIVES CLAIM AFGHANS ENCAMPED THERE
Mamuka Nachkebia, who is the interior minister of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, on 7 March repeated the claims first made on 1 March by Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania that Al-Qaeda fighters have taken refuge in the lower, Abkhaz-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). The Tbilisi daily "Akhali taoba" on 8 March quoted self-styled Chechen representative in Georgia Khizri Aldamov as similarly claiming that there are both Afghan mujahedin and Chechen fighters in Kodori, Caucasus Press reported. Aldamov said there are currently no Afghan fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. He said Chechens are delighted by the plans to send U.S. military instructors to Georgia, which they say give them hope that their struggle against the "Russian aggressors" will prove victorious. On 8 March, Caucasus Press quoted Abkhaz First Deputy Prime Minister Raul Khazhimba as saying the previous day that the presence on an unidentified armed detachment has been detected in the lower reaches of the Kodori Gorge. He did not rule out the possibility that Georgian officials were involved in transporting them there from Pankisi, as is believed to have been the case last fall. LF

ABKHAZ PREMIER MEETS WITH UN REPRESENTATIVE...
Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia met in Sukhum on 8 March with UN special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict Dieter Boden to discuss the failure to reach agreement on a Georgian withdrawal from Kodori, Caucasus Press reported. Boden said he will raise with the Georgian leadership the need for Tbilisi to comply with the undertaking it signed in January to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). LF

...HAILS RUSSIAN STATE DUMA RESOLUTION
Meeting with journalists in Sukhum on 7 March, Djergenia expressed his appreciation of the resolution passed by the Russian State Duma on 6 March on the U.S. military presence in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. That resolution did not exclude Duma backing for the formal requests to the Russian leadership by both Abkhazia and South Ossetia for "associate membership" of the Russian Federation should Russian-Georgian relations deteriorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 March 2002). Also on 7 March, Duma deputies including the hard-line chairman of the International Affairs Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin, rejected as "shallow" the Georgian Foreign Ministry's 7 March statement protesting that the Duma resolution constituted "gross interference" in Georgia's internal affairs, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ANOTHER KAZAKH TV STATION THREATENED WITH CLOSURE
Kazakhstan's Communications and Transport Ministry may refuse to prolong the broadcasting license of the Almaty television station Alma TV, which expired on 5 March, on the grounds that the station is in violation of amendments to the media law, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 7 March. Those amendments, which were passed after Alma TV was founded, limit to 20 percent the maximum stake that a foreign media holding may have in a media outlet operating in Kazakhstan. A Kazakh company called Cominvest, which is owned by Nurbank -- which is turn is controlled by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law Rakhat Aliev -- and the U.S. corporation Metromedia International Telecommunications each hold a 50 percent stake in Alma TV. LF

PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. TROOPS MAY REMAIN IN KYRGYZSTAN FOR THE DURATION
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev told Reuters on 7 March in Stockholm that the U.S. forces currently stationed in Kyrgyzstan may remain there for as long as proves necessary to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz parliament gave initial permission last December for those troops to remain in the country for one year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 12 December 2001), but Akaev said that "we are realists and realize that we may need even more time." "As responsible politicians we understand that we need to bring this mission to a complete end," he added. Also on 8 March, a spokesman for the French military contingent in Kyrgyzstan told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that the French Mirage fighter aircraft based at Bishkek's Manas airport began flying sorties over Afghanistan earlier this week. LF

AFGHAN LEADER VISITS TURKMENISTAN
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov held talks in Ashgabat on 7 March with visiting Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. The two leaders focused specifically on cooperation in the fields of agriculture, power engineering, education, and health care, and on the prospects for implementing plans to build a gas-export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan. LF

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO MEET POLISH COUNTERPART AT FOLK FESTIVAL
Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka told journalists on 7 March that Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou will visit Bialystok (northeastern Poland) on 10-11 March to attend a local Belarusian song festival, Belarusian media reported. The festival is an annual event that features performers of primarily Belarusian folk songs and is organized by the Belarusian Social-Cultural Association, an organization of Poland's Belarusian minority. Latushka added that Khvastou will hold a working meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in Bialystok. The upcoming meeting is apparently linked to a recent Polish-Lithuanian initiative to ask the Council of Europe for a mandate to hold talks with the self-isolated Belarusian regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002). JM

