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Newsline - August 28, 2002


PUTIN PROPOSES VISA-FREE TRAVEL BETWEEN RUSSIA AND EU...
President Vladimir Putin has sent German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other leaders of EU member states a letter proposing the introduction of visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union as a way of solving the impasse over the Kaliningrad exclave, the presidential press service reported on 28 August. Putin wrote that Russia has "chosen Europe and is striving toward deep European integration." He asked EU leaders to move relations between the organization and Russia to a new level and to add a practical dimension to Russia's desire for integration. Putin added that Russia is ready to cooperate with the EU on Kaliningrad and asked EU leaders to take Russia's interests into consideration. VY

...AS FISHERIES HEAD CAUTIOUS ON BALTIC OIL DRILLING
State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko spoke out on 27 August against developing oil reserves in the Baltic Sea, RosBalt reported. Nazdratenko, on a one-day working visit to Kaliningrad, supported local fishermen who fear the environmental impact of oil giant LUKoil's plans to develop the Kravtsovskoye field. However, Nazdratenko said that exploiting the oil might be necessary if the Kaliningrad exclave finds itself in "energy isolation" after expected European Union expansion to include Poland and Lithuania. RC

SENATOR PREDICTS 11 SEPTEMBER U.S. STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Committee for International Affairs, said on 28 August that he believes the United States might launch a military action against Iraq on 11 September, the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, RIA-Novosti reported. Margelov said that by timing an attack on the anniversary of the tragedy, Washington would put its allies in a very difficult position in which there would be considerable pressure for them to support the move. He argued that virtually the entire world agrees the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has managed to radically improve the situation in Afghanistan in the year since the attacks, putting even more pressure on the international community to support the U.S. policy of "regime change" in Iraq. VY

PUTIN SAYS GEORGIA NEEDS RUSSIA'S HELP TO COPE WITH TERRORISM...
Speaking in Chita at a meeting with special-forces troops, President Putin said that without the active support of Russia, Georgia "will just move terrorists from one corner to another," RIA-Novosti reported on 28 August. Putin added, "Georgia itself wants to get rid of Chechen terrorists on its territory" and "there is hope that Georgia is taking this problem seriously." VY

...AS GOVERNMENT PAPER ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PANKISI BOMBING...
The Georgian Air Force has one Soviet-made Su-25 Scorpion attack aircraft capable of carrying out the disputed air raid in the Pankisi Gorge on 23 August, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 28 August. According to the report in the government daily, the Russian forces based in Mozdok have no aircraft capable of carrying out such a pre-dawn raid in the mountainous countryside, as Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has said previously (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 August 2002). However, unidentified Russian military sources reportedly told the paper that Georgia has a single modified Su-25KM, which was upgraded by the Israeli company Elbit Maarachot with radio-navigation equipment for night raids. According to ITAR-TASS, the deputy commander of the Georgian Air Force denied that his force possesses an Su-25KM, as well as other details in the report. However, "Jane's Defence Weekly" reported on 25 April 2001 that Elbit had delivered an Su-25KM to Tbilisi. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" also said that the Georgian Air Force is armed with "a mixture of Soviet-era bombs and rockets," meaning that it would be easy for Georgia to produce bomb fragments with Cyrillic lettering. The paper also cited an unidentified "informed Defense Ministry source" as claiming that the Georgian Air Force had carried out the raid on orders from the highest political authorities in the country. RC

...AND DESERTERS CONFESS THEY -- NOT CHECHENS --KILLED RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS
Two Russian deserters admitted that they killed eight of their comrades on the border with Georgia on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002), ntvru.com reported on 28 August. Oleg Nigmatulin and Nikolai Bozhkov were captured in North Ossetia and reportedly told investigators that they had fled their border-guard unit to escape hazing from their comrades. They allegedly admitted to killing the eight soldiers as they slept. VY

NEWSPAPER ANALYSES PUTIN'S 'COLONIAL POLICY' TOWARD BELARUS, UKRAINE, GEORGIA
Russian policy toward its neighbors in many instances is dictated only a desire to control the oil-and-gas export infrastructure, "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote on 27 August. This conclusion stemmed from the daily's analysis of President Putin's policies toward the former Soviet republics and, especially, his recent about-face in relations with Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 14 and 15 August 2002). The paper wrote that Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia seem to be nothing more than oil-and-gas transit corridors for Russia. However, it warned that this policy might cause Russia to lose both control over the oil-and-gas infrastructure there and its political influence as well. If Belarus agrees to Putin's proposal to incorporate it into the Russian Federation, it would simply be an apposite illustration of the thesis that Russia has always conducted a "cynical colonial policy," the paper wrote. VY

PUTIN ORDERS MAJOR MILITARY EXERCISES IN FAR EAST...
Addressing the commanding officers of the Pacific Fleet on 27 August, President Putin announced that he has asked Defense Minister Ivanov to schedule a major combat-readiness exercise of combined forces in the Far East, including the strategic nuclear forces, Russian news agencies reported. Putin added that it is important these exercises be carried out in operative coordination with Russia's neighbors, as was the case during recent exercises on the Caspian Sea. Putin said that one of his priorities "is to boost Russia's naval capability so that it will be adequate to meet any threat -- and, unfortunately, there are many, many of them." Before leaving Vladivostok, Putin took part in a ceremony to transfer the relics of a Russian Orthodox saint, Admiral Fedor Ushakov, to the fleet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). At the ceremony, Archbishop of Vladivostok and Primore Veniamin thanked Putin for his "patriotic course" and for rebuilding a strong military. The archbishop said the Russian Orthodox Church is supporting this cause. VY

...AND INSPECTS SIBERIAN MILITARY DISTRICT
President Putin arrived in Chita on 28 August and, with Defense Minister Ivanov, met with the commander of the Siberian Military District, Colonel General Vladimir Boldyrev, and Boldyrev's senior officers, Russian news agencies reported. Putin visited several military installations and observed a demonstration of the advanced T-90 tank. Putin also plans to meet with Chita Oblast Governor Ravil Geniatulin and the head of the administration of the Agin-Buryat Autonomous Okrug, Bair Zhamsuev. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL BACKS LEGAL PROSTITUTION
The deputy head of the Interior Ministry's department for combating organized crime, Viktor Plekhanov, said that there are advantages and disadvantages to the idea of legalizing prostitution, but that "there is more that is positive in this process," RosBalt reported on 27 August. "If the world's oldest profession were legalized, it would reduce the number of crimes connected with abducting and trafficking in people," Plekhanov said. Prostitution is legal in many Western countries, he added. RC

