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Newsline - August 19, 2002


KREMLIN MUM ON REPORTED IRAQ DEAL...
Moscow offered a muted reaction to reports in "The Washington Post" on 17 August and by Reuters on 18 August that Russia is set to sign a $40 billion economic cooperation package with Iraq, Russian news agencies reported on 19 August. According to the reports, the deal foresees cooperation over the next five years in such areas as oil, irrigation, agriculture, transportation, and electrical energy. Although no senior politicians commented on the reports, deputy chief of the presidential staff Aleksei Volin did say that "all agreements with Iraq are in strict compliance with international sanctions" against Baghdad and are based on "the logic of economic interests," ntvru.com reported. Oleg Buklemishev, economic adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, confirmed to Reuters that Russia is preparing an umbrella economic package with Iraq that comprises 67 agreements. VY

...AS SKEPTICS DOUBT SUCH PLANS...
Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, told Ekho Moskvy radio on 18 August that a far-reaching Russian-Iraqi economic accord is hardly possible for the simple reason that Baghdad "has no money for a deal." In a commentary, "Izvestiya" expressed doubt that Moscow will jeopardize good relations with Washington for the illusory economic benefits of trade with Baghdad. For some time, Baghdad has been trying to protect itself from the United States with a "Russian shield" by promising Moscow repayment of $8 billion in Soviet-era debts, "Izvestiya" wrote. This trick worked in the 1990s, but over the last couple of years, Russian oil producers have come to realize that Iraq is their competitor rather than a partner on world oil markets. Baghdad's reluctance to allow United Nations' inspections has begun to irritate Moscow to a such degree that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in the spring refused to meet with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who made a stopover in Moscow after a visit to Beijing, "Izvestiya" added. VY

...AS SIBNEFT LOOKS TOWARD KUWAIT
Energy Minister Igor Yusufov announced that the state-controlled oil giant Sibneft intends to expand into Kuwait and will take part in a tender for the exploration of some of the country's northern oil fields, Russian news agencies reported on 19 August. Speaking after a meeting of the Russian-Kuwaiti intergovernmental commission on trade and technical cooperation, Yusufov said that Russia is interested in cooperation with Kuwait because the country is a key OPEC member. He added that Russia also would like to attract Kuwaiti investment not only into its energy sector, but also into automaking, the health care sector, and tourism. VY

RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS HOLD TALKS
Prime Minister Kasyanov met in Moscow on 16 August with Ukraine's Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh to discuss a number of bilateral issues, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Kasyanov reportedly asked Kinakh to prepare Ukraine's conditions for joining the Eurasian Economic Commonwealth. He also presented Kinakh with Russia's vision for a joint natural-gas consortium that eventually will include Germany as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2002), AP reported. The two prime ministers expressed hope that the concept can be finalized in time for a Ukrainian-Russian summit scheduled for 7 October in Moldova on the sidelines of the CIS summit. Kasyanov also urged Kinakh to adopt an agreement on Soviet-era property abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2002). According to AP, Kasyanov said that Ukrainian ratification of the so-called "zero option" agreement is "fundamental" for Russia. RC

KREMLIN HINTS IT MIGHT SHELVE FRAMEWORK TREATY WITH GEORGIA
First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin hinted during an interview on 17 August with Radio Mayak that Moscow might suspend discussion of the bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation with Georgia until Tbilisi extradites to Russia the Chechen "terrorists" who were detained after entering Georgia illegally early this month, Interfax reported. The Georgian authorities turned down Russia's first request to extradite the Chechens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 9 August 2002). Loshchinin branded Georgia's policy "unacceptable" and "aimed at aggravating relations with Russia." Alluding to the possibility that the Russian authorities might expel Georgians currently working in the Russian Federation, Loshchinin noted that the funds those workers remit to Georgia constitute a sizable chunk of the country's budget, Caucasus Press reported. LF

RUSSIA DENIES VISA TO DALAI LAMA
Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said that Moscow has decided "to refrain at this stage from hosting a visit of the Dalai Lama to Russia's Buddhist regions of Tuva, Buryatia, and Kalmykia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002) because of the political nature of the visit, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 16 August. Apn.ru reported on 16 August that the visit was cancelled at the initiative of the Defense Ministry and its head, Sergei Ivanov, who was reportedly warned by his Chinese counterparts that it could jeopardize Chinese arms contracts to Russia worth $3 billion. Meanwhile, a group of Russian Buddhists organized a demonstration near the Foreign Ministry. About 30 demonstrators participated and police detained a number of them. A spokesman for the demonstrators said that similar protests were held in Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva, RosBalt reported. A spokesman for the Russian Buddhists, Jampa Timpley, said on NTV that the Foreign Ministry similarly refused to admit the Dalai Lama on 17 August 2001. VY

PUTIN PROMISES SUPPORT TO SUKHOI
President Vladimir Putin on 16 August visited Sukhoi, the biggest Russian military aircraft corporation, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said that aviation equipment composes 50 percent of Russian arms exports and that 45 percent of that equipment is produced by Sukhoi. The president also discussed the progress of the firm's fifth-generation Su-37 Berkut fighter. Putin noted that the Russian aviation industry, which employs more than 500,000 people, has good export prospects not only for military aircraft, but for civilian aircraft as well. VY

PUTIN PLAYS HOST FOR SPANISH KING
Spain's King Juan Carlos arrived in Moscow on 17 August on a private visit, Russian and Western news agencies reported. President Putin led the king on a tour of the Kremlin grounds on 18 August and told reporters that the visit indicates the "high level of relations between Russian and Spain," AP reported. According to Interfax, the king dined at Putin's suburban residence on 17 August and described the visit as "a cordial meeting in a family atmosphere." RC

GOVERNMENT READY TO LIBERALIZE PRECIOUS-METALS AND DIAMOND MARKETS
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has announced that the government intends to deregulate the diamond-export market and plans to transform the state-owned diamond monopoly Alrosa into a public company, gazeta.ru reported on 19 August. Speaking in the diamond-producing region of Sakha (Yakutia), Kudrin said that soon the government will publish new export quotas for Alrosa that will reduce its dependence on global diamond giant DeBeers. Similarly, the government wants to liberalize the export of precious metals and, as a first step, is preparing to declassify data about state reserves and the recovery volume of precious metals. VY

