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Newsline - July 1, 2002


WATERLOGGED AREAS HIT BY NEW FLOODING...
The death toll from flooding in the Southern Federal District rose to 95 on 30 June, with dozens of people still missing, according to TV-6. A federal Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman said the estimated financial damage throughout the district is now 13.58 billion rubles ($430 million). According to RFE/RL's Stavropol correspondent on 27 June, heavy rains with hail battered the region the previous night, taking residents by surprise. JAC

...AS PUTIN CRITICIZES RESTORATION EFFORT, EES
After a visit to a disaster area in Stavropol Krai on 28 June, President Vladimir Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with the pace of the restoration work being done in the flooded areas and the poor living conditions faced by the displaced residents, Russian Public Television (ORT) reported. He told reporters that the visit left him with a bad impression. He also criticized Unified Energy Systems (EES), which had proposed raising tariffs for customers in order to pay for restoration work in the area. According to Putin, neither the Railways Ministry nor Gazprom, which are both faced with similar reconstruction challenges, has proposed a hike in rates. According to Interfax, Putin directed his remarks specifically at EES Deputy Chairman Andrei Rappaport, who ordered that local tariffs be raised, rather than at EES head Anatolii Chubais. President Putin also announced that 1.15 billion rubles ($36 million) has already been transferred to the krai and another 650 million rubles is on its way. JAC

RUSSIA TAKES STEPS TOWARD PROFESSIONAL ARMY
Major-General Valerii Astanin, spokesman for the General Staff, has announced that this summer the Russian Army will begin the transformation of the 76th Pskovskaya Airborne Division to a professional-contract basis, polit.ru reported on 28 June. This measure will cost the military 2.67 billion rubles ($90 million) and, if successful, is expected to speed the transformation of other army units. Meanwhile, Major General Aleksandr Lentsov, the commander of 98th Ivanovskaya Airborne Division, has announced that the units of his division will be sent to Chechnya to replace soldiers of the 78th Airborne Division in accordance with the project, according to polit.ru. VY

COMMANDER OF BLACK SEA FLEET SUES HEAD OF RUSSIAN NAVY
The commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Vladimir Komoedov, has filed a lawsuit in a Novorossiisk military court against the commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 June. Komoedov is challenging the "inappropriate actions of the Navy commander" in dismissing Komoedov from service last month for "health reasons." Komoedov is asking the court to nullify Kuroedov's order, arguing that although he does have minor health problems, he was dismissed for clashing with his superior. Komoedov has reportedly criticized Kuroedov on several occasions after the latter made several arrangements with his Ukrainian counterparts concerning the Black Sea Fleet while ignoring the opinion of its commander. Meanwhile, Vladimir Pchelkin, the head of the Novorossiisk garrison court, said that although litigation between two admirals is very unusual, Komoedov's lawsuit complies with acting legislation and the court will hear the case. VY

CENTRAL BANK MULLS TRANSFER OF MORE OF ITS RESERVES TO EUROS
Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatiev told journalists on 29 June that the share of euros in the country's foreign-currency reserves could be increased as a result of the euro's recent strength against the U.S. dollar, but stressed that the bank has faith in the U.S. currency, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news services reported. Ignatiev noted that most of Russia's foreign-currency assets are currently held in dollars, and that time is needed to decide whether more holdings should be converted to euros. VY

SCANDAL OVER SLAVNEFT CONTINUES
Mikhail Gutseriev, the head of the Russian-Belarusian state-run company Slavneft, has said he continues to consider himself the head of the company even though he was replaced in May with Yurii Sukhanov, Russian news agencies reported on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 May 2002). Gutseriev also said that Sukhanov, who is currently being investigated for embezzlement, "voluntarily resigned." Gutseriev said he is ignoring the decision made by Slavneft shareholders on 28 June not to elect him board director as irrelevant, as the company's statutes do not require the company president to be on the board of directors. Meanwhile, Sukhanov told reporters that Gutseriev ordered guards not to admit him to company headquarters. Sukhanov also said he has asked the Russian government to intervene in the situation surrounding the state company. VY

MOSCOW SEEKS SIGNIFICANT INVESTMENT IN ANGOLA
Russian companies Gazprom, LUKoil, and Yukos are seeking to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the Angolan economy, according to Aleksei Chepa, the head of a Russian-Angolan fund, polit.ru reported on 28 June. Chepa said that the Russian energy giants would like to raise Angola's daily oil output to 1.5 million barrels, as well as invest Russian capital into the country's diamond industry. Chepa noted that Russian companies await the quick adoption of new Russian legislation that will stimulate investment abroad. According to a law currently being drafted by the Russian government, the definition "investment abroad" will be replaced with "private investment," thus radically simplifying the process of investing in foreign business. VY

MIGRATION SERVICE REPORTS ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
Deputy Interior Minister and Federal Migration Service head Andrei Chernenko, said on 28 June that Russia has become a transit point for illegal immigrants on their way to Western and Central Europe, Russian news agencies reported. He added that there are currently 1.5 million to 5 million illegal immigrants in the country, and that in some Russian regions immigrants have formed "ethnic communities that have begun to displace the indigenous population." He also said that the illegal immigrants are "supplying members to criminal organizations." In addition, he claimed that fighters from militant armed organizations from Islamic countries are residing in some large Russian cities. Chernenko said that in an effort to stem illegal immigration, the Interior Ministry has created a unified national system for controlling immigration and has strengthened its contacts with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. VY

EKHO MOSKVY'S FATE REMAINS UNCERTAIN
Shareholders of Ekho Moskvy elected a new board of directors on 29 June, Interfax reported. Board members include four representatives from Gazprom-Media, four from the radio's editorial staff, and one independent candidate, the director of the Moscow-based Higher Economic School, Yevgenii Yasin. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov retained his post, as did General Director Yurii Fedutinov. Gazprom-Media head Boris Jordan was unanimously elected head of the board, according to lenta.ru. Venediktov told Interfax that he is happy that for the first time "in 14 months, [the radio] has been able to put into practice agreements with Gazprom-Media," which "has waived its control over the board of directors of the radio station and its control over the station's editorial policy." However, he noted that the radio station is still waiting to find out how Gazprom-Media's parent company, Gazprom, will sell its shares in the station. According to Venediktov, this is supposed to happen before the end of the year. JAC

RUSSIAN SINGER KILLED BY THOSE HE EXTOLLED
Prominent Russian pop singer Mikhail Krug was murdered on 30 June by persons who broke into his home in Tver, Russian news agencies reported on 1 July. In the post-Soviet era, Krug gained national recognition as a singer of "Russian chansons" with his ballads espousing urban criminality. Krug also portrayed criminals in various films and openly fraternized with leaders of the Russian underworld. VY