NIZHNII COURT OKAYS REGISTRATION OF 'DOUBLES'
In a closed session on 27 August, a municipal court in Nizhnii Novgorod upheld a decision by the local Election Commission to register candidates for mayor who have the same names as other candidates, RTR reported. The use of so-called doubles is a widespread dirty trick in Russian regional elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). "This is a blow to elections as such," said Vita Vladimirova, lawyer for the plaintiff in the case, State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov. Bulavinov is a leading candidate in the 15 September poll, and he filed the complaint after another candidate -- an unemployed local man who legally changed his name to Vadim Bulavinov in July -- was registered. The second Bulavinov has not been seen in public since he submitted his papers to the Election Commission and police have declared him missing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002) and launched a search. RC

3,500 NEW HIV/AIDS CASES REGISTERED EACH MONTH
A combined total of 3,500 new cases of HIV infection and AIDS are registered in Russia each month, NTV reported on 28 August, citing data from the State Statistics Committee. In June, there were 3,573 such cases, including 30 children under the age of 14. For the first half of the year, there were 24,550 registered cases, including 309 children. The highest incidence of registered HIV/AIDS cases is in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, which account for 17.7 percent of the total. Moscow and Moscow Oblast are in second place with 10.6 percent, and Samara is third with 6.1 percent. RC

DUMA TO CONSIDER DRAFT WITNESS-PROTECTION LAW
A draft law on protecting witnesses and victims of crimes will be introduced in the State Duma during the fall session that begins on 11 September, RosBalt reported on 27 August. According to the head of the Interior Ministry's criminal law department, Yevgenii Sadkov, the draft law will include provisions to protect personal information about the victims of crimes and their relatives, a measure authorities hope will encourage more victims to testify. The draft law also contains provisions that would allow witnesses to identify suspects without being seen by them and others that would authorize closed court sessions under certain circumstances. Finally, the law would also authorize the authorities to relocate important witnesses and take measures to conceal their identities. RC

MISSING SCIENTIST'S BODY REPORTED FOUND
The dismembered body of scientist Sergei Bakhvalov was reportedly found outside Krasnoyarsk on 28 August, Russian news agencies reported, citing Bakhvalov's colleagues. The Krasnoyarsk Prosecutor's Office confirmed that a body has been found, but said that it had not yet been identified, NTV reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the body belonged to a man who died about 10 days ago. Bakhvalov, who headed the department of physical chemistry of Krasnoyarsk State University and the Kristall Research Center, disappeared after leaving his apartment on the evening of 18 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 August 2002). According to lenta.ru, a man who seemed to be known to Bakhvalov but who was a stranger to the scientist's family appeared at Bakhvalov's apartment that evening and, after a short conversation, Bakhvalov left with him, not to be seen alive again. Last year, Kristall was awarded a major state grant to reprocess chemicals and nuclear materials from the "Kursk" nuclear submarine. RC

MINISTER DEFENDS REFUSAL TO REGISTER LIBERAL RUSSIA
Justice Minister Yurii Chaika denied that there was any political motivation behind his agency's refusal to register the Liberal Russia political party, RosBalt reported on 27 August. Chaika said that Liberal Russia had significantly violated the law on political parties, and consequently the Justice Ministry was obliged to refuse to register it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). He noted that a municipal court in Moscow recently sided with the Justice Ministry in the case and said that he is not concerned by statements from Liberal Russia leaders that they intend to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. RC

NEW ALUMINUM FACTORY FOR KOLA
Russian Aluminum will build an aluminum plant on the Kola Peninsula, RosBalt reported on 27 August. According to the report, officials from the company reached an agreement on the project with Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov. The factory will produce 300,000 tons per year and is expected to cost about $900 million. The project will create 2,000-3,000 new jobs. Russian Aluminum official Ivan Bokhmat told reporters that the Kola site was chosen because of the availability of inexpensive electricity from the Kola Nuclear Power Plant. Bokhmat also noted that the oblast's two major ports would mean reduced transportation costs. The exact site of the plant and the expected date of completion are yet to be determined. RC

TEACHERS TO GET RAISES IN 2003
A new remuneration system for teachers will be introduced next year, RosBalt reported on 27 August, citing Education Minister Vladimir Filippov. Filippov, during a working visit to the Republic of Komi, said that, as of 1 October 2003, salaries for teachers will be raised by 33 percent. Moreover, as of 1 January 2003, wage supplements for teachers with doctorates will be tripled. RC

WORLD'S TATARS COME TO TATARSTAN
The third annual International Congress of Tatars opened on 28 August in Kazan, Russian news agencies reported. According to Tatar-Inform, the congress will be attended by 562 delegates from 13 republics and 41 other regions of Russia, as well as from 11 CIS countries and 10 other foreign countries. The congress, which ends on 30 August, will include sessions on science and culture, modern Tatar youth, and business partners in Tatarstan. According to ITAR-TASS, President Putin will speak to delegates on 30 August. RC

TWO NEW FIRST DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTERS NAMED
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 27 August signed a decree appointing two new first deputy finance ministers, Russian news agencies reported on 28 August. According to RosBalt, one of the appointees is St. Petersburg native Sergei Vyazalov, who was a member of the economics team created in the city by current Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin in the mid-1990s. Vyazalov has been working as an adviser to the management team of Unified Energy Systems since February 2000 and as general director of Gosznak. In December 1999, he was rated by "Ekspert" magazine as one of the top 10 best managers in the northwest region. Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova was promoted to first deputy finance minister by the same decree. According to RIA-Novosti, Vyazalov will oversee interbudgetary relations and Golikova will head the budgetary-policy office. RC