TELEVISION SLAMS OUR UKRAINE'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN...
ICTV Television on 6 March accused the Our Ukraine election bloc led by former Premier Viktor Yushchenko of planning reprisals in the event it wins the 31 March ballot. "The bloc's campaign has developed two new trends: threats and intimidation," ICTV presenter Dmitriy Kiselev told viewers. The station then broadcast a report from the campaign rally of Our Ukraine's candidate Roman Zvarych in Ivano-Frankivsk that showed Zvarych saying, "the bloc of Viktor Yushchenko will present an ultimatum to the president and those concerned that the districts where we won over 50 percent should be governed by our people." A correspondent added: "This is what awaits voters after the election." ICTV is part owned by Viktor Pinchuk, an election candidate of the pro-government For a United Ukraine bloc in a single-seat constituency in Dnipropetrovsk and the husband of President Leonid Kuchma's daughter. JM

...AND WARNS AGAINST WESTERN PLOT TO DERAIL UKRAINIAN ELECTION
ICTV presenter Kiselev suggested to viewers on 7 March that this week's row in the Verkhovna Rada over Mykola Melnychenko's tapes, the death of state-owned arms exporter Ukrspetseksport General Director Valeriy Maleyev, and the reported agreement by former presidential bodyguard Melnychenko to testify in the trial of former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko in California may be different elements of a single international plot to thwart the Ukrainian parliamentary election. "All this is happening in one week, three weeks before the end of the election campaign. It is obvious that only a super-powerful structure could be strong enough to carry out such a global-scale coordination... The West is paving the way, well in advance, for the future nonrecognition of parliamentary election results. The U.S. ambassador [to Ukraine], Carlos Pascual, obviously with a view to the future, has already voiced U.S. concerns about bias on television and administrative pressure," Kiselev said. JM

HAS VOTING IN UKRAINIAN ELECTION ALREADY STARTED?
Our Ukraine's press service reported on 7 March that the election commission in a constituency in Kirovohrad (central Ukraine) has already inaugurated a voting process by collecting signatures from voters confirming that they were given ballots. Our Ukraine warns that such a practice is illegal and may lead to vote falsification, arguing that if the voters who signed the voting lists fail to appear at the polls on 31 March, their ballots will be filled and cast by the commission. JM

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS BRUSSELS
Siim Kallas ended a two-day visit to Brussels on 7 March with talks with European Commission President Romano Prodi, ETA reported. Prodi noted that the provision in Estonia's law on income tax that exempts from income tax companies' reinvested profits is not acceptable to Spain, Italy, and France. Those countries claim that the provision would give Estonia an advantage impermissible in Europe, he said, but added that he is sure a mutually acceptable solution can be found. He also said that he understands Estonia's position in the membership negotiations concerning an increase in milk quotas and the survival of the oil-shale energy industry. The previous day, Kallas met with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen to discuss EU and NATO enlargement. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT URGES PARLIAMENT TO CLAMP DOWN ON DRUG DEALERS
Vaira Vike-Freiberga has sent a letter to parliament Chairman Janis Straume suggesting that the parliament should amend the criminal law to distinguish between drug users and drug dealers so that the latter will receive adequate punishment for their crimes, BNS reported on 7 March. She urged lawmakers to separate criminal liability for production, purchase, possession, and transportation of drugs with the intent to sell, from that of simple drug use. Vike-Freiberga expressed regret that last year's criminal statistics indicated that suspended sentences were handed down in 90 of the 200 cases heard on drug dealing, and in another 92 cases the accused received jail sentences of only between one and three years. She wrote that she may propose amendments that would bar the courts from passing sentences any lighter than the minimum statutory punishment for drug dealing. However, Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans criticized the policy of minimum sentences, saying that they may bring about "unforeseeable consequences." SG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RECOGNIZES LITHUANIA'S RIGHT TO JOIN NATO, BUT OPPOSES 'MECHANICAL' EXPANSION
After a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart Antanas Valionis, Igor Ivanov told a press conference in Vilnius on 7 March that Lithuania has the right to set its own foreign policy priorities, but he reiterated Russia's objection to what he called the "mechanical" expansion of NATO, BNS reported. He praised Lithuania's efforts to find constructive solutions to the problems residents of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast could face if Poland and Lithuania join the EU. Ivanov noted that the Russian government has sent the Lithuanian-Russian border agreement to the State Duma for ratification, and that the countries' parliaments have to develop a favorable atmosphere for ratification. President Valdas Adamkus repeated to Ivanov his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Lithuania. In later talks with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, he stressed the need to change the stereotypes about Lithuania formed in the Russian Duma to allow the two countries' parliaments to cooperate more actively and closely in solving urgent and sensitive issues. His visit to Vilnius ended with a meeting with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS
The parliament by a vote of 119 to four, with three abstentions, approved on 7 March an amendment to Article 47 of the constitution permitting the sale of agricultural land to Lithuanian legal entities and foreigners, ELTA reported. To be adopted the amendment must gain the approval of at least 94 deputies in a second vote following an interval of at least three months. The second vote may be more difficult, as the parliament has postponed voting on the laws that will implement the amendment. There is a sharp difference of opinion as to whether the sale of land should be allowed immediately or after a transition period of at least seven years, which has been demanded by some farmers groups. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT URGES MORE INVESTMENT IN POLISH-GERMAN BORDER AREAS
On 7 March in Potsdam, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski met with the prime ministers of Germany's federal states that adjoin the border with Poland, Polish media reported. Kwasniewski called for developing an integrated Polish-German conception of managing the border areas which, according to him, are under-invested and lack an appropriate infrastructure. Kwasniewski is on a three-day official visit to Germany. JM