THREE REGIONS ON SHORT LIST FOR NEW RADIOACTIVE-WASTE SITE
Following up on an earlier statement that he personally does not support building a new underground radioactive-waste site on Novaya Zemlya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002), Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters on 29 June that there are three alternative sites for the facility: in Arkhangelsk, in Murmansk, or in the central part of the Kola Peninsula, ITAR-TASS reported. Rumyantsev said the issue is being thoroughly studied, that the "latest findings show that waste should be buried in monolithic granite without fissures," and that this is "what the Finns and Swedes do." JAC

ENVOY CRITICIZES LACK OF CROSS-BORDER COOPERATION IN OIL SECTOR...
Russia's presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, Sergei Kirienko, told a press conference in Nizhnii Novgorod on 26 June that the "problem of merging the petrochemical complexes in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan is a political rather than economic issue," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 28 June citing tatnews.ru. Kirienko said he approved of the integration project "because Bashkortostan has excessive oil-processing facilities, while Tatarstan has a surplus of oil." Kirienko said that it is "economically inappropriate" that Bashkortostan lacks sufficient oil to supply its refineries while Tatarstan is building its own oil-processing plant. JAC

...AND WEIGHS IN AGAINST BASHKORTOSTAN
According to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau, a Tatar delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry Sergei Kogogin received a cold welcome during a visit to Ufa in the fall of 2001 from Ural Rakhimov, head of the Bashneftekhim company and President Murtaza Rakhimov's son, who withdrew consent from the Bashkir side to begin integrating the oil industry by saying that the Tatneft oil company "has no future" and "there are no oil-processing-industry experts in Tatarstan." During his 26 June press conference, Kirienko noted that while Tatarstan's government has been making steps toward integration, Bashkortostan "recently began to neglect work on this agreement." "Here," Kirienko added, "I'm absolutely on Tatarstan's side." JAC

AUSHEV'S REPLACEMENT ASSIGNED
Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov has appointed Isa Kostoev to represent the republic's executive in the Federation Council, Radio Rossii reported on 29 June. Kostoev previously worked as head of the international law administration within the Prosecutor-General's Office. Kostoev replaces Ruslan Aushev, who resigned from the post at the end of April, saying that the upper legislative chamber is not engaged in meaningful work (see '"RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). JAC

REGIONS EXPERIMENT WITH PENAL REFORM
A labor camp in Mordovia has launched an experiment for female inmates with children, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported on 28 June. At the camp, convicts with children under the age of three are allowed to take care of the children during their incarceration. There are currently 10 children's homes especially created for the children of women who are in prison or in a labor camp, but human rights activists believe the youngsters in the homes do not get sufficient attention and care. In addition, there is a greater likelihood that women will simply abandon their children in the homes after they are released if they have not cared for them in their early years. Meanwhile, in Leningrad Oblast, a computer class is being set up for female prisoners in order to give inmates a chance to learn some skills that they might use in the outside world, Ren-TV reported on 28 June. JAC

AND FOR DESSERT, GROZNY FLAMBE
The operators of the Putin Cafe in Chelyabinsk have been criticized over their choice of names by the chief federal inspector for the region, Aleksei Slepyshev, Interfax reported on 28 June. Slepyshev told the agency that the cafe owners should have gotten the president's consent before using his name. The "Putin" theme extends to the cafe's menu, which carries dishes such as a "Vertical Power" kebab, a "Kremlevskii" horseradish kvass, and a "Presidential" honey kvass. According to AP on 27 June, the cafe also carries Stasi peanuts in honor of Putin's days as a KGB agent in East Germany. Cafe co-owner Yelena Terekh, who is a student, told the agency, "What's wrong with loving Putin? He's healthy, he speaks well, and he's pleasant to look at." JAC

RYBKIN'S PARTY SUSPENDS HIM AS CHAIRMAN FOR PROPOSING CHECHEN PEACE TALKS
The Unified Socialist Party (Spiritual Heritage) has suspended former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin as its chairman following his open letter urging President Putin to embark on peace talks with Chechen President Alsan Maskhadov and offering to act as a mediator in such talks, ntvru.com reported on 29 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). Russian presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in St. Petersburg on 28 June that Rybkin is not competent to do so, and that past experience should have taught the Russian leadership that any such mediation is counterproductive. LF

INGUSH PRESIDENT SAYS DISPLACED PERSONS WILLING TO RETURN TO CHECHNYA
Some 10,000 Chechen displaced persons have already volunteered to return from Ingushetia to Chechnya, and the number wishing to do so is increasing daily, Ingushetia's President Zyazikov told Interfax on 30 June. He said a new database is being compiled in order to clarify the large discrepancies in the estimates of the total number of Chechens currently living either in refugee camps or other temporary accommodation in Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 21, 14 June 2002). LF

ANOTHER CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER REPORTED KILLED
Russian troops killed field commander Rizvan Akhmadov in an operation near Grozny on 26 June, Interfax quoted Russian military sources as stating three days later. Akhmadov was said to have been responsible for the abduction in January 2001 of U.S. aid worker Kenny Gluck (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 February 2001). LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT BACKPEDALS ON PROPOSED PARLIAMENT DISCIPLINARY MEASURES
Deputy Justice Minister Tigran Mukuchian asked the Armenian parliament on 28 June to postpone for two weeks its vote on government-drafted proposals that would empower the speaker to remove and temporarily bar unruly deputies from the parliament chamber, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 June 2002). He said the government is ready to soften those measures to take into account deputies' criticisms and suggestions. The government drafted the measures after parliament deputies came to blows last month over opposition demands for a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN
President Kocharian held talks in Tallinn on 28 June with the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, according to Arminfo and Armenian Television, as cited by Groong. Kocharian remarked after the 90-minute meeting that the primary obstacle to reaching a settlement of the Karabakh conflict is that both he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev are reluctant to make more than minimal concessions. Russian co-Chairman Nikolai Gribkov declined to comment on Aliev's 14 June allegation that Armenia reneged on an agreement reached in March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). He said the negotiating process is gaining momentum and the two presidents will meet "soon." LF

DEFENSE OFFICIAL DENIES ARMENIA HAS EXCEEDED CFE QUOTAS
Armenia has always complied with the limitations on conventional weapons imposed by the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian was quoted as saying by Arminfo on 29 June, as cited by Groong. Shahsuvarian specifically denied allegations aired on 23 June by ANS TV that Armenia is receiving weaponry withdrawn from Russia's bases in Georgia. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SLAMS AZERBAIJAN OVER POLITICAL PRISONERS, NARDARAN
Andreas Gross, who is vice president of the Council of Europe's committee that monitors new members' compliance with their specific commitments to the council, said in Strasbourg that he sees no evidence that the Azerbaijani government is complying with its commitment to review the cases of "hundreds" of political prisoners and reduce their sentences, Turan reported on 29 June. Gross also criticized the Azerbaijani government's use of force against demonstrators in the village of Naradaran in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 June 2002). He said the villagers' protests were prompted by appalling social and economic conditions. LF

