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Newsline - March 20, 2002


RUSSIAN STATE DUMA CONFIRMS IGNATIEV AS CENTRAL BANK CHAIRMAN...
The Duma on 20 March confirmed Sergei Ignatiev as the new chairman of the Russian Central Bank by a vote of 290-40, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Ignatiev, who formerly served as first deputy finance minister, replaces Viktor Gerashchenko, who resigned suddenly on 15 March. He was nominated by President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). Earlier in the day, the Duma approved Gerashchenko's resignation and awarded him an honorary certificate in appreciation of his cooperation with the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to lawmakers, Gerashchenko promised to assist Ignatiev. RC

...AFTER OUTLINING FINANCIAL-SECTOR REFORMS...
Prior to his confirmation, Ignatiev told journalists after consultations with the leaders of several Duma factions on 19 March that he has sketched out for lawmakers his program of financial-sector reforms, RIA-Novosti and Prime-TASS reported. Ignatiev's proposal includes the gradual deregulation of currency controls, the revitalization of the banking system, the adoption of accepted international accounting and auditing standards, and a state-guaranteed deposit-insurance system. VY

...AS RAISING COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER'S IRE
Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the People's Deputy faction, said on 19 March that his faction -- together with lawmakers from Unity, Russian Regions, the Union of Rightist Forces, and Fatherland-All Russia, which together make up a majority in the State Duma -- would vote to confirm Ignatiev on 20 March. However, Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said his party planned to boycott the vote because "Ignatiev is an accomplice of [former acting Prime Minister] Yegor Gaidar, who ruined the Russian economy," polit.ru reported on 19 March. VY

IGNATIEV ENVISIONS NO REVOLUTION FOR CENTRAL BANK...
New Central Bank Chairman Ignatiev said on 20 March that there will be no personnel revolution at the bank, ITAR-TASS reported. Gerashchenko, however, stated that the composition of the bank's board of directors will only be known in September, following the expiration of the terms of most of the current members. Gerashchenko said there are already vacancies on the 13-member board and that spots might be filled by the bank's current staff or by "skilled specialists." He also expressed confidence in his successor. "I am confident that there will be no new default, and if there are problems, I hope the State Duma, the government, and the president will be able to make the proper decisions," he said, according to ITAR-TASS. Gerashchenko headed the Central Bank from 1992-1994 and again beginning in September 1998. RC

...AS GERASHCHENKO URGES CONTINUED CENTRAL BANK AUTONOMY
Former Central Bank Chairman Gerashchenko told journalists on 20 March that he plans to continue to work to prevent any encroachment on the independence of the Central Bank, ITAR-TASS reported. "I will use my experience to see to it that the revised Law on the Central Bank of Russia does not get amendments that might undermine its independent status," he said. He also recalled that President Putin has stated on at least three occasions that the bank must remain independent. RC

RUSSIAN GDP CONTINUES TO GROW
A top official with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on 20 March that Russia's gross domestic product will grow by less than 4 percent this year and by more than 4 percent in 2003, Interfax reported the same day. Speaking to a conference in Moscow, IMF First Deputy Managing Director Anne Krueger said Russia should aim for annual GDP growth of 5 to 6 percent over the next 10 to 15 years. While in Moscow, Krueger is expected to meet with senior officials, including the newly confirmed Central Bank Chairman Ignatiev. RC

RUSSIAN OIL-EXPORT CUTS TO STAY FOR NOW
Following a meeting in Moscow with Russian oil majors on 20 March, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov stated that oil-export cuts implemented in January will be maintained in the second quarter of the year, Interfax reported. However, he emphasized that the government will continue to monitor the markets and may change its policy. "After a certain time, if we see that the oil market is stabilizing and oil prices are tending to rise, the Russian government and the oil companies will look again at the question of maintaining the export cuts" in the second half of the year, Kasyanov said, according to AFP. In London, oil prices fell below $25 per barrel on news of Russia's lukewarm commitment to the cuts. Russia, the world's second-leading oil producer, agreed to cut exports by 150,000 barrels per day in January in order to help the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) prop up world oil prices. RC

FOREIGN MINISTER SOFTENS RUSSIA'S POSITIONS...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in London after talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on 19 March that the two had discussed the situations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as Russia's evolving relationship with NATO, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov unexpectedly stated that Russia would not leave the global antiterrorism coalition even in the event of Western military action against Iraq. "Participation in the international campaign against terror and Iraq are two different issues," he said. Russian special envoy to the Middle East Andrei Vdovin, however, was quoted on ORT television on 19 March as saying that "the use of force for resolving the problem of Iraq is unacceptable and any settlement of the Iraqi issue must be reached on the political and diplomatic levels." Equally unexpectedly, Ivanov stated that Moscow would "only welcome any effective military assistance Britain can provide to Georgia to fight terrorist groups on its territory." VY

...AS RUSSIA AND BRITAIN CREATE JOINT ANTITERRORISM GROUP
In Moscow on 19 March, the Foreign Ministry announced the formation of a joint Russian-British working group on international terrorism, Interfax reported. The group will be headed by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and British Deputy Undersecretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Stephen Wright, and will include diplomats, intelligence officials, and military and law enforcement officers from both countries. It will be modeled on a similar U.S.-Russia task force on Afghanistan headed by Trubnikov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. VY

IRAQ-RUSSIA COOPERATION CONTINUES
Iraqi Petroleum Minister Amer Rashid left Moscow on 20 March following the fourth meeting of an intergovernmental commission on commercial, scientific, and technical cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Rashid assessed the meeting as "useful and constructive." "There exists complete understanding on all questions between Moscow and Baghdad," he said, according to the news agency. Rashid noted that the commission had endorsed a long-term plan for broadening ties between the two countries that will be formally signed at a meeting in Baghdad in April. Russian Energy Minister Igor Yusufov said that the program, which includes 67 projects in the oil, gas, transport, and telecommunications sectors, "will show the whole world the intention of Moscow and Baghdad to cooperate on a long-term basis." The total value of the contracts is estimated at $2 billion, the news agency reported, and the implementation of many of them will require the approval of the UN Sanctions Committee. RC

RUSSIA WELCOMES SAUDI PEACE INITIATIVE
Russian special envoy to the Middle East Vdovin said in Jeddah after talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal on 18 March that Moscow has a positive view of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative concerning Arab-world recognition of Israel in exchange for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Vdovin said the initiative "could give a new impetus to efforts to overcome the Arab-Israeli confrontation," according to Interfax on 19 March. VY

RUSSIA AND ISRAEL SIGN AGREEMENT ON COMBATING TERRORISM AND ORGANIZED CRIME
Israeli Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on 19 March signed a cooperation agreement between their respective agencies for combating terrorism and organized crime, strana.ru reported. The accord includes closer cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as the exchange of intelligence about organized-crime groups, their finances, new types of drugs, and individuals involved in illicit arms trading. The two agencies also agreed to intensify their activities combating illegal emigration and to organize regular professional exchanges. VY

