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Newsline - June 28, 2002


PUTIN SATISFIED WITH G-8 SUMMIT
Speaking to reporters at the G-7 and Russia summit in Kananaskis, Canada, President Vladimir Putin said he is pleased with the results of the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002), ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Putin said that it was a "summit of like-minded people." He said that the G-7 leaders have accepted his invitation to come to St. Petersburg in 2003 for the city's 300th anniversary celebrations. He also applauded the summit's decision to provide additional assistance for African countries through the New Partnership for Africa's Development. He endorsed the modest debt-relief component of the program, noting that 40 percent of Africa's debt to industrial countries was owed to the former Soviet Union. VY

...BUT HE UNDERSTANDS ANTI-GLOBALISTS
In response to a question about anti-globalization protests, Putin said that one should not be too quick to judge them. "Among [the anti-globalists] are people who are really concerned and their concerns are linked to the problem of opening global markets," Putin said. He said that opening the markets of developing countries must not result in the suppression of their economies. He added, however, that he believes some anti-globalists are mostly concerned with self-promotion and that when protestors break the law, they should be punished. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT RESUME NUCLEAR TESTING
Speaking to journalists on 27 June during a visit to the nuclear-test site at Novaya Zemlya, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia will not resume nuclear testing, which it stopped in 1990, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. However, he said that "non-nuclear experiments" will continue. Ivanov said that since the cessation of nuclear testing, Russia has conducted 132 hydrodynamic tests to simulate nuclear explosions. He also said that he is concerned by the miserable conditions of troops stationed at Novaya Zemlya and pledged that there will be no cuts in their numbers or funding. VY

DUMA ADOPTS TOUGH VERSION OF ALTERNATIVE CIVILIAN-SERVICE LAW
The State Duma on 28 June approved in its third and final reading a law on alternative civilian service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 June 2002) including hard-line amendments proposed by the General Staff and strongly opposed by liberal deputies and human rights activists, Russian and Western news agencies reported. One amendment removed a provision that would have allowed those fulfilling alternative service to do so near their homes. Another demands that conscripts prove their moral convictions require them to complete alternative service rather than be inducted into the military. A third amendment strikes down the right of conscripts to choose whether to complete their alternative service at civilian or military installations. Deputies rejected, however, a military proposal that alternative service last four years. The bill stipulates a maximum term of 3 1/2 years for alternative service. VY

PROSECUTORS APPEAL KHOLODOV ACQUITTALS
The Prosecutor-General's Office has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against the acquittal of the six men charged in the 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 28 June. Former Deputy Prosecutor-General Mikhail Katushev, who was in charge of Kholodov investigation, said that one of the accused, Military Intelligence (GRU) Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, told him during the investigation: "Yes, we are guilty, but then why don't you arrest [former Defense Minister] Pavel Grachev," strana.ru reported on 28 June. VY

IMPOVERISHED GUN PRODUCERS CONVICTED
A closed session of the Tula Oblast Court sentenced two leading local weapons designers, whose names were not disclosed, to three years in prison for illegal arms production, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 June. The two men were arrested a year ago by the local office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on suspicion that they had made five pistols with silencers and a machine gun, which they hoped to sell for $800 each. Both men worked on a team that produces the "Groza" machine gun that is used by the Russian secret services, and both earned 2,000 rubles ($64) a month. VY

DEPUTIES OVERTURN VETO ON CENTRAL BANK LAW...
The State Duma on 27 June overturned the Federation Council's veto of the new law on the Central Bank with 389 votes for the bill, one against, and one abstention, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the upper legislative chamber had objected to two aspects of the bill: the number of audits to be performed on commercial banks and the makeup of the Bank's National Banking Council. The two chambers reached a compromise on additional bank audits, but the Duma voted to keep the number of council members at 12 with three representatives from the State Duma and only two from the Federation Council, according to Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Zadornov (Yabloko). JAC

...PASS LAW ON STATE DUMA ELECTIONS...
Legislators also turned their attention to the presidential bill on the election of State Duma deputies, which they approved in its first reading by an unusually large margin, with 422 votes in favor and only one abstention, "Izvestiya" reported. According to the daily, the new rules give parties that are already represented in the Duma an advantage. Parties are allowed to put together a list of their candidates only after they have fully complied with the registration required under the law on political parties, which all parties represented in the Duma have already done. The bill also stipulates that only parties can form an election bloc, in which no more than three groups can participate. Candidates for single-mandate districts can nominate themselves or they can be nominated by parties or election blocs. JAC

...ALLOWS CHILDREN WITH CHILDREN TO MARRY, WHILE PUNISHING CHILD MOLESTERS
Also approved in its first reading on 27 June was a bill that lowers the minimum age for marriage to 14 years of age under "special circumstances" -- for example, if the bride-to-be is pregnant, Interfax reported. The vote on the bill was 330 votes in favor with two against. Committee on the Affairs of Women, Family, and Youth Chairwoman Svetlana Goryacheva (independent) said that adoption of the bill will help smooth over existing differences between federal and regional legislation, according to polit.ru. For example, laws on the books in Novgorod and Orel oblasts and in Bashkortostan place no age limitation at all on when people can marry. At the same time, a bill that amends Article 8 of the Criminal Code, as well as introducing two additional articles, was also approved in its first reading. The bill strengthens criminal responsibility for moral depravity, sexual perversion, and exploitation of minors, as well as for the production and distribution of child pornography, according to ntvru.com. JAC

BOEING IN TALKS TO BUILD NEW PLANE IN RUSSIA
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said that U.S. aviation giant Boeing is in negotiations with Russia's Sukhoi design bureau to develop a new airliner in Russia, nns.ru reported on 27 June. According to Vershbow, the new airliner will be completely designed and produced in Russia for export. Vershbow emphasized that Boeing has invested large sums in recent years in Russia's aviation sector, hiring many specialists and creating a large number of jobs. "We are seeking to create opportunities in which all sides win," Vershbow said. RC

