Accessibility links

Newsline - August 21, 2002


EXPLOSION ROCKS MOSCOW APARTMENT BUILDING...
Eight people were killed when part of a five-story apartment building in northern Moscow was destroyed by an explosion on 20 August, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Seven people have been hospitalized and 17 were given outpatient treatment, ITAR-TASS reported. According to strana.ru, more than 350 rescue workers were sent to the scene. President Vladimir Putin ordered Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to oversee the rescue operation personally. RC

...AS CAUSE UNDER INVESTIGATION
Despite official statements from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other agencies that a natural gas leak and not a terrorist act was to blame for the explosion, President Putin ordered law enforcement officials to conduct an investigation. AP reported that FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev visited the site. According to dpa, firefighters were puzzled as to why no fire had broken out after the explosion and survivors claimed that they smelled explosives rather than gas after the incident. In 1999, the country was rocked by a series of apartment-building explosions that are still being investigated. On 10 August, police in Novosibirsk located and removed a car bomb in Novosibirsk, and the FSB is now searching for the perpetrator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). VY/RC

BLAME GAME BEGINS IN CONNECTION WITH DOWNED HELICOPTER...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Rostov-na-Donu that as a result of a military helicopter crash in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002), 115 of the 147 people on board were killed, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 21 August. Among the dead are 21 officers -- including four lieutenant colonels -- three women, and the child of one of the servicemen. Ivanov also promised a "very efficient investigation" and noted that it will be facilitated by the fact that the helicopter's crew survived. He announced that he has suspended Colonel General Vitalii Pavlov, commander of the army aviation wing in Chechnya, for the duration of the investigation. VY

...AS PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION SEES IT AS A 'TERRORIST ATTACK'...
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov stated that the main theory being investigated is that the tragedy was the result of "a terrorist attack," RTR reported on 20 August. Ustinov's deputy, Sergei Fridinskii, confirmed reports that a launcher for a Strela rocket had been found near the crash site. President Putin declared 22 August a national day of mourning for those killed in Russia's worst post-Soviet military air disaster, ORT reported on 20 August. VY

...WHILE CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION EXPRESSES DOUBT
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 20 August expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in the helicopter disaster, Interfax reported. At the same time, he cast doubt on the veracity of the Chechen militants' claims of responsibility for downing the helicopter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). Chechen Police Chief Said-Selim Pashaev likewise said he thinks it improbable that any Chechen fighter could have approached close enough to Khankala to fire a missile and bring down the helicopter, Interfax reported. Pashaev pointed out that the area surrounding the Khankala base is closely guarded, and that military helicopters regularly patrol it at low altitudes and would have detected any interloper. LF

LIBERAL RUSSIA LEADER GUNNED DOWN
State Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev (independent) was murdered in broad daylight near his Moscow home on 21 August, Russian and Western news agencies reported. RIA-Novosti reported that he was shot twice in the head. Golovlev, who was elected to the Duma as a member of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), left that party in early 2001 and later became a co-chairman of Liberal Russia. "The murder of one of the five co-chairmen of Liberal Russia is undoubtedly of a political nature," fellow Liberal Russia co-Chairman and Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov was quoted as saying by regions.ru. According to NTV, unknown assailants attacked Golovlev about three months ago, but the attack was foiled by Golovlev's dog. Last fall, the Prosecutor-General's Office asked the Duma to lift Golovlev's immunity from prosecution in order to investigate his activities when he headed the Chelyabinsk Oblast State Property Committee in 1991-92 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). The Duma partially granted the request by authorizing prosecutors to proceed with an investigation. According to dpa, Golovlev is the seventh member of the Duma to be murdered since 1994. RC

PREMIER CALLS ON CHINESE BUSINESS TO BOOST QUALITY...
Speaking to representatives of the Chinese business community in Shanghai on 21 August, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov urged Chinese producers to improve the quality of goods exported to Russia, RIA-Novosti reported. Kasyanov complained that a lot of inexpensive commodities brought into Russia by shuttle traders are of poor quality and fully bear out the Chinese saying, "The thing is as good as its price." Kasyanov also urged China to settle currency-exchange issues that arise in the course of intensive cross-border trade. He announced that the two sides have reached an agreement, according to which payments in the border regions will be carried out only in national currencies, eliminating barter arrangements. If this system proves effective, its scale will be expanded. VY

...AND CALLS FOR ADHERENCE TO IMMIGRATION, CUSTOMS REGULATIONS...
In an interview with the Chinese media and RIA-Novosti on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002), Kasyanov warned China "to strictly observe Russian immigration legislation." He also said that he is concerned that Chinese goods brought across the border by shuttle traders are violating the newly adopted Customs Code. Russia does not want to ban this trade, but is seeking to impose order on "unorganized" trade, Kasyanov said. VY