PUTIN DISCUSSES DEFENSE STRATEGY
President Putin chaired a Defense Ministry meeting on 20 March at which the country's overall defense strategy was discussed, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Senior defense officials attended the meeting, at which Putin stressed that Russia must be capable of responding rapidly to serious geopolitical changes. The president said he intends to hold further talks on the same topic regularly with defense-industry leaders and prominent scientists. He said the meetings were prompted by "the need for preparation and the use of conceptual documents recently adopted," according to the news agency. "The Defense Ministry is the central agency that determines the tasks in the field of defense building. It is the customer of the defense sectors of the economy, and it determines the strategy of the defense sector as a whole," Putin said. RC

'DIFFICULT' TALKS OPEN IN GENEVA...
U.S. and Russian arms-control delegations will meet in Geneva on 21 March to discuss the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. A high-ranking member of the Russian delegation was quoted as saying the talks will be "difficult." "The positions of the sides on several principal questions...markedly differ," he said. Working consultations on the issue of strategic missile defense will also be held simultaneously in Geneva. RC

...AND NEW U.S.-RUSSIAN STRATEGIC RELATIONSHIP TO BE CONSIDERED
The Geneva meetings will also consider draft declarations on new strategic relations between Russia and the United States, in preparation for U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Russia on 23-26 May. A member of the Russian delegation said Russia's position proceeds from the assumption that any agreement "should be a legally binding document ensuring a real cut in offensive strategic weapons," according to ITAR-TASS. U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who heads the U.S. delegation in Geneva, told ITAR-TASS that a major problem will be finding "precise parameters of cuts in offensive strategic weapons," and ensuring compliance and transparency of any agreement. The Russian expert said discussions on these issues will be held at an upcoming meeting between Foreign Minister Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expected to be held in Spain or Germany. RC

RUSSIAN DEFENSE CONTRACTORS CLASH OVER CHINESE CONTACTS
Prime Minister Kasyanov has ordered a switch in the main contractor supplying 40 Su-3 fighter aircraft to China under the terms of a $1.5-billion deal, "Vedomosti" reported on 19 March. Kasyanov's directive orders that the entire contract go to the Sukhoi aircraft company, taking it away from the Komsomolsk-na-Amure aircraft manufacturing plant in Khabarovsk Krai. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev was quoted as saying that he would appeal to President Putin to reverse Kasyanov's order because the lost jobs would be extremely disruptive to his region. The row is the second case of clashes between defense contractors over Chinese arms purchases. Last week, the government awarded a $1.5-billion contract to build two destroyers for the Chinese navy to St. Petersburg's Severnaya Verf, taking the order away from cross-town rival Batiiskii Zavod, "Kommersant Daily" reported 19 March. VY

LOOMING SHAKEUP IN THE RESEARCH SECTOR
Ineffective research institutions may face closure, even as state funding to those remaining is expected to increase five-fold by 2010, an official told reporters on 20 March. Vladislav Sherstyuk, first deputy secretary of the Security Council, said the issues were discussed earlier that day at a joint meeting of the presidium of the State Council, the Security Council, and the Presidential Science Council, according to ITAR-TASS. Sherstyuk said that 60 research institutions currently receive budgetary funding, and that the number of researchers decreased by 50 percent over the last 10 years as a result of the brain drain. Some 200,000 researchers have emigrated abroad, he said. Experts decided at the 20 March meeting to concentrate on nine research areas, including areas such as telecommunications and electronics, aviation and space, new materials and chemistry, advanced armaments, production technologies, transportation, and energy conservation. The group also listed 54 "vitally important technologies" on which state funding will be concentrated. RC

RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS SUTYAGIN APPEAL
The Russian Supreme Court on 20 March rejected an appeal by researcher Igor Sutyagin that espionage charges pending against him be dropped, Western and Russian news agencies reported the same day. The court refused to overturn a lower-court ruling made in December authorizing prosecutors to hold Sutyagin indefinitely while they build their case against him. "We feel like we're trapped, with no way out," defense lawyer Anna Stavitskaya said after the ruling, according to AP. "We have filed a lot of complaints and made arguments, not arguments pulled out of the sky but based in law, but no one is responding to us on that level." Sutyagin, a scholar at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, was arrested in October 1999 on charges of passing secret information on Russia's combat readiness to the United States. He maintains that all his reports were based on publicly available information. His attorney, Boris Kuznetsov, said he will file a protest to the chairman of the Supreme Court and that Sutyagin also intends to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. RC

BEREZOVSKY SEEKS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN BRITAIN
Embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky told "Moskovskie novosti," No. 12, that he has applied for political asylum in Great Britain because the Russian prosecutor-general has prevented his return to Russia by issuing an international warrant against him. "The fate of my business, as well as that of all Russian business [has become] the exclusive prerogative of the Russian president, and he will not stop until he has gained complete control not only over politics and information, but over the economy as well," Berezovsky said, noting that 60 percent of his business interests lie within Russia. VY

DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS CONTINUES
Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko, speaking before a ministry collegium attended by more than 1,000 doctors and pharmacists in Moscow on 20 March, said that Russia's death rate exceeds the birth rate by 70 percent and that this is one of the most acute problems facing the country. Shevchenko stated that the average lifespan has fallen to 65 years from a peak of 70 years in 1980, ITAR-TASS reported. The minister also reported some encouraging trends such as that the number of perinatal deaths has been reduced by more than 10 percent over the last two years, and the incidence of infant deaths fell from 15.3 per 1,000 newborns in 2000 to 14.7 in 2001. Shevchenko also said the incidence of whooping cough and measles has been reduced, and progress is being made in combating the spread of tuberculosis, syphilis, and hepatitis-B. RC

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS TO COME NEXT MONTH
President Putin will deliver his state of the nation address to the legislature in April, according to Aleksandr Kotenkov, the president's representative in the Duma. "I cannot name a more precise date," Kotenkov said, according to an Interfax report on 20 March. RC

CANADA SATISFIED WITH KNYAZEV VERDICT
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley expressed satisfaction with the results of the Moscow hearings into the criminal case against former Russian diplomat Andrei Knyazev, stemming from a fatal Ottawa traffic accident in January 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. The court determined last week that Knyazev was drunk at the time of the accident, which killed one woman and seriously injured another, and sentenced him to four years in prison. Relatives of both victims, who attended the hearing, said they were satisfied with the investigation and the verdict, according to the news agency. RC

FRANKS IN MOSCOW FOR BRIEFINGS
U.S. General Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, arrived in Moscow on 19 March to brief officials on the latest developments in the conflict in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. Franks met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov, according to sources at the Foreign Ministry. He also met with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and the chief of Russia's General Staff, General Anatolii Kvashnin. RC

NEW MODEL FOR CIS ECONOMIC INTEGRATION
The National Economic Council has proposed a new model of economic integration of member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. The model is intended to facilitate the shaping of a common market throughout the CIS and to speed the introduction of a common customs union, said Eduard Rossel, secretary of the council and governor of Sverdlovsk Oblast, after a meeting of the council on 20 March, according to the news agency. The council's plan calls for developing the transportation infrastructure of the region and for taking advantage of the CIS's geographic position by creating competitive transportation corridors for interstate and transit traffic. The National Economic Council was founded in 1996 and is made up of leading economists, financiers, and businesspeople from the region. RC