RUSSIA TO HELP EUROPE RECOVER FROM FLOODING
Despite being struck itself by devastating floods this summer, Russia is sending equipment and experts to Germany and the Czech Republic to assist in recovery efforts from flooding there, Western and Russian news agencies reported on 19 August. The Emergency Situations Ministry will send 15 trucks loaded with water pumps to Germany, as well as a special mobile laboratory that is used to test the stability of flood-damaged buildings, Interfax reported. A team of Russian transportation experts has been dispatched to Prague to assist in repairing the Czech capital's damaged subway system, AP reported. "The question of assistance to other European countries is being considered," said Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu. RC

BUS DISASTER KILLS 24
An overcrowded passenger bus in the Chavash Republic crashed into a ravine on 18 August, killing 24, Russian news agencies reported. Initial reports indicate that the brakes failed on the bus, which was carrying 65 people despite a capacity of 55, gazeta.ru reported on 19 August. Thirty-seven people were hospitalized in the village of Yantikovo. The government of the republic declared 19 August an official day of mourning. On 12 August, the brakes failed on a bus in Novosibirsk and plowed into a crowded bus stop, killing one and injuring 10, gazeta.ru reported. RC

FELON MOVES INTO LEADING POSITION IN NIZHNII POLL
According to the latest polling in Nizhnii Novgorod, businessman and convicted felon Andrei Klimentiev is gaining popularity in the campaign for city mayor, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 August. The poll, conducted by the Academy of Science's Institute of Sociology, showed that Klimentiev has moved into a virtual tie for first place with State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulyanov (People's Deputy). The poll found that 18 percent of voters support Klimentiev and 17 percent support Bulyanov, a difference that is less than the poll's margin of error. The vote will be held on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002). RC

NATIONALIST LEADER WANTS TO HELP RUSSIANS RETURN HOME...
Deputy Duma speaker and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii, on a tour of the United States, urged Russians living in America to return home, strana.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 19 August. Speaking in Boston, Zhirinovskii said that the Russian-speaking community forms "America's elite." "I've understood from my meetings with the diaspora that young people would like to return, but many are put off by the process for returning, getting the documents," Zhirinovskii was quoted as saying. "We intend to help them and to facilitate the work of emigre associations." Zhirinovskii then traveled to New York, where he intends to meet with UN officials to discuss Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. RC

...AS NATIONALISTS TO OBLITERATE FASCISTS
Members of the Sverdlovsk Oblast chapter of the LDPR announced that they will begin painting over neo-fascist and anti-Semitic graffiti in Yekaterinburg, regions.ru reported on 19 August. The action follows the example of the party's Perm chapter, which has already several times painted over such graffiti there. The Yabloko faction has held similar actions across the country in recent months, but it is unclear whether it will join forces with LDPR. RC

ELEVEN YEARS ON, RUSSIANS PONDER THE COUP
More than half of respondents to a recent survey were unable or unwilling to say with which side of the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev they sympathized at the time, lenta.ru reported on 19 August. This week marks the 11th anniversary of the ill-fated coup attempt. According to the national survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 41 percent of respondents said that they were unable "to make sense of the situation" at the time and another 25 percent declined to answer the question. Sixteen percent said that they sympathized with the coup plotters, and 18 percent said that they supported Gorbachev and those who opposed the coup. In Moscow on 19 August, about 500 people gathered near the White House to mark the anniversary. On 20 August, a memorial for the three people killed during the anti-coup protests will be held. RC

ON ANNIVERSARY OF FINANCIAL CRISIS, PUBLIC FEARS A REPETITION...
Four years after the August 1998 financial crisis, Russians continue to believe that the hard times are not necessarily in the past, RosBalt reported on 18 August. According to a national VTsIOM survey, 46 percent of respondents believe that a similar crisis could happen again within the next year, while 33 percent said that history will not repeat itself. The survey also found that when the crisis hit on 17 August 1998, 49 percent of the population had no savings at all, 28 percent had some savings kept in banks, and 11 percent kept their savings in cash. Of those who had savings, 58 percent lost everything, 16 percent received "a small amount of compensation," 5 percent got about half of their savings back, and 11 percent had the majority of their savings returned to them. RC

...AS GOVERNMENT CERTAIN THAT RECOVERY IS COMPLETE
Finance Minister Kudrin said that economic indicators for the first half of 2002 give every reason to believe that the post-1998 recovery has been completed, RTR reported on 19 August. Kudrin noted that the country's gold and hard-currency reserves stand at more than $42.3 billion, a record for the last 10 years. He also pointed to the relatively stable dollar-ruble exchange rate and Russia's success in coping with its foreign debt. Deputy chief of the presidential administration Volin told RTR that personal savings have grown by nearly 51 percent, reaching $7 billion. He added that the crisis marked the end of the "speculative economy" and that over the last four years, business engaged primarily in investment in the real economy. RC

FAR EAST LEGISLATORS CALL FOR EXTENDING PUTIN'S TERM
The legislature of Magadan Oblast on 19 August sent a nonbinding resolution to the State Duma urging the national legislature to begin the process of extending the presidential term of office from four years to seven, ntvru.com reported. In order to do so, it would be necessary to amend Article 81 of the Russian Constitution. The Magadan initiative was framed as support for President Putin. "Today, aside from current President Vladimir Putin, there is no one capable of uniting all the positive forces in the country," the resolution reads. "Considering the current situation, we believe that the four-year term of President Vladimir Putin is too brief to solidify the positive results and make the further development of the country irreversible." Putin's popularity rating continues to hover at around 70 percent. RC

NEW FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA TRIGGERS CIVILIAN EXODUS
Renewed fighting flared up on 15- 16 August in the villages of Gekhi-Chu and Shalazhi in Urus Martan Raion between Chechen militants and federal forces, Russian news agencies reported. A spokesman for the Russian federal forces said at least 32 Chechen fighters were killed and the remainder forced to retreat. "The Moscow Times" quoted a Chechen administration source as saying that at least 12 Russian servicemen also died. Residents of villages in Urus Martan Raion began fleeing to Ingushetia to escape the fighting, according to chechenpress.com on 17 August. LF

