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Newsline - March 19, 2002


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT ON GLOBAL SECURITY THREATS
Addressing a group of foreign ambassadors assembled at the Kremlin to present their diplomatic credentials on 18 March, President Vladimir Putin said one of the main goals of the antiterrorist coalition must be the elimination of the organizational structure and financial base of international terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. In addition to terrorism, the civilized world should face the challenge of additional threats such as nuclear proliferation, regional conflicts, ecological crises, drug trafficking, and economic inequality, which the president said threatens global security. Ambassadors from Afghanistan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Greece, Romania, and Lesotho attended the ceremony. VY

MOSCOW STRESSES ECONOMIC TIES WITH BAGHDAD
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said after meeting on 18 March with Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rashid that Moscow is pleased with its economic ties with Baghdad and will continue to support Iraq politically, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. "We are against any coercive scenario for solving the Iraqi problem," Ivanov said. Rashid, in Moscow for a meeting of the Iraqi-Russian commission for trade, economic, and scientific cooperation, told journalists that his country has already signed more than 300 contracts worth $500 million with Russian oil traders under the framework of the UN's oil-for-food program, and hopes to sign an additional long-term bilateral trade agreements program during the commission's session. Rashid added that more than 400 Iraqi oil engineers have been sent for training in Russia, including 80 to Gazprom and 240 to Tatneft. VY

DUMA TAKES HARD LINE ON KURILES
Speaking at the parliamentary hearings on the fate of the Kurile Islands on 18 March, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that for Russia its territorial integrity is more important than a peace treaty with Japan, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, the Duma's International Relations Committee head, Dmitrii Rogozin, said that the controversy surrounding "the disputed islands is an invention of Japanese diplomacy," and that the economic significance of the Kuriles is so crucial that Russia must "toughly and actively reinforce its sovereignty over the territory." Aleksandr Gurov, the head of the Duma's Security Committee, added that the islands are strategically vital for Russia "especially [considering the] current geopolitical advance of the United States." Eventually, the participants of the hearings adopted recommendations asking Putin's administration to "drop the idea of a peace treaty with Japan as...confrontational, and build bilateral relations on other bases." VY

RUSSIA PREPARES TO BUILD UP ITS OWN ANTIMISSILE SYSTEM...
Within the next few years, Russia will completely restore its national early warning system for preventing missile attacks, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 March. Speaking the same day at the collegium of the Russian Agency for Guidance Systems (RASU), agency director Vladimir Simonov said Russia has already finished assembling the Volga radar station near Baranavichy in Belarus, modernized the central control station of the Space Troops at Serpukhov-15, and successfully tested its S-400 air-defense missile system. Simonov also said that his agency's budget was increased last year by 25 percent. "Izvestiya" commented that the measures show that Russia is about to deploy its own antimissile defense system to counter that planned by the United States. VY

...AS DEFENSE COMMITTEE HEAD WANTS TO LIVE BY THE SWORD
"The United States is deploying its national antimissile defense to dictate its will to the world, and Russia should look for adequate measures" to counter it, Duma Defense Committee head General Andrei Nikolaev said on 18 March, RIA-Novosti reported. "One such measure must be to increase the threat from our side, which means that if U.S. is building up its nuclear shield, we should build up our nuclear sword," Nikolaev said. Nikolaev proposed that a council composed of Russia's top strategic weapons designers be created and serve as a consulting organ to the Russian government on military-technical issues. VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE CONTRACTOR HOPES TO SELL MISSILES TO BOEING
Vympel General Director Gennadii Sokolovskii has announced that Russia's federal committee for military-technical cooperation with foreign countries is reviewing a purchase request from Boeing, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 March. The Russian state-owned defense contractor produces air-to-air missiles. The daily commented that if the U.S. aerospace giant were to place an order it would signify a significant step forward for joint military production cooperation, as U.S. defense contractors have traditionally only been interested in obtaining samples of Russian military hardware to gain technical know-how. VY

MILITARY PAY RAISE COULD SABOTAGE RUSSIAN BUDGET
Speaking at a meeting of the government on 18 March, President Putin called on Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet to implement the military personnel salary increase approved by the State Duma on 14 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said that under the new concept the state will halt the practice of offering financial privileges to soldiers, and instead introduce an across-the-board 50 to 100 percent pay raise beginning on 1 July 2002. The new military payment system will be equal to that of the civil service, and most social benefits such as free transportation and medical care will be retained, explained Putin. Polit.ru commented on 18 March that the Finance Ministry is unsure of how the president's wish can be fulfilled, because such measures would require a state budget increase of at least 10 percent. VY

SPY'S BOOK SHEDS LIGHT ON KREMLIN'S COLD WAR POLICIES...
The Moscow publishing house Olma-press has released a book written by the late Soviet super-spy Pavel Sudoplatov that contains several revelations on the role of the foreign intelligence under former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's regime, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" wrote in a review on 15 March. The former deputy of Stalin's secret police chief Lavrentii Beria requested in his will that the book be released after Sudoplatov's death, which occurred in 1996. In his book, Sudoplatov repeats his claims that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director for Los Alamos research for the U.S. Manhattan Project, was a member of the U.S. Communist Party's covert network that was completely controlled by Soviet intelligence. Second, he writes that on 22 December 1945, Stalin received in the Kremlin one of the leading figures of the U.S. atomic bomb project, Professor James Bryant Connant, who traveled to Moscow to seek contacts with Soviet nuclear scientists. Sudoplatov writes that during this meeting Stalin ironically offered a toast to "the health of American physicists." VY

...CLAIMS STALIN SUPPORTED PEARL HARBOR ATTACK, USED DOLLARS TO REBUILD USSR
In addition, the book claims that a week before Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Stalin secretly conveyed to the Japanese imperial government a message that Moscow "fully supports Tokyo's plans to defeat Anglo-American imperialism in the Pacific." Furthermore, Sudoplatov writes that with the help of excellent intelligence contacts inside the U.S. government, his organization obtained equipment from the U.S. Treasury 1945-1948 that provided the USSR with the means to print much-needed dollars for restoring its own as well as satellite economies ruined by the war. VY

PRIMAKOV'S MEDIA CREDENTIALS QUESTIONED
"Yezhenedelnii Zhurnal," No. 9, carried a long report on the TV-6 affair and the effort to form an alliance of oligarchs to support the team of journalists headed by former TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev. According to the weekly, several members of Kiselev's team refused to participate in the new project when they learned that they would not be able to avoid being subordinated to Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Yevgenii Primakov. The weekly noted that when Primakov was a prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, he "used to be scolded even by Boris Yeltsin for his bad relations with the media." It also notes that "political experts do not doubt that the political heavyweights [such as Primakov and Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists head Arkadii Volskii] have been commissioned by the Kremlin in order to conduct ideological monitoring of the disfavored NTV/TV-6 journalistic team." "Yezhenedelnii Zhurnal" was started by former "Itogi" Editor Sergei Parkomenko, who left when that publication was taken over by Gazprom-Media. JAC

