RUSSIA SEEKS CLARIFICATION ON U.S. NUKE PLANS...
The Kremlin has asked Washington to explain a contingency plan for nuclear strikes against seven countries including Russia, AP reported on 13 March. The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the State Department asking the United States to clarify its position, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the same day. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in Washington for talks, also said he will raise the issue with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The classified report, which was leaked to the U.S. media, outlined the possible use of nuclear weapons against countries that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction. In addition to Russia, it identified China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. Moscow, which has recently enjoyed warm relations with the U.S., was angered by the plan lumping Russia together with Washington's fiercest foes. BW
...WELCOMES REASSURANCE OVER U.S. AID TO GEORGIA...
Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists in Washington on 12 March after his talks with President George W. Bush that they discussed the presence of "terrorists" on Georgian territory, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Ivanov said Bush reassured him that "he understands very well that it is impossible to deal with this situation without taking Russia's interests into consideration." Speaking in Tbilisi the same day, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze expressed his appreciation of President Bush's commitment to assist Georgia in combating terrorists, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). Shevardnadze stressed that the planned U.S. military presence in Georgia is not directed against Russia. LF
...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY ALLAYS FEARS
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 13 March tried to calm parliamentarians angry over U.S. contingency plans to use nuclear arms against Russia, international news agencies reported the same day. But Ivanov accused U.S. military planners of maintaining a Cold War mindset. "It is clear that a nuclear state would define sites that could become the target of a nuclear strike in case of crisis or conflict," Ivanov said. "So, essentially, there is nothing new in that part. What we are concerned about is the form and the timing for such information to appear. It reads like it was written at the height of the Cold War without any regard for the current state of relations between our two countries." BW
MOSCOW URGES U.S. RESTRAINT ON IRAQ...
Foreign Minister Ivanov called on 12 March for disputes over Iraq to be settled in the UN Security Council, Reuters reported. "Russia's position is well known. We stand firmly for a political settlement on the basis of the appropriate U.N. Security Council resolutions on the basis of international law," he said. "We believe all states, especially members of the council, should adhere strictly to resolutions adopted by the U.N.'s highest body," he said, in an apparent reference to the United States. Ivanov added that "we believe any military scenario would at the very least complicate the situation and make it more difficult to find a resolution to the Iraq problem." In remarks reported by ITAR-TASS the same day, Sergei Kortunov, vice president of the Russian Foreign Policy Association, said Russia should prevent unilateral action against Iraq by the United States. BW
...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY REASSURES ARAFAT...
Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 12 March that "Russia supports Chairman Yasser Arafat," despite Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov's cancellation of a scheduled meeting with the Palestinian leader, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Khairi Oridi, the Palestinian representative in Moscow, also downplayed Mironov's action and said it will not affect relations between the Palestinians and Russia. Mironov's move "does not reflect Russia's position. It is only his personal opinion," Interfax quoted Khairi Oridi as saying. BW
...AND FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER CLARIFIES PLANS
Meanwhile, Federation Council speaker Mironov has said he now plans to meet with Arafat, RBK reported on 13 March. Mironov told reporters in Moscow the same day that he could meet with the Palestinian Authority leader at a session of the Interparliamentary Union in Marrakesh, Morocco, on 18 March. Mironov said the "Palestinians will benefit from it more than a mere courtesy visit." Mironov added that he did not consult with the Russian Foreign Ministry or with President Vladimir Putin about his decision announced 12 March during his visit to Israel to call off the meeting. "Perhaps I should have, but I couldn't meet with the president before my trip," Mironov said. BW
MOSCOW TO EXTEND OIL-EXPORT CAPS
Russia plans to extend curbs on oil exports, set to expire at the end of March, until the middle of the year to help boost world crude prices, "Vedomosti" reported on 13 March. The daily quoted unidentified government sources as saying a plan is in the works to fix the level of oil exports for the second quarter at a level barely higher than the first three months of the year. According to Vedomosti, Russia's crude exports will only increase by 1.2 percent from the first to the second quarter. The report could not be independently confirmed. The 11-country Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has been pressing Moscow to maintain restrictions on oil exports. Russia, one of the largest non-OPEC oil exporters, reluctantly agreed to an export cut from 1 January 1 to 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Russian officials have refused to publicly commit themselves beyond those dates. BW
RUSSIA BEGINS DISMANTLING BASE IN VIETNAM
Russia has begun dismantling its Cold War-era naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 13 March during an address to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said a group of Russian experts who visited Vietnam recently concluded that the base "did not meet Russia's demands," and a decision was taken together with the Vietnamese government "to dismantle the facility" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2001). BW
MOSCOW, KABUL SIGN AID PACTS...
Russian and Afghan authorities signed 17 agreements on 13 March on Russian aid for rebuilding the war-torn country, international news agencies reported. "Russia will continue free humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan," Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said, according to ITAR-TASS. But Losyukov added that Russia, which has struggled economically itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union, could not give any further free economic assistance. "In general, we will put our relations with Afghanistan on a market basis," Losyukov said. The agreements deal primarily with Moscow pledging to help restore Soviet-built industrial and agricultural facilities, built in the 1960s-1980s, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 13 March. Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, met with members of the large Afghan diaspora living in Russia, international news agencies reported the same day. Thousands of Afghans have lived in Russia since the Soviet era, and Karzai said they have the kind of skills and education needed to help rebuild Afghanistan. BW
...AS RUSSIA OFFERS TO HELP CLEAR AFGHAN MINES
Russia is prepared to take part in a mine-clearing operation in Afghanistan, if asked, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 12 March. During a visit to Minsk, Kasyanov said Russia would "find a positive solution" to this problem, if adequate conditions for the work of Russian military engineers are created in Afghanistan, Russian news agencies reported. President Putin, meanwhile, said Russia has no political goals in Afghanistan other than seeing it as an independent, prosperous, and friendly country, Interfax reported the same day. After talks with Afghan interim Premier Karzai, Putin said Russia's relations with Afghanistan have not been perfect, "but we are neighbors and we must build the best of relations for the benefit of our peoples." BW
UN RIGHTS CHIEF SLAMS RUSSIA
United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson accused Moscow of skirting international standards in investigating allegations of abuses by Russian forces in Chechnya, Reuters reported on 12 March. Robinson said Moscow has failed to conduct "credible" investigations into accusations of rape, torture, and looting by Russian troops in the breakaway region. Robinson also called on Chechen fighters to stop kidnapping civilians and officials. Robinson cited reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Memorial, all of which have documented abuses allegedly committed by Russian troops. Russia has opened a total of 106 criminal cases of such matters in 2001, with 17 military personnel convicted so far. Aleksandr Zdanovich, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB), denied reports in the Russian media that Russian troops in the village of Starye Atagi caused civilian casualties, Interfax reported. Zdanovich called the allegations "a provocation." BW
YET ANOTHER ATTACK ON A 'NOVAYA GAZETA' JOURNALIST
Sergei Zolovkin, a "Novaya gazeta" reporter based in Sochi, survived an assassination attempt on 11 March, Russian agencies reported the next day. A resident of Abkhazia of Armenian descent fired a pistol at Zolovkin at his home, narrowly missing him, according to ITAR-TASS. Zolovkin then managed to detain the man until police arrived. According to lenta.ru, this is not the first attempt to murder either Zolovkin or his family. Zolovkin has received telephone threats demanding that he cease his journalistic investigations. Zolovkin most recently published an article about corruption in Krasnodar Krai. His wife's brother is currently hospitalized after an attack by unknown assailants. JAC
LUMINARIES URGE RETURN OF DEATH PENALTY...
