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Newsline - August 2, 2002


MARGELOV: RUSSIA MAY CONDUCT MILITARY ACTION IN PANKISI GORGE
Speaking to journalists in Pskov on 1 August, Mikhail Margelov, head of the Federation Council's Foreign Relations Committee, said that President Vladimir Putin might ask the council for approval to conduct a military operation against "terrorists" in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, ORT reported. Margelov added that such an operation could be carried out only after consultation with "Russia's partners in the international antiterrorism coalition and the United Nations Security Council." The commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, Colonel General Georgii Shpak, told ORT the same day that his units are ready for such operation "if they get the order." Kakha Imnadze, press secretary of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, told RIA-Novosti on 2 August that Margelov's statement "is, in fact, a call for war." Imnadze said he hopes Putin will not make such a request of the Federation Council and added that Georgia has proposed creating a joint commission for investigating the alleged violations of Georgia's airspace by Russian aircraft. VY

RUSSIA BEGINS CASPIAN MILITARY EXERCISES
Russian armed forces on 1 August began their biggest military exercises on the Caspian Sea since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian news agencies reported. The exercises involve more than 60 combat ships and 10,000 marines, as well as border-guard and railroad units and detachments of the Emergency Situations Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service (FSB). According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko, the purpose of the exercises is to enhance regional stability and security in the face of possible terrorist attacks. However, some independent observers believe that the exercises are intended to demonstrate Russia's presence and ambitions in the oil-rich region, the BBC's Russian Service commented on 2 August. President Putin authorized the drills in April following a summit at which the leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Azerbaijan failed to resolve problems related to dividing up the Caspian Sea resources. RTR reported on 2 August that Russian military strength in the region far exceeds that of the other four littoral states. VY

FACTORY DISPUTES AMBASSADOR'S CHARGES
Managers of the Urals Electronics Factory are considering filing a defamation suit against U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow for his claims that the plant produces pirate CDs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002), strana.ru reported on 2 August. According to local media in Yekaterinburg, the plant held a press conference on 1 August at which managers said Vershbow's charges are "completely unfounded" and that controls exist at the plant to prevent unauthorized CD production. A spokesman admitted that the plant does not have a current license to produce CDs, but said that its application has been submitted and it expects to receive the license this month. The plant produces about 10 percent of Russia's audio CDs and 80 percent of its multimedia discs. The U.S. Embassy issued a press release saying that Russia's inability to protect intellectual property threatens foreign investment and the development of the domestic entertainment industry. VY

PROPERTY MINISTRY OFFICIAL ARRESTED FOR FRAUD
The FSB on 1 August announced the arrest of Linar Zinatullin, a former senior official of the Property Relations Ministry, on charges of fraud, ntvru.com reported. Zinatullin allegedly caused the state damages in the amount of $3 million. According to the investigators, Zinatullin intentionally lowered the value of the state's shares in a luxury hotel in the fashionable resort of Sochi, and, as a result, the hotel allegedly came under the control of an organized-crime group. VY

RUSSIAN FIGURE SKATERS VOW TO SUE OVER U.S. TELEVISION COVERAGE...
Russian Olympic champions Anton Sikharulidze and Yelena Berezhnaya said on 2 August that they plan to sue some unspecified U.S. television networks for news reports they broadcast alleging that figure-skating competitions were fixed at the Salt Lake City Winter Games, Russian and international media reported. "I saw our pictures appearing on the screen while they were talking about some kind of Russian mafia," AP quoted Sikharulidze as saying on Russian television. The two pairs skaters were mentioned in media reports pertaining to the arrest in Italy on 31 July of Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, a Russian citizen who is accused of scheming with Russian and French skating officials to rig the pairs and ice-dance competitions in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). Sikharulidze and Berezhnaya narrowly won the pairs competition in a hotly disputed decision that led to a second gold medal to be awarded to Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. "It's time for the Canadian and U.S. people to calm down and be happy with the [duplicate] gold medals they were given as a gift," Sikharulidze said. MES

...AS ALLEGED MOBSTER, RUSSIAN SKATING OFFICIALS DENY ROLE IN OLYMPICS SCANDAL
According to AP, after meeting with his client at an Italian prison on 2 August, Tokhtakhunov's lawyer Luca Saldarelli said: "He's absolutely surprised. He doesn't know anything about the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. He's not even a fan of figure skating." On 1 August, Italian police released transcripts of wiretapped telephone conversations "in which the suspect indicates that six judges might have been involved," according to police Colonel Giovanni Mainolfi. ITAR-TASS reported on 2 August that the Italian police had been tracking Tokhtakhunov for allegedly transferring $50 million from the Bank of New York to offshore accounts from 1996-2001. Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) spokesman Gennadii Shvets told AP on 2 August that the charges against Tokhtakhunov are "absolutely stupid" and as "funny as a cartoon." On 2 August, French Skating Federation President Didier Gailhaguet denied having any "contact direct or indirect, either before, during, or after the Olympic Games with Mr. Tokhtakhunov, concerning the events in question," but did say he met with Tokhtakhunov in the spring of 2000 to discuss the Russian's proposal to sponsor a Paris hockey club. MES

PUTIN'S HIGH APPROVAL RATING HOLDS STEADY
According to the latest poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 73 percent of Russians approve of President Putin's performance, a figure that has held remarkably steady over the two years of his presidency, RosBalt reported on 2 August. Twenty percent said that they disapprove. Meanwhile, 43 percent approve of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, while 38 percent disapprove. Asked whom they trust most, 50 percent of respondents named Putin, while 18 percent named Emergency Situations Minister and Unity party head Sergei Shoigu. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov came in third with 14 percent support. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they trust no one. VTsIOM surveyed 1,600 people in 33 Russian regions. RC

PRESIDENT PULLS OUT HIS WALLET
President Putin signed an order releasing 100 million rubles ($3.2 million) from the Presidential Reserve Fund to provide assistance to disadvantaged children and to help restore historical landmarks, RosBalt reported on 2 August. According to the report, a home for orphans will be built under the auspices of the Education Ministry in the Krasnoyarsk Krai village of Divnogorsk, and a rehabilitation center for children will be opened in Novgorod Oblast. About 3 million rubles were set aside for reconstruction work at the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery in Central Russia, and funds were also earmarked for landmarks in Novgorod, Pskov, and Vladimir oblasts. RC