GOVERNMENT SUSPENDS REFORM OF EES...
Viktor Kudryavii, a deputy energy minister and board member of Unified Energy Systems (EES), has said that he is opposed to dividing EES into two separate companies for distribution and energy production because such reform is "premature," polit.ru reported on 18 March. Kudryavii admitted that in an EES board vote on 17 March he voted against restructuring the company because "there is no sufficient legal base for the reform of the electrical energy sector." Kudryavii added that the government's decision to deregulate EES is not an end in itself, and that hasty reforms could discriminate against other generating companies that produce about one-third of the electrical power in the country, including Rosenergoatom, Tatenergo, and Bashkirenergo. VY

CHUBAIS TELLS DEFENSE MINISTRY OFFICIALS THEIR TIME IS UP...
EES issued a press release on 18 March noting that an earlier moratorium on limiting electricity supplies to military facilities ran out on 15 March, lenta.ru reported the same day. According to the website, the company said that budget-funded organizations owe it some 4.7 billion rubles in unpaid bills just for the first two months of 2002. The Defense Ministry is supposedly one of the biggest offenders -- its indebtedness to regional branches of EES increased by 1.1 billion rubles ($35.3 million) from the first of the year. Also on 18 March, Ulyanovskenergo started to limit heat and electricity supplies to military facilities in Ulyanovsk Oblast. Affected was the military city of Polivino. JAC

...AS ULYANOVSK APPEALS TO PUTIN FOR HEAT, ELECTRICITY
Meanwhile, NTV reported on 18 March that more than 100,000 people in Ulyanovsk Oblast have been living without heat and hot water for almost a week, and Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko has sent a letter to President Putin asking that "measures be taken to protect Ulyanovsk residents." Prime Minister Kasyanov visited Ulyanovsk last month in part to deal with the region's continuing energy problems (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 February 2002). JAC

TUVA PRESIDENT GETS THIRD TERM
Incumbent Tuva Republic President Sherig-ool Oorzhak was re-elected on 17 March, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to preliminary results the next day, Oorzhak has more than 53 percent of the vote -- more than 50 percent was required in order for him to win in just one round. Oorzhak's closest competitor was local legislative speaker Sholban Kara-ool, who had 24 percent of the vote. RFE/RL's Kyzyl correspondent reported that the election was one of the dirtiest and most scandal-ridden in the republic's history: one candidate, Vyacheslav Darzha, the head of the republican legal department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002) survived an assassination attempt; and the incumbent Oorzhak was accused of using administrative resources in his campaign -- a charge which the republican Supreme Court examined the day before the election and dismissed. In addition, another candidate, Stanislav Pivovarov, said that his main goal in participating in the election was to raise the issue of launching a criminal investigation against Oorzhak. Darzha also said on local television that he possessed compromising materials about Oorzhak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). JAC

REGIONAL PARDONS COMMISSIONS NOT DOLING OUT MANY PARDONS
Robert Tsivilev, the head of the presidential administration's department on pardons, has said that the new pardons commissions in Russian regions are recommending the rejection of a majority of appeals that they consider, strana.ru reported on 14 March. He said that in Tatarstan, the local pardons commission has approved only eight of 96 appeals, the commission in the Saratov Oblast two of 18, in Voronezh Oblast one of five, and in Murmansk Oblast one of two. Meanwhile, in the Nizhnii Novgorod and Ulyanovsk oblasts, commissions denied all of the two and three appeals they considered, respectively. In addition, the pardons commission recently established in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast rejected all three pardon applications at a recent session, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 March. JAC

KREMLIN 'FIXER' VISITS KAZAN...
Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, completed a one-day visit to Tatarstan on 14 March, strana.ru reported the next day. According to the website, Surkov met with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, with whom he reportedly discussed the function of the Unified Russia party. The bulk of Surkov's trip was reportedly devoted to the task of familiarizing himself with the process of building political parties in the republic. Surkov was accompanied by Unified Russia General Council Chairman Aleksandr Bespalov. Bespalov has been preoccupied of late with overseeing the process of merging local chapters of Unity and Fatherland (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 14 March 2002). JAC

...AS ANOTHER STRUGGLE OVER LEADERSHIP OF UNIFIED RUSSIA CHAPTER IS WAGED
Meanwhile, in Kemerovo Oblast, the oblast administration issued a press release on 18 March announcing that the regional branch of the Unified Russia party is in danger of being dissolved, strana.ru reported. According to the website, the party's General Council suggested Yurii Zakharov, rector of Kemerovo State University, as head for the local party branch -- a candidate that Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev reportedly also supports. However, according to the website, Zakharov managed to attract only 89 votes from the 218 delegates at a party gathering in the oblast on 16 March. A meeting on 1 March also resulted in insufficient votes cast in favor of Zakharov. According to strana.ru, delegates to the meeting said that Tuleev is trying to preserve his control over the new party by supporting Zakharov. JAC

NEW FEDERATION MINISTER NIXES REOPENING PASSPORT AND NATIONALITY DEBATE
Vladimir Zorin, the federal cabinet minister who oversees questions of nationalities policy, told Interfax on 18 March that he does not support Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's suggestions that Russian passports include an entry for the bearer's ethnicity. "This question has already been widely discussed by the public, including in the State Duma, when the new passports were introduced," he said. JAC

BURYATIA LEADER ASKED TO SEEK THIRD TERM
A group of workers at a locomotive and train car repair factory in Ulan-Ude have called on Buryatia's president, Leonid Potapov, to seek a third term, strana.ru reported on 15 March. Potapov himself has so far not announced whether he plans to seek re-election in the ballot scheduled for 23 June 2002. JAC

CHECHEN WARLORD APPEALS SENTENCE
Salman Raduev and three of his henchmen have filed an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court against the sentences handed down to them last December by the Supreme Court of Daghestan in connection with their role in the January 1996 hostage taking in the town of Kizlyar, Interfax reported on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). Raduev was sentenced to life imprisonment and his three subordinates to terms ranging from five to 15 years. All four men are asking that their sentences be reduced. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT MAJORITY AGAIN REJECTS OPPOSITION DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
At the close of a weeklong debate, it is clear that most factions in the Armenian parliament still oppose the opposition proposal that the alternative draft constitution prepared by six opposition parties be put to a nationwide referendum at the same time as the package of constitutional amendments drafted by a presidential commission, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, and 19 February 2002). No date has yet been set for a debate on the pro-presidential draft amendments. Once deputies approve those amendments, they must be put to a referendum within two months. But on 14 March, President Robert Kocharian said the referendum should take place only when it will be impossible to use the outcome to score political points during an election campaign, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 March. Presidential and parliamentary elections are due next year. LF

