PUTIN TACKLES THE STRUGGLING COAL INDUSTRY...
President Vladimir Putin toured Kemerovo Oblast on 29 August, discussing the coal industry, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Putin chaired a meeting of the State Council presidium devoted to the topic in the mining city of Mezhdurechensk. In statements quoted by ITAR-TASS, Putin noted a "striking difference" between state-run and private mines and denied that the government would try to regulate coal production. "Command methods do not work in our economy any longer.... We will be producing as much coal as the national economy actually needs," Putin said. The president also urged miners not to damage the environment. RC
...AND REJECTS INCREASING ENERGY TARIFFS BEFORE WTO ENTRY
President Putin said on 29 August that the government will not raise domestic natural-gas prices as a precondition for admission to the World Trade Organization, dpa and other news agencies reported. "Low gas prices are our natural advantage," Putin was quoted by Interfax as saying. He called demands for higher energy prices "unfair" and said that "this is not asked of other WTO candidates." RC
PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST THE AFGHANISTAN MODEL
Speaking to miners at Mezhdurechensk, President Putin said that Russian conscripts will not be allowed to complete their military service near their hometowns, ntvru.com reported on 29 August. He said that it is important to observe this principle because otherwise Russia will "not have an army, but regional partisan detachments." He compared that possibility to the situation in Afghanistan, where "ethnically based units" formed, resulting in dangerous consequences. RC
DIRTY TACTICS PREVALENT IN KRASNOYARSK RACE...
According to the Krasnoyarsk Krai Election Commission, Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov has been the most frequent victim of "black PR" in the current campaign for krai governor, RosBalt reported on 28 August. The commission has investigated nearly 350 complaints so far, more than 80 percent of which involve accusations of mass-media violations of election laws. Just 7 percent of the accusations were leveled against candidates themselves. According to RosBalt, workers at Norilsk Nickel were handed leaflets urging Pimashkov to give back the money that oligarchs paid for his campaign. Pimashkov denies that he has received any contributions from oligarchs. A program called "Operation P" that alleges that Pimashkov's campaign is collecting compromising information about other candidates has been shown on local television in the krai several times. Pimashkov has asked prosecutors to file criminal charges against the film's producers. RC
...AS COURT BANS 'DOUBLE' FROM PARTICIPATING
The Supreme Court on 28 August ruled that an officer from outside Moscow named Anatolii Uss does not have the right to run for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. Uss has the same last name as one of the leading candidates in the race, krai legislature Speaker Aleksandr Uss. Earlier, a local court ruled in favor of a complaint by Aleksandr Uss that argued the local Election Commission should not have registered Anatolii Uss, who was described in the complaint as "a front man who is clearly involved in a well-known 'black PR' tactic." The Election Commission appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, resulting in the latest ruling. According to Aleksandr Uss's lawyers, the Supreme Court ruling "has put an end to this unscrupulous matter." A local court in Nizhnii Novgorod on 27 August ruled that a "double" could participate in mayoral elections there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). RC
RUSSIAN SOLDIERS REPORTEDLY SOLD THE KASPIISK LANDMINE
Seven Russian soldiers based in Buinaksk allegedly sold the landmine that was exploded during a Victory Day parade on 9 May in Kaspiisk, killing 42 and wounding more than 130, dpa reported on 29 August. According to Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov, the device was stolen from a depot belonging to the 136th Motorized Infantry Division and sold. Charges have been filed against the seven unidentified soldiers. RC
MOSCOW LOCKS UP BASEMENTS, ATTICS
In the wake of a 20 August explosion in a Moscow apartment building that killed eight people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002), Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has ordered all city basements and attics to be locked and sealed, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 August. Officials continue to maintain that the 20 August explosion was caused by a natural-gas leak. Luzhkov's order also authorizes officials to assign local residents to monitor stairways and courtyards. It also orders officials to check the engineering systems -- including natural-gas pipes -- for all residential buildings, the daily reported. RC
PAPER LASHES OUT AT NAVY OVER 'KURSK'
