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Newsline - July 15, 2002


GOVERNMENT EXPECTS RAPID RATIFICATION OF ARMS-REDUCTION TREATY
The Foreign Ministry urged the State Duma to make ratification of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002) a top priority for its fall session, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 July. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that the ministry has completed an analysis of the treaty and prepared all the necessary ratification documents. "We are counting on a positive result," Yakovenko was quoted as saying. RC

BEREZOVSKII PARTY DENIED REGISTRATION
The Justice Ministry confirmed on 13 July that it has decided not to register Liberal Russia as a political party, Interfax reported. Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko said that the group's documents "were inconsistent with legal requirements." Liberal Russia co-Chairman and Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov told Ekho Moskvy that the grounds for the refusal were "laughable" and that the group plans to appeal the ministry's action to the Supreme Court. Exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii is another of the group's co-chairmen. JAC

EXPERIMENTAL SPACECRAFT LOST
Officials confirmed on 15 July that the "Demonstrator-2" spacecraft, which was launched from a submarine in the Barents Sea on 12 July and which was supposed to land near Kamchatka after a 30-minute test flight, has been lost, Russian news agencies reported. The experimental craft, which included an inflatable re-entry braking system, is a joint project of the Babakin Space Research Center and the European aerospace company Astrium. A spokeswoman for the Babakin center told lenta.ru that scientists are now studying telemetry from the test in order to determine what happened to the craft. Earlier reports immediately following the launch indicated that the craft successfully made it into orbit. RC

FEW RUSSIANS TO TRAVEL ABROAD THIS YEAR...
Just 1 percent of Russians plan to travel abroad for vacation this year, RosBalt reported, citing data gathered by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said that they plan to spend their vacation at home, while 23 percent will rest at their dachas. Just 9 percent of Russian children will spend time at a summer camp this year, down from 14 percent last year. More than half of them will spend the summer at home. RC

...BUT THOSE WHO DO SHOULD BE CAREFUL
Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 July that Russian tourists abroad are being increasingly victimized by Russian organized-crime groups. The report recounted a recent incident in Egypt where criminals robbed 12 hotel rooms at one resort after spending the previous evening drinking with a group of tourists from Russia and Ukraine. Incidents of con games and robbery were also documented in Italy, Spain, and France. RC

CHRISTIAN SATELLITE CHANNEL TAKES TO THE AIR
The first Russian-language, Christian-oriented satellite television channel began broadcasting on 15 July, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported the same day. The channel, called the New Life Channel (CNL), will initially broadcast for six hours each day and can be received in 74 countries including most of Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, as well as all of Russia and Europe. "CNL is the first television channel that will transmit the good news of Jesus Christ by satellite in Russian," CNL Director Maksim Maksimov was quoted by RosBalt as saying. The project is not connected with the Russian Orthodox Church. RC

PUTIN NAMES SPECIAL ENVOY FOR KALININGRAD ISSUE
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree naming State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) as his special envoy for the problems of Kaliningrad in light of the EU's pending expansion, Russian agencies reported on 13 July. Rogozin told ORT that he will focus on the visa problem and that "residents of Russia must be able to visit Kaliningrad Oblast without being dependent on the weather or the opinion of a European official on whether to grant a visa." Also on 13 July, Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov told Interfax he is opposed to restoring Kaliningrad's historical name of Koenigsberg, as was recently proposed in an Internet opinion poll. He commented, "There are seeds of revanchism in these proposals, something that no one but European extremists will support." JAC

ANTI-ARMENIAN ACTIONS CONTINUE
Ren-TV reported on 12 July that an anti-Armenian rally was held in the town of Krasnoarmeisk in Moscow Oblast. According to the station, "some aggressive youths" were chanting anti-Armenian slogans and about 500 people were gathered at one point in the town's square. Earlier, 12 ethnic Armenian were beaten, and seven of them were hospitalized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002). According to polit.ru, the majority of the people participating in the rally on 12 July were relatives of the youths who participated in the earlier violence. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 July, some representatives of the nationalist group Russian National Unity were noticed in the crowd, including seven youths in black uniforms. Meanwhile, the central office of the Union of Armenians of Russia issued a statement saying, "Evidence of a crisis in Russia's law enforcement systems is abundant." It then went on to note four actions against Armenians or Armenian entities since March. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO INTRODUCE VISITOR CARDS FOR FOREIGNERS...
While visiting Kazakhstan on 12 July, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that his ministry intends to introduce immigration cards for foreign guests this year, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Gryzlov, any foreign national entering Russia will be requested to fill out the card, which will be stamped by border-control officers. The card, according to Gryzlov, will be the only document proving the legality of a foreigner's stay in Russia. JAC

...AS MOSCOW ON THE LOOKOUT FOR 'QUALITY' IMMIGRANTS
Meanwhile, "Gazeta" reported the same day that Moscow city officials are looking for ways to "improve the demographic situation in the capital with 'quality immigrants.'" According to the daily, there are about 3.5 million people living in Moscow illegally, and in order to reduce the number of illegal residents, city officials have decided to loosen the procedure for receiving registration in Moscow. According to Sergei Smidovich, chairman of the committee for migration matters, "the main thing is not to [repeat] the mistakes of the 1990s, when the capital let in all those who wanted to enter, and now the city doesn't know what to do with them." Smidovich added that the procedure for obtaining temporary residence will become simpler in the near future. JAC

NATIONAL TESTING EXPERIMENT WRAPPED UP
The Education Ministry unveiled the results of an experimental national testing program for graduating high-school students, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 July. Deputy Education Minister Viktor Bolotov reported that 257,000 students from 16 regions have taken the test and that the ministry is satisfied with the results. Bolotov predicted that the test will become mandatory for all students in about two years. He also said that Russia will continue to operate an 11-year, basic education system for at least the next five to six years, after which it might adopt a 12-year standard. RC

KUDRIN NAMED TO CHAIR DIAMOND COMPANY
As expected, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin has been re-elected as chairman of the board of governors of Unified Energy Systems (EES), Interfax reported on 12 July. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was elected as his deputy. On the same day, Kudrin was also named chairman of the supervisory board of Alrosa, the state-run diamond monopoly. Sakha (Yakutia) President Vyacheslav Shtyrov was named first deputy chairman. Previously, the company had two co-chairmen, one representing the federal government -- Deputy Finance Minister Valerii Rudakov, and one representing the Sakha government -- former Sakha Prime Minister Vasilii Vlasov. According to Interfax, that practice was ended at a board meeting last month, and now six members of the board represent the federal government, six represent the regional government, and three the company itself. During gubernatorial elections in Sakha last winter, several analysts suggested that the Kremlin took such an active interest in the race because it wanted to gain control over Alrosa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001 and 11 January 2002). JAC