...AS PARTY LEADERS WARNS AGAINST FALSIFICATION OF ELECTIONS
If the 2003 elections are rigged as was the case with past ballots, Armenia's statehood may be endangered, Artur Baghdasarian warned in Yerevan on 16 March, according to Noyan Tapan and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Baghdasarian is chairman of the Orinats Yerkir party that supports President Kocharian. Baghdasarian expressed his backing for the presidential package of constitutional amendments, arguing that the current sweeping powers of the president should be curbed. He also advocated adopting a law on political parties that would provide an incentive for consolidation, on the grounds that 106 political parties is an excessive number for a country as small as Armenia. LF

ACCUSED SAYS HE DID NOT ANTICIPATE ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT BLOODSHED
Vram Galstian, the uncle of Nairi Hunanian, who led the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament in which eight senior officials died, told a Yerevan court on 18 March that the attack was intended as a bloodless coup, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that Hunanian had undertaken to rally a crowd of supporters in front of the parliament building before storming it. Two other accused, Derenik Bejanian and Edik Grigorian, have also testified that the group did not agree beforehand to kill anyone. The eight victims were all shot by Nairi Hunanian and his brother Karen. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI STATE ADVISER REJECTS PRESIDENT'S OFFER OF NEW POST
Vafa Guluzade, who retired in October 1999 as adviser to President Heidar Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 1999), has rejected an offer Aliev made publicly at a reception at the U.S. Embassy in Baku to return to government service, Turan reported on 18 March. The opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," as cited by Groong, quoted Guluzade as saying Aliev's proposal was meant simply as an acknowledgement of his contribution to the development of U.S.-Azerbaijani relations. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE BREAK UP OPPOSITION RALLY
Police dispersed a rally attended by some 2,000 people in Baku on 17 March, Turan reported the following day. The demonstration, organized by the opposition Civic Unity Party, which backs former President Ayaz Mutalibov, was sanctioned by the municipal authorities. Police intervened after one of the speakers denounced the current Azerbaijani leadership as "a mafia," and demanded the return to Azerbaijan of Mutalibov, whom he termed the legitimate president. Participants also called on the government to take steps to resolve the Karabakh conflict and improve socioeconomic conditions. LF

PRESIDENT SEEKS EU MEMBERSHIP FOR GEORGIA...
Meeting in Brussels on 18 March with EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes Georgia will accede to the EU "in the very near future," adding that he does not believe Georgia's present instability and level of poverty will prove an obstacle to doing so, Caucasus Press reported on 18 March. Georgia is not among the present 13 candidates for EU membership, and Solana did not comment publicly on Shevardnadze's statement, according to dpa. Solana for his part reaffirmed the EU's interest in the South Caucasus, and said he and Shevardnadze had discussed bilateral cooperation and U.S. plans to provide military assistance to Georgia in its struggle with putative Islamic terrorists. LF

...AND CONTINUED COOPERATION WITH NATO
Shevardnadze also visited NATO headquarters on 19 March, where he met with Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, Reuters and AP reported. Shevardnadze told journalists that Georgia will continue its cooperation with NATO and aim to bring its armed forces into line with NATO standards. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 19 March quoted Shevardnadze as saying that reforms instituted by U.S. experts who will shortly arrive in Georgia to help train the armed forces constitute a "preparatory step" toward NATO membership, and as such are more important than training the army to fight terrorists. He repeated his earlier pledge that Georgia "will be knocking on NATO's door" in 2005. Both Shevardnadze and Robertson said they do not see a role for NATO in protecting the planned oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia to Turkey. Turan on 15 March quoted Steve Mann, who is adviser to the U.S. secretary of state for Caspian issues, as saying that while the security of those pipelines is primarily the responsibility of the countries through which they pass, the U.S. "is ready to provide assistance" in guarding them. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CLAIMS ARMENIAN POPULATION DOES NOT FAVOR AUTONOMY FOR DJAVAKHETI
Following her visit on 16-17 March to Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Samtskhe-Djavakheti, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said that most of the region's Armenian population do not support demands that the region be granted autonomous status within Georgia, according to Armenian agencies cited by Groong on 18 March. But Mediamax also reported on 18 March that Virk, an organization representing the local Armenians, is demanding that a referendum be held to determine how many local residents support the demand for autonomy. Burdjanadze said the local population does, however, want the Georgian authorities to take measures to alleviate the social and economic problems that plague the region, in particular high unemployment. For that reason, they oppose the closure of the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki, which is the largest single employer. Burdjanadze admitted that a comprehensive Georgian-language instruction program is needed for the region as most Armenians there do not speak Georgian. LG

CIS PEACEKEEPERS ABDUCTED IN GEORGIAN CONFLICT ZONE
Unidentified men on 19 March seized four members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone from their automobile at a control post in the village of Otobaia in Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. The abductors and their captives then headed toward the border between Abkhazia and Georgia's Zugdidi Raion. The leader of the "Forest Brothers" Georgian guerrilla formation, Dato Shengelia, had threatened on 16 March to exact revenge on the Russian peacekeepers for having handed over to the Abkhaz authorities two guerrillas they apprehended two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). But a spokesman for the guerrillas denied on 19 March that guerrilla fighters were responsible for abducting the Russian peacekeepers. Also on 19 March, the Russian Defense Ministry called for the closure of all roads leading from Abkhazia to the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Ekho Moskvy. LF

DEATH TOLL IN KYRGYZ CLASHES RISES...
One person injured during the 17 March clashes in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast between police and demonstrators died in hospital on 18 March, and a second person died overnight after renewed clashes late on 18 March between police and protesters in the village of Kerben, raising the death toll to six, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The circumstances of the 18 March fighting remain unclear. Police opened fire on 17 March on demonstrators who were demanding the release of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). The People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan, which comprises four opposition parties, demanded an independent investigation by international organizations into the shooting. It also said that the interior minister, prosecutor-general, and head of the national security service should step down for the duration of that investigation. The Kyrgyz government and the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament) have both formed commissions to investigate. LF

...AS PRESIDENT ACCUSES OPPOSITION, FIRES LOCAL OFFICIAL...
In an address on National Television on the evening of 18 March that was also carried on the presidential website (http://www.president.kg), Askar Akaev condemned the 17 March clashes as "a clear part of a coordinated campaign by opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country, and this has been going on for the last few months," Reuters reported. Akaev did not, however, mention any opposition party or activist by name. Also on 18 March, Akaev fired Shermamat Osmonov, district administrator in the village of Aksu where demonstrations continued on 18 March to demand Beknazarov's release. State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov on 18 March repeated official allegations that police opened fire in self-defense after demonstrators pelted them with stones. But eyewitnesses told RFE/RL the same day that the demonstrators did not resort to any aggression against the police, who opened fire without warning. LF