RUSSIA'S WOODEN HERITAGE IN DANGER
With an enormous number of wild fires burning out of control throughout Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002), "Vek," No. 25, published a long report on the important monuments of wooden architecture that are lost to fires each year. The paper reported that such buildings, often located in remote areas, burn extremely quickly and firefighters are rarely able to save anything once a blaze starts. Last month, an 18th-century wooden church in Nizhnii Novgorod was destroyed and officials suspect arson. Earlier this year, another 18th-century landmark on the national historical register burned to the ground in the Perm Oblast village of Kurashii. The paper claimed that up to 250 such monuments are destroyed by fire each year. RC

U.S. MULLS CAVIAR EMBARGO
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened on 1 August a 90-day comment period on a proposal to ban imports of beluga caviar, dpa reported. The proposal is a response to evidence that this species of sturgeon is endangered that was presented to the service by environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, SeaWeb, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The groups launched a campaign in December 2000 called Caviar Emptor seeking a halt in the international trade in beluga sturgeon products (http://www.caviaremptor.org). According to the agency, Russia is expected vigorously to oppose the proposed ban, despite the fact that the amount of caviar available for export to the United States from Russia is relatively small. JAC

ESPIONAGE CONVICTION, SENTENCE UPHELD
The Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and 14-year sentence handed down to businessman Viktor Kalyadin in October 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May and 10 July 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 1 August. Kalyadin was arrested in 1999 on charges of handing over classified information to U.S. agents and has already served more than 3 1/2 years in jail. During this time, he has suffered three heart attacks and undergone heart surgery. His lawyers said they will appeal the latest ruling to the presidium of the Supreme Court. VY

MAYOR, CITY DUMA SQUARE OFF IN AZOV
A court in the Rostov Oblast city of Azov will soon issue its verdict in an unprecedented lawsuit filed by Azov Mayor Yevgenii Lesnyak against the Azov City Duma, "Izvestiya" reported on 1 August. According to the report, the duma in March adopted a resolution expressing its dissatisfaction with the work of the city administration during 2001. Lesnyak vetoed the resolution, but the duma overrode his veto and Lesnyak filed suit, claiming that the poor report "harmed his honor and his business reputation," the daily quoted the head of Lesnyak's press service, Nikolai Novikov, as saying. "The mayor is challenging not only the content of the duma's resolution, but the right of the duma to evaluate the work of the executive branch as well." Deputies criticized the administration for energy shortages in the winter of 2000-01, for not cleaning city streets properly, and for not resolving public-transportation problems. "We have told the mayor many times not to appoint people to high posts just because they helped him get elected," said Deputy Nadezhda Negodaeva, according to the daily. The court is expected to issue its decision on 14 August. RC

DEPUTY: LEGAL REFORMS OFF TO GOOD START
Recent amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code have begun to show positive results, Duma Deputy and member of the Duma's Legislation Committee Yelena Mizulina (Union of Rightist Forces) said on 31 July, RosBalt reported. Mizulina said that although the changes come into effect gradually over the entire course of 2002, already "the number of people arrested in Moscow each day has decreased considerably and the number of requests for arrest warrants has fallen by 20 percent." Mizulina said, however, that the "most fearsome and biggest opposition to the president comes from law enforcement agencies." She added that her committee is also closely monitoring the impact of recent judicial reforms. RC

KOZAK LINES UP OLIGARCHS' SUPPORT...
Following Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii's expression of support for amendments to the law on mineral resources proposed by the commission headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002), another influential Russian businessman spoke out in favor of the legislation, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 August. Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman said on 1 August that the design of the bill is "absolutely healthy and effective." He added that the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, of which he is a member, will "undoubtedly support it." According to Fridman, the chief idea of the amendments is to transfer the basis of relations between the developers of deposits and the government from the current practice of the government giving out a license to one in which the two parties conclude a legal agreement. "It doesn't matter whether it's called a concession or a licensing agreement. What is important is that the government cannot tear it up unilaterally," he said. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT HOPES TO WIN BATTLE AGAINST PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION...
Meanwhile, in an interview with "Gazeta" on 31 July, Dmitrii Badovskii, an expert with the Institute on Social Systems, said that Prime Minister Kasyanov decided to challenge the Kozak commission's concept for administrative reform because he decided that if the reform process is impossible to stop, then "it is necessary to lead it." Badovskii confirmed that some members of the government oppose Kozak's proposed reforms. However, the government is unable to block the commission's suggestions, since it works within the framework the president's orders and instructions. JAC

...AND FEES FOR MINERAL RESOURCES WILL BE DOUBLED
Although the Kozak version of the law on natural resources envisages that mineral deposits belong not to state but to the company exploiting them, it will also double the current fees for the use of mineral resources, "Vedomosti" and other Russian news agencies reported on 2 August. The draft law also stipulates that the Natural Resources Ministry must convert all existing licenses to the new system, keeping intact their initial conditions. VY

MOSCOW-BASED ENTITIES DOMINATE REGISTRATION OF RUSSIAN DOMAIN NAMES
The total number of domain names registered within the "ru" zone jumped to around 135,000 as of 1 August -- more than double the number registered at the same time last year, Interfax reported on 1 August, citing the press service of the Russian Scientific and Research Institute for the Development of Public Communications. The total jumped by 60,000 in 2001, while another 112,000 were added in the first half of this year, the agency reported. According to the agency, more than 66 percent of "ru" domain names are registered in Moscow, while St. Petersburg has 5.8 percent of the total. Some 60 percent of the registered domain names belong to legal entities, while less than 1 percent are being used by individual entrepreneurs. JAC

