CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION ON COURSE
The government is destroying its stockpiles of chemical weapons according to plan, said Major Colonel Nikolai Bezborodov, a member of the State Commission for Chemical Disarmament and deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 July. Bezborodov emphasized that the state is exerting every effort to build new complexes for the destruction of these weapons and noted that the first such facility, at the town of Gornyi near Saratov, is expected to be operational on 12 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). At the same Moscow press conference, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District and head of the disarmament commission Sergei Kirienko said that Russia must destroy 400 tons, or 1 percent of total stockpiles, by 29 April 2003, RosBalt reported. Kirienko said that, at present, 2.9 percent of all of Russia's chemical-weapons stockpiles are located at Gornyi. LG/RC
OFFICIAL CALLS FOR NEW IRAQ TALKS
Speaking in Baghdad following talks with Iraqi officials on 25 July, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov reiterated Moscow's firm opposition to military action against Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. Saltanov called for renewed political consultations based on the results of recent talks in Vienna between Iraqi representatives and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Saltanov said any military action would be extremely dangerous for the overall situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. RC
IT'S OFFICIAL: A TORPEDO SANK THE 'KURSK'
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 26 July, confirmed officially that leaking torpedo fuel caused the catastrophic sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine on 12 August 2000, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "The disaster occurred...because of a blank torpedo explosion inside the fourth torpedo tube, which in turn triggered explosions in torpedo charge chambers in the submarine's bow section," Ustinov said on ORT television. All 118 men on board the submarine were killed in the disaster. RC
MEDIA-MOST EXECUTIVE INDICTMENT READ...
The indictment for embezzlement, money laundering, and using false documents against former Media-MOST Chief Financial Officer Anton Titov was read in a Moscow municipal court on 26 July, gazeta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the indictment charges that Titov deceived Media-MOST's creditor Gazprom concerning the company's assets and liquidity. Prosecutors allege that part of the 5.1 billion rubles that Gazprom lent Media-MOST in 1998-99 ($244 million at that time) ended up in the personal accounts of Media-MOST managers. Specifically, the indictment reads that former General Director Dzhavanfar Zamani received $300,000, as did former company Vice President Andrei Tsimailo, who died in London on 24 July. It further alleges that Media-MOST's former first deputy chairman of the board of directors, Igor Malashenko, received $280,000. Titov has been held in prison since his arrest on 16 January 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). RC
...AS COURT RULES AGAINST 'LIMONKA'
A Moscow municipal court on 26 July ruled in favor of a Media Ministry petition to close the nationalist newspaper "Limonka," the organ of the National Bolshevik Party, Interfax reported. The court agreed with the ministry that a number of the newspaper's publications inflamed nationalist intolerance and called for the violent overthrow of the Russian state. The newspaper's founders, Sergei Aksenov and writer Eduard Limonov, are currently on trial in Saratov on charges of terrorism and creating an illegal armed formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2002). RC
NO SUCH THING AS A FREE SHOT
The Supreme Court on 25 July ruled that doctors have the right to charge patients for services, even if those services are included in the state's program of guaranteed free medical assistance, lenta.ru and other Russian news agencies reported the next day. The decision came in response to a case filed by the League to Defend Patients' Rights. League leaders claim that the ruling means that doctors will now be able to receive payment for some services twice -- once from the patient and again from the state medical insurance fund. "The system of financial relations between doctors and patients must be transparent and based on federal laws," said league President Aleksandr Saverskii. "Now there is no clarity. People don't understand what they must pay for and what is free. They don't know why a shot is free in one hospital, while in another they must pay." Health Ministry officials said that they are preparing a complete list of medical services and the corresponding fees, but that this work may take several years to complete. The league intends to appeal the Supreme Court ruling to the Constitutional Court. RC
YET ANOTHER OFFICIAL BILLIONAIRE
Oil giant LUKoil revealed its shareholder structure on 26 July in a move to increase corporate openness, gazeta.ru reported. The company declared its total market capitalization to be $12.2 billion and that 10.38 percent of its shares are held by company President Vagit Alekperov, putting his net worth at $1.2 billion. Company Vice President Leonid Fedun was reported to control 5.26 percent of the company. LUKoil also revealed that Alekperov's annual salary is $1.5 million and that his annual bonus if the company meets its performance targets is $2.25 million. In March, "Forbes" magazine's annual list of the world's richest people placed Alekperov 327th with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). RC
A MONUMENT FOR THE TSAR-LIBERATOR
The first meeting of a working group to develop a monument in Moscow to Tsar Aleksandr II met on 25 July under the leadership of Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Last week, Luzhkov signed an order authorizing the erection of the monument near the Kremlin wall and creating the working group. The idea to erect the monument was first put forward by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in February 2001, and SPS leader Boris Nemtsov has lobbied the idea repeatedly. According to the daily, the monument will cost $1 million, which is being donated by the Montes Auri investment company headed by former Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh. Aleksandr II ruled Russia from 1855-81 and, on 19 February 1861, he signed the decree that ended Russian serfdom. RC
GETTING READY TO GO PRIVATE
The privatization of 450 state-owned companies and sale of government stakes in 600 other enterprises will generate 50 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) in 2003, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 July, citing a draft report by the Property Ministry. Eighty percent of that revenue is expected to come from the privatization of major enterprises alone. "Companies that have a strong potential for competition must be privatized," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on RTR television. The ministry will focus on the privatization of oil, gas, telecommunications, and transportation companies, as well as merging other state-owned corporations that are not on the privatization list. The sale of a 19.68 percent stake in the oil-and-gas company Slavneft is among the most anticipated sell-offs. There are 9,810 enterprises owned by the state and 4,354 others in which the government has a stake. The privatization draft report is expected to be finalized within two weeks. LG
ATHLETES OF RUSSIA, UNITE!
A new nonpolitical public organization called Sporting Russia and headed by the chairman of the State Sports Committee, Vyacheslav Fetisov, held its founding congress in Moscow on 26 July, Russian news agencies reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the group intends to advocate healthy lifestyles, the values of athletics, the development of sports, and the improvement of public health. "Our country has always been known not only for its lofty achievements in the arena of professional sports, but also for its long tradition of mass physical culture," said President Putin in a statement of greeting to the new organization. "It is gratifying that these remarkable traditions are being renewed." Meanwhile, Interfax reported that Prime Minister Kasyanov on 26 July signed an order establishing new state prizes for Russian athletes who perform exceptionally in international competitions. Under the new order, athletes who take the gold at the Olympics will receive $7,000. A silver will be worth $3,500 and a bronze will bring in $2,100. RC
UNIFIED RUSSIA LEADS COMMUNIST PARTY IN POLL...
