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Newsline - March 18, 2002


RUSSIAN CENTRAL BANK HEAD RESIGNS...
Viktor Gerashchenko, Russia's veteran Central Bank chairman, resigned late on 15 March, Russian and international news agencies reported. The Kremlin said that Gerashchenko resigned for health reasons, Russian news agencies reported the same day. But "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 March that the real reason was his opposition to pending legislation reforming the Central Bank. Hours before his resignation, Gerashchenko made an unexpected appearance in the State Duma to oppose the amendments. "Deputies have been presented a bill that supposedly agreed with the Central Bank, but you are being deceived," "The Moscow Times" quoted Gerashchenko as saying on 15 March. The amendments were partially authored by Sergei Ignatiev, the man Putin nominated to replace Gerashchenko. They would weaken the authority of the Central Bank and strengthen a new body, called the National Banking Council, which would comprise representatives of the executive and legislative branches, "Vedomosti" reported on 18 March. VY/BW

...AS PUTIN NOMINATES MONETARIST AS REPLACEMENT...
President Vladimir Putin nominated his 54-year-old first deputy finance minister, Ignatiev, to replace him, the Kremlin said in a statement the same day. Ignatiev was a deputy central bank head in the early 1990s and held several senior government economic policy posts. A St. Petersburg native and a member of Russia's first post-Soviet government led by Yegor Gaidar, Ignatiev is a monetarist and a close ally of Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatolii Chubais, polit.ru reported on 16 March. Ignatiev is also closely allied with Andrei Illarionov, who believes the ruble is overvalued, and should be at 35 rubles to the dollar. A staunch opponent of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Kremlin Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin, Ignatiev has been conducting tax audits of large companies and many expect him to begin investigating the finances of the so-called "oligarchs" who wielded considerable influence in Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin. The Duma is expected to consider Ignatiev's candidacy this week. VY/BW

...WHILE DUMA BUDGET CHIEF...
Aleksandr Zhukov, chairman of the State Duma Budget Committee, lauded President Putin's nomination of Ignatiev to head the Central Bank. "The candidacy of Sergei Mikhailovich Ignatiev, proposed by the president, seems very good to me," Zhukov told NTV television on 16 March. "He is a deputy finance minister, a very experienced person, a brilliant economist, and an excellent specialist. We have been working with him for a long time. Once he was a deputy chairman of the Central Bank. I think that under his guidance the Central Bank will work even better than now," Zhukov said. BW

...AND BANKERS LAUD NEW CANDIDATE
Alfa Bank President Petr Aven also praised Ignatiev's nomination, gazeta.ru reported on 16 March, citing NTV television. "A new time demands new people," Aven said. The influential banker also criticized Gerashchenko for stalling economic reform. "An extremely slow path of banking reforms in this country -- in fact, complete absence of them in the recent time -- and conservation of our inefficient banking system has no explanation except (Gerashchenko's) inertia of thinking," Aven said. "There is no reasonable explanation for a number of currently existing bans, for example, the ban on opening foreign accounts. It is hard to understand why our citizens should be less free than citizens of other countries who can do it." James Fenkner, strategist at Troika Dialog investment bank, also praised the move. "Putin is sending a clear signal on improvement in monetary policy," Fenkner told Reuters. BW

CENTRAL BANK CANDIDATE CALLS FOR STRONG RUBLE...
Ignatiev said there is "absolutely no reason" to weaken the ruble, and that the Central Bank "has all the necessary means to defend its stability," "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 March. Ignatiev dismissed claims that the ruble needs to be weakened to spur economic growth. BW

...WHICH HOLDS STEADY AS MARKETS OPEN STRONG
The ruble fell only slightly against the dollar in early morning trading on 18 March, RBK reported. The ruble was trading at 31.11 to the dollar, 0.04 rubles higher than in the previous session. Financial experts told RBK that nothing serious will happen on the Russian currency market during the next few days until a new head of the Central Bank is appointed. But the daily newspapers "Izvestiya" and "Kommersant-Daily" both wrote on 16 March that the ruble could fall sharply as a result of Gerashchenko's resignation. Russian stocks, meanwhile, opened strong on 18 March due to positive news from the world oil market and some upbeat corporate news that bolstered the market's optimistic sentiment, RBK reported the same day. BW

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW MAY COMPROMISE ON WEAPONS STORAGE...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia may consent to a new nuclear arms deal allowing the United States to store some decommissioned weapons instead of destroying them, international news agencies reported 17 March. Ivanov's comments, broadcast on NBC's "Meet the Press" the same day, suggested a softening of the Kremlin position on the issue. Moscow had previously been insisting that all retired warheads be destroyed. "Part of it may be stored. I don't argue with that principle -- well, out of hand," Ivanov said. "But the devil is in the details: how much, how long, and how quickly it might go back to operational, and, well, jeopardize strategic stability." BW

...AND SAYS HE IS CONCERNED ABOUT IRAQI NUKES...
In the same interview, Defense Minister Ivanov said Russia suspects Iraq may be developing nuclear weapons. "We calculate that there might be a problem in Iraq with weapons of mass destruction," Ivanov said. "That's why we support strongly the idea that a huge team of international monitors should go to Iraq, investigate whatever they wish [and] finally have a clear answer: yes, or no." Ivanov, however, evaded questions about whether Moscow would support the United States if Washington decides to overthrow Saddam Hussein. "The problem is not with Saddam Hussein. The problem is with weapons of mass destruction," Ivanov said. BW

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL DEFEND INTERESTS
"In an interview with Radio Mayak on 16 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied Russia is making concessions to the United States. In relations with Washington, Ivanov said, Moscow is "making no concessions, but defending its national interests. But defending national interests does not necessarily mean confrontation and refusal to negotiate." Ivanov described the controversial U.S. military presence in Central Asia as a "joint rebuff to international terrorism," adding that "it helps to curtail the threats of religious extremism and drug trafficking jeopardizing security of Russia and its allies." Ivanov also denied that Russia is making concessions to Japan over the disputed Kurile Islands, and added that the issue should not harm Russia's broader relations with Tokyo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). VY

RUSSIA AND IRAQ DISCUSS TIES...
Russian energy minister Igor Yusufov called Iraq Moscow's main strategic partner in the Persian Gulf region, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. Russia is making "political and diplomatic efforts in the U.N. Security Council with an aim to settle the Iraqi problem, and seeks to find mutually acceptable solutions with other countries -- first of all with the U.S.," Yusufov said at a meeting of the Russian-Iraqi commission for trade, economic, and scientific cooperation. Yusufov said lifting economic sanctions against Baghdad would "create a basis for full-scale cooperation between Russia and Iraq." BW

...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY SOFTENS TONE ON IRAQ
Foreign Minister Ivanov said that even in the event of U.S. military action against Baghdad, Russia would continue to work within the broader U.S.-led antiterror coalition. "It would not be expedient to issue any ultimatums to say that we would withdraw from the coalition," Ivanov said in an interview published on 15 March in "The Times." "Participation in this coalition is not some present or gift to give to someone, but in our own interests," he said. BW

RUSSIA INCLINED TO KEEP OIL CUTS, BUT NO DECISION MADE
Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said Moscow is leaning toward maintaining oil-export quotas for the second quarter of 2002, Russian news agencies reported on 16 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 15 March 2002). The decision is not final, Khristenko added, saying that "the government can always correct it and change the volume of export if it is dictated by circumstances." Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti quoted an unidentified source within OPEC as saying that such a decision will "not only stabilize the world raw material markets, but also consolidate the two biggest oil producers, OPEC and Russia." VY