More than 100 prominent Russians, including world chess master Anatolii Karpov and Nobel Prize winning physicist Zhores Alfyorov, have called for Russia to restore the death penalty, DPA reported on 12 March. "Crime has assumed dimensions that endanger the very survival and existence of Russia," the group said in an open letter. In February, Russia's parliament passed a resolution calling for capital punishment, which was suspended in 1996 when Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe, to be restored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). BW
...AS PRESIDENT VOWS TO MAINTAIN EXECUTION BAN
President Putin said he has no plans to end Russia's moratorium on the death penalty, despite rising crime rates and public and parliamentary appeals, international news agencies reported. "Lifting the moratorium on the death penalty is foolish," Putin told journalists during a speech on 13 March at the Russian daily "Izvestiya," which was marking its 85th anniversary. Putin dismissed calls by politicians to restore the death penalty, saying raising the issue in such a way will boost some people's political ratings, "but it won't prevent crime," Interfax reported the same day. BW
RUSSIA SEEKS FOOD SECURITY
The Russian government intends to draft a "food security doctrine" that will lead to self-sufficiency by 2010, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 13 March. The doctrine will outline plans to double agricultural production, allowing Russia to become a net exporter of grain, according to participants at a conference on food security that opened in Moscow on 12 March. The ban on U.S. poultry imports, which make up 70 percent of that market in Russia, has sparked debate over the country's agricultural self-sufficiency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 6, 8,10, and 12 March 2002) The Agriculture Ministry will draft the plan and present it to the government in the near future, "Izvestiya" reported on 13 March. BW
PRIME MINISTER SPARS WITH GOVERNMENT WATCHDOG
Kasyanov is sparring with Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin over proposed legislation that would give the government watchdog more power, Russian news agencies reported on 13 March. "I do not deem it necessary to broaden the authority of the Audit Chamber, especially as it is proposed in a bill submitted to the government," Kasyanov said, according to RBK. Kasyanov said attempts to give the Audit Chamber more power are intended "to blur the government's financial authority," which, in Kasyanov's opinion, violates constitutional principles. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 13 March that the Audit Chamber, whose role is to oversee government finances, has increasingly been taking on investigative responsibilities usually reserved for law enforcement agencies. BW
PUTIN TO GET RIGHT TO APPOINT GOVERNORS...
The Russian president could receive the right to appoint the heads of federation subjects as early as this year, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists on 12 March following a meeting with Duma deputies that day. Veshnyakov said his commission supports amending current election laws so the president has the right to appoint a regional leader if regional elections are declared invalid because less than 50 percent of registered voters participated, Interfax reported. Veshnyakov had earlier called such a proposal nonsense, but agreed to the idea with certain conditions: that the president must make such appointments with the agreement of the local legislature, and for a limited time period such as two years (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 11 February 2002). "Izvestiya" commented that Veshnyakov's change of heart "will distress many governors." JAC
...AND NEXT NATIONAL ELECTION DATES ARE SET
Meanwhile, Veshnyakov confirmed on 12 March that the State Duma elections will be held on 21 December 2003 and presidential elections will be held on 7 March 2004, as is stipulated by Russian law, according to Interfax. He also repeated his opposition to holding the two elections on the same date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). JAC
GAZPROM FACES TAX ALLEGATIONS
Tax authorities have accused the natural gas giant Gazprom of evading hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from January 1999 to July 2001, AP reported on 13 March. Viktor Vasiliev, head of the Moscow branch of the federal Tax Police, said on 12 March the allegations are based on a recent audit, adding that authorities could file suit against the company by the end of March. Gazprom denied the allegations in a statement released to the media the same day. "Making public the results of an unfinished audit is not only unethical, it can also cause damage to the reputation of Gazprom on the domestic and foreign markets as well as to the reputation of the government," Gazprom Deputy Chairman Vitalii Savelev said in the statement. Gazprom's shares fell 8.3 percent following the Tax Police announcement. BW
DEPUTY GROUP TO SPECIALIZE IN LOBBYING FOR METALS INDUSTRY
The pro-Kremlin People's Deputy group has signed a cooperation agreement with the Union of Metallurgical Enterprises of Sverdlovsk Oblast, Prime-TASS reported on 12 March. Under the agreement, which was signed by People's Deputy head Gennadii Raikov and the union president Andrei Kozitsyn, People's Deputy will defend the interests of the oblast's metallurgical enterprises at the federal level. In addition, it will act to promote the metallurgists' legislative initiatives and proposals. The metallurgists in turn pledged to promote at various levels the Duma group's "ideological platform." Raikov told reporters that he chose to publicize the agreement so his group could not be accused of making secret deals. In January, "Kommersant-Daily'" reported that People's Deputy had concluded a similar agreement with Moscow-based Metalloinvest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2002). JAC
WAVE OF BANKRUPTCIES PREDICTED FOR SIBERIA'S DEFENSE SECTOR
First deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Igor Prostyakov told reporters in Novosibirsk on 12 March that not one of 33 defense enterprises in Novosibirsk Oblast has received a single kopek in payment from the government for defense orders during January and February of this year, Interfax-Eurasia reported. He is not excluding the possibility that a number of defense enterprises in the Siberian district will have to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. JAC
NEW ACTION AGAINST CHINESE TRADERS REPORTED IN FAR EAST
Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov has issued a decree ordering tighter controls over the trading activities of foreign citizens, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 12 March. According to the oblast administration's press service, more than 2,000 foreign citizens, most of them Chinese, sell goods in the capital's central market, often without paying the necessary taxes. Last month, officials in Kamchatka Oblast announced they will no longer allow any new Chinese traders into their territory because local businessmen accused them of selling goods at "dumping" prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). JAC
LIPETSK GOVERNOR SET FOR ANOTHER TOUR OF DUTY