The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party managed to overtake the Communists in a recent opinion poll, Interfax reported on 25 July. In a poll of 1,500 respondents taken by the Public Opinion Foundation on 20 July in urban and rural areas, 31 percent said they would vote for Unified Russia, compared with only 22 percent for the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia got 5 percent; Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko got 3 percent each; and the Agrarian Party got 2 percent. JAC
...AS CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY TO FIGHT BAN
The Russian Christian-Democratic Party (RKhDP) plans to file a complaint in a Moscow court against the law on political parties, which bans the creation of religious parties, following the Justice Ministry's recent refusal to register the party, polit.ru reported on 25 July. Ministry officials said that the law forbids them from registering any political party that is religious in nature. However, RKhDP leaders do not consider their party religious. RKhDP leader Aleksandr Chuev, who was formerly deputy chairman of the State Duma's Committee on Political and Religious Organizations, said the group will continue its legal battle all the way to the Constitutional Court. JAC
GROMOV SPEAKS OUT AGAINST MERGER WITH CITY
Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov told reporters on 24 July that he is categorically against appointing governors or reducing the number of subjects of the federation by combining them, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. He is particularly against the merging of Moscow Oblast with the city of Moscow. According to the daily, Gromov said, "There would be no such use -- [it would] only create more bureaucrats." Gromov also commented that three disputes with Moscow city authorities over Sheremetevo Airport and two other raions have been settled, AK&M agency reported on 24 July. JAC
ENVOY OPPOSES LIMITS ON MIGRANTS...
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 July, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said he does not support measures to tighten the flow of immigrants to Russia. Pulikovskii advised waiting until the results of the upcoming nationwide census are analyzed so that Russia can determine its future manpower needs. He also called for the involvement of Far Eastern regional leaders and legislators in drafting any bill on migration policy so that the interests of that region could be taken in account. JAC
...AS SHADOWY ANTI-IMMIGRANT GROUP CONTINUES TO CLAIM MEDIA ATTENTION
A man identified only as Mikhail told Ekho Moskvy radio on 25 July that he is a representative of the Movement Against Illegal Migration, which emerged after the recent anti-Armenian violence in the Moscow Oblast city of Krasnoarmeisk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). Mikhail told the station his group is pushing for the creation of voluntary citizens' patrols that would deal with the city's problem with illegal immigrants. Mikhail claimed that his group has reached an agreement with city authorities on establishing the patrols. However, Krasnoarmeisk Mayor Vitalii Pashintsev said that he knows nothing about the movement or its initiative, which he said would be rejected if it were ever sent to city authorities. JAC
NGO ASKS PROSECUTORS TO INVESTIGATE DEATH OF JOURNALIST IN BASHKORTOSTAN
Reporters Without Borders has asked Prosecutor-General Ustinov to assume personal control of the investigation of the death of Firat Valeev, the former editor in chief of "Vechernii Neftekamsk" in Bashkortostan, ntvru.com reported on 25 July. Valeev died in an automobile accident on 20 July when his car collided with a truck (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2002). An opposition journalist, Valeev had received several threats, and his colleagues believe that his death might not have been accidental. Reporters Without Borders wrote Ustinov that the organization's members fear that local authorities will not seriously investigate the circumstances of Valeev's death. BashInform reported earlier that Valeev had been driving at 140 kilometers per hour when the incident occurred. JAC
MAYOR PREFERS TO DRIVE IN STYLE
A criminal case has been launched against Kursk Mayor Sergei Maltsev, who is accused of using budgetary funds to purchase an Audi-A8 automobile, ntvru.com reported on 25 July, citing Interfax. The "damage" to the city's finances is estimated at 2.48 million rubles ($79,000). The oblast prosecutor's office alleges that Maltsev spent the money despite the city administration's outstanding debts worth 388 million rubles ($12.5 million). JAC
PUTIN IN BLACK AND WHITE -- OR GREEN
Two factories in Kostroma Oblast have started to produce portraits of President Putin in linen, "Novaya gazeta," No. 53, reported. In one version, Putin's official portrait is rendered in greenish tones and, in the other, a casual Putin with a jacket thrown over his shoulder is depicted in black and white. Both versions are affordable: Greenish Putin costs only 480 rubles ($15), while the other retails at 320 rubles. Nevertheless, workers at a local store report that while the linen Putins have generated a lot of interest -- several tourists have had their photos taken with the president in the background -- no one has yet bought one. JAC
FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY DISCUSSES ELECTION STRATEGY
Former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and dozens of senior members of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) congregated on 20 July in a small town west of Yerevan to discuss their strategy for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 July. Former deputy parliament speaker Ara Sahakian said that as one of the three political parties that exercised a major influence on Armenian politics in the 20th century, the HHSh should aspire to representation in the next parliament equal to the 10 percent currently enjoyed by the other two, which are the Communist Party of Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun. He said the HHSh will field a candidate in next year's presidential elections. It is still not clear, however, whether Ter-Petrossian will be that candidate (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 23, 1 July 2002). LF
ARMENIA, IMF REACH PRELIMINARY AGREEMENT ON RELEASE OF DELAYED LOAN TRANCHES
During talks in Yerevan earlier this month, the Armenian government and the IMF reached preliminary agreement on a new program and policy memorandum for the period July 2002-June 2003, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 July, citing a statement released by the IMF mission in Yerevan the same day. If approved by the IMF Executive Board, the program will enable Armenia finally to draw the second and third tranches, worth some $26 million, of a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan approved last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001 and 4 March 2002). LF
ARMENIAN AMBASSADOR SEEKS CLOSER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
Armen Smbatian, who presented his credentials as Armenia's ambassador to Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on 25 July, told ITAR-TASS that bilateral economic relations should be strengthened in line with the close political ties between the two countries. He characterized the "assets-for-debts" deal signed in Yerevan last week as "mutually advantageous" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2002). Putin for his part said at a meeting with Smbatian and other new ambassadors that Moscow regards Armenia as a "historic ally" with whom it should strengthen political dialogue and bilateral relations, Interfax reported. LF
KARABAKH PRESIDENT SAYS ARMENIA COULD FORMALLY RECOGNIZE ENCLAVE IF DEADLOCK CONTINUES...