NTV CHIEF WON'T SHOW BEREZOVSKY FILM
Boris Jordan, director of NTV television, said he will not show a film suggesting that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) may have been behind a series of apartment building bombings in the fall of 1999, Ekho Moskvy reported on 16 March. "We are afraid of judicial liability," Jordan said. "Our lawyers advised us not to put it on the air." The film, made by French journalists and financed by Berezovsky, suggests the FSB was responsible for terrorist explosions in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk that the Kremlin blamed on Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, 8, and 12 March 2002). VY

JUSTICE MINISTER WANTS TO CHANGE DEFINITION OF THEFT
Yurii Chaika has sent a memo to President Putin suggesting that Russia narrow the definition of "theft" in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding, strana.ru reported 15 March. According to Article 158 of the Criminal Code, stealing even a jar of jam or bag of potatoes can lead to a six-year jail term. As a result, Russian prisons have more inmates serving time for theft than during the Soviet era, strana.ru reported the same day. VY

MOSCOW WILL SEND ITS INVESTIGATORS TO GUANTANAMO
The Foreign Ministry announced on 15 March that Russia will send a group of investigators to the Guantanamo base in Cuba to investigate Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners held there by U.S. forces, gazeta.ru reported. According to some reports, at least five of the prisoners are Russian citizens, presumably Chechens. But Mairbek Vachagaev, a spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, denied that any of the prisoners are ethnic Chechens, gazeta.ru reported. VY

EX-NEWSPAPER EDITOR OPENS ENERGY POLICY WEBSITE
Vitalii Tretyakov, the former editor of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," launched a new website called "World Energy Policy" (http://www.wep.ru) that will analyze global energy policy. The first issue features articles by OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez, Russian Energy Minister Yusufov, and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov. The inaugural issue also features an analysis of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the energy sphere. VY

MOSCOW REPORTEDLY DISPLEASED WITH BOTH TATAR, BASHKIR CONSTITUTIONS...
The Tatarstan-based newspaper "Zvezda Povolzhya" reported on 14 March that participants in a roundtable on the draft Tatarstan Constitution at Kazan University said that Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev has prepared a protest against the document, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. The mention of the republic's power-sharing treaty in the new draft is reportedly the main cause of the prosecutor's opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). The deadline for such treaties to be annulled has been fixed at 28 June of this year, and thus, the Tatarstan Constitution would again contradict federal law. In addition, Professor Midkhat Farukshin, who chaired the roundtable, said Moscow is going to issue a public warning to Bashkortostan's parliament that it did not succeed in harmonization of the Bashkir Constitution. Russian President Putin could conceivably announce a similar warning to Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Farukshin said. JAC

...AS SAKHA PRESIDENT FORMS CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION
Meanwhile, in Sakha (Yakutia), President Vyacheslav Shtyrov issued a decree for a republican constitutional commission, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 15 March. Shtyrov will head the commission himself, while other members will be the republic's vice president, the speaker of the legislature, the chairmen of the republican Supreme and Constitutional Courts, and the republican prosecutor. Commission members will prepare changes and amendments to the republic's basic law primarily regarding the structure of the republic's parliament and organs of local self-rule. The amendments will be adopted during the parliament's summer session. Earlier, Shtyrov dismissed a suggestion by the republic's prosecutor that the local parliament be disbanded because it had not harmonized local laws with federal ones (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 March 2002). JAC

NORILSK RESIDENTS PREFER TO BREAK AWAY FROM KRASNOYARSK
An opinion poll conducted of 106,000 residents of the city of Norilsk found that 99 percent favor the transfer of the town from the jurisdiction of Krasnoyarsk Krai to Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Russian agencies reported on 14 March (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 March 2002). According to Radio Rossii, the poll represented 89 percent of eligible voters. The next day, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed charged that the poll's results essentially mean that the city wants to operate according to its own rules and laws; however, the city's legislation runs counter to both federal laws and the charter of Krasnoyarsk Krai, which includes the Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the operation of legislation in a federation subject can be determined only at the federal rather than at the municipal or territorial level. Taimyr Autonomous Okrug is headed by former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin. JAC

SEVERAL REGIONAL AIRPORTS IN DANGER OF LOSING INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS
Seven Russian airports are set to lose their international status over the course of the next few months, Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko reported on 15 March, according to RIA-Novosti. The airports in danger of losing their status are located in Bryansk, Ivanovo, Kursk, Maikop, Nizhnekamsk, Cheboksary, and Raduzhny. According to Khristenko, only 16 of 70 Russian airports have the right to accept international flights. And in several regions, airports with such rights are located hundreds of kilometers apart. JAC

NGOS IN PERM BELIEVE LETTERS FROM ABROAD ARE 'PRESCREENED'
Following a number of instances in which letters received by NGOs in Perm Oblast from abroad had already been opened, activists for those groups have decided to launch a new initiative aimed at combating violations of citizens' rights to receive letters, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 March. Although the envelopes on such letters bear the mark "received in damaged condition," the activists believe that "someone" is paying a lot of attention to letters from foreign partners. JAC

IMAMS ASKED TO FILL IN FOR OBKOM SECRETARIES
In an interview with BashInform on 13 March, Imam Refis Mullagatdar, the Muslim religious leader of the Baltach Raion in Bashkortostan, said regional administrations should involve Muslim imams in "filling the niche formerly occupied by regional Communist Party Committee secretaries, who took on the moral education of rural residents," RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 15 March. Mullagatdar said such work is already being done in the Baltach Raion in Tatarstan. (Both Bashkortostan and neighboring Tatarstan have Baltach Raions.) JAC

RESIDENTS SAY NO TO NEW NUCLEAR POWER PLANT...
Activists in Petrozavodsk have gathered 65,000 signatures for a petition against the construction of a new nuclear power plant, Interfax-Northwest reported on 16 March. Activists from different organizations, including from the Unified Russia party, worked together under the block called Accord in Karelia. JAC

...AND MCDONALD'S
Protesters gathered in the center of Voronezh on 14 March to oppose the construction of the first McDonald's restaurant in their city, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. According to the daily, the majority of the protesters were pensioners and youths. Most of the former are members of the local Communist Party, while the young people are members of the "radical international movement" Ekozashchita, and the antiglobalist organization No to Corporations. The protestors called on the Voronezh mayor to conduct a referendum of residents of the raion where construction of the new restaurant is planned. They also presented a complaint to the presidential envoy to the Central federal district, Georgii Poltavchenko, who responded that construction of the restaurant will not violate the city's construction code. On 12 September of last year, McDonald's won the right to lease four plots of land, and pledged to invest $5 million in construction in the area and in the development of infrastructure. JAC

MAN EATS BIRD, NOVOSIBIRSK POLICE SAY
A 50-year-old man was arrested in Novosibirsk on suspicion of eating a rare Japanese bird, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 March. The bird, a male Japanese crane worth $7,000, went missing from the local zoo after it was transferred with its mate to a summer cage, local officials said. The homeless man is accused of breaking into the cage and stealing the bird. BW