DEATH OF CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER CONFIRMED
A senior Chechen military official has confirmed Russian claims that field commander Aslanbek Alikhadzhiev was killed in a special operation by Russian troops late on 24 August, chechenpress.com reported on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DECENTRALIZATION OF POWER
In a 27 August speech to a congress in Yerevan of the Union of Communities, Robert Kocharian again argued, as he did following his election in 1998, that Armenia should aim to become the most organized state in the South Caucasus, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He also reaffirmed the need for devolution and increasing the powers of local administrations in line with the European charter on local government, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. He stressed the need to create "the best road infrastructure" and adequate public-utilities and irrigation systems for rural areas. LF

DETAILS OF ARMENIAN ESPIONAGE SUSPECTS DIVULGED
The four persons whose arrest on suspicion of spying for Azerbaijan was made public last week are all members of the same Russian/Ukrainian family who fled from the then-Azerbaijan SSR to Armenia in the late 1980s, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 27 August, quoting Gevorg Melikonian, the lawyer appointed to represent them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). He said the suspects are a married couple and two of their relatives, and are all aged between 30-45. He did not disclose their names. Melikonian said all the suspects have admitted to accepting "small" sums of money from the Azerbaijani Defense and Interior ministries for supplying information, but that he doubts that information contained state secrets. Also on 27 August, the lawyer for Murad Bojalian, a former Armenian government employee arrested in January on suspicion of spying for Turkey, said Bojalian's trial on espionage charges will begin "soon," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

EMBATTLED ARMENIAN TV STATION MARKS ANNIVERSARY, PLANS TO PUBLISH NEWSPAPER
Mesrop Movsisian, director of the independent television station A1+, told a press conference in Yerevan on 27 August, the sixth anniversary of the station's first broadcast, that his staff will begin publishing a daily newspaper, "Ayb-Fe," next month, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. The paper will be published in a print run of 4,000. A1+ was forced to cease broadcasting in early April after losing a tender for its broadcast frequency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). At the same 27 August press conference, Nikol Pashinian, editor of the opposition paper "Haykakan zhamanak," condemned the forced closure of A1+ as "a coup against the fourth estate," Arminfo reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ASKS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO REJECT REFERENDUM RESULTS
Meeting in Baku on 27 August, the leaders of 10 opposition parties that had lobbied for a boycott of the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments appealed to the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the UN not to recognize the outcome of the vote as valid, zerkalo.az reported on 28 August. They pointed out that some 900,000 citizens of Azerbaijan are currently registered as temporarily residents in Moscow and a further 700,000 in St. Petersburg, while tens of thousands more are working in Turkey. Consequently, the Central Election Commission claims that 88 percent of the country's 4.4 million registered voters participated in the referendum are unrealistic and unconvincing, they reasoned. Democratic Party Chairman Sardar Djalaloglu said the opposition will convene a mass meeting to demand the resignation of President Heidar Aliev and the annulment of the referendum results. LF

PRESIDENT REJECTS DEMANDS THAT GEORGIA QUIT CIS...
Eduard Shevardnadze on 27 August rejected as "premature and impermissible" the parliament's demand in a resolution passed the previous day that Georgia begin the legal procedure to withdraw from its membership of the CIS, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He acknowledged that "a national parliament is free to make [whatever] resolutions it deems right," but the decision whether or not to act on that resolution lies with the head of state. He stressed that Georgia has "good relations" with many individual CIS member states. Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili similarly told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 27 August that it is for the president to decide whether Georgia should leave the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze on 27 August likewise stated that in order to avoid a further deterioration in relations with Russia, the Georgian government will not implement the legislature's demand for the immediate withdrawal from Georgia of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...VISITS PANKISI
Accompanied by Djorbenadze, Shevardnadze traveled on 27 August to the Pankisi Gorge where Interior Ministry troops launched an "anticrime and antiterror" operation two days earlier, Reuters and Interfax reported. The two met with the Interior and National Security ministers who are coordinating that operation, in which no arrests have yet been made, National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told Interfax on 27 August. Shevardnadze and Djorbenadze also attended the funeral for one of the victims of the disputed 23 August bombing raid. LF

WHO SHOULD INVESTIGATE GEORGIAN AIR RAID?
The Russian Foreign Ministry is studying a proposal by its Georgian counterpart to establish a joint commission to investigate whose aircraft bombed the Pankisi Gorge on 23 August, ITAR-TASS quoted spokesman Boris Malakhov as saying on 27 August. The previous day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had said Russia is ready to provide all relevant information. But ITAR-TASS later quoted Menagharishvili as saying on Rustavi-2 that Georgia would prefer that the OSCE, which he reportedly described as an unbiased and trustworthy arbiter, should undertake the investigation. LF

ABKHAZIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVE
In a statement addressed to the UN and Russia, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia accused Georgia of violating the agreement it signed in April pledging to withdraw its armed contingents from the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 27 August. The statement expressed concern that those units, together with "international terrorists transferred from the Pankisi Gorge," may launch a new attack on Abkhazia. Georgian National Security Ministry spokesman Laliashvili rejected the Abkhaz allegations as untrue, Interfax reported. Also on 27 August, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia said Sukhum is against the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. On 22-23 August, Djergenia met in Sukhum with Russia's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, to discuss the situation in Kodori. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION ADDRESSES OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT...
The leaders of the opposition parties aligned in the Forum of Democratic Forces addressed an open letter on 27 August to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov calling for the immediate release from prison of former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The two men were recently sentenced to six and seven years' imprisonment, respectively, on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement that have been condemned by both the opposition and international organizations as politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July and 5 August 2002). LF

...AS KAZAKH INTELLIGENTSIA APPEALS TO INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
In a 26 August letter to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International League for Human Rights posted on forumkz.org, 35 political activists, journalists, and cultural figures similarly argue that the court cases against Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov were fabricated. They appealed to the three organizations to declare the two men political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. LF

COMPOSITION OF KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL UNVEILED
Akipress.org on 28 August listed the 38 members of the new Constitutional Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). They include President Askar Akaev, who is chairman; the prime minister, justice minister and chairs of both chambers of parliament; and the chairmen of the Supreme and Constitutional courts; together with the leaders of several opposition parties, including two former Communist Party of Kirgizia first secretaries. LF