TURKEY TO OPEN AZERBAIJANI CONSULATE IN KARS
Visiting Kars in eastern Anatolia on 28 June, President Aliev announced that an Azerbaijani consulate will be opened in the city, which, he said, has a large Azerbaijani population, according to Trend News agency, as cited by Groong. He also reaffirmed Baku's commitment to a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict, claiming that the Armenian economy is on the verge of collapse and the country "will have to accept peace," Anatolia News Agency reported. On his return to Baku the following day, Aliev said he is pleased with the outcome of his visit to Turkey, during which he met with senior government officials to discuss the Karabakh conflict. But he added that Turkey has not made any new proposal on how to resolve the conflict, although is it trying to assist Azerbaijan in reaching a settlement, according to ANS TV, as cited by Groong. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE ELECTED TO HEAD EMBATTLED RULING PARTY...
As anticipated, delegates to a 29 June congress of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) unanimously elected Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze as party chairman, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). They also elected President Eduard Shevardnadze as honorary chairman, and virtually the entire government (with the exception of "force" ministers who are barred by the constitution from joining political parties) to the party's governing council. Djorbenadze listed as the party's primary objectives in the next three years streamlining the government, raising the minimum wage, reforming the law enforcement agencies, cracking down on corruption, and promoting small and medium-sized businesses. LF

...IDENTIFIED AS POSSIBLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Addressing the congress, Shevardnadze reaffirmed that he will not permit the Georgian Constitution to be amended to enable him to run for a third presidential term in 2005, Caucasus Press reported. He said he considers Djorbenadze an appropriate candidate for that office, but not the only "worthy" candidate within the SMK ranks, adding that he anticipates that by 2005 the SMK will again be "one of the strongest powers in the country." Djorbenadze, who is 51 and a qualified physician, made his career in medicine and most recently served as health minister and welfare and social security minister. Shevardnadze further denied that the SMK was responsible for multiple voting during the 2 June local elections, but admitted that the party "has experience" in such manipulations. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DOUBTS ABKHAZIA SOLD WEAPONS-GRADE URANIUM
In what appears to be a new attempt by the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile to discredit the government of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, a former senior scientist at the Sukhumi Institute of Physics said in Tbilisi on 28 June that Abkhazia may have sold weapons-grade uranium or other fissionable substances to Iraq, Iran, or terrorist organizations, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The Georgian newspaper "24 saati" reported on 29 June without naming its sources that 2 kilograms of uranium-235 disappeared from the institute. But Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told Caucasus Press on 1 July that Moscow closely monitored the situation in Abkhazia and he doubts Russia would have left such materials in Sukhum where Chechen volunteers who fought alongside the Abkhaz in the 1992-93 war might have gained access to them. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES CONSULTANT'S ABDUCTION LINKED WITH TENDER
In a statement released on 28 June, the Georgian Foreign Ministry rejected as misplaced media speculation that the 18 June abduction in Tbilisi of British consultant Peter Shaw was connected with a European Commission tender held in Brussels the same day to select a European company to implement a TACIS-funded support program for the Georgian AgrobusinessBank, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Shaw heads a team of experts formed under the TACIS aegis to assist and advise that bank, which was established in March 2000. The European Union has reportedly postponed indefinitely a meeting originally scheduled for 26 June to discuss a new 44 million euro ($43.7 million) credit for Georgia. A German member of the EU mission in Tbilisi was robbed and killed late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). LF

NATO MANEUVERS IN GEORGIA COMPLETED
Military contingents from nine NATO members states, including the United States, Turkey, and Canada, as well as from six countries that are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace program ended 10 days of maneuvers at the former Russian military base of Vaziani near Tbilisi on 28 June, Caucasus Press reported. The maneuvers, codenamed "Cooperative Best Effort-2002," were held under the command of General Oktar Ataman, the Turkish head of NATO's Joint Command Southeast. They simulated a NATO operation to control the flow of refugees across the border between two conflicting states. Ataman highly appraised the performance of some two dozen Armenian officers and servicemen, the first Armenian contingent ever to participate in such maneuvers, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 June. Armenia will host the Cooperative Best Effort maneuvers next year in a demonstration of its commitment to strengthening ties with NATO, Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian said. LF

PROTESTERS DEMAND DISMISSAL OF GEORGIAN REGIONAL GOVERNOR
A delegation of residents of the Abasha and Khobi raions of western Georgia traveled to Tbilisi on 1 July in the hope of meeting with President Shevardnadze to press their demand for the dismissal of Bondo Djikia, the governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti, Caucasus Press reported. Residents of Tsalendjikha, Abasha, and Chkhorotsku staged separate demonstrations last week to demand the removal of lower-level administrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002). Djikia, who had endorsed those candidacies, deployed special police units to break up the Tsalendjikha protest, Caucasus Press reported on 28 June. LF

ONE GEORGIAN BORDER GUARD KILLED BY LANDMINE, ANOTHER WOUNDED
One Georgian border guard was killed and a second wounded by a landmine in the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported on 29 June. The mine had been laid in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the gorge. A Russian serviceman with the CIS peacekeeping force was killed by a similar booby trap three weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIAN'S SENTENCE QUASHED...
Meeting in Toktogul on 28 June, the Djalalabad Oblast court annulled the one-year suspended sentence it handed down one month earlier to opposition parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2002). That decision means that Beknazarov will not be stripped of his deputy's mandate. Members of the Committee to Protect Beknazarov's Rights adopted an appeal on 28 June to President Askar Akaev, the speakers of both chambers of parliament, and senior law enforcement officials not to prosecute the participants of the protest march from Tash-Komur via Djalalabad to Osh, akipress.org reported. On 24 June, First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmanov accused the marchers of planning to enter the city and provoke mass disorder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June 2002). LF

...AS OPPOSITION, POLICE DENOUNCE AMNESTY
In Bishkek, opposition deputies condemned the amnesty law passed on 28 June by the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber) on the grounds that it exonerates officials responsible for the deaths of five people in clashes in Aksy Raion on 17-18 March between police and Beknazarov's supporters, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). On 29 June, police in Djalalabad staged a strike and dispatched an open letter to the national newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" demanding that the identity of the officials who ordered police to open fire on protesters in Aksy be made known, AP reported. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights claimed in April to have ascertained that it was President Akaev who gave verbal orders to Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev that police should open fire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). Some 5,000 people also participated in a demonstration in Kerben in Djalalabad Oblast on 29 June to demand that those responsible for issuing the orders to open fire be named. LF

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS AGAINST IMU
A second senior Kyrgyz security official has warned that the militants from the banned Islamic Movement of Kyrgyzstan are seeking to launch new incursions into Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported on 28 June. Echoing statements by Security Council Chairman Misir Ashyrkulov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 28 June 2002), Colonel General Esen Topoev told journalists in Bishkek on 28 June that some 200-250 IMU militants are gathered at one location in Afghanistan, and a further 100 elsewhere in that country. The IMU invaded Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 1999 and 2000. LF

