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Newsline - August 20, 2002


MORE THAN 100 SOLDIERS KILLED IN CHECHNYA HELICOPTER CRASH...
More than 100 Russian troops died on 19 August when an overloaded Mi-26 military transport helicopter crashed into a minefield near the air base in Khankala, near Grozny, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Reports from the scene were unclear, but Interfax reported that the death total could climb to as many as 120. The agency quoted Rudnik Dudaev, secretary of the Chechen Security Council, as saying that 39 survivors have been hospitalized. An unidentified military source told Interfax that 156 people were aboard on the manifest for the flight, although it is unknown how many people were actually aboard the helicopter. Many of the hospitalized are in critical condition, according to RTR. VY

...AS PUTIN ORDERS INVESTIGATION
President Vladimir Putin ordered a "thorough investigation of the incident," news agencies reported on 20 August. Putin asked Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to take charge of the investigation. A spokesman for the Chechen military command told chechenpress.com by telephone on 19 August that a Chechen fighter fired a Strela missile that brought down the helicopter. An unnamed source on the investigation team told ITAR-TASS that the helicopter's right engine was hit from the ground and that eyewitnesses said they saw a flash of light rise up from the ground. Reuters, citing Interfax, on 20 August reported that a spent Strela missile launcher has been found near the crash site. The crash is the worst aviation incident in Chechnya since military action resumed there in 1999 and the fifth overall. In most of the previous cases, the helicopters were shot down by Chechen fighters. VY/LF

RUSSIA WANTS TO TRIPLE TRADE WITH CHINA
In an interview with the Chinese "People's Daily" and RIA-Novosti on the eve of his trip to Beijing for a meeting of a bilateral commission on economic cooperation, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 20 August that strategic partnership with China is a "material fact" and that this year trade between the two countries will exceed the record $10.7 billion set in 2001, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, an unidentified member of Kasyanov's delegation told RBK on 20 August that Russia has ambitious plans to increase trade with China to $35 billion by 2006, with arms deals continuing to be the most important element. In addition, Russia has already begun construction of a major oil pipeline from Siberia to China and Korea, and Gazprom is participating in the construction of a gas pipeline from western China to its east coast. Russia is also involved in Chinese nuclear-energy projects and hopes to sell China a number of civilian aircraft as that country modernizes its fleet, the source said. Finally, he added, Russia hopes to attract Chinese investment into its telecommunications sector, as well as into forestry and natural-resources extraction. VY

PREMIER HANDS GAMBLING BUSINESS TO SPORTS COMMITTEE...
Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a directive according to which all rights to license gambling businesses and bookmaking companies will come under the control of the State Sports Committee, gazeta.ru reported on 20 August. The directive says that revenues obtained should be directed to the development of national sports and physical education. Kasyanov's decision is a bureaucratic victory for the State Sports Committee, which has long lobbied for the measure. However, analysts have speculated that the association of the committee with the gambling sector might lead to the further criminalization of the sports sector, which is already regarded as one of the most criminalized sectors of the economy and a source for recruiting personnel for organized crime. VY

...CALLS FOR DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR COSMODROMES...
Kasyanov on 19 August signed a decree defining areas of responsibility for the management of Russia's three main cosmodromes at Baikonur, Plesetsk, and Svobodnyi, strana.ru reported. The Russian Aviation and Space Agency will have overall control of Baikonur, while the Defense Ministry will control the other two launch sites. The decree also orders the two agencies to prepare within six months a plan for developing the sites in accordance the country's space program and its international and commercial obligations. RC

...AND CHANGES RESIDENTIAL REGISTRATION RULES
Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a directive altering the rule regulating the registration of citizens at their place of residence, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 August. According to the new instructions, citizens changing their residences must notify the police within three days and be registered. However, unlike in the past when such registration was valid for only six months, the new system offers a flexible and negotiable term. VY

WALKING TOGETHER TO GO AFTER MORE WRITERS
Artem Mugunyants, a lawyer for the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, told strana.ru on 19 August that the organization has filed a complaint against writer Bayan Shiryanov for dissemination of pornography and for propagandizing the use of narcotics. Bayan Shiryanov is the pseudonym of Kirill Vorobev, and the accusations stem from his 2001 novel "Low-Level Pilotage." The novel was published by Ad Marginem, the publisher of Vladimir Sorokin's novels that are also under assault from Walking Together (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 16 July 2002). Mugunyants also told "Kommersant-Daily" that Walking Together has created a list of writers against whom it intends to file complaints, but he did not specify who else is on the list. RC

ACCUSED SCIENTIST TO REMAIN IMPRISONED
A Moscow city court on 19 August extended the term of the investigation of researcher Igor Sutyagin until 8 October, strana.ru reported on 20 August, citing RIA-Novosti. Sutyagin's lawyer said that he intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. He added that the court had still not ruled on Sutyagin's appeal of the extension of the term for investigating his case to 8 September. Sutyagin is a former researcher of the Academy of Science's Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada who is accused of passing classified information to Western agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 11 August 2002). He has been held without trial since 27 October 1999. RC