KYRGYZ ANTIPOVERTY COMMITTEE MEETS
On 27 August Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev chaired the first session of a coordinating committee tasked with drafting programs for sustained economic development and to reduce poverty, akipress.org reported. Some 82 percent of Kyrgyz families live below the poverty line, and almost 40 percent of the country's 5 million population subsist on per capita incomes of less than 140 soms ($3) per month. LF

TAJIKISTAN ASSURES U.S. OVER ICC
The Tajik government has signed an agreement with the United States that U.S. servicemen stationed in Tajikistan will not be subject to prosecution by the International Criminal Court, AP reported on 27 August, quoting State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Tajikistan is the first CIS state to give such a commitment. LF

U.S. OFFERS TO ASSIST IN TRAINING TURKMEN BORDER GUARDS
Concluding a tour of Central Asian states that has already taken him to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, U.S. General Tommy Franks met in Ashgabat on 27 August with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, whom he thanked for allowing humanitarian aid being shipped to Afghanistan to transit Turkmen territory, AP reported. Franks offered U.S. assistance in training border guards to police Turkmenistan's porous border with Afghanistan and in combating drug trafficking. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO LIMIT TURKMENISTAN'S ACCESS TO GAS-EXPORT PIPELINE?
As of 2003, Uzbekistan plans to use its pipeline capacity primarily to export domestically produced gas, Interfax on 27 August quoted Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov as saying. Sultanov pointed out that the discovery of a new gas field in Ustyurt means that Uzbekistan cannot increase the amount of gas it allows Turkmenistan to export via its pipelines. The annual capacity of Uzbekistan's export pipeline is 40 billion cubic meters. Uzbekistan currently exports between 6-8 billion cubic meters per year. Turkmenistan is hoping to sell 40 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine and 30 billion to Russia next year. It is not clear whether gas exports were among the subjects discussed during a 27 August telephone conversation between Niyazov and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, which according to turkmenistan.ru focused on expanding bilateral cooperation. Quoting Niyazov's press service, the agency described that cooperation as based on trust and mutual benefit. LF

POLICE BREAK UP UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS' PROTEST
Men believed to be Uzbek security police on 27 August detained five members of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan who tried to stage a demonstration outside the Justice Ministry in Tashkent to protest alleged government corruption and human rights abuses by police, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. A similar demonstration one week earlier passed without incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). LF

EDITOR ANNOUNCES CLOSURE OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
"Nasha svaboda" Editor in Chief Pavel Zhuk told Belapan on 27 August that his newspaper will close down because the authorities are preventing them publishing any further issues. A district court in Minsk on 2 August fined "Nasha svaboda" some $55,000 in a libel case brought by Anatol Tozik, the chairman of the State Monitoring Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002). Zhuk said the verdict has ruined "Nasha svaboda," as the authorities seized the newspaper's equipment and froze its bank account. An attempt to publish a "Nasha svaboda" issue on 27 August failed after the money transferred to a printing house to cover the printing costs was intercepted by the authorities. JM

DEFENDER OF BELARUS'S INDEPENDENCE JAILED FOR 10 DAYS
A court in Minsk on 27 August sentenced Yauhen Afnahel to 10 days in prison for his participation in a street protest against the possible merger of Belarus with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002), Belapan reported. Speaking in court, Afnahel argued that the Belarusian Constitution requires that Belarusian citizens defend their sovereignty. He also pointed to a recent statement made by Belarusian President Alyksandr Lukashenka in which he called Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ultimate integration" proposal an insult to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002). However, Afnahel failed to convince the judge and was convicted as an illegal demonstrator. JM

UKRAINIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESTRICTS BUDGET SPENDING
Finance Minister Ihor Yushko has imposed a ban on more than 2 billion hryvnyas ($375 million) worth of government programs in September-October to avoid overspending Ukraine's 2002 budget, Interfax reported on 27 August. According to Yushko, this spending restriction intends "not to increase debts of state institutions by the end of the year and, in this way, not to transfer some current [financial] problems to the next year." The country's 2002 budget sets revenues at 45.4 billion hryvnyas and spending at 49.6 billion hryvnyas. Yushko also said that the government is planning a zero-deficit budget with revenues and spending set at 60.6 billion hryvnyas for 2003. JM

DOES UKRAINE HAVE A PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY?
Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, the permanent presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada, told Interfax on 27 August that President Leonid Kuchma may support the creation of a coalition cabinet even without making relevant amendments to the constitution. Zadorozhnyy was commenting on Kuchma's proposals last week to move toward a parliamentary-presidential republic and empower the parliament to form a cabinet (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002). Zadorozhnyy said an "informal" parliamentary majority of 231 deputies has already been created by caucuses that previously constituted the United Ukraine bloc as well as by the Democratic Initiatives group and several unaffiliated lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2002). In his opinion, the current premier, Anatoliy Kinakh, may also head a future coalition cabinet since, Zadorozhnyy added, "the candidacy of Victor Yushchenko may not obtain the necessary number of votes." JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ADDITIONAL SPENDING IN 2002
The Estonian government, ignoring the advice of the International Monetary Fund, approved and sent to the parliament a second supplemental budget for the current fiscal year, ETA reported on 27 August. The additional spending of 788 million kroons ($52 million) will be used for a range of social and capital spending through the end of 2002, including 119 million kroons for additional benefits for the disabled and 145 million kroons to buy an office building in Brussels to provide Estonia a base of operations once it joins the European Union. The additional income to the Estonian government's coffers came from corporate income taxes, the social tax, the value-added tax, and excise taxes. AB

ESTONIAN RAILWAY BOARD ASSURES PUBLIC THAT BRIDGES ARE SAFE
The Railway Board released a statement on 27 August assuring the Estonian public that the railway bridges between Tallinn and Narva can withstand the weight of recently purchased U.S.-made locomotives, and that only one bridge requires reinforcement, ETA reported. A recent study commissioned by the board checked all 540 railway bridges in Estonia and found only the bridge at Laitse to be too weak to carry the locomotives. It will undergo a major repair and reinforcement. The statement was issued after Interior Minister Ain Seppik issued a warning about the new locomotives creating a hazard for Estonian railway traffic. AB