In a telephone phone-in, the transcript of which was published in the independent Armenian newspaper "Golos Armenii" on 25 July, Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), was asked under what conditions Armenia might formally recognize the NKR as an independent state. Ghukasian explained that to date, Yerevan has refrained from doing so in order not to jeopardize a negotiated settlement of the Karabakh conflict. But he added that "it is clear things cannot continue indefinitely like this," and that the Karabakh leadership might appeal to Armenia for formal recognition "if Azerbaijan does not abandon its destructive position." LF
...DOES NOT RULE OUT PARDON FOR JAILED FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER
Asked whether clemency may be shown to former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who was jailed last year on charges of involvement in the March 2000 assassination attempt against Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001), Ghukasian said that an amnesty is the prerogative of parliament, but that he would be prepared to pardon Babayan if the latter "repented," "Golos Armenii" reported. Armenian veterans of the Karabakh war have repeatedly appealed to the Armenian and Karabakh leaderships to pardon Babayan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001 and 25 March and 9 April 2002). LF
IRAN'S INTELLIGENCE MINISTER NOTES END OF 'COLD WAR' WITH AZERBAIJAN
On a three-day visit to Baku on 23-25 July, Ali Younesi met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, National Security Minister Namig Abbasov, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, and Justice Minister Fikret Mamedov, Turan reported. Younesi and Abbasov, who visited Tehran last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 September 2001), signed a further cooperation agreement on the joint struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. At a 25 July meeting with President Aliev, Younesi said that the two countries have ended the "Cold War period" in bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will visit Baku "soon," but did not specify a precise date. LF
AZERBAIJANI EDITORS DEMAND SUSPENSION OF 'SEPARATIST' PUBLICATION...
Meeting in Baku on 25 July, the Union of Editors, which represents the country's leading media outlets, called for the suspension of publication of the weekly publication "Akhsham," which is distributed gratis in the southern regions of Azerbaijan, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The editors claimed the paper undermines Azerbaijan's territorial integrity by publishing expressions of support for Alikram Gumbatov, who in 1993 proclaimed an independent Talysh-Mughan Republic in the south of Azerbaijan bordering on Iran. At his ongoing retrial, Gumbatov declared that that republic still exists de jure and that he is its president. LF
...AS OPPOSITION JOURNALIST CHARGED WITH RESISTING POLICE
The Union of Editors also discussed on 25 July the case of Safar Hummatov, a journalist with the opposition publication "Yeni Musavat," who was charged with resisting and injuring police earlier this month after questioning why he should pay an admission fee to a Baku used-car lot, Turan reported. Hummatov faces a possible prison term of between three and seven years. LF
NEW AZERBAIJANI COALITION TO CAMPAIGN FOR FREE ELECTIONS
Some 150 NGOs from 10 regions of Azerbaijan aligned in Baku on 25 July to form a new organization named "Free Elections, Free Will," Turan reported. Representatives of the 150 organizations signed a statement calling for the postponement of the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments. Also on 25 July, it was announced that the Azerbaijani parliament will meet on 29 July in an emergency session to discuss the opposition's demands for a postponement of the referendum, Turan reported. LF
DIVISIONS EMERGE WITHIN ABKHAZ LEADERSHIP IN EXILE...
Disagreements have surfaced within the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz leadership in exile over whether a new offensive by Georgian guerrilla formations is the most effective way of resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Tamaz Nadareishvili, who heads the parliament in exile, supports calls for a new war in the event that the UN Security Council refuses to launch a "peace enforcement" offensive in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 July 2002). But on 25 July, unnamed members of the government in exile signed a statement saying the use of violence in any form to resolve the conflict is unacceptable, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 25 July, Malkhaz Kakabadze, who is Georgian minister for special assignments, dismissed as "unrealistic" the demand by Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia that the UN Security Council launch a "peace enforcement" mission in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. He also condemned the possibility of a new guerrilla offensive. LF
...AS UN MISSION HEAD MEETS WITH ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTER...
Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, met in Sukhum on 25 July with Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba to discuss the draft resolution on Abkhazia that the UN Security Council is to adopt on 31 July, Caucasus Press reported. Tagliavini said that resolution calls for continued dialogue on ways to resolve the conflict peacefully, according to Caucasus Press. She also stressed that it is not part of her mandate to promote the UN "peace-enforcement" operation that Nadareishvili and the Georgian displaced persons are demanding. LF
...AND RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS ANTICIPATE NEW GUERRILLA ATTACK
The Georgian authorities have rejected a request by the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone to patrol Tsalendjikha Raion, which lies within the security zone, Caucasus Press reported on 25 July. The peacekeepers claim that Georgian guerrillas in Tsalendjikha are preparing new terrorist attacks on Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. LF
TSALKA RESIDENTS OPPOSE DEPLOYMENT OF GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS
Greek, Armenian, and Azerbaijani residents of Georgia's southern Tsalka Raion, where Georgians account for only approximately 10 percent of the population, have expressed their opposition to the planned deployment beginning next year of Interior Ministry troops in the district, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). They say that the troops' presence may provoke, rather than prevent, a destabilization of the situation there. Caucasus Press on 26 July quoted "Rezonansi" as reporting that the Tsalka population is likewise resolutely opposed to the routing via Tsalka of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, despite recent efforts from representatives of British Petroleum to convince them that the region will benefit from those projects. LF
GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL'S DAUGHTER ABDUCTED
The teenage daughter of Georgian Interior Ministry Colonel Tamaz Goginashvili was abducted from a resort area near Tbilisi on 25 July, Caucasus Press reported. In a telephone call to Goginashvili the kidnappers demanded a "large" ransom to release his daughter. LF
SWINDLERS IN KAZAKHSTAN POSE AS PREMIER'S RELATIVES
Police in Kazakhstan have arrested four people who solicited bribes from commercial companies, claiming that they were in a position to lobby the government on those companies' behalf by virtue of their family ties to Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov, Reuters reported on 25 July. A spokesman for Tasmagambetov told a press conference in Astana on 25 July that no members of the prime minister's family have ever offered such services. LF
RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADERS
The Russian movement For Human Rights (ZPCh) has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to express support for two leading members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), Interfax reported on 25 July. The two men are former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov, who was sentenced in Astana on 18 July to six years' imprisonment of charges of abuse of office and financial mismanagement, and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, whose trial on similar charges is continuing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 July 2002). Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 25 July, human rights activist Lev Ponomarev said "it is obvious" that the trials of both men were politically motivated. He said Russia has no right to ignore human rights violations in a neighboring country. ZPCh called on Western states to consider imposing sanctions on Kazakhstan. LF
REGISTERED UNEMPLOYMENT ON RISE IN KYRGYZSTAN
The number of registered unemployed in Kyrgyzstan as of 1 July was 88,200, or 5.2 percent more than one year earlier, according to akipress.org on 25 July. In February 2002, the National Statistics Office reported that unemployment had risen by 5.3 percent in 2001 compared with the previous year, and that over half those unemployed are women. Some 500,000 Kyrgyz citizens are said to be currently working abroad, most of them in Russia. LF
TAJIKISTAN DENIES BORDER GUARD STRENGTH TO BE TREBLED
Tajik Border Protection Committee Chairman Abdurakhmon Azimov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 26 July that there is no truth to a 25 July Interfax report quoting him as saying that the border-guard staff will be increased from 10,000 to 30,000 over the next two years. He said there is no need to increase the border guards' strength, nor can the country afford to do so at present, although it may in the distant future. Interfax also quoted Azimov as saying that the professional level of his men has improved considerably. That improvement is presumably the result of the sweeping purge of the committee's personnel launched by President Imomali Rakhmonov in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 January and 26 February 2002). LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT HEARS REPORTS ON HARVEST...