FLOOD TOLL INCHES UP FURTHER
The number of dead from the flooding in the Southern Federal District during the latter half of June reached 117 people as of 13 July, Interfax reported. The same day, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu criticized the leadership of the southern regions, particularly that of the republics of Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria because they have not yet disbursed payments to people who suffered during the flooding, polit.ru reported. Shoigu also drew the attention of local administration heads to the fact that the prices of construction materials have nearly tripled in recent days. JAC

MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA READY TO IMPORT SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL IN DECEMBER...
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev told reporters on 12 July that Russia will be ready to accept spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing in December of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the minister, another four amendments to the document permitting such imports will be adopted by November. He complained that South Korea would like to deliver such fuel to Russia; however, the United States is in no hurry to allow South Korea to do this since its nuclear fuel is "100 percent American." Rumyantsev also said that Russia will take back all the spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear-power plant that it is currently building in Bushehr, Iran. JAC

...AS FRUIT IN CENTRAL RUSSIA GETS GLOWING REVIEW
Workers in the State Health Inspectorate discovered that five of 12 samples of bilberries that they took from a market in Orel turned out to be radioactive, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. According to the agency, the berries were found to be contaminated with cesium-137. Berries in Bryansk Oblast were also found to contain the same substance. State medical doctor for Orel Oblast's inspectorate Yurii Odintsov told the agency that "this is not the first time that cesium has been found in berries," and that last year it was discovered in fruit in Bryansk and Kaluga oblasts. Odintsov said that it is necessary to demand from sellers certificates confirming that their berries do not contain harmful substances. JAC

MOSCOW LEGISLATORS ASK FOR SILENT NIGHTS
The Moscow City Duma passed a law on 12 July on the "administrative responsibility for violating citizens' calm and quiet during the night," which will come into effect 10 days after it is published, RIA-Novosti reported. The document calls for silence in Moscow between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. During these hours, it will be prohibited to yell, whistle, sing loudly, and listen to television and audio programs at high volumes. Muscovites will have to maintain silence not only in their flats, hotel, and hospital rooms, but also in elevators, stairways, building driveways, and other public places. When caught violating the law, a transgressor will first be warned and, after a second offense, fined. According to nns.ru, the fine may amount to 0.5 to five minimum wages, which in Russia equals about 100 rubles ($3). MD

PATRIARCH GIVES NOD TO PLANS TO REBURY TSAR'S MOTHER...
Speaking to journalists in St. Petersburg on 13 July, Patriarch Aleksii II endorsed a proposal to rebury Empress Maria Fedorovna, mother of Tsar Nicholas II, in St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksii said that if it can be demonstrated that the empress wished to be buried in Russia, "her last will must be fulfilled." Maria Fedorovna, the wife of Tsar Aleksandr III, was born Princess Dagmara of Denmark, the daughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louisa, in Copenhagen in 1847. She died and was buried there in 1928. In recent years, surviving members of the Romanov family have supported the idea of reburying her in St. Petersburg's Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, where other members of the royal family, including her husband and son, are interred. RC

...CONDEMNS EFFORTS TO FRIGHTEN THE PUBLIC
At the same press conference, Aleksii sharply criticized attempts to frighten Orthodox believers in connection with the upcoming national census, ITAR-TASS reported. "The census must not be considered a sign of the apocalypse," he said. Aleksii also urged Russians not to be concerned about the issuance of new passports to replace those still bearing the Soviet hammer-and-sickle emblem, adding that he himself had recently been issued a new passport. The patriarch said that some people are cultivating such fears in order to spread doubt and mistrust in the church. He pointed out that "no one, not even the angels" knows when the apocalypse will come. RC

FORMER COUP PLOTTER DIES
Yurii Plekhanov, a former senior KGB official who was a member of the State Committee for the Emergency Situation (GKChP) that attempted to overthrow Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, died on 10 July, ntvru.com reported on 15 July. Plekhanov was responsible for cutting off all communication to the Foros dacha where Gorbachev was vacationing at the time of the coup attempt. Following the collapse of the coup, Plekhanov spent 17 months in prison before being amnestied by the legislature. On 10 July, President Putin signed an order restoring to Plekhanov his pension and all his state awards and honors, which had been stripped from him following the coup attempt. Plekhanov was 73. RC

PUTIN NAMES NEW HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER FOR CHECHNYA
President Putin on 12 July named Abdul-Khakim Sultygov to succeed Vladimir Kalamanov as human rights commissioner for Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported. Sultygov, who is 42 and a graduate of the Tolstoy State University in Ingushetia, served most recently as head of the State Duma's commission for Chechnya. He has authored several proposals for ending the Chechen conflict peacefully. Sultygov immediately called for stricter observance by the Russian military of the guidelines for search operations issued in March by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the combined federal forces in Chechnya. Sultygov also argued that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov should publicly accept responsibility for the "catastrophe" he precipitated in Chechnya. He added that after elections take place in Chechnya, Maskhadov should be tried by a Chechen court in a "political" rather than a criminal trial, Interfax reported. LF

RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES REGRET END OF CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 12 July, Kalamanov expressed regret at the decision by Russian human rights organizations not to participate further in what he termed the "invaluable" dialogue with the authorities on human rights violations in Chechnya that began in January of this year, Interfax reported. Representatives of such organizations have said there is no point in doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). LF

TWO SENTENCED IN NORTH CAUCASUS ON CHARGES OF TERRORISM
A court in Pyatigorsk has passed sentence on two residents of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia charged with staging car-bomb attacks in Stavropol Krai and Karachaevo-Cherkessia in December 2000 and March 2001 in which a total of 32 people were killed and more than 200 injured, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000 and 26 and 28 March 2001). Arasul Khubiev was sentenced to life imprisonment and Khazret Bidjiev to nine years' imprisonment. LF

OPPOSITION CONDEMNS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM OF FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER...
The independent newspaper "Aravot," which is sympathetic to the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, on 12 July quoted two opposition party leaders as taking issue with President Robert Kocharian's criticism of former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). Former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun Party leader Aram Sargsian accused Kocharian of arrogance. He said Kocharian could not have made such remarks if former Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian (Aram's brother) were still alive, and again accused Kocharian of masterminding the killing in October 1999 of Vazgen Sargsian and seven other senior officials. National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian likewise expressed support for Harutiunian, noting that it was Kocharian who named him defense minister in 1999. LF

...AS SOME GENERALS SAY IT WAS JUSTIFIED
On 13 July, the pro-government "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" quoted Deputy Defense Minister Mikael Grigorian as saying Harutiunian made little contribution to strengthening Armenia's armed forces. Two other senior generals, Haykaz Baghmanian and Arshaluys Paytian, affirmed that during the Karabakh war in the early 1990s they never saw Harutiunian at the front. LF