SLOVAK PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN MOSCOW
Russian President Putin, welcoming Slovak President Rudolf Schuster to the Kremlin for a one-day working visit on 19 March, lauded relations between their two countries, Russian news agencies reported. Schuster told journalists he intends to discuss several crucial economic projects with Putin, including routing a new gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe through Slovakia and Russian participation in the construction of a subway in Bratislava. VY

PUTIN WOOS JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS
President Putin extended his best wishes for the upcoming Passover holiday to representatives of Jewish organizations during a 19 March reception at the Kremlin, Russian news agencies reported. Putin expressed his gratitude for the "significant contributions the Jewish community is making toward Russia's development, as well as for its support of [his administration] in sensitive foreign policy action," according to the news agencies. Putin also expressed gratitude to the American Jewish community for its efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold War measure that restricted the export of high technology to Russia. Putin said he appreciates the initiative of one U.S. Jewish organization that asked U.S. President George W. Bush to replace "some of [the United States' traditional oil suppliers with Russia." Most of the Jewish leaders who attended the meeting with Putin belong to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, an umbrella organization of Orthodox Jewish congregations headed by Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar. VY

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAYS DRUGS ARE A POLITICAL PROBLEM
Speaking at a Moscow conference on social issues on 19 March, Valentina Matvienko said the official number of drug addicts in Russia now exceeds 1.5 million, and this figure has increased eight-fold over the last decade, ITAR-TASS reported. She noted that in 44 Russian regions the number of addicts exceeds 100 persons per 100,000 population. Matvienko expressed particular concern over the increase in drug use among young people, and over the fact that increased drug use is directly connected to the growing number of HIV-infection cases. The magnitude of these problems means that drug addiction has become a political issue, Matvienko concluded. VY

REFLECTIONS ON VOLOSHIN
Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 19 March, commentator Aleksandr Budberg noted that over the course of just three years Aleksandr Voloshin has gone from being an economic adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin to managing the presidential administration, which he transformed into "the main political organ of the country." According to Budberg, Voloshin is a "workaholic" who has the ability to see situations systemically and whose prognoses usually turn out to be correct. Budberg noted that the verbal attacks on Voloshin began almost a year ago but only came out into the open last November (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 5 December 2001). "Sooner or later he will leave [office], but only in the instance that the president lets him go," Budberg wrote. "The greatest danger for Voloshin is not from his competitors. A far greater danger for him in the near term is if he fails to promote [some] large political projects that are necessary to realize... Voloshin is not so much a big politician but a prominent political manager...and if he loses, he won't be the only one." JAC

SPS OFFICIALLY REGISTERED AS PARTY
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has officially registered as a party with the Justice Ministry, TV-Tsentr reported on 18 March. According to the station, it is the seventh political party to be registered. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov told reporters in Moscow that the recent decline in the party's opinion poll ratings is a temporary phenomenon. Nemtsov then went on to criticize President Putin's rule as "alarming." He said SPS aims to protect the interests of men who do not want "to go to the president and beg for something"; who dislike "Chekist methods of rule, the elements of censorship [that have been] introduced into the country, and the concentration of power," "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The daily concluded that SPS has now become an "opposition party." JAC

ANOTHER DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER NAMED
President Putin has appointed Sergei Razov to the post of deputy foreign minister, Interfax reported on 19 March, citing the presidential press service. Razov was most recently Russian ambassador to Poland; former Russian ambassador to France Nikolai Afanasyevskii is expected to replace him, according to the agency. Razov will be in charge of Russia's relations with CIS countries. JAC

ENVOY PUBLICLY CLASHES WITH GREF...
Presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii has accused Minister German Gref's Economic Development and Trade Ministry of not having fulfilled Prime Minister Kasyanov's order to create a program for the strategic development of Siberia to the year 2020, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 March. Drachevskii's office together with Siberian-based academics worked out the program at President Putin's request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Drachevskii has sent a telegram complaining to Kasyanov, according to the agency. Drachevskii added that he is hoping that the differences between the authors of the original document and the ministry can be worked out during a government session. JAC

...AS KIRIENKO SAID TO HAVE PLAYED ROLE IN CENSUS CONTROVERSY
A 15 March meeting at the Moscow-based Russian Ethnology and Anthropology Institute reportedly highlighted objections by the country's territorial entities regarding the nationalities list proposed by the institute for the upcoming national census, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 18 March. Ethnology Professor Damir Iskhakov told RFE/RL that the issue of "Baptized Tatars" and "Kryashens" was the most disputed item on an agenda that included issues regarding the Tatarstan, Daghestan, and Komi republics. Iskhakov asserted that the institute's Valerii Tishkov agreed with Tatarstan's arguments over including such ethnic subgroups as Mishers, Tiptyers, and Siberian Tatars in the Tatar ethnic family -- thus responding to protests made by Tatar leaders across the Russian Federation. Radical Kryashen leaders who joined the meeting, supported by the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko, managed to include the nationality in the census questionnaires despite protests from the Tatar side. JAC

KRASNODAR OFFICIALS ROLL OUT THE UNWELCOME MAT FOR REFUGEES
At a recent meeting on migration policy in Krasnodar Krai, more than 400 heads of cities and raions, law enforcement officials, and migration service workers, including krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, came up with a number of suggestions on how to reduce the number of migrants in the krai, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 March. Tkachev suggested that the fine for persons caught without registration be increased to 6,000 rubles ($192). "This will encourage illegal migrants to leave the krai's territory," Tkachev explained. Other proposals included creating "filtration points" through the raion-level Interior Ministry departments that would deport migrants after three days; organizing monthly charter flights from Krasnodar to Tashkent to ship out Meskhetian Turks; and conducting negotiations with Armenian President Robert Kocharian on the subject of repatriating Armenians for "the preservation of friendly relations with the republics in the Caucasus." JAC

LOCAL BUSINESSMEN CONTINUE TO PROTEST SINGLE SOCIAL TAX
About 500 managers of small and medium businesses in Voronezh gathered on 18 March in a central square to protest the single social tax, which they say will bankrupt them, NTV reported. The next day, the leaders of the Kaluga Oblast Trade and Business Chamber sent an appeal to the president of the chamber, Yevgenii Primakov, the State Duma, and Federation Council, rosbalt.ru reported. Earlier, businessmen in Khabarovsk and Ulyanovsk also organized similar street protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). JAC

ROSTOV TELEVISION STATION UNDER PRESSURE
The State Property Committee in Volgodonsk in Rostov Oblast is trying to take over the independent TV company Volgodonsk TV (VTV), NTV reported on 19 March. VTV General Manager Anatolii Gorbunov said the committee is trying to reacquire a 60 percent stake in the company, which would put the station under the control of city authorities. The station has aired reports critical of the policies of the city administration and Mayor Sergei Gorbunov. JAC