The government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 29 August published a four-page report on its independent investigation of the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine. According to the report, leaks of torpedo fuel similar to that which was officially blamed for the "Kursk" disaster have been found in other Northern Fleet submarines. The paper said that prosecutors investigating the tragedy uncovered considerable evidence of a wide range of safety violations in the navy, but none of them played a direct role in the "Kursk" accident. Investigators also determined that the torpedo that caused the explosion was assembled in Kazakhstan in 1990 and many of its components had outlived their normal service lifetime. The report also criticized the navy's handling of the search-and-rescue effort, noting that it took 31 hours to locate the submarine even though the cruiser "Peter the Great" had been so close to the scene that it was reportedly rocked by the explosion's shockwaves. It also said that the emergency beacon on the "Kursk" did not rise to the surface because of design flaws and crew error. All 118 men aboard the "Kursk" were killed in the accident. RC
MAJOR WEAPONS CACHE DISCOVERED NEAR MOSCOW
A T-72 tank, two sophisticated Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems, and several other pieces of heavy military equipment were found in a Moscow Oblast warehouse on 28 August, NTV and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. According to NTV, the equipment appeared to be in battle-ready condition and no documentation connected with it was found. The warehouse reportedly belongs to a private company, but authorities have not released its name. The Federal Security Service and military counterintelligence officials are investigating the matter. RC
CASE AGAINST MURDERED DEPUTY NOT OVER YET
Prosecutors have opened a new criminal case connected with former Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev, who was murdered on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002), dni.ru reported on 28 August. According to Chelyabinsk Oblast Prosecutor Anatolii Bragin, the new case will center on charges of money laundering stemming from revelations that Golovlev allegedly controlled foreign bank accounts worth $100 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). Bragin told journalists that information about those accounts presented by foreign law enforcement agencies had enabled prosecutors to understand the scheme under which money from the privatization of Chelyabinsk Oblast enterprises was allegedly laundered. Bragin presented a list of 11 middleman structures that were allegedly involved. An earlier criminal investigation against Golovlev on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office was dropped following his murder. RC
FEDERATION COUNCIL HEAD WORRIED ABOUT 'VISA CURTAIN'...
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov endorsed a proposal by President Putin to resolve the Kaliningrad dispute by introducing visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), RosBalt reported on 29 August. "Russia cannot help but be worried that in recent years in the place of the Iron Curtain, a new 'visa curtain' has appeared, which is restricting the rights of citizens to freedom of communication and movement," Mironov, who is on a trip to Poland, was quoted as saying. He added that politicians of the 21st century should work toward a strategy of "movement across Europe without borders." RC
...AS IS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL
Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential Human Rights Commission, told a conference in Kaliningrad on 28 August that the public must not allow an "iron curtain" to be built between Russia and the Kaliningrad exclave, RosBalt reported. She encouraged the use of public diplomacy to resolve the Kaliningrad impasse. "Russian bureaucrats are not capable of demonstrating the perniciousness of such measures as convincingly as the people whose interests and rights are directly and painfully affected can," Pamfilova said. She regards the issue as a matter of "defending the honor and dignity of Russian citizens." RC
BUREAUCRATS BRING FINNISH CRUISES TO A HALT
Cruises between Finland and Russia were suspended on 28 August when Russian officials unexpectedly began demanding visas for all passengers, AP and other news agencies reported on 29 August. A Silja Line ship with 700 passengers was diverted from St. Petersburg to Riga, while Kristina Cruises -- which operates between Helsinki and Vyborg -- announced plans to cancel 100 cruises scheduled for this fall. In previous years, tens of thousands of Finns have visited Russia under rules that allowed visa-free single-day visits. The Foreign Ministry said that according to Russian law and international practice a ship must dock at more than one port in order to qualify for visa-free travel. "The biggest losers definitely will be the Russians themselves because they are losing out on harbor tariffs, ships' pilot fees, and travel agents' and tour organizers' fees," said Kristina Cruises Managing Director Mikko Partanen. RC
THIRD CATHOLIC PRIEST DENIED VISA