...AND INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS POLICE CANNOT AFFORD TEAR GAS
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev told the Legislative Assembly on 18 March that the police had no alternative but to open fire on the demonstrators using live ammunition because the ministry cannot afford either rubber bullets or tear gas for use in crowd control, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A former finance minister, Akmataliev was named to his present post two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). When asked by Ismail Isakov, chairman of the parliament committee on security, what law empowers the police to open fire on the population using live ammunition, Akmataliev was unable to give an answer. LF

BEKNAZAROV'S TRIAL POSTPONED INDEFINITELY
Presiding judge Bolot Mombekov announced on 18 March that he is suspending for an indefinite period Beknazarov's trial on charges of dereliction of duty, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. On 13 March, the prosecution demanded a seven-year sentence; judgment was to have been pronounced on 18 March. LF

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS IRAN
Talbak Nazarov held talks in Tehran on 17 March with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi and with President Mohammad Khatami, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. Topics discussed included the prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation, coordinating measures to counter terrorism and drug trafficking, and possible cooperation in reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Khatami is scheduled to visit Tajikistan on a tour of Central Asian states next month. LF

TURKEY TO PROVIDE MILITARY AID TO UZBEKISTAN
Meeting on 18 March with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, visiting chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces General Husein Kivrikoglu pledged a further $1.2 million in assistance to the Uzbek armed forces, Interfax reported. In addition to bilateral military cooperation, the two men also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. Kivrikoglu also met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED FOR 10 DAYS
A district court in Minsk on 18 March punished Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich with 10 days in jail for organizing an unauthorized march to commemorate Constitution Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ASKS FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM IN POLAND
Opposition activist Valery Hrytsuk has requested that the Polish authorities grant him political asylum because of political repression he has suffered in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 18 March. Hrytsuk, who participated in all major opposition actions in Belarus in the 1990s, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the Belarusian authorities have fabricated a criminal case against him for the alleged theft of a court document. "Most absurd is that the document [I allegedly stole] was a court resolution that the court was obliged under the law to pass to me," Hrytsuk said. He believes that his involvement as a human rights activist was the direct reason for his persecution. "The authorities became furious after I won a case against the Minsk police, which was ordered to pay me compensation for moral damages. This was on 26 April 2001. The police did not pay the money, but a few days later the criminal case was launched against me," Hrytsuk added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA...
Leonid Kuchma on 18 March visited the state-run Artem military giant that produces air-to-air missiles, parts for the An-70 and An-140 transport aircraft, as well as some nonmilitary goods including vacuum cleaners and parts for tractors and combines, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma said he is sure that new weapons are needed by the Ukrainian army and that they will find buyers on the global market. He also touched upon his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). "We discussed the level of our technical and military cooperation in detail... We do not have any alternative to the unification of efforts of the Ukrainian and Russian military-industrial complex, as well as of our other partners that used to be in the former Soviet Union and are now republics or, rather, countries of the CIS," Inter Television quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

...STRESSES NEED FOR 'ORGANIZED FORCE' IN PARLIAMENT
Commenting on the upcoming parliamentary ballot, Kuchma said stability in the country can be preserved only if the government receives political support from a future parliament. "If 32 parties...with 14 people from each come into [a 450-strong] parliament, tell me please: Can they come to terms with each other? Everyone wants to be at the top and wield the scepter. It took us two months to elect the previous parliament's head. This will be the case with the next parliament unless a really organized force comes to power -- or two or three of them -- which can unite on one platform," Inter Television quoted him as saying. JM

OUR UKRAINE CAMPAIGNER REPORTEDLY BEATEN BY POLICE
Citing the press service of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, UNIAN reported on 18 March that Oleksandra Kravchenko, a campaign activist of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine election bloc, was harshly beaten by two policemen in Sumy (northern Ukraine) on 12 March. According to the press service, she was attacked by members of the Velyko-Pysarivskyy District police department in Sumy Oblast: Oleksandr Polyakin, the deputy head of the department, and Serhiy Korniyenko. Kravchenko has appealed to the Prosecutor's Office for protection. JM

UKRAINIAN CITY GIVES COMBATANT STATUS TO FORMER SS DIVISION SOLDIERS
The City Council of Ivano-Frankivsk (western Ukraine) has recognized veterans of the SS Division Galizien (Halychyna) as participants in combat for the freedom and independence of Ukraine, UNIAN reported on 18 March, quoting a source in the city authorities. The Halychyna Division was formed in German-occupied Ukraine in 1943, following a proposal from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-M, the faction led by Andriy Melnyk). The OUN-M viewed the division as a nucleus of a Ukrainian army necessary for winning Ukrainian independence. More than 80,000 young Ukrainians volunteered for the division, and some 13,000 of them became soldiers. The Ivano-Frankivsk authorities granted combatant status to 24 Halychyna veterans living in the region, of whom most are disabled former prisoners of the Soviet gulag. Under the council's resolution, they are now entitled to a pension increase and benefits in paying for public utilities. UNIAN added that the Russian community of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast has protested the council's resolution, arguing that the Halychyna Division could not contribute to the defense of Ukraine since it fought a battle with Soviet troops in the summer of 1944. JM

LACK OF TRAINING GROUNDS IMPERILS MAJOR NATO EXERCISE IN ESTONIA
Parliament Defense Committee Chairman Tiit Tammsaar asserted that the lack of proper military training grounds may become a serious problem for holding the Baltic Eagle 2002 exercises in September, ETA reported on 18 March. Noting that Latvia and Lithuania have successfully held similar exercises in the past few years, he accused the Defense Ministry of not addressing the issue several years ago. Defense Ministry Chancellor Indrek Kannik said the exercises will take place, probably at the planned central training grounds near Tapa, but that he is not sure whether the state will succeed in purchasing 120 privately owned plots of land for the grounds in time. SG

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIA'S REPROACHES OVER RUSSKOYE RADIO CASE ARE GROUNDLESS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Vilmars Henins on 18 March defined as groundless the charges made by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the Latvian National Radio and Television Council's 7 March decision not to extend the broadcasting license of Russkoye Radio Riga is a violation the rights of minorities, BNS reported. He noted that the Supreme Court ruled in May 2001 that the station had violated copyright laws as well as several international documents, including the Bern convention on protection of literary and art works as well as the World Intellectual Property Organization agreement on copyrights. Henins said: "Russia is again trying to politicize issues that have completely different form and content." The station's broadcasts ended on 13 March. SG