Registration for candidates in the 14 April gubernatorial elections in Lipetsk Oblast closed on 9 March, and six candidates met the deadline, regions.ru reported on 11 March. Incumbent Governor Oleg Korolev will vie against Colonel General Ivan Skuratov, a former commander of the coast guard of the Military Marine Fleet; Igor Polosin, deputy chairman of the Lipetsk City Council; Gennadii Kuptsov, former head of the Lipetsk Oblast administration; Yurii Bozhko, head of the Zadonskii Raion administration; and Viktor Starykh, deputy director of Sberbank's Zadonsk branch. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 March, Bozhko and Starykh are essentially doubles for Korolev. The only serious possible competitor, Vladimir Lisin, the head of the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Combine, signed a "cooperation agreement" with Korolev last month not to participate in the elections. Lisin said he did not want to create further conflict in the region. According to the daily, presidential envoy to the Central federal district Georgii Poltavchenko brokered the agreement with the two men and got Korolev to promise to try to improve the lives of Lipetsk residents. JAC
ANOTHER ENVOY DISSATISFIED WITH LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS
Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii told reporters in Khabarovsk on 12 March that he is dissatisfied with the work of law enforcement bodies in a number of regions in his district, although he did not specify which ones, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Pulikovskii made his remarks following a meeting of the directors of auditing and law enforcement agencies in the district at which the problems of corruption and economic crimes in the timber and fishing industries were discussed. JAC
LOCAL OFFICIALS TRY MILKING LIVESTOCK SITUATION TO TEACHERS' ADVANTAGE
Officials in the Berezovskii Raion in Krasnoyarsk Krai have come up with a new way to pay local teachers -- instead of wages they are given trade credits redeemable in cows, ntvru.com reported on 12 March citing Volga inform. According to the latest information, more than 30 teachers, most of whom work in agricultural areas, have signed up for the program. According to raion head Sergei Khrul, only cows, and not steers, are available. JAC
OPPOSITION LEADER SUSPECTS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, DEFENSE MINISTER PLANNED PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS
Speaking in the northern town of Giumri to supporters of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party of which he is a leading member, former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan said he suspects President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian "had a hand in" the October 1999 parliament shootings in which eight senior officials died, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But Bazeyan stressed that he has no evidence to substantiate his suspicions. He said Hanrapetutiun hopes to defeat Kocharian in the presidential and parliamentary elections due next year. The independent "Iravunk" on 12 March named Sarkisian as the president's "No. 1 support base," but predicted that he alone will not be able to ensure Kocharian's re-election for a second term, and that the president will have to rely on either the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun or the Republican Party, whose leader, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, has amassed "huge pre-election resources," according to "Iravunk." LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES YEREVAN MAYOR
At a meeting on 12 March with Yerevan municipal officials, President Kocharian criticized their failure to resolve chronic problems with water supplies, apartment heating, and financing the public health service, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But at the same time, Kocharian made it clear that he has no intention of replacing Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DRAFTS LAW ON ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE
The Armenian parliament's Defense and Security Committee unveiled a bill on 12 March that would allow members of registered religious organizations that oppose military service to perform alternative "civilian service" under the supervision of the Defense Ministry, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. According to the Armenian Constitution, all young men must serve for two years in the armed forces upon reaching the age of 18. The alternative "civilian" service will last 42 months, which can be reduced by one year on payment of 1 million drams ($1,770). Young men who opt for civilian service will subsequently be ineligible to hold any post in the government, judiciary, or law enforcement agencies. Thirteen members of the Jehovah's Witnesses are currently serving prison terms in Armenia for their refusal to perform military service. LF
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS MOSCOW
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 12 March after talks with his visiting Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian that political dialogue between the two countries is making headway, and that "progress has been registered in bilateral relations and cooperation in the international arena," ITAR-TASS reported. Oskanian for his part expressed confidence that his talks with Ivanov will contribute to reaching a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF
PROSECUTOR RULES OUT AMNESTY FOR IMPRISONED KARABAKH ARMY COMMANDER
Mavr Ghukasian, who is prosecutor-general of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, told journalists in Stepanakert on 12 March that rumors that former Defense Minister and commander of the Karabakh armed forces Samvel Babayan will be amnestied are "absolutely groundless," according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Babayan was sentenced in February 2001 to 14 years' imprisonment on charges, which he denied, of masterminding the failed attempt in March 2000 to assassinate Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY UNDER PRESSURE
Several members of the opposition Civic Solidarity Party headed by former President Ayaz Mutalibov were summoned on 12 March to the National Security Ministry and warned to cease their activities, Turan reported on 12 March. The party plans to stage a demonstration in Baku on 17 March to protest the authorities' repeated refusal to register the party. LF
AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER ACCUSES ARMENIA OF SUPPLYING WEAPONS TO KURDISH REBELS
During talks in Baku on 12 March with a visiting delegation from the U.S. Air Force College, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev accused Armenia both of storing unregistered armaments on occupied Azerbaijani territory and of supplying arms to Kurdish militants, Turan reported. In the late 1990s, Abiev accused Armenia of hosting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases on its territory. LF
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REGISTERS CONCERN OVER POSSIBLE NEW FIGHTING IN ABKHAZIA...
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 12 March characterized the situation in the Kodori Gorge as "explosive," adding that the presence there of Georgian army troops and Chechen "rebels" poses "a real danger to the Abkhaz population and regional peace," ITAR-TASS reported. He further accused Georgia of "sabotaging" the agreements it signed in January and February pledging to withdraw the troops it sent to Kodori last fall. Also on 12 March, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing concern that the Georgian leadership may adduce unconfirmed reports that Al-Qaeda guerrillas have taken refuge in Kodori as the pretext for launching a new attack on Abkhazia with the aid of U.S. antiterrorist forces, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz statement formally called on Georgia to withdraw its troops from Kodori. LF
...AS UN CASTS DOUBT ON CLAIMS THAT AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS ARE IN ABKHAZIA...