...AS BORDER GUARDS DETAIN TWO CHINESE
The press office of the Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) announced the detention of two Chinese citizens on charges of violating the Russian border in the Far East, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 August. According to the press release, border guards at the FPS's Posetsk Station fired warning shots before detaining the two men, who had reportedly penetrated about two kilometers into Russian territory. In all, the FPS has caught over 300 people violating the border with China so far this year. VY

DEPUTY SKEPTICAL OF EFFECTIVENESS OF GAMBLING DECREE
Duma Deputy Igor Dines (Unity), who heads the government's expert commission on lotteries and gambling, criticized a government decision to transfer the right to license gambling businesses to the State Sports Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002), RosBalt reported on 21 August, citing Ekho Moskvy. Dines said that there are "many things connected with the specifics of the gambling business that are completely new topics" for the committee. He also emphasized the need to create an adequate legislative framework for the gambling sector, noting that a bill is already under consideration in the Duma and should be adopted during the fall session. He added that he believes Russia should have no more than 200 casinos nationally. Dines acknowledged that the sector is highly criminalized and called for much tighter control over the issuing of licenses. RC

MINISTRY OPPOSES IMPORT OF LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE
The Atomic Energy Ministry does not support a proposed plan to store low-level radioactive waste at a facility on the disputed Kurile Islands, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August, citing the ministry's press service. "The ministry has not conducted nor is conducting any negotiations with foreign partners about bringing low-level waste into Russia from abroad.... The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry supports the current legislative ban on bringing such waste into Russia," the ministry's press release said. The news agency reported that an unnamed ministry source said the press release refers to a proposed plan to store such waste from Taiwan and Japan on Simushir Island in the Kuriles. The Soviet Union occupied the islands after World War II, an act that Japan has never recognized. RC

NATO EMPLOYEE FOUND DEAD IN MOSCOW
A German citizen who worked for NATO in Moscow was found dead on 21 August, AP reported. Olaf Schmunk, 35, was an office administrator for the newly opened NATO military liaison office in Moscow. Neither NATO nor Moscow police provided any additional information on the circumstances surrounding Schmunk's death, although police said that an investigation has been launched. RC

GOVERNOR TRIES TO MAKE GAS COMPANIES PAY
Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub held a meeting with the heads of the companies exploiting the Markovskoye natural-gas field in order to compel them to pay their taxes, regions.ru reported on 21 August, citing rostov.ru. According to the report, Chub told the heads of Soyuzprominvest, Dongazdobych, and Kubangazprom that he expects gas production to be the leading source of revenue for the entire oblast and that he is disappointed that tax payments from the companies have been declining in recent months. In the course of the meeting, Soyuzprominvest reportedly agreed to register itself in Rostov Oblast. The company is currently registered in Moscow Oblast and pays part of its taxes there. At the same time, Dongazdobych agreed to work with the administration of the oblast's Tarasov Raion on a local community-development plan. RC

PUTIN ISSUES PARDONS
President Putin has pardoned three unidentified convicts and reduced the sentences of four others, RBK reported on 21 August, citing the Presidential Pardons Office. According to the report, all the convicts are men between the ages of 20 and 55. Most of them have no previous criminal convictions, have small children, and received positive evaluations from prison authorities. RC

NATIONALIST CALLS FOR EXCHANGE OF LANGUAGES
Deputy Duma Speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii, on a private visit to the United States, said in New York on 20 August that he favors visa-free travel between the United States and Russia, Russian news agencies reported. Zhirinovskii also suggested that the United States adopt Russian as its second official language and that Russia do the same for English. He noted that Kyrgyzstan has already adopted Russian as its second official language. Zhirinovskii said that he intends to send his proposal to U.S. President George W. Bush. RC

BRINGING IN THE HARVEST
More than 3,000 schoolchildren in Krasnodar have reportedly volunteered to spend part of their summer vacations picking fruit, regions.ru reported on 21 August, citing smi.kuban.info. According to the report, the turnout at the Ivushka Camp of Labor and Rest was greater than expected and local authorities had to organize an additional shift for the children. On 20 August, 162 children were sent to work at the Krasnodarskii collective farm. RC

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS PLANNED REFERENDUM...
A mass march and demonstration took place in Baku on 20 August to protest the referendum scheduled for 24 August on amendments to the country's constitution, Turan, Reuters, and Russian news agencies reported. Reuters and ITAR-TASS estimated the number of participants at 3,000, Interfax 5,000, and Turan more than 10,000. Participants called for a boycott of the referendum and for the resignation of President Heidar Aliev, whom they accused of anticonstitutional actions. They also demanded that the authorities accede to the demands put forward by residents of the village of Nardaran and release villagers detained after a clash with police in early June. No clashes with police were reported during the latest protest. LF