PLANS APPROVED FOR REBUILDING CHECHEN CAPITAL
The Russian government has approved a plan for rebuilding Grozny over a period of five years, Interfax reported on 17 August, quoting Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov. Ilyasov said it is anticipated the city will have 600,000 residents. The more polluted areas in the west of the city will not be rebuilt, but instead a new district housing 100,000 people will be built on the southeastern outskirts. On 16 August, the Energy Ministry said it will spend 150 million rubles ($4.78 million) from the export of Chechen oil on restoring public buildings in Grozny to provide temporary housing, Interfax reported. LF

CORRECTION
An item entitled "Court Rejects New Accusation Against Former Military Chief Financial Officer" on 16 August incorrectly stated the Moscow Arbitration Court's ruling. The court found that former Colonel General Georgii Oleinik did abuse his office in 1998, upholding the latest charges against him. It also amnestied him on the embezzlement charges for which he was convicted in April and sentenced to three years in prison. The court ruled that he qualified for a blanket amnesty that the State Duma authorized in 2000 to commemorate the 55th anniversary of victory in World War II. Oleinik remains in custody pending trial on the second set of charges.

ARMENIAN RULING PARTY REJECTS ELECTION CRITICISM
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) rejected on 16 August allegations voiced the previous day by the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), its former partner in the ruling Miasnutiun coalition, that the HHK plans to resort to manipulation of the vote to secure the victory of its preferred candidates in upcoming local, presidential, and parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). The HZhK is particularly concerned that as HHK members outnumber its own in Miasnutiun, the HHK will name the single Miasnutiun representative to each election commissions at all levels. Galust Sahakian, who heads the HHK parliamentary faction, confirmed that his party will seek to exclude the HZhK from the 56 regional electoral commissions. But at the same time he rejected the HZhK's criticism, saying that the amended election regulations will improve the voting process. LF

TURKISH BUSINESSMEN CALL FOR REOPENING BORDER WITH ARMENIA
Some 30-40 Turkish businessmen from the cities of Kars, Igdir, and Artvin in eastern Anatolia met on 17 August in Yerevan with the Armenian Union of Industrialists and Businessmen to discuss how to promote bilateral trade, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Both Armenian and Turkish participants expressed frustration at successive Turkish governments' refusal either to open the border between the two countries or to lift the ban on imports of Armenian goods. LF

FORMER PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PRESSURE ON AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES
In a statement summarized by Turan on 16 August, Ayaz Mutalibov condemned what he termed "blatant human rights violations" by the present Azerbaijani leadership and called on the people of Azerbaijan to "force the regime to comply with the country's basic law, which guarantees human rights and freedoms." Mutalibov attributed the charges of planning a coup d'etat brought against five of his supporters last month to current President Heidar Aliev's irritation over Mutalibov's election as head of the Community of Azerbaijanis in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). He said Aliev's objective is to intimidate Mutalibov's supporters in Azerbaijan, including the Civic Solidarity Party. Mutalibov also said that French President Jacques Chirac intervened with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in April 1996 to help prevent his extradition to Azerbaijan. LF

THREE KILLED BY MINE ON ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI BORDER
Two Azerbaijani Army officers and one civilian were killed on 16 August when their automobile hit a landmine near the border between the two countries, Reuters reported. The United States last month sent a team of specialists to Baku as part of the $1.35 million program to help assist and train Azerbaijani servicemen in mine clearance. LF

GEORGIA DENIES MAINTAINING CONTACTS WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze on 16 August rejected as "absurd" Russian Foreign Ministry allegations that the Georgian authorities have consistently maintained contact with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov via the Chechen representation in Tbilisi, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). "There were no such contacts in the past. There will be no such contacts in the future," Sikharulidze said. He added that the Chechen office in Tbilisi is not officially registered and the Georgian authorities have no contact with its staff. LF

RANSOM DEMANDED FOR ABDUCTED GEORGIAN OFFICER
The unknown persons who kidnapped Colonel Zurab Durglishvili near Tskhinvali last week have demanded an unspecified sum to ransom him, Caucasus Press reported on 17 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). The independent newspaper "Akhali versia" reported on 19 August that Durglishvili, a member of the Georgian contingent of the peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia, was abducted because of his efforts to trace automobiles stolen elsewhere in Georgia. Both South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoyty and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze have ordered police to make every effort to find Durglishvili and secure his release. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY COUNCIL MULLS SENDING TROOPS TO PANKISI...
The possibility of sending Interior and National Security ministry troops to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to restore order there was discussed at a 17 August session of the National Security Council, but no date for any such deployment has been made public, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 17 August. Fearing a possible Russian military intervention directed against Chechen fighters in the gorge, the region's civilian inhabitants appealed to the Georgian government last week to send troops there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili explained to Caucasus Press that the ministry was reluctant to send troops to Pankisi earlier because of the large number of Chechen militants there, but that there are no longer any "large" armed groups of Chechens in the area. He added that the ministry will inform Moscow before the troops are deployed. LF

...AS RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER QUESTIONS SENSE OF GEORGIAN MANEUVERS
Speaking in Russia's Chelyabinsk Oblast on 16 August, Sergei Ivanov dismissed as no more than "a diplomatic gesture" the Georgian army maneuvers that got underway on 13 August in eastern Georgia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. "What kind of military exercises can be held in the mountains?" at an altitude of 2,000-3,000 meters above sea level, Ivanov asked rhetorically. The Pankisi gorge is in fact at a lower altitude. The Georgian exercises include the dispatch of some 600 servicemen to Pankisi, but Georgian troops will not be stationed permanently in the gorge, Georgian Defense Ministry Lieutenant General David Tevzadze told Interfax on 14 August. Nor are the war games intended as the first stage of a "large-scale antiterrorist operation," according to Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili on 14 August. LF

JOURNALIST BEATEN IN KAZAKHSTAN
Three men attacked journalist Artur Platonov late on 16 August as he parked his car outside his apartment, beating him up and breaking his nose, Interfax reported. The state-run television station Khabar reported the following day that three former police officers have been arrested in connection with the assault, but a police spokesman said that their testimony is inconsistent with that of Platonov. Platonov, who worked for the KTK television channel, had earlier been threatened for his criticism of law enforcement agencies. LF