A number of government officials on 25 July reported to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the progress of harvesting in the country during a nationally televised conference, Belarusian television and Belapan reported. Last week Lukashenka declared a "state of national emergency" in connection with a "bumper grain crop" in Belarus and demanded that the entire agriculture sector work round-the-clock. Lukashenka said at the conference that he will go on an inspection tour of the country on 26 July to study in detail the progress of the harvesting campaign and to find out how his directives are being fulfilled. He also pointed out that "to ensure the security and independence of our state," Belarusian farmers should harvest 7 million tons of grain in 2003. This year's target is 6 million tons. JM
...URGES FUEL DONATIONS FOR HARVESTING CAMPAIGN...
Lukashenka also said the companies that supply oil to Belarus should donate some 20,000 tons of fuel for the ongoing harvest campaign," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "List them [oil-supplying companies] all and pass me this list [specifying] who donates what to the Belarusian people for harvesting grain," Lukashenka ordered Prime Minister Henadz Navitski. "They are operating on our market and it is not nice [on their part] not to participate in gathering crops. I think we can find 20,000 tons [of fuel]," the Belarusian president added. JM
...AND ORDERS MINISTER TO BRING OPPOSITION PRESS 'TO ITS SENSES'
Lukashenka ordered Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny to bring the opposition press which, he said, constantly mocks the harvesting campaign, "back to its senses," Belapan reported. "If you fail, we will do this together, no one is allowed to scoff at the people who feed these scoundrels [opposition journalists]," Lukashenka told Padhayny during the televised conference on harvesting. Lukashenka stressed that "people who fight for the harvest from morning till night today, supplying us with bread" should make newspaper headlines and urged the media to provide "broad and objective coverage" of the harvesting campaign. JM
LAWYER FACES CHARGES OF SLANDERING BELARUS'S PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Prosecutors on 25 July rejected a motion by lawyer Ihar Aksyonchyk to discontinue a criminal case against him on charges of slandering Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Belapan reported. Aksyonchyk represented the family of missing ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski in a trial of elite police officers charged with kidnapping him. Aksyonchyk said during the trial that top Belarusian officials, including Sheyman, a former national security chief who was later named prosecutor-general, might have been involved in Zavadski's disappearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Aksyonchyk maintains he is innocent and insists that Sheyman should be questioned in Zavadski's case. A court sentenced two suspected kidnappers of Zavadski to life imprisonment but failed to clarify what happened to Zavadski after he was kidnapped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION REPORTEDLY AGREES ON PROTEST ACTION TO DEMAND EARLY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Socialist Party lawmaker Yosyp Vinskyy told UNIAN on 25 July that the opposition has agreed to hold a nationwide protest action on 16 September to demand early presidential elections. According to Vinskyy, the protest will involve activists of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine. The action was scheduled to coincide with the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. JM
UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT REOPENS CASES OF SLAIN JOURNALIST
The Supreme Court on 25 July upheld the acquittal of Yuriy Veredyuk -- who was accused of killing television journalist Ihor Aleksandrov in Slavyansk (eastern Ukraine) in July 2001 -- and called for a new investigation into the slaying. AP reported. Veredyuk was convicted last year for beating Aleksandrov to death but an appeals court overturned the conviction in May after the judge said the evidence presented was groundless. Veredyuk died from heart failure last week. His death is seen as a major setback for Alexandrov's family and for the Institute for Mass Information, which in Ukraine represents the international human rights group Reporters Without Borders. They believe Veredyuk was bribed to take responsibility for the killing and hoped that he would provide evidence incriminating someone else. JM
U.S. CONGRESSMAN PROPOSES ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE FOR UKRAINE
U.S. Congressman Bob Schaffer (Rep., Colorado), co-chairman of the House of Representatives Ukrainian Caucus, has sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill urging him to implement in Ukraine a pilot program of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which was announced by U.S. President George W. Bush in March, Schaffer's website (http://wwwa.house.gov) reported on 25 July. In his letter Schaffer called Ukraine a "premier candidate" for the president's MCA program. "Ukraine's potential for wealth creation is underdeveloped, but it will respond very positively to significant western interest and investment," Schaffer wrote. "Ukraine's agricultural sector, having once supplied one-quarter of the entire Soviet Union's demand, is now floundering and is in desperate need of western financial and technical investment," the congressman added. JM
BORDER AREAS OF ESTONIA, RUSSIA TO KEEP COST-FREE VISAS
Representatives of the Estonian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Tallinn agreed that residents of the two countries' border areas will continue to be able to apply for cost-free visas next year, BNS reported on 25 July. The Russian-language daily "Molodezh Estonii" wrote that over the past few years Estonia and Russia have regularly exchanged lists of border-area residents who received cost-free visas for entrance into the neighboring country. Reporting that nearly 1,300 residents of Russia's Pskov Oblast use cost-free visas at the present time, the paper commented that "this is the only case in modern Europe where so many border-area residents use free visas." The practice will end on 1 January 2004 in accordance with Estonia's agreement with the EU to begin issuing visas in line with the Schengen agreements. SG
LATVIA CHOOSES LOCATION FOR NEXT YEAR'S EUROVISION CONTEST
Eurovision Song Contest Executive Producer Arvids Babris told a press conference on 25 July that next year's contest will be held on 24 May 2003 at the Skonto Olympic Center in Riga, LETA and BNS reported. Latvian Television's "Eurovision" steering committee voted unanimously in favor of Skonto over the Kipsala Exhibition Center, although Kipsala will be offered to host other Eurovision-related events for the duration of the contest. The European Broadcasting Union also approved the selection of the Skonto Center. Babris also announced that Ugis Brikmanis, who was in charge of Riga's 800th anniversary celebrations last year, was chosen to be the director of the Eurovision Song Contest Riga 2003. SG
LITHUANIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO BREAK ICE ON KALININGRAD VISAS