DASHNAKTSUTIUN AMBIVALENT ON ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION BID
Speaking at a seminar of left-wing parties in Yerevan on 12 July, Hrant Markarian, who is a senior member of the bureau of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), said his party may field its own candidate in the Armenian presidential ballot due in March 2003 rather than support incumbent President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The HHD, which controls two ministries, is believed to want greater government representation in acknowledgement of its support of Kocharian to date. It also opposes the election law amendments pushed through parliament earlier this month by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia that reduce the number of seats allocated under the proportional system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Veteran HHD member Eduard Hovannisian argued that the party should either secure greater representation in government or join the opposition. LF

ARMENIAN POLITICIAN ABANDONS BID TO REGISTER FOR KARABAKH PRESIDENTIAL POLL
Union of Constitutional Rights (SIM) Chairman Hrant Khachatrian withdrew his application to contest the 11 August presidential election in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic just hours after submitting it on 12 July, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. SIM representatives explained that it would have been impossible for Khachatrian to collect the 1,500 signatures required in support of his registration before the deadline for doing so elapsed at midnight on 12 July. They added that Khachatrian's bid was intended merely to highlight the SIM's argument that the December 1989 declaration by the then-Armenian SSR Supreme Soviet on the reunification of the Armenian SSR and the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast is still legally valid, and that Armenian citizens are therefore eligible to contest elections in Karabakh. The chairman of the Karabakh Central Election Committee said last week that Khachatrian was not eligible to register for the poll as he is not a citizen of the unrecognized republic. But a Khachatrian proxy in Stepanakert said on 13 July that by giving Khachatrian's representatives the requisite forms to collect signatures in his support, the CEC effectively acknowledged his eligibility to contest the ballot. LF

DATE SET FOR NEW MEETING BETWEEN ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES
Deputy Foreign Ministers Tatul Markarian and Araz Azimov will hold a second meeting in Prague on 29-30 July to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev told journalists in Baku on 13 July. The first such meeting between the two men took place in mid-May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002). The announcement of the deputy foreign ministers' meeting suggests that Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev will not after all meet this month with his Armenian counterpart Kocharian. Aliev had said in Istanbul last month that he might meet with Kocharian in July if the latter was willing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2002). LF

TWO KILLED IN CLASH ON AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN BORDER
Gadji Magomadov, the leader of a gang that committed several terrorist acts in northern Azerbaijan last summer, was killed late on 12 July in a shootout with Azerbaijani border guards, Reuters and Russian agencies reported on 13 July (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 36, 29 October 2001). One Azerbaijani border guard also died in the shooting, and four others were seriously injured. Twenty-three members of Magomadov's band were tried and sentenced in April on charges of banditry, homicide, and membership of an illegal armed group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 22 April 2002). Police are hunting for others who escaped after the 12 July clash. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO OPEN EMBASSY IN TURKMENISTAN
Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Quliev told journalists in Baku on 13 July that Azerbaijan will open an embassy in Ashgabat before the end of this year, Turan reported. Turkmenistan closed its embassy in Baku 13 months ago, citing financial constraints (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2001). The two countries are at odds over ownership of several offshore Caspian oil fields. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES DENOUNCE 'CRIMINALIZATION' OF STATE POLICY
Nine Georgian opposition parties issued a joint statement on 12 July condemning President Eduard Shevardnadze's decision earlier this month to pardon three men sentenced on charges of involvement in the August 1995 car-bomb attempt on his life, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). They argued that such actions are tantamount to the criminalization of state policy. Shevardnadze defended his decision to do so in his traditional Monday radio address on 15 July, Caucasus Press reported. The nine parties -- the National Democratic Party of Georgia, the New Right Wing, the United Democrats, the National Movement-Democratic Front, the "Greens," the Union of Traditionalists, the Christian-Democratic Alliance, the People's party, and the Labor Party -- also agreed to continue consultations on key political issues. LF

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS ATTACKED, ROBBED DURING REPEAT GEORGIAN ELECTION
Unknown men halted a car in which representatives of the NGO "Fair Elections" were traveling near the west Georgian town of Zugdidi late on 14 July, Caucasus Press reported the following day. They attacked three observers who were monitoring voting in the local election and robbed them of mobile phones, documents, $4,000, and the car in which they were driving, according to "Rezonansi" on 15 July. The 2 June local elections in Zugdidi were declared invalid due to widespread irregularities. LF

IMF APPROVES 'EXCEPTIONAL' CREDIT FOR GEORGIA
Following a review of Georgia's economic performance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved "in principle" release of a further tranche, worth approximately $30 million, under the current three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan, according to an IMF news brief dated 12 July. The brief quoted IMF Deputy Managing Director and acting Chairman Shigemitsu Sugisaki as noting that the fund's decision to release a further tranche was taken in spite of Georgia's failure to fulfill some of the required criteria. Sugisaki said Georgia must push ahead with much-needed reforms and increase tax collection in order to facilitate repayment of debts, especially in the energy sector, and priority spending aimed at reducing poverty. LF

GEORGIA, GREECE SIGN MILITARY-COOPERATION PROTOCOL
A protocol was signed during Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili's recent visit to Greece under which Athens will help modernize the Georgian Navy and establish an advisers' office later this year in the Black Sea port of Poti, Caucasus Press reported on 12 July. Greek experts will also help in the training of Georgian Navy personnel and help restore Georgian naval bases. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS SEVEN YEARS' IMPRISONMENT FOR FORMER KAZAKH MINISTER
The prosecutor at the trial of former Kazakh Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov demanded on 12 July that the accused be sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and his property confiscated, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The prosecutor also rejected as unfounded Abliyazov's claims that the charges against him of abuse of his official position and embezzlement are politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002). Abliyazov was one of the founding members last November of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. LF

CIVIC FORUM MEETS IN KYRGYZSTAN
Leaders of political parties and NGOs attended a civic forum in Bishkek on 13 July with the aim of defining ways to reach a compromise between the government and the opposition and overcome the current political and economic crisis in the country, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber), admitted at the forum that the country's leadership has condoned a "retreat" from democratic principles, but at the same time he rejected opposition demands for the resignation of President Askar Akaev as too extreme. Former Prime Ministers Kurmanbek Bakiev and Amangeldi Muraliev declined to attend the forum, as did prominent human rights activists Ramazan Dyryldaev and Tursunbek Akunov. Opposition party leaders are preparing to hold a "people's congress" in Kerben, southern Kyrgyzstan, on 17 July. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS HELP TO CONTAIN MALARIA OUTBREAK
Kyrgyzstan has requested financial assistance from the World Health Organization to contain an outbreak of malaria in Batken Oblast, which borders on Tajikistan, Interfax reported on 12 July, quoting First Deputy Health Care Minister Tilek Meimanaliev. At a meeting of the local commission on epidemics on 13 July, the number of cases of malaria diagnosed in Batken over the past five months was given as 140, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT AGAIN WARNS AGAINST ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS
Speaking on 13 July at a congress of the National Unity and Revival Movement of which he is chairman, President Imomali Rakhmonov accused members of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan of engaging in "ideological work of an extremist persuasion that may lead to a schism in society," AP reported. Visiting the northern region of Isfara four days earlier, Rakhmonov had similarly criticized local officials for failing to take action to curb the activities of militant Islamic groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). LF