UZBEKISTAN TIGHTENS SECURITY IN RUN-UP TO INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY
Police in Uzbekistan have been placed on heightened alert in anticipation of possible terrorist attacks on 1 September, the 10th anniversary of the country's independence, according to uzreport.com on 18 August. Addressing a meeting of law enforcement personnel on 17 August, Interior Minister Zohirdjon Almatov called for intensified surveillance of the country's borders to preclude the infiltration of terrorists, according to an Uzbek state television report monitored by the BBC. LF

WORLD BANK TURNS DOWN UZBEK REQUEST TO FUND RIVER-DIVERSION PROJECT
The World Bank will not provide funds toward the cost of reviving the grandiose project first unveiled in the 1980s to divert two Siberian rivers southward to provide water for Central Asia, Interfax reported on 17 August, quoting World Bank representative in Tashkent David Pears. The project was shelved in the early 1990s shortly after preparatory work got under way; Uzbek scientists have recently suggested reviving it. Pears, however, argued that Uzbekistan should make more effective use of the water resources currently at its disposal. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SAYS RUSSIA'S INTEGRATION PROPOSAL IS 'ROAD TO NOWHERE'
Leanid Kozik, the Belarusian co-chairman of an intergovernmental group working on the constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus Union, said on 16 August that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ultimate unification" proposal of 14 August is "a road to nowhere," Belarusian television reported. Following his talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow, Putin suggested that Russia and Belarus hold referendums next year on "ultimate unification" under which Belarus would join the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). Kozik was also skeptical about another suggested integration model that was described by the Russian president as "something like the European Union." "I get a feeling that that we are being deliberately pushed toward this second option," Kozik said. "They come up with that first one, knowing that the answer will be 'no.' And then we have to choose or else Russia says: 'See, absolute unification does not suit you, neither does the purely economic way, there is no pleasing you.' It is an opportunity to put all the blame on us." JM

BELARUSIAN WOMEN'S PARTY HEADS TOWARD SPLIT
A special convention of the Belarusian Women's Party Nadzeya (Hope) in Minsk on 17 August replaced its leader Valyantsina Palevikova with Valyantsina Matusevich, Belapan reported. According to Matusevich, the convention was intended to reanimate Hope and prevent it from disappearing from the political map of Belarus as a result of its announced merger with two social democratic parties. Palevikova responded that the convention was illegitimate and added that her dismissal was initiated by the new chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, Leonid Kozik, who was allegedly exerting pressure on the party's "trade-union" wing. Palevikova and her supporters intend to hold a separate convention on 24 August. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST RELEASED FROM JAIL...
Svyatlana Nekh, a 22-year-old activist of the opposition group Young Hramada, was released from jail in Hrodna on 16 August after completing a 10-day sentence for participating in an unauthorized picket (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2002), Belapan reported. Nekh was on hunger strike during her incarceration. JM

...WHILE EIGHT OTHERS RECEIVE COURT WARNINGS
A judge in Vitsebsk on 16 August issued warnings to eight activists of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP) for staging an unauthorized demonstration in the city on 27 July to mark the 11th anniversary of Belarus's declaration of state sovereignty. The demonstrators displayed a white-red-white flag and a poster saying, "We do not want to be a Russian province!" Yelena Zaleskaya, the leader of the AHP branch in Vitsebsk, said the "unexpectedly light punishments" were apparently a result of recent negative reactions by top Belarusian officials to Russian President Putin's "ultimate unification" proposal last week. JM

OUR UKRAINE MAY JOIN OPPOSITION IF UNABLE TO FORM COALITION CABINET
Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh and first deputy head of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus, has said Our Ukraine may join the opposition if it fails in its efforts to create a parliamentary majority and a coalition government, UNIAN reported on 16 August. "This will mean that Our Ukraine, as an opposition force, will demand the dismissal of the current government and early presidential elections, and will call for citizens' support for protest actions against the authorities," Kostenko added. "All efforts by Our Ukraine to secure economic growth until the presidential elections [in 2004] have run against the counteraction of oligarchic clans that influence the position of the head of state," Kostenko noted, adding that these words primarily refer to activists of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine-united, who, he stressed, "are trying to create a so-called 'majority' without Our Ukraine." JM

FIRE BREAKS OUT IN UKRAINE'S MOST DANGEROUS MINE
Four miners of the notorious Zasyadko coal mine have been hospitalized following a fire that broke out at a depth of some 530 meters in the morning of 19 August, UNIAN and Interfax reported. The fire was reportedly extinguished, while more than 1,200 miners who were in the mine when the accident occurred were safely evacuated. Last month, a methane-gas blast killed 20 miners in the Zasyadko mine. Two other tragic blasts in the same mine killed 50 miners in May 1999 and 55 in August 2001. JM

BALTIC, NORDIC PRIME MINISTERS MEETING IN RIGA
The annual two-day meeting of the eight prime ministers of the Baltic and Nordic countries began in Riga on 18 August, Baltic news agencies reported. The government heads plan to discuss the European Union enlargement process, cooperation at the upcoming NATO summit in Prague, and Baltic-Nordic cooperation in developing a Baltic Sea regional energy system. According to BNS on 17 August, the Latvian government has said that "everyone is eager to hear the Danish Presidency's stance on EU enlargement" -- Denmark currently holds the EU Presidency and has set as one of its priorities the closure of accession negotiations with all candidate countries, including the Baltic states. ETA and LETA reported on 18 August that the premiers will discuss cooperation to promote a joint "Baltic Ring" power grid, based on the Nordic countries' experience in liberalizing their respective electricity markets. MJZ

ESTONIAN CULTURE ENDOWMENT CHIEF CONFESSES TO EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGES, IS FIRED
The governing council of the Estonian Culture Endowment (Kultuurikapital) on 16 August fired its director, Avo Viiol, who confessed to investigators and the endowment's council that he gambled away between 6.5 million and 8 million kroons ($400,000-$500,000) of the endowment's funds from 1999 to 2002, ETA and BNS reported the same day. Kultuurikapital council member Andres Tali told ETA that the endowment will continue to provide support grants in spite of the funding shortfall, but cannot guarantee that grant amounts will remain at their current levels. Viiol is being held by the National Security Police, which have launched an investigation into separate charges that Viiol abused his official position and carried out large-scale theft while in that position. If convicted, Viiol faces a maximum of eight years in prison. Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas has yet to accept the resignation of Culture Minister and Endowment Council Chairwoman Signe Kivi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). MJZ