FSB SEEKS NOVOSIBIRSK CAR BOMBER
The Novosibirsk territorial directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has appealed to the public for assistance in locating the person who left a homemade car bomb in a vehicle in the center of the city on 10 August, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 August. Speaking on local television, FSB spokesman Stanislav Chekalin showed a police identikit likeness of a male suspect who is accused of leaving the remote-controlled explosive near a 12-floor apartment building. Law enforcement agents discovered the bomb and neutralized it. Chekalin added that investigators are still seeking to establish whether the incident is connected to organized crime or to terrorism. VY

NORTH KOREA'S KIM IN FAR EAST
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has begun his visit to Russia's Far East, Russian news agencies reported on 20 August. Kim's first stop is Komsomolsk-na-Amure, where he will tour the Amur Shipbuilding Plant and a local military aircraft factory. He will then visit Khabarovsk. According to Reuters, Kim will meet with President Putin in Vladivostok on 24 August. RC

'DOUBLES' MAKE APPEARANCE IN NIZHNII POLL
The Nizhnii Novgorod Elections Commission has completed registration of candidates for the city's 15 September mayoral election, strana.ru reported on 19 August. In all, 20 candidates will vie for the post, including State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov, businessman Andrei Klimentiev, Deputy Chairman of the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast legislature Mikhail Dikin, and incumbent Mayor Yurii Lebedev. The list of candidates includes at least two "doubles," as candidates named Vadim Bulavinov and Mikhail Dikin were registered at the last minute. The use of doubles is a widespread dirty trick in regional elections. Sergei Rodin, head of the elections commission, told RIA-Novosti that the doubles are not a significant problem because "the voters are not that stupid and can figure out who is who." He noted, however, that his agency does not have the right to refuse to register doubles. RC

RAILWAY OFFICIAL ASSASSINATED
The deputy head of the Moscow Railway, Sergei Paristyi, was killed on 20 August by unidentified gunmen, Russian news agencies reported. According to lenta.ru, police believe Paristyi was the victim of a contract killing organized by the so-called "ticket mafia," which was displeased by his efforts to take control of the railway ticket-sales system. The website, citing police investigators, reported that Paristyi was shot in the stomach by two gunmen outside his Moscow apartment building at 7:45 a.m. as he was leaving for work. RC

HARD TIME FOR PRANK CALLER
A man who was convicted of making an anonymous telephone bomb threat in Novgorod on 3 June 2001 has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, regions.ru reported on 19 August. Moreover, because 30-year-old Mikhail Brik was on probation at the time of the incident, he will have to complete his original sentence, meaning that he will spend seven years behind bars. According to prosecutors, Brik called police from a payphone and reported that a bomb had been placed in a municipal natural-gas distribution plant. No bomb was found and investigators claim that the incident was an act of drunken hooliganism. According to the website, there have been 70 such incidents in the Novgorod region since 1 January 2000, and 14 of the callers have been identified. Of them, 11 were schoolchildren and three, including Brik, have been convicted and imprisoned. RC

FAR EAST MAYOR DRIVING DRUNK?
Aleksandr Kolyagin, mayor of the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk, rolled his car on a downtown street early in the morning of 20 August, regions.ru reported, citing press-center.ru. According to the report, Kolyagin was slightly injured and was drunk at the time of the incident. Police have not yet determined whether a criminal case will be filed. RC

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT
Russia lost all three of its games in the first round of the Little League World Series and was eliminated on 19 August, AP reported. After losing games on 17 and 18 August to Japan and Mexico, the team lost 10-0 to Netherlands Antilles, facing four innings of no-hit pitching. Netherlands Antilles moved on to the next round of the tournament, which is being held in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. RC

AZERBAIJANI MEDIA GIVEN GREEN LIGHT TO COVER REFERENDUM
Azerbaijan's Supreme Court ruled on 19 August ruled that the 8 July decision by the Central Elections Commission (CEC) requiring media outlets to submit by 15 July lists of journalists who wished to cover the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments referred only to those journalists who wished to monitor the voting, Turan reported. The court said there are no restrictions on journalists wishing to cover the referendum. Opposition parties had complained that the CEC's decision constitutes a violation of media freedom. Also on 19 August, President Heidar Aliev chaired a three-hour meeting at which he ordered the presidential administration and government to ensure that the voting on 24 August is transparent and democratic, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ASKS TURKEY TO LIFT QUOTAS FOR IMPORT OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE
Meeting on 19 August in Baku with visiting Turkish State Minister Resat Dogru, who co-chairs the Azerbaijani-Turkish commission for economic cooperation, President Aliev appealed to Ankara to abolish the existing quotas for imports of agricultural produce from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, Turan reported. Dogru said Turkey will consider that request. LF

AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES SET NEW CONDITIONS FOR MEETING VILLAGERS' DEMANDS
During talks on 18 August, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku that their fellow villagers detained following clashes with police in early June will be released only after the villagers formally approve the authorities' candidate for the new local government head in the district of Sabunchi, Turan reported on 19 August. The identity of that candidate is not known. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES ANTITERRORISM OPERATION IN PANKISI
At his traditional Monday press conference, Eduard Shevardnadze said on 19 August that Georgian Interior Ministry and National Security Ministry forces will launch an "anticriminal and antiterrorist" operation to establish "peace and stability" in the Pankisi Gorge and expel criminal elements and Chechen fighters, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. He did not say when the operation will get under way, but predicted that it will last several weeks. LF