RUSSIAN TROOPS LAUNCH NEW SEARCH OPERATION IN CHECHNYA
The hunt for Chechen fighters in the village of Serzhen Yurt in Shali Raion, southeast of Grozny, entered its third day on 20 March, chechenpress.com reported. RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 19 March that the village has been cordoned off by Russian armored vehicles. Some 100 residents have been detained, of whom 60 were subsequently released after having been severely beaten. A further 23 are being held at the Shali police department, while 17 more have disappeared without a trace, according to RFE/RL. Speaking in Copenhagen on 19 March, Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov said the situation in Chechnya has deteriorated since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S., AP reported. "This conflict is only getting worse. We see no way of how to end it," Akhmadov said. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES DEBATE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Following a weeklong debate on the alternative draft constitution prepared by six opposition parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002), the leadership of the Armenian parliament decided on 19 March to postpone indefinitely an analogous debate on the package of constitutional amendments drafted by an ad hoc presidential commission, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That decision triggered protests by the opposition parties, who claimed that under a procedural agreement reached late last month the presidential draft was to be put to debate immediately after the opposition one. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL that President Robert Kocharian needs at least one month to consider "numerous proposals" by deputies concerning the package of amendments, and that the debate is therefore unlikely to take place before mid-April. LF

ARMENIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP TO DISPUTE CAFE KILLING VERDICT
In what may be a bid by the resurgent right-wing opposition to discredit the current Armenian leadership, the Public Council in Defense of Basic Human Freedoms and Rights demanded on 19 March that Prosecutor-General Aram Tamazian challenge the verdict handed down last month by a Yerevan district court to a member of President Kocharian's bodyguard found guilty of manslaughter, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Aghamal Harutiunian received a two-year suspended sentence in connection with the death in a Yerevan cafe last September of an Armenian from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). The Public Council criticized the sentence as too mild. It plans to organize a protest demonstration outside the Prosecutor-General's Office and collect signatures in support of its demand. The Public Council was founded in November 2001 by former Education Minister Ashot Bleyan, and was endorsed by the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, the Liberal Democratic Party, the People's Party of Armenia, and several smaller organizations. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES RADAR STATION AGREEMENT
Deputies ratified on 19 March by a vote of 93-11 the agreement concluded in January 2002 granting Russia the use for a 10-year period of the Gabala radar station, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Both during the 19 March debate and during a discussion of the agreement by the parliament commission for international relations the previous day, opposition deputies criticized the agreement. Ali Kerimli, leader of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, recalled that 10 years ago the Azerbaijani parliament voted in favor of demanding the station's closure on the grounds that it damages the environment. He also warned that there are no guarantees that Russia will not pass data gathered at the station to Azerbaijan's enemy, Armenia. The Gabala branches of four opposition parties issued a statement last month similarly calling for the station to be shut down. LF

ABDUCTED RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS EXCHANGED FOR GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS
Emergency talks were held on 19 March between representatives of the Georgian Interior and National Security ministries, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone on how to secure the release of four Russian peacekeepers abducted on 18 March by Georgian guerrillas, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). The Russian Foreign Ministry, which had earlier issued a sharply worded statement demanding that Georgia take measures to ensure the hostages' immediate release, then asked the Abkhaz authorities to release two Georgian guerrillas apprehended by the Russian force on 14 March and handed over to the Abkhaz. After the Abkhaz complied with that request, the four Russians were released. Which members of the Georgian government, which claims to have no contacts with or leverage over the Georgian guerrillas, liaised with them on this occasion is not clear. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTER DOUBTS CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER IS IN ABKHAZIA
Valeri Khaburzania told Caucasus Press on 20 March that he has no evidence to substantiate claims that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev in currently in Abkhazia. Gelaev's men were identified as among the mysterious band of fighters that launched an attack on Abkhazia last fall. On 19 March, ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed officers among the Russian troop command in Chechnya as saying that "small groups" of fighters loyal to Gelaev have been sighted on the outskirts of the village of Samashki and in the Achkhoi Martan and Urus Martan districts of western Chechnya. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, TURKEY DISCUSS OIL EXPORT PIPELINE AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli, who is visiting Kazakhstan at the head of a government delegation, held talks in Astana on 19 March with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Imangaliy Tasmaghambetov and with President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Topics discussed included the possible export of Kazakh crude via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and ways to expand trade and economic ties. Nazarbaev described as "fruitful" bilateral cooperation in unspecified "strategic industries," the military-technical sphere, and education, according to Interfax. He also expressed satisfaction at the participation of numerous Turkish companies in construction and other projects in Kazakhstan. LF

CHINA GIVES AID TO KAZAKH, KYRGYZ ARMED FORCES
Kazakh Defense Minister General Mukhtar Altynbaev and the visiting deputy chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Xiong Guangkai, signed an agreement in Astana under which Beijing will provide Kazakhstan's armed forces with $3 million worth of various types of equipment, including communications and special-forces equipment, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. He had signed a similar agreement allocating aid worth $1.2 million to Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek on 15 March. The two sides also discussed international and regional security, military contacts within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- of which both China and Kazakhstan are members -- and the fight against international terrorism. In an expression of Beijing's unease at the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Xiong remarked at a press conference in Astana on 18 March that China, together with the rest of the world, is watching to see for how long the international antiterrorism coalition will keep its forces in Central Asia, Interfax reported. Xiong also met on 18 March with President Nazarbaev. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY RELEASED...
Following two days of violence between police and protesters in Djalalabad Oblast, Kyrgyz authorities released parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov from detention in Toktogul on 19 March and escorted him to the village of Kerben, the scene of the previous day's clashes, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov told RFE/RL in Toktogul that the charges against him have not been dropped and that he has pledged not to leave Kyrgyzstan. He also confirmed that he was beaten while in custody, but was pressured to deny this in a statement on Kyrgyz State Television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2002). Beknazarov also again said that the charges and trial against him were unlawful, stressing that his superiors approved his decision in 1995 to close an investigation into a case of manslaughter. The prosecution now claims that decision constitutes dereliction of duty. LF

...AS PREMIER SEEKS TO CALM PROTESTS...
Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, accompanied by Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, traveled on 19 March to Kerben where he informed protesters that Beknazarov had been freed and promised that an investigation would establish who is responsible for giving the order to police on 17 March to open fire on demonstrators, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev also promised that the families of the five people killed during clashes on 17 and 18 March will each receive 50,000 soms (about $1,000) in compensation. The estimated 6,000 protesters, who on 19 March were demanding that President Askar Akaev resign, disbursed after Beknazarov's release, and police also released 36 people detained the previous night during the second wave of clashes in Kerben. Also on 19 March, local residents ended their blockade of the main Bishkek-Osh highway. LF

...AND INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES OPPOSITION LEADER FOR UNREST
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev told a press conference in Bishkek on 19 March that "the entire blame for the instability and mass clashes, and also the responsibility for the bloodshed, is on the conscience of the leader of the Kyrgyz human rights movement, Tursunbek Akunov, and the people who support him," Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Akunov was one of the participants in the march on 17 March from Kyzyl-Tuu to Kerben that police forcibly halted before opening fire. Akmataliev added that but for the "correct and well-organized" police response, the number killed and injured would have been much higher. LF

TAJIKISTAN REVIEWS PROSPECTS FOR INCREASED ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH ARMENIA, BELARUS
First Deputy Prime Minister Hadji Akbar Turadjonzoda chaired a meeting on 19 March to discuss expanding economic cooperation with Belarus and the preparations for Armenian President Kocharian's planned visit to Dushanbe in early April, according to Tajik Television First Channel, as cited by Groong. LF