Echoing U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, General Anis Ahmed Bajwa, who heads the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, told journalists in Sukhum on 12 March that he cannot confirm Georgian officials' allegations that Arab terrorists have taken refuge in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). LF
...AND SUKHUM ACCUSES GEORGIA OF FINANCING GUERRILLA FORMATIONS
Meanwhile, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba accused the Georgian leadership on 12 March of allocating funds from the state budget to finance the White Legion and Forest Brothers guerrilla organizations that systematically target Abkhaz police officers, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian officials have for years denied that they have any leverage over those guerrilla formations. LF
FOUR AFGHANS DETAINED IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL
Georgian special forces detained four Afghans suspected of ties with Muslim terrorist organizations, Caucasus Press reported on 12 March. The four men entered Georgia via Iran and Azerbaijan two months ago and were living illegally in Tbilisi. They planned to acquire false passports to travel to the Netherlands. LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SPELLS OUT LIMITS TO MEDIA FREEDOM
Addressing the opening session of the first congress of journalists of Kazakhstan in Astana on 12 March, President Nursultan Nazarbaev warned that if they fail to exercise good judgment and self-restraint, writers and journalists risk jeopardizing "all that we have achieved since independence," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The media must not become a tool in the political struggle, Interfax quoted him as saying. Nazarbaev referred to the media campaigns which, he claimed, set in motion the disintegration of the USSR and Yugoslavia. He also warned the political opposition against heeding the blandishments of "emissaries from across the ocean" who, he predicted, will "not support you [but will] just laugh at you and abandon you." In a seeming contradiction in terms, Nazarbaev also proposed that journalists establish what he termed a public independent council that would be granted the status of a national agency affiliated with the head of state, and which would advise on media-related issues, Interfax reported. LF
U.S. ENVOY LOBBIES FOR KAZAKH PARTICIPATION IN BAKU-CEYHAN
Speaking on 12 March in Astana after two days of meetings with members of the Kazakh leadership, Steven Mann, who is the assistant to the U.S. secretary of state for Caspian energy issues, said Washington hopes that Kazakhstan will commit itself to exporting crude via the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline, rather than hold out for an alternative route via Iran. Mann said he believes the combined capacities of the Baku-Ceyhan and CPC pipelines will be adequate to transport the amount of oil Kazakhstan will export in the foreseeable future, Reuters reported. He also expressed the hope that Kazakhstan will soon hold tenders for as yet unallocated blocs in its sector of the Caspian, adding that there is no need to wait to develop those resources until a solution is found to the problem of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. Mann also said that the U.S. and Kazakhstan are discussing the possibilities of cooperating in the export of natural gas from Kazakhstan, but did not give any details of those plans. LF
KAZAKH, UZBEK PREMIERS DISCUSS BORDER DEMARCATION
Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov and Utkir Sultanov met on the Kazakh-Uzbek border on 12 March to discuss the demarcation of the section that includes the villages of Baghys and Turkestanets, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Residents of those two villages declared the district an independent republic last December to focus attention on the problems resulting from the two countries' failure to agree on demarcating the border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 7 January 2002). LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY DENIES CHARGES AGAINST HIM
On 12 March, the second day after the resumption of his trial, Azimbek Beknazarov rejected the charges against him of dereliction of duty, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov is accused of failing to bring criminal charges in 1995 against an investigator who killed a man in self-defense. Beknazarov claimed that eight pages are missing from the 48-page file on the case and demanded that they be found. Meanwhile, some 1,800 of Beknazarov's supporters met in Djalalabad Oblast on 12 March and adopted a seven-point appeal to the Kyrgyz leadership. They want the trial to be televised nationwide, and Beknazarov's acquittal and release. LF
KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS WAYS TO PAY OFF ITS DEBT TO MOSCOW
A Kyrgyz parliament delegation that visited Moscow last week proposed paying some $59 million of Kyrgyzstan's total $168 million debt to the Russian capital by offering goods, services, and a stake in Bishkek enterprises, including munitions factories, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March, quoting Kyrgyz parliament deputy Djanysh Rustembekov. Rustembekov also argued that last year's 25 percent decline in bilateral trade must be reversed, or Kyrgyzstan will risk losing its market in Russia. LF
TAJIK PUBLIC ACCORD AGREEMENT EXTENDED INDEFINITELY
At a session on 11 March, signatories to the 1996 Public Accord Agreement renewed that document indefinitely, and a representative of the former opposition Islamic Renaissance Party signed the accord for the first time, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 12 March. The accord was first signed on 9 March 1996 for a period of three years by pro-government political parties and NGOs in a show of support for the ongoing peace process. It was prolonged for a further three years in 1999. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES GAS EXPORTS WITH ITERA HEAD
President Saparmurat Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 11 March with Igor Makarov, who heads the gas exporter Itera, Interfax reported. The two discussed Kazakh President Nazarbaev's proposal to form an alliance of CIS gas exporters and implementation of the agreement they signed in December under which Itera will purchase 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 12 December 2001). LF
UZBEK, U.S. PRESIDENTS MEET
During a 45-minute meeting at the White House on 12 March, U.S. President George W. Bush assured Uzbek President Islam Karimov of his appreciation of Uzbekistan's support for the international antiterrorism coalition, which he said "opened a new chapter" in bilateral relations, Reuters reported. But at the same time, Bush stressed that Uzbekistan must implement further economic reforms, and singled out improvements in human rights as crucial to "the future growth and strength of Uzbekistan and to U.S.-Uzbek relations." Also on 12 March, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov signed a declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation that encompasses not only political and economic but also military cooperation. Also signed were agreements on nuclear nonproliferation and on the allocation of a $55 million credit to small and medium enterprises in Uzbekistan. LF
BELARUS, RUSSIA MOVE TO UNIFY TAX, PRICING POLICIES
Meeting on 12 March in Minsk, Belarusian Premier Henadz Navitski and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov agreed to harmonize tax and customs laws as well as pricing policies in order to move toward a "common economic space" in the Russia-Belarus Union, Belarusian media reported. Kasyanov told journalists that a package of relevant documents might be signed by 1 April. Kasyanov said Belarus will cancel all preferences for domestic producers, while Russia will set unified prices for oil, gas, electricity, and railway shipments for both countries. He added that Belarus and Russia will also unify their customs duties and tax systems. "We confirm the country of origin principle for collecting indirect taxes, the same way we do it now, and we will be ready to sign an agreement as part of this package to allow the tax agencies in our countries to employ uniform techniques in determining their tax-collection principle," Belapan quoted Kasyanov as saying. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY VACATIONING IN AUSTRIA
Premier Navitski confirmed on 12 March the rumors that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is taking a short holiday in Austria, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The service reported that Lukashenka's presidential plane has been at a Vienna airport since 7 March. The presidential press service has refused to disclose Lukashenka's whereabouts. JM
FORMER BELARUSIAN SPEAKER FAILS TO HAVE HIS PENSION INDEXED
A Minsk district court on 12 March rejected a suit filed against the government by former speaker Stanislau Shushkevich in which he demanded that his devalued pension be raised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. An official from the Labor and Social Security Ministry argued before the court that former public servants' pensions are governed by a decree issued by President Lukashenka in September 1997, and that the plaintiff is not mentioned in that decree. "This is actually political repression," Shushkevich commented on the verdict to an RFE/RL correspondent. "However, I needed to have a documentary confirmation of that [repression]. The court decision is such a confirmation," Shushkevich added, saying he will appeal the verdict. Shushkevich's monthly pension is now equal to some $2. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PENSIONS RAISED BY 10 PERCENT AS OF 1 APRIL
Leonid Kuchma has instructed Premier Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet to increase pensions for some 13 million Ukrainian pensioners by 10 percent as of 1 April, UNIAN reported on 12 March. Most monthly pensions currently paid in Ukraine range between 79 and 129 hryvni ($15-$24). JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL REJECTS MOTION TO INVESTIGATE KUCHMA...