TWO LATVIAN ROCK GROUPS WITHDRAW FROM POLITICIZED CONCERT
The rock bands Livi and Autobuss Debesis scheduled to perform at a concert on 27 August sponsored by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) withdrew and didn't perform, LETA reported. Four other bands originally contracted to perform did go onstage, and two replacement acts were found at the last minute. Dace Paule, manager of Autobuss Debesis said that initially they were told that the Social Democrats were sponsoring the concert, "but now they are trying to include us ideologically; therefore, we are pulling out." Uldis Supe, manager for A-Eiropa, one of the groups that did stay to perform, told LETA that he found out "at the last minute" that the concert is a "pure Social Democrat event." The concert was organized to draw attention to would-be LSDSP candidate Janis Adamsons's legal problems following his removal from the ballot for the upcoming parliamentary elections. AB

LATVIA TO PURSUE COMPENSATION FOR OIL POLLUTION RELEASED FROM LITHUANIA'S BUTINGE TERMINAL
The Latvian government has empowered its Revenue Service to enforce a compensation agreement between its Environmental Maritime Administration and Lithuania's Mazeikiai Oil for damages caused by an oil spill in March, LETA reported on 27 August. A settlement of $40,000 was negotiated by the two sides earlier in the year, but the Lithuanian oil and transport company has failed to pay. The Revenue Service told LETA that it will send a letter to the Lithuanian Finance Ministry's Tax Inspectorate and Customs departments to request assistance in receiving the agreed upon compensation for damages. Baltic news agencies reported the 7 March oil spill from the Butinge terminal when 3,427 liters of oil were released into the Baltic Sea of which 740 liters drifted into Latvia's territorial waters. It was the third recorded spill at the oil terminal in four years. AB

BRITISH CHAIRMAN OF YUKOS INTERNATIONAL ARRIVES IN VILNIUS
Lord David Owen, a former British foreign minister and health minister now serving as the head of Yukos International, arrived in Vilnius for talks with the government on the company's plans for operating Mazeikiai Oil, if the sale of shares and operator's rights from U.S.-based Williams International is approved, ELTA reported on 27 August. Owen first met with President Valdas Adamkus, and was to begin talks with the government 28 August. He told reporters that "We expect to form new quality relations. Yukos would never have entered Lithuania unless it could see a possibility for successful operations here." Owen stressed that he understands the bitterness and fear of Lithuanian politicians and people regarding Russian capital dominating in the Lithuanian oil sector, but said, "Times when the economy depended on politics are in the past already. And we would be fools if we stuck with old principles." AB

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTERS VISIT LITHUANIA
Serzh Sarkisian held talks in Vilnius on 20-22 August with his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius that focused on bilateral military cooperation, NATO enlargement, and reform of the armed forces, according to Arminfo and BNS, as cited by Groong. Sarkisian lauded the Lithuanian initiative to share with the three South Caucasus states the military expertise of the three Baltic states. Linkevicius for his part affirmed his country's readiness to help contribute to stability in the South Caucasus. On 27 August, Linkevicius hosted Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev, with whom he signed a bilateral military-cooperation agreement. (Armenia and Lithuania signed a comparable agreement during President Robert Kocharian's visit in June 2002.) Abiev expressed interest in Lithuania's preparations for accession to NATO and in its military staff-training programs. He was also received on 27 August by President Adamkus, according to ANS TV, as cited by Groong. LF

LOCAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF IN POLAND
The official publication on 27 August of Prime Minister Leszek Miller's directive setting the local election date for 27 October and announcing an election-campaign schedule has inaugurated a local-election campaign in Poland, Polish media reported. Under the election law, election committees are obliged to register with the State Election Commission by 7 September. Election committees are required to register their candidates for local councils by 27 September, and have until 2 October to register their candidates for local administration posts: commune heads, town mayors, and city mayors. JM

POLISH LAWMAKERS URGE CABINET TO PRESENT PLAN FOR FIGHTING UNEMPLOYMENT
The Sejm's Social Policy and Family Commission has urged the government to present a program to combat unemployment, PAP reported on 27 August. The same day the commission made itself familiar with a Labor Ministry report on unemployment. Anna Bankowska from the Democratic Left Alliance commented that the report includes statistical data, "but lacks the assessment of the situation, tendencies, and conclusions." According to the Main Statistics Office, the number of registered unemployed amounted to 3.1 million people at the end of July (17.4 percent of the country's labor force), an increase of 14,500 people as compared to June. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS FLOODS CREATED 'CHANCE TO BUILD AGAIN, AND BETTER'
President Vaclav Havel on 27 August told journalists in Prague that his country will have to deal with the aftereffects of the recent floods for a long time, but the disaster also offers a chance "to build again, and better," AP reported. He said the floods have destroyed or rendered inhabitable much of the country's communist-era housing, but that those buildings can now be replaced by "maybe nicer ones." Havel said the first priority must be to help "those who lost everything they had," but that other damages must not be overlooked, such as those incurred by archives. Praising rescue workers and volunteers, Havel said: "A strong wave of solidarity and determination to help has emerged -- which is something we periodically discover in the hardest moments. It would be good if that [solidarity] appeared also in moments when we do not face a disaster." MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS DECISION ON FIGHTERS PURCHASE WILL BE MADE BY END OF 2002
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on 27 August that the government will make a final decision on the purchase of supersonic fighter jets by the end of this year, CTK reported. Spidla made the comments to soldiers at the Prostejov Air Force base in southern Moravia, where he was accompanied by Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy. Spidla said he visited the base because he felt the need to explain to members of a special military unit in Prostejov why the government decided to postpone the unit's dispatch to Afghanistan in the wake of recent floods in the country. The officials also visited the command of the Air Force in Stara Boleslav, central Bohemia, as well as the center for protection against biological warfare in Techonin, eastern Bohemia. Spidla said that antibiological and antichemical warfare will be high on the agenda of the NATO summit in Prague in November. MS