LITHUANIAN PREMIER'S REPORT CRITICIZED
Representatives of the opposition Liberal Union, Center Union, Conservatives, and Modern Christian Democrats registered a draft resolution on 18 March criticizing Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas's report on the activities of the government in 2001, "Kauno Diena" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). The resolution stated that the report was full of statistical information, but lacked a deeper evaluation of the government's work. They complained that the premier did not express his opinion on such important issues as the restoration of savings accounts, compensation for nationalized property, as well as the future reforms of the education and pension systems. The parliament budget and finance, economy, and foreign affairs committees also met the same day and expressed a favorable opinion of the premier's report. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT VOICES SUPPORT FOR ESTONIA'S NATO BID
Aleksander Kwasniewski assured his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel in Warsaw on 18 March that Poland supports Estonia's NATO bid and would like Estonia to be invited to join the alliance at the NATO summit in Prague this fall, PAP reported. "We are convinced that Estonia fulfils all criteria required by NATO," Kwasniewski noted. He added that Poland would also like to see in NATO other Baltic countries as well as those that are striving for membership, such as Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania. "We are determined on this point," Kwasniewski said. Asked by journalists about societal support in Estonia for EU integration, Ruutel said it stood at 30 percent in the beginning of 2001 but added that now more than 50 percent of Estonians back it. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT, EPISCOPATE AGREE ON CHURCH CHARITY ACTIVITIES
At its first meeting during the term of Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet, the Joint Commission of the Government and the Episcopate on 18 March agreed that a planned bill on voluntary charity activities will put Roman Catholic Church parishes and organizations dealing with charity on par with NGOs regarding tax benefits, PAP reported. The sides also discussed integration with the EU and sex education at schools. Miller commented after the meeting that statements by Primate Jozef Glemp and other Episcopate representatives clearly indicate that the Roman Catholic Church in Poland approves of the idea of the country's joining the EU. Commenting on the discussed issue of sex education, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek said, "the government expressed an opinion similar to that presented by the church," which says that family is the basis of education and it "has the right not to be deprived of this task." JM

WAS POLISH MINISTER CAUGHT MOLESTING FEMALE INTERPRETER AT EU SUMMIT?
Minister Izabela Jaruga Nowacka, who deals with matters pertaining to gender equality, has addressed Premier Miller with a letter asking for explanations for the behavior of Deputy Foreign Minister Tadeusz Iwinski at the EU summit in Barcelona last week, PAP reported on 18 March. The private TVN Television on 15 March showed footage of Iwinski putting his hand on a buttock of an accompanying female interpreter, slipping it under her jacket, and trying to cuddle her. Iwinski told journalists in Poland that it might have been a "spontaneous, unaware" gesture on his part. "I have no doubt that it was a form of sexual molestation," Wanda Nowicka, the chairwoman of the Federation for the Matters of Women and Family Planning, told "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 18 March. "I advise that all officials avoid gestures that may be ill-interpreted, even if they are caused by spontaneous behavior," PAP quoted President Kwasniewski as saying on 18 March. JM

CZECH ANTICHEMICAL WARFARE UNIT LEAVES FOR KUWAIT
More than 200 Czech soldiers from an antichemical warfare unit left for Kuwait on 18 March to participate in the Enduring Freedom operation, CTK and AP reported. They were seen off by President Vaclav Havel and U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton. Stapleton read a message from U.S. President George W. Bush telling the 226 soldiers: "We are proud to have you as our partners in the coalition against terrorism." Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy, who was also present at the airport, ruled out that Czech troops could participate in a possible attack on Iraq. Sedivy told journalists earlier on 18 March that the Czech Republic has proposed to Slovakia to send "auxiliary forces" for the field hospital that the Czech army will dispatch to Afghanistan. Sedivy said Prague is now "waiting for a response" from the Slovak army. MS

SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS NATO TO UNDERGO TRANSFORMATION AT PRAGUE SUMMIT
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told CTK on 18 March that at its summit in Prague in November NATO will "try to answer the crucial question of how to ensure that the organization remains viable despite the fact that threats and enemies have changed." Robertson said the summit might also "redefine relations with Russia." He said the second wave of expansion will certainly be on the summit's agenda, adding that since the 1997 Madrid summit NATO has learned how to "better screen" candidates. He said that the acceptance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland as new members in 1997 was "without problems from the political point of view, but brought some trouble from the military perspective." Robertson praised the reforms underway in the Czech army and the role played by Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik in those reforms. MS

CZECH ODS CHAIRMAN SAYS CSSD'S TERMINATION OF AGREEMENT IS 'THEATRICAL GESTURE'
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus told journalists on 18 March that the announcement of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on terminating its "opposition agreement" with the ODS was a "theatrical gesture" on the eve of the elections. Klaus said that the ODS "does not accept" such gestures and will "have no part in them." He emphasized that the agreement will at any rate expire at the end of the current parliament's mandate. Klaus also said the ODS is "dissatisfied" with the statement made on the Benes Decrees by Prime Minister Milos Zeman at the recent EU summit in Barcelona. He said it was not enough to merely state that the decrees would have no impact on the accession process, and that Zeman failed to address the question of whether ownership rights in the Czech Republic will be endangered after the country joins the EU. MS

CSSD CHAIRMAN PREDICTS CZECH PREMIER WILL RETURN TO POLITICS
Vladimir Spidla said on 18 March that "after some rest," outgoing Premier Zeman is likely to return to politics "in one way on the other," CTK reported. Spidla, who will inherit the premiership from Zeman if the CSSD wins the June elections, said that "Zeman is a great personality, and great personalities leave [politics] only when they die." MS

EU LEADERS TELL SLOVAK PREMIER NO LEGAL PROBLEMS ARE BARRING ACCESSION
EU leaders told visiting Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda in Brussels on 18 March that no "significant legal problems" stand in the way of Slovakia's accession, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. EU President Romano Prodi said the EU does not intend to become involved in the Slovak-Hungarian dispute over the Status Law, adding that this "is a problem that must be solved between the two countries." Prodi added that the EU "encourages" the sides to continue parleys and to follow the recommendations of the Venice Commission. Dzurinda said that the Status Law will "never" be implemented in Slovakia, but that discussions with Hungary will continue. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said that the commission is currently examining whether the property restitution laws passed by the Czech Republic in the early 1990s have "discriminatory effects," but that no "special investigation" is envisaged in Slovakia's case. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL IS OUTSPOKEN ON MECIAR RETURN, BENES DECREES
Elizabeth Jones, the head of the U.S. State Department's European and Euro-Asian Affairs, told Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan in Bratislava on 18 March that there is "no doubt" that the outcome of the parliamentary elections will influence NATO's decision on whether to invite Slovakia to join the organization at its Prague November summit, CTK reported. Jones said NATO is "not only a military alliance, but also a community of certain values," and that candidates must fulfill not only military, but also "democratic criteria." Kukan informed Jones about Bratislava's stand on the "inadmissibility of a revision of the Benes Decrees" and about the "unfortunate" statement made by Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban pertaining to the issue. An official communique released after the meeting said the sides "agree on the inviolability of the agreements concluded by the victorious powers after World War II at the Potsdam conference." MS