Mykhaylo Potebenko told journalists on 12 March that a recent parliamentary motion to launch a criminal investigation of President Kuchma in connection with his alleged assistance to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko in planning the murders of two lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002) is groundless, UNIAN reported. Potebenko also turned down the parliament's request to investigate commercial deals by presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn and State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). The prosecutor said the lawmakers' appeal was based on a forged letter, and vowed to investigate the letter's origin. JM
...CLAIMS TO HAVE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO BRING CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST TYMOSHENKO
Potebenko also said prosecutors have investigated enough "episodes" to file a criminal suit against former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko. Asked why they have not done so thus far, Potebenko said the Prosecutor-General's Office "has no right" to sue Tymoshenko with regard to only "one episode" of her case. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod explained that prosecutors are continuing their investigation into bribery, document forgery, smuggling, and tax evasion allegedly committed by Tymoshenko. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES KUCHMA OF SELLING ARMS TO IRAQ
Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the temporary parliamentary commission dealing with the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 12 March that President Kuchma is responsible for selling $100 million worth of weapons to Iraq in contravention of 1990's UN Security Council resolution No. 661. "President Kuchma personally authorized this [weapons] supply, and this is confirmed in his conversation with [Valeriy] Malev," Zhyr said, adding that his commission has a recording of this conversation made secretly in Kuchma's office. Malev, who died in an automobile accident on 6 March, was the head of Ukrspetseksport, a state-run company trading in arms and military equipment. JM
POLL SAYS SIX PARTIES TO WIN SEATS IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
The Razumkov Center of Economic and Political Studies found in a poll conducted from 28 February to 6 March among 2,010 Ukrainians that if parliamentary elections had been held at that time, six parties and blocs would have been able to overcome the 4 percent voting barrier. They are: Our Ukraine (23.9 percent of the vote), the Communist Party (16.8 percent), the Social Democratic Party (United) (8 percent), For a United Ukraine (7 percent), Greens (5.5 percent), and Women for the Future (4.1 percent). According to the center, chances of being represented in the parliament also remain for the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (3.9 percent of the vote), the Socialist Party (3.7 percent), the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc (2.8 percent), and Yabluko (1.7 percent). The poll's margin of error was 2.3 percent. JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT RENOVATION OF NARVA POWER PLANTS
The cabinet decided on 12 March to retain the monopoly of Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy [EE]) and finance the renovation of its power stations in Narva from loans and EU support funds, ETA reported. Economy Minister Liina Tonisson recommended that EE take a loan of 1 billion kroons ($55.8 million) from an international organization, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the Nordic Investment Bank. The government will not provide a state guarantee for the loan, but would assist in getting the best possible terms for it. She noted that there are no plans to sell shares of EE since state ownership is a precondition for getting subsidies for environmental investments from the European Union's ISPA fund. Tonisson also said the government will suggest that EE introduce a smaller rate hike in electricity prices than those originally planned for introduction on 1 April, but that decision ultimately depends on the EE council. SG
NETHERLANDS SUPPORTS BALTIC MEMBERSHIP IN NATO
Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins began a two-day visit to the Netherlands on 11 March with a meeting with Dutch Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Frank Majoor, BNS reported. They discussed bilateral relations, EU and NATO expansion, as well as international policy developments of interest to both states. Majoor emphasized that the Netherlands fully supports the admission of the three Baltic states to NATO at the Prague summit in November. The next day, Riekstins held talks with European Affairs Minister Dick Benschop that focused on the financial framework of EU enlargement and the work of the EU Future of Europe Convention. SG
LITHUANIAN PREMIER DELIVERS REPORT ON LAST YEAR'S WORK
Algirdas Brazauskas delivered to the parliament a 400-page document about the activities of the government in 2001 even though he became prime minister only in July, ELTA reported. In presenting the annual report, he stated that membership in the EU and NATO are the country's main foreign policy goals, and that the accomplishments of his government include a 5.7 percent growth in the country's GDP with a rather stable 2 percent annual inflation. He also noted the government's success in collecting the planned budget revenues, and the restructuring of the country's energy system. His report was praised by the ruling coalition, with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas calling it "a progressive, detailed, and versatile document." However, the head of the opposition Liberal Union faction, Gintaras Steponavicius, called the report "a formal document void of keenness" that did not mention such unfavorable factors as the growing tax burden, the introduction of more bureaucratic procedures, and lack of attention to pension reforms. Conservative Andrius Kubilius described the report as "boring, bureaucratic, and not fit for public debate." SG
POLISH GOVERNMENT, U.S. FIRM FINALIZE DEAL ON COMPUTER SYSTEM FOR EU FARM AID
The government Agency for Restructuring and Modernizing Agriculture and the U.S. Hewlett-Packard company have finalized a controversial deal for the creation of the computerized Integrated Administration and Control System to manage EU aid to Polish farms, Polish media reported on 12 March. The Polish government and Hewlett-Packard renegotiated a contract earlier concluded by the former Solidarity-led cabinet, reducing the original value of the deal from 67.5 million euros ($58 million) to 38.5 million euros. JM
POLL SHOWS DECLINING SUPPORT FOR POLISH GOVERNMENT
The CBOS polling center found in a poll conducted from 1-4 March among 1,065 adult Poles that for the first time since the formation of the ruling coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance, the Labor Union, and the Peasant Party, the number of those dissatisfied with the government is larger than those who are satisfied, PAP reported on 12 March. According to the poll, 39 percent of respondents negatively assessed the government's performance (down 4 percent on the February figure), and 31 percent said the performance is positive (down 6 percent from the February figure). JM
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES THAT NATO CONSIDERS MINISTRY UNRELIABLE
Jaroslav Tvrdik told journalists on 12 March that NATO has never criticized the Czech Defense Ministry for alleged insufficient protection of sensitive data, CTK reported. Tvrdik said no one in his ministry has access to secret information if they have not received the necessary security clearance. Tvrdik made the comments after accompanying President Vaclav Havel on a visit to military units to commemorate the third anniversary of the Czech Republic's admission to NATO. President Havel said he supports the decision to send a military field hospital to Afghanistan to relieve suffering in that country. Tvrdik said the country has earned respect within NATO due to its participation in peacekeeping operations and the fight against international terrorism. MS
CZECH DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER RESIGNS
Josef Jehlik resigned on 12 March, CTK quoted Minister Tvrdik as saying on 12 March. The defense minister said the resignation was Jehlik's "personal decision." He is to be replaced by Jaroslav Skopek, formerly in charge of economic matters who will now be tasked with overseeing military reforms. MS
CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE MAKES ITS COALITION PREFERENCES KNOWN
Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Cyril Svoboda told the daily "Vecernik Praha" on 12 March that the Coalition (made up by the KDU-CSL and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union) would prefer the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) rather than the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) as its coalition partner after the June elections, CTK reported. Svoboda said the views of the Coalition are closer to those of the CSSD on such issues as EU admission and the reform of the pension plan. He also said that if the Coalition joins the CSSD in the next government, the current government lineup would have to change. He said negotiations for such changes would particularly revolve around the Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Finance ministries. He also said that rumors that the Coalition will break apart after the elections are merely "wishful thinking" on the part of some ODS politicians. MS
EU URGES SLOVAKIA TO CARRY OUR REFORMS CONSISTENTLY
The European Union on 12 March urged Slovakia to carry out reforms consistently, to reduce unemployment, and to solve the problem of the Romany minority, CTK reported. At a meeting in Brussels of the EU-Slovak Council, Bratislava was told that if the current speed of reforms is maintained, it has a good chance of closing its accession talks by the end of this year. The dispute with Hungary over the Benes Decrees was not on the meeting's agenda, but Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique and EU Enlargement Commission Director Eneko Landaburu said current disputes between Slovakia and Hungary should be resolved in the spirit of "good-neighborly relations." Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in reply that his country will continue the dialogue with Hungary, but is not ready to "forego principles" and allow the "discriminatory" Status Law be implemented on its territory. MS
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MECIAR WILL NOT RETURN
Kukan told journalists in Brussels after the meeting of the council that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar will not return to power in his country, CTK reported. He said that as in 1998, the forces opposed to Meciar will unite to prevent his return after the September parliamentary elections. He also said that if Slovakia is not admitted to NATO, it will also not be asked to join the EU. MS
SMK 'YELLOW CARDS' SLOVAK COALITION
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) on 12 March abstained from a vote in the parliament on deciding the agenda of the legislature's spring session, Reuters reported. The SMK abstained because the agenda included a debate on the draft law proposed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which would allow sanctions against organizations and individuals who cooperate in issuing Hungarian ID cards under the Status Law, according to the agency. The agenda is to be resubmitted for a vote by parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas on 13 March. The SMK has warned the KDH that if the draft law is approved, the SMK will not join an envisaged center-right coalition after the September elections. MS
SLOVAK SUPREME COURT RETURNS BILAK CASE TO PROSECUTION
The Supreme Court on 12 March ruled behind closed doors that the case of former Czechoslovak Communist Party official Vasil Bilak should be returned to the prosecution for further investigation, CTK reported. Bilak, who was one of the signatories of the letter that invited the Warsaw Pact to extend "brotherly help" to Czechoslovakia in 1968, is charged with treason and infringement of foreign-currency regulations. The second charge is connected to the financing by the Czechoslovak Communists of communist parties in capitalist and Third World states. In March 2001, a regional court in Bratislava also returned the case to the prosecution due to "serious shortcomings" in the investigation, but that decision was appealed by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Supreme Court ruling upheld that decision. Bilak is 84. MS
SLOVAKS PROTEST LOSS OF SAVINGS IN PYRAMID SCHEMES
Several hundred people protested in Bratislava on 12 March against the government's decision the day before not to compensate losses caused by the collapse of several unlicensed savings and loans companies, CTK reported. The protesters shouted antigovernment slogans. The parliament was to debate the affair on 12 March, but failed to do so because of the SMK's refusal to vote for the agenda (see above). The protesters accuse the government of having tolerated the operation of the collapsed companies, and of not having informed investors that the companies were based on pyramid schemes. Slovak media reported that the far-right Slovak National Party was involved in organizing the protest demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). MS
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL SLAMS HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
Council of Europe official Erik Jurgens, who is in charge of preparing a report on the consequences of the Status Law, said in Budapest on 12 March that the law's approval by the Hungarian parliament under its current form was "not a wise move," Hungarian media reported. The Dutch politician spoke after meeting with Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, and other Hungarian politicians and officials. Jurgens commented that the issue is fomenting both domestic disputes and nationalism in the region. He said the controversy is also related to the upcoming elections in both Hungary and Slovakia. Jurgens expects to submit his report to the council in late April. MS
HUNGARIAN JOURNALIST RESPONDS TO 'WASHINGTON POST' ARTICLE
In a response to the article published by columnist Jackson Diehl in the "The Washington Post" earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002), journalist Balint Vazsonyi on 12 March came to the defense of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, calling Diehl's criticism of the premier "unfair," Hungarian media reported. Vazsonyi said that Diehl does not read Hungarian newspapers, is not a specialist on Hungary, and gets his information from "biased sources." He explained that Orban's use of the term "eletter," which Diehl interprets as the Hungarian equivalent of the Nazi "Lebensraum" (living space) was merely a "reference to the environment." Vazsonyi said that in using the term, Orban had in mind economic cooperation with the 3 million ethnic Hungarians who live beyond the country's borders, and thus it was not an "irredentist" idiom. Vazsonyi alleged that Diehl likely grew used to former U.S. President Bill Clinton's support for socialists around the word during his eight-year term in office. MS
RUSSIANS PROTEST VANDALISM OF SOVIET MEMORIAL IN HUNGARY
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 12 March expressed "concern" over the vandalization of a Soviet memorial in Doboz, and said it objects to the recently opened Museum of Terror's equation of the crimes committed by the Nazis and those of the Soviet army during its liberation of Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath rejected the criticism, saying an investigation of the vandalism in Doboz is under way, and that the exhibits in the Budapest museum reflect scholarly expertise. MS
HUNGARIAN OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATES MSZP HEADQUARTERS
Data protection ombudsman Attila Peterfalvi personally went to the MSZP headquarters in Budapest on 12 March to investigate a letter campaign launched by the Socialists in December last year, Hungarian media reported. About 3 million letters signed by Peter Medgyessy, the MSZP's candidate for the premiership, were sent at that time, and the ombudsman suspects that the privacy law was broken, since recipients complained that the letters included personal information that could not have been gathered merely from telephone books. Medgyessy said that "if the ombudsman's objections are correct, and they probably are, then the data must be deleted from the files, and the MSZP will do so." MS
GENEROUS DONORS FOR MACEDONIA
Participants in the long-awaited donors conference -- sponsored by the EU and World Bank -- pledged a total of $515 million for Macedonia, Reuters reported from Brussels on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said: "I am convinced that by virtue of this donors meeting we will leave behind us political and economic insecurity and turn a new page of economic prosperity and accelerated economic development in our country and the region as a whole." The aid pledged amounts to $250 for every inhabitant of Macedonia, he added. The lion's share of the money will go to support the state budget. Donors linked their pledges to progress in implementing the August 2001 peace agreement and reforms aimed at ending government corruption and promoting the private sector. It remains to be seen, however, how quickly the pledges will materialize. PM