LATVIAN PREMIER GUILTY OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
According to a 16 August report by BNS, the daily "Neatkariga Rita Avize" has petitioned the state Corruption Prevention Council to investigate a possible conflict of interest involving Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins. The prime minister reportedly spent part of his summer vacation sailing off the Turkish coast on board a yacht owned by the Latvian Plywood (Latvijas Finieris) company -- a company that has benefited from more than 6 million lats ($10.1 million) in tax relief granted by Berzins' government, according to the daily. The newspaper pointed out that similar tax-break requests by the Valmiera Fiberglass Factory (Valmieras Stiklu Skiedru) and the LatRosTrans oil-pipeline company were rejected. Berzins's hosts on the holiday cruise were family friends Daina Bruniniece, a senior adviser at Latvijas Finieris and a Latvian Television (LTV) journalist, and her husband Janis Gavars, who is an informal adviser to Berzins and an influential Latvia's Way party member. Corruption Prevention Council Secretariat head Rudolfs Kalnins told the newspaper that, because the prime minister also serves as council chairman, the council might not be able to objectively review the case. MJZ

RUSSIAN ENVOY LASHES OUT AT LITHUANIA'S POSITION ON KALININGRAD VISAS
Russian presidential envoy for Kaliningrad Dmitrii Rogozin has lashed out at the Lithuanian government's position concerning visa-free transit rights for travelers between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave, Interfax-BNS reported on 16 August. Rogozin accused Lithuania, which has agreed to be bound by the European Union's Schengen border regulations, of being "involved in a certain game" when it negotiated its accession to the Schengen rules as part of its efforts to join the EU. "When the Lithuanians were holding [their Schengen] talks...they forgot to discuss the guidelines to regulate trips to the Kaliningrad region.... Now Russia has to deal with the EU, but try not to forget about Lithuanian whose deadline for joining the Schengen treaty should not be changed." Meanwhile, the Lithuanian daily "Lietuvos Zinios," citing a 16 August RosBalt news agency story, reported that Rogozin has not "lost hope" of meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus regarding the visa issue, even though Adamkus is currently on annual leave. Gediminas Kirkilas, who as chairman of the Lithuanian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for relations with Kaliningrad, added that "such meetings are possible only after real agreements on the meeting are made." MJZ

POPE WARNS OF WORLD'S EVILS AT MASS ATTENDED BY 2.5 MILLION IN KRAKOW...
Pope John Paul II on 18 August conducted Mass in the presence of 2.5 million people gathered on the Blonie meadowland near Krakow, Polish and international media reported. In his sermon, the pope appealed for more mercy and love in today's world. He also warned of "hitherto unheard of dangers" in the new millennium, mentioning "false freedom concepts," "noisy liberalist propaganda," and "freedom without truth and responsibility." "Humanity stands before new development prospects but also new dangers. Very often people live as if there were no God. Such people usurp the creator's right to interfere with the secret of human life and try to decide about life's existence by genetically manipulating its forms," John Paul II said. JM

...AND BIDS EMOTIONAL FAREWELL TO HOMELAND
Later the same day, the ailing and frail 82-year-old pontiff bid an emotional farewell to thousands of people gathered for a nighttime vigil outside the archbishop's residence in Krakow. The crowd intoned, "Welcome, Alleluia" and "stay with us," when the pope showed his face from a window. "Unfortunately, it's a farewell meeting," the pope responded. Earlier the same day, while visiting the St. Florian Parish Church where he was a priest from 1948-50, John Paul II made rare mention of his mortality by saying, "I ask for prayers for all the current parishioners at St. Florian, a prayer for the living and the dead, and a prayer for the pope during his lifetime and after his death." Many commentators voiced their apprehension that the pontiff's age and illness may prevent him from visiting his homeland again. The pope is scheduled to depart for the Vatican in the evening of 19 August, after conducting Mass at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary near Krakow. JM

EU TO EXTEND RECONSTRUCTION AID TO FLOOD-AFFECTED CENTRAL EUROPEAN COUNTRIES...
Meeting in Berlin on 19 August, European Commission President Romano Prodi and the leaders of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovakia agreed on a plan to free "substantial sums" from EU development funds and to grant cheap loans to cover cleanup and reconstruction costs of areas affected by the recent floods, AP reported. Wolfgang Schuessel, Vladimir Spidla, Gerhard Schroeder, and Mikulas Dzurinda gave no specific figures but said they intend to create a European disaster-relief fund that could start off by helping flood areas. Schroeder said the aid will be extended to all countries affected, "whether they are EU members or will only become members." Some estimates of the costs involved exceed $20 billion, and observers say the reconstruction may take years. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT TOURS FLOODED AREAS OF CAPITAL...
President Vaclav Havel on 18 August visited flood-ravaged areas of Prague, saying: "We must be ready to rapidly accept international help. The wave of solidarity is tremendous...[and] we must be able to say what we want and be able to accept what we request," CTK and Reuters reported. Havel donated 1 million crowns ($33,000) of his own money to recovery efforts and said the reconstruction of affected areas will take a long time and patience is required. CTK said on 18 August the Czech Republic has thus far accepted aid offers from 18 countries. Some 120 foreign rescuers are already in the country, and 85 more are expected to arrive, the agency reported. On 16 August, dpa reported that Health Minister Marie Souckova has requested funds for the vaccination of Prague residents and surrounding areas against hepatitis and other diseases. The death toll from Czech flooding rose to 14 over the weekend with the discovery of two apparent drowning victims. MS

...AS U.S., NATO MAKE ASSURANCES OF ASSISTANCE
U.S. President George W. Bush on 17 August told Czech President Havel in a telephone conversation that the United States will provide flood-relief aid "with all means available," CTK reported, citing presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. A U.S. Embassy source told CTK that the embassy has already provided $500,000 in immediate aid. On 16 August, CTK cited a Czech diplomatic source in Washington as saying that the United States wants to provide engineering equipment to two towns liberated by its forces during World War II -- Plzen and Pisek. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, in a statement released in Brussels on 17 August, assured citizens and governments of the affected countries that "they can count on NATO...to come to their assistance," AFP reported. Robertson said the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC), set up in 1988 to coordinate disaster relief efforts in 46 countries, is maintaining contacts with Prague and other capitals to provide all needed assistance. MS