...AS RULING PARTY ACCUSES INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS...
Speaking on 20 August at a roundtable discussion organized by the OSCE's Baku office, presidential administration official Shahin Aliev argued that unspecified international organizations are violating Azerbaijani law by financing the opposition's campaign for a referendum boycott, according to zerkalo.az on 21 August. A second presidential administration official, Ali Hasanov, similarly condemned alleged attempts by those organizations to prove that the referendum outcome will be falsified. He warned that a criminal investigation could be opened into such lobbying. Hasanov claimed that of Azerbaijan's 4.8 million registered voters 3.5 million have participated in the discussion of, and expressed their support for, the proposed constitutional amendments. LF

...AND DIPLOMATIC COMMUNITY UNDECIDED OVER MONITORING
Foreign diplomats in Baku may decide not to monitor the voting on 24 August unless the Central Election Commission rescinds its decision not to register some 20,000 would-be monitors proposed by opposition parties and NGOs, according to zerkalo.az on 21 August. The CEC has officially registered more than 65,000 domestic monitors, of whom some 59,000 represent pro-government political parties. LF

SENIOR NATO OFFICIAL VISITS GEORGIA
In an implicit warning that talks of Georgia's accession to NATO are unrealistic, German General Dieter Stockmann, who is NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, advised on 20 August that Georgia should focus on expanding its cooperation with NATO within the parameters of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. Georgia has scaled back its participation in PfP activities this year because of financial constraints. During his two-day visit to Tbilisi, Stockmann met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili, and Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, with whom he discussed institutional reforms of the Georgian armed forces, including establishing parliamentary control over the military, combating corruption in the army, and the defense budget, Caucasus Press reported. Bezhuashvili told journalists on 20 August that NATO is considering opening a regional office for the South Caucasus in Tbilisi. LF

GEORGIA APPREHENDS TWO ON CHECHEN BORDER
Georgian border guards detained two men, one of them armed, on 18 August near the Khone border crossing with Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported on 20 August. In an interview with the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 20 August, Georgian National Security Minister Valerii Khaburzania said that to demonstrate Tbilisi's desire to avoid damaging relations with Russia, the three Russian Interior Ministry officers detained in the Pankisi Gorge on 31 July may be released on bail posted by the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). On 10 August a Tbilisi court rejected the men's request for bail. LF

MOSCOW SKEPTICAL OF GEORGIAN PLANS TO RESTORE ORDER IN PANKISI
Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 20 August, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said he doubts Tbilisi is serious in its announcement of an anticriminal and antiterrorism operation in the Pankisi Gorge, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). He pointed out that Georgia has announced several such crackdowns in the past, with no visible success. But Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili told Caucasus Press the following day that Georgia is capable of establishing order in Pankisi and should set about doing so without delay in order to demonstrate to the international community that it can do so without foreign assistance. Also on 21 August, National Security Minister Khaburzania told journalists in Tbilisi that there are currently no Chechen fighters in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. LF

MINE CLEARING STALLED IN KODORI GORGE
A meeting on 20 August of Abkhaz and Georgian government representatives and members of the UN observer mission and CIS peacekeeping force failed to reach agreement on how to set about clearing the mines laid by Abkhaz forces in the Marukhi pass earlier this month, an Abkhaz military official told Caucasus Press on 21 August. The Abkhaz undertook on 14 August to provide a map of the minefield to the Georgian Defense Ministry, after which the four sides agreed to conduct joint demining. But on 20 August the Georgians refused to provide security guarantees for the Abkhaz participants in that operation. Also on 20 August, "Akhali taoba" reported that the UN will not after all participate in demining, as its mandate does not extend to the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge. That report, however, conflicts with other media reports that the UN is considering establishing a permanent observer post in the gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). LF

KAZAKH POLICE SAY BEATEN JOURNALIST VIOLATED TRAFFIC RULES
Artur Platonov, the television journalist assaulted by three Kazakh police officers on 16 August, provoked the attack by responding with obscene remarks to their attempts to alert him to his "inappropriate" driving, a senior police officer in Almaty told Interfax on 20 August. Platonov was hospitalized with severe facial injuries after the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). LF

SUPPORT GROWS IN SOUTH FOR KYRGYZ PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
At two separate meetings in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast on 16 and 18 August, participants expressed support for the new movement that intends to force President Askar Akaev to resign, akipress.org reported on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). The participants adopted resolutions accusing Akaev of tribalism, implementing a corrupt cadre policy, and of "selling" Kyrgyz territory to China. They set an ultimatum of 1 October for him to resign voluntarily. But Socialist Party Chairman Omurbek Tekebaev told Interfax on 20 August that Akaev's resignation would only complicate the political situation. LF