Chairmen of the Lithuanian-Russian governmental cooperation commission, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Russian Transport Minister Sergei Frank, did not make any progress in resolving the issuance of visas for Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast residents in a meeting in Palanga on 25 July, BNS reported the next day. Valionis said Lithuania cannot revise its EU obligations and will require visas for Kaliningrad residents beginning in mid-2003, but is "ready to be very flexible" and "introduce inexpensive and long-term visas, and develop infrastructure to ensure as few difficulties as possible." He also urged Russia to hold negotiations with the European Union, noting that Lithuania will comply with any decisions reached. Frank maintained Russia's total opposition to any visas as they would isolate the Kaliningrad exclave from the rest of Russia and could result in mass violations of human rights in the process of issuing visas. Frank also visited the port of Klaipeda and held talks with Transport and Communications Minister Zigmantas Balcytis. SG
LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER DOWNPLAYS TALK OF CRACKS IN RULING COALITION
Algirdas Brazauskas denied on 25 July that the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals is suffering from infighting and accused "saboteurs" of trying to fracture the coalition, ELTA reported on 26 July, citing "Lietuvos rytas." "The coalition is strong and based on parity. Those who try to split us artificially are really committing a bad deed," BNS reported Brazauskas as saying. Brazauskas's comments followed reports by a presidential representative earlier this week that President Valdas Adamkus has expressed doubts regarding the capabilities of current Social Liberal leadership. While many regarded this statement as the opening remark of Adamkus's election campaign, Adamkus denies allegations that he is trying to break up the coalition. Meanwhile, Brazauskas anticipates a meeting between partners of the ruling majority to gather and debate social and political issues following the government recess. LG
POLISH POLICE CONFIRM INVESTIGATION INTO 'OIL MAFIA'
Police spokesman Zbigniew Matwiej on 25 July confirmed that the Central Investigation Bureau is probing the "oil mafia" whose existence was revealed by "Rzeczpospolita" the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002), Polish Radio reported. Matwiej said the cases under investigation are "very difficult and complicated and need an in-depth analysis," but refused to provide details. Poland's chief fiscal inspector, Wieslaw Ciesielski, said that state losses resulting from the operation of the "oil mafia" amount to 1 billion zlotys ($250 million). "Rzeczpospolita" estimated these losses at 10 billion zlotys. JM
POLL SAYS 69 PERCENT OF POLES DISPLEASED WITH GOVERNMENT
The poll conducted by the OBOP polling center from 6-8 July on a random group of 1,013 Poles over 15 years found that 69 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the performance of Leszek Miller's cabinet, PAP reported on 25 July. Twenty-one percent said they were "rather pleased" with the government, and none chose the "decidedly pleased" option. JM
LAWYER SAYS FORMER CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL IS INNOCENT...
Miroslav Krizenescky, the lawyer representing the chief suspect in the conspiracy to murder journalist Sabina Slonkova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23,24, 25 July 2002), told CTK on 25 July that Karel Srba is innocent and that he has appealed the former Foreign Ministry official's detention. Krizenescky said the investigator's case rests solely on the testimony of Eva Tomsovicova, reportedly Srba's girlfriend and co-conspirator, who, the lawyer hinted, was not satisfied with their relationship. Two others, entrepreneur Michal Novotny and his partner Petr Volf, are also detained under the suspicion of being part of the conspiracy. MS
...BUT GIRLFRIEND SAYS TWO OTHERS WERE TARGETED FOR MURDER
The daily "Lidove noviny," cited by CTK, reported on 25 July that Tomsovicova told police that Srba also ordered the assassination of Vaclav Hruby, the former director of the Stirin estate, and of another man "whose name I am unable to give now." The Stirin resort is used as a conference center and Hruby's dismissal in 1999 followed his admittance that he falsely testified that former Foreign Minister Jozef Zieleniec had bribed journalists. Hruby later claimed Srba had forced him to do so, and subsequently lost a lawsuit against Srba, who denied the allegation. Tomosovicova's testimony is backed by Karel Rziepel, who informed police of the conspiracy to murder Slonkova, and who claims Srba offered him three "contract murders," according to the daily. MS
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ORDERS INVESTIGATION OF VZS LINKS WITH SRBA...
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 25 July set up a special investigative team to check into possible links between Srba and the Czech Republic's Military Intelligence Service (VZS), CTK reported, citing ministry spokesman Milan Repka. Tvrdik told Czech Television the same day that "for now I have no information" that the VZS could have been in any way involved in the conspiracy to murder "Mlada fronta Dnes" journalist Slonkova, but added that he wants to prevent speculation. Slonkova was behind a report published in the daily in June that alleged that Srba and Stanislav Brei, the manager of the Cesky Dum in Moscow, were secret collaborators with the VZS and had attempted to influence police to shelve their investigation into the lease for Cesky Dum that led to Srba's resignation from the ministry in March 2001. Both Brei and Srba, as well as VZS head Andor Sandor, have denied the allegation. MS
...AND ANNOUNCES VZS HEAD'S DEPARTURE FROM MINISTRY
Tvrdik announced on 25 July that Sandor's contract with the Defense Ministry will not be renewed when it expires at the end of this month, CTK reported. The news agency quoted Sandor as telling Czech Television that "I have a different opinion on the future of [the] intelligence services than the current head." Tvrdik said he will submit a proposal to Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on who should succeed Sandor at the next meeting of the government committee on intelligence activity. MS
FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK COMMUNIST PREMIER AGAIN CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES
A court of appeals in Prague on 25 July upheld a lower court's February acquittal of former Czechoslovak Prime Minister Lubomir Strougal on charges that he blocked an investigation in 1965 into the torture and killing of three men in 1948, CTK and international agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). MS
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER, VATICAN NUNCIO SIGN TREATY
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and Papal Nuncio Josef Erwin Ender signed a treaty in Prague on 25 July on relations between the Czech Republic and the Roman Catholic Church, CTK reported. The treaty is yet to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies and had been subjected to criticism for allegedly granting a privileged position to the Catholic Church. The issue of property restitution is not settled in the treaty, but Svoboda said the government intends to solve it within its four-year term. MS
VERHEUGEN SAYS BENES DECREES DISPUTE WILL NOT INFLUENCE CZECH EU ACCESSION...