PRAGUE SETS UP COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE METRO FLOODING
The Prague Municipal Council on 27 August set up a commission of experts to investigate the causes of the inundation of the city's metro during the recent floods, CTK reported, citing Mayor Igor Nemec. The commission will also cooperate with police, who have opened their own investigation, and will submit a report in early October. In related news, an official from the government office said the same day that the government's emergency bunker that was flooded earlier this month is no longer in use and members of the cabinet have another shelter at their disposal, CTK reported. The official refused to disclose the location of this bunker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ASK U.S. JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS TO HELP TEREZIN
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton said on 27 August during a visit to Terezin, northern Bohemia, that he will ask U.S. Jewish organizations to aid in the clean-up of the seriously damaged Theresienstadt Holocaust memorial in that town, CTK reported. Stapleton said he will write a letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as well. The Theresienstadt memorial was completely covered by floodwaters. Stapleton also said he would help secure from U.S. organizations some 65,000 doses of hepatitis-A vaccine. The same day, the ambassador also visited Usti nad Labem, which was also hard-hit by the recent floods. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT UNDERGOES MEDICAL TESTS IN VIENNA
President Rudolf Schuster traveled by car to Vienna on 27 August to undergo further medical tests, TASR and international news agencies reported. His spokesman, Jan Fuele, said that the president has decided to "accept a repeated offer by Austrian President Thomas Klestil" for medical treatment in Austria after doctors in Bratislava failed to clarify what caused Schuster's bout of high fever last week. The first tests performed on him in Vienna ruled out his having been poisoned, as was suspected by members of his family. Doctors at the General Hospital in Vienna said the president's health problems are likely to have been caused by an infection, but that further tests are necessary. On 27 August, Fuele told CTK that Schuster will remain in the hospital for a short observation period and will probably return to Bratislava on 30 August. MS

HZDS TRAILING SMER IN SLOVAK ELECTORAL POLL...
The Smer (Direction) Party would win a plurality of votes if the elections for the Slovak parliament were held today, TASR and international news agencies reported. The poll was conducted on 13-20 August by the Focus polling institute and for the first time produced a result in which the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) placed second to Smer in electoral preferences. According to the poll, Smer would garner 18.7 percent of the vote, with the HZDS scoring 18.1 percent. The poll has the Hungarian Coalition Party in third place (11.1 percent), followed by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Movement (10.5) and the Alliance of New Citizens (9.2 percent). The poll's findings show two other formations passing the 5 percent electoral threshold -- the Movement for Democracy, with 6.1 percent, and the Christian Democratic Movement, with 6.0 percent. MS

...BUT DOUBTS POLL'S ACCURACY
In a statement released to TASR, HZDS Deputy Chairman Jan Kovarcik said his party doubts the accuracy of the poll and suspects both a lack of professionalism in its sampling methods as well as manipulation. Kovarcik said the chief purpose of the poll was to shatter the confidence of the HZDS electorate. He was apparently referring to the pollsters' conclusion that the chief reason for the drop in HZDS backing was the recent setting up of the Movement for Democracy, led by former HZDS Deputy Chairman Ivan Gasparovic. MS

HUNGARIAN POLITICIANS BRACE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 27 August kicked off the Socialists' campaign for the 20 October local elections, attending several campaign rallies and meeting local party leaders in southeastern Hungarian towns, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Meanwhile, according to a poll conducted by Szonda Ipsos in early August, support for the Socialists rose to 53 percent in August, up from 48 percent among decided party voters in June. Support for the second-placed opposition FIDESZ party dropped from 44 percent in June to 39 percent in August. In other news, Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky on 27 August turned in to the National Election Commission 10,000 signatures supporting his bid to win the post for a fourth time, Hungarian radio reported. The same day, independent Budapest mayoral candidate Istvan Schmitt, who is backed by FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum, opened his election headquarters in downtown Budapest. MSZ

NGO WARNS OF EXTREME NATIONALISTS IN SERBIA...
Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued in New York on 27 August that the Yugoslav authorities should take legal steps against extreme nationalists (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). The statement added that part of the problem is the current authorities' own reluctance to face the issue of Serbian crimes against non-Serbs. Elizabeth Andersen, who is the NGO's executive director of its Europe and Central Asia Division, said that "by failing to respond to this kind of harassment, the authorities essentially condone it." She was referring specifically to a recent incident in which nationalists dressed in T-shirts proclaiming "Radovan Karadzic -- Serbian hero" prevented the opening in Kragujevac of an exhibition by U.S. photographer Ron Haviv dealing with war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova. Previously, there were similar incidents in Uzice and Cacak. In all three cases, the authorities did not enforce their own legislation on disturbing the peace (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 29 August 2002. PM

...WHO ENJOY 'FREE REIN'
The statement issued by Human Rights Watch in New York on 27 August noted that an association of Serbian nationalists published a declaration in the Belgrade press on 11 August in which the extremists threatened to use "all permissible civilized means, and, if necessary, those that are not" to obstruct what the authors called "anti-Serb activities." The nationalists singled out veteran human rights activist Natasa Kandic for criticism. She noted that "the extremists have free rein because the government does not respond." PM

INDICTED SERBIAN EXTREMIST FROM KOSOVA LIVING OPENLY IN BELGRADE
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported from Belgrade on 28 August that Milan Ivanovic is living openly in the Serbian capital where he has consulted a lawyer and spoke to the Munich daily's Belgrade correspondent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). Ivanovic is wanted for murder by the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), which has asked the Serbian authorities to extradite him. PM

SOLANA SEEKING TO BYPASS SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN AGREEMENT?
The recent agreement between the Serbian and Montenegrin governments on a proposed Constitutional Charter to govern their future relations effectively shuts Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica out of the negotiating process, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). But a spokeswoman for Javier Solana, who is the EU's foreign and security policy chief, told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" that the two governments' text is only a "contribution" to a final document. She added that the final agreement must be fully in keeping with the March Belgrade compromise and be worked out by the 15-member Constitutional Commission, which meets next on 30 August. PM

SHADOWY ALBANIAN SPLINTER GROUP RESPONSIBLE FOR KILLING MACEDONIAN POLICEMEN?
The Albanian National Army (AKSH), a splinter group of the National Liberation Army (UCK) took responsibility for the killing of two Macedonian policemen near Gostivar on 26 August, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 August 2002). In a statement published on the organization's Internet site, it also claimed responsibility for the attack on soldiers outside the Ilinden barracks in Skopje earlier in August, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). However, dpa quoted a NATO official as saying that "anybody can issue such a statement. We do not know if there is such a group. An investigation is [in process] and we will wait for the results." UB