PROSECUTORS MOVE AGAINST NENETS GOVERNOR
Police on 25 June issued an arrest warrant for Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, presscenter.ru and nns.ru reported on 28 June. Butov is wanted on abuse-of-office charges. The move came just one day after President Putin was asked at a press conference about Butov's dismissal of three successive local prosecutors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002) and promised to look into the matter. According to the presscenter.ru, Butov's whereabouts are unknown and he has not been seen in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the last six months. Vladimir Zubrin, deputy prosecutor-general for the Northwest Federal District, said there are currently five criminal investigations under way involving Butov. RC

COLD WAR BETWEEN LOCAL OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY HOBBLING JUBILEE PLANS...
Less than a year remains before the celebration of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, but preparations have hit more than a few snags in part because of a simmering conflict between St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev and the presidential envoy to the Northwestern Federal District, Viktor Cherkesov, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 27 June. The heads of state of more than 30 countries along with 1,000 guests from across Russia have been invited. Meanwhile, President Putin has criticized the preparations, particularly the financing and coordination of construction projects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). According to the daily, Yakovlev denies that there is or has been any conflict with Cherkesov. However, during Putin's recent visit to the city, Cherkesov and Yakovlev attended one meeting, sat at opposite ends of the table, and during the break completely avoided each other, the daily reported. JAC

...AS MATVIENKO GIVEN ANOTHER CRACK AT ST. PETERSBURG
According to some unidentified sources, Putin tried to make peace between the two "antagonists" but further friendly handshakes have not occurred so far, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote. On 26 June, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced that fellow Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko has been appointed to supervise and coordinate work on the jubilee, "Vremya novostei" reported on 27 June. The daily interpreted Matvienko's appointment as evidence that the Kremlin trusts neither Yakovlev nor Cherkesov with the expenditure of jubilee funds. JAC

PRIME MINISTER SETS OCTOBER DEADLINE FOR LIFE TO RETURN TO NORMAL IN FLOODED SOUTH...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told cabinet members on 27 June that the repair of basic life-support systems in Russia's flood-affected Southern Federal District will be completed before 5 July and housing, life-support systems, and infrastructure before October, Interfax reported. According to information from the state meteorological service Gosgidromet, a similar flood has occurred in the region only once in the last 100 years, "Izvestiya" reported. That daily put the death toll from the current flooding at 77 people and noted that of the 88,000 person evacuated, more than 31,000 have returned to their homes. JAC

...AS LOCAL OFFICIALS BEGIN THE BLAME GAME
Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that, as is often the case with natural disasters, local officials are being blamed. For example, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has dismissed Vasilii Kolykhailo, head of the Uspenskii Raion, for the being "too slow in dealing with the disaster." In Stavropol Krai, the local prosecutor is exploring the possibility of opening criminal cases, Interfax reported. Prosecutor Robert Adelkhanyan told krai legislators that officials' handling of the disaster requires a legal assessment. "Someone has to bear responsibility for the deaths of 51 people [in the krai]," he said. He added that many of the krai's rescue services were not ready to operate in an emergency situation and in some areas lacked the proper equipment. JAC

ANOTHER NEW SENATOR SELECTED
In addition to former First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002), two additional representatives to the Federation Council were approved on 26 June, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Sergei Antufev, formerly of the Smolensk Oblast legislature, will represent that body, and Viktor Nefedov was reconfirmed as representative of the Orenburg Oblast legislature. He is a former deputy chairman of that legislature. JAC

TELEVISION ON THE BRINK OF DISASTER
Testifying before the Federation Council's Information Policy Commission on 28 June, ORT Director Konstantin Ernst said that "the majority of Russian television stations are on the verge of catastrophe as far as their technical equipment is concerned," RosBalt reported the same day. Ernst said that the country's television broadcasting system "is hopelessly outdated, and piecemeal repairs are proving more expensive to the channels than replacing it with contemporary equipment would be." He stated that most of the world has switched to digital broadcasting and that the analog equipment currently used by most Russian broadcasters is no longer manufactured. The commission's chairman, Dmitrii Mezintsev, said after the hearing that he agrees with Ernst's assessment and that he will try to secure state support for resolving the technical problems of the broadcast sector. RC

ARMENIAN, AZERI CENTERS CATCH FIRE IN SIBERIA
An Armenian national-cultural center was set on fire on 27 June in Irkutsk, Interfax-Eurasia reported the same day. Unknown persons broke a window of the center's building, poured gasoline inside, and set it ablaze. Ten days earlier, an Azerbaijani cultural center, Berlik, was also set on fire in Irkutsk, according to the agency. JAC

FORMER RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY URGES PUTIN TO BEGIN CHECHEN PEACE TALKS...
In an open letter dated 27 June and carried by grani.ru and chechenpress.com, former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin appealed to President Putin to accept Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's recent proposal to begin peace talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). Rybkin argued that "the policy of a blitzkrieg and war to the final victory has failed yet again"; that the war in Chechnya is consuming human and material resources Russia needs for other purposes; and that "it is senseless and dangerous to struggle against the will of a nation by military means." He offered his services to help achieve peace in Chechnya. LF

...AS YELTSIN'S CHECHEN POLICY COMES UNDER SCRUTINY
Rybkin also disclosed in his open letter to Putin that in early April he was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning about his activities while serving as Security Council secretary, a post he held from October 1996 to March 1998. He was asked about Yeltsin's Chechen policy in general, and in particular about the circumstances surrounding the drafting and signing of the May 1997 Russian-Chechen peace accord in which Rybkin played a decisive role (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 6 May 1997). Rybkin notes that he is the only one of three successive Security Council secretaries responsible for implementing Yeltsin's Chechen policy to whom the prosecutor-general still has access: the other two are the late Aleksandr Lebed and exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii. LF

U.S. AMBASSADOR LIKEWISE ADVOCATES CHECHEN PEACE TALKS
Stressing that Washington considers the war in Chechnya Russia's internal affair, Vershbow told journalists in Moscow on 27 June that he nonetheless believes that political moves are needed to bring about an end to the fighting, Interfax reported. He added that it is up to the Russian leadership to select the most appropriate interlocutor, but that Maskhadov is still a key player in Chechnya. LF