TATAR GROUPS FORM COMMON FRONT AGAINST MOSCOW
A number of Tatarstan government officials, including President Mintimer Shaimiev, held a closed-door meeting in Kazan on 30 July with leaders of Tatar civic and political organizations to discuss the current political situation in the republic, as well as recent trends in relations with Moscow, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 31 July. The leader of the Tatar Public Center, Rashit Yagafarov, told reporters following the meeting that those present had discussed possible cooperation between the Tatar government and Tatar political groups to preserve the republic's statehood. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 August, Shaimiev invited the representatives of the nationalist groups to "more actively defend the republic's sovereignty." Farit Khabibullin, head of the People's Front for the Defense of Human Rights and the Sovereignty of Tatarstan, said the president was told that all the national public organizations had already decided to form a people's front and currently there are already nine organizations in this movement. According to the daily, the nationalist groups also expressed their support for Shaimiev's statement that the republic does not intend to introduce any more changes into its constitution. JAC

RUTSKOI TO STAGE ANOTHER COMEBACK?
Aleksandr Rutskoi, a former Kursk Oblast governor and vice president under Boris Yeltsin, is planning to run for mayor of Kursk in elections scheduled for June 2003, regions.ru reported on 1 August, citing Sovtest Online. According to the site, an unofficial headquarters for Rutskoi has already unofficially started work. Local political analysts reckon that while 50 percent of the electorate might support him, the other half would vote for anyone but him. Meanwhile, the current mayor of Kursk, Sergei Maltsev, said that the current criminal investigation pending against him for having spent city budget funds to purchase an Audi-A8 is the result of a political "order," and that he is guilty of nothing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). JAC

CENSUS TAKERS START SMALL
Early census taking continued on 1 August among one of the numerically smallest ethnic groups in Russia, the Tofa, who live in three remote villages in the Eastern Sayan Mountains in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Interfax-Eurasia reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002). The villages can only be accessed from the outside during the summer. Traditionally, the Tofa were hunters and reindeer herders. According to the last national census in 1989, there were only 600 ethnic Tofas left, and that number is expected to have dwindled further due to a high death rate and marriages with members of other ethnic groups. Official census taking will begin in October. JAC

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW REVERSING EARLIER ELECTORAL REFORMS
Armenian President Robert Kocharian on 1 August formally signed into law a recently adopted bill overturning the electoral reforms enacted in December 2000, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan Bureau. The new law increases the number of parliamentary seats based on single-mandate constituencies from 37 to 56, and decreases from 94 to 75 the number of seats elected on a proportional party-list basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 July 2002). The law was harshly criticized by the opposition and even the usually pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) condemned it as a violation of a standing multiparty agreement establishing a ratio of seats in the parliament. The law also altered the composition of the Central Election Commission, reducing its members from 13 to nine, with three members to be appointed by the president and the remainder by the six political parties represented in parliament. RG

ARMENIAN WTO MEMBERSHIP APPEARS MORE LIKELY
Armenian Industry and Economic Development Deputy Minister Tigran Davtian said on 1 August that Armenia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) "has overcome the remaining major hurdles" and "expects to formally conclude its six-year accession talks by the end of September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Talks held last week in Geneva reportedly reached important new compromise agreements on the outstanding issues of agricultural subsidies, customs procedures, and the protection of intellectual property. Although still subject to parliamentary ratification and review by the Armenian Constitutional Court, the agreements are seen as a significant move closer to accession to the 144-country trade body. RG

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH NEW WORLD BANK OFFICIAL
The new head of the World Bank's Yerevan office, Roger Robinson, met with Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on 1 August, the Caspian News Agency reported. Robinson said that the long-delayed privatization of the country's power-distribution network will remain a top priority and welcomed the prime minister's pledge of continued support and cooperation. RG

AZERBAIJAN JOINS RUSSIAN MILITARY EXERCISE ON CASPIAN SEA
An Azerbaijani contingent participated on 1 August in the opening maneuvers of Russian military exercises on the Caspian Sea, ANS and Interfax reported (see "Russia"). A small naval force from Kazakhstan is also taking part in the exercise. RG

GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER CALLS FOR CREATION OF NEW FINANCIAL POLICE
During the second day of a meeting of the Georgian National Security Council, Finance Minister Mirian Gogiashvili on 1 August proposed the formation of a new financial-police unit empowered to assist with tax enforcement and collection, "The Georgian Times" reported. The minister's proposal would also expand President Eduard Shevardnadze's relatively ineffective campaign against corruption and tax evasion. Recent figures showing a budget shortfall of more than 60 million laris ($27.2 million) for the first six months of the year reveal the scope of the challenge. RG

ABKHAZ OFFICIAL ACCUSES GEORGIAN TROOPS OF PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVE
Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Raul Khazhimba of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia claimed on 1 August that Georgian troops are preparing for a new offensive against Abkhaz positions in the Kodori Gorge, according to Interfax. The Abkhaz official made the accusations in a meeting with the chief military observer of the United Nations Observer Mission to Georgia. Abkhazia has repeatedly accused Georgia of violating the April agreement calling for the withdrawal of all Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). RG

KAZAKH PRESIDENT PREPARES GROUND FOR LAND-OWNERSHIP LAW
Fresh from a two-week holiday, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev spent his first working day on 1 August touring grain fields outside Almaty and explaining government plans to transfer agricultural lands to private ownership, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to new legislation that the president said he will ask the parliament to adopt this year, it will be possible to purchase farm land directly, or on a 10-year installment plan. Long-term leases will also be available. Nazarbaev suggested that 10 million of the country's 90 million hectares of farm land might be put up for sale initially, but public areas such as pastures, irrigation installations and roads will not be privatized. AA

KYRGYZ SECURITY CHIEF BACKTRACKS ON IMU WARNINGS
Complaining that he was misquoted and misinterpreted, a statement released by the Foreign Ministry in Bishkek on 31 July denied that Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov said last week that Djuma Namangani, military commander of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), may be alive and is planning fresh attacks on Central Asian countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). Statements by Ashyrkulov that Namangani's gunmen were moving from Afghanistan into Tajikistan were also given "an incorrect interpretation," the press release said. It added that "all the terrorists' military bases" together with their infrastructure in Afghanistan have been destroyed, but that in case of incursions by militants Kyrgyzstan and its Central Asian neighbors would act in concert to repulse them. AA