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS RUSSIAN CONTACTS WITH ABKHAZIA
In a statement released on 19 August, the Georgian Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of encroaching on Georgia's sovereignty and demonstrating disrespect for a neighboring state by dispatching a Russian government delegation to Abkhazia earlier this month to discuss with the breakaway republic's leaders the prospects for expanding economic cooperation, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian statement also criticized as "incorrect" an assertion by Russian Foreign Ministry representative Vasilii Kolotusha blaming Georgia for the outbreak of hostilities in Abkhazia in August 1992. LF

THREE GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES ALIGN
The leaders of the National Democratic Party of Georgia (SEDP), the United Democrats, and the Union of Traditionalists (STK) signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 19 August affirming their shared determination to protect Georgia's state interests, to prevent the further criminalization of political life, and to promote Georgia's integration into European structures, including NATO, Caucasus Press reported. Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia's SEDP is one of the oldest Georgian political parties, dating back to the late 1980s; Akaki Asatiani of the STK served as a member of Zviad Gamsakhurdia's administration in 1990-91; and the recently formed United Democrats are headed by former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania. The opposition National Movement headed by Zhvania's close associate, former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, will not join the new alignment at this stage, although it completely shares its objectives, Saakashvili told Caucasus Press on 19 August. LF

UNFROCKED GEORGIAN PRIEST DEMANDS RECALL OF U.S. AMBASSADOR
Between 100-200 followers of Father Basil Mkalavishvili staged a demonstration on 19 August outside the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi to demand the recall of Ambassador Richard Miles, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. They accused Miles of interference into Georgia's religious affairs and of protecting "criminal" denominations including Jehovah's Witnesses. Mkalavishvili's followers are believed to be responsible for a 16 August attack on a house in Kaspi Raion where Jehovah's Witnesses planned to meet the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). LF

GEORGIAN VILLAGERS WANT BASIC AMENITIES TO COMPENSATE FOR PIPELINES
Residents of the village of Akhali Samgori have staged a demonstration to focus attention on their opposition to routing the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines through that village, Caucasus Press reported on 19 August. The villagers warned they will prevent construction unless the village is provided with a mains water supply and decent roads. Also on 19 August, Caucasus Press reported that David Woodward, who is president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company that is developing two offshore Caspian oil fields, has asked Tbilisi for permission to increase from 145,000 to 160,000 barrels per day the volume of oil from those deposits exported via the Baku-Supsa pipeline. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA CLAIMS ABDUCTED GEORGIAN COLONEL INVOLVED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES
Batkhaz Khareshov, who is the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia's information minister, has told journalists that Colonel Zurab Durglishvili, who was abducted in Tskhinvali last week, was involved in criminal activities, including illicit arms sales, Caucasus Press reported on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 August 2002). The agency quoted an unidentified source close to the Abkhaz parliament in exile as saying that the Georgian guerrilla movements operating in southern Abkhazia buy arms illegally from members of the Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia. Some 400 fellow peacekeepers are currently searching for Durglishvili. Police say he is almost certainly being held in the vicinity of Tskhinvali, as all roads were closed shortly after he was kidnapped. LF

GEORGIAN COURT REMANDS SUSPECT IN RUSSIAN COLONEL'S MURDER
A Tbilisi district court on 19 August remanded Davit Gazashvili in pretrial custody for three months, Caucasus Press reported. Gazashvili was detained on 8 August on suspicion of murdering Russian Air Force Colonel Igor Zaitsev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 August 2002). LF

JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST APPEALS SENTENCE
Lawyers for former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was sentenced on 2 August to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002), appealed that sentence to the Pavlodar Oblast court, forumkz.org reported on 20 August. Meanwhile, the local prosecutor's office has brought charges of obstructing the course of justice and slander against a human rights activist and two close associates of Zhaqiyanov. In an interview with the official newspaper "Kazakhstanskaya pravda," Bekbulat Demesinov, the prosecutor at Zhaqiyanov's trial, listed further criticisms of the latter's performance as Pavlodar Oblast governor. He claimed that the oblast's economy deteriorated steadily, its net share of total industrial production declined, unemployment increased, and Zhaqiyanov sold off several local enterprises at suspiciously low prices during his tenure, according to panorama.kz. LF

CHINESE MILITARY DELEGATION VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
A Chinese military delegation headed by Lieutenant General Cheng Shouzheng, who is deputy commander of the Lanzhou military district, held talks in Almaty on 19 August with Deputy Defense Minister Major General Abai Tasbulatov on expanding bilateral military cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. The Chinese delegation met with students at the Almaty Higher Military School who are studying Chinese. During a visit to Kazakhstan in March, the deputy chief of General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Xiong Guangkai, signed an agreement under which Beijing will provide Kazakhstan's armed forces with various sorts of equipment, including for communications and for the special forces, to the value of $3 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). LF