TRIAL WELL CONFIRMS VIABILITY OF NEW TURKMEN OIL, GAS FIELD
The Malaysian company Petronas Charigali has announced that its fourth test well in the Makhtumkuli offshore Caspian field has located "considerable" reserves of oil and natural gas, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported on 20 August, quoting a company press release. LF

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE PUBLIC PROTEST
Some dozen human rights activists picketed the Justice Ministry in Tashkent on 20 August to protest official corruption and human rights abuses by the police and judiciary, AP reported. They demanded a meeting with President Islam Karimov to discuss those shortcomings and how to eliminate them. Justice Ministry officials informed the protesters that they are not in a position to take action on their demands. Police did not intervene to break up the protest as they have routinely done in the past. LF

THREE SENTENCED FOR PICKETING RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN BELARUS
A district court in Minsk on 19 August sentenced Syarhey Pezkin and Ihar Zakreuski each to 10 days in jail, and Alyaksandr Holub to five days in jail for staging a picket at the Russian Embassy in Minsk earlier the same day, Belapan reported on 20 August. The three, who are activists of the unregistered youth movement Zubr, held posters at the rally urging the Russian government not to support Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime. JM

UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA TO HOLD PROTEST ON 16 SEPTEMBER
The Ukraine Without Kuchma movement is planning to hold a mass protest rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on 16 September, the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, UNIAN reported on 20 August. "[Ukraine needs] a revolution to purify and revive society, to change the system of social, economic, and political relations," the movement said in a statement. Ukraine Without Kuchma's main demands include ousting President Leonid Kuchma, making Ukraine a parliamentary republic, and punishing those guilty for the disappearance and/or death of well-known Ukrainian journalists and political activists. The statement was signed by Yevhen Zhovtyak, Eduard Kovalenko, Oleksandr Kryvenko, Oleh Levytskyy, Yuriy Lutsenko, Andriy Pidpalyy, Mykhaylo Svystovych, Olena Skomoroshchenko, Yuriy Tyma, Volodymyr Chemerys, and Tetyana Chornovil. JM

ESTONIAN RAILWAYS COULD LOSE LICENSES OVER KABALA INCIDENT
The Estonian Railways Board took action on 21 August that could lead to the loss of freight-carriage and railway infrastructure-maintenance licenses for Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railways), that country's main rail company, BNS reported. The action arose from a near collision of two freight trains on 10 August near the Kabala Railway Station, 120 kilometers east of Tallinn on the Tallinn-Narva line. The incident has been blamed in the local media on engineers asleep at the switch and on the fact that the automatic brakes on the train being pulled by a recently rebuilt U.S.-made Brightstar C36-7 locomotive had been disengaged. The locomotive was one of 17 rebuilt locomotives that Estonian Railways has recently put into operation (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 4 January 2002), of which 10 reportedly were not equipped with all required safety equipment. The Railways Board is demanding that Estonian Railways carry out a series of safety measures in order to retain its operating licenses. It also asked the police on 19 August to open a criminal investigation into the incident, and has submitted its report on the incident to Interior Minister Ain Seppik, who forwarded the report to the Central Criminal Police. MJZ

LATVIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN LOSES BALLOT APPEAL
Janis Adamsons lost his appeal to run for re-election to the Saeima, Latvia's parliament, after being stricken from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party's ballot for the 5 October election, LETA reported on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). The decision by the Riga Central District Court found that the Central Election Commission acted properly when it struck Adamsons' name from the ballot on the basis of Latvia's lustration law, which prevents former staff members of the KGB and its subordinate agencies from standing for election. In an earlier court case, Adamsons was found to have been a member from 1981-92 of the USSR's border guards, subordinate to the KGB, where he served in a variety of roles, including as a political officer and intelligence officer. MJZ

RUSSIA'S YUKOS TO CONTROL LITHUANIAN OIL CONCERN AFTER BUYOUT...
In a joint press conference on 20 August in Vilnius, U.S.-based Williams International announced it has signed a letter of intent to sell its 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiai Oil (Mazeikiu Nafta) -- a conglomerate that includes an oil refinery, a shipping terminal, and a transit pipeline -- to Russia's oil major Yukos for $85 million, ELTA reported on 20 August. Yukos First Vice President Mikhail Brudno said his company hopes to acquire Williams International's operating rights for Mazeikiai Oil as well. Yukos purchased its original 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiai Oil in June 2002, and this latest deal will give it controlling interest, while the Lithuanian government retains a 44.66 percent equity stake. AB