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Brussels on 25 July that "experts" representing the Czech Republic and the EU have "identified the issues that need to be examined" in connection with the Benes Decrees' possible impact on current Czech legislation and added: "I am very confident that the Czech postwar order will not create obstacles for the accession of the Czech Republic." Verheugen also said the coalition agreement signed by the parties that set up the new Czech government "allows sufficient flexibility to solve problems with neighbors." MS
...AND SLOVAK ELECTIONS WILL NOT OBSTRUCT EU EXPANSION
Verheugen also said he is confident the outcome of the September Slovak elections will not obstruct the process of EU expansion, CTK reported on 25 July. He said he believes President Rudolf Schuster will ensure that a stable leadership emerges after the ballot, "because a long period of [political] uncertainty during the final phase of the [expansion] process would, of course, be harmful." Verheugen did not address the likelihood of an election victory by Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, but said he believes a "parliamentary majority" backing NATO and EU accession will be in place. MS
SLOVAK CENTRAL ELECTION COMMITTEE CLEARS 26 PARTIES TO RUN IN ELECTIONS
The Central Election Committee announced on 25 July that it has cleared 26 political formations to run in the 20-21 September parliamentary elections, CTK and AP reported. Twenty-nine parties had originally applied for running but two of them -- the Slovak People's Party and the Tradespeople Party of Slovakia -- withdrew their lists and one, Active Women OS of Slovakia, was found by the committee to be ineligible to participate in the ballot. MS
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER EXPOUNDS ON PAST
Peter Medgyessy told the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" that there were neither political nor moral reasons to prevent him from taking the post of prime minister, a view he said has since been expressed to him by foreign statesmen, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 26 July. Referring to his past work in counterintelligence, Medgyessy said he did it for his homeland and not for the former regime, and denied that he ever worked as an informer. He added that since the April parliamentary elections, the Socialists' and his own popularity have risen. Speaking about social problems, Medgyessy said he is less disturbed by political division in society than by social differences, saying that unless the question of progress for Roma is solved, "Hungary will face a disaster in 50 or 100 years." MSZ
HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES EU
Laszlo Kovacs said in an interview to "The Washington Post" on 25 July that he hopes Hungary will join the European Union by 1 January 2004 and take part in the subsequent European parliamentary elections. Kovacs said some 80 percent of Hungarians support EU accession, one of the highest rates of support for EU membership among candidate countries. He added that Hungary supports Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO, saying the country can contribute to stability in Europe. In his interview, Kovacs admitted that manifestations of anti-Semitism occur in Hungary at times. Whether such instances continue, he added, will depend on the government's plans to adopt measures this fall that will expressly punish discrimination. MSZ
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER EXPLAINS ELECTION DEFEAT
Speaking in Balvanyos, Romania, FIDESZ National Council Chairman Laszlo Kover said on 25 July that one of the main reasons for his party's election defeat in April was that it was unable to appropriately communicate its policy of ensuring Hungary's "physical and cultural survival" by halting the decline in its population, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Kover said the Socialists were successful in manipulating "sub-human instincts based on proletarian envy and nationalist wrath." The result, he continued, is that in Hungary "first-rate communists are in government, as compared with Romania, where second-rate communists govern the country." Kover expressed optimism about FIDESZ's chances at the next elections, saying the party has developed a community based on political convictions, while behind the Socialists "there is neither community nor any set of values, but only a mass of voters." MSZ
VERDICT SPARKS INFIGHTING ON HUNGARIAN TELEVISION BOARD
Gyorgy Ladvanszky, a Socialist member of the National Radio and Television Board (ORTT), on 25 July called on ORTT Chairwoman Judit Kormendy-Ekes to quit her post after a court handed her a preliminary, three-month suspended prison sentence for her involvement as a lawyer in an illegal adoption case, Hungarian dailies reported. Kormendy-Ekes, who was delegated to the board by FIDESZ, said in a statement that she does not intend to resign until her term expires on 1 March 2004. She explained that the sentence the court handed her is not final, adding that Ladvanszky is merely inflaming political passion before a final sentence is passed. She accused Ladvanszky of seeking to take her position as ORTT chairperson. MSZ
SOLANA PRESSURES SERBS AND MONTENEGRINS...
Javier Solana, the European Union's security-policy chief, said in Belgrade on 25 July that he and Serbian and Montenegrin politicians "made progress" in talks aimed at reaching agreement on the provisions of the Constitutional Charter that will link the two republics in a loose confederation, the BBC's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). Solana noted that the two sides have cleared up some differences on economic issues but that political questions remained problematic, AP reported. He called for "commitment from everyone concerned to finish the work as soon as possible. The only thing they need is to get to work -- the sooner the better." Solana stressed that finishing the job is important if the country is to "have a future with the EU [at] its side." His projected deadline for an agreement has been extended from the end of July to the end of August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
...WHO SEE A DEAL IN THE WORKS
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Belgrade on 25 July that he thinks agreement is possible by mid-August, AP reported. He added that the delay is not "anything tragic" in view of the numerous differences between Belgrade and Podgorica. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that he hopes the final text will be ready for legislative ratification in September. But Yugoslav President Kostunica repeated his demand that the new joint government must have its own sources of financing and not be dependent on the two republican governments, a point that those two governments reject, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also called again for the joint legislature to be elected directly, which Podgorica opposes. PM
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ESCAPES CAR ACCIDENT
Miroslav Labus escaped uninjured from an accident en route to Ljig southwest of Belgrade on 26 July, AP reported. The accident occurred when another car slammed into the side of the one Labus was in. A police spokeswoman said foul play is not suspected. PM
HEALTH PROBLEMS BEDEVIL MILOSEVIC...