NATO TO EXPAND COOPERATION WITH UZBEKISTAN
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Daniel Speckhard told journalists in Tashkent on 19 March following talks with Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov that the Atlantic alliance is ready to help Tashkent reorganize its armed forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Speckhard added that bilateral cooperation also extends to such spheres as environmental protection, coping with natural disasters, and scientific research. He also said NATO will provide research grants for 70 scientists from Uzbekistan. It is not clear what kind of research projects will be involved. LF

UZBEK GOVERNMENT ISSUES DECREE ON TIMELY PAYMENT OF WAGES
A government decree issued on 19 March instructs all enterprises and organizations in Uzbekistan, whether budget-funded or privately owned, to ensure that employees' salaries are paid in full and on time, the Uzbekistan National News Agency reported. The decree also bans the payment of wages in the form of goods, except for food products, and then only if employees provide written agreement to such payment. LF

BELARUS TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES WITH IRAQ
Iraqi Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Hikhmat Azzavi on 19 March wound up his five-day visit to Minsk, during which he discussed bilateral economic cooperation with Belarusian officials, Belarusian media reported. Belarusian presidential administration deputy chief Anatol Kozik said Belarus expects to double its trade turnover with Iraq this year from some $26 million last year. He added that both sides agreed on nearly all discussed "long-term projects," which included assembling Belarusian trucks and tractors in Iraq, constructing glass factories and power plants, installing a water supply for a Baghdad neighborhood, and involving Belarusian specialists in the Iraqi oil sector. Kozik stressed that Belarusian firms will be in a good position when the UN sanctions imposed against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait are lifted. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who met with Azzavi on 19 March, spoke in favor of lifting the sanctions against Iraq and against a possible military intervention in that country. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY BASED ON HIS BLOC
Leonid Kuchma said on 19 March that he believes a parliamentary majority in the new Verkhovna Rada will be created around the For a United Ukraine election bloc led by presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, UNIAN reported. "I do not see any other political force around which a majority could be created in the future parliament, regardless of whether someone likes this or not," Kuchma noted. He said the state should be run by professionals, adding that "the time when the state was governed by female cooks has passed." Kuchma voiced the need for amending the law on political parties in order to prevent their "cloning," and noted that "having 140 parties in the country is an absurdity." He also spoke in favor of introducing a higher voting barrier -- around 7 percent -- for blocs of parties seeking parliamentary mandates. JM

OUR UKRAINE HEAD POINTS TO 'INTERFERENCE' BY RUSSIAN OFFICIALS IN ELECTION...
Our Ukraine election bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko said on 19 March on local radio and television in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast that the statements of some Russian officials are "unfriendly" and constitute "direct interference in Ukraine's internal affairs and electoral process," UNIAN reported on 20 March. Yushchenko was apparently referring to a recent pronouncement by Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, who reportedly said that For a United Ukraine, the Social Democratic Party (United) of Ukraine, and the Communist Party of Ukraine are the blocs that promote strengthening Russian-Ukrainian relations. "Unfortunately, [Our Ukraine] includes political forces that have overtly anti-Russian positions," UNIAN quoted Voloshin as saying. Yushchenko stressed that Our Ukraine is not a radical bloc and does not harbor anti-Russian sentiments. JM

...AS ACTIVIST ACCUSES MOSCOW OF FANNING 'ANTI-WESTERN HYSTERIA' IN UKRAINE
Roman Bezsmertnyy, a political coordinator of the Our Ukraine bloc, has said some Russian politicians and spin doctors are trying to influence the election campaign in Ukraine by provoking anti-Western sentiment, UNIAN reported on 20 March, quoting the Our Ukraine press service. "They have steered toward stopping Ukraine's advance to Euro-Atlantic structures by artificially fanning anti-Western hysteria," Bezsmertnyy noted. According to Bezsmertnyy, "short-sighted political forces" in Ukraine allow Russian spin doctors "to use some [Ukrainian] television channels to implement their long-term geopolitical plans." JM

UKRAINIAN NEWSPAPER ACCUSES U.S. OF INTERFERING IN ELECTION
"Fakty i Kommentarii," the Kyiv-based pro-presidential daily tabloid, has accused the U.S. of leading an effort to boost the election chances of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and opposition parties, as well as of sponsoring some 300 NGOs in order to obtain an election result that would suit Washington. "As for longer-term plans...the Americans seem to continue cherishing the hope of fragmenting Ukraine by strengthening breakaway and extreme movements... The U.S. used this scenario more than once in neighboring post-socialist countries. Therefore, the U.S. attempts, direct or indirect, to create a system of alternative public and political centers that could 'intercept' power amid 'crisis development' seem quite logical," the newspaper wrote on 16 March. JM

UKRAINIAN TAX AUTHORITY SAYS 1,500 ELECTION CANDIDATES MADE FALSE INCOME DECLARATIONS
State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov told journalists on 20 March that 637 candidates running for parliamentary seats on party lists and 870 candidates registered in one-seat constituencies provided the Central Electoral Commission with false information about their incomes and possessions, UNIAN reported. Azarov added that checking candidates' declarations is the only form of participation of the State Tax Administration in the election campaign. Asked if he is aware that the Central Election Commission "selectively" uses information supplied by his institution, Azarov said he is not, adding that he does not intend to verify this allegation. Last week, the Central Election Commission disqualified more than 100 candidates from the election race, citing false income declarations as the reason. JM

ESTONIA SEEKS HIGHER QUOTAS INSTEAD OF SUBSIDIES IN EU AGRICULTURE TALKS
After a meeting of the agriculture ministers of the EU and candidate states in Brussels on 19 March, Estonian Agriculture Minister Jaanus Marrandi said there is little chance the EU will increase its proposed agricultural subsidies to candidate countries, and Estonia should thus focus on obtaining higher production quotas, "Postimees" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). He explained the low quotas offered by the EU on the unwillingness of larger EU member states to incur additional expenses. The quotas are based on recent years when production levels were particularly low, and do not reflect the country's agricultural potential, according to Marrandi. Former Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar countered the EU's assertion that granting equal subsidies to farmers from current EU member countries and new EU member states alike would increase living standards for the latter too abruptly. He argued that farmers in the new EU states will have to make far greater investments than their counterparts, and thus, "the higher subsidies would be fully justified." SG

LATVIA'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVERTURNS RESTRICTIONS ON FULL BENEFITS FOR WORKING PENSIONERS
The court ruled on 19 March that the pension law articles that reduced the pensions of working pensioners contradict the constitution, LETA reported. They will thus become null and void after the decision is officially published. The restrictions were introduced by the previous government led by Andris Skele in order to reduce pension expenditures. "Diena" on 20 March estimated that about 4.6 million lats ($7.4 million) will be needed this year to cover the additional costs resulting from the ruling. Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK parliament deputy and former Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs viewed the ruling as the "right decision," and said it is up to the government to decide where to obtain the funds for its implementation. SG