BISHKEK DEFENDS RECORD ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
There are no media restrictions in Kyrgyzstan, and President Askar Akaev, "as guarantor of the constitution, has always supported freedom and speech and intends to do so in the future," the presidential press service said on 1 August, as quoted by Interfax. During a roundtable discussion in Bishkek on 26 July, Akaev attacked RFE/RL's activities as "information terror directed against the Kyrgyz Republic" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). AA

KYRGYZ IN UZBEKISTAN APPEAL TO BISHKEK FOR AID AND SUPPORT
In an open letter to the speakers of Kyrgyzstan's Legislative and People's Assemblies (the upper and lower chambers of parliament), representatives of Kyrgyz communities in Uzbekistan have requested political and economic assistance, alleging that they are scorned and discriminated against, Kyrgyz Infocenter website reported on 1 August. The letter charges that Kyrgyz schools are dilapidated and ignored by the Uzbek authorities, and that members of the Kyrgyz minority cannot find jobs and are pressured by Uzbek officials not to publicize their problems. AA

MORE MEDICAL AID DELIVERED TO TAJIKISTAN
Medicines and hospital materials worth some $9 million arrived in Dushanbe by U.S. cargo plane, Tajik television reported on 1 August. The no-strings-attached humanitarian assistance was donated by the U.S. government and is being distributed jointly by the Tajik Health Ministry and the U.S. nongovernmental organization Hope, Interfax reported. AA

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY DENIES LINKS TO PRO-TALIBAN DETAINEES
Speaking to journalists on 1 August the leader of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP), Said Abdullo Nuri, repudiated any connection between his party and Tajik citizens who were captured fighting on the side of the Taliban and are currently being held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Interfax reported. Distancing the IRP from extremists in Afghanistan, Nuri stressed that "Islam has never encouraged violence and terrorism" and added that Osama bin Laden "humiliated Islam by his actions." There has been speculation that President Imomali Rakhmonov might be considering a ban on the IRP after he strongly criticized the activities of Islamic groups in the country's northern Sughd Oblast and specifically noted that three residents of Sughd are now interned at Guantanamo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). The IRP has about 2,000 members and is represented in the Tajik parliament. AA

UZBEK DRUG ADDICTION RISING
According to figures released by the Health Ministry in Tashkent, there are more than 18,000 drug addicts in the country, half of whom take heroin, the newspaper "Halq so'zi" reported on 1 August. The number of addicts has grown by 4,000, or 30 percent, over last year's reported figures, the newspaper commented. But of the 18,000, a mere 79 are teenagers and about 15 percent are women, the ministry claimed. International organizations regularly suggest that Central Asian governments underreport the number of known addicts in their countries. AA

BELARUS FAILS TO END 'BATTLE FOR THE HARVEST' ON SCHEDULE...
Citing the Agriculture Ministry, Belarusian television reported on 1 August that Belarusian collective farms failed to conclude grain harvesting by 1 April, as ordered by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Grain still needs to be gathered from 23 percent of Belarus's grain-producing regions. Belarusian collective farms have reportedly harvested 4.6 million tons of grain so far this year. JM

...AS RUSSIA SLAMS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S DEMAND FOR FUEL DONATIONS
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 1 August criticized Belarusian President Lukashenka's call on 25 July for companies supplying Belarus with Russian oil to donate 20,000 tons of diesel fuel for the needs of Belarus's harvesting campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002), Belapan reported. On 26 July, the Belarusian State Petrochemical Concern (Belneftekhim), a government agency that runs the country's oil refineries and manages oil imports from Russia, issued a directive entitling Belarusian collective farms to 23 liters of free diesel fuel from each ton of imported Russian oil. "[Current relations between Russian oil companies and Belarusian refineries] not only come outside the framework of Belarusian laws and not only contradict the program of economic integration, but sometimes overstep the bounds of common sense," Khristenko said. "We cannot force Russian oil producers to maintain oil supplies at their own expense in the context of such exclusive decisions by the Belarusian leadership," he added. JM

MINSK BRANDS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT'S 2001 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT AS BIASED
Foreign Deputy Minister Alyaksandr Sychou on 1 August presented Belarus's official comments regarding the U.S. State Department's 2001 report on the human rights situation in Belarus, Belarusian television reported. Sychou said the U.S. report is "tendentious" and criticized the State Department for taking into account only contributions from human rights organizations in preparing its report, without consulting with Belarusian executive authorities. "The United States continues to practice double standards in the sphere of human rights toward Belarus," AP quoted Sychou as saying. During the official presentation of the report in Minsk in March, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak said Belarus made no progress regarding human rights in 2001. JM

U.S. SAYS NO EVIDENCE OF UKRAINE'S ARMS SALES TO IRAQ
There is no evidence that Ukraine has transferred military equipment to Iraq, but the United States remains "extraordinarily sensitive" to that issue, Reuters reported on 1 August, quoting a U.S. State Department senior official. "The Ukrainians have incredible technology, especially missile technology, and we know that there are countries with less-than-good reputations who would love to have that technology," the official told a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity. He urged Ukraine to put more safeguards around its missile technology or risk having security concerns hurt its bid to join NATO, AP reported. "There's no evidence that there have been military transfers from Ukraine to Iraq," the official added. Media reports in April alleged that Ukraine may have sold four radar systems to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 April 2002). JM

UKRAINE SUSPENDS WORK AT 63 MINES OVER SAFETY CONCERNS
The government has suspended work at 62 coal mines in Ukraine, saying they do not observe work-safety regulations to the necessary extent, UNIAN reported on 1 April. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office has taken over the criminal investigation into the tragic 31 March blast at the Zasyadko coal mine from Donetsk Oblast prosecutors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2002). The Prosecutor-General's Office also pledged to check into why investigations into two previous disasters at the Zasyadko mine in 1999 and 2002 (which clamed 105 lives) were concluded without finding anyone responsible for them. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc on 1 April called for holding an emergency parliamentary session to discuss the Zasyadko mine and Lviv air-show tragedies to "work out a program of urgent actions." The bloc said in a statement that the authorities have only one "scenario" to react to such tragedies. This scenario, the statement claims, boils down to "conducting never-ending investigations, issuing unconvincing comments, making staff reshuffles, and covering the responsibility of the real culprits." JM