FORMER RUSSIAN GENERAL SAYS GEORGIA NEEDS NEW LEADERSHIP
Retired General and former Russian Border Guards Commander Andrei Nikolaev, who now heads the Duma Defense and Security Committee, is quoted as telling the Georgian paper "24 saati" after a recent press conference in Moscow that "as long as [Eduard] Shevardnadze is the [Georgian] president, nothing positive or useful for the country will happen. I want the Georgian people to understand that we are not against the Georgian nation.... The people of Georgia need their government changed. New people must come into power. We have to restore normal relations between our countries," Caucasus Press reported on 28 June. Nikolaev also said that the United States cannot replace Russia in all aspects of Georgia's international relations. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CONTROVERSIAL RESTRICTIONS
Pro-government and opposition deputies traded accusations and insults on 27 June during a debate on the draft amendments to the parliament statues prepared by the government last week, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Those amendments would empower the speaker to order unruly deputies to leave the parliament chamber and to ban them from participating in the work of the legislature for up to 15 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2002). He would also have the right to call for police assistance to enforce those restrictions, which opposition deputies claim are unconstitutional and aimed at stifling dissent. LF

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF IN NKR
Incumbent Arkadii Ghukasian announced on 24 June that he plans to seek a second term as president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the ballot scheduled for 11 August, according to Arminfo on 25 June as cited by Groong. The local Communist Party and the Armenakan party have expressed their support for Ghukasian, Interfax reported on 27 June. The opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun has not yet nominated a candidate, or declared whether or not it will do so, compounding rumors that it will not oppose Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). The public organization "Unity" will decide at a congress on 6 July whether to nominate a presidential candidate. Ghukasian polled some 85 percent of the vote in 1997, defeating two rival candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). LF

GEORGIAN STATE MINISTER PROMISES TIGHTER BUDGET DISCIPLINE...
Avtandil Djorbenadze warned on 27 June that he aims to put a stop to the widespread retention by local district administrations of taxes levied on land ownership, Caucasus Press reported. He said that if those monies were transferred to the central budget, the government would be in a position to pay off pensions and wage arrears totaling 70 million laris ($ 31.47 million). He said he will resort to every means necessary to overcome what he termed the acute social crisis in Georgia. LF

...HOPES TO REVIVE RULING PARTY
In anticipation that the estimated 1,600 delegates expected to attend the 28 June congress of the embattled Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) will elect him its chairman in accordance with President Eduard Shevardnadze's request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002), Djorbenadze identified as the two key challenges facing the SMK creating a strong and powerful government and reviving its dwindling capacity to build an independent state, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA AFFIRMS READINESS TO PARTICIPATE IN 'OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM'
Interfax on 27 June quoted Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili as saying that if asked, Georgia would be willing to send servicemen to participate in the international antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether he specified how many personnel Georgia would contribute. A contingent of several dozen Georgian officers has participated since 1999 in the UN peacekeeping operation in Kosova alongside a Turkish battalion. LF

FORMER KAZAKH MINISTER APPEALS FOR SUPPORT FOR OPPOSITION COLLEAGUE
In an open letter posted on 28 June on forumkz.org, former Kazakh Energy, Industry and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov admitted that he anticipates that Kazakhstan's Supreme Court will find him guilty of embezzlement and sentence him to prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June 2002). He called on his friends and allies "not to despair," but to continue fighting for their shared goals of democracy, justice, and freedom for all. Abliyazov appealed to his colleagues "to continue fighting to save [former Pavlodar Oblast Governor] Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, whose health is in danger." He again identified the main objectives of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan that he and Zhaqiyanov cofounded late last year and removing from government members of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's family and introducing elections for the post of oblast governors, who are currently appointed by the president. LF

OSCE CRITICIZED NEW KAZAKH LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES
In a 27 June press release, the OSCE office in Almaty expressed its concern that the new law on political parties approved by both chambers of parliament earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 26, and 27 June 2002) may have serious consequences for political pluralism in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. The statement noted that the new requirement that political parties have a minimum of 50,000 members in order to reregister with the Justice Ministry may lead to the disbanding of many opposition parties. It called for the law, which President Nazarbaev has not yet signed, to be amended to bring it into line with international and OSCE standards, and offered to assist in doing so. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT ENACTS AMNESTY FOR AKSY CLASHES
The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament) on 28 June passed a draft law granting an amnesty to all persons charged in connection with the 17-18 March clashes in Aksy Raion in which five people were killed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The amnesty covers three police officers charged with opening fire on protesters, together with protesters accused of either assaulting police or damaging property during the unrest. The opposition protested when Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev first unveiled the bill that it should not exonerate those officials and police who respectively issued and complied with the order to open fire on demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002). LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIAL AGAIN WARNS OF IMMINENT IMU THREAT
For the second time this month, Kyrgyz Security Council Chairman Misir Ashyrkulov warned in Bishkek on 27 June that members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan gathered on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan are preparing a new incursion into Kyrgyzstan similar to those of 1999 and 2000, AP reported. He said some 300 IMU militants led by Tahir Yuldashev are planning to invade Kyrgyzstan, where they intend to "commit terrorist acts, take hostages [and] assassinate government officials," en route to Uzbekistan. Ashyrkulov issued a similar warning during Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo's visit to Bishkek earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2002). LF

TAJIK PARLIAMENT ENDORSES ANTI-POVERTY PROGRAM
The lower chamber of Tajikistan's parliament has endorsed the Poverty Reduction Strategy paper approved by the government on 30 May, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 28 June, quoting presidential press service head Zafar Saidov. Stressing that reducing poverty ranks among the leadership's most important priorities, Saidov said that Tajikistan will seek assistance from the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and other organizations to finance the program. He did not specify what sums are involved. LF