BELARUSIAN HINDUS BEGIN HUNGER STRIKE
Twelve Hindus began a hunger strike in Minsk on 14 July to protest what they called state persecution after the former Soviet republic passed a new law on religion on 27 June, AP reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). The seven men and five women were among 17 arrested on 13 July while singing Hindu songs and hymns in a park, claimed Tatyana Akadanova, one of those arrested. She said they were accused of holding an unsanctioned procession and meeting. Akadanova said the arrest was a result of the new law on religion. "Persecution has already begun," she said, adding that the group had earlier been refused permission to register and denied use of a hall to hold religious services. Officials at a police processing facility confirmed that the group has begun a hunger strike. CB

WTO GIVES BELARUS ACCESS TO DATABASE
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has decided to give Belarus access to its database, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 July. The press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the idea of connecting Belarus to the WTO's database was discussed during a visit to Minsk by the WTO's Gerard Tourette. The WTO official said it is in the interest of Belarus to become a permanent member of the WTO as soon as possible and that having access to the organization's database of information will help in this process. Tourette added that he believes that Belarus could be ready to join the WTO by 2005, although many diplomats think that's too optimistic. CB

BELARUSIAN VICTIMS OF BASHKIR AIRLINES CRASH BURIED IN BREST
The remains of four Belarusians who died in the 1 July mid-air collision between a Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 passenger jet and a DHL-operated Boeing 757 cargo jet over southern Germany were buried in the city of Brest on 14 July, Belapan reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). The four victims were all members of the same family who missed their scheduled flight from Moscow because their train from Brest arrived three hours late after colliding with a van in Belarus. CB

U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY IN KYIV
U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has told Ukrainian leaders that investors will no longer tolerate ongoing legal abuses in Ukraine. In meetings in Ukraine from 12-14 July with President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, O'Neill praised the country's land-reform efforts, but Reuters added on 14 July that he also warned Ukraine that if it hopes to attract necessary foreign investment steps must be taken to ensure that Western businesses are treated fairly. "When there are famous or notorious cases involving a company that carries a U.S. flag, the word travels fast to other potential U.S. investors," the agency quoted O'Neill as telling business leaders. In addition, a spokesman for O'Neill told Ukrainian leaders that the United States "is seriously concerned about Iraq and its intentions" regarding recent allegations that the country is working with Ukraine in order to build up its military arsenal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002). Earlier this year Ukraine was accused of illegally selling highly sophisticated radar systems to Iraq in 2000. RK

FORMER HEAD OF INVESTIGATION INTO UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST'S DEATH BANNED FROM ELECTION
Oleksandr Zhyr, the former chairman of the temporary parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, was banned from seeking re-election in the repeat parliamentary elections in the 35th electoral district (Dnipropetrovsk), UNIAN reported on 13 July. Zhyr on 12 July was forbidden to participate in the 14 July elections, which were won by Viktor Drachevskiy, Ukrainian media reported the next day. He was removed from the ballot by the local election commission following a court decision that found him guilty of financial improprieties during the campaign. Zhyr lost the elections in the first ballot in March, but demanded a repeat election, which was granted by the Central Election Commission. Zhyr, an officer of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), was an outspoken critic of President Kuchma during his term as a member of parliament. RK

ESTONIA'S RES PUBLICA PROPOSES EASIER CITIZENSHIP FOR RUSSIANS
In an effort to convince Russian residents in Estonia to naturalize, the Res Publica party has proposed that noncitizens who have been living in the country since August 1991 be allowed Estonian citizenship if they complete civics courses, ETA reported on 15 July. The current Estonian-language examinations that are required to demonstrate sufficient fluency for citizenship would be abolished. Chairman Rein Taagepera said that expectations 10 years ago that foreigners who did not receive citizenship would leave Estonia have not been realized and today no one believes they will be. Pro Patria Union parliament deputy Mart Nutt noted that there are 400,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia, of whom 150,000 are citizens of Estonia, and 120,000-130,000 are citizens of Russia. He said, "Most of them have had a chance to learn Estonian during the past 10 years and apply for citizenship, yet they haven't done so." One of the People's Union's leaders, Tiit Tammsaar, called the proposal a pre-election propaganda trick that the parliament is unlikely to approve. SG

LATVIA SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH BELGIUM'S FRENCH COMMUNITY AND WALLOON REGION
Prime Minister Andris Berzins signed a trilateral cooperation agreement in Riga on 12 July with his counterparts from Belgium's French Community and Walloon Region, Herve Hasquin and Jean-Claude van Cauwenberghe. According to LETA, the agreement envisages cooperation in education, culture, economy, health care, environmental policy, social issues, tourism, and sports. Latvia signed a similar agreement with Belgium's Flanders Region earlier this year. Van Cauwenberghe also officially opened the Walloon Region's Economy and Commerce Bureau in Riga after the completion of a conference on economic relations between the region and Latvia. On 14 July, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga held talks with the visiting premiers at her residence in Jurmala that focused most on trade and education issues. SG

LITHUANIA BEGINS TALKS ON EU ASSISTANCE FOR CLOSURE OF NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT
Lithuanian negotiators opened formal discussions in Brussels on 12 July on specific European Union commitments concerning financial assistance for the closure of the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, ELTA reported. Deputy Economy Minister Arturas Dainius, dubbed "Mr. Ignalina" because he is in charge of the plant's closure program, said the day's talks centered on Lithuania's estimate that the closure will cost 2.4 billion euros ($2.37 billion). He said Vilnius will provide additional, more detailed information for the next round of consultations in September. In Luxembourg in June, Lithuania agreed to close the plant's second reactor by 2009 in return for sufficient financial support from the EU and is seeking to obtain more specific EU commitments that could be included in the EU accession agreement the country hopes to finalize by the end of the year. SG

STRIKING POLISH WORKERS SET UP NATIONAL COMMITTEE, DEMAND MEETING WITH GOVERNMENT...
Striking shipyard workers in Szczecin were at the forefront of a National Protest Committee (OKP) set up in the city on 13 July, Polish media reported. Inspired by Marian Jurczyk, one of the 1980 strike leaders from the Solidarity movement, the OKP has demanded a meeting with the government, government action to rescue bankrupt companies, and a halt to privatization and changes to the Labor Code. Two protests were announced for 18 July in Szczecin and on 23 July nationwide. DW