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WARNS MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER NOT TO ARREST ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER...
Reacting to threats by Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski that he will order the arrest of Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), representatives of the international community held talks with Boskovski and Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule on 27 August, "Dnevnik" reported. Boskovski subsequently pledged not to arrest Ahmeti or any other former members of the UCK who are now members of the BDI. Ahmeti, for his part, agreed not to appear at party rallies in Skopje. The international community warned the Macedonian government that Ahmeti's arrest before the 15 September legislative elections would be considered an unhelpful political act. UB

...BUT A GRENADE IS HURLED AT HIS OFFICES
Unknown persons threw a grenade at the headquarters of the BDI in Skopje on 28 August, causing slight damage to a nearby bakery, Reuters reported. PM

NATO FINDS MAJOR ARMS CACHES IN KOSOVA
U.S. military spokesman Mark Ballesteros told Reuters in Prishtina on 27 August that KFOR troops found a "massive" arms cache -- including 800 hand grenades, a dozen mortar rounds, and 10 rocket-propelled grenades -- near the Macedonian border the previous day. It is not clear to whom the weapons belong or how long they have been stored there. On 28 August, KFOR spokesman Anthony Adams said that NATO troops found a second cache containing 6,000 hand grenades near Goles in the Prishtina area. He added that the cache was probably part of a Yugoslav Army bunker complex in the area and had been there "for several years." The grenades will be destroyed in the coming week. PM

KOSOVAR PRIME MINSTER CALLS FOR COMPREHENSIVE FIGHT AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME
Bajram Rexhepi told a conference on organized crime in the Balkans in Alpbach, Austria, that the mafias in the Balkans take in more money through smuggling and human trafficking than do legitimate businesses through their activities, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 28 August. He added that this illegal income serves in part to fund international terrorism. Rexhepi called for support from the international community. He added, however, that too often the foreigners offer unrealistic opinions that "seem more designed for Mars or Jupiter" than for the Balkans. The prime minister appealed for support for democratization as a necessary corollary to fighting crime. Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan stability pact, noted that the weapons, drugs, prostitutes, children, and cigarettes smuggled across the Balkans are usually destined for Western countries. He called on those countries to do their part to stop organized crime. In related news, representatives of nine Southeastern European countries met in Sarajevo on 27 August to discuss how to fight organized crime, especially trafficking in women and children, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

ALBANIA FORMS NEW ANTI-TRAFFICKING FORCE
On 27 August, the Interior Ministry announced the formation of an elite antismuggling unit called Delta Force after the U.S. Army's special-operations unit, AP reported from Tirana. The members of the new unit were inspected by Prime Minister Fatos Nano in Radhime, near Vlora. A police spokesman said that Delta Force is designed for operations like the one currently under way involving Albanian, Italian, and Greek forces. He declined to provide any more details (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Nano said that Albanian police recently captured 12 smugglers and seized nine speedboats, three of which were burned at the ceremony in Radhime. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER MIGHT RUN FOR PRESIDENT...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 27 August that if his Social Democratic Party (PSD) deems it necessary, he will consider running for president in 2004, Mediafax reported. Nastase, who recently said the constitution should be amended to allow President Ion Iliescu to run for another term, said he will in the near future "discuss amiably" with the president "how to reach the best solution." Reacting to Iliescu's repeated refusal to follow up on the suggestion, Nastase said, "For now, things are clear, but the matter could be reconsidered in the future." MS

...WARNS UDMR ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Nastase also said on 27 August that the PSD will not "sacrifice principles and values" for the sake of support in the parliament from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) for his minority government. He said the PSD has no intention whatever of negotiating with the UDMR on amending Article 1 of the constitution, which defines Romania as a "national state." "We shall not agree to that, just because the UDMR has internal problems, just to satisfy some radical groups inside the UDMR [that insist on the amendment]," Nastase said. He added that "if we lose our parliamentary majority, there is always a solution -- early elections." MS

ROMANIAN ROMA PROTEST INTERDICTION TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY
Some 200 Roma staged a protest at the railway station of Arad, western Romania, on 27 August after being denied permission to leave the country, Mediafax and AP reported. The permission was denied three days earlier. The Roma and their families occupied the railway station and slept on benches in Arad parks, triggering subsequent protests by the local population. The Roma said they had intended to travel to neighboring Hungary to visit relatives or find work there, but the authorities denied them exit, saying they did not satisfy travel requirements. Border controls were recently tightened to combat illegal emigration. In related news, Romany Social Democratic Party Chairman Nicolae Paun, who also heads the Chamber of Deputies' Human Rights Commission, said on 27 August that the French authorities' campaign against illegal Romany immigrants in that country is affecting the image of all Romanian citizens. Paun said the problem posed to the European Union by Romany immigrants is a real one, but that Romania should not be singled out as the source of the immigrants as the issue is common to all former communist countries, Romanian radio reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS THIS IS NOT THE INDEPENDENCE MOLDOVANS ASPIRED TO
Addressing members of the diplomatic corps accredited in Moldova on Independence Day, President Vladimir Voronin said the present situation in his country "is not the independence to which the Moldovan people aspired," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said Moldova is "one of the poorest countries in Europe" and that the "carnival-like" mood that dominated after independence was declared in 1991 was soon replaced by "a situation from which hundred of thousands of Moldovan citizens are running away" by seeking to settle abroad. "We regret the wasted time [since the declaration of independence] that could have been used to implement genuine reforms, modernization, and integration into the international community," he said. Voronin added that his words were not targeted against present day "political opponents," but "without exception, all politicians who during the last decade counted on the boundless generosity of East and West to provide a solution for all accumulated problems that the country was facing." He said Moldova will become truly independent only if "we prove to ourselves that we are able to make up for wasted time and ensure the country's development toward civilization." MS

'HISTORY OF MOLDOVA' TO BE MADE COMPULSORY AFTER ALL?
Contrary to earlier reports that school curriculums for 2003 will continue to include courses on the "History of Romanians," reports from Chisinau say the teaching of the controversial "History of Moldova" may be made compulsory after all. According to a 28 August Flux report, Education Minister Gheorghe Sima has urged Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to issue an emergency government ordinance making compulsory the study of the "History of Moldova" at all learning institutions as of 1 September. Citing government sources that requested anonymity, the agency said courses are to be based on a textbook written by Party of Moldovan Communists deputy Vasile Stati, as well as on a collectively authored volume among whose authors is Vladimir Taranov, considered to be the chief promoter of the "Moldovianism" ideology. The sources said that in his reply to Sima, Tarlev pointed out the likelihood of renewed tensions in the wake of such a decision and said that President Voronin would have the final word on the matter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). MS