RESIDENTS OF KAZAKH BORDER VILLAGES DEMAND MEETING WITH PRESIDENT
Residents of the villages of Baghys and Turkestanets on the Kazakh-Uzbek border staged a demonstration on 19 August outside the government building in Astana to demand a meeting with either President Nursultan Nazarbaev or Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov, Interfax reported. The villagers want to know whether the Kazakh government has reached an agreement with Tashkent on demarcation of the final sections of the two countries' shared border. Astana has reportedly agreed that Baghys should remain part of Kazakhstan, but that Turkestanets and the surrounding territory, including pastures, should be ceded to Uzbekistan, even though the population of Turkestanets is predominantly Kazakh. Residents of the two villages staged demonstrations in December 2001 to focus attention on the need to demarcate the frontier between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 7 January and 13 March 2002). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST ADVISES AGAINST CAMPAIGN TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT
In an interview with the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa" summarized by akipress.org on 19 August, jailed former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov argued that calls for a campaign to impeach President Askar Akaev are unrealistic. Opposition parties aligned last week in a bid to force Akaev's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). Kulov said that rather than demand Akaev's resignation, the opposition People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan of which he is president will demand that those officials responsible for the deaths of five demonstrators in a clash with police in Aksy in March be brought to trial. Akaev has signed a law granting amnesty both to opposition activists who participated in the protests and police who resorted to violence against them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 1 July 2002). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS BORDER POPULATION AGAINST ABETTING DRUG TRAFFICKERS...
Touring Khatlon Oblast in southwestern Tajikistan on 15-16 August, Imomali Rakhmonov called for more effective measures to prevent the transit of drugs smuggled from Afghanistan through the region, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 August. He warned the population of the border district of Shurobod that people who abet drug trafficking may be forcibly resettled elsewhere in the country. LF

...ASKS MINISTERS, MEDIA NOT TO SING HIS PRAISES
Rakhmonov has asked his Press Secretary Zafar Saidov to remind government officials and journalists of his aversion on principle to excessive adulation or similar manifestations of a cult of personality, Saidov told Interfax on 19 August. The warning, Saidov said, is intended to forestall excessive attention to the president's upcoming 50th birthday, which he regards as a "purely family affair." Rakhmonov issued a similar warning late last year against extensive and fawning media coverage of his activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). LF

TURKMENISTAN SIGNS CONTRACTS WITH TWO JAPANESE COMPANIES
Following talks in Ashgabat on 19 August between President Saparmurat Niyazov and a delegation of Japanese businessmen, the Turkmen government signed eight-year cooperation agreements with Itochu Corporation and Komatsu Ltd., ITAR-TASS and turkmenistan.ru reported. The Japanese companies will provide machinery for the construction of oil and gas pipelines and highways, and build a network of some 20 small factories, each of which is to produce annually some 70,000-100,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas. They will also participate in the controversial construction of a huge artificial lake in the Karakorum desert. LF

MOSCOW URGES BELARUS TO SPEED UP CURRENCY INTEGRATION...
Belarus's National Bank has received proposals from the Russian government and Central Bank to expedite the introduction of the Russian ruble as the single currency of the Belarusian-Russian union, Belapan reported on 19 August, quoting the National Bank spokesman Mikhail Zhuravovich. Russia suggests bringing forward the date for the introduction of a common currency from 1 January 2005 (as specified in an earlier agreement) to 1 January 2004 (as proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week). Under these proposals, Belarusian cash in circulation would be exchanged for Russian rubles "within a preliminarily set period at a fixed rate that should be on a level with the market rate." Russia's Central Bank offers to provide Belarus's National Bank with the necessary amount of Russian cash "in the form of an interest-free and perpetual loan," which would have to be repaid only if Belarus decided to reintroduce its national currency. In exchange, Moscow demands that the Belarusian bank be banned from issuing loans to the Belarusian government and conduct all major operations by permission of the Russian bank. JM

...WHILE EXPERTS SAY RUSSIAN PLAN IS UNREALISTIC
Yaraslau Ramanchuk, an expert from the Minsk-based Strategiya think tank, told Belapan that Russia's proposal to introduce the Russian ruble as the common currency of Russia and Belarus on 1 January 2004 is a "propagandist move" rather than a realistic plan of action. "There would be a sense in switching over to a common currency if the [Russian] currency was stable [and] enjoyed the confidence of investors and trading partners. The Russian ruble is not a hard currency," Ramanchuk added. Another Belarusian expert, Valery Dashkevich, said Russia's currency integration proposals can hardly be implemented since they imply "the incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation." "If the plan is accepted, the National Bank of Belarus will turn into the Russian Central Bank's main office for Belarus, which contravenes the Belarusian Constitution," Dashkevich added. JM

BELARUSIAN TV MAIN NEWSCAST CONTINUES TO AIR PRO-INDEPENDENCE MESSAGES
Following Russian President Putin's proposal last week to held referendums in Belarus and Russia on Belarus's merger with the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002), "Panarama," the main evening newscast of the Belarusian television, has regularly aired messages in favor of Belarus's sovereignty and quoted different Belarusian officials protesting Putin's integration plan. The 19 August "Panarama" issue was no exception to this trend. "[Putin's proposal] means the liquidation of [our] state.... Belarus's Election Code does not provide for a referendum with questions that affect the territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus," Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich said. "Such proposals [as that of Putin] are made only for a state forced to sign an act of capitulation," a "Panarama" moderator commented. JM