...AS LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT QUESTIONS THE DEAL
Valdas Adamkus, through his presidential spokesperson, questioned the propriety of the Williams-Yukos deal and said on 20 August that the talks should have included the Lithuanian government, AP reported. The cabinet must approve the sale within 30 days. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told ELTA that Williams International failed to effectively manage the Lithuanian oil company, made no investments, and "ate the working capital," a reference to efforts by Williams to improve working conditions at Mazeikiai Oil. Even under Williams's management, which began in late 1999, the refinery has been unprofitable because it lacks crude-oil supplies to run at its maximum capacity of 12 million tons per year. Under its existing contract, Yukos is obligated to provide Mazeikiai Oil just 4.8 million tons of crude oil per year for 10 years. AB

SOLIDARITY'S FOUNDING FATHERS SET UP SOLIDARITY COUNCIL IN POLAND
Solidarity's first leaders established the Solidarity Council (Konwent Solidarnosci) in Krakow on 18 August, PAP reported on 19 August. Former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was elected chairman of the Solidarity Council. "Those people who fought for a different Poland and a different system may be disturbed today that not everything goes as it needs to. Therefore, we are discussing if we can still do something to correct and improve what's going on," Walesa told journalists. The meeting in Krakow was attended by current Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski, former Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, and Solidarity veterans Jan Rulewski and Jan Maria Rokita, and communist-era dissident Leszek Moczulski. Although invited, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Bronislaw Geremek, and Ryszard Bugaj did not participate. JM

POLAND INTRODUCES STEEL-IMPORT QUOTAS
The Polish government on 19 August introduced import quotas for individual steel products and an 11-25 percent import tax on 10 groups of steel products in a bid to protect domestic producers against excessive imports, PAP reported on 20 August. Last year, imported steel and steel products accounted for 46 percent of Poland's steel market. JM

POLAND'S SECOND CASE OF 'MAD COW DISEASE' CONFIRMED
Additional tests have confirmed Poland's second case of BSE, or 'mad cow disease,' which was initially detected in a routine test on a 12-year-old bovine in southeastern Poland last week, PAP reported on 20 August, quoting the chief veterinarian of Lublin Province. Poland's first BSE case was detected three months ago. JM

SUSPECTING POLLUTION, GERMAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER TOURS CZECH CHEMICAL PLANT
Accompanied by his Czech counterpart Libor Ambrozek, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin on 20 August toured the Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice, CTK and AP reported. There is a suspicion that toxic chemicals leaked from the plant into the Labe River (Elbe), with the pollution carried by floodwaters into Germany. The two ministers said experts are still examining samples taken at the plant and at different points on the river. Ambrozek said preliminary results indicate that the levels of pollutants measured at the site are roughly the same as before the flood. He and Trittin said they will continue to jointly monitor the situation. They also said the two countries should agree on a joint plan for the protection of the Labe. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS JETS STILL ON AGENDA, BUT CHEAPER ALTERNATIVE SOUGHT
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told CTK on 20 August that he will submit "within one month" to the government a less-costly alternative proposal for ensuring Czech air defense. Tvrdik said, "The dangers threatening the country did not change with the floods. On the contrary, a weakened country may become a more interesting target for people whom nothing deters." Tvrdik said that, given the current situation, he cannot possibly envisage purchasing all 24 Gripen fighters that the cabinet intended to order from the British-Swedish BAE-Systems-SAAB consortium. But the government may still decide to buy fewer Gripens. Alternatively, the Czech Republic has a U.S. offer to sell it older fighters, but all "will depend on the terms of the offers," according to Tvrdik, and he has not yet personally opted for one alternative or the other. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTRY CONFIRMS 'NO REINFORCEMENT' TO AFGHANISTAN CONTINGENT
Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka on 20 August confirmed to CTK that, due to widespread flood damage, plans to send reinforcements to the Czech contingent serving in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom have been scrapped. "This does not mean we shall withdraw our soldiers from international missions, [but] we will send no new units," Repka said. He confirmed that before the floods the U.S. requested that the Czech Republic send reinforcements and that the government had planned to do so. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS TELECOM PRIVATIZATION REVENUES FOR FLOOD AID
The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) on 20 August submitted a draft bill in the Chamber of Deputies stipulating that at least 50 billion crowns ($1.58 billion) from revenues obtained from the expected sale of Cesky Telecom be used by the National Property Fund to establish a deposit for financial reserves to aid post-flood reconstruction, CTK reported. The ODS wants the bill to be discussed at an emergency session of the lower house scheduled for 23 August. The ODS also said it is opposed to the government's intention to ask the chamber to postpone by one month the deadline for submitting the 2003 budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). MS