OFFICER DETAILS ABUSES AGAINST CHECHEN CIVILIANS
A Russian Army officer who defected to the United States said his airborne unit executed Chechen civilians, "The New York Times" reported on 17 March. Captain Andrei Samorodov said pro-fascist elements in his unit, the 21st Airborne Brigade, encouraged the executions. When he tried to intervene and stop the roadside executions of Chechen civilians, Samorodov was beaten and his life was threatened. Unidentified men also came to his house in Stavropol and killed his family dog. In November 1999, Samorodov deserted his unit and defected to the United States, traveling through Mexico. He was granted political asylum in May 2000. "I LOVE Russia and I have been in love with the Russian Army since childhood," Samorodov told "The New York Times." "But I was faced with a choice: I could either leave or die." BW

EXPLOSION DESTROYS CHECHEN MOSQUE
An explosion destroyed the mosque in Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest town, late on 17 March, but caused no injuries, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov said preliminary investigations suggest the explosion was caused by a gas leak, but that terrorism cannot be excluded. LF

CHECHEN PROSECUTORS BRING CHARGES OVER CIVILIAN DEATHS
Four criminal cases have been opened in connection with the deaths of Chechen civilians in Russian search operations in the village of Starye Atagi in recent weeks, Russian agencies reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 March 2002). Meanwhile, Russian forces launched new sweeps in Grozny and the Shali, Achkhoi-Martan, Vedeno, Itum-Kale, and Nozhai-Yurt districts, detaining 19 people on 16 March, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The village of Prigorodnoe was cordoned off on 14 March and a search operation there entered its third day on 16 March, according to chechenpress.com. LF

PROTESTS IN SOUTHERN DAGHESTAN OVER ALLOCATION OF LAND
Residents of 13 villages in the Akhtyn and Magarramkent raions of southern Daghestan are planning a protest against the local authorities' refusal to allocate them plots of arable land, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 15 March. The villagers claim that agriculture is the sole source of employment in the region, and that those families that do not have land plots are constrained to live on elderly relatives' pensions. Unemployment in Daghestan is estimated at up to 80 percent. Villagers in Magarramkent clashed with police on 6 March after blocking a local highway to demand land plots; three people were injured. LF

ARMENIA FORMALLY PROTESTS TURKISH, AZERBAIJANI 'VIOLATION' OF TRANSPORT PROJECT
In an official statement released on 15 March, the Armenian Foreign Ministry lodged a formal complaint with the EU over the refusal of Turkey and Azerbaijan to comply with the 1993 TRACECA agreement, to which Ankara acceded last year, to create an east-west transport corridor through the South Caucasus, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Both countries have maintained an economic blockade of Armenia for the past 10 years, and Turkey recently announced that it will continue to do so. The Armenian statement attributed that announcement to pressure from Baku. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER BACKS RIGHT-WING CONSOLIDATION...
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 15 March, Hrant Bagratian, who served as Armenian prime minister from 1993-1996, pledged his support for the incipient consolidation of right-wing parties that split since 1996 from the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 9, 7 March 2002). He said his own Azatutiun Party will join the planned new alignment which, he continued, will give voters an alternative to the present "nationalist and socialist authorities." Bagratian added that the right-wing forces are capable of fielding "three or four potentially serious candidates" in the presidential elections due in March 2003, but did not say if he considers himself one of those candidates. He also rejected as exaggerated official statistics showing that GDP growth in 2001 was 9.6 percent, according to Arminfo on 15 March, as cited by Groong. LF

...AS VETERAN DISSIDENT PREPARES TO RESUME POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
Soviet-era dissident and Self-Determination Union Chairman Paryur Hairikian announced in Yerevan on 14 March that he has resigned as chairman of the presidential Commission on Human Rights in order to return to full-time politics, according to Noyan Tapan and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. He explained that "the activities of a defender of human rights and of a politician are incompatible," adding that during his four-year tenure as chairman the commission has succeeded in identifying those shortcomings in the human rights sphere that must be rectified. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURES POWER GRIDS
The Armenian government on 15 March merged four regional electricity distribution networks into a single entity pending a tender for their lease to a foreign operator, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two international tenders last year failed to find international bidders willing to privatize the networks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 April, and 3 December 2001). LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS AGREE TO APPOINT KARABAKH ENVOYS...
The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a proposal by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to name personal representatives who will meet on a regular basis to discuss ways of ending the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). Armenian President Robert Kocharian has named Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian to that post, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 18 March. Former Azerbaijani state adviser Vafa Guluzade commented on 15 March that he does not think such meetings at the deputy foreign minister level will yield results, recalling that he and former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian's adviser Zhirair Liparitian failed despite regular talks to agree on a Karabakh peace plan. LF

...AS AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES HE PLANS TO RESIGN
Vilayat Guliev has refuted as "nonsense" media speculation that he intends to resign because of disagreements with President Heidar Aliev over the Karabakh peace process, Turan reported on 15 March. Also on 15 March, Guliev rejected as "intended for domestic consumption" President Kocharian's statement during an interview the previous day with AFP that he and Aliev reached a broad agreement last March on how to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and that that agreement was committed to paper during talks in Florida in April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). Guliev also complained to journalists on 15 March that the OSCE is exerting pressure on Azerbaijan to embark on economic cooperation with Armenia, according to ANS TV and Caspian News Agency, as cited by Groong. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION STAGES NEW PROTEST
An estimated 5,000-6,000 people participated in a demonstration in Baku on 16 March convened by the reformers' wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), Turan reported. Participants blamed the current Azerbaijani leadership for the economic hardship in which most of the population lives and called for the government to resign. Ali Kerimov, who heads the AHCP reformers' wing, appealed to the opposition and the population to join forces against the ruling regime, arguing that "we have nothing left to lose." LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO MEDIA LAW
On 14 March, President Aliev signed amendments to Azerbaijan's media law that were published in the press the following day, Turan reported. Under those amendments, media outlets must no longer obtain formal registration before beginning operations, nor is the government empowered to close or suspend the operation of media outlets, which may receive funding from any source not prohibited by law. Only in a very few cases may courts oblige journalists to reveal their sources of information. On 15 March, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told journalists that work on a new law on the electronic media and on a bill on public television is in progress, Turan reported. LF

NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO GEORGIA RUFFLES FEATHERS
Former Georgian parliament speaker Vakhtang Goguadze on 15 March criticized a statement by the new U.S. ambassador to Tbilisi, Richard Miles, in which he said that democratic elections in Georgia are a priority for the U.S., Caucasus Press reported. Goguadze argued that Miles's statement could be construed as an attempt by the U.S. to intervene in domestic politics with the aim of ensuring the election of pro-U.S. forces. Georgian Foreign Minister spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze said the same day that Miles's remark reflects Washington's support for Georgia and its efforts to foster the development of democratic principles in that country. LF

CIS PEACEKEEPERS APPREHEND GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS...
Members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone apprehended two of a group of Georgian guerrillas who attacked a checkpoint in the village of Primore on 14 March, Caucasus Press reported the following day. In a statement issued on 15 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack which, it said, "proves that certain forces in Georgia intend to aggravate the situation in the conflict zone." LF

...AS GEORGIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS THERE WILL BE NO NEW WAR IN ABKHAZIA
There is no truth to the 12 March statement by the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry that Georgia is preparing to launch a new military operation in Abkhazia in late April or early May, Georgian Ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze told Caucasus Press on 16 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). LF