DEATH TOLL FROM UKRAINE'S AIR-SHOW DISASTER REDUCED TO 76
Officials from the Lviv Oblast Health Care Department said on 19 August that the number of confirmed deaths resulting from the 27 July jet crash at a Lviv air show is 76, not the 83 as reported shortly after the tragedy, Ukrainian media reported. They cited confusion over unidentified body parts as a reason for the incorrect higher toll. Forty-five people injured in the crash are still hospitalized. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalized miners following the 19 August fire in the Zasyadko mine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002) increased to 21, up from the four reported immediately after the accident. JM

RUSSIA SEES POLITICS IN ESTONIAN NKVD OPERATIVE TRIALS
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Tallinn said the trial of former NKVD agents Vladimir Penart and Rudolf Tuvi on crimes against humanity charges stemming from the deaths of five Estonian Forest Brothers resistance fighters in 1953 and 1954 have "a clearly defined political character," according to BNS on 19 August. The spokesman continued by saying, "This is how the so-called deportations of 1941 and 1949 and the fight against gangs of Forest Brothers are interpreted in Estonia," noting that Estonia has classified as criminal the communist regime in the Soviet Union and the agencies that supported that regime. The Russian Embassy told the RIA-Novosti news agency that Russia's Foreign Ministry has helped prepare the defense for the accused, who will be represented during the trial in Valga County Court by Moscow lawyer Vakhtang Fedorov. The embassy spokesman said that two other former agents will face similar trials in the near future; a third, Karl-Leonhard Paulov, died in prison in February 2002 while serving an eight-year sentence. MJZ

BALTIC, NORDIC LEADERS WRAP UP SUMMIT IN LATVIA
The eight prime ministers of the Baltic and Nordic countries wrapped up their annual two-day summit in Riga with the optimistic affirmation that all three Baltic states will complete their European Union accession negotiations by the end of 2002 and are well positioned to receive NATO membership invitations, BNS reported on 19 August. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who currently chairs the rotating EU Presidency, said that he is convinced that "all the three Baltic states will be able to complete [EU] membership talks in December," while Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik noted that Baltic efforts to join the two organizations are facilitated by the support for NATO accession they enjoy from Finland and Sweden -- Nordic countries that are not NATO members -- and the support for EU accession they have received from Iceland and Norway, which have not joined the European Union. Another major issue discussed during the session, according to Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, is the need for all eight countries to contribute to the creation of the joint "Baltic Ring" power market by the end of the decade, LETA reported. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins raised the possibility of expanding the concept to include the entire European Union, and for underground natural gas reservoirs to be located in Latvia. MJZ

LATVIAN ELECTION NEWS
The first of a series of televised debates featuring the seven strongest political movements vying for seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections took place on 19 August, diena.lv reported. The seven parties and coalitions -- New Era, For Human Rights in a Unified Latvia, Latvia's Way, People's Party, Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP), and Greens/Farmers Union --addressed internal security issues in a fast-paced atmosphere that debate moderator Janis Domburs said forced the participants to respond quickly and accurately. Meanwhile, both young and old supporters of the controversial Saeima deputy and LSDSP candidate Janis Adamsons -- whose name has been stricken from the 5 October ballot because of Latvia's lustration law -- called on the community to choose between "pedophiles and Adamsons" during a demonstration outside the Riga courtroom that will decide the fate of Adamsons' candidacy, LETA reported on 19 August. MJZ

LITHUANIAN TOUR DE FRANCE HERO AGAIN TESTS NEGATIVE
Raimondas Rumsas, the Lithuanian cyclist who thrilled his homeland by placing third in the prestigious Tour de France last month, has tested negative in a third independent doping test, ELTA reported on 19 August. The test, conducted at the Kreischa Laboratory near Dresden, Germany, confirmed the previous negative results of tests conducted at the Huddinge Laboratory in Sweden and in Riga, according to Algirdas Raslanas, the deputy director of the Lithuanian government's Physical Culture and Sports Department. Rumsas has been subject to increased scrutiny after his wife, Edita Rumsiene, was arrested on 28 July for possession of steroids and other banned doping substances. She has been held by French authorities in a Bonneville jail since 30 July, which last week led Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis to state that her continued detention would affect French-Lithuanian relations. MJZ

POPE WRAPS UP TRIP TO POLAND WITH PRO-EU MESSAGE
"I'm sorry to leave," John Paul II told a crowd bidding him farewell at the Krakow airport on 19 August. "May the spirit of mercy, fraternal solidarity, harmony and cooperation, as well as authentic concern for the good of our Motherland reign [among you]," PAP quoted the pope as saying. "I hope that by cherishing these values, Polish society -- which has belonged to Europe for centuries -- will find its due place in the structures of the European Union, and that it will not only maintain its identity but also enrich this continent and the entire world with its tradition." Earlier the same day, the pontiff prayed at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary, asking "Our Lady of Calvary" for physical and spiritual strength to continue his mission "to the end" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002). JM