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION VISITS ESTONIA
A delegation of U.S. congressmen headed by Representative David Dreier (Republican, California), paid a brief visit to Tallinn on 1 August, ETA reported. In talks with Prime Minister Siim Kallas the delegation stressed the countries' need to improve bilateral economic cooperation. The two sides agreed that they could learn a lot from each other's experience and that future cooperation should involve small businesses. State Secretary Aino Lepik von Wiren discussed with the U.S. representatives Estonia's e-government system, and the delegation took a sightseeing tour of Tallinn's Old Town and visited the port of Muuga. The delegation departed for Riga the next morning and is scheduled to visit Russia, Georgia, and Cyprus before returning home. SG

RIGA, MOSCOW DISCUSS GREATER COOPERATION
A delegation from Moscow, including Moscow Municipal Government Trade Minister Vladimir Malishkov and International Relations Department Deputy Chairman Vladimir Lebedev, held talks in Riga on 1 August with Riga Deputy Mayor Sergei Dolgopolov, BNS reported. They discussed plans for holding Moscow Days in Riga next June, which are to include an extensive culture program as well as the exhibition of scientific and industrial achievements. Malishkov also noted that his city has approved financing for the construction of a Moscow Culture and Business Center in Riga, which could later become the foundation for future Moscow representation in Estonia and Lithuania. The meeting also discussed Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's planned visit to Riga. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS WITH KALININGRAD GOVERNOR
Prior to meeting Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov in Palanga on 1 August, President Valdas Adamkus told reporters that the question of visas would be an important topic of discussion, BNS reported the next day. He said that Lithuania will meet its EU commitments to introduce Schengen agreement visa requirements next year, but suggested that five-year visas or magnetic identification cards could ease border crossing for Kaliningrad residents. Yegorov told the president he has received a full guarantee from Russia's LUKoil that the planned exploitation of the D-6 oil field -- 22 kilometers off the Curonian Spit and five kilometers from the Lithuanian sea border -- will not threaten the environment and that oil extraction will not begin until next year. Yegorov also told Adamkus that water-treatment facilities are being constructed at the cellulose factory in Neman to treat polluted effluent to the Nemunas River. SG

POLAND'S SOLIDARITY FORMS TASK FORCE TO RESCUE AILING PLANTS
Some 130 representatives of the Solidarity trade union set up a team in Gdansk on 1 August with the aim of coordinating efforts in defending plants threatened by bankruptcy, Polish media reported. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said the union may resort to a national protest action if talks with the government and within the Trilateral Commission (the government, employers, trade unions) will not bring any positive solution for the plants that have found themselves in a difficult situation. JM

POLAND NEEDS $245 MILLION TO STRENGTHEN CONTROL OF EASTERN BORDER
Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik said Poland needs to spend $250 million euros ($245,000) to beef up control of its 1,200-kilometer eastern border -- which will become the EU's external border upon Polish accession to the union -- in order to qualify to join the Schengen agreements, the daily "Trybuna" reported on 1 August. Janik said some 75 percent of the costs related to the tightening of the border will be covered by various EU programs. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT WORKS ON PROGRAM FOR ROMA
The Interior Ministry is preparing a national program for Polish Roma in cooperation with provincial governors, Romany activists, and NGOs, PAP reported on 1 August, quoting Deputy Interior Minister Zenon Kosinak-Kamysz. The national program, which is to focus mainly on education, will be based on the pilot program now being implemented in Malopolska province (southern Poland). The program is also to cover health, unemployment, social welfare, and Romany culture. It is estimated that from 25,000-50,000 Roma may live in Poland. Meanwhile, the U.S. Helsinki Commission on 1 August commemorated the anniversary of the Romany Holocaust, which is observed on 2 and 3 August. During the night of 2-3 August 1944, the Nazis liquidated the Romany section of the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, killing some 3,000 Roma in gas chambers. JM

POLAND COMMEMORATES WARSAW UPRISING ANNIVERSARY
Warsaw on 1 August paid tribute to the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans in ceremonies held at the sites of street battles, graves of those fallen, and monuments commemorating the sacrifice of insurgents, PAP reported. Wreaths were laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from veterans' unions, representatives of the president, the parliament, and the Warsaw city authorities. A similar ceremony was also held at the Monument to the Polish Clandestine State and the Home Army. The Warsaw Uprising, which started on 1 August 1944, was the largest armed action of the Polish underground Home Army and the biggest action of this kind in Nazi-occupied Europe. The uprising lasted for 63 days and took the lives of 18,000 insurgents and 180,000 civilians. JM

COURT ANNULS APPOINTMENT OF CZECH TELEVISION DIRECTOR
A Prague 4 district court has deemed invalid a resolution that appointed the current director of public broadcaster Czech Television, Jiri Balvin, CTK reported on 1 August. The agency cited a lawyer for one of the unsuccessful candidates for Balvin's post in a 2001 competition organized by the highly politicized Czech Television Council. The court ruled that the council favored some candidates while unfairly discriminating against others, the lawyer for failed applicant Evzen Hlinovsky is quoted as saying. Spokesmen for Czech Television and for the Television Council said they have not officially been informed of the verdict, but the broadcaster's spokesman said it will likely appeal to a Prague city court if that is the case, CTK added. The lawyer for Czech Television unions noted that such a decision could overturn all of Balvin's activities at the station since 15 November, when he was promoted from acting director after the council fielded applications for the post. Balvin was first appointed by the lower house of parliament in the midst of a strike by employees to protest seemingly political appointments there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). AH