PRAGUE JEWISH COMMUNITY ASKS FOR INTERNATIONAL AID
The Jewish community in Prague is asking for international help to repair flood-affected historical Jewish sites in the center of the Czech capital, CTK reported on 20 August, citing community head Tomas Jelinek. The community estimates damages at a minimum of 20 million crowns ($3.8 million). Among the places that suffered severe damage are the town's two best-known synagogues -- the Old-New and the Pinkas, where the names of Czech Holocaust victims are inscribed on the walls -- and the Jewish Museum. MS

CONTROVERSIAL CZECH TELEVISION MOGUL RUNNING FOR SENATE SEAT
Vladimir Zelezny, director of TV Nova, will run in the autumn elections for a seat in the Senate, CTK reported on 20 August. Zelezny's spokesman Martin Chalupsky told the agency that Zelezny will run on the lists of the Association of Independents for a seat representing the wine-growing south Moravian district of Znojmo. He said Zelezny has an "emotional tie" to Znojmo because in the 1990s he owned a vineyard there, though he later sold it. MS

TESTS AT TEMELIN'S SECOND UNIT DELAYED DUE TO SHORT-CIRCUIT
A short-circuit delayed tests at the second unit of the Temelin nuclear power plant, AP reported on 20 August, citing plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. Nebesar said it was not clear yet what caused the short-circuit in the turbine generator, but "the rotor will need to be dismantled for repairs" and it is not known how long those will take. The incident marks the second time this summer that such problems caused the shut down of the unit. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO...
The parliament on 19 August overrode President Rudolf Schuster's veto and approved a law on opening the files of the communist secret police, TASR and international agencies reported. The vote was 82 in favor and 10 against, with 20 deputies abstaining or failing to cast a vote. The law was first passed on 10 July. The legislation keeps classified only the files of foreign nationals, those whose disclosure could "pose a threat to human life and public interest," and the personal data of people persecuted by the former secret police. The law also sets up an Institute for National Memory, where citizens can read the files. The institute will also gather documents on the crimes of the communist period, as well as the period when Slovakia was a Nazi puppet state. MS

...DISMISSES TELEVISION DIRECTOR
The parliament on 19 August also dismissed Milan Materak as director of Slovak Television, TASR and CTK reported. However, legislators failed to elect a successor, since Marian Kleis, Kosice television director, received two votes short of the required majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July and 9 August 2002). This was the last session of the parliament before the September general elections. MS

OFFICIAL CAMPAIGNING BEGINS IN SLOVAKIA
The official election campaign in Slovakia started on 21 August, TASR reported. It will end 48 hours before the 21-22 September elections. Twenty-six political parties are competing in the balloting. Opinion polls can be released until 6 September. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS MECS COMMISSION 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND ILLEGITIMATE'
President Ferenc Madl said that the parliamentary commission investigating the communist-era secret-service links of cabinet members who served after 1990 is "unconstitutional and illegitimate," and as a result he will not comment on how the commission should handle data about him, Hungarian dailies reported on 19 August. Madl said the law on vetting that is currently in place cannot be superseded by a parliamentary resolution. In response, commission Chairman Imre Mecs said that Madl's statement is incompatible with the presidential post. He said the committee was established by parliament by a unanimous vote, which he called "the greatest possible legitimacy." Mecs asked Madl to make clear whether he made the statement as a former minister of the Jozsef Antall cabinet or as the president of Hungary. MSZ

FORMER HUNGARIAN MINISTER ACCUSED OF WORKING WITH SECRET SERVICES
Imre Boros, referred to as "Comrade D-8," was appointed chief secret officer in the III-II counterintelligence department in 1989, according to documents published in "Nepszabadsag" on 17 August. His name was not mentioned in one of the documents but appears in another dated 31 March 1990, in which he was officially retired, the newspaper reported. In the 19 August issue of "Magyar Nemzet," Boros denied the authenticity of the documents published in "Nepszabadsag." He said that according to the documents he began working with secret services on 1 January 1965, when in fact he was preparing for his final high-school exams. However, former members of communist-era secret services told "Magyar Hirlap" on 20 August that the documents are genuine. Boros oversaw PHARE funds in former Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government as a member of the Smallholders Party. He is currently an opposition Democratic Forum parliamentary member. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS SUBMIT SEPARATE REPORT ON PRIME MINISTER'S PAST
Socialist members of the parliamentary commission investigating Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's counterintelligence past have submitted their own report to parliament, Hungarian media reported on 17 August. Socialist Laszlo Toller, deputy chairman of the commission, said the commission received answers to all of its questions and it was proven that Medgyessy's activities did not violate past or present legal regulations. However, commission Chairman Laszlo Balogh of the Democratic Forum told reporters that the Socialist report was drafted by members of Medgyessy's staff. Balogh claimed the governing parties are not interested in obtaining a consensus on the commission, as they submitted a separate report to parliament several hours before the commission's mandate expired. MSZ