The Foreign Ministry has refused to extend the visa of a Catholic priest, Reverend Stanislav Krajniak from Slovakia, who for the last year has been working in Yaroslavl, Interfax reported on 28 August. "This is the third time in the last few months that a priest of the Vatican has been denied a visa," Igor Kovalevskii, head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia, was quoted as saying. In April, Bishop Jerzy Mazur of Irkutsk and Reverend Stefano Caprio of Vladimir were refused visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 April 2002). RC
SEVERODVINSK WASTE FACILITY TO BE ELIMINATED
The government has begun dismantling a solid-radioactive waste storage site near Severodvinsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The facility, which was built more than 40 years ago to store low-level radioactive waste from the Sevmash shipyard, is located just 17 kilometers from the center of the city, which has a population of 231,000. The waste is expected to be transferred to a new storage facility currently under construction on Novaya Zemlya, according to the report. RC
TURKEY WANTS UNRESTRICTED ACCESS TO VOLGA-DON CANAL
Meeting in Baku on 28 August with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Turkish Minister for Navigation Ramazan Mirzaoglu criticized as "unfair and a violation of international law" the restrictions Moscow imposed in 1994 on foreign vessels sailing the Volga-Don Canal, Turan reported. Mirzaoglu pointed out that Turkey allows Russian tankers of up to 150,000 tons unrestricted passage through the Turkish straits. If Turkey had unrestricted access to the Volga-Don Canal, Mirzaoglu continued, it could transport 2 million tons of Kazakh grain annually to international markets, together with cotton, metals, and other products from the Central Asian states. He said that prior to opening talks with Russia on lifting the restrictions, Turkey is soliciting the support of Caspian littoral states, which would also profit from their abolition. Aliev expressed his support for the Turkish initiative. LF
PATRIARCH NIXES PROPOSAL TO RETURN CHURCH LANDS
Speaking in Kostroma on 28 August, Patriarch Aleksii II said that the Orthodox Church will not seek the return of former church-owned lands that were nationalized by the Bolsheviks, ITAR-TASS reported. The patriarch added, however, that the church would like the government to clarify the legal status of such lands and to secure the church's right to use them. "The church today is ready to take only land that it can effectively use -- and that is the land around churches and monasteries," Aleksii said. He also said that the dispute should not harm the interests of the state or of the municipalities and enterprises that have been built on former church lands. Aleksii's statements came in the wake of recent proposals by Federation Council member Ivan Starikov to introduce legislation returning the land to the church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 31 July 2002). RC
TWO 'PENTHOUSE' READERS EXPERIENCE 'MORAL SHOCK'
Two Russians living in the United States have filed lawsuits in Chicago against "Penthouse" magazine for publishing photographs that purported to be of tennis star Anna Kournikova, but later turned out to show another woman, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. Aleks Sheinis and Vadim Levin are each suing the magazine for $8.99 -- the cost of a single issue of "Penthouse" -- for the "moral shock" they experienced when the magazine acknowledged that the photographs were not of Kournikova. That issue of the magazine was pulled from newsstands, unsold copies were destroyed, and "Penthouse" published an apology. RC
RUSSIA NOW A LITTLE LESS CORRUPT
The annual ranking of countries according to levels of corruption issued by Berlin-based Transparency International showed a slight improvement for Russia, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. Russia ranked 79th of 102 countries, up from 82nd last year. Russia was tied with Tanzania, India, Zimbabwe, Cote d'Ivoire, and Honduras. Russia was rated less corrupt than most CIS countries, with the notable exceptions of Ukraine and Belarus. RC
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS POWER-GRID PRIVATIZATION
In a statement released on 28 August, 14 leading Armenian opposition parties criticized as "illegal" the sale of Armenia's power-distribution network (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 26 August 2002) to a previously unknown offshore company, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). They warned that they will annul the deal if an opposition candidate succeeds in defeating incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the presidential poll scheduled for February 2003. International financial organizations have also expressed reservations about the deal. LF
OSCE NOTES VIOLATIONS DURING REFERENDUM IN AZERBAIJAN