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL RELIGION LAW...
The Chamber of Representatives on 27 June voted by 85 to three to pass in the second and final reading a law on religion that gives the Russian Orthodox Church a dominant role in Belarus, AP and Belapan reported. The legislature on 26 June adjourned the second reading of the bill until the fall but put it back on the agenda the following day under what lawmaker Volha Abramava termed "unprecedented pressure on deputies." Abramava said Metropolitan Filaret, the Russian Orthodox Church's leader in Belarus, had invited some deputies to the bishopric and shown them a film entitled "Expansion" that "showed Protestant churches in a negative way." The law bans organized prayer by religious communities of fewer than 20 citizens and prohibits religions that have been in Belarus for fewer than 20 years from publishing literature or setting up missions. It has been harshly criticized by Belarus's Protestant communities (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 June 2002). Belarusian television commented that the law introduces "defensive mechanisms to separate citizens from spiritual aggression, influence of destructive forces, and occultism." JM

...AND DEFENSE LAW ALLOWING TO SEND TROOPS ABROAD
The Chamber of Representative on 26 June adopted a defense law that allows the president to send Belarusian military personnel abroad to participate in international operations, Belapan and Belarusian television reported. A special clause stipulates that only volunteers can be sent abroad. "Nobody is going to send anybody with arms in hand to hot spots. We have in mind providing humanitarian assistance, conducting peacekeeping operations, and other non-warfare actions," Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau commented. Former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that the law violates the Belarusian Constitution, which bans Belarusian servicemen from conducting operations abroad. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE, TAX OFFICERS POOL EFFORTS TO COMBAT MONEY LAUNDERING
The leaderships of the Interior Ministry and the State Tax Administration held a joint session in Kyiv on 27 June at which they pledged to combine their efforts in combating money laundering, UNIAN reported. Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov noted that the problem of money laundering and outflow of capital from Ukraine results from the fact that 50 percent of economic activity in the country takes place in the shadow zone. State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov said that 356 offshore companies own stakes ranging from 10-98 percent in "basic Ukrainian enterprises" in the power industries, as well as the metallurgical and mining branches. A survey by the State Tax Administration has shown that a majority of those offshore companies are not even registered as entities conducting economic activities. JM

PRESIDENT ADDRESSES UKRAINIANS ON CONSTITUTION DAY
President Leonid Kuchma said in a solemn statement that the adoption of the Ukrainian Constitution on 28 June 1996 was the most important event in the history of independent Ukraine, UNIAN reported on 28 June. But he added that the constitution "already requires some improvements to bring it into line with societal demands." Kuchma cautioned, however, against "hasty and non-systemic" changes in the country's basic law. "Let us learn first to respect and inflexibly obey the constitution, and begin a constitutional reform only after that," he proposed. According to a poll conducted by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center of Economic and Political Studies between 17-25 June, 47.1 percent of Ukrainians think that the constitution should be changed since it does not meet societal requirements. JM

ESTONIA, ARMENIA SIGN TRADE, ECONOMIC-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Economy Minister Liina Tonisson and Armenian Trade and Economic Development Minister Karen Chshmaritian signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement in Tallinn on 27 June, ETA reported. The agreement establishes a most-favored-nation regime that should boost the modest trade levels between the countries (Armenia ranked 105th among Estonia's trading partners in 2001). President Arnold Ruutel told his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian that the two countries are primarily connected by cultural ties, but should share their experience in the information technology sphere in which both are regional leaders. Ruutel also spoke about Estonia's efforts to join NATO, with Kocharian noting that Armenia participates in the Partnership for Peace Program, but is not seeking NATO membership. Kocharian also held talks with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, and parliament Chairman Toomas Savi. SG

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LATVIA
Irakli Menagharishvili began a three-day visit to Latvia on 27 June, meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, BNS reported. They expressed satisfaction with the growing activity in bilateral relations, especially defense cooperation, and called for greater trade. Menagharishvili congratulated Latvia on its progress in seeking NATO and European Union membership and said that his country would like to take advantage of Latvia's experience as membership in these organizations are Georgia's strategic goals. In talks with Prime Minister Andris Berzins he gave a brief account of the complicated situation in the Caucasus, but said that a Transcaucasus transport corridor and pipelines linking Asia with Turkey and Europe could still be built. The two countries are already drafting agreements on cooperation in science, education, and cultural exchange, and Berzins suggested strengthening economic cooperation by signing the usual intergovernmental agreements on taxes, investment protection, air traffic, and travel. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW PRISON CODE
The parliament adopted on 27 June a new Code on the Execution of Penalties that is expected to make prison conditions more civilized, BNS reported. The code, which will go into effect from 1 January 2003 along with the new Penal Code and Code of Criminal Process, will replace the Code of Correctional Work passed in 1971. The new code will divide convicts into three categories: ordinary, lighter, and disciplinary. Prisoners will begin serving their terms in the ordinary category and may later be transferred to other categories depending on their conduct, work, and attitude toward education. The code is based on the principle that an inmate is allowed to do anything that is not banned by law, and no longer includes detailed regulation of prisoners' daily lives. In open penitentiaries and juvenile correctional institutions, persons in the lighter group will be entitled to a two-week unpaid holiday per year, including the possibility of going home during their vacation. The new code may demolish the caste system among prisoners that is a legacy of the Soviet era. It was prepared by a working group headed by Deputy Justice Minister Gintaras Svedas, taking into consideration EU, Council of Europe, and the UN norms. SG

POLISH SHIPYARD WORKERS CONTINUE PROTESTS OVER UNPAID WAGES
Workers from the Stocznia Szczecinska shipyard held a sixth consecutive protest march in downtown Szczecin on 27 June, demanding the payment of back wages, Polish media reported. Several hundred of their colleagues gathered the same day in front of the prime minister's office in Warsaw to protest the government's refusal to rescue their company, AP reported. Stocznia Szczecinska, which was privatized in 1993, slipped into financial trouble last year when it reported a loss of some $25 million. The shipyard filed for bankruptcy last week after creditor banks refused to forgive the bulk of its debt as part of a restructuring plan. The failure of negotiations with creditors caused the government to drop its plan to take over the shipyard to save it from bankruptcy. Deputy Economy Minister Maciej Lesny told the protesters in Warsaw that Stocznia Szczecinska workers will receive part of their overdue wages on 1 July. JM