CHINESE DIPLOMAT GUNNED DOWN IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
The first secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, together with his driver and an Uighur businessman from China, were shot dead by two unidentified gunmen while driving through Bishkek late on 29 June, Reuters and Interfax reported. Reuters quoted a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry official as suggesting the killers may have been Uighur separatists, while ITAR-TASS suggested the diplomat may have been engaged in dubious commercial activities. Members of a group campaigning for an independent Uighur state killed two members of a Chinese government delegation in Bishkek two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2000). LF

HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS HAIL DROPPING OF CHARGES AGAINST TAJIK JOURNALIST
In a letter to President Imomali Rakhmonov, the International Helsinki Federation has greeted the Tajik prosecutor-general's decision to drop the criminal case against Dododjon Atovulloev, editor of the opposition newspaper "Charoghi ruz," Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002). The agency quoted Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Salohiddin Nasriddinov as saying that the Tajik government has assured Freimut Duve, the media representative for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, that Atovulloev may return to Dushanbe and resume publication of his paper. LF

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION VISITS UZBEKISTAN
Seven U.S. congressmen met in Tashkent on 29-30 June with President Islam Karimov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, and Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov to discuss regional security issues, uza.uz reported. They also visited the U.S. troops deployed in Uzbekistan to participate in the U.S.-led international antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan. LF

BELARUSIAN CHURCHES PLANNING TO APPEAL NEW RELIGION LAW
Protestant churches in Belarus said on 28 June they plan to appeal to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to veto a new law on religion passed by the Chamber of Representatives the same day, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). The law gives predominance to the Russian Orthodox Church in the country and limits the ability of smaller denominations to function. The chairman of the Council of Heads of Protestant Churches, German Rodov, said parliament ignored the protests and proposals of Protestant churches when formulating and passing the law. A leading evangelical Protestant, Alec Velichko, also predicted that the new law would cause hundreds of people to try to emigrate to Western countries because of religious discrimination. CB

U.S. PROTESTS CONVICTION OF BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS
The U.S. State Department issued a statement on 28 June condemning the conviction of Belarusian journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka for libeling President Lukashenka during the 2001 presidential elections, Reuters reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). The statement called for the release of the men and the repeal of the laws that subject journalists to criminal charges. "The United States joins the OSCE and human rights groups in deploring the Belarus government's continuing pressure against independent media," the State Department said, adding that, "the sentences...are offensive to the universal principles of free speech and free press." CB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER PRAISES CZECH PRIME MINISTER
In an interview in the 1 July issue of the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny," Vintskuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front opposition party, praised Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman for his recent criticism of the Belarusian government, CTK reported on 1 July. During a visit to Minsk in April, Zeman avoided meetings with government officials, but met instead with opponents of President Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2002). "Milos Zeman pleased me very much when he described Belarus as an open-air museum of dictatorship after his visit [on 18 April]," Vyachorka said. Last week, Zeman also criticized the conviction of journalists Markevich and Mazheyka, urging the Belarusian government to "stop their persecution." He said he felt compelled to get involved because he had been interviewed by one of them during his April visit. CB

PAKISTAN LOOKING TO BUY UKRAINIAN ARMS
A delegation from Pakistan headed by Zafir Jaffer, the head of the weapons purchasing department of the Pakistani military, arrived in Ukraine on 26 June. According to AP, the delegation is looking to modernize its tanks and aircraft with Ukrainian technology and know-how. Pakistan is one of the largest buyers of Ukrainian arms. From 1996-2000, Pakistan spent some $800 million on Ukrainian arms and military equipment -- the bulk of it on 300 T-80YD tanks. According to Interfax, Pakistan is seeking to refurbish its T-69, T-72, and unspecified U.S.-built tanks, and to modernize its fleet of aircraft, including U.S. F-16s and Russian CY-27s. RK

NATO, UKRAINE TO REVIEW RELATIONSHIP
The upcoming meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission to be held in Kyiv on 9 July will focus on the current state of Ukraine-NATO relations, according to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 28 June. Speaking to Ukrainian journalists in Brussels, Robertson announced that he plans to meet with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, and other members of the cabinet of Ministers during his weeklong stay in the Ukrainian capital. When asked about the basing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory and its future if Ukraine were to join the alliance, Robertson said that this is a "strictly academic question," as Ukraine has not formally requested permission to join NATO. However, there is no set rule on such a matter. Robertson went on to say that "Ukraine's recent declaration and the letter from the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council announcing its decision of 23 May to seek Ukrainian integration into NATO" raises the prospects of a "distant possibility of membership, but today the matter of submitting a request to join is not on the table." RK

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MONGOLIAN LEADER
President Kuchma and his Mongolian counterpart Natsagiin Bagabandi signed agreements in Kyiv on 1 July aimed at improving bilateral economic ties, AP reported. Kuchma said Ukraine is interested in Mongolian exports of copper and rare metals, while Mongolia is interested in help from Kyiv in modernizing its military hardware and mining industry. Trade turnover between the two countries was just $7.11 million in 2001. Officials from the two countries signed several agreements, including one on avoiding double taxation and others on cooperation in science and education. Natsagiin is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Kinakh, parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and other officials before leaving on 3 July. PB

ESTONIA CLOSES TAXATION CHAPTER IN TALKS WITH EU
In Brussels on 28 June, the Estonian delegation for negotiations with the European Union successfully completed the chapter on taxation, ETA reported. This raised Estonia's number of completed chapters to 27 of 31. Prime Minister Siim Kallas said Estonia achieved better results than originally hoped for in the taxation chapter. Estonia was allowed to keep its corporate income-tax exemption on reinvested profits and has until 2008 to bring taxation of dividends into line with EU requirements. It was also granted transition periods until 2009 for raising the tobacco excise tax to EU levels, and until 2007 for valued-added tax exemptions for heating. However, Estonia did not receive any transition periods for tax-free trade on ships or for wind-generated energy. SG

ESTONIA, SLOVENIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT ON FIGHTING CRIME
In Tallinn on 29 June, Interior Ministers Ain Seppik (Estonia) and Rado Bochinc (Slovenia) signed an agreement on cooperation in the fight against organized crime, illegal drug trafficking, and terrorism, BNS reported. The document provides the competent authorities of the two countries with a legal basis for cooperating directly in these fields. The ministers also discussed their countries' preparations for membership in the European Union. SG

LATVIA LAUNCHES ANOTHER CAMPAIGN TO PROMOTE NATURALIZATION
On 28 June, Naturalization Board head Eizenija Aldermane announced the start of a second campaign in cooperation with the British Embassy in Riga to convince noncitizens to become naturalized, BNS reported the next day. More than 50,000 people have received Latvian citizenship through naturalization since 1995, but there are still 534,000 noncitizens living in Latvia, the majority of whom are Russians. The council of For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK passed a resolution on 29 June criticizing the campaign and calling on Prime Minister Andris Berzins to put an end to these "activities that discredit Latvia," LETA reported. Berzins responded that his government's policy is to develop an integrated society in Latvia and not a state with two communities. SG