MAIN HUNGARIAN PARTIES CLOSE TO AGREEMENT ON DEBATES BETWEEN MINISTERS, CHALLENGERS...
FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Tamas Isepy and Socialist Party Deputy Chairwoman Ildiko Lendvai on 18 March agreed that public debates between 16 cabinet members and candidates for ministers of the Socialist Party will be held at Budapest's Millennium Park between 21 March and 3 April, Hungarian media reported. The two parties agreed to give the independent media the option to broadcast the debates, and also agreed that if such networks broadcast summaries they must devote equal airtime to each party. Half of the audience will be recruited by FIDESZ, and the other half by the Socialist Party. The parties have yet to reach agreement on the moderators and the length of the debates. FIDESZ wants each debate to be two hours long, while the Socialists want only one-hour discussions. MSZ

...BUT NO AGREEMENT IN THE OFFING FOR ORBAN-MEDGYESSY DEBATE
Isepy told journalists on 18 March that he has no authorization to discuss the envisaged debate between Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy, but reiterated that Orban will await Medgyessy at the University of Economics on 5 and 19 April. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni suggested that the Socialists appeal to Orban regarding the venue and date of a debate, as the prime minister is the host. He said it would be good if the Socialists either accept the 5 April date or make it clear that they do not want to take part in the debate. MSZ

HUNGARY'S TOCSIK CASE RENEWED BEFORE APRIL ELECTIONS...
The Budapest Metropolitan Court on 18 March sentenced lawyer Marta Tocsik to four years' imprisonment and ordered her to return 640 million forints ($2.3 million) in assets for her role in Hungary's biggest privatization scandal to date, Hungarian media reported. In 1995, Tocsik was paid an honorarium of 804 million forints ($6.4 million at the time) for her success in reducing the privatization revenues paid by the state to local governments for the sale of land and other assets. Tocsik plans to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court. Former head of the State Privatization Agency (APV) Imre Szokai and Peter Liszkai, the former leading counsel at APV, were each sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for "abuse of funds." Former Socialist Party Treasurer Laszlo Boldvai and Gyorgy Budai, a businessman linked to the Free Democrats, were acquitted. MSZ

...PROMPTING COMMENTS FROM POLITICIANS
Former Prime Minister Gyula Horn said the verdict clearly shows that the Socialist Party is not implicated in any corruption cases and "has been undeservedly dragged through the mud" by FIDESZ for years. Free Democrat Gabor Fodor said his party believed all along that persons connected to the Socialists and Free Democrats were innocent, and the ruling has made that clear. MSZ

SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS...
Momcilo Perisic, detained on 14 March and accused by the Yugoslav military secret service of spying for the U.S., resigned on 19 March at the request of Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, Reuters reported. In a letter to Djindjic, Perisic wrote: "I am extending my full cooperation to the Serbian government regardless of the fact that I am resigning today." Perisic's resignation means he will lose his parliamentary immunity and would then be subject to official arrest and prosecution. Perisic said he was set up and that his detention was part of an attempt to bring down Djindjic's government. Perisic said the arrest was "stage managed in the style of the darkest dictatorial regimes. I will not let them use their showdown with me to topple the Serbian government at a moment when it represents the only possibility for carrying out economic and political reforms in the country." PB

...AS YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SAYS PERISIC GUILTY OF ESPIONAGE
Vojislav Kostunica said on 18 March in Belgrade that the detention of Perisic and U.S. diplomat John David Neighbor was a "spy affair of huge proportions" and that the military secret service has evidence to prove the espionage, AP reported. Kostunica said the secret service showed him "concrete" evidence that Perisic passed state secrets to Neighbor, though he said he could not give details because of the ongoing investigation. He added that "what we have seen was only the tip of the iceberg...security forces never launch an action unless they have firm proof." Kostunica insisted the detention of Perisic and Neighbor, who had parliamentary and diplomatic immunity, respectively, was "conducted generally correct," adding only that the secret service should not have released the name and nationality of Neighbor and that the U.S. diplomat's detention should have been "shorter." Dragan Marsicanin, the deputy president of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, said on 18 March that Premier Djindjic has a "moral and political obligation" to resign. PB

GERMAN BANK HANDS OVER $90 MILLION, BUT CROATIAN GOVERNMENT LEFT WITH BANK SCANDAL
German Bayerische Landesbank (BLB) has agreed to surrender its 60 percent stake in Rijecka Banka in the wake of an estimated $90 million loss from foreign-exchange trading, a Croatian government official was quoted by AP as saying on 19 March. The foreign investor "will give up its share worth 70 million euros ($63 million) to the government, and the government will repair the damage," Deputy Prime Minister Linic reportedly told parliament one day after meeting with BLB representatives. Linic did not elaborate, but said the government's plan to salvage the bank will not burden taxpayers or interrupt Rijecka Banka's operations, AP added. "The Croatian government and the central bank will come to the rescue, and that should be enough assurance against panic," Prime Minister Ivica Racan told reporters on 18 March. Thousands of depositors have lined up at the major regional bank's branches since news of a trading scandal broke last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). AH

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE SAYS YUGOSLAVIA CONTINUES TO OBSTRUCT THE HAGUE
Colin Powell said after talks with UN war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Yugoslavia continues to obstruct the efforts of The Hague court, Reuters reported. Powell noted a "lack of progress" but said the U.S. will "redouble our efforts to get the kind of cooperation we need with respect to access to archival material, with respect to turning over other officials, with respect to putting in place domestic internal law, ...and other issues." The Bush administration has set 31 March as the deadline to decide if Belgrade should get some $40 million in aid from Washington as a reward for cooperating with The Hague tribunal according to conditions set by Congress. If Belgrade officials fail to meet the conditions then the money would be withheld, as could support for Yugoslavia's requests for loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). PB

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SAYS HE'LL RESIGN IF SERBIA-MONTENEGRO AGREEMENT IS NOT RATIFIED
President Kostunica said on 18 March in Belgrade that he will resign if deputies do not ratify the agreement signed last week with Montenegro replacing Yugoslavia with a union called Serbia and Montenegro, AP reported. Kostunica said that if the accord is rejected, "my withdrawal as head of state and all its functions" will follow. The Serbian, Montenegrin, and Yugoslav federal parliaments must ratify the agreement by June. PB

YUGOSLAV RAIL WORKERS GO ON STRIKE
Some 29,000 railroad workers in Yugoslavia went on strike on 18 March to demand better pay after talks with government officials ended unsuccessfully, AP reported. The strike crippled rail traffic in the country with only international trains and a few domestic routes continuing to run. Workers are seeking a 15 percent increase in their wages, though the government offered them a 3 percent increase. The average monthly salary of a railroad worker is about $150. PB