DEFIANT POLISH OFFICER SACKED FROM ARMY
Colonel Ryszard Chwastek received an official dismissal from the armed forces on 19 August, the "Rzeczpospolita" daily reported the next day. General Staff spokesman Zdzislaw Gniatkowski told the newspaper that Chwastek was fired from the ranks after rejecting two proposals to take up a new military post. Chwastek, who commanded the elite 14th Mechanized Division, was suspended earlier this month after publicly blaming Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and top generals for "humiliations" of professional servicemen and the "mess" that in his view reigns in the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 August 2002). JM

CZECH PREMIER SAYS STATE OF EMERGENCY MAY BE EXTENDED IN FIVE REGIONS
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on 19 August that the state of emergency in several regions may be extended to the end of August, CTK reported. The government was to meet on 21 August to decide whether to prolong the measure in central and southern Bohemia, Usti nad Labem, and Plzen. Spidla asked that the Chamber of Deputies convoke an extraordinary meeting to approve an extension in these regions. The state of emergency was lifted in Prague on 19 August and in the western city of Karlovy Vary on 16 August. The premier said the state of emergency allows the use of young men serving alternative civil service in the cleanup operations. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach said that some 50,000 youths are currently performing alternative service. Spidla also estimated costs from the flooding at about 60 billion to 90 billion crowns ($1.92 billion to $2.88 billion), according to the daily "Hospodarske noviny." MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO DELAY SUBMISSION OF DRAFT 2003 BUDGET
The flood damages in the Czech Republic may call for a revision of the 2003 state budget drafted by the government, CTK reported on 19 August. Prime Minister Spidla is seeking to prolong by one month the deadline for submitting a draft budget to parliament, due at the end of September. Spidla also said the date for November's Senate elections will not be changed, but the 27 August deadline for submitting candidate lists for local elections will probably be extended by three weeks. MS

CZECH POLICE OPEN INVESTIGATION INTO CHLORINE LEAK...
The daily "Pravo" reported on 20 August that police have opened an investigation into the 15 August chlorine leak at the Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice. The daily cites Police President Miroslav Antl as saying the chlorine, a dangerous poisonous gas, was apparently poorly controlled and the plant was late in reporting the accident. Another leak was registered on 17 August. On 18 August, experts at the plant began pumping chlorine from storage tanks and transforming it into harmless sodium hypochlorite. CTK on 19 August reported that the process will take between three and seven days. German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin and his Czech counterpart, Libor Ambrozek, were to inspect the plant on 20 August. The Germans have expressed concern about the situation, since apart from the chlorine incident they fear that other dangerous chemicals might have polluted the Labe (Elbe) River. MS

...AND PRAGUE METRO FLOODING
Police are also investigating whether the flooding of many metro stations in Prague was not due to negligence, CTK reported on 20 August, citing the daily "Pravo." The daily quotes Antl as saying, "We are examining possible criminal liability of some people," and explains that the metro in Prague was kept running up to the last minute before flooding started, while pressure seals were apparently not closed on time. After power was cut off, pumps could not operate in many metro stations, the daily reports. Only about half of Prague's metro stations are now open, and it is estimated that repairs will last several months, resulting in major transportation woes in the city. MS

TEMELIN REACTOR BACK ON LINE
A spokesman for the Temelin nuclear-power plant said on 18 August that the plant's first unit was reconnected to the power grid on 17 August, after a one-day outage caused by a minor leak of stem in the non-nuclear part of the operation, AP reported. The spokesman also said that tests are proceeding at the plant's second unit, where the reactor is now running at 12 percent of capacity. MS

SLOVAK SOLDIERS DEPART FOR AFGHANISTAN
The first group of 40 Slovak soldiers left on 19 August for Afghanistan to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom, TASR and CTK reported. The engineering unit is to repair an airfield in Bagram damaged during heavy fighting with Taliban forces. President Rudolf Schuster, who saw off the soldiers, told them that the day is "historical for our country, as Slovakia is for the first time participating in a military mission under U.S. command." MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER VOWS TO DEFY POLLS AND WIN
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar said on 19 August that despite polls showing a drop in support for the HZDS, he expects the party to win 30 percent of the vote in the 20-21 September elections, Reuters reported. Meciar said there is "more than [a] 50 percent chance" that the HZDS will be a member of the next ruling coalition, the agency added. He said that no coalition formed without the HZDS has a chance of surviving. Meciar again denied that he is an obstacle to Slovakia's integration in NATO and the EU, asking: "Why are they focusing on me as a person? Am I integrating into the West or is it the Slovak Republic?" MS

FORMER SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE CHIEF GIVES FIRST INTERVIEW AFTER RELEASE FROM DETENTION
In his first interview after his 16 August release from detention, former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa told the daily "Novy Den" on 19 August that he believes he was kidnapped from South Africa by the SIS and agents of the Slovak Interior Ministry, TASR reported. Lexa again claimed he is innocent of the charges brought against him and said his trial is politically motivated. He said the prosecution is biased against him and is manipulating witnesses. Lexa said the strategy of the ruling coalition is to create "legal chaos" in order to deflect the attention of Slovaks from the country's economic problems. MS

SLOVAK ROMANY ORGANIZATION CALLS FOR PSNS BAN
The Romany Civic Organization (ROI) said on 19 August that it is filing a lawsuit against the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) and its chairman, Jan Slota, CTK reported. ROI says the PSNS and Slota consistently promote racial intolerance. ROI Executive Deputy Chairman Milan Scuka said his organization wants authorities to ban the PSNS, adding that statements the PSNS is spreading triggered a recent attack by skinheads on ROI parliamentary candidate Miroslav Didias (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). MS