LITHUANIA STRESSES RUSSIA'S RESPONSIBILITY FOR KALININGRAD'S FUTURE
In Vilnius on 28 June, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas opened a two-day forum of deputies from the parliaments of Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast by noting: "Kaliningrad's future largely depends on the political, economic, and diplomatic decisions Russia will make and its readiness to give Kaliningrad the freedom of actions in developing economic ties, especially with the EU, in the fields of transport, energy, border-infrastructure modernization, environmental protection, tourism, and the efficiency of the Special Economic Zone," BNS reported. Parliament Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis urged Russia to give more attention to solving problems that result from delays in border crossing. Kaliningrad Duma Chairman Vladimir Nikitin expressed his hopes that visa-free travel for Kaliningrad residents transiting Lithuania be retained, but noted that the greatest problem for Kaliningrad is not the visa question, but how "to find a place in the economy of the expanded EU." SG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS POLAND WON'T BE 'BLACKMAILED' INTO LAST-MINUTE EU DEAL
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, speaking to the daily "Gazeta Wyborcza," warned the European Union not to delay an agreement on entry terms to be offered to postcommunist states until just before the December deadline for reaching a deal on expansion, Reuters reported on 28 June. "If normal conditions are not created for negotiations, then we will demand [that talks be] extended. We will not be blackmailed into accepting that the enlargement train leaves at a particular time," Cimoszewicz said. "A difference of two-four weeks does not carry historical meaning. Let's do everything possible to aim to join on 1 January [2004] but let's not attach too much weight to it," he added. DW

CZECH GOVERNMENT TALKS HIT SNAG...
After six hours of talks on 30 June, leaders of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Coalition failed to reach an agreement on a joint program that would be the basis for the next government, CTK reported. Talks are scheduled to resume on 1 July. Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) leader Cyril Svoboda said the Coalition and the CSSD have reached agreement on a majority of the issues in the 21-page program. The parties have still not agreed on 11 issues, including harmonizing the federal budget with European Union requirements, anticorruption measures, and tax and pension reform. BW

...AS COALITION DEMANDS GUARANTEES ON SCREENING LAW
The Coalition is also demanding that the CSSD guarantee it will not back the repeal of a law banning former high-ranking communists and secret-police agents and collaborators from senior posts in the civil service, CTK reported on 30 June. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), which finished third in the 14-15 June elections, wants the law repealed. The Coalition also wants files kept by the communist-era secret police declassified, CTK reported the same day. If the talks on creating a majority government with the Coalition fail, CSSD leaders have indicated they might seek to form a minority government. BW

AUSTRIAN RIGHT THREATENS CZECHS OVER TEMELIN AND BENES DECREES
Austria's governing right-wing Freedom Party threatened on 28 June to keep the Czech Republic out of the European Union unless Prague agrees to negotiate with Vienna over the Temelin nuclear power plant and the postwar Benes Decrees, Czech and international news agencies reported the same day. Czech Social Democratic leader Vladimir Spidla, widely expected to be the next prime minister, has said he sees no reason to negotiate the issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). "If that's the line of the new Prague government, then it's a ticket for the Czech Republic to economic isolation. Then the Czech Republic will never belong to the EU," Peter Westenthaler, the Freedom Party's leader in the Austrian parliament, said, according to dpa. Likewise, Deputy Chancellor and Freedom Party Chairwoman Susanne Riess-Passer said: "If the Czech Republic wants to become [an] EU member and wants to gain approval of Austria, it must take the appropriate position in both issues." BW

SLOVAK PRESIDENT DELIVERS STATE OF THE NATION SPEECH...
President Rudolf Schuster in his annual state of the nation speech to parliament on 28 June criticized the ruling coalition for unconvincing results in the fight against corruption, SITA and CTK reported. But he praised Mikulas Dzurinda's government for catching up with other aspiring European Union members. Schuster cautioned Slovaks not to underestimate the warnings in connection with the upcoming elections, calling on voters to participate: "These are the most important elections since November 1989." The president said the quarrelsome governing coalition has proven unable to take more resolute decisions, adding that many reforms have been delayed as a result. Schuster pointed to high unemployment and problems in the health-care sector, and he said citizens do not believe the situation is improving. AS

...DRAWING FIRE FROM BOTH PRIME MINISTER AND OPPOSITION
Prime Minister Dzurinda called Schuster's speech "biased," CTK reported on 28 June, adding that he appreciated only the president's call for participation in the upcoming elections. Dzurinda said that for years a myth has been nourished in Slovakia that the international community's assessment is excellent while criticism is rife at home, and Schuster's speech reflected such a premise. Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Deputy Jan Cuper called the speech "a moderate picture of the poor state of Slovak society after four years of rule by the governing coalition." AS

SLOVAKIA AND HUNGARY CONTINUE TO DISAGREE OVER STATUS LAW
Dzurinda met with Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy in an attempt to clarify positions regarding Hungary's controversial Status Law prior to a Visegrad Four summit over the weekend (see "Hungary," below), SITA reported on 29 June. Medgyessy said state secretaries from the countries' foreign ministries will meet in early July to set a timeline for negotiations within the context of a bilateral commission for national minorities. That commission was created to seek a mutually acceptable way of applying the Status Law. Dzurinda stressed the need to resolve open issues regarding the law, adding that national interests must be pursued while respecting European norms and principles. He stressed that no foreign law can be applied in Slovakia that encroaches on the sovereignty of its rule of law or discriminates on ethnic grounds. AS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS THE PAST NO LONGER MATTERS...
Peter Medgyessy on 30 June declared on the "Nap TV" program that "ordinary people do not care about what happened 20 years ago, but they do care whether the prime minister is democratic, proficient, and whether he wants to and is capable of serving their interests." Commenting on the recent political furor over his past in communist-era counterintelligence, Medgyessy said he is unfazed by the criticism and is determined to carry out his political program. He said the scandal did not erupt during the election campaign because his opponents were confident they would win the April parliamentary elections. However, Medgyessy continued, the opposition is nervous now, in part because of the government's initial successes and in part because of investigations launched into the events of the past four years. In related news, Medgyessy on 28 June met President Ferenc Madl to discuss reports about his past, according to "Nepszabadsag." After the meeting, Medgyessy told reporters that both he and Madl believe "there is nothing the president should do" in the matter. MSZ

...AS HIS FORMER SECRET LIAISON REVEALS NEW DETAILS
A former intelligence official on 30 June said Medgyessy did not become a secret agent in the Finance Ministry in order to help Hungary join the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as the prime minister has claimed. Lajos Toth, a liaison officer to Medgyessy in the 1970s when the latter was involved in counterintelligence activities, told RTL Klub television that Medgyessy was employed as an agent because the counterintelligence services "had to have a reliable officer at the Finance Ministry through whom they could check certain things sometimes." Toth said the counterintelligence work was directed against "Western parties," not against the Soviets, as Medgyessy claimed. The retired lieutenant colonel said the truly important meetings were held with IMF delegations behind closed doors, after which counterintelligence officers would discuss what they had heard and whether they believed it. He said the KGB was aware of such methods, although the Hungarian Interior Ministry's leadership had banned the officers from briefing their Soviet advisers. MSZ

PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE CANCELS 'MAGYAR NEMZET' CONTRACT
The company subordinate to the prime minister's office that also publishes the daily "Magyar Nemzet" has canceled its contract with the newspaper, effective on 31 December 2002, Hungarian media reported on 29 June. State Secretary Laszlo Kodela said publishing the daily was profitable for the company but the newspaper was continuously late in meeting its payment obligations. "Magyar Nemzet" manager and Editor Gabor Liszkay attributed the cancellation to "petty political revenge" because the daily recently broke the story on Medgyessy's counterintelligence past. Liszkay acknowledged that delays in making payments might occur but said they have never been significant. He called the move "an attempt to render impossible the operation of the sole opposition daily, by trampling upon freedom of the press and democracy." MSZ

VISEGRAD PREMIERS AGREE ON CULTURAL COOPERATION
Meeting in Hungary's northern town of Esztergom, the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries on 29 June agreed to further cooperation, to take concerted action against terrorism, to support Slovakia's admission to NATO in the fall, and to coordinate their position on issues related to EU accession talks, Hungarian media reported. Host Peter Medgyessy told his guests, Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic, Leszek Miller of Poland, and Mikulas Dzurinda of Slovakia, that a new phase has begun in the cooperation of the Visegrad countries. "What was good can remain, but the countries should focus on the present and future rather than on past grievances," he declared. In a separate meeting, Medgyessy and Dzurinda agreed on a timetable and basic principles for resolving issues related to Hungary's Status Law (see Slovakia, above). They agreed that the law must be implemented in accordance with the original intentions, must be in line with European minority norms, must be acceptable to Slovakia, and must meet the expectations of ethnic Hungarians. MSZ

AUSTRIA REJECTS HUNGARIAN EU PROPOSALS
Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner on 30 June told her visiting Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, at their first-ever meeting in Vienna that Austria does not wish to terminate the system of direct payments to EU farmers, nor does it want to raise the amounts. Ferrero-Waldner did not support Kovacs's insistence that Hungary is entitled to the same rights from the moment of accession, nor does she see any chance for shortening the transition period for new EU members, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Regarding the flow of labor, Ferrero-Waldner rejected as too high Kovacs's proposal that Hungarians receive 10,000 work permits in 2003, another 25,000 in 2004, and 30,000 in 2005. MSZ

U.S. VETOES UN RESOLUTION ON EXTENDING BOSNIAN MISSION...
The United States voted against a resolution in the UN Security Council on 30 June on extending the mission of the world body in Bosnia for an additional six months, international media reported. The Security Council then agreed to maintain the mission for a further 72 hours in hope of finding a solution. Votes to extend such UN missions for six months at a time are usually routine matters. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "I don't think it should be beyond the creative minds of all these brilliant lawyers around the world to come up with a solution" to end the deadlock, AP reported. PM

...AS WASHINGTON MAKES ITS 'WAKEUP CALL'...
The United States cast its Security Council veto on 30 June as what one American diplomat dubbed a "wakeup call" to register Washington's displeasure over the rules governing the International Criminal Court (ICC) set to open on 1 July in The Hague, international media reported. The United States wants its troops engaged in peacekeeping operations abroad to be exempted from prosecution before the court if frivolous or politically motivated lawsuits arise. On 20 June, the "International Herald Tribune" reported that "the United States' leading European allies, who have opposed U.S. efforts to limit the powers of the new international war crimes tribunal, quietly obtained written assurances [in January] that their troops serving as peacekeepers in Afghanistan would be immune from arrest or surrender to the court." Washington insists on similar, blanket assurances for its forces. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte said in New York on 30 June that, "With our global responsibilities, we are and will remain a special target, and cannot have our decisions second-guessed by a court whose jurisdiction we do not recognize," Reuters reported. PM

...ABOUT THE ICC
Negroponte also said in New York on 30 June that, "It's not a question of one mission or another, it's a question of peacekeeping in general, and until we reach some sort of satisfactory resolution of this problem, it is going to come up over and over," Reuters reported. Russia has not ratified and China has not signed the 1997 Rome Treaty establishing the ICC, dpa reported from New York on 1 July. The Clinton administration signed the agreement but the Bush administration withdrew the signature. The treaty has been signed by 139 countries and ratified by 69, including the 15 European Union member states. The agreement states that governments have the primary responsibility to try their own nationals, and that the court acts only if the respective national governments do not. French Ambassador to the UN Jean-David Levitte said that the U.S. troops can be protected through bilateral agreements with the countries where they are stationed, AP reported. PM

UN-LED POLICE MISSION IN BOSNIA IN JEOPARDY...
U.S. diplomats at the UN said on 30 June that the veto is not "directed against the people of Bosnia" and that Washington will maintain its commitments in the Balkans, international media reported. But if no compromise emerges in the Security Council, the UN will immediately lose its mandate for the 1,700-strong international police force in Bosnia (IPTF), which the EU plans to take over on 1 January 2003. UN Secretary-General Annan said: "Unless an agreement can be reached on an orderly wind-down of the mission, the [local] police in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be left unmonitored, unguided, and unassisted.... The world cannot afford a situation in which the Security Council is deeply divided on such an important issue, which may have implications for all UN peace operations." The police force includes only 46 Americans. SFOR peacekeepers are not directly affected by the U.S. veto, since that force was set up under the 1995 Dayton peace agreements and not under a UN mandate. A separate agreement between the Bosnian authorities and NATO also deals with the work of SFOR, which is made up of 18,000 military personnel from 25 countries, including approximately 3,000 Americans. PM

...AND STILL MORE SERIOUS DAMAGE COULD BE DONE
German law requires German peacekeeping missions abroad to have a UN mandate, international media noted on 1 July. The 2,000 German troops in SFOR could thus be affected if no compromise is soon reached between the United States and its allies, primarily the U.K. and France. NATO members agreed recently to reduce the size of SFOR from 18,000 to 12,000 by the end of 2002. Numerous NATO and European diplomats and NGO experts told the media that a U.S. withdrawal from Bosnia or elsewhere in the Balkans would be "a disaster." Even a symbolic U.S. presence is widely seen in the region as necessary to ensure stability. The region's Albanians, for example, trust only the U.S. among the major actors in the international community and regard an American presence as the only serious guarantee of peace and security. PM

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT CLAIMS SUCCESS
Mladen Ivanic, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, told the Belgrade weekly "Blic nedelje" that his government has succeeded in cutting unemployment from 154,000 to 144,000 and reducing inflation from 16 percent to 3 percent after about 18 months in office. He noted, however, that industrial production is down and that important reforms have been delayed. Ivanic denied that either Radovan Karadzic or General Ratko Mladic are on Bosnian Serb territory, or that international authorities have given him proof that the two men are indeed in the Republika Srpska. PM