GEORGIAN CENSUS-TAKERS DEMAND TO BE PAID
Representatives of the over 23,000 volunteers who participated in January's nationwide census staged a demonstration in Tbilisi on 18 March demanding to be paid for their work, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Statistics Department head Teimuraz Beridze said, however, that the treasury has not released the 2 million laris ($885,000) earmarked for that purpose. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS
Some 252 delegates from all 14 of Kazakhstan's oblasts and major cities attended the founding congress in Almaty on 16 March of the opposition Aq Zhol party, ITAR-TASS reported. The party's founders split in January from the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan that was founded last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 1 February 2002). LF

KAZAKHSTAN, TURKEY SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Visiting Turkish armed forces Chief of Staff General Husein Kivrikoglu and Kazakh Defense Minister General Mukhtar Altynbaev signed an agreement on military cooperation for the current year in Astana on 15 March, Turan reported. The agreement provides for ongoing cooperation between the two countries' air and naval forces and for the training of Kazakh cadets in Turkish military colleges. In addition, Turkey will provide aid worth some $1 million to the Kazakh armed forces in 2002. Kivrikoglu also met in Astana on 15 March with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO EXPAND COOPERATION WITH SVERDLOVSK OBLAST
Kazakh Prime Minister Imangaliy Tasmaghambetov and visiting Sverdlovsk Oblast governor Eduard Rossel agreed during talks in Astana on 15 March to establish a working group that will aim to expand bilateral economic cooperation, especially in ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy, construction, and the agro-industrial sectors, ITAR-TASS reported. Tasmaghambetov noted that Kazakhstan's annual trade with Sverdlovsk amounts to $400 million, which is higher than with some foreign countries. Kazakhstan will also open a consulate in Sverdlovsk, Rossel told journalists in Astana the same day after talks with President Nazarbaev. LF

FOUR KILLED AS POLICE IN KYRGYZSTAN OPEN FIRE ON DEMONSTRATORS
Four people died on 17 March and up to 61 were injured in a clash between police and some 2,000 persons who gathered in the Aksyi district of Djalalabad Oblast to demand the release of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, Reuters reported. Police opened fire on the protesters, who pelted them with stones and tried to occupy a local police station in what Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev claimed on 18 March was an attempted coup. The presiding judge in Beknazarov's ongoing trial had announced on 15 March that he intends to pass sentence on 18 March. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SUSPENDS IMPORTS OF U.S. POULTRY
Kyrgyzstan on 14 March suspended imports of poultry from the U.S. due to fears that the meat contains unacceptably high levels of antibiotics and other additives, AP reported on 15 March. Russia banned imports of U.S. poultry earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 March 2002). LF

U.S. OFFICER IN KYRGYZSTAN INJURES TWO WOMEN IN CAR CRASH
An officer serving in the U.S. contingent in Kyrgyzstan ran over and injured two women with his automobile late on 14 March, Reuters reported the following day. Details of the accident are not clear. The Kyrgyz press has reported growing resentment against the U.S. military presence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DETAINED FOR DEMONSTRATION ON CONSTITUTION DAY
Police on 15 March arrested Mikalay Statkevich, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), charging him with the organization of an unauthorized demonstration, Belapan reported. Some 500 people marched in downtown Minsk earlier the same day to commemorate Constitution Day. The Supreme Soviet promulgated a new constitution of independent Belarus in 1994. In 1996, a rigged referendum approved of what was officially termed as "amendments" to the 1994 constitution, but in fact was a wholly rewritten basic law to suit the authoritarian rule of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM

FIVE BELARUSIAN YOUTHS HEAVILY FINED FOR DEFAMING LUKASHENKA
The Shklou District Court on 15 March imposed fines of some $1,000 on Dzmitry Shalashkou, Mikhail Kisyalyou, and Dzyanis Senakosau, and of some $200 on Alyaksandr Paulovich and Mikhail Patupchyk for staging a street performance that was found to defame President Lukashenka. The five, who belong to the Zubr youth opposition group, were found guilty of having paraded on 14 August 2001 through the Haradzets state farm -- which was once managed by Lukashenka -- dressed as four white-coated doctors in pursuit of a mustachioed Lukashenka look-alike. The alleged Lukashenka impersonator kept stopping passersby to ask "Do you know me? I'm your old boss. I'm back!" The fake doctors then approached the passersby and asked, "Have you seen our patient? He has escaped from a mental hospital!" JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS WANT ANSWERS IN ZAVADSKI KIDNAPPING
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said in a statement on 15 March that the recent trial of the alleged kidnappers of Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002) has not resolved the mystery of what happened to Zavadski, Belapan reported. "In the chain of crimes committed by the Ihnatovich gang, the kidnapping of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski was proved neither during the preliminary investigation, nor in the course of the trial," the statement said, adding that by holding the trial behind closed doors, the Belarusian authorities only provoked doubt about the impartiality of the proceedings. The association said it "reserves the right to demand" that the Prosecutor-General's Office order a new "thorough and unbiased investigation" into Zavadski's disappearance. JM

BELARUS, ARMENIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou and his visiting Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian signed a cooperation agreement in Minsk on 14 March, and a protocol on the ratification of the bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation signed during President Lukashenka's visit to Yerevan last year, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). Oskanian discussed with Khvastou and with Belarusian Premier Henadz Navitski the prospects for expanding both political and economic relations. He noted that trade turnover between the two countries grew by 25 percent in 2001. LF

UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN, MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN ODESA
The presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova -- Leonid Kuchma, Vladimir Putin, and Vladimir Voronin respectively -- met in Odesa on 17 March to discuss the issue of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region as well as economic matters, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. The three leaders agreed to hold a meeting of their countries' top customs and border guard officials in Chisinau next week to address the problem of smuggling and other illegal activities emanating from Transdniester. Voronin said after the meeting that his government is ready to provide the "widest status for the Transdniester region in the structure of the Republic of Moldova." Kuchma and Voronin reportedly expressed interest in their countries joining the Eurasian Economic Community, which currently is composed of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus. JM

LAWMAKER SAYS FOR A UNITED UKRAINE PLANS TO RIG ELECTION
Lawmaker Oleksandr Yelyashkevych publicized documents on 15 March that allegedly contain a plan by the pro-government For a United Ukraine election bloc to rig the 31 March parliamentary election, UNIAN reported. Yelyashkevych told journalists that an employee of the presidential administration, who preferred to remain anonymous, passed to him a letter carrying a signature very similar to the one of Ivan Kyrylenko, the head of For a United Ukraine headquarters, and addressed to For a United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn. The letter was supplied with a note containing a detailed plan of measures to discredit representatives of competing blocs and cancel their registration, to falsify results of the election by members of electoral commissions, and to use opinion poll agencies and the media to pass off falsified results of the election as genuine. Lytvyn commented on 16 March that Yelyashkevych's documents are totally fabricated. JM

TV DOCUMENTARY SAYS TAPE SCANDAL WAS PR JOB TO UNSEAT UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT
On 17 March, the private ICTV Television, which is part owned by President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, aired a 75-minute documentary called "Piar" (PR) dealing with Ukraine's tape scandal and the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The documentary, written and produced in the West by former "Financial Times" journalist Charles Clover, suggest that the tape scandal was used by the U.S., NGOs, and figures like financier George Soros to exert pressure on Kuchma in order to depose him and install Western-leaning Premier Viktor Yushchenko. Kuchma, who was interviewed in the film, said the crisis connected with former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko's tapes was effectively over when Yushchenko was sacked as prime minister by the parliament in April 2001. The film suggests that Russia used the tape scandal to provide support for the embattled Kuchma, thereby securing better relations with Ukraine to the detriment of the U.S. JM