LOCAL CZECH OFFICIAL CLAIMS ROMA MISUSING FLOOD AID
Usti nad Labem Deputy Mayor Tomas Jelinek on 18 August released a statement claiming that the town's Romany population is misusing humanitarian aid destined for people left homeless by the floods. He said that the demands and behavior of some Roma following their evacuation represents "a second elemental disaster after the flood," according to CTK. Jelinek, an independent, said, "It cannot be ruled out that the Roma are trafficking in the aid and passing it on to people who do not live in the flooded area." Martin Simacek of the People in Need organization denied the mayor's allegations and said he will consult lawyers on a response. Usti nad Labem made world headlines in 1999 when the City Council erected a fence that critics claimed would create a Romany "ghetto." The fence was dismantled after local and international protest. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HIGH-TICKET JETS DEAL IS 'DEAD'
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik is quoted in the daily "Pravo" on 19 August as saying the roughly $2 billion purchase of two dozen Gripen fighter jets is "now dead for the Czech Army," CTK reported the same day. Tvrdik added that military officials will soon "submit alternatives for guarding [Czech] airspace" after 2005, when the country's MiG-21s become obsolete, according to the agency. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told journalists on 16 August that the coalition government of the Social Democrats, the Christian Democratic Party-People's Party and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) will have to "seriously reconsider" whether to go ahead with the costly purchase due to the extensive damage caused by the floods, CTK reported. MS/AH

FLOOD EMERGENCY CALLED OFF IN SLOVAK CAPITAL
Slovak authorities on 17 August called off the state of emergency in five of the town's districts but said the highest state of alert remains in force in other neighborhoods, TASR and CTK reported. Officials said the alert will be totally rescinded once water levels drop under 8.50 meters above normal. The Danube River peaked at 9.90 meters over its average on 16 August. MS

SLOVAK SUPREME COURT FREES EMBATTLED FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
The Supreme Court on 16 August ruled that former Slovak Information Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa must be released from detention, TASR and international news agencies reported. The court said the warrant under which Lexa was detained should have been issued by the district court that ordered his detention two years earlier, and not by the Bratislava regional court that issued the warrant after Lexa's July extradition from South Africa. Lexa's prosecution is to proceed. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda called the decision "shameful" and vowed that Lexa "will not escape justice," CTK reported. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told Reuters that the Supreme Court's decision contradicts the law and the government "will take every step to return him to jail." Interior Minister Ivan Simko called the decision "absurd," and Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Bela Bugar said the decision amounts to "a slap in the face of anyone who still believes in justice." Lexa refused to answer journalists' questions upon leaving prison in Bratislava. MS

SMK WILL NOT REOPEN BENES DECREES ISSUES BEFORE SLOVAK ELECTIONS
SMK Chairman Bugar on 18 August told CTK that his party will not reopen the issue of the Benes Decrees ahead of Slovakia's September elections. He added that this does not mean that the SMK is accepting all of the consequences of the decrees, such as the limitations they impose on the restitution of land to ethnic Hungarian former property owners in southern Slovakia. The Party of the Democratic Left and its chairman, Agriculture Minister Pavol Konkos, have blocked SMK efforts to have lands whose previous owners cannot be identified transferred to local authorities. "We know that the reopening of the Benes Decrees issue is a sensitive one in Slovakia," Bugar said, adding that the SMK fears the reaction of Slovak nationalists. MS

SLOVAK PARTY LEADERS AGREE TO AMEND ELECTORAL LAW AFTER BALLOTING
The leaders of several major Slovak political parties on 18 August agreed that the electoral law should be amended after the September parliamentary elections, TASR reported. Participating in a debate on Slovak television, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar said his party wants the proportional system on party lists to be changed into a one-round, single-mandate system and a bicameral parliament. Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico said at least half of deputies should be elected under a single-mandate representation and that the threshold for parliamentary representation should be raised from the current 5 percent to 7 percent. Alliance for New Citizens Chairman Pavol Rusko concurred with the single-mandate proposal, adding that the number of deputies should be cut from 150 to 100. Prime Minister Dzurinda said his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union has proposed changing the current system on several occasions but was never able to enlist a majority. The only dissent came from Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky, who said Slovakia's democracy must mature before changing its electoral system. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALISTS CRITICIZE PARTICIPATION IN OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM
Slovak National Party Deputy Chairman Peter Sulovsky told TASR on 18 August that the departure for Afghanistan of a Slovak engineering unit scheduled for 19 August is the result of U.S. pressure and has nothing to do with Slovak interests. Sulovsky said the military engineers who will take part in Operation Enduring Freedom "could find a more dignified and useful occupation at home, clearing out the consequences of the recent floods." He said the 100 million crown ($2.28 million) costs of Slovakia's participation in the operation equal the entire government budget reserves for covering flood damages. MS

HUNGARIAN CAPITAL WITHSTANDS FLOOD...
Danube River waters in Budapest peaked at record levels shortly after midnight on 19 August and began falling in the early morning hours, international news agencies reported. At its peak, the registered water level was 8.48 meters above normal -- higher than the 1965 flood level of 8.45 meters, the highest recorded level in the past century, but lower than in 1838, when the river rose more than 9 meters. More than 20,000 people worked to reinforce dikes in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary over the weekend and some 2,000 homes in low-lying areas of the capital were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Szentendre, north of Budapest, was cut off from the rest of the country but few homes were flooded and flood defenses were reportedly holding. MS

...WHILE GOVERNMENT ALLOCATES MORE FUNDING TO BATTLE FLOODING
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told journalists on 18 August that although "the situation is really difficult...there is a good chance this huge flooding, unprecedented in the past 100 years, will be kept under control," Reuters reported. Medgyessy said his cabinet increased the amount of money allocated for flood defense to 3.2 billion forints ($12.8 million) from the 500 million forints initially allocated. Medgyessy also said the government has canceled the traditional fireworks planned for 20 August, when Hungary celebrates its national day. Also on 18 August, he visited Szentendre and helped workers strengthen the city's flood barriers, AFP reported. MS

ANOTHER FORMER HUNGARIAN MINISTER ADMITS COLLABORATING WITH COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICES
Imre Boross, who was agriculture minister in the cabinet headed by Viktor Orban from 1998-2002, told the daily "Magyar Nemzet" of 16 August that the communist secret services had forced him to collaborate with them, AFP reported. "I did not approach them, they approached me. I did not want to collaborate, but I was constrained to do so," he said. MS