POLISH TROOPS TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN 'SHORTLY AFTER 15 MARCH'
Polish Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke has said after this week's meeting with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that the operation to send a Polish military contingent to Afghanistan will begin "shortly after 15 March," PAP reported. Zemke added that the operation will be phased in, since the Ukrainian cargo planes that are to airlift Polish soldiers to Afghanistan will also have to carry heavy military equipment, including trucks and other vehicles. It is planned that the troops will remain in Afghanistan for six months, and their stay will be extended if necessary. JM

CZECH, TURKISH PRESIDENTS BOTH FAVOR NATO 'BIG BANG' EXPANSION
Visiting Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel told journalists on 7 March that they both support inviting Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania to join NATO, CTK and international agencies reported. NATO is expected to issue invitations to new members during its November summit in Prague. Sezer also reiterated his country's commitment to joining the EU. Both presidents said they strongly support the international struggle against terrorism. Asked about his position on Iraq, Havel said the regime of President Saddam Hussein "poses a threat to the world, as well as to its own people." At a state dinner, Havel said Turkey has demonstrated that the struggle against international terrorism is not a struggle against Islam. Turkey, he said, participates in that struggle, while it "maintains respect for the Islamic traditions. " Sezer also met with Prime Minister Milos Zeman, with whom he mainly discussed economic ties. MS

FIRST GROUP OF CZECH SOLDIERS DEPLOYED IN KUWAIT
A group of 20 soldiers from an antichemical warfare unit left for Kuwait on 7 March, CTK reported. The group is to prepare the ground for the arrival of the rest of the 250-strong contingent by mid-March. The unit is to remain in Kuwait for six months. MS

TEMELIN OPPONENTS FIND NEW ALLY
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has joined the opposition to the controversial Czech Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported on 7 March, citing the Austrian Stop Temelin organization. The Stop Temelin website showed Gorbachev signing its book in Linz. A spokesman for the organization said the former Soviet president has been invited to participate in a planned demonstration against Temelin in May, at a border crossing between Austria and the Czech Republic. MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL LINKS SLOVAKIA'S MEMBERSHIP IN ALLIANCE TO ELECTION OUTCOME...
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told journalists in Bratislava on 7 March that if the Slovaks "want to be in NATO, they must vote for parties that will take Slovakia into NATO," international news agencies reported. "It's as simple as that," Robinson said after talks with President Rudolf Schuster. Robertson said the Slovaks, who will vote in parliamentary elections in November, are benefiting from "the most precious of all democratic gifts, after generations without it, and this is the right to vote for their own future." Schuster said that in his country the government is "traditionally" formed by the party with the largest share of votes but added, in what is clearly a hint at the possible victory of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), that "this does not necessarily have to be the case." He said he is convinced that, regardless of the electoral outcome, "Slovakia's strategic orientation to NATO and the EU will continue." MS