Doctors in The Hague have concluded that former President Slobodan Milosevic suffers from heart disease and "dangerously" high blood pressure, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 July. The war crimes tribunal agreed that he needs medical treatment and "less work in court." This medical recommendation is likely to slow Milosevic's trial for atrocities committed in Kosova in 1998 and 1999. He is also charged with genocide stemming from the Serbian aggression in Bosnia from 1992-95. The prosecution will begin presenting its evidence in that case on 30 September, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. It may call up to 177 witnesses and conclude its presentation on 16 May 2003, after which Milosevic will begin his defense. PM
...WHO STILL HAS FRIENDS IN RUSSIA
Nikolai Ryzhkov, who head's the State Duma's committee for "assisting Yugoslavia in overcoming the consequences of NATO aggression," said in Moscow that Milosevic's trial is "a form of torture, aimed at breaking the will of the leader of Yugoslavia's patriotic forces," Interfax reported on 25 July. PM
CHIEF SPOOK CONFIRMS MILOSEVIC'S ROLE IN INTELLIGENCE WORK
Rade Markovic, who was the head of the secret service under Milosevic from 1998-2000, told the tribunal that Milosevic played a direct role in the work of the intelligence services in the second half of the 1990s, the "Frankfurter Rundschau" reported on 26 July. The secret service briefed Milosevic daily on developments in Kosova, Markovic added. He noted that all Serbian military forces were under army command and that there were no self-directed paramilitaries in the Kosova conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 26 July. Sreten Lukic from the Interior Ministry coordinated military matters for the police and army, while Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic dealt with the political aspects. Milosevic began cross-examining Markovic after the prosecution finished. PM
STILL SOME 5,800 INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS IN MACEDONIA
According to information provided by the Skopje bureau of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on 24 July, there are still 5,762 internally displaced persons in Macedonia, MIA news agency reported. About 4,000 persons are accommodated with families, while the rest live in hotels or student dormitories. The ICRC did not provide information about the ethnic background of the displaced persons. During last year's crisis, some 120,000 persons left their homes to flee the areas where fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces took place. UB
WORLD BANK HELPS KOSOVA
The World Bank has granted a $15 million interest-free loan to Kosova to help promote reform by relieving pressure on local authorities' budgets, Hina reported from Washington on 25 July. The bank has invested $65 million in Kosova in 12 projects to date. PM
UN POLICE INVESTIGATING BOSNIAN KIDNAPPING INCIDENT
The UN police (IPTF) is investigating a recent incident in Kiseljak in which six women were kidnapped from a "night club" by a group of about 15 armed men believed to be involved in human trafficking, Hina reported on 26 July. Five of the women -- who are from Moldova, Romania, or Ukraine -- have since been found but the sixth is still missing. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard called "unacceptable" the treatment of the five women at a local hospital where they were taken for medical care but "treated without dignity or respect," Reuters reported. The five had been beaten, tortured, and raped by the kidnappers. In Britain, a former UN policewoman testified recently that she lost her job and was blacklisted for other employment after she accused her colleagues of turning a blind eye to the sex trade or being involved in it themselves. PM
ARE CROATIA AND BOSNIA RESOLVING BORDER-CROSSING DISPUTE?
The Croatian Foreign Ministry on 25 July welcomed a statement by its Bosnian counterpart aimed at setting up a temporary joint border-crossing station at Kostajnica, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). Croatian officials will begin work on the project on 29 July. PM
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN WASHINGTON
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met in Washington on 25 July with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and several members of the U.S. Congress, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told journalists that Armitage and Geoana discussed a number of issues related to Romania's quest to join NATO, as well as the recent deployment in Afghanistan of a mechanized Romanian infantry battalion. Boucher said Armitage expressed appreciation for Romania's willingness to negotiate a bilateral treaty with the United States that would exempt U.S. peacekeepers from prosecution under the recent International Criminal Court provisions, which came into force on 1 July. Armitage urged Romania to continue pressing ahead with reforms and anticorruption measures. Romanian radio quoted Geoana as saying after the meeting that "we are closer than ever to [NATO] integration." Geoana will return to Washington for a continuation of the talks "in the next few days," according to the radio station. MS
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES SOCIAL PROGRAM, AMENDS BUDGET
The government on 25 July approved a social program for the period 2002-03 to support the most impoverished strata of the population, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The cabinet also amended the 2002 budget by relocating funds to underfunded state sectors, including the military industries. On 26 July, Romanian radio said the cabinet has also approved a draft law under which agricultural specialists, military personnel, and priests who live in the countryside will be eligible to purchase or lease land. MS
ROMANIAN DICTATOR'S SON LOSES APPEAL AGAINST PROPERTY CONFISCATION
The Bucharest Tribunal on 25 July ruled against Valentin Ceausescu, the son of executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in a lawsuit against the Romanian Art Museum, Mediafax reported. Valentin Ceausescu had demanded that property confiscated from him during the 1989 uprising and transferred to the museum be restituted. Valentin Ceausescu announced that he is appealing the decision to the Bucharest Courts of Appeals, which will examine the case on 30 September. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS TRANSDNIESTER TALKS NEED NEW FORMAT
President Vladimir Voronin said in a press release issued on 25 July that the negotiations with Tiraspol on settling the Transdniester conflict need "a new mechanism" because the current one "no longer reflects the needs of the times." According to the press release cited by Flux, Voronin said occasional meetings between the negotiating sides produce no results and that what is needed is "a new, dynamic form of an active and permanent dialogue." Voronin called the outcome of the Kyiv meeting earlier this month "a real breakthrough on the road to reestablishing the effective unity of the Moldovan Republic," but refrained from mentioning his position regarding the OSCE's proposal on Moldova's federalization presented in Kyiv. MS
MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS ACQUIESCE ON TELERADIO MOLDOVA
The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on 25 July decided to accept the expertise of the Council of Europe and withdrew President Voronin's draft law on reorganizing Teleradio Moldova as a public company, Flux reported. Instead, the PCM will support in parliament a draft law chiefly based on the proposals of the Electronic Press Association. The change is in line with the recommendations of European Council expert Karol Jakubowicz, who said Voronin's draft left the door open to political influence on editorial policies at Teleradio Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). The Popular Party Christian Democratic and the Braghis Alliance praised the PCM's change of position. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION SAYS MIG PLANES WERE ILLEGALLY SOLD