In a 28 August press release, the OSCE office in Baku expressed "concern" both at what it described as shortcomings in the law on referendums and over the conduct of the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments, Turan reported. The press release stressed that the OSCE was unable to participate formally in monitoring the voting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002), but referred to "numerous" reports of procedural violations such as ballot-box stuffing, pressuring voters, and multiple voting. It concluded, "The process fell short of providing a credible and reliable means of eliciting the views of the population." LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ISSUES NEW EDICT ON PUBLICATION OF STATE SECRETS
The Azerbaijani official press on 28 August published a presidential decree in which Heidar Aliev places on editors and journalists the responsibility for ensuring that they do not deliberately or inadvertently publish materials that contain state secrets, Turan reported. On 29 August, zerkalo.az expressed concern that the decree heralds a "witch hunt" against the opposition media and a new "cold war" between the authorities and the opposition press. LF
AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA REGISTER PROGRESS ON BORDER DELIMITATION
During their eighth round of talks, which took place in Baku on 26-27 August, Russian and Azerbaijani government officials reached agreement on four of the seven remaining disputed sections of the 396-kilometer border between the two countries, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. All the disputed sectors are on a single 70-kilometer stretch of the border. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM
Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze on 28 August rejected as unfounded remarks made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Chita earlier the same day, Interfax reported. He suggested that Putin's statements were based on inaccurate information supplied to him by senior Russian military officials. Putin had highlighted inconsistencies in Georgian officials' statements concerning the presence of Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge and compared the situation there with the Taliban's tolerance of Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Putin acknowledged that Georgia has stated its determination to cleanse the territory of Chechen militants, but again argued that joint action by Russian and Georgian forces would resolve the problem more quickly and with fewer losses than a unilateral Georgian operation. Speaking on 29 August at the launch of the third stage of the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian military, President Eduard Shevardnadze again said Georgia will not agree to a joint operation with Russia in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. LF
U.S. URGES RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN COOPERATION IN PANKISI
Reuters on 29 August quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as urging Russia "to talk to Georgia, to work with Georgia so that both countries can work together to deal with the question of international terrorists and Chechen fighters remaining in Georgia." The EU, in a statement released on 29 August, expressed concern over the 23 August bombing of Georgian territory and called on "all parties in the region to exercise restraint and to respect the territorial integrity of their neighbors," Reuters reported. The statement did not mention Russia directly. It said the EU expects Georgia to make serious efforts to restore order in the Pankisi Gorge. LF
SOME GEORGIAN POLICE WITHDRAWN FROM PANKISI
Two police officials in eastern Georgia told Interfax on 28 August that the situation in the Pankisi Gorge is "stable" and "quiet," and that about half the estimated 1,000 Interior Ministry troops sent into the gorge on 25 August have been withdrawn. Also on 28 August, Interior Ministry spokesman Paata Gomelauri said the "active phase" of the anticrime operation in Pankisi will begin within three or four days, Caucasus Press reported. He denied earlier reports that a Georgian criminal kingpin has been arrested in the gorge. LF
GEORGIA DENIES RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS SHOT AT FROM ITS TERRITORY
Georgian Border Guards Service spokesman Shalva Londaridze said that neither Georgian border guards nor the OSCE observers deployed along Georgia's border with Chechnya and Ingushetia can confirm Russian allegations that a group of some 20 unidentified men opened fire on a Russian border patrol late the previous day, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Londaridze said Georgia has proposed a joint investigation into the alleged shooting. LF
GEORGIAN AIR FORCE DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR BOMBING
Djolbort Berozashvili, deputy commander of the Georgian Air Force, on 28 August rejected as "absurd" the publication in that day's issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of an article alleging that the 23 August bombing of the Pankisi Gorge was carried out by a modernized Su-25 aircraft bearing Russian markings and flown by a Georgian pilot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 August 2002), ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 28 August, Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told Caucasus Press that Tbilisi has "irrefutable evidence" in the form of radar images that Russian aircraft were responsible for the 23 August bombing raid. LF