...AS FORMER SOLIDARITY LEADER ANNOUNCES RETURN TO POLITICS
Former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa announced his return to politics on 14 July, dpa reported, citing PAP. Walesa intends to run for president again, after losing in 2000 to incumbent Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is now in his second term. Kwasniewski cannot run again. Walesa garnered a mere 1 percent in the 2000 race, but said the current situation in Poland left him no recourse but to run again. "I have proposals to make, and I know they are good ones," he said. "Perhaps I will be rejected, but I have to make myself available." DW

CZECH SOCIALISTS TO DISCUSS ZEMAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY IN AUGUST/SEPTEMBER
Prime Minister-designate Vladimir Spidla said on 14 July after a meeting of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) presidium that the possibility of choosing outgoing Prime Minister Milos Zeman as the CSSD's candidate in the 2003 presidential elections will be discussed in August or September, CTK reported. Spidla said the debate will take place after all the constitutional bodies have been formed in the wake of last month's elections. President Vaclav Havel's mandate expires early next year. Zeman's candidacy is backed by CSSD Deputy Chairmen Zdenek Skromach and Petr Lachnit, as well as by Chamber of Deputies deputy speaker Jitka Kupcova. CSSD Honorary Chairman Slavomir Klaban also spoke in favor of Zeman's candidacy at the 14 July meeting of the presidium. CTK said other members of the presidium back the candidacy of Ombudsman Otakar Motejl for the post. MS

ODS TEAM PRODUCES ANALYSIS OF ELECTION DEFEAT
According to an analysis conducted by the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and reported by CTK on 15 July, the (ODS) lost the 14-15 June parliamentary elections due to disputes within the right-wing camp, an unconvincing final stage of its electoral campaign, and a hostile relationship with the media. The analysis is to be discussed by the ODS Executive Council on 15 June. The team that conducted the analysis recommended that the ODS create its own media outlets and that the party must concentrate its immediate efforts on winning the local and the Senate elections scheduled for the fall of 2002. It also said the ODS must "uncompromisingly expose the weak points of the government and its members" and focus in particular on corruption, which, the report said, has always been the hallmark of the left. MS

AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR MOBILIZED IN SLOVAK PREMIER'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel on 13 July joined Prime Minister and Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKU) Chairman Mikulas Dzurinda's election campaign, praising the progress Slovakia has made in European Union admission negotiations over the last four years, CTK reported. The two heads of government jointly led a bicycle ride from Kittsee, Austria, to the nearby Slovak town of Cunovo, where they visited a water-sports complex currently hosting the European Water Slalom Championships. Dzurinda said he believes the accession negotiations will be successfully concluded by the end of the year. The Slovak prime minister launched the SDKU electoral campaign one day earlier in Presov, eastern Slovakia. Dzurinda partly attributed the unexpectedly low participation at the pro-SDKU rally in Presov, to the fact that, unlike 1998, nobody doubts the democratic character of the elections and interest is not as high as a result. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER TO RUN ON LIST OF NEW PARTY
Defense Minister Jozef Stank announced on 12 July that he is leaving the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) and will run in the September parliamentary elections as an independent candidate on the ticket of the newly established Social Democratic Alternative (SDA), CTK reported. Stank will be fifth on the SDA lists. He said he does not wish to join the SDA or any other political party. SDA Chairman Peter Weiss welcomed Stank's decision and praised his contribution to Slovakia's progress in its effort to receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague in November. A few days earlier, SDL parliamentary deputy Ladislav Orosz also left the SDL and joined the SDA's list of candidates. Opinion polls show that neither of the two formations have enough support to make it to the new legislature. In reaction to Stank's and Orosz's departures, SDL official Ivan Bielik told CTK that they are both "people whose words differ from their deeds," and who stayed in the SDL only as long as it suited their interests. MS

VETERAN HZDS POLITICIANS SET UP NEW PARTY
Two veteran politicians of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) announced on 12 July that they are setting up a new political formation called the Movement for Democracy, CTK reported. Ivan Gasparovic and Marta Aibekova were not included on the HZDS lists for the September parliamentary elections at the party's conference on 7 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). In order to qualify to run in the elections, the new party must gather 10,000 signatures by 17 July in support of its registration. Aibekova told journalists that the initiative for setting up the new formation came "from the grassroots," and that the new party does not intend to cooperate with the HZDS following the September ballot. She said that at the HZDS conference "many people were literally kicked out" of the HZDS lists through methods "with which we cannot agree." MS

SMER SAYS 'NO' TO MECIAR, BUT NOT TO HZDS...
Robert Fico, chairman of the Smer (Direction) party, on 12 July said in an interview with the Czech daily "Pravo" that his party wants to cooperate with all formations that will gain parliamentary representation in September, CTK reported. Fico added that his party nonetheless has "reservations" about some political leaders, among whom he mentioned HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar, SDKU Chairman Dzurinda, and Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos. He said he does not rule out cooperation with the HZDS as a whole, because Smer wants "a stable government," and added that it would be "ideal" if the next coalition is formed by "not more than two or three parties." Fico declined to comment on pronouncements by Western leaders that Slovakia will not gain NATO or European Union membership if Meciar is part of the new government. He added that the government will be formed in Bratislava, not in Washington or Brussels. He said that Smer, which has been consistently running second to the HZDS in electoral-preference polls, might still be able to form the next government even if the electoral outcome follows the predictions, but will nonetheless work hard to finish first in September. MS

...MAY PREFER 'SLOW ' EU ACCESSION
In the same interview, Fico termed as "economic treason" the government's agreement to close down the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear-power plant by 2006-08. He said that if refusal to do so may affect Slovakia's EU accession chances, it might be better to reopen the energy chapter in the negotiations and accede to the EU at a later date and under better circumstances. He added that if Smer forms the government, it will view the trimming of public administration as its top priority. In an allusion to the Romany minority, Fico said that under a trimmed budget, no one should be allowed to "abuse the social [welfare] system." MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS APPROVE SEPARATE LISTS OF CANDIDATES
The Slovak National Party (SNS) and its splinter group, the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) on 13 July separately approved their respective lists of candidates for the September elections, CTK reported. The latest opinion polls show that while the SNS, led by Anna Malikova, might just pass the 5 percent threshold, the PSNS, under the leadership of Jan Slota, has virtually no chance of doing so. Negotiations between the two formations to run jointly failed earlier this month, after Malikova offered Slota, a former SNS chairman, the 30th place on the SNS lists. The PSNS was set up last year. Both parties rule out NATO membership (although the PSNS does so in stronger terms) and both are inimical toward Slovakia's Hungarian minority. MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN SLOVAKIA
Speaking in the Slovak parliament on 13 July, European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox called on the Slovak electorate to turn out in high numbers for the September elections, saying the ballot will decide whether the country joins the EU or remains in "isolation," CTK reported. He refrained from advising Slovaks whom they should vote for, but praised the outgoing cabinet for progress made in the EU accession negotiations. Cox also met with President Rudolf Schuster, Prime Minister Dzurinda, HZDS Chairman Meciar, and Smer Deputy Chairwoman Monika Benova. Cox refused to provide details on his meetings but Benova told journalists Cox was "very frank" toward Meciar. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT SETS DATE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS...
President Ferenc Madl on 12 July announced that local elections will be held on 20 October, Hungarian media reported. Observers said the decision was a compromise between the 13 October date called for by the Socialists and the 27 October date that FIDESZ called for. MS