UKRAINE'S ELECTION AUTHORITY MASSIVELY CANCELS REGISTRATION OF CANDIDATES
The Central Election Commission on 15 March canceled the registration of more than 100 candidates in the 31 March parliamentary election, citing discrepancies between their income declarations and data provided on their incomes by the State Tax Administration as reasons for the cancellation, UNIAN reported. Those ousted from the election race include former Soviet dissident Stepan Khmara and 18 other candidates on the list of the antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. The commission also annulled the registrations of Mykhaylo Brodskyy and Viktor Chayka, the leaders of the Yabluko Party. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER STRESSES NEED TO CURB RESTRICTIONS FOR EU CANDIDATES
Speaking at the summit meeting in Barcelona of 15 EU member and 13 candidate countries on 15 March, Siim Kallas underscored the necessity to reduce the restrictions imposed on EU candidate countries as a precondition for increasing Europe's competitiveness, BNS and ETA reported. He called for alleviating restrictions "in areas such as agriculture, the labor market, and the transportation market." Commenting about the summit in "Postimees" of 16 March, Kallas said that while the representatives of some countries have agreed on the need for liberal reforms, others have called for caution. In regard to the summit's most debated issue, the liberalization of EU's energy markets, he noted that Estonia supports those efforts, but that his country is not currently connected to EU energy grids. Kallas also said differences in direct taxation are a means for promoting competition between EU countries, and should be left as an independent tool of those governments. SG

WORLD WAR II LATVIAN LEGION'S ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATED WITHOUT MAJOR INCIDENTS
The 16 March commemoration day for the World War II Latvian Legion passed without serious incidents, LETA reported. The legion, which was established in February 1943 as an SS unit, chose 16 March as its commemoration date because on that day in 1944 the legion was engaged in a fierce battle with the Soviet Red Army. The decision of the Riga City Council to withdraw the permits it had granted to two radical Latvian organizations to hold public commemorations of the date was praised by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, whose director Efraim Zuroff angered the legionnaires by writing: "It is high time that Latvians fully internalize the fact that fighting on behalf of Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II was the moral equivalent of supporting Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network." There was no traditional march through the city's streets from Riga's Tornakalns Railroad Station to the Freedom Monument, but several thousand people gathered to place flowers at the monument and sing the national anthem and other patriotic songs. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT ASSURES EU SUMMIT THAT COMMITMENTS ON CLOSING NUCLEAR PLANT WILL BE KEPT
Valdas Adamkus told the summit meeting in Barcelona on 15 March that Lithuania will fulfill the commitments it has made concerning the closure of the first reactor of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina, but lacks the funds to finance the closing of the second reactor, ELTA reported. He expressed his hope that the EU will make a clear-cut long-term commitment to help support the plant's shutdown far beyond the 2006 date for which funds have been assigned. The cost of closing the plant, which supplies more than 75 percent of the country's electricity, are estimated at 3 billion euros ($2.67 billion). Adamkus also pointed out the need to improve the international transport corridors in Central and Eastern Europe, which he said are far below EU standards but will be needed for increased transit trade to and from Russia. SG

POLISH SOLDIERS BEGIN TO ARRIVE IN AFGHANISTAN
A group of 24 Polish troops landed in Kabul on 17 March and subsequently reached its deployment base in Bagram near the Afghan capital, PAP reported, quoting Defense Minister spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak. In total, 87 sappers from Brzeg and servicemen from a logistics unit in Opole are to fly to Afghanistan. The group will also include commandos from the GROM elite unit. Poland has offered to send 300 troops to Afghanistan within the framework of the U.S.-led antiterrorist operation. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER GETS SUSPENDED JAIL TERM
The Regional Court in Slubice on 15 March sentenced Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper to one year in prison, suspended for four years, for the organization in January 1999 of an illegal blockade of the border crossing with Germany in Swiecko, Polish media reported. In relation to two other defendants, Janusz Maksymiuk and Roman Wierzbicki of the Individual Farmers' Solidarity trade union, the court conditionally discontinued the proceedings for a year, simultaneously acknowledging them as guilty of having organized the blockade. In addition, the court fined Lepper 5,000 zlotys ($1,100), while Maksymiuk and Wierzbicki will have to pay 2,200 zlotys each to an orphans' aid society. Lepper made fun of the sentence and accused the court of taking "political" instructions. "The sentence is too low. For such a criminal as I am...such verdicts are too small," Polish Radio quoted him as saying. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT TO END ODS PACT ON ELECTION DAY
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 16 March that the CSSD wants to end its so-called opposition agreement with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on election day in order to allow "voters to decide about a new [political] arrangement in mid-June," CTK reported. Spidla said a final decision on the issue is to be made by the CSSD Central Committee on 6 April. ODS Deputy Chairman Miroslav Benes said in response that if the CSSD wants to discuss the termination of the agreement, Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Spidla, his designated successor, should first resign from the cabinet. Freedom Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova and Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda described the gesture as "a trick devised to deceive voters before the elections." MS

EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SAYS STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES WAS 'MISINTERPRETED'
Guenter Verheugen said on 15 March that a statement he made two days earlier in the European Parliament in Brussels has been "deliberately misinterpreted" by some Austrian politicians, CTK reported. Verheugen was quoted as saying on 13 March that the Czech government is ready to abolish the Benes Decrees if they are incompatible with EU laws on property restitution. He clarified on 15 March that he meant that Prague is ready to examine a revision of its 1991 restitution law, which makes only Czech citizens eligible for restitution. He said that, since he immediately followed those comments by referring to the Benes decrees as "obsolete" and quoting Prime Minister Zeman as saying that the decrees have "faded away," his 13 March statement was "misinterpreted." MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER THREATENS TO RESIGN
Jaroslav Tvrdik has said he will "seriously consider" resigning as defense minister if the Chamber of Deputies does not approve a government-sponsored plan for financing a field hospital to be set up in Afghanistan, CTK reported on 16 March, citing the daily "Pravo." The government has proposed issuing bonds to finance the hospital. Costs are estimated at between 612 and 780 million crowns ($17.1 to $21.8 million). The opposition opposes the plan and wants the government to finance the hospital from the current budget. Tvrdik said doing so would affect "the very existence of the armed forces." On 15 March, the Chamber of Deputies narrowly approved the formation of a joint Czech-Polish-Slovak military brigade, which is to be deployed under the NATO aegis by 2004-2005. MS