...AS ACCUSATIONS MOUNT...
Opposition leader and former President Sali Berisha accused Rakipi of behaving like "a political commissar" in bringing on the no-confidence vote, dpa reported. "He has collaborated in grave political crimes and is the protector of the traffickers of thousands of Albanian children, girls, drugs, criminal activities, and government corruption," the agency quoted Berisha as saying. Meta said after the vote that "the parliamentary group voted in an open ballot for the motion to discharge the prosecutor-general, but not for the same reasons put forward" by Berisha, ATA reported the same day. Rakipi's position has been tenuous since one of his closest aides, Sokol Kociu, was arrested as part of a crackdown against an international cocaine cartel. The ensuing trial has cast a spotlight on Rakipi, including producing photos of the prosecutor on holiday with some of Kociu's associates. Rakipi has also been accused of ignoring a massive trade in Albanian women and children destined for Western European brothels. AH

ALBANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DISMISSED...
The deepening dispute between factions behind former Prime Minister Ilir Meta and Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano boiled over on 18 March when "rebel" deputies joined the opposition and voted out Albania's prosecutor-general, Western news agencies reported. Nano and 28 of his supporters left the assembly in a boycott of the vote following seven hours of intense debate, AP added. The decision to dismiss Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi comes amid allegations of incompetence and links to organized crime, and President Rexhep Meidani has pledged to act on the basis of the vote by lawmakers. With just 99 of 140 deputies present, Meta's supporters fueled a 78 to 10 vote against Rakipi, with 11 abstentions. AH

MACEDONIA AND UNMIK TO RESOLVE BORDER ISSUES
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and Michael Steiner, the UN administrator for Kosova, agreed on 18 March in the Macedonian capital to form a joint team of experts that will work to resolve border issues between Skopje and Prishtina, dpa reported. Steiner said Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic supports the creation of the team. Steiner said: "we need that joint committee, which should practically solve the problems of villagers from the Kosovo side of the border who want to work on their land on the Macedonian side." Trajkovski and Steiner also agreed on several police cooperation issues regarding organized crime and the prevention of illegal border crossings. PB

...HIGHLIGHTING RIFT WITHIN RULING SOCIALIST PARTY
The ouster of the prosecutor-general sets the stage for a potentially divisive struggle in government, as Socialist Party leader Nano has threatened "rebel" deputies with early elections if they side with the opposition, according to AP. Nano said the motion against Rakipi is "antidemocratic and anticonstitutional," calling it "an attack against the independent state institutions in Albania," dpa reported. Former Prime Minister Meta and some of his allies are being investigated by Rakipi's office on charges of abuse of power and corruption, but insist the probe is politically motivated. Local media on 19 March warned that the confrontation increases the chances of early elections. AH

FIRST HAGUE INDICTEE PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY'
The first person indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia pleaded innocent to all charges on 18 March, some five years after being detained in connection with suspected war crimes, AP reported. Bosnian Serb Dragan Nikolic, 44, is believed to have run the Susica prison and has been accused of the rape, torture, and murder of Bosnian Muslim detainees during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Nikolic faces allegations of personal involvement and senior responsibility for daily beatings and sexual assaults, the agency said. He was initially charged with 80 counts of war crimes, though many of those counts have been merged to speed up proceedings. Nikolic has argued that he was detained under illegal circumstances, claiming he was kidnapped. It is still unclear when his trial will begin, AP said. AH

SFOR AGAIN ASKS FOR CITIZENS' HELP IN APPREHENDING KARADZIC
The NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia dropped "K-mark" leaflets in the Serb-controlled towns of Srebrenica, Vlasenica, and Han Pijesak on 19 March, marking the second effort in six days at enlisting public help to catch former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, dpa reported. Helicopters distributed the leaflets, which are part of the U.S. government's Reward for Justice program and offer up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of the indicted war criminal. AH

CROATIA WANTS NEW DEAL WITH IMF
Deputy Premier Slavko Linic said on 18 March that Croatian officials asked for a new arrangement with the IMF during a visit to the United States, HINA reported. The delegation included Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac and the governor of the Croatian National Bank, Zeljko Rohatinski, the agency reported, and its members discussed Croatia's economic results from 2001. Linic said negotiations could begin in early May, while IMF executive directors are expected to evaluate the current standby facility by the end of this month. Linic said Zagreb wants a short-term, yearlong arrangement that would be less rigid and detailed than the current one, HINA reported. AH

CROATIAN AMBASSADOR DEMANDS THAT BOSNIA STEM REFUGEE FLOW
Zagreb's ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Josip Vrbosic, submitted a letter to that country's Council of Ministers on 18 March in which he demanded that officials take adequate steps to prevent a further exodus of Croat refugees from the western Bosnian town of Drvar, HINA reported. Letters have also been sent to UN High Representative to Bosnia Wolfgang Petritsch and the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission there, Robert Beecroft, warning of the seriousness of the situation and urging assistance, the agency added. The Croatian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it considers the situation very serious, but not dramatic. "Solutions for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be sought primarily in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and only then in Croatia," the statement reportedly reads. AH

CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRACKS DOWN ON IDLE CIVIL SERVANTS
The Foreign Ministry has imposed new attendance controls on its employees after an "inspection" by Minister Tonino Picula discovered a huge number of them away from their desks on a recent, sunny day, the weekly "Nacional" reported on 19 March, according to dpa. Picula introduced a digital ID-card system as a result that charts the diplomatic staff members' arrivals and departures from the office, the agency added. AH

MACEDONIAN POLITICAL LEADERS AGREE ON ELECTION DATE
The leaders of the four main political parties in Macedonia -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the Socialist Union (SDSM), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- agreed to schedule the parliamentary elections for 15 September, "Nova Makedonija" reported. A compromise over the borders of the electoral districts also seems to be within reach. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS RESPONSIBILITY FOR HOLOCAUST MUST BE OFFICIALLY ASSUMED...
Adrian Nastase said on 18 March that "history must be known and [responsibility for its course must be] assumed," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In a message to participants in the first syllabus on the Holocaust in Romania that started at the National Defense College the same day, Nastase said that "the future cannot be built on falsification and mystification," and that the 1941 pogroms in Iasi and in Bessarabia and Bukovina, as well as the mass deportations of Jews resulting in "tens of thousands of victims" are "in no way different from...the Nazi operation known under the name of 'The Final Solution.'" The course on the Holocaust is taught to senior officers by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum official Radu Ioanid, who told the forum that 250,000 Jews perished in the Romanian Holocaust and that Romania "cannot enter NATO with [Marshal Ion] Antonescu on its banners." MS