CZECH PRIME MINISTER INVITES ROMA TO STAY, HELP ADDRESS 'DISCRIMINATION AND RACISM'...
Vladimir Spidla on 1 August responded to reports of a new exodus of Romany asylum seekers by urging Roma to remain in the Czech Republic and help tackle racial and social tensions, CTK reported. "The government realizes that your position...is sometimes difficult, that in everyday life you encounter problems of a social and economic character, sometimes even discrimination and racism," Spidla stressed in a statement that appeared to hint at a departure from the confrontational approach to minority relations of the previous government. "I understand that it is not easy for you, but you will resolve nothing fundamental by leaving the country." The 51-year-old historian-cum-premier added that the ancestors of the Romany community arrived in the Czech lands in the early 14th century: "Whether you believe it or not, your roots are now here." AH

...AS COMMISSION RECOMMENDS WITHDRAWING RETROACTIVE BENEFITS
The Government Council for Romany Community Affairs meanwhile convened on 1 August to discuss the current rise in Czech Romany requests for asylum abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002), CTK reported. The council made several recommendations, including the creation of a police unit to combat usury among Roma -- blamed for encouraging many families to escape out of desperation -- and the abolition of retroactive payments of social benefits to Roma who go abroad to request asylum, the agency added. Spidla noted in his statement the same day that such requests are unlikely to be accepted and pledged that his Social Democratic-led government will support continuing projects aimed at Romany integration. AH

CZECH POLICE GO SHOPPING, NET 50 KILOGRAMS OF SEMTEX...
Authorities on 1 August seized 50 kilograms of the plastic explosive Semtex in a bust near one of Prague's biggest shopping complexes, in Cerny Most, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported the next day. An undisclosed number of suspects were arrested in connection with their attempt to sell the material, CTK added. Police President Jiri Kolar said law enforcement has been following the gang as suspected gunrunners for some time. AH

...WHILE CZECH DAILY TRACES SEMTEX IN SRBA AFFAIR TO A WELL-DIGGER
The daily "Pravo" reported on 2 August that a "well-informed" female witness in the Srba case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July 2002) said the Semtex explosive in that alleged plot was supplied by a Central Bohemian well-digger on 6 July. The daily offered no further details of that transaction but added that police sources did not confirm the report. AH

CZECH DAILY, CITING ANNAN AND RICE, QUESTIONS KAVAN'S CLAIM TO CREDIBILITY
A "Hospodarske noviny" commentator claimed in the daily on 2 August that a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan deferred to UN member states for their views on General Assembly Chairman Jan Kavan's credibility, while the same commentator reported that a "well-informed source from Washington" insists U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice has used the term "liar" to refer to Kavan. The commentary by Tomas Klvana, titled "Kavan Coated With Teflon," is a response to the former Czech foreign minister's contention on BBC radio on 30 July that, "I have the full confidence of the senior representatives of the UN, including chief Kofi Annan." A journalist from the paper inquired with Annan spokesman Frederik Eckhard, asking whether the secretary-general or other senior UN representatives have voiced confidence in Kavan "in the Srba affair," which has brought pressure from some circles for Kavan to reconsider some of his public functions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 July 2002). "The chairman [Kavan] was elected by the member states. You would have to seek their opinions on this internal matter," the spokesman said, according to the paper. The commentary does not disclose the circumstances of Rice's alleged remark concerning Kavan. AH

SUSPECTED SLOVAK CRIME BOSS REPORTEDLY UNOPPOSED TO EXTRADITION
The reputed kingpin of Poprad in eastern Slovakia, "Milan R.," does not oppose his possible extradition to that country following his capture on 27 July by Czech police in Hradec Kralove, East Bohemia, CTK reported on 1 August. The suspect is wanted in connection with fraud and blackmail charges in eastern Slovakia, including credit fraud worth tens of millions of crowns, according to the agency. Slovak police "lost track" of him five years ago on the eve of a huge dragnet, CTK reported. Slovak authorities have 40 days to request his extradition. CTK added that Slovak police hope the apprehension will provide clues to a number of unsolved cases during a 1997-99 battle for supremacy in the Slovak underworld, including the disappearance of a Poprad district office director and the murder of a former police officer. AH

HUNGARIAN PREMIER DENIES ANY WRONGDOING AS COMMUNIST COUNTERINTELLIGENCE OFFICER
Peter Medgyessy told a parliamentary commission on 1 August probing his counterintelligence past that during his time as a secret-service officer at the Finance Ministry between 1978-82 his only duties were to protect state secrets from foreign secret-service agencies during Hungary's negotiations to join the International Monetary Fund, Hungarian media reported. He denied ever working for the KGB, and said he never wrote reports on his associates, as it was not his task. Medgyessy told commission Chairman Laszlo Balogh that he did not receive any regular payment for his activity. During the hearing, which lasted more than three hours, Medgyessy said his main assignment was analyzing and assessing information on the state of Hungary's economy with a focus on the country's foreign-currency position. He wrote annual summaries and regularly provided reports to a superior officer. Medgyessy told the hearing that he took a job in the secret services for the sake of his country and will not be blackmailed. MSZ

FORMER HUNGARIAN MINISTERS WITH SECRET-SERVICE PAST COULD BE NAMED
Socialist deputy Karoly Toth, a member of the parliamentary commission investigating the secret-services past of one-time cabinet members, wants the names and positions of those found to be involved made public, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 2 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). Toth said he also wants publicized how long such members served for the secret services, and at which division. Information has already been leaked on 12 one-time cabinet members who allegedly pursued secret-services activity prior to the change of regime, but their names are unknown. MSZ

FORMER HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER'S ASSET DECLARATION CLEARED
Jozsef Alajos Geczi, the chairman of parliament's Immunity Committee, on 1 August said he will not launch proceedings against former Prime Minister Viktor Orban over discrepancies in his declaration of assets, Hungarian dailies reported. Geczi said Orban provided a sufficient answer to the rise of his assets. Two Socialist deputies had initiated proceedings against Orban, claiming there were inconsistencies between statements he provided in January and in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 23 and 31 July 2002). MSZ