JUSTICE AND LIFE PARTY CHAIRMAN SAYS 'SOZIONISTS' RULE HUNGARY
Speaking to a crowd of several thousand people who gathered in Budapest's Heroes' Square on 20 August, Hungarian Justice and Life Party Chairman Istvan Csurka denounced the government, the media, and the ongoing investigations into the communist-era secret-service activities of cabinet members who served after 1990, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 21 August. Csurka said that for the second time a "sozionist" (a combination of "socialist" and "Zionist"), traitorous government is in power, and called on Hungarians to remove the "non-Hungarian ruling elite from the scene and topple the government." As for the media, he said "never have so many dirty, morally jaded, lying people inundated the media as now." Csurka also lashed out at Prime Minister Medgyessy, and claimed that those who were "nail-tearing traitors" are now heroes. MSZ

IS BOSNIA MOVING TOWARD A SINGLE DEFENSE MINISTRY?
Beriz Belkic, who heads the joint Presidency, said in Sarajevo on 21 August that the Presidency will expand the powers of the Permanent Committee for Military Affairs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said in Bijeljina the previous day that the recent decision by the Presidency to set up the military committee is an important step toward establishing a unified Defense Ministry. SFOR commander General John Sylvester told the Presidency in a letter that setting up a joint Defense Ministry for all of Bosnia is the most important precondition that Bosnia must meet if it wants to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program. At present, the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation maintain their own separate military structures, which include many officers who held leading positions during the 1992-95 conflict. In addition, the integration of Croatian and Muslim forces is far from complete. PM

CROATIAN-SLOVENIAN ACRIMONY INCREASES
Zdravko Tomac, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Croatian parliament, said in Zagreb on 20 August that Croatia will defend its rights under international law to sovereignty in the Bay of Piran, including half that body of water, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that Croatia rejects any attempt to pressure it and referred specifically to recent comments by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on submitting the issue to international arbitration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" wrote that Rupel's statement was unusually tough. PM

POLITICAL MOVEMENT IN SERBIA OVER JOINT STATE
The governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition agreed in Belgrade on 20 August on a new version of a proposed Constitutional Charter for the loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 August 2002). Elsewhere, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica called for a joint meeting of the signatories of the March declaration on the new state and the two chairmen of the Constitutional Commission to resolve the many differences. But Miroljub Labus, who is Kostunica's leading opponent in the 29 September Serbian presidential race, said that only the commission has the mandate to finalize the text of the charter. He was responding to earlier suggestions that the republican governments of Serbia and Montenegro resolve matters between themselves. PM

VOJVODINA LEADER STRESSES AUTONOMY
Ratko Filipovic, the vice president of the Reformists of Vojvodina, said in Novi Sad on 20 August that his party will insist that Serbia enter into the new confederation not as a unitary state but only with Vojvodina and Kosova as autonomous provinces, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Under the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions, both provinces had autonomy almost equivalent to that of republics. Former President Slobodan Milosevic abolished the two provinces' autonomy as part of his consolidation of power in 1988. PM

KOSTUNICA'S PARTY FILES SUIT
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) has filed a suit with the Constitutional Court against the DOS, saying that the coalition had no right to strip members of the Serbian parliament belonging to the DSS of their mandates, AP reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July, and 6 August 2002). PM

SEASIDE VACATION FOR PROMINENT SERBIAN PRISONER
Dragoljub Milanovic, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for crimes committed while serving as Milosevic's director of state-run radio and television, has received a Belgrade court's permission to spend a vacation of an unspecified length on the Montenegrin coast, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A court previously sentenced Milanovic to 10 years' imprisonment for failing to protect his staff during the NATO bombardment of Belgrade in 1999, during which 16 of his employees were killed. PM

KOSOVAR LEADER THACI SPEAKS OUT ON ARRESTS
Hashim Thaci, who heads the Democratic Party of Kosova, said in Prekaz on 20 August that the authorities in Kosova do not want a confrontation with the international community but oppose the "arrest of those who fought for the freedom of Kosova" in 1998-99, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 August 2002). Elsewhere, both the European Union and the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) objected to the Kosovar government's recent statement on the arrests. PM