...AS POLL SHOWS SOCIALISTS INCREASING LEAD
According to a Szonda Ipsos poll, support for the governing Socialist Party has increased, while the backing for FIDESZ has dropped, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 15 July. The Socialists are backed by 51 percent of respondents who expressed a preference for a party, 3 percent more than a month ago, while support for the main opposition FIDESZ fell from 44 percent to 40 percent. Support for other parties remained almost unchanged, although the junior coalition Free Democrats increased its support from 3 percent to 4 percent. MS

DISSIDENT HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS STORM PARTY HEADQUARTERS
Police initiated proceedings against a group of 10 dissident former members of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) who broke into the Budapest party headquarters on 12 July, Hungarian media reported. After assaulting the security guard on duty, the group barricaded themselves inside and called for Miklos Reti, who was elected FKGP chairman by a group of dissident party members in May, to join them. On his arrival Reti denied any involvement in the group's act. FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan said the "criminals" who broke in will face prosecution. The siege lasted until midday, when pro-Torgyan security guards forced their way back into the building. A spokesman for the group said the action's aim was to draw attention to Torgyan's "plundering" of the party. The group claims that Torgyan has transferred 40 million forints (some $160,000) in party funds to the Independent Women's Federation headed by Torgyan's wife. MS

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK GOVERNOR OPPOSES CHANGE TO LAW
National Bank (MNB) Governor Zsigmond Jarai has protested the government's plan to change the law and set up a supervisory board at the MNB, Hungarian media reported. Jarai added that the European Central Bank (ECB) supports his position on the issue. He presented a letter from the ECB, which is also objecting to a proposed modification in the law concerning the exchange rate, as this would limit the MNB's discretion. MS

BOSNIANS PLEASED AT EXTENSION OF UN MISSION...
Government officials in Bosnia said in Sarajevo on 13 July they are pleased that the UN Security Council agreed on a compromise the previous evening about the rules governing the new International Criminal Court (ICC), Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). Following the unanimous vote on the ICC, the council approved an extension of six months each for the UN's missions in Bosnia and on Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula. In Sarajevo, a spokesman for the Bosnian joint Presidency said that "the latest decision showed that the international community and the United Nations are interested in Bosnia-Herzegovina," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). PM

...AS ARE INTERNATIONAL OFFICIALS...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown hailed the extension of the UN mandate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 13 July. UN police (IPTF) spokeswoman Kirsten Haupt told Reuters that "we are very glad that the mandate has been extended. This will give us sufficient time to accomplish all that needs to be done toward restructuring and reforming Bosnia's police force." Jacques Klein, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia, told the BBC that the IPTF would have had to abandon several unspecified projects that are close to completion had the mandate not been renewed. In Copenhagen, the EU said in a statement that "a continued international presence is crucial to peace, stability, and the further development of rule of law in Bosnia. The extension of the mandate will ensure an orderly transition between [the IPTF] and the EU Police Mission, which will take over on 1 January 2003," AP reported. PM

...AFTER COMPROMISE REACHED IN UN...
The compromise followed the broad outlines reported in the media shortly before it was passed by the Security Council on 12 July, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). The resolution calls on the ICC to allow a 12-month delay before it investigates or prosecutes UN peacekeepers from countries that have not agreed to work with the court, although the council may "decide otherwise." Countries affected include the United States, Russia, China, and Israel, among others. The council has the option of extending the exemption but is not obliged to do so. Any seven members or any one permanent member of the 15-member council may block an extension. PM

...AMID MIXED REACTIONS
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in New York on 13 July that he is "extremely pleased" by the compromise, AP reported. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that the resolution will not only permit the Bosnian mission and the U.S. role in peacekeeping to continue but also "will sustain the effectiveness of the ICC," AP reported from Copenhagen. The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the "agreement preserves the authority of the [ICC], which was our main goal, all while responding to practical problems resulting from the fact that some states, particularly [the United States], are not party to the court." The EU Presidency made similar points in a statement. But Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, Germany's Joschka Fischer, Belgium's Louis Michel, and several Canadian officials charged that the compromise undermines the ICC and sets potentially harmful precedents, Reuters reported from Paris. But one British diplomat told the BBC that the fact that the compromise has displeased strong partisans on both sides of the debate "shows that we must have done something right." PM

PRESIDENTS' SUMMIT BEGINS IN SARAJEVO
Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Yugoslav counterpart Vojislav Kostunica arrived in Sarajevo on 15 July at the invitation of the three members of the Bosnian joint Presidency: Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic, and Jozo Krizanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They are expected to discuss mutual cooperation, including work against organized crime and human trafficking, as well as measures to facilitate refugee return (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). The gathering is being officially hailed as the most important diplomatic event in Sarajevo for several years. But observers note that real power in the three countries does not lie with their respective presidencies, and that Kostunica has dismissed Belkic's call for an apology for Serbian aggression against Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 as "empty talk" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2002). Perhaps a more important event for peace and cooperation in the Balkans was the huge music festival in Novi Sad over the weekend, which drew thousands of mainly young people from across the region and beyond. PM

SERBIAN PROSECUTOR ORDERS INVESTIGATION OF CHARGES IN BUGGING SCANDAL...
Public prosecutor Rade Terzic said in Belgrade on 13 July that he has ordered police to investigate and, if warranted, file criminal charges in the imbroglio opened recently by General Nebojsa Pavkovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). Pavkovic said that some of Kostunica's aides wanted the army to break into the Serbian government's communications department in 2001, which prompted Kostunica to charge that the Serbian authorities were bugging his telephone. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said on 14 July that his ministry will precede with its investigations despite calls by some of Kostunica's aides for a delay. PM