GEORGIAN MINISTER SAYS NO AGGRESSION PLANNED AGAINST ABKHAZIA
Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze, who has frequently negotiated with Abkhaz officials, dismissed on 28 August as provocative and without foundation an appeal by the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry to the UN and Russia to take action to prevent an anticipated Georgian attack on Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), Interfax reported. Kakabadze suggested that, on the contrary, Abkhazia might be planning an attack on Georgia with the support of an unidentified "third force" which, he said, is lobbying for the Abkhaz "separatists" at the UN Security Council. He did not elaborate. LF
TURKEY EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TENSIONS
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over "possible instability" in the South Caucasus following the 23 August air raid on Georgia, Caspian News Agency reported on 28 August, quoting the "Turkish Daily News." "Turkey gives great importance to Georgia's stability and security, and is also anxious about possible instability as a consequence of such issues, both in Georgia and in the region. Everybody knows that the stability and welfare of the Caucasus is very important to Turkey.... Turkey believes in the vital importance of showing respect for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the countries in order to ensure stability and welfare in the Caucasus besides the need for solidarity and cooperation between regional countries," the statement said, adding, "We are waiting for the two countries to act with common sense." LF
KAZAKH COURT REVIEWS FORMER GOVERNOR'S CASE
The Pavlodar Oblast Court began reviewing on 28 August former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov's appeal of the seven-year prison sentence it handed down to him on 2 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax reported. Zhaqiyanov was found guilty of abuse of office and embezzlement. He, the Kazakh opposition, and Western human rights watchdogs believe those charges were politically motivated and unsubstantiated. Officials from the U.S. and Greek embassies attended the 28 August court session, during which journalists were prohibited from using recording equipment. According to Interfax, the court will rule on Zhaqiyanov's appeal on 29 August. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW MINISTERS
Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a series of decrees on 28 August, merging the Finance and State Revenues ministries and naming former State Revenues Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov to head the new combined ministry, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Russian agencies reported. Kakimzhanov, 43, studied economics and cybernetics at Moscow State University. He served as an aide to Nazarbaev and as chairman of the People's Bank. He was named state revenues minister in January 1999. Former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Pavlov was promoted to the newly created post of first deputy prime minister (hitherto, the prime minister had three deputies). Nazarbaev also split the former Economy, Industry, and Trade Ministry into the Budget Planning Ministry -- which will be headed by former First Deputy Finance Minister Kairat Kelimbetov, a 33-year-old professional economist -- and the Industry and Trade Ministry, which will be headed by former Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mazhit Esenbaev, Reuters reported. LF
KAZAKH, TURKMEN PRESIDENTS CONFER
President Nazarbaev held a telephone conversation on 28 August with his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov, according to turkmenistan.ru on 29 August. The two presidents discussed bilateral ties, cooperation, and key aspects of regional cooperation. Kazakhstan is engaged in an undeclared competition for the role of Central Asian leader with Uzbekistan, which has just warned Ashgabat of its intent to limit the export of Turkmen natural gas via its pipelines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). LF
IS RUSSIA HOSTING KAZAKH OPPOSITION RADIO STATION?
Kazakhstan's National Security Ministry has established that Radio DAT, which describes itself as "the voice of democratic forces in Kazakhstan that are fighting for justice, the well-being of the people, human rights, and political freedoms," broadcasts not from the West, but from an unnamed town in the Russian Federation, forumkz.org reported on 29 August, quoting "confidential sources." Radio DAT (http://www.datradio.com) began broadcasting on shortwave earlier this summer in both Kazakh and Russian. LF
EBRD TO FINANCE RECONSTRUCTION OF KAZAKH AIRPORT