POLISH PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE HACKING OF NASA COMPUTERS
The District Prosecutor's Office in Poznan has launched an investigation into a case of breaking into NASA computers, following a complaint by the U.S. Embassy, Polish Radio reported on 27 June. The offense was allegedly perpetrated by hackers from Poznan. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," one of them is Krzysztof J., a Poznan resident who recently completed his secondary education. The hacking of NASA servers reportedly caused damage estimated at $1 million. Under Polish legislation, the offense of destroying data on electronic media is punishable by up to eight years in prison. JM

LUSTRATION COURT SAYS WALESA'S AIDE WAS SECRET-SERVICE AGENT
The Lustration Court on 27 June ruled that 54-year-old lawyer Tadeusz Kwiatkowski was formally registered as a communist secret police agent in 1974-75 and did not reveal this fact in his lustration statement, PAP reported. The court added that in the years 1969-70, when Kwiatkowski was a student, he delivered information to secret services but was not registered as an agent. The ruling is subject to appeal. If Kwiatkowski fails to appeal or loses his appeal, he will be banned -- under Poland's lustration law -- from practicing law for 10 years. Former President Lech Walesa appointed Kwiatkowski to the National Radio and Television Board, a supervisory media body, in September 1994. In May 1995, Kwiatkowski was named chief of Walesa's presidential office and served in that post for three months. JM

SLAIN GERMAN MAYOR'S BODY FOUND IN CHEB
Police in the Czech Republic said they have found what they believe to be the body of Erich Kunder, mayor of the German town of Roeckingen, Czech and international media reported on 27 June. Kunder had been missing since March. The body was found rolled in a carpet and buried in a forest near Cheb near the German border, AP reported. Two Czech citizens, a 31-year-old female prostitute and a 29-year-old man, were arrested on 25 March in connection with the murder. A third suspect is being held in Germany. Police said Kunder arrived in the Czech Republic on 5 March, two days after winning reelection, and picked up a prostitute on Cheb's outskirts. She then led Kunder to an apartment in Cheb, where two men waited and attacked him. Police said $5,000 was charged to Kunder's credit card after he was killed and his Mercedes Benz was found in Belarus on 8 March. BW

CZECH CENTRAL BANK WON'T TRY TO REIN IN CROWN
The Czech National Bank (CNB) discussed intervening on foreign exchange markets to stem the rise of the crown, but decided such a move would be premature, CNB board member Jan Frait said on 27 June, CTK reported. CNB Vice Governor Oldrich Dedek added that intervention would be effective only if the markets were not expecting such a move. In reaction to the announcement, the crown rose to an all-time high of 29.47 against the euro, and to 29.88 against the U.S. dollar, the strongest level against the American currency since January 1999. The CNB's board also decided t its meeting the same day to leave interest rates. BW

CZECH, LEBANESE PRESIDENTS CALL FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE CONFERENCE
President Vaclav Havel met with his Lebanese counterpart Emil Lahud on 27 June during Lahud's first visit to Prague, Czech media reported the same day. The two discussed the Palestinian crisis and the general situation in the Middle East, and stressed the need for an international conference to resolve the region's disputes. Asked about the latest initiative by U.S. President George W. Bush to revive Middle East peace efforts, Havel said it is a sign of U.S. "readiness to contribute to peace." Bush said 24 June the Palestinians must elect a new leadership before talks can begin on statehood. The U.S. president also called on Israel to cease building settlements in the occupied territories. "It is obvious that different parties may have different opinions on how to achieve that, but it should be the task of the conference to bring everybody together to look for such solutions that would be acceptable to all," Havel said. BW

SPIDLA DOESN'T WANT TO OPEN TALKS ON SUDETEN GERMANS OR TEMELIN
Social Democrat leader Vladimir Spidla, who is widely expected to be the Czech Republic's next prime minister, said there is no reason to reopen talks about the controversial Benes decrees or about the Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported on 27 June, quoting the Austrian weekly newspaper "Format." Conservative politicians in Austria and Germany have been pressing for the Czech Republic to revoke the Benes Decrees, which ordered the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians for their support of the Third Reich. Politicians and environmental activists in Germany and Austria have also claimed the Temelin plant, located 60 kilometers from the Austrian border, is unsafe and many want it shut down. BW

NATO TO AWAIT ELECTIONS RESULTS BEFORE INVITING SLOVAKIA TO JOIN
Alexander Vondra, Czech government commissioner in charge of preparations for the November NATO summit, said in Prague on 27 June that NATO will not decide whether to invite Slovakia to join the alliance before it sees the outcome of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, CTK reported. "Slovakia has received the necessary information and now its fate is in its own hands," Vondra said. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER LEAVES POLITICS
Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky will leave politics after the September parliamentary elections and open his own law office, CTK reported on 27 June. Carnogursky was a dissident under the communist regime, which forced him to give up practicing law. He was Slovak premier between 1991-1992 and leader of the Christian Democratic Movement until October 2000. MS

HODZA REBURIED IN SLOVAKIA
Fifty-eight years after his death in U.S. exile, the remains of Slovak democratic politician and Czechoslovak Premier (1935-38) Milan Hodza were reburied in the northern town of Martin on 27 June, CTK and AP reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, who attended the ceremony, said that Hodza "is returning to a country which is just a small step away from becoming a member of the union of European countries, an idea advocated by Hodza many decades ago" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 June 2002). MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS ON MEDGYESSY AFFAIR...
Ferenc Madl on 27 June received separately opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David and Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze to discuss issues related to Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's past service in counterintelligence, Hungarian media reported. After the meeting, David said the Medgyessy affair is a moral rather than a constitutional issue. She said that as Medgyessy decided not to resign, and the governing coalition parties have voted him their confidence, the question now is whether new facts will come to light that could change those decisions. A proposed parliamentary commission will investigate whether Medgyessy's "somber past" represents a risk to national security. Kuncze for his part told Madl that there is no constitutional crisis because the government has the support of a stable coalition. MSZ