SOLANA RETURNS FOR YUGOSLAV TALKS
EU security policy chief Javier Solana was scheduled to arrive in Belgrade on 13 March for talks with top leaders from Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Citing EU sources, Reuters reported from Brussels the previous day that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic have already reached an agreement on political issues. Economic questions remain the main stumbling block. Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has already announced unspecified "consultations" within the DPS and the governing coalition following Djukanovic's meeting with Solana. Media reports suggest that the new polity will be called the Union of Serbia and Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). PM
VOJVODINA GETS A GOVERNMENT AND 'INFORMATION IN THE CROATIAN LANGUAGE'
A new provincial government has been set up in Novi Sad without members of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2002). The DSS opposes even the minimal autonomy package recently approved by the Serbian parliament. In related news, the Vojvodina parliament approved a proposal to set up a publishing house called Hrvatska rijec (Croatian Word) to "provide information for the Croatian minority in their mother tongue...in keeping with Vojvodina's long democratic and tolerant tradition in interethnic relations." PM
FIRST WOMAN TO HEAD CROATIAN UNIVERSITY
The Zagreb University Senate selected Jasna Helena Mencer, a professor at the chemical engineering faculty, as the university's first female rector since its foundation in 1669, AP reported on 12 March. In the 1980s, Milka Planinc, a Croat, served as prime minister of Yugoslavia, the first time that a woman held that post in any Balkan country. Women have since served as prime minister in Turkey and Bulgaria. PM
HERZEGOVINIAN BRIDGE NAMED AFTER CROAT LEADER
The local authorities in Capljina dedicated a bridge on 12 March named after the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Speakers hailed Tudjman for helping the region's Croats during the wars that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Authorities of the federal government, which partly funded the construction of the bridge, did not approve of the name and did not attend the ceremony. PM
UN SACKS MORE BOSNIAN POLICE
The UN police administration (IPTF) has fired 12 police for encouraging a gang to stage a robbery in Doboj in 2000 so that the police could then "foil" it and gain publicity, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 12 March. One gang member was killed and three were injured, while the police informant in the gang escaped. IPTF spokesman Stefo Lehmann said: "The apparent attempt to garner public acclamation by organizing a crime in order to solve it, using a participating insider, ultimately led to the death of one man. Evidence reveals that there was widespread collusion at all levels within the police administration to cover up this orchestrated operation, and to justify police actions prior to, during, and after the police operation." In addition, the IPTF sacked two Muslims and two Serbs for unacceptable behavior toward members of other ethnic groups during the 1992-1995 conflict. PM
GREECE PLEDGES HELP FOR BOSNIAN INTEGRATION INTO EU
Prime Minister Kostas Simitis told his visiting Bosnian counterpart Zlatko Lagumdzija in Athens on 12 March that "Greece supports [efforts] for Bosnia to become an effective state entity," AP reported. Simitis added that his government also backs Bosnia's hopes for integration into the EU. The next day, Greek officials pledged to help Bosnia in telecommunications, energy, and banking. Lagumdzija, who is also foreign minister, will soon yield the premier's job to Bosnian Serb Dragan Mikerevic under the scheduled rotation. PM
ROMANIA SAYS ALL EU CANDIDATES SHOULD BE 'EQUALLY EQUAL'
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said after 12 March talks in Brussels at the EU-Romania Council that his country wants to be treated "on equal footing" with the front-running candidates expected to join the organization in 2004, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. He said that although Romania does not expect to join the EU before 2005, it wants to be involved in the discussions on EU budgetary and agricultural policies before then. Equal treatment, Geoana said, also means that Romania's accession treaty would only need ratification by the 15 current EU members. He added that Romania expects the EU to reallocate any unspent pre-accession funds in 2004 to second-wave candidates Romania and Bulgaria. MS
WORLD BANK DISSATISFIED WITH ROMANIAN POLICIES IN ENERGY SECTOR
World Bank Director for Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania Andrew Vorkink said after meeting in Bucharest with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and Finance Minster Mihai Tanasescu that the government must "act more firmly" in restructuring its energy sector, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vorkink said the privatization of the sector would bring about a drop in prices for energy consumption, which he said are too high and contribute to the government's inability to wipe out arrears in revenue collection. MS
ROMANIAN WORKERS CLASH WITH POLICE DURING PROTESTS
Police on 12 March blocked some 1,500 workers from the Resita CSR steelmaker who intended to cut off the town's water and electricity supplies in protest against their unsolved conflict with the U.S.-based Noble Ventures company, AP and Romanian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Scuffles took place while demonstrators chanted antigovernment slogans. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN SECRET POLICE HEAD SENTENCED
The Supreme Court on 12 March sentenced Tudor Postelnicu, chief of the former communist secret police, and George Homostean, a former interior minister, to 14 years in prison for their role in the liquidation of a group that hijacked a bus in 1981 in Timis County, Mediafax reported. The group was slain while attempting to flee over the border with Yugoslavia. Six other former Securitate officers were sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. The court thus reduced the sentence passed on the defendants by the Military Court of Appeals, which had sentenced Postelnicu and Homostean to 18 years and the others to 16 years. The court also said that Postelnicu and Homostean will only have to serve seven years and the other officers six years of their sentences, because some of the charges for which they were indicted were subject to an amnesty in 1988. MS
PACE COMMISSION TO DEBATE MOLDOVAN SITUATION
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Monitoring Commission accepted a proposal on 12 March to debate the situation in Moldova at its April session, Romanian radio reported. The motion to debate the situation was submitted at a commission meeting in Budapest by Romanian Senator Gyorgy Frunda, who is a deputy chairman of that body. Frunda was the presidential candidate of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania in 1996 and 2000. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS PPCD IS PARTY OF 'NATIONAL FASCISTS'
In an interview with Infotag on 12 March, President Vladimir Voronin said the Popular Party Christian Democratic is a party of "fascists -- to be more precise, national fascists." Voronin also said the current protests in Chisinau are not the result of genuine discontent in the society, but are manifestations "organized by those who lost...power, and are currently doing their utmost to regain their sinecure." MS
MOLDOVAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DEMANDS LIFTING OF CHAIRMAN'S IMMUNITY
Vasile Rus on 12 March asked the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly to lift the parliamentary immunity of assembly Chairman Mikhail Kendigelean, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Together with the autonomous region's governor, Dumitru Croitor, and kidnapped assembly official Ivan Burgudji, Kendigelean is charged with having thwarted the 24 February referendum on dismissing Croitor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Also on 12 March, Deputy Governor Valerii Ianioglo said in Comrat that Croitor and Kendigelean have filed libel charges against President Voronin. The two officials met the same day in Ankara with Turkish State Minister Resat Dogru, who said Gagauz-Yeri plays a "determinant role" in Turkish-Moldovan relations, Infotag reported. MS
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON OFFICIAL VISIT TO U.S.