...PROMPTING REACTION FROM THE HZDS
HZDS spokeswoman Zaneta Pittnerova said in response to Robertson's and Schuster's comments that her party "has repeatedly stated, and states again, that it is not against NATO and that it pursues policies of integration" into the organization, CTK reported. She said Schuster's statement was "quite unusual," adding that she believes the president "will respect the will and aspirations of Slovak citizens, [as they will be] fully expressed in the free and democratic elections of 2002." MS

SLOVAK OFFICIAL SAYS BENES DECREES WON'T THREATEN EU MEMBERSHIP...
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo said on 7 March that his country's "long-term view is that no restitution, reparations, or compensation claims linked to the Benes Decrees are acceptable," TASR reported. Chlebo said Slovakia is "satisfied" that the decrees will not pose any danger to his country and the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. He added that neither Germany nor Austria had raised the issue in bilateral talks. Chlebo called Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's mention of the decrees in connection with the EU negotiations "very unfortunate." He said he wants to remind Hungary that after World War II the agreement signed between the two countries at Srbske Pleso provided for an exchange of population and the settlement of related property issues. MS

...WOULD PREFER 'PERSONAL NEGOTIATIONS' WITH HUNGARY ON STATUS LAW
Chlebo also said he has replied to the last letter he received from his Hungarian counterpart Zsolt Nemeth on the Status Law, but that he doubts the best path to reaching an agreement is by exchanging letters, TASR reported. "I prefer personal negotiations, and I always propose that in my letters" to the Hungarian side, he said. He also said he does not believe any agreement is possible before next month's elections in Hungary. MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON BENES DECREES
Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said in Vienna on 7 March that Hungary will not link the abolition of the Benes Decrees with the Czech and Slovak accession to the EU or with cooperation among the Visegrad Four, Hungarian media reported. Martonyi described as "erroneous" an article in the daily "Die Presse" that said an "axis" is emerging over the Benes Decrees between his country, Austria, and the German state of Bavaria. He added, however, that "inconsistencies" exist between "EU norms" and the Benes decrees, and that the Czech Republic and Slovakia "will have to sort this out." MS

HUNGARIAN RULING ALLIANCE REJECTS EXTREMISTS' OFFER
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni, and Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David said in separate statements on 7 March that they do not intend to collaborate with the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), Hungarian media reported. Responding to MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka's offer one day earlier of a "fair and open agreement" of cooperation after the first round of next month's elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002), Orban said that the ruling alliance has "concluded [already] all the agreements we wanted...and have thus set the boundaries of a future governing coalition." Pokorni said, "the center-right unity cannot be further expanded to either the left or right." David said Hungary's national and international interests dictate that the "civic coalition" must consist of an alliance between FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER, CHALLENGER 'DEBATE THE DEBATE'
Premier Orban and his Socialist challenger for the premiership, Peter Medgyessy, on 7 March stiffened their positions on their proposed televised debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002), Hungarian media reported. Orban insists that the debates take place on 5 and 19 April. Medgyessy is opposed to those dates, citing a ban on political campaigning on the eve of the two rounds, scheduled for 7 and 21 April. Medgyessy said that due to the ban, the media will not be able to comment and evaluate the debates. Orban said on Hungarian radio that Medgyessy seems to believe people in Hungary are incapable of forming an opinion without media comments. In turn, Medgyessy said, "true to himself, Orban wants to dictate terms." MS

HUNGARIAN FREE DEMOCRATS OBJECT TO STATE TV BLUEPRINT FOR ELECTION COVERAGE
Free Democratic Party (SZDSZ) parliamentary deputy Ivan Peto announced on 7 March that the SZDSZ will not participate in the election coverage on Hungarian state television (MTV), calling the coverage plans "illegal," Hungarian media reported. Peto said the electoral law stipulates that parties of "identical status" must benefit from "full equality" in television coverage, whereas the policy of MTV is "arbitrary," suggesting it favors large parties because it divides political formations into three categories. While FIDESZ and the Socialists make up the first category, other parliamentary parties -- including the SZDSZ -- are included in the second category (with less coverage), and extra parliamentary formations are in the last category. MTV News Director Peter Csermely said in reaction that while the station strives to provide equal coverage, "viewers are understandably more interested in the message of the two parties that stand a chance to win the elections." MS