CZECH RESOLUTION ON CUBA DOUBTFUL
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said on 15 March that the Czech Republic will not submit a draft resolution to the UN Commission on Human Rights criticizing infringements on human rights in Cuba unless it wins "clear support" for the initiative from Latin American countries, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan is currently on a tour of the region and the news agency said there is little indication of such support. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said on 16 March that Prague's readiness to submit the draft resolution would show that the Czech Republic is "just a tool in the hands of the U.S.," and is "incapable of acting independently." MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT FACES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
The parliament is to vote on 21 March on a no-confidence motion in the government submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), but observers say it has little chance of being approved, AP reported. In the motion the HZDS criticized the government's privatization policies and the country's rising unemployment. In related news, the cabinet on 14 March approved the sale of a 49 percent stake in the state-owned Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel gas utility to a French-German-Russian consortium for $2.7 billion. The consortium includes France's Gaz de France, Germany's Ruhrgas, and Russia's Gazprom. The agreement is to be signed "within days," CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKS MARK FASCIST STATE ANNIVERSARY
Dozens of elderly citizens and skinheads assembled in front of the presidential palace in Bratislava on 14 March to mark the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of the wartime independent Slovak state headed by Jozef Tiso, AP and CTK reported. Tiso was hanged as a war criminal after the war. Police questioned some of the skinheads for making the Nazi salute, which is a crime in Slovakia. The Jewish community commemorated the day by giving lawmakers a tour of the construction site of a mausoleum in memory of the Slovak Jewish victims deported and exterminated in Nazi concentration camps. MS

HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER ATTRACTS LARGEST NATIONAL DAY CROWD...
The extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) attracted some 100,000 people to a rally held on 15 March in Budapest's Heroes' Square to mark a national holiday commemorating Hungary's Anti-Habsburg revolution in 1848-49, far more than gatherings of rival parties, Hungarian media reported. MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said ultimate victory in the elections "will depend on the third force, MIEP, which must rescue Hungary from the Medgyessys and Horns." Noting that MIEP "does not completely identify with the Romany organization Lungo Drom," which recently signed an election cooperation agreement with FIDESZ, Csurka said MIEP still has objections to the present government. He said MIEP will nevertheless support the current coalition because "even the worst FIDESZ candidate is better than the best Socialist-Free Democrat candidate." MSZ

...SPEAKS OUT AGAINST FOREIGN-OWNED MEDIA...
Csurka also spoke out against foreign ownership of Hungary's private media. "We are here because we see that our Hungarian identity is in danger," he said. "The Hungarian future can go two ways: we either survive, or we melt into something frighteningly alien," Csurka said at the rally. MSZ

...WHILE EXTREMIST CANDIDATE PRODUCES NEW CONSPIRACY THEORY VERSION
MIEP candidate Laszlo Grespik on 14 March told a rally in the Hungarian town of Gyongyos that the Hungarian change of regime is proceeding in accordance with the "Rozsadomb pact" agreed upon on 15 March 1989, Hungarian media reported. The pact was allegedly made by a Soviet general; a Soviet secret service colonel; the first secretary at the U.S. embassy; a CIA officer; a representative of the Israeli secret service; Cardinal Laszlo Paskai and Gusztav Zoltai, representing the Catholic and Jewish faiths; former prime ministers Jozsef Antall, Peter Boross, and Gyula Horn; former President Arpad Goncz; and Free Democrat Ivan Peto. Grespik said an agreement was then reached on punishing all anti-Jewish manifestations and groups, and on continually declaring that Hungary's borders cannot be changed. Grespik, who is suspended from his post as Budapest's public administration head, believes the alleged pact stipulates that Hungary will fully compensate Hungarian Jewry for losses they suffered in World War II. MSZ

DEBATE ON DEBATE CONTINUES IN HUNGARY
The opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) announced on 14 March that its candidate for premiership, Peter Medgyessy, expects Prime Minister Viktor Orban to show up for a debate at Budapest's Millennium Park on 3 April, Hungarian media reported. Orban's FIDESZ, however, continues to insist on 5 April for a debate at the University of Economics. MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs asked his FIDESZ counterpart Zoltan Pokorni to act as a go-between and ensure that a debate materializes "between the candidate for prime minister of the party that stands a chance of winning a victory, and the outgoing prime minister." However, Budapest dailies report that the FIDESZ leadership does not want to change the date of the debate. In related news, FIDESZ announced on 15 March that it has agreed to hold separate debates with five Socialist ministerial post candidates. Kovacs said this "marks a change in the FIDESZ stance, as it ends a negative campaign fraught with accusations and diktats." MSZ

HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH ISSUES PRO-CONSERVATIVE VOTING ADVICE
A Roman Catholic Church circular that was read out in churches on 17 March told the faithful that "Christian people vote for those who respect and defend the Christian faith," Hungarian media reported. It also stated that "one should not merely believe in promises, but base decisions on past experience." Without mentioning names, the circular said votes should be cast for those who support the sanctity of the family, encourage young people to pursue studies and assist them with access to housing, honor the values of Hungarian culture, are prepared to make sacrifices for ethnic Hungarians abroad, and whose programs are feasible. MSZ

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO INVESTIGATE SPY ALLEGATIONS, INCIDENT
Vojislav Kostunica said on 18 March that the detention of a Serbian deputy premier and a U.S. diplomat for alleged espionage in Belgrade on 15 March will be fully investigated, AP reported. Kostunica, who made his comments after an all-night meeting with top officials, said that the "functioning of military and civilian security services in the country" will also be reviewed. Military police detained General Momcilo Perisic and American John David Neighbor as they dined together at a restaurant. Neighbor was held incommunicado for 15 hours before being released. He was reportedly "roughed up" and had a bag put over his head. Perisic, who was chief of staff of Yugoslav armed forces until a falling out with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1998, was held for two days before being released. As a diplomat and an elected official, both men have immunity from such detentions. Perisic was accused of passing documents "relevant for the defense of the country" to Neighbor. The U.S. State Department denied the charges and said it is "outraged" by the incident. But the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade said that an apology by Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic on 16 March "ends this as a bilateral issue." PB

INCIDENT SHARPENS TENSIONS BETWEEN SERBIAN, YUGOSLAV LEADERS
The Democratic Party, headed by Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, suggested on 17 March that President Kostunica is responsible for the Perisic/Neighbor incident, AP reported. The party noted that military intelligence answers directly to the Yugoslav president. The party went on to accuse Kostunica of "privatizing" the military, which it said is "jeopardizing the human rights of our citizens." The incident comes as Djindjic has made calls for a reform of the military, whose core command remains virtually unchanged since Milosevic was in power. The daily "Danas" and some other media reported that various audio recordings and other documents were found during the detention of the two men. Djindjic and other Serbian officials, including Justice Minister Vladan Batic, accused the security service of planting the objects. Kostunica did not condemn the military for the detentions, and said later that an investigation is needed to "determine the real truth." Additionally, a statement from his party said that there is reason to believe that Perisic is guilty of spying. Djindjic's party said they will propose legislation that would put the military under greater civilian control. PB

PARTY LEADERS CONTINUE EFFORTS TO ALTER BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA'S CONSTITUTION
Leaders of the main political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina met with UN High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch on 18 March to try and make headway on proposed constitutional amendments amid continuing international pressure, local and international agencies reported. Diplomatic sources cited by HINA news agency said Petritsch is under pressure to conclude negotiations on the "constituent peoples" issue by 20 March, when the parliaments of both the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska convene. Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA quoted a Petritsch spokeswoman as saying the high representative is "expecting progress" as political leaders meet in Sarajevo. AH