KOSTUNICA DENIES BREAK-IN CHARGE
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in a letter to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Deputy Prime Ministers Dusan Mihajlovic, Nebojsa Covic, and Miodrag Isakov that he never ordered anyone to enter the offices of the Serbian government's communications department, as several former top military commanders have suggested, Beta reported on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). Kostunica added that he himself has been the likely victim of bugging on several occasions since early 2001 and that Djindjic may have leaked edited transcripts of his telephone conversations with Kostunica to the press. The president said that he has not gone public with these charges before in the interest of preserving political calm and stability. On 28 June, former General Milen Simic became the third former commander to say that persons in Kostunica's office ordered a break-in at the Serbian government's offices, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). PM

SERBIAN CHIEF JUSTICE: KOSTUNICA SHOULD RESIGN TO ENTER SERBIAN RACE...
Slobodan Vucetic, who is president of the Serbian Constitutional Court, said in Belgrade on 28 June that Kostunica must first resign the Yugoslav presidency if he intends to enter the Serbian presidential elections expected to be held later this year, "Vesti" reported. Vucetic added that the law is not explicit in this matter, but stressed that a resignation would be in keeping with the standards of "democratic societies." PM

...BUT THE PRESIDENT THINKS OTHERWISE
Kostunica told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" that he sees no reason why he cannot run for president of Serbia while still holding his current office, Reuters reported from Berlin on 29 June. He also noted that former President Slobodan Milosevic's popularity has risen in Serbia because of his defiant stance in The Hague. Kostunica added, however, that Milosevic is no longer a factor in Serbian domestic politics. But Kostunica compared Milosevic's practice of manipulating elections with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's recent move to oust some of Kostunica's supporters from the Serbian parliament on the grounds that they missed too many sessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2002). The president added that he cannot imagine working with Djindjic before new elections take place. Elsewhere in Belgrade, some 10,000 Milosevic supporters staged a rally on 28 June on his behalf. He was sent to The Hague one year earlier on St. Vitus Day, or Vidovdan, which has long been regarded as the most momentous date in Serbian history (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 July 2001). PM

FIRST SERBIAN CENSUS RESULTS
Miladin Kovacevic, who heads the Federal Statistical Office, said in Belgrade on 28 June that the population of Serbia (without Kosova) in 2001 was 7,479,437, which is 69,541 fewer than in the previous census taken in 1991, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENTARY REPORT SLAMS DJUKANOVIC
A legislative committee issued a report on 28 June that confirmed media reports that President Milo Djukanovic and others in the government have long been linked to a profitable cigarette-smuggling business, dpa reported from Podgorica. The parliament will discuss the report at its next session, which will probably be in mid-July. PM

BIG DEMONSTRATION BY MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION
Some 30,000 people attended a rally in Skopje on 28 led by Branko Crvenkovski and his Social Democrats (SDSM), Reuters reported. The former prime minister told his audience: "Tonight we start a difficult and fateful battle, a battle we will fight until the very end, and in the end we will win." PM

CROATIA'S FIRST BIG GAY-RIGHTS DEMONSTRATION TAKES PLACE
Several hundred people marched through Zagreb on 29 June to demand equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, AP reported. Dorino Manzin, who heads the Iskorak gay-rights organization, noted that protesters did not engage in flamboyant behavior and "just wanted to be heard and accepted." The march followed a week of events aimed at reducing discrimination against sexual minorities. Interior Minster Sime Lucin told the marchers in Zagreb on 29 June to "Love each other and fight for your rights." Police were nonetheless on hand to prevent any clashes with skinheads, but no serious incidents were reported. A similar first-ever gay-rights march in Belgrade in 2001 ended with organized soccer fans and skinheads beating gays while many of the police looked on (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 July 2001). PM

SLOVENIA TAKES FULL CONTROL OF POWER FROM NUCLEAR PLANT
On 1 July, Slovenian authorities took control of all power produced at the Krsko nuclear-power plant, the only such installation in former Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The authorities acted because the Slovenian and Croatian parliaments failed to approve an agreement to share power and costs by a 30 June deadline. The issue is part of a broader dispute between the two neighbors over border questions, especially Slovenia's maritime border in the Bay of Piran (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002). PM

ALBANIAN POLICE TAKE LEKA'S GUN 'COLLECTION'
Police confiscated 11 crates of automatic weapons, grenades, and hunting weapons from Leka Zogu, the pretender to the Albanian throne who returned to Albania permanently on 28 June, AP reported from Tirana the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). The Zogu family presented documents saying that the weapons are legal and part of a collection, but the police are holding the crates pending the verification of the documents. Leka was, among other things, an arms dealer in South Africa during his more than five decades of exile. PM

ROMANIA OPENS TWO NEW NEGOTIATING CHAPTERS WITH EU
Romania opened two new negotiating chapters with the European Union during a 28 June conference on accession, bringing the total to 26, the office of Romania's chief EU negotiator announced in a press release the same day. Twelve of the 26 have been provisionally closed within the framework of bilateral talks. The two newly opened chapters concern economic and monetary union and financial controls. Romanian officials said they will not ask for transition periods or changes regarding either chapter. According to the press release, the euro will be the reference currency for the national exchange rate by the end of 2004 at the latest, but no date has been set for adoption of the euro as the national currency. LB

OPPONENTS WIN CONCESSION IN DISPUTE OVER DRACULA THEME PARK
The Romanian Culture Ministry announced in a press release on 29 June that officials have dropped plans to allow construction of a Dracula theme park in the vicinity of the medieval castle of Sighisoara following recommendations by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The project had come under fire from environmentalists who feared its effect on the heavily forested Breite Plateau. The Tourism Ministry initially overlooked those objections as it proceeded with technical preparations. UNESCO sent a mission to the site in late March, and its final report was adopted last week in Budapest. The mission asks that Romania reconsider the proposed theme park and, in particular, its location, due to the fact that the negative impact on the castle, a World Heritage site, would be "highly significant," according to UNESCO. LB

ELECTRONIC COMMERCE GROWING SLOWLY IN ROMANIA
The low number of payment cards and online shopping outlets are the main factors affecting e-commerce in Romania, according to a survey conducted by market researchers CSOP and released on 28 June. The authors believe that e-commerce is also hamstrung by an ineffective online banking system and the absence of legislation related to the security of online transactions. Currently, payment systems rely on a combination of electronic-payment orders and offline payment. Forty-six percent of respondents said they could not pass online credit checks. Internet access is still a relatively low 12 percent in Romania, representing 2.1 million people. Only 2 percent of the country's Internet users are online shoppers. The survey is part of a report developed by Taylor Nelson Sofres. Romania, together with Argentina, Bulgaria, Mexico, and Serbia, was a first-time participant in the research. LB