...AS 'INFORMATIVE DISCUSSIONS' BEGIN
On 12 July, police in Belgrade questioned Natasa Odalovic, who reports for RFE/RL and the daily "Danas," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They asked her about remarks made to her by Aleksandar Tijanic, who is an aide to Kostunica, that he knows who ordered the recent killings of prominent people in Serbia. Police also had what they call an "informative discussion" with Vladimir Radomirovic, who writes for the weekly "Reporter," about his statement that the Serbian government's communications department has bugging equipment on its premises. Tijanic meanwhile told Radio B-92 that police have questioned him about Odalovic's article. Some NGOs have since protested over what they call police abuse of reporters' right to protect their sources, AP reported. PM

LABUS THROWS HIS HAT INTO THE RING
Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Labus said in Valjevo on 13 July that he will be a candidate in the Serbian presidential elections expected later this year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Polls suggest that he is the political ally of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic with the best chances of defeating Kostunica for the top Serbian post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002). The Yugoslav presidency is expected to be abolished when a new loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro is formed later in 2002, thereby leaving Kostunica out of a job. PM

KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR INTEGRATION AND RESOLUTION OF STATUS QUESTION
Speaking in Berlin on 14 July, Bajram Rexhepi said Kosova is open for Balkan and European integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that he hopes that such an approach will lead to clarifying Kosova's final political status, by which he means independence. PM

BUDISA PURGES HIS RIVALS
The leadership of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) voted in Zagreb on 13 July to expel 12 parliamentary deputies who recently supported Prime Minister Ivica Racan of the Social Democratic Party in a power struggle with HSLS leader Drazen Budisa, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 July 2002). Budisa said of the 12: "They were disloyal." Those sacked include Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic and Defense Minister Jozo Rados. PM

HARTMANN CAUTIOUS ON WAR CRIMES TRIALS IN SERBIA OR CROATIA
Florence Hartmann -- who is the spokeswoman of Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague -- told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in a telephone interview on 12 July that no persons already indicted for war crimes will be tried in Serbia or Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Hartmann stressed that she sees no possibility of trying high-ranking war criminals in Serbia or Croatia, but did not rule out trying some less important individuals in Bosnia. Both Zagreb and Belgrade want as many cases as possible to be tried at home. The tribunal, however, has doubts about the independence of their judicial systems and about their ability to protect witnesses. Meanwhile, in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb government refused to provide The Hague with materials it has requested regarding the alleged roles of more than 20 police in Prijedor in the murder of Roman Catholic Rev. Tomislav Matanovic during the Bosnian conflict. PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS CONTINGENT IN AFGHANISTAN
Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu on 12-14 July visited the Romanian contingent stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Romanian Radio reported. Pascu said U.S. Army Colonel Michael Linnington, who commands the antiterrorism coalition troops in the Enduring Freedom operation in Kandahar, told him he is "impressed" by the Romanian troops, who in Pascu's words are "well-trained, disciplined, optimistic, and trust their officers." The Romanian contingent, which is replacing Canadian troops, is to become operational on 22 July, one week later than previously envisaged. The delay is due to technical setbacks suffered by C130 Hercules transport aircraft that transported the troops to Afghanistan. Romanian television reported on 13 July that the troops' equipment is not suited to ground conditions in Afghanistan, as their uniforms are too hot for the weather and inadequate as camouflage on the Afghan terrain. MS

PRIME MINISTER SAYS ROMANIA HAS FULFILLED ALL IMF CONDITIONS...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 12 July that Romania has met all the conditions agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for receiving the second and the third tranche of the $383 million standby loan agreed with the fund last year. The premier said the IMF delegation headed by the fund's chief negotiator for Romania, Neven Mates, is now reviewing with the Romanian side the envisaged economic policies for the rest of the year and the outline of the 2003 budget. He said the government envisages amending the 2002 budget this month and again in October in order to cover social costs deriving from the planned increase in minimum incomes. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu, quoted by Romanian radio on 15 July, said the IMF delegation will conclude its Romanian visit later this week. MS

...SAYS ROMANY BEGGARS FROM ROMANIA CREATE PROBLEMS FOR THE COUNTRY ABROAD
Nastase on 12 July told prefects in a video conference that ethnic Romany beggars from Romania are creating problems for the country's image abroad, Mediafax reported. He said he has sent a letter to French Premier Jean Pierre Raffarin, expressing readiness to cooperate with France in solving the problem. The French daily "Le Monde" recently wrote that Romany mafias in Romania are involved in smuggling handicapped Roma into France for exploitative purposes, as well as in theft and prostitution in the country. On 13 July, Mediafax reported that 10 handicapped Romany beggars from Romania were detained and sent back to their country of origin on an Air France plane. Citing AFP, the agency said Romanian border authorities have been instructed to scrupulously check the identity of all handicapped people leaving the country. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY TO REQUEST POLITICAL ASYLUM?
Valeriu Plesca, a deputy representing the opposition Braghis Alliance in parliament, announced in Brussels on 12 July that he will not return home because he has reason to believe his personal safety is endangered by the government, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and AP reported. Plesca was in Brussels as a member of a parliamentary delegation that visited NATO headquarters. In a letter faxed to BASA-press, Plesca hinted that he may seek political asylum, stating that he "reserves the right to take cautionary measures of self-protection" and will "return to Chisinau when the government stops persecuting me and my family." Plesca claimed that, after he accused government officials of profiting from illegal business, articles in the pro-government media have falsely accused him of illegal dealing and the government has sent auditors to companies run by members of his family. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDED BILL ON CHURCH REGISTRATION
The parliament on 12 July approved the government-sponsored amendment of the law on registering religious denominations, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The amendment will make possible the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church in line with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). The amended law stipulates that the government may refuse registration only in cases where the activity of a cult endangers "the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of the state or public order," or if it engages in "political activities." Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov welcomed the approval of the amendment. MS

CHIEF OF STAFF SAYS BULGARIA HAS NO ALTERNATIVE TO NATO MEMBERSHIP
Colonel General Nikola Kolev told a forum on 12 July that Bulgaria has "planned everything up to 2004" in reforming the country's armed forces, BTA reported the same day. He said Bulgaria has no alternative to NATO membership in an era of small, mobile, efficient, and high-tech militaries, according to the agency. The new threats to society lie in terrorism and ethnic and religious confrontation, separatism and access to weapons of mass destruction, and cross-border crime such as trafficking and migration, Kolev said. He noted that reforms have been proceeding on schedule and added that the Bulgarian Army will be fully professionalized by 2010, BTA reported. AH