LITHUANIA ACCEPTS UKRAINIAN OFFER OF ADVICE ON NUCLEAR PLANT CLOSING
In Vilnius on 19 March, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Kinakh discussed the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, ELTA reported. Brazauskas gladly accepted Kinakh' s offer to share Ukraine's expertise on dismantling equipment, the storage of used materials, and other issues. The premiers also spoke about their common desire to expand bilateral economic cooperation and trade. They agreed to form a joint working group to discuss ways to increase the transit trade of both countries, and Ukrainian trade through the port of Klaipeda in particular. If Lithuania joins the EU, it will have to end its free-trade agreement with Ukraine. Kinakh mentioned that Ukraine plans to become an associated member of the EU in 2007, and be prepared for membership obligations by 2010-2011. In later talks with President Valdas Adamkus, Kinakh expressed his support for Lithuania's efforts to join NATO. SG

POLISH CABINET ADOPTS LABOR CODE CHANGES DESPITE TRADE UNION PROTESTS
The government has adopted amendments to the Labor Code in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship and fight the 18 percent unemployment rate, Polish media reported on 19 March. The proposed changes make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, lower overtime costs, and cut administrative red tape. Despite prolonged consultations, the government failed to gain the trade unions' approval for the amendments. Labor Minister Jerzy Hauser said the package of 30 legislative changes, which need to be approved by the parliament, should take effect as of 1 January 2003. "In changing the Labor Code, we are adapting it to the patterns that are in force in countries with fast economic growth," Premier Leszek Miller said in a televised address to the nation the same day. "Exceptional situations require exceptional measures. And the situation on the labor market is undoubtedly an exceptionally difficult one," he added. JM

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER CRITICIZES EU FARM AID PROPOSAL
Speaking to EU agriculture ministers in Brussels on 19 March, Polish Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski said the European Commission's proposals concerning farm aid to new EU members are unacceptable to Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 February 2002), Polish Radio reported. According to Kalinowski, a 10-year transition period for making equal conditions for new and current EU member countries means that, within this period, intensive agricultural production will remain almost the sole domain of the current 15 EU members, while the new members will have to extensively develop "agriculture, supplemented with a considerable amount of social policy." JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER 'CORRECTS' CHIEF OF STAFF
The Defense Ministry on 19 March said it has made no request to Slovakia to send personnel for the field hospital dispatched to Afghanistan by the Czech Republic, although such an offer is "under consideration," CTK reported. The ministry thus corrected a statement made the previous day by Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). Slovak Defense Ministry State Secretary Rastislav Kacer earlier told CTK that he was surprised to have learned about the alleged Czech offer from news reports. MS

GERMAN IRREDENTIST POSTERS IN KARLOVY VARY
About 40 posters calling for the return of the Sudetenland to Germany were discovered on 17 March in Karlovy Vary, CTK reported on 19 March, citing the local police chief. The text of the posters read: "The Sudetenland was German and will be German again." Similar posters were discovered in February in a Prague metro station. In related news, Pavel Telicka, the chief negotiator with the EU, on 18 March told journalists in Prague that lawyers in the Czech Republic working on an analysis of the Benes Decrees have concluded that the decrees are not in contradiction with current EU legislation, CTK and Reuters reported. MS

CZECH MINISTER OUTRAGED OVER U.S. SECURITY CHECKS
Education Minister Eduard Zeman told the daily "Lidove noviny" on 19 March that he has written to U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton to complain about security checks he was submitted to during a recent trip to the U.S. despite his possession of a diplomatic passport, AP and dpa reported. Zeman said his suitcase was searched several times, he was forced to remove his coat and shoes, and had to board planes in his socks. "Even in the U.S. they should know what a diplomatic passport is," Zeman said. Stapleton responded that Zeman should understand that the tight security measures were prompted by last year's terrorist attacks on the United States. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER TELLS EU PARLIAMENT COMMISSION MECIAR WILL NOT RETURN TO POWER...
Mikulas Dzurinda told members of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission in Brussels on 19 March that after the autumn elections Slovakia will have "a fully democratic and entirely acceptable government," CTK reported. Dzurinda added that four or five democratic parties in the parliament will be able to form the next coalition, and that he is confident that, as a result, "Slovakia will be invited to join NATO" at the Prague summit of the alliance in November. Western politicians have expressed serious concern that former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar could return to power after the elections, and have warned that this would hinder Slovakia's NATO and EU accession efforts. MS

...SAYS BENES DECREES DISPUTE SHOULD NOT 'PLAY INTO NATIONALIST HANDS'...
Dzurinda also said the Benes Decrees "have been fading away" and "do not provide any basis for the new legal realities," CTK reported. He said the issue has been turned into an electoral one in Hungary, Germany, and Austria, and warned that "we must be cautious lest we play into the hands of nationalists." Dzurinda told the commission's members that "the path to the past is not the path to the EU." MS

...AND REITERATES OPPOSITION TO HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
Dzurinda also said that the Hungarian Status Law has provisions implying "extraterritoriality" and is "discriminatory." He said the law is "unacceptable" in Bratislava. The Slovak premier said organizations claiming to represent ethnic Hungarians have already set up 11 offices issuing Hungarian ID cards, which he said is "at variance with Slovak legislation." He denied that Slovakia's law on relations with ethnic Slovaks living abroad is in any way similar to the Status Law, and expressed the hope that the dispute with Budapest will be settled after next month's Hungarian elections. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION DEPUTY ELECTED AS OMBUDSMAN
The parliament on 19 March elected Movement for a Democratic Slovakia parliamentary deputy Pavol Kandrac to be the country's first ombudsman, CTK reported. Of the 130 deputies present, 68 cast their ballots for Kandrac in a secret vote. Kandrac, who ran against ruling coalition candidate Jan Hrubala, said he was surprised by the outcome of the vote, which apparently resulted from renewed infighting in the ruling coalition. Slovak media reported that some deputies from the Party of the Democratic Left, which is part of the coalition, apparently cast their vote for Kandrac. MS

SLOVAKIA'S JEWISH COMMUNITIES SAY HOLOCAUST DENIAL IS ON THE RISE
In a statement released on 19 March, the Central Association of Jewish Communities in Slovakia said denial of the Holocaust is becoming increasingly common in the country, CTK reported. The statement was released ahead of 25 March, which marks the day of the first deportation of Slovak Jews to Nazi extermination camps. Some 70,000 Slovak Jews were deported to the camps, the majority of whom perished. The statement said, "the Holocaust has a strange continuation" in Slovakia, with growing numbers denying it "despite a large number of witnesses, archives, ...documentaries, newspaper articles, and mass graves." It said Holocaust denial is part of the struggle of negationists for "controlling the past in order to master the future." The murdered Jews "cannot be killed again, [but] the last thing that can still be taken from them is the forgotten shadow of their existence," the report stated (see "RFE/RL East European Perspectives," 20 March 2002). MS