...AS NATIONAL POLICE HEAD'S PAST COMES UNDER SCRUTINY
Major General Laszlo Salgo, who was appointed on 3 June to head the National Police, has admitted that between 1974-77 he worked as an intelligence official in the Interior Ministry's former Division III, Section I, Hungarian television reported on 27 June. Salgo said his brief stint in the section came about because of his knowledge of a foreign language. Salgo later said that the relevant officials were aware of his past secret service throughout his career. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni told a press briefing that Salgo's past as an agent makes him unsuitable for the post of police commander because it leaves him vulnerable to blackmail. Police sources told "Magyar Hirlap" that former Interior Minister Sandor Pinter appointed Salgo as Tolna County police commander barely six months ago. The daily also said that the current interior minister, Monika Lamperth, has assured the police commander of her trust in him. MSZ

SOCIALIST PARTY'S HOTLINE DIALS UP A BAD START
The Socialist Party's telephone hotline, set up to receive complaints about bias on the part of Hungarian Television and Hungarian Radio, received about 50 calls on 27 June, its first day in operation, although the calls went to a wrong number, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The media apparently gave out an incorrect number in news reports about the hotline. The 50 callers who registered complaints objected to specific television and radio newscasts, and their criticisms will later be forwarded to the National Radio and Television Board's complaints committee. In a statement pegged to the setting up of the hotline, the Federation of Hungarian Electronic Journalists accused the governing party of "resorting to any means to subjugate the public media, thereby endangering the hard-won freedom of the press." The Federation was established by the heads of the state-run media. It is headed by Janos Hollos, vice president of Hungarian Radio. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GROUP DEMANDS PRESIDENT INITIATE VOTING RECOUNT REFERENDUM
The group "Conscience '88" appealed on 27 June to President Madl to use his constitutional prerogative and initiate a referendum on whether to recount the votes cast at the last parliamentary election in April, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Andras Szentgyorgyi, head of the President's Secretariat, said Madl is expected to reply to the group's application next week after it is examined by legal experts. Meanwhile, parliament's Constitutional Committee refused to put on the agenda an opposition motion to keep the ballots cast at the elections for two years instead of the mandatory 90 days. MSZ

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT DEMANDS INVESTIGATION OF CHARGE AGAINST KOSTUNICA...
Leaders of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition met in Novi Sad on 27 June and called for a formal investigation into charges by General Nebojsa Pavkovic that aides to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica wanted Pavkovic to take control of the Serbian government's communications department in 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 June 2002). On 28 June, the Serbian government officially called for a parliamentary investigation into the charges, AP reported. The Yugoslav parliament is expected to discuss the matter on 1 July. Elsewhere, Pavkovic and Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic issued separate calls for Kostunica to resign for having violated the law in dismissing Pavkovic, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Batic added that he knows of "about 70 times" that the president has violated legal norms. PM

...WHICH YET ANOTHER GENERAL CONFIRMS
Former General Milan Djakovic, who is the retired head of army intelligence, told reporters in Belgrade on 27 June that his successor General Aco Tomic and some unnamed persons close to Kostunica attempted to organize a raid on the communications office, allegedly to prevent Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic from bugging Kostunica's telephone, AP reported. PM

ROBERTSON HAILS KOSOVA'S PROGRESS...
Speaking in Prishtina on 27 June, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said that "the fact that [NATO] can now reduce the number of troops in Kosovo is a testimony to the progress that is being made by the forces here but also by the democratic institutions," RFE/RL reported. But in New York, the UN Development Programme released a study noting that Kosova continues to be plagued by poverty, corruption, and discrimination against Serbs and other ethnic minorities, dpa reported. PM

...AND CALLS FOR UNITY IN MACEDONIA
Robertson went on to Macedonia on 27 June, saying in Skopje that "this country was on the edge of bloody civil war [in 2001], and now it is a candidate for membership in united Europe," dpa reported. Robertson said that implementing the August 2001 Ohrid agreement "is now the key to Macedonia's future." He stressed that "this is one country, and it should have one government which should tackle all important state problems. The [15 September parliamentary] elections have to be fair and peaceful." Robertson also called recent Macedonian police reports of incidents along the border between Kosova and Macedonia unsubstantiated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS FORM PRE-ELECTION COALITION
On 26 June, the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) officially signed a agreement to form a pre-election coalition with its traditional coalition partner, the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), and three political parties representing small ethnic minorities, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). Apart from the LDP, the Together for Macedonia coalition will also include the Democratic Alliance of the Vlachs in Macedonia, the Democratic League of the Bosnians, and the United Party of the Roma. SDSM Chairman Branko Crvenkovski said his party is still negotiating with other, unnamed political parties. He ruled out cooperation with the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which is led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002). UB

REGIONAL FOREIGN MINISTERS PLEDGE TO WORK AGAINST TERRORISM
Ministers from Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia issued a joint declaration in Ohrid on 26 June, AP reported. The ministers agreed that "the major threats the world faces today are terrorism and organized crime." The 17 ministers promised "greater cooperation to combat these evils." The ministers added that "corruption, and illegal trafficking of arms, narcotics, and persons [are all] major challenges for security and stability." PM

PRETENDER TO THE THRONE TO GO BACK TO ALBANIA
Leka Zogu plans to return permanently to Albania on 28 June, AP reported from Tirana. Leka left Albania as a baby in 1939 and spent most of his life abroad, primarily in South Africa, where he was an arms dealer. He returned to Albania briefly in 1993 and then again for a longer stay in 1997. After losing a referendum on the restoration of the monarchy, Leka was involved in violent protests in which one man was killed. The pretender to the throne left the country before the police could question him about the incident. They issued a warrant for his arrest, but he was pardoned by President Rexhep Meidani earlier in 2002. In June, he was asked to return by a vote of the parliament. PM

DOCTORS AND DENTISTS STRIKE IN CROATIA
Up to 13,000 doctors and dentists staged a one-day strike on 28 June to demand better pay, AP reported from Zagreb. Union leaders said that emergency and other necessary care would nonetheless continue throughout the day. Doctors and dentists currently earn an average of $620 per month. They want increases to bring the monthly pay for first-year personnel to $960 and experienced specialists to $1,230. The average salary in Croatia is $480 per month. PM

ASHDOWN RULES ON BOSNIAN IDENTITY DOCUMENTS
Personal identification cards will not state whether the bearer lives in the Republika Srpska or the Croat-Muslim federation, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Sarajevo on 28 June. High Representative Paddy Ashdown made the ruling on the basis of a recommendation by the Council of Europe. PM