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS EU UNDERMINING DEMOCRATIC FORCES...
Milo Djukanovic wrote in "The Washington Post" of 20 August that "a destabilizing, antireform coalition supported by certain bureaucracies of the European Union is threatening to set back the progress of democracy in Montenegro. Since the signing in March of the Belgrade agreement on a new Serb-Montenegrin union, a combination of forces within Yugoslavia has tried to hijack the negotiation process and force Montenegro into a tighter Serbian orbit." Djukanovic added that "this antidemocratic axis has managed to gain the ear of some political circles in Brussels and in some Western European countries. These policymakers naively believe that pushing out the current pro-Western government in Montenegro will ensure stability by preventing Montenegro from gaining self-determination and national independence." The president argued that "for several months the EU bureaucracy in Brussels has in effect tried to rewrite the agreement. Its ostensible goal is to establish uniformity within the Serb-Montenegrin union, but in practice this has meant pushing for Montenegro's economic subordination to Belgrade" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). PM

...WHICH ARE LOSING GROUND...
Writing in the "Washington Post" of 20 August, President Djukanovic argued that "the most recent maneuvers by this anti-Montenegrin and antidemocratic coalition have included abrupt changes in the media and election laws after the scheduling of new parliamentary elections for [6 October]. With these changes, the pro-Yugoslav bloc is seeking to limit the scope of human rights, free media, and representation of minority groups in the Montenegrin legislature. The Muslim and Albanian minorities have always been part of the democratic bloc, seeing Montenegro as their own state and participating in the work of the pro-independence government." Fearing for the worst, the president added that "if the Montenegrin majority, which favors independence, and the republic's national minorities are deprived of their political voice, then the stage may be set for civil strife on a scale that could destabilize both Montenegro and its neighbors." PM

...AND NEED WASHINGTON'S SUPPORT
President Djukanovic wrote in "The Washington Post" of 20 August that U.S. support is crucial for the future of multiethnic democracy in Montenegro. He feels that "to avert a descent into conflict, urgent action is needed by Washington and Brussels. In particular, some European quarters should curtail attempts to conduct European foreign policy through what are in fact anti-European forces in Montenegro. Any further deterioration of the political situation in Montenegro could endanger its democratic achievements, in which the American administration, Congress, and the people have invested much in recent years. Without Washington's direct and impartial involvement, the EU's attempts at state-building could provoke a serious new crisis in the Balkans in coming months" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002). PM

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT SLAMS 'CRIMINALIZATION OF LIBERATION WAR'
The government of Kosova issued a strongly worded statement on 19 August in which it criticized the recent arrests of several prominent guerrillas of the former Kosova Liberation Army by the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). The declaration argued that the arrests undermine the political process and democratization in Kosova. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhep told reporters in Prishtina that "the charges against senior former fighters...are unacceptable to Kosova's government," but did not say what the government plans to do in response. Elsewhere, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that "we are the judicial authority here and we are mandated with prosecuting any crimes of past or present of which we have evidence, as we have done with Serbs accused of crimes committed during the war." UNMIK also "regrets" the government's statement. Finally, KFOR commander General Marcel Valentin and Agim Ceku of the Kosova Protection Force (TMK) discussed the current situation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

COVIC UNHAPPY WITH SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who heads the small Democratic Alternative, said that he will not enter an already "crowded" presidential election set for 29 September, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 20 August. He added that it might be better not to endorse any candidate and let voters make up their own minds, "Danas" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). PM

MACEDONIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ACCUSES INTERIOR MINISTRY OF PADDING VOTERS LISTS...
Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti told a news conference on 17 August that the Interior Ministry has provided the state Statistics Agency with voters lists that include the names of 3,500 ethnic Macedonians from Albania, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The additional voters recently received Macedonian citizenship and are all registered at the address of the Interior Ministry, which is headed by Ljube Boskovski of the governing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002). Mehmeti said he has received repeated threats against his person and his family unless he approves the apparently padded voters lists. However, he ordered the Statistics Agency to strike all persons from the lists whose residence is the Interior Ministry. The registration of voters will close on 21 August. UB

...WHILE THE INTERIOR MINISTER WANTS TO ARREST THE JUSTICE MINISTER
Boskovski subsequently threatened to arrest Mehmeti, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 19 August. "The justice minister has immunity, and we cannot arrest him now, but we hope to do so at the end of his mandate," Boskovski said. Jani Makraduli, the spokesman of the opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM), said he hopes that the State Elections Commission and the Public Prosecutor's Office will be able to prevent any tricks. UB

MACEDONIAN NATIONAL TV LAUNCHES MULTIETHNIC CHANNEL
Macedonian National Television inaugurated a multiethnic channel on 20 August, featuring programs in the languages of the Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Romany, Vlach, and Bosnian Muslim minorities, "Dnevnik" reported. The program can be received on about 85 percent of Macedonia's territory. Programs in minority languages were broadcast previously by the second channel of Macedonian National Television five hours per day. Now there will be 12 hours of minority-language programs, nine hours of which are in Albanian. The Albanians and some other minorities also have their own private television stations. UB