SERBIAN, MONTENEGRIN OFFICIALS CONDEMN DETENTIONS
Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic called the alleged espionage incident "a first-rate scandal with international consequences," Reuters reported on 16 March. Djindjic said the military secret service had "gone out of control." The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said the incident could "seriously hamper relations between our two countries." Blagoje Grahovac, an adviser to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, said the detentions demonstrate "that the military is not subject to any parliamentary or civilian control." The retired general added that "the army is becoming increasingly dangerous," and that "this is an act of banditry...at the highest levels of the military hierarchy." Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic described the event as "more like a badly directed spy movie than anything else." PB

MONTENEGRIN NATIONALISTS THREATEN TO END GOVERNMENT OVER UNION PLAN WITH SERBIA
Slavko Perovic, the head of Montenegro's pro-independence Liberal Party, continued a stream of criticism over the agreement made on 14 March by Montenegrin President Djukanovic and Yugoslav President Kostunica, AP reported. Perovic, whose party is in the ruling coalition, said he will fight the agreement's passage in the Montenegrin parliament. Ranko Krivokapic of the Social Democratic Party, an ally of Djukanovic's, said the agreement is "unacceptable, and our party will pull out of the coalition if the accord is ratified by the parliament." Djukanovic has predicted the agreement will gain parliamentary approval. He emphasizes that the agreement allows for a referendum on independence by either of the union's two entities after three years. PB

KOSOVA'S UN HEAD IN MOSCOW
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov aired his complaints to Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), on 16 March in Moscow but pledged the Kremlin's full support for the UN administration, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said Moscow feels that many aspects of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 are not being implemented, including the right for non-Albanian refugees to return to their homes. He added that the activities of extremist and separatist groups in the province also need to be better controlled. Ivanov and Steiner agreed upon the need to continue dialogue between ethnic Albanians and the Serbs and other minorities in Kosova. PB

EU SAYS IT CAN TAKE OVER FROM NATO IN MACEDONIA
EU leaders said on 16 March in Barcelona that they will soon be prepared to assume control of peacekeeping duties in Macedonia if the mission there is extended, Reuters reported. The EU is hoping that a long-planned rapid reaction force could debut in Macedonia. The EU is negotiating with NATO on the use of the alliance's facilities in Macedonia. An agreement is being blocked because of a disagreement between Greece and Turkey. Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar said the matter "is of considerable urgency." Spain holds the EU's rotating presidency. There are some 700 NATO troops in Macedonia overseeing the implementation of a peace deal that consists largely of the supervision of the reintroduction of Macedonian police into ethnic Albanian areas formerly held by rebel forces. PB

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SETS LOCAL ELECTIONS
Milo Djukanovic announced on 16 March that local elections will be held in Montenegro on 15 May, dpa reported. The elections will be held in all Montenegrin towns except for Podgorica and Herceg Novi. PB

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT RELUCTANT ABOUT RESTITUTION OF BULGARIAN PROPERTY
A Government source speaking on condition of anonymity has denied that there are plans in the works to change the current law regulating the restitution of nationalized property, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 16 March. "Bulgarian citizens hope in vain that they [will] get back their nationalized property in Macedonia," the unnamed source said in response to rumors that the Bulgarian government plans to prepare a bilateral agreement to resolve open restitution issues between Bulgarians and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told "Monitor" on 17 March that "I do not believe that such publications contribute to the progress in the consultations." According to Pasi, the problems mainly stem from differences in the bureaucracies and the legal systems of Bulgaria and Macedonia. According to reports in the Bulgarian media, up to 200,000 Bulgarian citizens as well as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stand to benefit from such an agreement. In the fall of 2001, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski announced that his government would try to resolve the restitution question (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 September 2001). UB

SERB REFORMER TAKES REINS OF BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT
The central parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina on 15 March appointed Minister for European Integration Dragan Mikerevic to take over the national government's rotating prime minister's post, local and Western news agencies reported. Deputies from the 42-seat lower house that unites the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska approved Mikerevic by a vote of 25 to seven, with 10 deputies abstaining or absent. The 47-year-old economics professor is a reformist Serb and a member of Mladen Ivanic's moderate Party of Democratic Progress. Mikerevic told the assembly ahead of the vote that he intends to continue political and economic reforms until the next general elections, slated for October. He singled out judicial reform and the fight against corruption along with the creation of a business-friendly environment as imperatives to increase domestic private investment and attract foreign investors, Reuters reported. Mikerevic replaces Zlatko Lagumdzija, a Muslim who now takes on the post of foreign minister in the central government, in the eight-month rotation between Serbs, Muslims, and Croats. AH

IVANIC RE-ELECTED TO HEAD BOSNIAN SERB PARTY
Delegates to the Party of Democratic Progress' (PDP) second convention overwhelmingly supported another term as party chairman for Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic, local agencies reported following the 17 March meeting. Ivanic received the votes of 343 of the convention's 369 delegates. The group also approved a four-year program, elected Goran Milojevic and Zoran Djeric as deputy chairmen, and named a new 85-member board, federal radio reported. Ivanic said his main challenge is overcoming economic difficulties and adopting systemic reforms, SRNA reported. AH

CROATIAN PARTIES END COALITION CRISIS
The leaders of Croatia's five governing parties emerged from an eight-hour meeting on 15 March declaring that they have resolved a month-old crisis that threatened to bring about early elections, Western agencies reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the grouping had "consensus on the strategic issues" such as reforms, relations with international institutions, and international relations, Reuters reported. While the immediate threat has been "overcome," Racan added that the coalition "has to prove it in the coming weeks when dealing with concrete issues." The trouble began in February, when Drazen Budisa returned to head the coalition's second-largest party, the Social Liberal Party (HSLS). Under the deal, Budisa will replace party rival Goran Granic as Racan's first deputy. Granic is expected to remain in the cabinet as one of four deputy premiers. HSLS Economy Minister Goranko Fizulic will be replaced next week, as will an ex-HSLS official, Transport and Communications Minister Alojz Tusek, whom the party expelled last year, Reuters reported. AH

POPULAR YUGOSLAV ACTORS DIES
Danilo Bata Stojkovic, best known for his acting in plays and movies portraying narrow-minded communist characters, died of cancer on 16 March at the age of 67. Stojkovic participated in a series of anticommunist plays by dissident authors in the 1980s, and became even more popular when he backed those who toppled Yugoslav President Milosevic in 2000. PB

CROATS WARN OF REFUGEE EXODUS FROM WESTERN BOSNIA
The head of the Croatian government's Department for Returnees and Refugees, Lovre Pejkovic, warned on 17 March of a possible fresh wave of refugees from western Bosnia-Herzegovina. Pejkovic said about 15 refugees a day are arriving in Croatia, mainly from the regions of Drvar and Grahovo, and stressed that authorities must ensure that such emigrants do not settle in abandoned homes waiting for their rightful owners, FENA reported. Meanwhile, the Alliance of Bosnian Croats on 18 March asked the government and Bosnian authorities for help in solving the problem of Bosnian Croats reportedly being evicted from Drvar, HINA reported. AH

ROGUE TRADER'S ARREST PROMPTS CROATIAN BANK SCARE
Dozens of depositors lined up outside Rijeka Banka in Rijeka on 15 March after the bank announced that its chief foreign-currency trader was arrested for alleged abuses and false accounting, AP reported. The bank, which is majority-owned by Bavarian Bayerische Landesbank and is a major player in the northwest of the country, responded by saying the bank is liquid and solvent. "Our depositors' money is safe and there is no reason to worry," General Manager Ivan Stokic said. The Croatian Central Bank, which also holds a small stake in Rijeka Banka, confirmed that the institution's operations are "not in question," AP reported. Shares fell some 37 percent on 14 March as news of the suspected fraud emerged. A lawyer for the accused, chief foreign-currency trader Eduard Nodilo, declined to comment on the charges. AH

SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT PLANE MAKES FORCED LANDING
A Slovene government plane carrying the country's minister in charge of negotiating EU accession and four associates made a forced landing after a brake failure on 14 March, the government announced the following day. No one was injured in the incident, as the U.S.-made Lear Jet came to a halt at the edge of a runway at Helsinki's international airport, where Minister Janez Potocnik was headed for meetings with EU officials. AH

ROMANIA'S MAGYARS CELEBRATE 1948-49 REVOLUTION...
Members of Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority on 15 March celebrated in different Transylvanian towns the anniversary of Hungary's Anti-Habsburg revolution in 1848-49, Romanian radio reported. Messages were read from Hungarian Premier Victor Orban and Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko said in Sfantu-Gheorghe that the fact that ethnic Hungarians can now freely display the Magyar flag and sing the Szeklers' anthem is proof that the "mentalities are changing" in Romania. Marko praised the government for having recently abolished the legislation that prohibited such manifestations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). MS

...BUT CLUJ MAYOR ORGANIZES COUNTER-CELEBRATIONS
Ultranationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar organized celebrations in Cluj on 15 March commemorating the 1848 revolution in the Romanian principalities, as well as the 10th anniversary of his election as mayor, Mediafax reported. Also in attendance was Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who said he has "authorized" PRM members to dismantle bilingual street signs in the town because they "adversely affect Cluj salubrity." MS

ROMANIAN CENSUS BEGINS
A census of the population in Romania began on 18 March, Romanian radio reported. The census is to last until 27 March, and the first results are expected in early June. MS

ROMANIAN GENERAL MAKES POLITICAL COMEBACK
Retired General Mircea Chelaru, who was forced to resign last year because of his participation in a ceremony marking Marshal Ion Antonescu's execution in 1946, was elected on 16 June as chairman of the National Council of the extraparliamentary Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), Romanian radio reported. Chelaru has already announced that he intends to run for the position of PUNR chairman, and is supported by outgoing PUNR Chairman Valeriu Tabara (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2001). MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, BUCHAREST MAYOR CLASH OVER KURDISH DEMONSTRATION
Ghiorghi Prisacaru, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Affairs Commission, on 17 March said a decision by Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu to authorize a 19 March demonstration by members of the 500-strong Romanian Kurdish minority in a Bucharest square endangers relations with Turkey and may negatively affect stability and Romania's NATO membership bid, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Basescu rejected the criticism, saying the authorities had not brought to his attention a decision taken two days earlier to prohibit a Kurdish automobile caravan traveling from Brussels to Turkey from entering Romanian territory on grounds that it would endanger national safety. The demonstrators and those traveling in the caravan are demanding free access to education in the Kurdish language for members of the minority in Turkey. MS

PRM TO INITIATE 'BESSARABIA'S REINTEGRATION INTO ROMANIA'
PRM Chairman Tudor said in Cluj on 15 March that his formation will initiate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe a resolution calling for "Bessarabia's return to Romania," and will demand that the issue be examined by "international arbitrage," Mediafax reported. One week earlier, Tudor said a deal should be struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin by which Romania would forego integration in NATO in exchange for "Bessarabia." The Ruling Social Democratic Party said it will not support the PRM motion. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS TALKS ABOUT 'TWO ROMANIAN STATES' MUST STOP
Vladimir Voronin, in an interview with the Moldovan Russian-language daily "Nezavisimaya Moldova" said on 15 March that Bucharest must stop speaking about "the existence of two Romanian states," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said he considers such talk to be "a genuine danger to Moldova's sovereignty," and that if Russia were to talk about "two Russian states" when referring to either Ukraine or Belarus a scandal "would immediately break out." He also accused Romania of "insolently offering us advice, as if we were its smaller brother who must not talk back," and added: "This cannot continue. Enough is enough!" MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON CHISINAU TO RESPECT DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
The European Parliament on 15 March approved in Brussels a resolution calling on Moldova to respect democratic rights and freedoms and ensure the supremacy of the law, Infotag reported. The parliament said the Moldovan government should abstain from making decisions that "jeopardize the country's political and social stability," and should continue the implementation of social and economic reforms in order to meet the commitments assumed in the agreement of cooperation with the EU. The resolution condemned the earlier suspension of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) and attempts to lift the parliamentary immunity of three PPCD leaders. It also criticized the intention to grant Russian the status of an official language and the since-revoked introduction of compulsory Russian-language courses in school curricula. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION POSTPONES DEBATE ON LIFTING PPCD LEADERS' IMMUNITY...
The Judicial and Immunity Commission on 15 March postponed for one week debating the Prosecutor-General Office's request to lift the parliamentary immunity of Iurie Rosca, Vlad Cubreacov, and Stefan Secareanu, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca told journalists that the request was not dated and had no "registration number." Meanwhile, the PPCD decided the same day that the protest rallies will take place twice a week instead of daily. MS

...AND PARLIAMENT POSTPONES HEARING ON DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT WITH ROMANIA
The parliament decided on 15 March to postpone for one week the hearing during which Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau is to explain the incident that led to the expulsion of a Romanian diplomat, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Andrei Neguta said the postponement was necessary "until the situation clears up." Braghis Alliance leader Dumitru Braghis protested the decision, saying he fails to understand how the authorities can first declare a foreign diplomat "persona non grata" and later "ask for time to figure things out." MS

BULGARIA: RULING NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II DROPS IN POPULARITY
A recent opinion poll conducted by the private MVMD research agency showed a sharp decline in Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's popularity, "Standart" reported. Saxecoburggotski finished in sixth place in the poll behind General Boyko Borisov of the Interior Ministry, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, President Georgi Parvanov, Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, and newly elected chairwoman of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Nadezhda Mihailova. The rating of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) also fell. If there were elections now, only 11 percent of the voters would cast their ballots in favor of the NDSV. The opposition Coalition for Bulgaria, which is dominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), would garner 16.6 percent of the votes. The opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) would receive 15.8 percent. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER DEMANDS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
In an interview with Bulgarian national television, parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov said that the time has come to think about constitutional changes, focus.bg reported on 17 March. "In general, our constitution is a good one. It has worked for more than 10 years now... However, things change," Gerdzhikov said. He proposes placing the constitutional changes on the agenda in 2003, as discussions about such changes take time. According to Gerdzhikov, constitutional provisions for the legal system, parliamentary immunity, and banning foreigners from buying land in Bulgaria must be changed. UB

BULGARIAN VICE PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES FOR ASSIMILATION POLICIES
At a meeting in the village of Barutin in the Rhodope Mountains, Vice President Angel Marin apologized for the communist assimilation policies toward the Muslim population in the 1970s and 1980s, mediapool.bg reported on 17 March. The meeting commemorated the 30th anniversary of protests against the "Revival Process" -- a euphemistic paraphrase for the forceful campaign in which the Bulgarian security forces forced Muslims of Bulgaria (ethnic Turks, Roma, Tatars, and Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks) to change their Muslim names into Christian ones. During the Barutin protests two villagers died, six were wounded, and eight had to serve long prison sentences. UB

There is no End Note today.


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