ROMANIAN CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES PASSES CONTROVERSIAL BILL ON POLITICAL PARTIES...
On 27 June, the Romanian Chamber of Deputies adopted a draft law on political parties that could further contribute to the aggregation of smaller parties, Mediafax reported. The original bill, initiated by the National Liberal Party (PNL), stipulated that parties be composed of at least 30,000 members, but the chamber accepted an amendment proposed by a deputy of the ruling Social Democratic Party raising this number to 50,000. The opposition Democratic Party and the pro-government Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) complained that such a high figure is unrealistic and unnecessary. Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc said, "the era of mass parties has disappeared." UDMR deputy Erwin Szekely claimed that more than half of the current parties would disappear if such legislation is implemented. The deputies also rejected a proposal that members of parliament be stripped of their positions in parliament if they switch parties during their term. LB

...ALONG WITH AUDIO/VISUAL DRAFT LAW
Deputies also adopted on 27 June a draft law on audio/visual regulations that could help Romania close the respective negotiation chapter with the European Union, Mediafax reported. The new regulations would impose restrictions on public television and radio stations regarding advertising, stipulating that advertisements not interrupt programs and not exceed 15 percent of airtime. Another provision requires that the government, and not the National Audio/Visual Council, daily determine the events covered by public television and radio broadcasters. The draft law is the first in Romania to ban the use of subliminal advertising. LB

SENIOR REPRESENTATIVES INTERVENE IN LIBERAL PARTY ROW
Constantin Balaceanu Stolnici and Neagu Djuvara, representatives of one of the PNL leadership bodies, the PNL Senate, suggested on 27 June that all PNL members support the establishment of an initiative group for reforming and relaunching the party, Mediafax reported. The two senior members of the party said that the crisis within the party has become critical and called for constructive initiatives to replace personal interests. The two, expressing the position of the PNL Senate, requested that the warring factions within the PNL should only publicly advertise political projects and solutions, not their affiliation with one or another leader. The initiative group to generate a solution to the "destructive trends in the PNL" would be led by Balaceanu Stolnici and Djuvara and is expected to be established on 11 July. The two also requested that party members abstain from publicly quarrelling prior to the extraordinary congress slated for later this summer. LB

ROMTELECOM'S PLANS TO INVEST IN RURAL AREAS DERAILED
RomTelecom Technical Operations Executive Director Loannis Kyriakakis said on 27 June that high costs and the Romanian state, which owns a 65 percent stake in the company and is reluctant to provide funding, are holding back the development of infrastructure in remote areas, Mediafax reported. RomTelecom posted operational revenues of 235.9 million euros in the first four months of the year, a 2.5 percent increase over the same period in 2001, but registered net losses of 17 million euros. The company has invested heavily in revamping its infrastructure over the past two years, but the digitalization of the network is expected to be just 70 percent completed by 2003. LB

ROMANIAN FUEL PRICES TO RISE SHARPLY
Gasoline and diesel-fuel prices will increase by about 15 percent as of 1 July, petroleum industry sources quoted by Mediafax disclosed on 27 June. The sharp increase was negotiated by the country's petroleum companies, the Finance Ministry, and the Industry and Resources Ministry and will be applied to both public and private distributors. Proponents argue that the price increases are necessitated by the depreciation of the leu against the U.S. dollar and the euro. LB

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER WOOS CHINA
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who is currently in China for a six-day visit at the head of a large Romanian delegation, held official talks with his Chinese counterpart Zhu Rongji on 27 June, according to a press release issued by the Romanian Public Information Ministry. The ministry said the Romanian prime minister has requested assistance from China in building Chinese-style technology and scientific parks in Romania, as well as for the funding and construction of Romanian highways. Nastase also suggested that Romania's Constanta port be used as an entrance point to Europe for Chinese merchandise. LB

MOLDOVA GOVERNMENT TO RECEIVE TWO CREDITS WORTH OVER $40 MILLION
Moldovan Ambassador to the United States Mihai Manoli and World Bank Vice President Joahannes Linn signed in Washington on 26 June an agreement between Moldova and the bank's International Development Association (IDA) for two credits worth a total of $40.5 million, Flux reported. Some $30 million will be used to support medium-term economic development and reform, and $10.5 million will be used to fund a rural investment and services project. The credits will be disbursed on standard IDA terms and will be repayable in 40 years, with a 10-year grace period for the rural project. Since Moldova joined the World Bank in 1992, commitments to the country total some $500 million for 15 projects. LB

MOLDOVAN DEPUTIES FACE NEW INQUIRIES IN CRIMINAL CASE
During the 27 June session of the Moldovan parliament, the offices of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies Iurie Rosca and Valentin Chilat were visited by a representative of the Chisinau Prosecutor's Office to deliver a summons regarding their roles in the antigovernment protests in Chisinau earlier this year, Flux reported. PPCD Chairman Rosca declared that such moves were attempted earlier in a tentative indictment, but that proper procedure for bypassing the deputies' parliamentary immunity was not respected. In addition, the parliament's Foreign Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Neguta (Communist) has informed Council of Europe rapporteurs that the criminal investigation against the two PPCD deputies has not yet been filed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). LB

TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIAL DENIES RUMORS THAT LOCAL LEADERS INTEND TO EMIGRATE TO CANADA
Transdniester "Minister of State Security" Vladimir Antiufeev on 26 June rejected rumors that separatist leaders Igor Smirnov and Grigori Maracuta intend to emigrate to Canada, Flux reported. According to Antiufeev, the rumors were started in Chisinau and are part of the Security and Information Service's (SIS) effort to arrest the two men. Antiufeev claimed that "representatives of the special services of the Republic of Moldova are insistently trying to involve their colleagues from Russia and from the Ukraine in their actions oriented against the Transdniestrian leaders." He added that "to Chisinau a war would be highly convenient in order to divert the attention of society from its internal problems and to create conditions for the extension of the mandate of the current president of the Republic of Moldova." LB