A parliamentary investigative commission reported to the parliament on 25 July that Russian-made MiG-29 fighters were illegally sold by Moldova in 1992, Infotag reported. Among those possibly involved in the deal, the commission mentions former President Petru Lucinschi, former Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc, and former Defense Ministers Pavel Creanga and Valeriu Pasat. The commission said 21 MiGs were sold to the United States for $40 million along with other military equipment, and that four MiGs were sold to Yemen for $46.7 million. It also said one MiG fighter was sold to Romania and that the documents on the deal indicate no price. Commission Chairman Yurii Stoikov said former military commanders admitted that the plane was delivered to cover debts owed to Romania for the country's assistance to Moldova during the 1992 armed clashes with the separatists from Transdniester. The estimated price of the plane was between $25 and $27 million. MS
TRADE UNION, BULGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY DEMAND CHANGES IN GOVERNMENT
Konstantin Trenchev, the chairman of the Podkrepa Labor Confederation, on 25 July demanded that the government reassess its policies and reshuffle its staff, mediapool.bg reported. Trenchev made the comments following his meeting the same day with Socialist Party Chairman Sergey Stanishev. Trenchev said that the two leaders agreed that the government's policies are "irresponsible" and will lead to "a serious social crisis" this fall. "It is our duty to warn that things may worsen [and develop into such a crisis] that even a broad coalition for the salvation of Bulgaria would not be able to save the country from the swamp," Trenchev said. UB
FORMER BULGARIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER CHARGED WITH ABUSE OF OFFICE AND MISMANAGEMENT
Deputy Prosecutor-General Hristo Manchev said on 25 July that former Agriculture Minister Ventsislav Varbanov has been officially charged with abuse of office and mismanagement, BTA reported. "There is enough data [to support that] serious crimes were committed by Varbanov in his capacity as agriculture minister and chairman of the State Agriculture Fund from 1 March 1998 to 27 July 2001 [to charge him]," Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev wrote in his request of 31 January that Varbanov be stripped of his parliamentary immunity, which parliament heeded on 21 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February and 25 March 2002, and "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). UB
BULGARIAN CUSTOMS OFFICERS GIVEN RIGHT TO PATROL HIGHWAYS
Parliament on 25 July adopted amendments to the Road Traffic Law allowing customs officers to stop automobiles to inspect freight-hauling documents and cargo throughout the country, "Standart" reported. In order to protect citizens against notorious highway robbers, who use fake police uniforms, the patrols units will be made up of two customs officers and one police officer. UB
FORMER KING MARKS FIRST YEAR AS BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER
On the occasion of the completion of his first year in office, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski -- the former king of Bulgaria -- delivered a nationally broadcast speech on 23 July in which he listed the goals and achievements of his coalition government of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).
While he admitted that unemployment remains high and that economic problems persist, the main focus of his speech was on the positive results of his government's work. In order to reduce unemployment, Saxecoburggotski's government shifted from social benefits for jobless toward a policy of training and retraining as well as support for the creation of new jobs, which, he said, led to a 4.8 percent drop of the unemployment rate.
As a further major positive result of his first year in office, Saxecoburggotski lauded the improved climate for foreign investment, which he attributed to the government's efforts to combat corruption. He also stressed the government's fiscal policy, which led to a decrease of the tax burden on citizens as well as to the reduction of Bulgaria's foreign debt. At the same time, the state's financial reserve grew considerably.
Saxecoburggotski expressed his confidence that investment in infrastructure projects such as the planned construction of a second Danube bridge between Vidin and Calafat and the upgrading of Sofia airport will give a new impetus to the economy.
Interestingly enough, he did not use the opportunity to reiterate the government's successes in the fields of foreign and security policy. Instead, at the end of his speech, he made only a brief mention of the armed services' positive role in Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession. It looks as if Saxecoburggotski followed the advice given by Ahmed Dogan, the chairman of the NDSV's junior coalition partner, the DPS. "If we talk about EU integration and NATO, one has to know that the voters have very little interest in the issue. For the administration it is important that the [people's] fridges are full and that there is security for the next day -- these are the basic indicators for what we have achieved," Dogan said on 22 July.
Even before Saxecoburggotski decided to go on air with his success story, newspaper editorials, political analysts, social scientists, as well as opposition politicians and trade unions were offering their own evaluations of the government's first year in office. Except for positive assessments of the government's foreign and security policy, their verdict was unanimously negative.
Unsurprisingly, most commentators focused in the first instance on the NDSV government's failure to deliver on its many election promises. The NDSV won the parliamentary elections on 17 June 2001 because Bulgarian voters had had enough of Ivan Kostov's conservative government, whose pro-NATO and pro-European politics were internationally recognized, but which also faced corruption charges. However, the citizens' confidence in the NDSV government is currently at a record low and has given way to mistrust.
Some observers say that it is a wonder that Saxecoburggotski is still in power. It seems to them that the everyday struggle for survival has consumed all the energy of the disappointed citizens and their will to change the government. Others, like Diana Ivanova of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service, believe that citizens are disappointed by the fact that Saxecoburggotski has become "just another prime minister," instead of the monarch for whom they cast their votes.
Not only voters, but also the major opposition parties have lost their will to oppose the government. But why?
As many domestic and foreign analysts observe, the government and the opposition have agreed on a truce so that Bulgaria's bid for NATO membership is not endangered by internal political strife. In the run-up to the Prague NATO summit in November that is to decide which candidate countries will be invited to join the Atlantic alliance, they want to avoid at any price creating the impression that Bulgaria is politically unstable or unreliable.
This truce, however, has paralyzed political life in Bulgaria to such an extent that analysts like Ognyan Minchev fear that the opposition parties, especially the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), will have a hard time recovering and in presenting realistic alternatives to the current administration.
As if they wanted to confirm Minchev's diagnosis, both SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova and her deputy Ekaterina Mihailova criticized Saxecoburggotski's speech only half-heartedly, speaking in general terms of bad times to come and a "government that represents lobby-group interests." Perhaps they cannot find other points to criticize, because the NDSV government continues the policy of the previous SDS government.
The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) was harsher in its criticism of Saxecoburggotski's address. BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev said he had expected the prime minister's speech to be more self-critical. And referring to Saxecoburggotski's claim that his government has succeeded in reducing unemployment, Stanishev quoted Mark Twain's famous observation: "There are three kind of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." That statement is, however, somewhat injudicious in view of the fact that two of Saxecoburggotski's ministers are BSP members.
The key questions remain whether political life will celebrate a renaissance after the NATO summit, and if it does, whether that renaissance will lead to a change in the government, as many analysts predict.