ETHNIC ALBANIANS PRAISE MACEDONIAN AMNESTY LAW...
After months of delays, the Macedonian parliament passed a law on 7 March granting amnesty to former guerrilla fighters, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March 2002). The vote was 64-12 out of 120 legislators, with the rest either abstaining or not showing up. The legislation is a cornerstone of the August peace agreement concluded by leaders of the country's four main political parties in Ohrid. Following the passage of the controversial bill, former guerrilla leader Hajrulla Misini, better known by his nom de guerre "Shpati," said: "This is a great step for peace. I see no reason any more for armed conflict in Macedonia." He added that his fighters will now come down from the mountains. Former guerrilla commander Ali Ahmeti called the law a "good step that will lead to stability and confidence building between the communities." PM

...AS DO NATO AND EU...
Speaking in Brussels on 8 March, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson hailed the "government and the parliamentarians for their vision and courage in voting for this law." Elsewhere in Brussels, the EU said in a statement that passing the legislation is a "courageous step." EU security policy chief Javier Solana argued that "the law on amnesty turns the brave amnesty declarations of Presidency [Boris] Trajkovski into law, and removes any remaining uncertainty about the will of the authorities and the citizens to close the chapter of crisis and conflict." PM

...BUT NOT EVERYONE
In Skopje on 7 March, several ethnic Macedonian legislators argued that the law makes a "mockery of the legal system" and pardons arms smugglers as well as fighters, AP reported. From Belgrade the next day, ITAR-TASS reported that the law pardons "militants" and "was passed under unprecedented pressure from the West and NATO, which believe that [an] amnesty is a key to the Macedonian-Albanian settlement." PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT HAS NO OBJECTIONS TO EU MISSION
Trajkovski said in Brussels on 7 March that he does not object to the EU replacing NATO as organizer of the peacekeeping force if those two institutions agree between themselves on the change, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March 2002). He added: "We'll be satisfied with any kind of decision that will be made by mutual consent between the EU and NATO." PM

KOSOVA PRIME MINISTER DISMISSES YUGOSLAV-MACEDONIAN BORDER AGREEMENT...
A statement by the newly elected prime minister of Kosova, Bajram Rexhepi, has sparked angry reactions in Macedonia, Macedonian media reported on 7 March. Rexhepi has ruled out recognition by his government of the Macedonian-Yugoslav border agreement signed in early 2001. According to Rexhepi, the agreement deprives Kosova of some 2,500 hectares of its territory. Observers note that the deal was widely seen as an attempt by Belgrade to claim the right to sign international agreements affecting Kosova with the help of a sympathetic leadership in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). UB

...PROMPTING ANGRY MACEDONIAN REACTIONS
Macedonian Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule said that a "unilateral change of the border...without...negotiation is a declaration of war," the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 7 March. Casule called Rexhepi a mere "president of the executive branch of the local self-government of Kosova," who does not have the right to interfere in Yugoslav-Macedonian relations. Casule added that the Foreign Ministry has sent protest letters to the UN Security Council. Already on 20 February, Susan Manuel, who is the UN civilian authority's (UNMIK) spokeswoman, angered many Macedonians with her statement that "the Territory of Kosovo can't be subject to any agreement until the UN Security Council authorizes the final status of the province." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). UB

BUSEK SETS BALKAN PRIORITY
Speaking in Belgrade on 7 March, Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, said that his priority is to conclude free-trade agreements between all the countries of the region before the end of 2002, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Busek stressed the importance of treating problems on a regional basis, and of integrating the Balkan countries into the EU and NATO. PM

SERBIAN BANK ROBBER CAUGHT
Serbian police have arrested in Uzice the young driver of a vehicle that was delivering money to a Belgrade bank when he absconded with the loot, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). The police have promised a statement soon. "Vesti" reported on 8 March that the man is 23-year-old Milan Koprivica, who made his getaway by telling guards "I'm just going to get gas." In addition to $4.8 million in euros, the van contained almost $9 million in German marks. PM