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE DEMANDS NULLIFICATION OF PRIVATIZATION DEALS
The Privatization Agency on 26 June announced that the Prosecutor-General's Office has demanded that the privatization of seven large companies be annulled, as it has found evidence of irregularities, BTA reported. The deals in question include the privatization of the Arsenal ordnance factory in Kazanlak, the Lead and Zinc Works in Kardzhali, the charter-airline Hemus Air, as well as a number of tourist facilities. The agency promised to carry out an internal investigation into the cases. Should the irregularities be confirmed, the agency will have to hand over the cases to the newly formed Agency for Post-privatization Control, mediapool.bg reported. Since 1997, the Prosecutor-General's Office cannot interfere in privatization deals directly. UB

BULGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ACCUSES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL OF POLITICAL BIAS
Justice Minister Anton Stankov on 27 June said Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev is persecuting Deputy Justice Minister Mario Dimitrov for political ends, RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service reported. According to Stankov, the fact that a provincial court has leveled charges against Dimitrov can only be interpreted as an attempt by the prosecutor-general to undermine the reform of the judicial system. Dimitrov, a former district judge, is one of the authors of the reform. UB

ROMANIAN SENATE SPEAKER IN BULGARIA
During his first official visit to Bulgaria, Romanian Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu met on 27 June with Ognyan Gerdzhikov, the speaker of the Bulgarian parliament, BTA reported. After the meeting, Vacaroiu lauded the improved Bulgarian-Romanian political dialogue that has produced a common stand on European Union and NATO membership. "We succeeded in showing that when we stand together, we are much stronger," Vacaroiu said. UB

BULGARIA AND CORRUPTION


Combating corruption these days is high on the agenda throughout Southeastern Europe. Officials from 10 Central and Southeast European states meeting in the Slovenian resort of Portoroz on 20 June undertook one more effort to combat corruption when they approved a new set of guidelines against corruption and human trafficking. One day later, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski opened a conference in Skopje under the motto "Macedonia and Corruption -- Situation and Challenges." Also last week, the Serbian government decided to form a special prosecutor's office, a court department, a police branch, and a detention unit that are to help overcome the country's flourishing organized crime and corruption.

In the second half of its term, the previous conservative Bulgarian government under Ivan Kostov faced serious corruption charges. Media began to call Bulgaria's chief EU negotiator and former Industry Minister Aleksandar Bozhkov "Mr. 10 Percent." Bozhkov is said to have taken a cut of every privatization deal he approved. And in August 2000, the prime minister himself admitted that he had accepted an $80,000 "donation" from Grigory Luchansky, an alleged mafia boss.

No wonder that during last year's election campaign, King Simeon Saxecoburggotski's National Movement Simeon II's (NDSV) promise to crack down on corruption fell on fertile soil. The electorate accepted the promises and the ex-monarch became prime minister.

So what has the new government done to fight corruption? At first glance, it did what its predecessors also tried to do -- to have some former ministers prosecuted for abuse of office and corruption. At the end of January 2002, various newspapers published an unofficial list of those ministers from Kostov's cabinet against whom Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev has filed charges. Apart from Bozhkov, the list included former Construction Minister Evgeni Chachev, former Defense Minister Boyko Noev, as well as Petar Zhotev, the former director of the Privatization Agency. In the meantime, the Prosecutor-General's Office is also investigating the cases of former Finance Minister Muravey Radev and former Transport Minister Vilhelm Kraus.

In addition to the ongoing prosecution, the government in February 2002 set up the Commission for Coordinating the Fight against Corruption under the chairmanship of Justice Minister Anton Stankov. But while the Serbian anticorruption unit is to be made "untouchable" by granting the special prosecutor and the police commander wages much greater than the average and by giving them extensive powers, the Bulgarian government commission has no executive power at all. Its task is simply to investigate allegations of corruption and to assess whether the cases should be forwarded to the department of public prosecution.

Other government measures include amendments to the Law on the Interior Ministry that create the legal basis for the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) to infiltrate undercover agents into organized crime structures as well as into the state administration.

The government also tried to combat widespread corruption in the Customs Agency by contracting the British consulting company Crown Agents. But then the daily "Trud" published a cabinet protocol from which it became clear that the cabinet tried to circumvent the Public Procurement Act. In order to avoid a lengthy procurement tender, the government made the case an issue of "national security."

Another scandal emerged when bidders in the Bulgartabak privatization charged Bulgartabak Executive Director Georgi Popov of having demanded a $500,000 bribe during an informal meeting -- Popov allegedly said the money was to be divided between himself and Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev. The case is currently being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office in Sofia. On 24 June, Vasilev forced Popov to resign from his position as executive director because of statements he made to the media, but remained in the company's board of directors.

The government's anticorruption drive was further damaged when members of the NDSV's parliamentary faction leveled corruption charges against the party itself and the Plovdiv district governor. Plamen Panayotov, the chairman of the NDSV parliamentary group, denied these allegations, suggesting that they were launched by people who are themselves involved in organized crime and large-scale corruption and who can buy influence in the media.

As elsewhere in Southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Bulgarian government's proclaimed crackdown on corruption sometimes appears to be more a means of undermining the reputation of its predecessor than a dispassionate attempt to eradicate an evil that sabotages economic progress, especially when those implicated belong to, or have close ties to, the ruling regime. For that reason, the public at large tends to regard any proclaimed crackdown on corruption with either cynicism or indifference.

Failure to establish adequate control mechanisms also plays a role in facilitating malpractice. In a recent article, Georgi Ganev of the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies writes that corruption flourishes because there is far too much money to be administered by the state without effective public control. As Ganev puts it, "We entrusted basic and vital responsibilities to the state, but we do not move a finger to control [the state]. The natural and inescapable consequence is corruption."

The new government's anticorruption image has suffered its first scratches, making it all the more essential that the Prosecutor-General ensures both that Kostov's ministers have a fair trial, and that future allegations that members of the present leadership are engaged in corruption are subjected to an objective investigation, the results of which are made public. This will be the litmus test for the current government's willingness to combat corruption. Should the investigations fail to produce enough evidence, or routinely acquit persons with ties to the present leadership, the government will have a hard time convincing the public that the Prosecutor-General's Office is more than an instrument for discrediting political opponents.

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