MOLDOVA IN DEFAULT ON EUROBONDS, SEEKING NEW PAYMENT SCHEDULE
Fitch Ratings agency on 28 June downgraded Moldova's sovereign foreign-currency rating to DD from CC following that government's decision to restructure a $75 million Eurobond issue that matured on 13 June and whose grace period expired on 27 June, Flux reported. Fitch has long anticipated a default by Moldova, cutting the foreign-currency rating to CC and assigning a "negative" outlook to the country in June 2001. Moldova was never rated higher than B during the lifetime of the Eurobonds, which were issued in 1997. The latest rating reflects the fact that the government was unable to honor the original terms of the Eurobonds and was forced to appeal to investors to restructure their repayment. Representatives hope to reach a final agreement by 10 July. In the meantime, Moldova remains officially in default. According to Fitch, the assignment of a DD rating implies that a restructuring agreement will allow investors to recover 50-90 percent of their investment. More than half of the $75 million debt isstill outstanding following a series of buyback operations engineered by the authorities over the past two years. LB

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS WORRIES OVER MOLDOVA ARE JUSTIFIED
"Our worries with what is going on in the Republic of Moldova, the political situation, are fully justified," Council of Europe (CE) Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer declared on 28 June in an interview with Moldovan national radio, Flux reported. The council wants to offer assistance that would allow Moldova to overcome its problems and fully integrate in Europe, Schwimmer said, with full respect for human rights. "I hope we will persuade the Moldovan officials to conform with these recommendations, through respect for the European Convention for Human Rights," Schwimmer declared, according to the agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). He also expressed concern regarding Moldova's ability to fulfill the requirements for assuming the presidency of the CE's Ministerial Committee in May 2003: "We will be disappointed if the Republic of Moldova does not take over the presidency, because it would be the first country to lose this chance." Schwimmer said the Council of Europe is ready to offer constitutional assistance for the political settlement of the Transdniester conflict, expressed hope that Moldova will consider the expertise and advice offered by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, and stressed that "democracy cannot exist without freedom of expression, because the contrary would be proof of a very dangerous power abuse...and of the government monopolizing the media," Flux reported. LB

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DEMANDS EARLIER ARMY REFORM
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said in an interview with BTA on 29 June that he will advise that the Bulgarian Army be transformed from a conscript army into a professional one by 2006, and not in 2010 as initially planned. Svinarov and the chief of General Staff, General Nikola Kolev, said that moving the date up is necessary because of the lack of qualification and the low motivation of conscripts, who serve just six or eight months in the army. According to Svinarov, such a short-term military service is insufficient for training conscripts to handle complicated military technology. Svinarov said he expects the quality of recruits and discipline to rise following reform. He also said that he believes that high unemployment will facilitate the selection and employment of motivated and able military personnel. UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS NATO EXPANSION WILL STRENGTHEN EUROPE'S BORDERS
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Crans Montana, Switzerland, on 28 June, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said NATO expansion will strengthen Europe's borders, BTA reported. "In Southeastern Europe, the war against terrorism is a war against human trafficking, illicit drug and arms trade, against corruption, and the weakness of state power," Saxecoburggotski said. He underscored the Bulgarian efforts toward NATO accession and the country's participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and in the SFOR and KFOR military missions in the Balkans, as well as its current role as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. UB

CHORNOBYL FALLOUT -- BROUGHT DOWN ON BELARUS TO SPARE RUSSIA?


Western nuclear scientists are at last coming to accept what people in Belarus have claimed for years -- that the radioactive contamination from the Chornobyl nuclear disaster on 26 April 1986 was deliberately "shot down" over Belarus in order to prevent it from blowing back on to Moscow. However, even 16 years after the event, they are unwilling to put their names to that theory.

Maps of the fallout that appeared in the Soviet Belarusian press three years later, at the beginning of February 1989, revealed two patches of high radioactivity isolated from the main focus of contamination, where there had been heavy showers of rain just as the fallout was passing over.

The population of these areas has always maintained that the rain was artificial -- "seeded" on orders from the Kremlin. Soviet authorities dismissed these reports as "radiophobia" fomented by "anti-socialist elements" -- and said they did not have the technology to "bring down clouds" in that way (although for years, the Soviet media had claimed exactly the opposite, with circumstantial accounts of crops saved from storm damage by prophylactic "cloud seeding"). Western scientists tacitly accepted the Soviet denials -- partly in the belief that no government would act so callously and also because they considered the Chernobyl-polluted area a unique "laboratory" for studying the migration of radioactive contamination in the soil and did not want to provoke the authorities into denying them visas. However, the bulk of circumstantial evidence is now causing them to think again.

To date, none have been willing to "go public," arguing that -- in the political climate of today's Belarus -- to give their names would not only endanger their visas (and their continuing research) but also put their informants at risk. However, the following emerged in informal discussions on the sidelines of a recent scientific conference:

One researcher, whose official brief is to monitor whether the soil of these areas can be safely brought back into cultivation, has begun collecting the reminiscences of local inhabitants as to what they remember of the days immediately after the accident. He made no attempt to "lead" his "witnesses." Amid the many purely personal incidents (weddings, May Day celebrations, etc), there were repeated reports of unusual activity of aircraft and/or rockets being fired in the vicinity. One man, the chief administrative officer of his locality, stated categorically that he had seen an aircraft with "stuff coming out of the back." Many people remembered that the rain showers that followed were "unusually heavy" and that -- unlike "normal" rainstorms in early May, were not accompanied by thunder. Challenged by colleagues that such reports were "subjective," the researcher pointed out, "These people are farmers and know about rain!" When further asked why such claims had never been made before, he pointed out that, to date "no one [i.e., no Western scientist] had bothered to ask the locals!"

A senior scientist who had been working mainly in Russia stated that what he termed an unimpeachable Moscow source who, at the time of the accident "had been in a position to know," admitted that the clouds were, indeed, brought down. People like his informant, this scientist said, "are prepared to talk in cars -- particularly Western cars!" (i.e., where there is little likelihood of "bugging").

In fact, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, one scientific paper was published in the West that reported -- on the basis of local claims -- that the soil had been tested for traces of silver iodide, the chemical most widely used for seeding. No such traces were found, the report said. But this is at best negative evidence. The soil samples in question were taken more than six years after the accident -- and the small amounts of silver left by seeding could well have leached out of the soil during that time. Alternatively, the Soviets might have used a different chemical for seeding.

One scientist who has worked on the Chernobyl contamination since 1992 is Dr. Alan Flowers of Kingston University (U.K.). Many of his colleagues in Belarus, he says, seem to accept as established fact that the clouds were seeded -- but again, they have never publicly admitted this. When asked -- 16 years after the event and with the Soviet officials who would have taken the decision to "seed" the cloud presumably out of office, retired, or dead -- he replied that "for a full understanding of the distribution and effects of the Chernobyl fallout, we need as much evidence as possible. What caused the rain is still an uncertainty in our knowledge about the intensity and nature of the contamination."

Vera Rich is a London-based freelance researcher. She was Soviet correspondent for the scientific journal "Nature" at the time of the Chornobyl disaster.

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