SERBIAN COALITION DIVIDED OVER HAGUE LAW
The majority of the members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition agreed in Belgrade on 7 March on a draft law on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The approved version is the one recommended by the Serbian Justice Ministry and meets the demands of Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP), which is the partner of DOS in the federal government. The text provides for a "basic law" on the federal level, but leaves specifics regarding the extradition of indicted war criminals to the republics. Coalition member and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said that the federal legislation will not even mention the word "extradition" in keeping with the demands of the SNP, which opposes the transfer of war criminals to The Hague. But Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) did not agree to the deal and indicated that it will not support the draft in the parliament, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 8 March. PM

SERBIA ACTING TO MEET AMERICAN DEADLINE
Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 7 March that an unspecified number of indicted war criminals will be extradited to The Hague by 31 March in order to meet a deadline set by the U.S. for cooperation with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The U.S. has said it will halt assistance to Serbia if it does not meet the deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 3 January 2002). PM

BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT HAILS KARADZIC
Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said in a television broadcast that Radovan Karadzic remains "a symbol of freedom" for the majority of Bosnian Serbs, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 8 March. He added that "a majority of the people living in the Serbian entity [of Bosnia] are against the arrest of Karadzic." Sarovic added that Alija Izetbegovic, who was the Muslim leader during the 1992-1995 war, is "one of the people most responsible for the war," and as such should be brought to trial before Karadzic or General Ratko Mladic. PM

CROATIAN COALITION PRESERVED
Drazen Budisa, who heads the Social Liberal Party (HSLS), said in Zagreb on 7 March that his party will remain in the governing coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). He added that he expects the current "problems" to be solved within one week. PM

EUROPEAN BANK SINGLES OUT SLOVENIA FOR PRAISE
Jean Lemierre, who is the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), said in Ljubljana on 7 March that Slovenia is the most successful transition economy in Europe because it has succeeded in ensuring prosperity and stability, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS PRM MOTION
By a vote of 69 to 47, the Senate on 7 March rejected a motion submitted by the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) to debate the so-called "Abandonment of Transylvania" by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. All PSD and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) senators voted against the motion, but the vote of the opposition National Liberal Party and Democratic Party was split, with some of their senators supporting the PRM. MS

MINORITIES IN ROMANIA ALLOWED TO DISPLAY OWN NATIONAL SYMBOLS
The government on 8 March issued an ordinance allowing the public display of national symbols by organizations representing minorities in Romania, Mediafax reported. The ordinance modifies regulations forbidding the display of foreign national flags and playing foreign national anthems except on the occasion of visits by foreign dignitaries. The new regulation was passed ahead of the 15 March Hungarian commemorations of the 1848 revolution. In related developments, President Ion Iliescu on 7 March discussed possible amendments to the Romanian Constitution with UDMR representatives. The UDMR wants the definition of Romania as a "national state" to be changed in the basic document. MS

MAVERICK CLUJ MAYOR AGAIN SET ON CONFRONTATION
Cluj ultranationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar on 7 March demanded that the bilingual or trilingual street signs displayed in line with a government ordinance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002) be removed, Mediafax reported. Funar claims that the signs were introduced in line with the results of the 1992 census, which he claims "is no longer valid." A new census will take place in Romania later this month. The same day, the Cluj local council allotted 75 million lei (some $2,300) for the purpose of putting up street signs in three languages -- Romanian, Hungarian, and German. Funar told Mediafax that he is demanding that prefect Vasile Sopran appeal the council's decision in court. MS

PRESIDENT VORONIN SAYS FORCES SEEK TO 'DESTABILIZE' MOLDOVA
In an interview with Russia's Mayak 24 radio, President Vladimir Voronin on 7 March said "corrupt elements" in his country have set up a "coalition" with the "Transdniester mafia" to undermine Moldovan stability, Romanian radio reported. Voronin also said that the "ideological diversion" inspired by Romania is also contributing to destabilization. The "spirit of unionism and of nationalism" inspired by Bucharest for 10 years has now "penetrated most state structures and the mass media, including television," he said. He also said international organizations are applying "double standards" to Moldova. On one hand, they protested against the decision to suspend the activity of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), and on the other hand they turned a blind eye to the fact that the PPCD has been "organizing school pupils" to participate in the ongoing protests, which contravenes the European Convention on Protecting Children's' Rights, he said. MS

MOLDOVAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL OFFICIALLY ASKS FOR PPCD LEADERS' IMMUNITY TO BE LIFTED
Deputy Parliamentary speaker Mihail Camerzan on 7 March read out in the parliament the official request submitted by Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu to lift the parliamentary immunity of PPCD leaders Iurie Rosca, Stefan Secareanu, and Vlad Cubreacov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rusu said the PPCD leaders should be arrested and then investigated. The Judicial Commission is scheduled to debate the request at an undisclosed future date. The three leaders are charged with encouraging minors to break the law, as well as with the "repeated organization of demonstrations leading to public order disturbances." If convicted, the three PPCD leaders face a sentence of between one and three years in prison. MS

STRIKERS AT TELERADIO MOLDOVA FACING DISSENT
Some 30 Teleradio Moldova employees on 7 March apologized to television viewers for what they called the "unethical behavior of our striking colleagues," Infotag reported. The dissenting group said it is also protesting against the "discriminating attitude [displayed by the strikers] toward other company employees." They said that "far from all" Teleradio Moldova employees have joined the strike, as claimed by the strikers in "numerous declarations." The signatories also said that in many cases they have "not been even shown the text of statements" they are supposed to have backed, and that "nobody from the striking committee even bothered to ask our opinion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). Flux reported on 7 March that Victor Tabarta, the director of the news department at Moldovan TV, has ordered the discontinuation of the program produced by striking committee member Larisa Manole. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI OFFICIALS KIDNAPPED
Tudor Gagauz and Ivan Burgundzhi were kidnapped in Comrat on 7 March by men dressed as policemen and carrying Kalashnikov rifles, Flux reported, citing Popular Assembly Deputy Chairman Petru Zlatov. Gagauz and Tudor are executives on the staff of the Gagauz-Yeri Interior Affairs Directorate and Judicial Directorate respectively. Zlatov said the 10 kidnappers traveled in cars with Chisinau license plates, and that Comrat authorities are persuaded that "the kidnapping was ordered by [President] Vladimir Voronin." MS

TURMOIL WITHIN BULGARIA'S RULING NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II GOES ON...
A group of legislators of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) have sent an open letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, mediapool.bg reported on 7 March. In the letter, the deputies remind Saxecoburggotski of his electoral promises given in June 2001. The critics called for more transparency in government policy as well as for more democracy within the NDSV. By the end of February, some 20 deputies had already criticized the prime minister in an open letter, to which Saxecoburggotski reacted harshly, saying that he is not willing to accept such behavior (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). UB

...WHILE PRIME MINISTER URGES CRITICS TO GIVE UP THEIR SEATS IN PARLIAMENT
Premier Saxecoburggotski urged at least two of the authors of the open letter to give up their seats in parliament, mediapool.bg reported. Government Spokeswoman Tsvetelina Uzunova confirmed that Saxecoburggotski told Elka Anastasova and Stela Bankova of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) in separate talks to resign, because "they undermine the consolidation of the parliamentary faction." However, Anastasova and Bankova categorically refused to do so. It is likely that they will keep their seats, but will act as independent deputies, thus reducing the NDSV parliamentary group from 120 to 118 members. According to the rules of the 240-seat Bulgarian parliament, they cannot be forced to resign. UB

RUSSIA ATTEMPTS TO DEVELOP A SPORTING ATTITUDE


Russian President Vladimir Putin opened his residence outside Moscow on 5 March to Russian athletes and athletics officials, whose performance during the much-maligned 2002 Winter Olympics he described as "satisfying."

Putin added, however, that "we simply cannot let competitors from other countries beat us by using techniques that go far beyond athletics," singling out commercialism and "propaganda resources" as having contributed to Russia's worst-ever medal haul in last month's Winter Olympics.

By the time the games closed, Russia could boast about the same number of medals as controversies that the country's athletes, sporting officials, and politicians were involved in. Russian public opinion overwhelmingly perceived Russia's mediocre performance failures at the games not as the result of its deteriorating athletics programs or as a consequence of failing standardized drug tests that all Olympic participants were subject to, but as the outcome of an international political and media conspiracy concocted by the West to overcome the superiority of Russian athletes.

Russians identify the controversy over the pairs figure skating event as the beginning of that "Western media campaign." Canada challenged the judges' 5-4 decision to award the gold medal to Russia's Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and the International Olympic Committee eventually decided to award a second gold medal to Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, under the shadow of possible judging collusion.