HORN SAYS HUNGARY'S CENTER-RIGHT JEOPARDIZES EU ENTRY
Former Hungarian Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn told reporters in Budapest on 19 March that the FIDESZ government is endangering the country's EU accession hopes "by flirting with the far right" ahead of the April general elections, Hungarian and international media reported. Horn said the Viktor Orban-led government, through implementation of the Status Law and criticism of the Benes Decrees, has created tensions with neighboring countries, which could negatively affect Hungary's chances of joining the EU by 2004. He harshly criticized state-run MTV television, saying it is outrageous to see it becoming a "FIDESZ mouthpiece financed with public funds." Horn said he has sent a letter to the head of MTV, asking him to put an end to the "election manipulation." FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni said in response that the Socialists must be "in big trouble" if Horn is desperately trying to "repaint the sky" and rewrite the past. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS SZDSZ COMPLAINT
The Supreme Court on 19 March rejected the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats' (SZDSZ) appeal over the National Election Commission's rejection of the party's request that it guarantee balanced election coverage on MTV (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 14 March 2002). The court ruled that the SZDSZ's objections to the MTV election coverage plan were not well founded, and upheld the commission's ruling that it had no jurisdiction in the matter. In other news, the Prosecutor-General's Office on 19 March appealed the rulings handed down by the Metropolitan Court a day earlier on lawyer Marta Tocsik and other defendants in Hungary's biggest privatization scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). The office seeks heavier sentences for the defendants and is also appealing against the acquittal of others. MSZ

CHINA SUMMONS HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR
Hungary's ambassador to China was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing to hear China's objections to the visit to Budapest of Taiwanese Vice President Annette Lu, who plans to attend the annual conference of the Liberal International, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The Chinese Foreign Ministry on 19 March called on countries to strictly adhere to the "One China" principle. China also warned that the reception of politicians from Taipei who call for independence could foment tension and undermine talks between Beijing and Taipei, according to the daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). MSZ

AUSTRIA PAYS COMPENSATION TO HUNGARIAN SLAVE LABORERS
The Austrian government on 18 March made the first compensation payments to five Hungarian nationals who were forced to work for the Nazi regime in Austria during World War II, Hungarian media reported. Ludwig Steiner, president of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, handed over payments at a ceremony at the Austrian ambassador's residence in Budapest. Those who were forced into slave labor will be paid 107,000 Austrian schillings ($6,850), enforced industrial laborers will receive 35,000 schillings, and enforced agricultural workers 20,000 schillings. The fund has a total of 435 million euros ($383 million) at its disposal to provide compensation to survivors and their descendants from all over Central and Eastern Europe, of which 50 million euros have been allocated for Hungarian compensation claims. MSZ

FIRST HUNGARIAN-ROMANY BIBLE PRINTED
A New Testament Bible in both Hungarian and the primary Romany dialect was published in Budapest on 18 March, Hungarian media reported. This is the first full translation of the New Testament into the Lovari dialect. The translator, Zoltan Farkas Vesho, said he strove to use the "clean" Lovari dialect, free of the words Roma incorporate from other languages, and that as a result Roma all over the world will be able to read the Bible. MSZ/MS

MONTENEGRIN PARTY HAPPY WITH BELGRADE-PODGORICA UNION...
Predrag Bulatovic, the leader of Montenegro's opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), said that the accord creating the state of "Serbia and Montenegro" was his party's main goal, Tanjug reported. Bulatovic, speaking outside of Podgorica in Danilovgrad, said the agreement on Serbia-Montenegro will enable the two republics to enter the EU faster than if they were separate, "so that nobody will think about the referendum [on Montenegrin independence] any more." SNP Vice President Zoran Zizic said on 19 March that he "is certain" that the accord will be ratified by the Montenegrin parliament. PB

...WHILE YUGOSLAV'S CENTRAL BANK CHIEF SAYS SERBIA-MONTENEGRO UNION DOOMED
Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade that the state of Serbia and Montenegro will have a short existence, Reuters reported on 19 March, citing Studio B TV. Dinkic said that "what you have here is de facto two separate states in a semblance of a single state." Dinkic said that since Montenegro will continue using the euro while also maintaining a separate banking system and other financial laws, Serbia will follow suit by redesignating Yugoslav institutions as Serbian. "The National Bank of Yugoslavia will be renamed the National Bank of Serbia," he said, and "the same will happen with all the federal laws from the economic sphere that Serbia does not yet have." Dinkic said: "there is a minimal chance things will go differently but my prediction, with 99 percent certainty, is that we are going toward two separate states." PB

GERMAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA
Visiting German President Johannes Rau expressed "personal support" for Romania's quest to join the EU and NATO at a meeting on 19 March with his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Rau also praised Romania's "diplomatic skills." He participated in the ceremony of hoisting the German flag at Germany's new embassy in Bucharest. Rau also met with Premier Nastase to discuss bilateral, particularly economic relations. On 20 March, he arrived in Sibiu, a Transylvanian town with a rich German heritage, and the only town in Romania whose mayor is an ethnic German. MS

SLOVENIA WEIGHING APPEAL TO WTO IN DISPUTE WITH CROATIA
Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said after a discussion with the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that Slovenia "cannot exclude the possibility" of taking a trade dispute with Croatia to the WTO, Hina reported on 19 March, citing a Foreign Ministry statement. The agency reported that Ljubljana will take up the issue of hazardous materials transport with the WTO's trade council on 22 March. "We are trying to solve the dispute we have with Croatia on the bilateral level," Rupel is said to have told WTO General Director Mike Moore, according to Hina. "If we do not succeed, we cannot exclude the possibility of solving the dispute within the WTO." Croatian officials -- who recently imposed new rules on the overland transportation of oil and oil products and other materials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 4, and 14 February, and 11 March 2002) -- said on 18 March that the biggest problem in resolving the issue is that Slovenia insists on internationalizing it. AH

DINKIC SAYS YUGO DINAR TO BE CONVERTIBLE IN MAY
Yugoslav National Bank Governor Dinkic said on 19 March in Belgrade that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will declare the Yugoslav dinar to be convertible in May, Tanjug reported. Dinkic said that a draft law on foreign exchange transactions -- key for the IMF declaration -- is likely to be adopted by parliament soon. Dinkic said the dinar has already achieved some measure of "de facto convertibility" because of international recognition of the currency. PB

EU GRANTS LOAN TO BELGRADE TO REPAIR RAIL LINE
The Yugoslav government and the EU signed an agreement on 19 March for a 85 million euro ($77 million) loan to be used to reconstruct the country's major train route, AP reported. Some 70 million euros will go to Serbia and the rest to Montenegro for work on a 140-kilometer railway line in need of major repairs. The loan is to be repaid over 20 years. PB

DOCTORS TO DECIDE ON RESUMPTION OF MILOSEVIC TRIAL
The UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague said a decision on when to resume the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be made on 20 March, Tanjug reported, after the defendant is examined by doctors. Milosevic's trial was postponed on 18 March because he was sick with the flu. PB

BOSNIAN POLICE RAID ISLAMIC CHARITY IN TERRORISM CRACKDOWN...
Law enforcement agents searched the offices and homes of employees of the Benevolentia International Foundation in Sarajevo and the central Bosnian town of Zenica on 19 March as part of an ongoing investigation of groups with possible links to terrorism, AP reported. Citing a police statement, the agency said documents belonging to the group were seized and staff interrogated in a UN-monitored operation that targeted offices and six homes. Authorities have said considerable amounts of cash were being withdrawn from Benevolentia accounts with no record of how they were used. On a recent visit to Bosnia, Benevolentia's U.S. operations head Enaam Mahmoud Arnaout removed all of the charity's records, police said. "The leading employees of this organization were questioned and the found documentation was temporarily seized," the police statement said, according to AP. Officials last week said funds were missing from Benevolentia and two other Islamic aid organizations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. AH