...ANNOUNCES LEGISLATION AGAINST EXTREMISM, ANTONESCU CULT...
In his message, Nastase also announced that the government has approved an ordinance prohibiting the display of "racist or fascist symbols," the erection of statues or commemorative plaques for those condemned in Romania or abroad for "crimes against peace" and for "crimes against humanity," and the naming of streets or other public places after those personalities. Exceptions are to be made for museums and for "scientific activities." The ordinance also outlaws organizations "of fascist, racist, and xenophobe character" that promote such ideas "on ethnic, racist, or religious grounds," and extends the prohibition to both registered and unregistered foundations or any other form of organization consisting of three persons or more. The ordinance provides penalties ranging from fines to five years in prison for those who infringe upon the regulation. MS

...JUST AS SOCCER CLUB COMPLAINS OF RACIST ATTACK
The chairman of a club of supporters of the Bucharest Rapid soccer team, Andrei Teodor, on 18 March told Mediafax that during the game between Rapid and Dinamo Bucharest on 17 March, fans of the rival club carried Antonescu's portrait and shouted "Run off! Antonescu comes after you!" Many Rapid fans are known to belong to the Romany minority, some 25,000 of which perished during the Romanian Holocaust. MS

FORMER PRM DEPUTY CHAIRMAN REPLACED AS PARLIAMENTARY QUESTOR
Former Greater Romania Party Deputy Chairman Sever Mesca was replaced as Chamber of Deputies questor on 18 March by PRM deputy Nicolae Vasilescu, Mediafax reported. Mesca recently resigned from the PRM, which threatened to boycott the parliament unless Mesca and other defectors from the party were not replaced by PRM members. MS

LEBANESE PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Rafiq Hariri, on a three-day visit to Romania, on 18 March discussed with his counterpart Nastase ways to boost economic relations between the two countries, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Hariri was also received by President Ion Iliescu, who presented him with Romania's highest decoration to honor Hariri's efforts to promote peace in the Middle East. MS

KURDISH MINORITY IN ROMANIA CANCELS RALLY
The Cultural Association of Kurds Residents of Romania on 18 March canceled a planned rally in a Bucharest square, Mediafax reported. The association said the decision was prompted by its willingness to "take into consideration the sensibilities and interests of the Romanian government and state." Meanwhile, some 250 Kurds are blocked at the Nadlac crossing point between Hungary and Romania. The authorities prohibited the rally and the entry into Romania of a Kurdish automobile caravan, saying they are organized by the Kurdistan Workers Party and could negatively affect "order and public safety." MS

MOLDOVAN PPCD LEADER SAYS RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR DISPLAYS UNDIPLOMATIC BEHAVIOR
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 18 March that Russian Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovskii is making statements that are incompatible with the status of a diplomat and which interfere in internal Moldovan affairs, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca was responding to an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in which Petrovskii said the protests organized by the PPCD would "vanish" if Moldova were to unify with Romania. Petrovskii said that the protest demonstrations were in fact not triggered by the Moldovan government's decision to introduce compulsory Russian-language classes, but by the basic treaty signed by Moldova with Russia. Rosca said Petrovskii's statements "confirm once more that Moldova is an occupied country," and that its government is "just a tool in Russian hands." MS

RUSSIA TO DELIVER CHEAP ELECTRICITY TO MOLDOVA
As of 1 April, Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) will start delivering electricity to Moldova at reduced prices, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 Match, citing a letter sent by EES Chairman Anatolii Chubais to President Vladimir Voronin. The price charged for the deliveries will be $23.5 per 1 MW/hour. At present, Moldova purchases electricity from Ukraine at the price of $29 per 1 MW/hour. The agreement on the deliveries was reached during Chubais's visit to Chisinau in February. It is based on the setting up of a joint company, whose stock is 74 percent Russian-owned. MS

TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKERS TO APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The strikers at Teleradio Moldova decided on 18 March to send a letter to the Council of Europe to draw attention to their continuing problems, Infotag reported. Journalists Larisa Neagoe and Dinu Rusnac said they intend to sue the company's management over their suspensions. The strikers' committee also decided to ask the Chisinau mayoralty to allow them to air a daily "alternative newscast" in the National Opera Square. MS

OSCE URGES AVOIDING CONFLICT ESCALATION IN GAGAUZ-YERI
The OSCE mission in Moldova on 18 March urged the leaders of Moldova and the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic to avoid an escalation of the current conflict. Mission official Gottfried Hanne told Infotag that the sides should await the outcome of the appeal launched by Gagauz-Yeri Governor Dumitru Croitor against the prosecutor-general's decision to charge him with thwarting the 24 February referendum. Hanne said, "the last word should be the word of the court," but added that if the court were to consider the decision to hold the plebiscite as legal, it would mean it is "either staffed with weak lawyers or is [politically] loyal to the referendum's initiators." MS

BULGARIA GETS POSITIVE SIGNALS FROM EU...
After a meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, EU chief negotiator with Bulgaria Mike Leigh said on 18 March that Bulgaria has made good progress in its efforts to join the union, BTA reported. Leigh said that if Bulgaria keeps up its current pace in the accession talks, the European Commission should come up with a positive report on Bulgaria's efforts. Leigh discussed the alignment of Bulgarian legislation with EU standards, as well as nuclear safety issues with Saxecoburggotski and Daniel Vulchev, the chairman of parliamentary committee on European integration. UB

...AND NATO
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Joseph W. Ralston visited Bulgaria on 18 March, where he met with President Georgi Parvanov, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, and the chief of General Staff, Miho Mihov, BTA reported. In a lecture organized by the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, Ralston summed up his positive impressions. He stressed that the decision on NATO membership will be of a political nature, and it is possible that a country could be invited to join NATO even though its military reforms are insufficient. Ralston welcomed the developments in some areas of the armed services' reforms in Bulgaria, such as the Plovdiv-based multinational peace force. UB

OPPOSITION PREDICTS END TO GOVERNMENT SHOULD NATO ACCESSION FAIL
In an interview with Bulgarian national radio, Edvin Sugarev -- a leading member of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) -- announced that the government's demise will be a question of weeks in the event that it fails to bring the NATO accession talks to a successful end, focus.bg reported. Sugarev declared that Bulgaria currently stands a good chance for NATO accession, but the government is hampering its efforts with ill-considered actions like the delay in the destruction of Soviet-built SS-23 missiles. He added that the SDS "will not hinder the government, but we will not give artificial respiration to it either." UB

BULGARIAN CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF OPPOSES GOVERNMENT PLAN TO REDUCE RETIREMENT AGE
Chief of General Staff Mihov has criticized government plans to reduce the retirement age in the Bulgarian army by three years, "Monitor" reported on 19 March. "Before the law is changed, one needs to assess how the earlier retirement of generals and colonels influences army reform. I personally believe that it will not have a positive effect," Mihov said. Bulgarian media speculated that the law drafted by Tsonko Kirov of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) aims to reduce the number and influence of Soviet-trained generals in the Bulgarian army. UB

There is no End Note today.


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