KOSOVAR PARTY ACCUSES UNMIK OF 'CRIMINALIZING LIBERATION STRUGGLE'...
Hina reported from Prishtina on 18 August that one of Kosova's main ethnic Albanian political parties has again criticized the recent arrests by the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) of several Kosovars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2002). The Democratic Party, which is led by former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci, said in a statement to the daily "Koha Ditore" that the arrests constitute an attempt at "criminalizing" Kosova's 1998-99 liberation struggle against Serbia rule and at undermining Kosovar hopes of obtaining independence. The statement added that UNMIK's behavior is "intolerable." UNMIK recently denied charges by some Kosovars that it carried out the arrests as part of an unspecified deal with Belgrade, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 August. PM

...AS MASS PROTESTS BEGIN IN KOSOVA
Demonstrations against the recent arrests of Kosovars by UNMIK are slated for 19 August in Podujeva, Gllogovc, Peja, Decan, and Prizren, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Kosovar government is scheduled to meet in Prishtina to consider its response to the latest developments. Some press commentaries have criticized the authorities for not doing so sooner. Thaci has appealed to the parliament to hold a special session to discuss the overall situation in Kosova following the arrests. Elsewhere, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that everyone is entitled to express a viewpoint provided they do so peacefully. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT EMERGES UNSCATHED FROM CAR ACCIDENT...
President Boris Trajkovski suffered no injuries in an automobile accident on 16 August, dpa reported. According to a statement from Trajkovski's office, his driver lost control of the car on the Skopje-Ohrid road. The driver suffered a slight concussion. UB

...AND CELEBRATES THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MACEDONIAN ARMY
Speaking at the Ilinden barracks on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Macedonian Army (ARM) on 18 August, Trajkovski praised the army's role in last year's conflict with the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK), MIA news agency reported. "Macedonia needs a modern, mobile, well-trained, and [well-]equipped army, as is required by [international] collective defense systems, the international community, and the international antiterrorist coalition," Trajkovski said. When the Yugoslav Army withdrew from Macedonia in 1992, it took almost all the materiel there with it. The cash-strapped republic has subsequently purchased some equipment and has received numerous gifts, including second-hand tanks from Bulgaria and former East German equipment. In related news, two soldiers were slightly injured when unidentified persons threw a hand grenade and fired automatic weapons at them just outside the Ilinden barracks on 15 August. UB

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT EXPECTS NO MAJOR FLOODING
Ankica Aleksic, who heads the Serbian government's flood-prevention department, said in Belgrade on 19 August that existing embankments and other flood-control measures will most likely withstand the flood waters expected to enter Serbia from Hungary soon, AP reported. Agriculture Minister Dragan Veselinov said that he does not expect any "unpleasant surprises," adding that emergency funds are available should the worst happen. PM

MILOSEVIC'S PARTY TURNS DOWN HIS ADVICE...
The steering committee of former President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) agreed in Belgrade to reject his proposal that the party endorse Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj as its candidate in the 29 September Serbian presidential elections, Reuters reported on 18 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). The SPS will choose its candidate on 21 August. Leading contenders are Milutin Mrkonjic, who headed the reconstruction efforts after Milosevic's war in Kosova in 1999, and Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, an actor known for playing Partisan war heroes in World War II movies. PM

...AS SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION BACKS LABUS
At a meeting of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition in Kragujevac on 18 August, 11 parties endorsed Miroljub Labus as their joint candidate in the 29 September race, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Leaders of five parties did not endorse Labus and will announce their final decision soon. Those parties are the Democratic Alternative, Democratic Center, New Democracy, Christian Democratic Party of Serbia, and the Serbian Resistance Movement of Kosovo and Metohija. Labus is scheduled to launch his campaign on 19 August. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNING PARTY DOUBTS THERE WILL BE A BELGRADE PACT
Filip Vujanovic, who is vice president of President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Podgorica on 18 August that he believes that the differences between members of the constitutional commission are so great that the proposed Constitutional Charter between Serbia and Montenegro will never be concluded. Vujanovic is himself one of the signatories of the March agreement between Serbia and Montenegro. On 17 August, Javier Solana, who is the European Union's chief of foreign and security policy, telephoned Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to stress the importance of finishing work on the charter soon. In related news, Jozef Kasza, who heads the League of Vojvodina Hungarians, and Rasim Ljajic, who head the Sandzak Democratic Party, said in Belgrade on 16 August that the proposed charter gives minorities even fewer rights than they now enjoy. Gone would be their guarantee of collective rights, as well as their rights to self-government, cultural autonomy, and use of their mother tongues in dealings with officials. PM

ITALIAN TOURIST HITS SLOVENIAN JACKPOT
As Croatia and Slovenia continue their efforts to rebuild or reinvent their tourist industries, Slovenian tourism got a favorable boost in free publicity on 18 August after an Italian visitor won nearly $2 million in what dpa called a "slot-machine jackpot" in Kranjska Gora. The unidentified lucky winner will receive her money in monthly installments of $50,000 each. PM

SLOVENIAN MEDIA BLAST U.S. ICC PROPOSAL...
Slovenian print media have criticized Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel for being too "pro-American" by not clearly condemning the U.S. call for Slovenia to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States pledging not to turn American citizens over to the new International Criminal Court (ICC), Hina reported from Ljubljana on 18 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, 15, and 16 August 2002). The Slovenian media have called the U.S. proposal "outrageous." Rupel said after a meeting with a U.S. Congressional delegation in Piran that Slovenia will consult with the EU regarding the matter. Brussels has yet to formulate a joint position. PM

...AS DO BOSNIAN MEDIA
Hina reported from Sarajevo on 16 August that the Bosnian joint presidency has discussed the U.S. proposal with U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond. The ambassador denied reports that Washington has threatened to block Bosnia's membership in Partnership for Peace over the matter or that the status of SFOR will be affected by it. Bosnian officials said that the proposal requires "long-term attention" and that Sarajevo understands but does not agree with it. (Observers note that what is blocking Bosnia's membership in Partnership for Peace is its own failure to form a single army with a unified command.) Hina added that the weekly "Slobodna Bosna" charged that the U.S. proposal shows that Washington is opposed to human rights. The Croatian news agency quoted the Sarajevo weekly "Dani" as calling the U.S. position on the ICC "absurd." PM