The EBRD has granted Kazakhstan a $25 million loan to finance the upgrading to international standards of the airport at Kazakhstan's "oil capital," Atyrau, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The work will be undertaken by a company from the Netherlands and should be completed by late 2003. LF
KYRGYZ OFFICIAL WARNS OPPOSITION AGAINST NEW PROTEST MARCH
Kyrgyz State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov told journalists in Bishkek on 28 August that some opposition members continue to advocate destabilization, Interfax reported. He specifically mentioned reports that "some political forces" are planning a march on Bishkek and that some march participants will be armed. He said the government will do everything in its power to maintain order. On 27 August, relatives of those killed in March in a clash between police and protesters in Aksy said at a meeting in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast that they plan to march to Bishkek to protest the government's failure to identify and bring to trial those responsible for the deaths, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Also on 28 August, some 3,000 participants in a demonstration in Djalalabad demanded the release of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov and that those responsible for the Aksy killings be brought to justice, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF
TAJIKISTAN PLANS TO CREATE 41,000 NEW JOBS
The Tajik government plans to create 41,000 new jobs in 2003, an Economy Ministry official told Asia Plus-Blitz on 28 August. He estimated that the country's able-bodied population numbers 3.5 million of a total population of 6.6 million. He said 44,000 people, or 1.5 percent of the able-bodied population, are currently registered as unemployed, but admitted that the true figure could be as high as 25 percent. LF
UZBEK PROTESTERS CONFINED TO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
Two of the five persons forcibly detained by police in Tashkent on 27 August for staging a demonstration outside the Justice Ministry were taken to separate psychiatric hospitals on 28 August, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). Both are women. One of them, Elena Urlaeva, was placed in a mental hospital for several months last year for her activities in defense of human rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). LF
UZBEKISTAN RESUMES ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES TO AFGHANISTAN
Beginning on 29 August, Uzbekistan will supply an unspecified amount of energy to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 28 August, quoting an unnamed Uzbek government official. Uzbek power supplies to the northern provinces of Afghanistan were suspended in early 1997. Trade turnover between the two countries during the first six months of 2002 exceeded $16 million, the Uzbek official said. LF
CORRUPTION WATCHDOG RATINGS FOR TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES
Transparency International issued its Corruption Perceptions Index 2002 for 102 countries on 28 August. The following are rankings within Transcaucasus and Central Asia, from best to worst: Uzbekistan (68th); Georgia (85th); Kazakhstan (88th); and Azerbaijan (95th). Armenia was not indexed due to a lack of sufficient data, according to the authors. AH
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO CLEAN UP COUNTRY IN 2003
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 28 August ordered the cabinet to draw up by 2003 a development plan for Minsk, Belapan and Belarusian television reported. He warned the city authorities against allowing the capital's population to grow uncontrollably. "Minsk cannot develop at the expense of other territories of the republic, sucking in labor resources like a vacuum cleaner. Living standards should be more or less the same in all cities of the country," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian president also called for an all-out effort to tidy up the country in 2003. "We need to introduce order in our country...and declare 2003 the year of introducing order in our state to make our land beautiful. White Rus (Belaya Rus) should be white, beautiful, and clean -- it is our calling card to Europe," he said. JM
BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS WANT INFORMATION MINISTER TO RESIGN
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) has called on Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny to step down, accusing him of suppressing the freedom of speech in Belarus, Belapan reported on 27 August. In an open letter to the minister, the BAZh cited what it said was the illegal ban by Padhayny on printing the "Svobodnye novosti" independent weekly, following an appeal from one of the four founders of the weekly. The BAZh has also announced that it has collected 50,000 signatures under a petition to abolish the Criminal Code's Article 367 (slander against the president), Article 368 (insulting the president), and Article 368 (insulting government officials), which stipulate prison sentences for journalists found guilty of these offences. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRM ON PURSUING POLITICAL REFORM...