U.S. SAYS MISSILE DESTRUCTION KEY TO SUPPORT FOR BULGARIA'S NATO BID...
U.S. Ambassador James Pardew told reporters on 12 July that Bulgaria's planned destruction of missiles will be a key factor in Washington's decision whether to support that country's bid to join NATO, BTA reported from Sofia. He added that he is sure the liquidation of the weapons -- including Soviet-made SS-23s, Scuds, and Frog-7 rockets -- will be effected safely and before the 30 October deadline recommended by the Bulgarian parliament late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October and 7, 11, and 18 December 2001). AH

...AS TOP BRASS SAYS 'OBSTACLES ARE EMERGING'...
Colonel General Kolev said the missile-destruction project "is becoming an ever more serious problem because obstacles are emerging that probably were not considered when the decision was made," BTA reported on 13 July. He added that he is "concerned about the time frame and the method of implementation of the project." He noted that a U.S.-based company, CDI, has been assigned the task but warned that the Bulgarian Defense Ministry's agreements with CDI and other entities must still be finalized. Asked to comment on Pardew's apparent warning, Kolev said, "Since the [Bulgarian] government has made the decision and parliament has approved it, a way should be sought to carry it out." AH

...AND BULGARIAN POLITICIANS CITE NEED FOR 'SAFETY FIRST'
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said on 14 July that while "Bulgaria has already demonstrated a will to resolve the issue" of missile destruction, "I think that in this case, safety is more important than hasty work to meet the deadline," BTA reported. He noted that the deadline was imposed by the Bulgarian parliament, not "dictated" from abroad. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the same day on national radio that scrapping the missiles is "not an easy task" and requires "the utmost care to avoid hazards." Bulgarian daily "Trud" meanwhile quoted the mayor of Stara Zagora, where inhabitants have protested on health and environmental grounds at plans to use local facilities for the liquidation, as saying opponents "are not fighting against the state." Mayor Evgenii Zhelev added: "We want government institutions to respect the opinion of citizens. There is no other good move but to apply the law" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 June 2002). AH

WHAT ABOUT VOJVODINA?
The EU-backed Agreement on Restructuring Relations between Serbia and Montenegro signed on 14 March has been extolled by Western European countries and the United States as a landmark success in resolving another problem in the Balkans. Brokered by Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for common foreign and security policy, that deal was intended to thwart the creation of yet another new independent state from the crumbling Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

During a decade of intervention in the Balkans, the international community has addressed the needs and demands of all but one of the former Yugoslavia's federal units. The exception is Vojvodina, which did not feature in the drafting of the constitutional charter of the proposed Serbian-Montenegrin state.

This was particularly grating to many of the inhabitants of Vojvodina, which, like Kosova, had the status of autonomous province under the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution. This status was nearly equal to that of the six federal republics. Vojvodina's autonomy was rooted in the fact that its political and cultural traditions have more in common with former Habsburg Central Europe rather than with the former Kingdom of Serbia or Ottoman Empire. It is also the home to a large Hungarian minority, as well as to smaller populations of Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenes, Croats, and others.

The Serbia-Montenegro agreement was met with outrage by the most vocal advocates of the restoration of Vojvodina's autonomous status, which was abolished together with Kosova's autonomy by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic through changes to the Serbian Constitution during his rise to power in 1988. Nenad Canak, Vojvodina Assembly speaker and leader of the League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, opposed the union agreement because no one consulted Vojvodina during the talks on the future of the union. Leaders representing Serbia saw nothing unusual in this oversight at all. In fact, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has regularly emphasized that Vojvodina is Serbia's "internal" matter and that all "internal" relations will be regulated in the Serbian Assembly and through the Serbian Constitution. That insistence means Vojvodina has had difficulty in reestablishing its rights.

Vojvodina is a peaceful place by Balkan standards, and its campaign for autonomy has fallen on deaf ears both within and outside Serbia. Collectively and separately, for the past decade, parties represented in the Vojvodina Assembly have campaigned for the restoration of the rights of the province -- rights that were illegally revoked under former Serbian President Milosevic. Last year, the campaign achieved international attention when the representatives of the assembly issued a platform on autonomy to the Serbian government that reiterated their demands for a new constitutional position within the FRY. Last month, a provincial parliamentary commission drafted a basic law that would provide legislative, executive and judicial authorities for the province. But these most recent proposals, like previous efforts, achieved nothing. In a recent poll, public support for Vojvodina's own government bodies reached the highest figure yet -- over 80 percent of the region's population. Yet political will and overwhelming public support are not enough to loosen Serbia's grip.

Belgrade has consistently made promises to restore Vojvodina's autonomy, but at the same time has continually manufactured excuses to delay progress. In February 2001, the Serbian Assembly narrowly passed a law to restore partial autonomous powers to Vojvodina. The "omnibus law," as it is commonly known, was met with disbelief within the province. The law has no effect on Vojvodina's legal status without the necessary budgetary provisions that can be made only by the Serbian Assembly. Late last month, the Serbian parliament did agree, in theory, to transfer 8.7 billion dinars [about $145 million] to Vojvodina as a component of the law, to assist in the administration of Vojvodina's new functions. But will Belgrade actually follow through with its latest promise?

Belgrade's reluctance to restore Vojvodina's rights stems from fears that Vojvodina's leaders are nurturing secessionist aims. In fact, Serbian President Kostunica's shadow cabinet just two weeks ago stated that the basic law is proof of Vojvodina's aspirations to independent statehood due to its plans for a full, legal government. The shadow cabinet issued a warning to the basic law's authors of the consequences that may arise from placing it on the parliament's agenda. Yet, no matter how many times Vojvodina's leadership and public assure Belgrade that autonomy for Vojvodina does not pose any threat to the sovereignty of the Serbian state, Belgrade refuses to listen.

Before 1989, Vojvodina was one of the most prosperous federal units of Yugoslavia. The territory ranked second, behind Slovenia, in wealth and standard of living. Today, Vojvodina powerlessly watches Belgrade drain the province of its taxable income, sell its property for profit, and mismanage its agricultural sector. Belgrade's policies have produced widespread poverty, protests, and tension, and public opinion holds Belgrade directly responsible for the economic hardship. Under the present constitutional circumstances, poverty will continue to spread and tensions will escalate, generating more instability in an already depleted region. Belgrade will continue to unilaterally dominate the province, and now with the permission of the EU, Belgrade will believe that it can legitimately postpone any action on the full restoration of Vojvodina's autonomy.

The exclusion of Vojvodina in the formation of the new Serbian and Montenegrin state has sent a negative message to all communities struggling for recognition across Eastern Europe: if blood is shed, as in Kosova, you will be noticed; if you have an independent government, as in Montenegro, you can enhance your international profile; but if you are a peaceful region where autonomy continues to be denied, few will listen. Without international pressure on Belgrade, Vojvodina's choices will narrow further. The restoration of Vojvodina's rights could thwart another crisis in the Balkans.

Ilona Teleki is research associate of the East European Studies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Washington, D.C.

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