...AS SECURITY IS BEEFED UP AT U.S. EMBASSY IN SARAJEVO
The U.S. Embassy in the Bosnian capital on 19 March announced it is heightening security "due to unverified threats against this Embassy," AP reported. The message was appended to a worldwide warning to U.S. citizens in the wake of the 17 March attack on a Protestant International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. AH

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT 'ASSUMES RESPONSIBILITY' FOR PRIVATIZATION LAW...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 20 March presented to a joint meeting of Romania's two chambers of parliament a law on accelerating privatization, Romanian radio reported. The law provides, among other things, for the sale of unprofitable state enterprises at the symbolic price of 1 euro ($0.88). It also writes off tax arrears to the state budget for companies privatized in 2002. The law has been submitted under the "governmental assumption of responsibility" constitutional stipulation. Under this procedure, the legislation is considered as approved by the parliament unless a no-confidence motion in the government is submitted within three days. The Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Democratic Party said they are "considering" whether to move such a no-confidence motion, while the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania announced they will not do so. MS

...AFTER DEFEATING ONE MORE OPPOSITION MOTION
By a vote of 178 against and 82 in favor, the Chamber of Deputies on 19 March rejected a motion submitted by the Democratic Party and the PNL to debate corruption in local government public administration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIANS WANT DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
A Gallup public opinion poll conducted between 22 February and 4 March shows that 90 percent of Romanians are in favor of the current constitutional provision which provides for direct presidential elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Fifty-one percent would like to have direct elections of the country's premier as well, and the same percentage believes the system of bicameral parliamentary representation should be replaced by a one-chamber system. Sixty-two percent are in favor of replacing the current proportional electoral system with a single-constituency system. The poll was conducted against the background of ongoing debates on constitutional amendments. A delegation of the Venice Commission has ended a visit to Romania and said it will make recommendations on the envisaged constitutional changes. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RELATIONS WITH ROMANIA 'WILL NOT DETERIORATE'
Nicolae Dudau told BASA-Press on 19 March that relations with Romania "will not deteriorate" in the wake of the 13 March expulsion of Romanian military attache Ion Ungureanu from Moldova, Mediafax and Infotag reported. Dudau said the decision to expel the Romanian diplomat was due to "actions incompatible with his diplomatic status" and that "international practice does not oblige Moldova to explain it." He said the incident should be regarded as a "petty quarrel between neighbors," and expressed confidence that "relations will gradually normalize." Dudau denied that the Moldovan parliament has asked him to provide an explanation for the expulsion. "A group of parliamentary deputies initiated such reporting," he said, "but I shall provide the information only if officially requested by the parliament to do so." MS

IPI 'CONCERNED' ABOUT SITUATION AT TELERADIO MOLDOVA...
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) and its South East European Media Organization (SEEMO) affiliate wrote on 19 March to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, expressing "concern" over "the recent intimidation of the Committee for Press Solidarity" which represents nearly 500 protesting Moldovan journalists at Teleradio Moldova, according to a SEEMO press release. It said that despite Voronin's promise that the situation at Teleradio Moldova will "improve," there have been "apparent attempts by the managers of Teleradio Moldova to silence journalists who have shown solidarity with the protesters." The IPI and SEEMO called on Voronin "to do everything in your power to ensure that the media workers at Teleradio Moldova are allowed to report freely and that the government guarantee freedom of expression in Moldova." MS

...AS JOURNALISTS SUE TELERADIO MOLDOVA IN STRASBOURG
The Committee for Press Solidarity at Teleradio Moldova on 19 March asked the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to rule that Moldova has infringed on the provisions of Article 10 in the European Convention on Human Rights, which upholds the principle of freedom of expression, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

RUSSIA, OSCE COMPLETE PREPARATIONS FOR DESTROYING TRANSDNIESTER AMMUNITION STOCK
Preparations by Russia and the OSCE for destroying the Russian contingent's obsolete ammunition stock in the Transdniester region are approaching completion, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March, citing OSCE mission head David Schwartz. Schwartz said that the U.S.-made "Donovan installation" to be used in the process will "soon be delivered to the region," and that a special German furnace for burning explosives, as well as Russian equipment for the detonation of the ammunition, will also be used in the operation. The OSCE will bear the costs of the operation, which are estimated at around $40 million. Some 40,000 tons of obsolete ammunition that belonged to the former 14th Russian army stationed in the Transdniester are stockpiled in the region. Of these, 16,000 tons are to be transported back to Russia. MS

HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BULGARIA ALMOST UNCHANGED
In an interview broadcast by Bulgarian National Radio on 19 March, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee President Krasimir Kanev spoke on the country's human rights efforts. "In 2001, there was progress as well as setbacks, so the human rights situation in general remained almost unchanged," focus.bg quoted him as saying. According to Kanev, the Helsinki Committee has taken note of positive developments, such as the fact that there were fewer human rights violations recorded in Bulgaria in 2001 than in previous years, and that the environment for children and ethnic minorities has improved. However, last year's positive developments were offset by widespread incidents of excessive use of force by police -- almost half of the detainees questioned reported that they were maltreated or even tortured. Kanev described the situation in some health care institutions as "inhumane and humiliating." UB

RETIREMENT AGE REDUCTION FOR BULGARIAN OFFICERS POSTPONED
The plan to reduce the retirement age of officers by three years will be postponed until September, "Monitor" reported. The current retirement age for generals is 60, and 56 for colonels. Stanimir Ilchev, the chairman of the parliament's Foreign Policy, Defense, and Security Committee, announced the decision on 19 March after Chief of General Staff General Miho Mihov protested the lowering of the retirement age (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). UB

BULGARIAN POLICE SENT TO TURKISH BORDER TO PREVENT KURDISH PROTESTS
The Interior Ministry has deployed police reinforcement units to the southern Bulgarian town of Svilengrad in order to prevent Kurdish demonstrators from staging protests at the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint, "Dnevnik" reported on 19 March. Most of the protestors are citizens of Western European countries who are participants in a convoy originating from Brussels and heading to Turkey to demand greater rights for the Kurdish minority in that country. News.bg reported on 19 March that the Interior Ministry prohibited the convoy from entering Bulgaria, stranding them at the border. Members of the Kurdish community in Sofia are expected to stage protests in the city's Southern Park on 20 March, but it remains unclear whether participants of the convoy will be allowed to join them. Romanian authorities stopped the convoy at the Hungarian-Romanian border on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER APPROVES OF LEGAL SYSTEM REFORM
Simeon Saxecoburggotski approved of the proposals for reforms in the legal system presented to him by Justice Minister Anton Stankov on 19 March, "Monitor" reported. The proposals include reforms of public prosecution entities with the intention of improving the functioning of the courts, as well as anticorruption measures. UB

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