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION DAILY SAYS GOVERNMENT WANTS IT SHUT DOWN
"Magyar Nemzet" Editor in Chief Gabor Liszkay on 2 August wrote in a front-page appeal to the daily's readers that "the powers that be" want to eliminate the newspaper. As a result of government pressure, the newspaper's contracts are being canceled, a new printing press must be sought, and ads have nearly disappeared from the daily. Liszkay wrote that private advertisers are intimidated during a time when the newspaper's daily circulation has reached an all-time high of more than 100,000 copies. Liszkay said that "Magyar Nemzet" management is aware of the daily's responsibility as the sole opposition paper, adding, "We shall not conduct any unprincipled compromise affecting the content of the daily just to keep the ads." He said that for the paper to survive a price hike will go into effect from 1 September. He urged readers to continue buying the paper and stressed that the future of free press in Hungary is "in your hands." MSZ

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS ON YUGOSLAVIA TO PULL BACK TROOPS FROM THE BORDER...
Alluding to the recent armed incident along Croatia's border with Serbia along the Danube River, Ivica Racan told his cabinet on 1 August: "Having troops on the borders and saber-rattling is not a solution for a country that seeks good relations with its neighbors," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 August 2002). He stressed that "what matters more than verbal apologies is to prevent such incidents from being repeated in the future. Yugoslavia could contribute by withdrawing troops and demilitarizing this area." PM

...BUT BELGRADE SAYS 'NOT YET'
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 1 August that Yugoslav Army troops will remain on the border in keeping with their current rules and regulation until the proposed Constitutional Charter between Serbia and Montenegro is completed and takes effect, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. At that time, police will replace troops on the border. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT LOOKS FOR MISSING MILLIONS
The authorities are investigating what happened to large sums of money donated to Croatia by the diaspora during the 1991-95 conflict, AP reported from Zagreb on 1 August. Questions have been raised from many quarters over the years regarding the fate of the millions or even billions of dollars given to help Croatia defend itself against the Yugoslav Army and local Serb rebels. Suspicions are rife that much of the money found its way into the pockets of former President Franjo Tudjman's entourage or into political slush funds that Tudjman maintained. Government investigators maintain that the money belongs to the state and not to any political party or individual. PM

CROATIA AND BOSNIA SEEK FRONTIER AGREEMENT
The Croatian government called on the Foreign Ministry to reach agreement with the Bosnian authorities within 15 days to enable border police from both countries to work together in controlling frontier crossings, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). In Sarajevo, the government set up a special working group to hammer out an agreement with Croatian authorities on the location of border crossings. PM

TERROR-RELATED CHARGES FILED AGAINST FORMER BOSNIAN INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE
Bosnian state prosecutor Munib Bisic has filed espionage charges against Munib Zahiragic, who is suspected of having links to international terrorist groups through an Islamic charity whose Bosnian branch he headed, AP reported from Sarajevo on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002). Ivica Misic, who heads Bosnia's antiterrorism team, said that "there is a mountain of evidence in this case that will be revealed in a trial. These people are very dangerous criminals, and we hope that this trial will help in building the case against" the director of Benevolence International, an Islamic charity based in Chicago. PM

BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES MEDIA LAW
The lower house of the joint parliament passed a law on public broadcasting on 1 August, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The measure has already cleared the upper house and been proclaimed by the office of the high representative. Its passage is one of the points listed by the European Union on Bosnia's "road map" to closer links to Brussels. PM

MOVES TO HALT DYSFUNCTIONAL POLITICS IN SERBIA?
Dragoljub Micunovic, who is speaker of the lower house of the Yugoslav parliament, said in Belgrade on 2 August that he is willing to work to restore communication between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). Micunovic hailed Djindjic's recent offer to readmit Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to the governing coalition and to the parliament. On 1 August, the DSS said in a statement that it cannot accept Djindjic's offer unless "important reforms" are made to the political system. The party also said that it will return to the parliament by a court ruling and through early elections, "which Djindjic cannot escape." PM

OSCE CHALLENGES MONTENEGRIN LAWS
Representatives of the OSCE said in Podgorica on 1 August that the 6 October general elections must take place under the legislation in force when the elections were announced and not under more recent media and electoral laws passed by the new parliamentary majority of pro-Belgrade and pro-independence parties, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). But spokesmen of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) and Liberal Alliance (LS) insisted in separate declarations that the new legislation will be binding. Elsewhere, the SNP accused independent media broadcasters who protested the new media law with a break in transmission on 1 August of playing politics on behalf of President Milo Djukanovic. PM

PARTIAL RE-VOTE IN BUJANOVAC
The local election commission has ruled that the recent ballot must be repeated in eight polling places, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002). The move comes in response to protests by local Serbs angry at the victory of an ethnic Albanian candidate in the mayoral race. Ethnic Albanian representatives walked out of the commission's meeting before the decision was announced. Local Serbian political leader Goran Taskovic said that a new vote may be ordered in additional precincts as well. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia, said after the election that the Albanian candidate won because there are clearly more Albanians than Serbs in Bujanovac. Covic blamed the unrest among the local Serbs on Kostunica's DSS, which has since dissolved its local branch organization. PM

SERBIA TREATS BORDER WITH KOSOVA AS A STATE FRONTIER
The Serbian commission responsible for Kosova announced in Belgrade on 1 August that the authorities have begun enforcing a new regimen on the border between Serbia and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The border may be crossed legally only in 11 places, including Prishtina airport. A special permit is required to cross the frontier elsewhere. Fines range from $250 for illegally crossing the border to $2,500 for resisting the border-control efforts of Serbian police and armed forces. It is forbidden to bring arms and ammunition across the frontier, or to build any structure in the border zone or to loiter there. PM

KOSOVARS WANT REPRESENTATION AT UN MEETINGS
Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 31 July that his government should be represented at UN Security Council meetings that discuss Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Rexhepi argued that it is not right that Serbia be represented at such sessions but not Kosova's democratically elected officials. PM

KOSOVAR CABINET CONDEMNS KLOKOT INCIDENT
The Kosovar cabinet agreed on 1 August that the recent mining of five Serbian-owned homes in Klokot, which led to the injury of two U.S. soldiers and one civilian, was an "inhuman act" carried out by "extremists who are interested in keeping Kosova permanently tense and unstable," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). PM