That slight against the Russian pair set the stage for an avalanche of scandals throughout the rest of the games. Before they ended, the Russian Figure Skating Union was demanding that a second gold medal be given to figure skater Irina Slutskaya, who was awarded the silver medal by judges she described as "bastards!, Idiots!" according to gazeta.ru.

Russia's men's ice hockey head coach Slava Fetisov claimed after Russia's 3-2 semifinal loss to the United States that "it was designed to be a U.S.-Canada final, and now they have it."

Russians similarly rejected the rationale cited for five-time Olympic cross-country skiing champion Larissa Lazutina's removal from the 20-kilometer team relay, arguing that the high level of hemoglobin that tests revealed in her blood could be attributed to menstruation.

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) President Leonid Tyagachev threatened to pull the Russian contingent out of the games in retaliation for the relay team's disqualification. "We can hold spectacular alternative competitions, where every single participant will be entitled to fair refereeing," he suggested on 22 February.

Days later, the gold medal Lazutina won in the 30-kilometer classical race was taken away and she was kicked out of the games for testing positive for the drug darbepoetin. She was joined by teammate Olga Danilova, who also tested positive for the hormone. Tyagachev reacted by saying Russian athletes were being singled out for drug tests, mentioning biathlete Pavel Rostovtsev, who "was ordered to undergo a blood test with enough blood taken to make one feel giddy" just minutes before he was to race, supposedly preventing him from winning a "sure gold" in the 10-kilometer sprint. He finished sixth after missing in his final shoot and suffering a one-lap penalty.

Meanwhile, the State Duma passed a resolution on 22 February demanding that Russian officials take measures "to call attention to tendentiousness in evaluating performances of Russian athletes" at prestigious international competitions, including Champions League soccer. The Federation Council met on 23 February to draft its own appeal.

Russian Aluminum set about hiring top legal firms to represent Russian athletes, and began preparing its own lawsuit against the IOC for causing the company material damages by keeping the athletes sponsored by the company away from the medal stand. "The number of facts of biased judging permits us to draw an unequivocal conclusion: the games organizers declared a veritable war on our sportsmen," a company press release stated on 22 February.

"Izvestiya" amused itself upon the athletes' return to Russia by running a front-page cartoon showing Russia's jet-bound Olympics hopes crashing into an image of the World Trade Center adorned with Olympic rings.

But while ITAR-TASS quoted Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev as saying on 22 February that the judging "was aimed at discouraging Russian athletes," Team Russia didn't need much help from outside.

President Putin knew the declining state of Russian athletics when he met with the State Council devoted to national health and sport issues on 30 January 2001. In an effort to remedy the country's failing health situation, Putin announced that the country would be placing a new emphasis on athletics, including the formation of a Sports Council to be overseen by the presidential administration.

As Putin and the rest of the country now focus their blame on Russia's athletics oversight bodies, which are accused of "passivity" in the face of international pressure and of not being aware of international regulations, members of those entities are scrambling to ensure they are not made the scapegoats for Russia's lackluster performance.

ROC President Tyagachev, who has been defending himself against calls for him to resign, has tried to alleviate the situation by obtaining more funding. It was announced on 27 February that the ROC would be increasing its investment into its anti-doping laboratory to $3 million this year, as opposed to $1 million in 2001. On 4 March, AFP quoted him as saying, "if the ROC had a budget of at least $200 million, our performance at the Olympic Games would be much more impressive." He estimates Russia's current investment in sport at some $10 million a year.

The public outcry will almost certainly result in promises of additional funding, although whether those promises will be met is questionable. However, Putin likely will take the opportunity to take more control of the situation. Already, the president has called for the construction of new sporting facilities and development programs for athletes, while promising to ensure that the conditions for training athletes established at the State Council meeting in January will be adhered to.

In the meantime, Russian politicians are quickly working to smooth over the waves they made at the Olympics. The country is busily preparing to roll out the red carpet for IOC head Jacques Rogge, who was one of the most-hated men in Russia a week ago. But when Russia begins to wine and dine Rogge to persuade him to favor its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, he might remember Putin's words of 25 February: "These Olympic Games have again confirmed that sport chooses the courageous, bold, and strong-willed. It sides with those who are not only strong but can also master their feelings; who are not only hard working but also self-restraining."

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