SLOVENIAN MINISTER SAYS CROATIA IS 'DRAMATIZING' SITUATION IN BAY OF PIRAN
Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 19 August that Croatia is seeking to control half of the Bay of Piran, "Jutarnji list" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). He added that Zagreb seeks to "dramatize" the current tensions between the two countries in order to undermine the 2001 agreement between their prime ministers, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Rupel said that Slovenia does not object to international arbitration of the border dispute provided that the agenda includes land as well as maritime frontiers. PM

ROMANIAN PREFECT RESIGNS IN WAKE OF PHONE-TAPPING SCANDAL
Iasi Prefect Corneliu Rusu Banu submitted his letter of resignation on 19 August, saying he was doing so to protect the government's image and the image of the ruling Social Democratic Party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said the government will discuss Banu's decision and praised him for what Cozmanca said was "an act of dignity and political responsibility." Banu was at the center of a scandal earlier this month after he was reported as saying that Roma should be prohibited from entering public buildings because of what he called their disorderly behavior. He also said that Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) sources revealed to him which journalists leaked his comments to EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele, prompting Scheele to officially ask whether the SRI was tapping his telephone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 August 2002). Banu said the allegations against him that were published by an Iasi daily had "never been confirmed" and were part of a "conspiracy" intended to discredit him. MS

U.S. SENATORS WRAP UP VISIT TO ROMANIA...
U.S. Senators John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Fred Thompson (Republican, Tennessee) said prior to their departure from Bucharest on 19 August that they favor Romania's admittance to NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague in November, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two senators were received earlier on 19 August by President Ion Iliescu for talks that concentrated on Romania's efforts to join NATO. Senator McCain said the same day that not admitting Romania to NATO could negatively affect the country's battle against corruption. MS

...AND ROMANIAN PREMIER SPEAKS WITH U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase spoke by telephone with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on 19 August and discussed bilateral relations and the recent accord signed between the two countries by which Romania will not extradite U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court, Romanian radio reported. Rice said the U.S. authorities highly appreciate Romania's signing of the accord, which she said will positively influence bilateral relations. She also said the U.S. government is ready to assist Romania following recent flooding in the country. MS

ROMANIAN FLOODING CLAIMS MORE LIVES
Heavy rains on 19 August resulted in further loss of life in Romania attributed to flooding, Romanian radio and Mediafax reported. In Brasov County a 15-year-old boy was swept away by a swollen river and was later found drowned, and another person is missing in Neamt County. Environment Minister Petru Lificiu said the same day that the recent floods have damaged 33 out of Romania's 41 counties. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF 'REGRETS' LACK OF COOPERATION FROM TRANSDNIESTER
David Schwartz, chief of the OSCE's mission in Moldova, on 19 August said the mission "deeply regrets that Transdniester refused our invitation to come to the negotiation table," Infotag reported. Schwartz was referring to Tiraspol's recent refusal to participate in a round of talks in Chisinau called for by the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Schwartz said that Tiraspol's refusal to attend the meeting on procedural grounds is "unfounded" and that the OSCE mission is "disappointed" by the decision. He said that the position displayed by Tiraspol "represents a serious impediment on the road to finding a solution" to the conflict. The same day, OSCE mission spokesman Matti Sidoroff was quoted by Flux as saying that Moldova "remains open to a constructive dialogue" with Tiraspol. MS

...WHILE MEDIATORS SCHEDULE NEW MEETING
The three mediators for finding a solution to the conflict -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- have scheduled a new meeting to be held in Chisinau on 22 August, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau. The meeting is to be attended by representatives of Moldova, the unrecognized Transdniester Republic, and the three mediators. OSCE sources told RFE/RL that they do not know how long the parleys will last. The only point on the agenda will be the OSCE proposal for settling the conflict, which calls for Moldova's federalization. MS

BULGARTABAC BIDDERS SUBMIT ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
All four bidders that reached the final round of the tender for the state tobacco company Bulgartabac submitted additional information on 19 August about their offers, BTA reported. The state Privatization Agency asked the bidders on 5 August for additional information on various aspects of their offers. Despite Metatabak Consortium's earlier announcement that it was withdrawing from the tender because it believed some bidders were receiving preferential treatment from the Bulgarian government, the Russian company provided additional information and is apparently still in the running (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). UB

COMMITTEE TASKED WITH REACHING SETTLEMENT ON LIBYAN DEBT TO BULGARIA
Speaking at a news conference on 19 August about the results of his working visit to Libya from 17-19 August, Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev announced that the two sides have agreed that the subcommittee on financial affairs of the Bulgarian-Libyan Intergovernmental Committee will tackle the issue of settling Libya's debts to Bulgaria. Libya owes $54 million to the Bulgarian government, and an unspecified amount to Bulgarian state and private companies. The subcommittee will also discuss the Bulgarian oil and gas concessions in Libya. Deputy Economy Minister Nikola Yankov lauded Libya's consent to open negotiations on amending the concession contracts for the exploitation of oil and gas fields in Libya by Bulgarian companies. So far Bulgaria has invested about $160-200 million in those fields, while over $300 million are required for their development, Yankov said. UB

There is no End Note today.


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