ALBANIAN POLICE CHIEF SACKED
Prime Minister Fatos Nano fired Bilbil Mema as head of the police on 19 August because of his failure to stop smugglers' speedboats traveling between Albania and neighboring countries with cargos of human beings and drugs, AP reported. The authorities recently launched Operation Puna (Work) between Saranda and Vlora with the Greek Navy and Italian customs police to combat trafficking. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION IS 'CERTAINTY...'
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 17 August that Romania is entering a "new stage in its historic development," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana told a forum of young people in Brasov that Romania is shedding its status as "an eternal candidate for European and Euro-Atlantic integration" and entering the stage where "this integration becomes a certainty." He cited as an example of this new status the accord recently signed with the United States by which Romania will not extradite U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Geoana also said Romania intends to become a vehicle for the "transmission of Euro-Atlantic values" to other countries in the region. MS

...DENIES NATO ADMISSION IS PEGGED TO SETTLEMENT OF BORDER DISPUTE WITH UKRAINE
Geoana also said in Brasov that NATO is not pressuring Romania to settle its Black Sea border demarcation dispute with Ukraine, Mediafax reported. Geoana said NATO is "imposing no conditions" on Romania for NATO membership, but that it would be "a good thing" if the dispute could be settled ahead of the alliance's summit in Prague in November. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER RECEIVES PROMINENT U.S. SENATORS
Visiting U.S. Senators John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Fred Thompson (Republican, Tennessee) were received in Bucharest on 18 August by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, with whom they discussed Romania's efforts to join NATO, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The prime minister requested McCain's and Thompson's support for Romania's bid and emphasized that NATO integration is part and parcel of Romanian society's modernization process. The two senators said they are interested in all aspects of the reform process in Romania, mentioning in particular the struggle against corruption, the protection of children, and the improvement of the business climate. They praised Romania's signing of the accord with the United States regarding the ICC, as well as its contribution to the international struggle against terrorism. McCain and Thompson were to be received on 19 August by President Ion Iliescu. MS

OSCE FAILS TO ORGANIZE NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIALS
Matti Sidoroff, who is the spokesman of the OSCE's mission in Chisinau, said on 16 August that an OSCE-planned meeting between Chisinau and Tiraspol negotiators in Chisinau did not take place for "technical reasons," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tiraspol rejected the invitation on the grounds that it was not signed by OSCE mission chief David Schwartz and because its own chief negotiator, "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay, was on vacation. Sidoroff also announced that the delegation heads of the three entities mediating the talks -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- will meet in Moscow by the end of the month to coordinate future moves. Last week, Tiraspol refused to attend a meeting in Chisinau on 15 August called by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on the grounds that Voronin is not entitled to call such a meeting, as such an action is exclusively the prerogative of the mediators. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER CONCERNED ABOUT PROGRESS OF ABDUCTION INVESTIGATION
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc and Deputy Interior Minister Constantin Clipa on 16 August that he is concerned about the lack of progress in the investigation into the 2 August abduction of government official Piotr Dimitrov, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev stressed that the abduction was the second such occurrence since March, when Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov was kidnapped in Chisinau and held prisoner until his abductors, who remain unidentified, freed him. Tarlev said that the authorities in charge of "safeguarding public order are not up to their task." Papuc and Clipa told Tarlev that two suspects in Dimitrov's abduction have been detained. MS

PPCD LEADER ISSUES EMOTIONAL NATIONALIST APPEAL TO SUPPORTERS IN MOLDOVAN CAPITAL
On 17 August, PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca called on supporters to turn out in large numbers for the planned rally in Chisinau on 1 September, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He called the rally "our open-space cathedral" at which "we shall fulfill our holy duty to defend truth, righteousness, and justice." He said the rally "is authorized by our love for the nation" and that those who hold these values dear are not ready "to step back like animals in the face of force imposed on them." Rosca said the country's Communist rulers are now "sweetening their lying and venomous tongues" in order to mislead the West and that they are "planning to denationalize us via federalization." He said that the protest demonstrations earlier this year were " a sign of grace to the inheritors of countless generations of Romanians" whose souls "make up an infinite column raising up to God the Father and return to us transfigured and full of the Holy Spirit who protects us." Rosca also said that "we are the New Generation that carries forward in our youthful arms our ancestors' legacy" and whose duty is to "carefully pass it on to those who will come after us." MS

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL CLAIMS SHOOTOUTS AN ATTEMPT TO DESTABILIZE GOVERNMENT
Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Boyko Borisov said on 17 August that shootouts in Sofia on 15 and 16 August in which at least five people were wounded were aimed at destabilizing the government, BTA reported. Borisov said following a meeting of Interior Ministry and police officials that the shootings were connected with the Interior Ministry's recent attempts to crack down on illegal drug trade. Bulgarian media reported that the targets of the shootouts were three men believed to have connections to organized crime in Bulgaria. UB

...AS BULGARIAN POLICE LAUNCH MASSIVE ANTI-DRUG OPERATION
Following shootouts in Sofia, police launched a massive nationwide anti-narcotics operation on 17 August, Bulgarian media reported. During the operation some 800 venues suspected of being used for narcotics-related activities were searched and police detained some 500 individuals who have drug-related criminal records. Officers found large quantities of narcotics as well as unregistered firearms during the operation. UB

BULGARIAN ECONOMY MINISTER VISITS LIBYA
Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev left Tripoli on 19 August after completing a two-day working visit, BTA reported. Vasilev headed a delegation that included Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Ivan Petkov, Economy Deputy Minister Nikola Yankov, and legislators Ramadan Atalai and Konstantin Penchev. The delegation met with members of the Libyan government as well as the chairman of the Libyan Oil Company. "The warm welcome for the Bulgarian delegation and the meetings that have already been held, gives us reason to expect a pragmatic spirit of the talks and good prospects for the future relations between the two countries," Vasilev said on 17 August. He announced the next day that General People's Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation Secretary Abd Al-Rahman Shalgam is to visit Bulgaria in the next few weeks. Bulgarian-Libyan relations are still overshadowed by the ongoing trial of Bulgarian medical workers who have been accused of deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV. UB

There is no End Note today.


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