Solomon Pasi briefly met on 11 March with U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., commemorating six months since the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, BTA reported. The primary aim of Pasi's visit to the United States is to promote Bulgaria's NATO accession effort. Pasi presented a report on the country's achievements in armed services reform, internal stability, and relevant legislative initiatives, particularly measures to fight corruption. The document also touches on antiterror measures and the role of Bulgarian intelligence institutions. Pasi also held talks with World Bank representatives over financial aid for the construction of a railway line between the Bulgarian and Macedonian capitals, Sofia and Skopje. UB
MACEDONIAN CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF VISITS BULGARIA
Colonel General Metodi Stamboliski, the Macedonian chief of General Staff, was to arrive in Sofia on 13 March for an official visit, news.bg reported. He was invited by his Bulgarian counterpart General Miho Mihov. The generals are to discuss Bulgarian army reforms, the expansion of bilateral military cooperation, as well as the two country's efforts to join NATO. UB
INFLATION REACHES RECORD HIGH IN BULGARIA
According to data published by the National Statistics Institute in Sofia, consumer prices rose sharply during the first two months of 2002, "Standart" reported on 13 March. The inflation rate for January and February combined was as high as 4.4 percent. Under an agreement negotiated with the IMF, the inflation for all of 2002 should be 3.5 percent. The highest price increases were for cigarettes and medicines. The price of medicines has risen by nearly 20 percent since the beginning of the year. UB
BULGARIAN-GREEK CONSULTATIONS OVER ADDITIONAL BORDER CHECKPOINTS
During a meeting in Sofia on 12 March, the Greek minister for Macedonia and Thrace (Northern Greece), George Paschalidis, and Bulgarian Regional Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev discussed the projects of three additional border checkpoints between the two countries, news.bg reported. They decided to set up an expert commission, which is to be composed of representatives from each country and report on the current state of the projects. UB
FORMER CZECH PREMIER DISMISSES 'EUROPEAN COMPETITIVENESS'
(The following is Part 2 of an edited transcript of an interview given by Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus (Civic Democratic Party) to Radio Svobodna Evropa (RSE), formerly the Czech Service of RFE/RL. The theme of the interview broadcast on 3 February was Euro-American relations and the interviewer was RSE's Jan Jun.)
RSE: I remember -- I think it was three summits ago in Lisbon -- the European Union announced...that the EU wanted to catch up with the United States in so-called "competitiveness" within 10 years. I laughed, albeit bitterly, because "ensuring competitiveness" means that Europe should direct its firms to catch up with America in labor productivity, while Europe is "corporatist." How would you respond to that?
VACLAV KLAUS: I have always been amused by the papers that are presented at various European summits; I probably don't have to stress that. But I'd say these are phrases, sentences, that the politicians who sign them don't even read. At every summit there are arguments over minor things like whether the governor of the European Central Bank will be a Dutchman for six years, or a Dutchman for three years and a Frenchman for three years. And the summit nearly falls apart because of that [issue], or it goes on until four in the morning. In between [summits], during that half-year, bureaucrats have prepared a number of majestic-sounding papers and texts on which other bureaucrats comment. And in the end, sterile, completely colorless -- and in that case useless -- texts emerge, such as the "Catching Up With American Competitiveness in 10 Years" paper that we're talking about.
So these texts are funny, but I don't think they possess any meaning at all for the summits. I've been to a number of these summits, and I know very well that no one -- among the politicians that go there -- ever gives any serious time to them. They're a product of bureaucracy on all sides, and I wouldn't take them very seriously.
Another thing is a deeper objection of mine, because it seems to me a fundamental issue: I fundamentally reject the term "European competitiveness." This or that economic entity -- "Company XY" -- can be competitive. You, as an editor, can be competitive; I, as a politician, can be [competitive]. Or not. But [I reject] collective competitiveness -- the idea that the South Bohemia Region is competitive, or [the northwestern Czech district of] Chomutov is competitive, or the former German Democratic Republic is competitive. The statement that "Europe is competitive" is absolutely an oxymoron -- for which a professor should give a failing grade to any economics student in an exam because it is...nonsense. It makes absolutely no sense, and it says absolutely nothing.
Europe is or is not competitive, for instance, in the context of whether or not it has a currency, or what rate of exchange that currency has vis-a-vis other currencies, or whether it can sell its goods at a price [corresponding to]...its technical productivity level. A founder of the science of economics, David Ricardo, in his celebrated "law of comparative advantage" is clear enough to virtually anyone in the world. So it's not about the competitiveness of Europe versus America. It's about the competitiveness of firms: the competitiveness of Philips versus a similar firm in the U.S.; the competitiveness of South Bohemian dairies versus dairies in central France. That's what competitiveness is about. And for that reason a firm either prospers or doesn't, or it fails or doesn't. But the competitiveness of a continent is a foolish, political yardstick that cannot be seriously defended.
The last issue is whether in a socially organized Europe -- you called it "corporatist" -- the quality, productivity, and effectiveness of various firms are rising or are being complicated. Here it is absolutely clear that labor legislation, social legislation, and employee decision making on things -- primarily in corporatist Germany or Austria -- represents an enormous burden that does not exist in America and which allows American firms to prosper more than European firms.
RSE: But Europe is changing. And using the term "Europe" is a simplification, of course, but [Spanish] President of the Government [Jose Maria] Aznar said a few weeks ago that catching up to America won't be so easy, because while we are swinging [into an economic slowdown], America will already be recovering.
In the meantime, there will be elections in several European countries: The accent of governments might change and new leaders might be in power. So we can't even throw Europe as such into the same bag, because, let's say, in three years there may be another political team here... Isn't that possible?
VACLAV KLAUS: If only that would happen. But in my meetings with European politicians or within the context of my service as deputy chairman of the European Democratic Union (EDU) -- which is an umbrella group for right-of-center parties in Europe -- and by the way, Mr. Aznar is also a deputy chairman of that organization -- I have a feeling that such things are being heard. Of course they sound different within the Socialist International than they sound within the EDU. But in that sense they are similar to everyone else these days.
I don't necessarily hold out that much hope. But Europe no doubt is moving, changing, and shifting. It must shift and change, and fortunately it is shifting and changing. If only it would shift and change even more. But whether in that sense, in the short and medium terms, I'd be any sort of exceptional optimist, it's hard to say. Okay, we can discuss Mr. Aznar's policies in Spain -- but whether that's some sort of radical reversal in attitude versus [Felix] Gonzales, when he ruled Spain as a Socialist? Maybe a person living in Spain would say so, and they can judge that better than I can. But we're looking at it from a distance, and I don't see any massive breakthrough in the social governance of Spain. But I'm no Spanish-language expert.
I'm slightly cautious about short-winded evaluations of whether America will break out of today's recession before Europe or not, and what that says about America or Europe. This or that business cycle has its own dynamic and its own internal rhythm. I wouldn't make any fundamental assessments based solely on whether this country or continent falls into [a business cycle] or breaks out of it before another does.
I think that also applies to evaluating the Czech Republic. Do you remember several years ago when the Czech economy -- and I'm leaving aside the debate over why or to what extent unnecessarily or intentionally due to the anti-Klaus battle by some people in this country -- got into an unnecessary economic crisis? In any case, at the time [critics] said, "Europe is growing at 4 percent and the Czech Republic is contracting by 2 percent. Look at the criminality in the Czech Republic, of its politicians," and so on. Last week, the latest industrial data of the Czech and the European Union economies came out... The November data said the Czech Republic has grown by 6.6 percent [year-on-year]. Industrial output in the EU, during the same period, has fallen by 4.3 percent. If I were as foolish as those commentators that were comparing the Czech Republic and Europe in 1997 and 1998, then I would say the Czech economy is brilliant and the EU economy is frighteningly bad. That's a difference [in growth] of 10.9 percent, if I'm not mistaken. Those are foolish ideas, and I'm not doing that. But I could easily...at least ram [those economic figures] into the foreheads of those who said the opposite.