BELGRADE'S POINT MAN FOR KOSOVA SUSPENDS TIES TO UNMIK
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Belgrade on 20 August that he has broken off ties to UNMIK until he has an opportunity to talk to UNMIK chief Michael Steiner about UNMIK's moves to arrest Serbian extremist leader Milan Ivanovic on murder charges, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2002). Covic added that he "advises" Ivanovic not to turn himself in to face the charges. Observers note that Covic has become bolder in his defiance of the international community in recent weeks following calls from the Western policy community on both sides of the Atlantic for Belgrade to be given a role in determining Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2002). PM

MACEDONIAN STATE ELECTION COMMISSION CLOSES VOTER REGISTRATION, OPENS INTERNET SITE
The State Elections Commission [DIK] is to close voter registration on 21 August, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Commission Chairwoman Mirjana Lazarova-Trajkovska said, "We expect the complete voters lists from the Justice Ministry [on 21 August] and must confirm them within five days. All [the candidates] are interested in the voters lists being as clean as possible, and this is one of the preconditions for fair elections." She added that "it is the duty of the [Justice Ministry] to inform us about any amendments to the voters lists, and the DIK has to check whether the changes are being carried out." Meanwhile, the government has confirmed that the names of 3,500 Macedonians from Albania have been dropped from the lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The DIK also opened an Internet site (http://www.izbori.gov.mk) in Macedonian and English that features all relevant decisions made by the commission as well as electoral legislation. UB

PROTESTS IN ALBANIA OVER GREEK CUSTOMS DELAYS ON THE BORDER
About 6,000 Albanians have been waiting for several days at two border crossings from which they seek to return to their homes and jobs in Greece, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 20 August. The Albanian NGO known as the Center for Human Rights charged that the Greek officials are seeking to intimidate the Albanian citizens and are claiming that they are overworked only as an excuse. The Albanian Defense and Health ministries are providing assistance to their stranded countrymen, AP reported. PM

ROMANIA ASSESSES FLOOD DAMAGE, DISCUSSES PREVENTATIVE MEASURES
President Ion Iliescu, who is a trained hydraulic engineer, met on 20 August with ministers and experts to discuss future preventive measures against floods, landslides, and other calamities, Romanian radio reported. Iliescu said that Romania is in a zone that is obviously undergoing "radical climatic changes" and that this calls for a reconceptualization of its long-term planning pertaining to agriculture, the environment, and life-protection measures. Flooding caused by heavy rains in Romania since mid-July have resulted in 12 deaths, Reuters reported on 20 August. Romanian radio reported on 21 August that the swollen waters of the Danube River have reached Romanian territory but there is no danger of flooding. MS

MOLDOVANS TO CONTINUE STUDYING 'HISTORY OF ROMANIANS'
The 2002-03 curriculum in Moldovan schools includes courses on the "History of Romanians" and "Universal History," rather than the controversial "History of Moldova" that provoked protests earlier this year, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 20 August. Anatol Petrencu, chairman of the Association of Historians in the Moldovan Republic, said the only exceptions will be schools in the unrecognized Transdniester Republic, where the curriculum provides for the study of the "History of Transdniester." Petrencu said that Education Minister Gheorghe Sima has signed a letter confirming that Moldova's curriculum for the teaching of history remains unchanged. MS

U.S. GENERAL VISITS MOLDOVA
General Carlton Fulford, deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command, met in Chisinau on 20 August with Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc, ITAR-TASS reported. The two discussed the participation of Moldovan soldiers in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and in peacekeeping exercises in the United States, and the participation of U.S. National Guard officers with Moldovan peacekeepers in military exercises to be held soon near Chisinau. Fulford also met with Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev. MS

BULGARIA'S RULING MAJORITY PLEDGES MORE MONEY FOR INTERIOR MINISTRY
The parliamentary majority of the National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms pledged on 20 August to secure additional funding for 2003 for the Interior Ministry's fight against organized crime and drug trafficking, BTA reported. The move will also be supported by the opposition Socialist Party. Meanwhile, police arrested 143 people on 20 August as part of the ongoing operation against drug trafficking that was launched following last week's shootouts in Sofia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). In related news, the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces expressed its regret that President Georgi Parvanov did not follow their calls to summon the National Security Consultative Council to discuss the shootouts, BTA reported the same day. UB

BULGARIAN PRIVATIZATION AGENCY APPROVES STATE INSURANCE INSTITUTE DEAL
The state Privatization Agency on 20 August approved the privatization of the State Insurance Institute (DZI), BTA reported. The Sofia-based company Contract Sofia will pay approximately $21 million for an 80 percent stake in DZI and has agreed to invest some $6.7 million in the insurance company over five years and retain all current employees over that time. While Contract Sofia itself is barred from selling the privatized company for the next five years, the Privatization Agency announced prior to granting its approval of the sale that it expects Contract Sofia to be sold in the near future, news.bg reported on 13 August. UB

There is no End Note today.


XS
SM
MD
LG