BULGARIA'S CRIME CONTROL COORDINATION COUNCIL MEETS FOR THE FIRST TIME
President Georgi Parvanov summoned the newly formed Crime Control Coordination Council for its first meeting on 27 August, BTA reported. The new council is to monitor cooperation between the Prosecutor-General's Office, the courts, and the police. In his opening speech, Parvanov said that "It must be clear that crime cannot be beaten by one ministry alone but only with the joint efforts of the state and all its institutions. The state must pool all its resources against organized crime and in defense of the people's life, health, and property." Parvanov added that speeding up criminal procedures is the best way to improve the effectiveness of the fight against organized crime. UB

GRAIN EXPORTERS CRITICIZE BULGARIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER
In response to the government's announcement this week that it intends to prevent speculation on the domestic grain market by granting subsidies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002), representatives of three major foreign grain-exporting companies in Bulgaria have said the low prices for wheat are due to its poor quality, not to speculation, mediapool.bg reported on 27 August. The representatives also complained about the government's failure to regulate the reallotment of lands, which they say has contributed to the worsening of grain quality. Speaking at the Dobrich Agricultural Fair on 27 August, Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme said that this marks the last time that the government will adopt measures to stabilize the domestic grain market. "From now on, the criteria [for the grain farmers] will be the same as in the European Union," Dikme said. UB

IRANIAN MINISTER ON OFFICIAL VISIT TO BULGARIA
Iranian Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh arrived in Sofia on 27 August for a four-day official visit, BTA reported. Abdol-Alizadeh was invited by Regional Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev, and will also meet with Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi. Abdol-Alizadeh's visit focuses on recent construction projects in Bulgaria and the cooperation between Bulgarian and Iranian construction companies. UB

WHEN MISSILE FUEL PARALYZES A STATE -- A LITMUS TEST FOR BULGARIA'S CABINET


Bulgaria's government is currently experiencing a period of weakness, and some analysts even say it is paralyzed. At the same time, social scientists observe a growing depoliticization of society, which they mainly ascribe to the lack of political alternatives.

The symptoms of the government's weakness are obvious. The performance of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's cabinet in recent weeks has been confused, sometimes even chaotic. The cabinet has failed to make decisions on important issues, with the ministers isolated and sometimes at odds with one another. In addition, the cabinet has failed to sell its policies to the public.

The most striking, but not the only, example of this confusion is the case of Bulgaria's stockpile of Soviet SS-23, Scud, and Frog missiles. Already at the end of last year, parliament decided to destroy the missiles by October 2002, just before the NATO summit in Prague in November. For months, nothing seemed to follow the parliament's decision. Then, in April, a discussion started about the financial aspects of the destruction and possible compensation from the U.S. government. It took another two months before parliament ratified a memorandum between the Bulgarian and U.S. governments on the scrapping of the missiles. The memorandum contained proposals for the destruction method as well as for compensation.

At that juncture, people living in the vicinity of the military-training areas where the destruction was to take place began a series of protests as they feared that the scrapping process could damage the environment. There has been some media speculation that the protests were initiated by members of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) who allegedly sought to foment anti-NATO sentiments prior to the Atlantic alliance's Prague summit. Whether or not this was the case, the protests caused a major upheaval inside the government.

As it turned out, neither the Defense Ministry, the Environment Ministry, nor the military had undertaken any studies of the possible risks the chosen destruction process could pose to the environment. Nor did they have any plans for alternative destruction methods. What made things worse was the fact that one day Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov assured the public that there was no danger at all, only to reverse his position the next day. Environment Minister Dolores Arsenova reacted in a similar way. Contradictory statements made by the chief of General Staff, General Nikola Kolev, President Georgi Parvanov, and others further complicated the situation.

Week after week, new problems emerged and new statements were made. Newspaper editorials began asking whether Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession would be endangered should the government fail to scrap the SS-23 missiles before the November NATO summit.

At the beginning of August the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences finally presented a risk study, which stated that the method that the Defense Ministry preferred for the destruction of the SS-23 missile engines -- incinerating them -- could result in environmental pollution if it were carried out in adverse weather conditions. Only then did the government decide to send a delegation to Slovakia to learn how that country scrapped its SS-23 missiles.

For the duration of the process, Saxecoburggotski was silent on the missile-destruction issue as well as on other important issues. Only after the academy's risk study was published did he and Arsenova begin suggesting that there were alternative plans to scrap the missiles abroad should it not be possible in Bulgaria, but neither indicated where or how. In the meantime, the press began criticizing Saxecoburggotski over his style of governing, his inability to discipline cabinet members, and his clear reluctance to answer journalists' questions.

The seemingly never-ending missile-destruction saga coincided with the interminable process of privatizing the state tobacco company Bulgartabac, which likewise spotlighted Saxecoburggotski's failure to discipline his government and has resulted in considerable criticism of how the process was handled. But even if he does not make the first steps toward reshuffling his cabinet after the summer pause, there will not be any negative political consequences for him.

While the government lacks leadership and has lost voters' confidence as a result, the opposition posed by the Socialist Party and the conservative Union for Democratic Forces may have strong leaderships, but lack voter support to call for new elections. Thus, the country's government and the opposition are both in a no-win situation.

But times when leadership is lacking sometimes furnish opportunities for strong men, within or outside the government. When gunmen opened fire on their rivals in the drug trade on the streets of Sofia on 15 and 16 August, the time for the strong man in the Bulgarian government had come. Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Boyko Borisov claimed the shootings were aimed at destabilizing the government and subsequently launched a large-scale police operation against drug dealers.

But while the swift action taken against the drug trade may have temporarily ended the government's paralysis, it remains to be seen whether Saxecoburggotski will take advantage of the situation in time to shore up his cabinet's position and bring the missile-destruction issue to a swift conclusion.

In the end, the course the government takes in the run-up to the NATO summit in November may prove to be the litmus test for its future.

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