HUMAN TRAFFICKING AS A BRANCH OF THE ALBANIAN ECONOMY
Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported on 1 August that the smuggling of human beings across the Adriatic Sea has become a form of employment for many people in southern Albania. Human traffickers in Vlora and elsewhere are very resentful of the government's campaign against their "business," but have become increasingly cautious as they go about their tasks. This form of smuggling has for many become a way back to the large incomes that were wiped out by the collapse of the pyramid-scheme network in 1997. PM

FORMER ETHNIC ALBANIAN GUERRILLA LEADERS MEET WITH FAMILIES OF MISSING MACEDONIANS
Ali Ahmeti and Gezim Osdreni met in Mala Recica under the mediation of the OSCE with representatives of the families of 12 ethnic Macedonians missing since the 2001 ethnic conflict, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported on 1 August. Ahmeti denied any responsibility for the disappearances but promised to help determine the fate of the 12 persons. He added that he knows the pain of the families, because his own uncle is one of six ethnic Albanians who similarly disappeared without a trace. Members of families of missing persons of both nationalities have formed a commission to investigate what happened to their loved ones. Representatives of the Macedonian families called on the OSCE to help them meet with other former guerrilla commanders in the area. PM

ANOTHER DRIVE-BY SHOOTING OF AN ETHNIC ALBANIAN IN MACEDONIA
For the second time in as many days, an ethnic Albanian was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Tetovo area, AP reported on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2002). Taip Beluti died in hospital of his wounds from the attack in Neraste. The motives for the killings are not clear, nor is it known whether there is a link between the two incidents. PM

ROMANIA, U.S. SIGN AGREEMENT ON EXEMPTING U.S. PEACEKEEPERS FROM ICC PROSECUTION
In Bucharest on 1 August, Romanian Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Cristian Diaconescu and U.S. Undersecretary of State for strategic issues John Bolton signed an agreement that would exempt U.S. peacekeepers from prosecution under the provisions of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Romanian media reported. The agreement was signed in accordance with the ICC Statute's Article 98 that prevents the international court from asking a country to hand over suspects if it would clash with another international agreement. Romania is the first country to sign such an agreement with the United States. Speaking in Washington the same day, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the U.S. government expects "to conclude similar agreements with a large number of countries," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. ZsM

U.S. SUPPORTS OSCE PLANS FOR A FEDERATIVE MOLDOVA
In a 1 August press release, U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Pamela Hyde Smith said the United States supports the OSCE-designed plan for the federalization of Moldova, Flux reported. She added that the plan is "an important contribution to the process of resolving the Transdniestrian conflict in the framework of an integral and indivisible Moldova." Smith also said the plan "offers a solid foundation for a fair resolution of the conflict." She also added the United States hopes that negotiations between the parties will continue and will end in a final agreement "as soon as possible." ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S RESIDENCE FIRED UPON
An unidentified gunman fired on Vladimir Voronin's apartment in the early hours of 2 August, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. No one was injured in the attack on the nine-story building that houses the president's personal apartment, dpa cited Moldova's Chief Prosecutor Vasilie Rusu as saying. Police discovered three spent shell casings from a Makarov pistol in the vicinity of the building. Voronin refused to take residence in the presidential palace in Chisinau upon winning the presidential elections in 2000, arguing that it was a luxury the Moldovan government could not afford. Street access to the apartment building located in one of Chisinau's most exclusive areas is closed to automobiles for security reasons. MES

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA SATISFIED WITH BILATERAL RELATIONS
In an interview with Russia's RIA-Novosti news agency on 1 August, Russian Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovskii said bilateral relations have entered a qualitatively new phase, Flux reported. He said that following President Voronin's election Russian businessmen were assured that Chisinau had turned toward Moscow, and the influx of Russian capital to Moldova increased as a result. Petrovskii added that the signing of their recent bilateral treaty "does not mean at all Moldova's distancing itself from Europe." On the contrary, he argued, as Russia is improving relations with Europe "faster than other CIS countries," Moldova's improved cooperation with Russia can only improve Moldova's European image. The same day Petrovskii handed over to the Moldovan Foreign Ministry a set of 200 archive documents relating to Moldovan-Russian relations over several centuries. ZsM

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CHOOSE CANDIDATE FOR GAGAUZ GOVERNOR
On 1 August, the Party of Moldovan Communists' (PCM) Executive Committee chose Gagauz Deputy Gheorghi Tabunshik as its candidate for governor of the autonomous Gagauz region, Flux reported. PCM parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said Tabunshik is "the most suitable" candidate for the post, as he was the region's first governor and largely contributed "to the setting up and the development of the Gagauz autonomy." Elections for the governor's post are set for 6 October. Flux also reported that new interim Governor Gheorghi Mollo was presented to the regional government on 1 August. ZsM

BULGARIA MAY START 'EXPERIMENTAL' MISSILE-DESTRUCTION NEXT WEEK
Defense Minister Nikola Svinarov said on 1 August that the "experimental destruction" of 10 components of SS-23, Scud and Frog missiles is likely to take place next week, BTA and dpa reported. Svinarov said the method that will be used to destroy SS-23 missile engines will be determined only after an assessment of the environmental impact of the destruction is completed. He said he has no doubt that "the safest method will be chosen." Environment Minister Dolores Arsenova said that "if the method chosen raises even the slightest doubt about possible environmental damage, the Environment Ministry will not approve it." MS

BULGARIAN DUTIES ON IMPORTED VEGETABLES SHARPLY INCREASED
Bulgaria on 1 August sharply raised duties on vegetable imports, caving in to pressure from farmers who have protested increased imports from the Middle East and neighboring Balkan countries, BTA and AP reported. Earlier this week, farmers blocked a key road in eastern Bulgaria to protest foreign vegetable imports. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Mehmed Dikme announced that duties are to rise from 25 percent of declared value for potatoes to 60 percent, and from 64 percent to 75 percent for peppers. Duties were also increased for imports of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cabbage. MS

There is no End Note today.


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