President Leonid Kuchma confirmed at a cabinet sitting on 28 August that he intends to implement constitutional reforms that would move Ukraine toward a parliamentary-presidential republic, as he announced last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002), Interfax reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma said a working group to prepare relevant amendments to the constitution should include representatives of the presidential administration and the government as well as lawmakers and experts. Kuchma called on the Verkhovna Rada to create a majority that could form a coalition cabinet and take joint responsibility with the government for running the country. JM
...AS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL LAWMAKER MAKES OVERTURE TO OUR UKRAINE
Dmytro Tabachnyk from the pro-presidential Labor Ukraine parliamentary caucus said the same day that more than 230 lawmakers have already formed a parliamentary majority, thus confirming an earlier assertion to this effect by Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, the permanent presidential representative in the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), UNIAN reported. Tabachnyk said the parliamentary majority will now seek talks with the Our Ukraine caucus on the creation of a constitutional majority (300 votes) to secure the implementation of the political reform proclaimed by Kuchma. However, Our Ukraine deputy head Yuriy Kostenko commented the same day that no parliamentary majority has been created thus far. "If Our Ukraine goes into opposition, the parliament will adopt no decision, no budget, no law," Kostenko added. JM
OUR UKRAINE TO HOLD DEMOCRATIC FORUM ON THE EVE OF PLANNED PROTESTS
Our Ukraine's Political Council on 28 August decided to hold a nationwide forum of democratic forces in Kyiv on 15 September, one day before the inauguration of antipresidential protest actions planned by the opposition, Interfax reported. The council also appointed Roman Bezsmertnyy to coordinate Our Ukraine's activities with those of the organizers of the upcoming protest campaign, which include the Communists, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. JM
WORLD BANKS TO LOAN $24 MILLION TO IMPROVE WATER SYSTEM IN LVIV
The World Bank announced on 28 August that it will provide a loan of $24 million to refurbish the water-supply system in Lviv, western Ukraine, AP reported. The loan will help pay for a $40 million project to repair the city's decrepit water pipes, secure a stable water supply, and purify the water for some 800,000 residents. A grant from the Swedish International Development Agency will provide $6 million, while the city will pay the remaining $10 million. JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT MAY SUE AUDITOR KPMG OVER KULTUURKAPITAL
The Estonian government may sue the auditing firm KPMG Estonia for malfeasance if the current police investigation of massive embezzlement at the government-funded Kultuurkapital (Foundation for Promoting Culture) uncovers incompetent auditing practices or fraud by the firm, ETA reported on 28 August. The Finance Ministry believes that the auditors did not check the 1999 and 2000 accounts thoroughly, probably failing to ask questions at the banks holding the foundation's funds. The Finance Ministry is preparing stricter financial regulations for public institutions and government grantees, since the current oversight procedure appears to have failed. Two weeks ago, Kultuurkapital Managing Director Avo Viiol confessed that he embezzled up to 8 million kroons ($533,000) from the foundation. Viiol was arrested and Culture Minister Signe Kivi resigned. AB
LATVIAN GOVERNMENT CHOOSES NOT TO INCREASE SPENDING
Prime Minister Andris Berzins and Finance Minister Gundars Berzins in a joint statement have rejected a proposal from the ruling coalition's partner For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) to amend the current national budget to increase spending on domestic priorities, LETA reported on 28 August. Both ministers pointed out that the "laceration" of the national budget before the parliamentary elections would be undesirable, and would violate an agreement by the ruling coalition's council to avoid such budget busting. The TB/LNNK has proposed that additional funds be allocated to the new Corruption Prevention Bureau, the state language program, and higher salaries for university professors. AB
LATVIAN CAPITAL LACKS TEACHERS FOR NEW SCHOOL YEAR
The Riga City Council has announced that schools in the Latvian capital are in need of 95 teachers for the new school year that begins on 2 September, BNS reported on 28 August. The largest need is for English-language teachers, for which there are 17 vacancies, as well as 10 crafts teachers, nine for mathematics, and eight to teach geography. The City Council said that it's always hard to find English-language teachers, particularly because of the low salaries. This year 6,261 first graders are expected to start their education in the capital's 140 primary schools. AB
LITHUANIAN BORDER GUARDS SEIZE 17 ILLEGAL ALIENS
Seventeen illegal immigrants were detained at the Lithuanian-Polish border in the early hours of 28 August, ELTA reported. The alarm system at the Lazdijai section of the border was triggered when they attempted to cross, and border guards were dispatched to search for trespassers. At approximately 8 a.m., Border Protection Service officers caught the group, which included four Pakistanis and five Indians, all of them adult males. The other detainees were Afghan men and women and three children. Tightened border controls have substantially cut the rate of illegal immigration via Lithuania from 1,551 persons in 1996 to only 107 in 2001. AB
LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS CONCESSIONS FROM YUKOS
The Lithuanian government has told the Russian oil company Yukos that it will request that they jointly annul the management agreement for Mazeikiai Oil that was negotiated when U.S.-based Williams International became the managing partner of the Lithuanian oil and transport complex in 1999, BNS and ELTA reported on 28 August. If the sale of Williams's shares to Yukos is approved, management control would also pass to Yukos. The government, among many issues, wants to eliminate the "management tax" paid by Mazeikiai Oil to the operator that consists of management's actual expenses plus 15 percent. Lithuania wants Mazeikiai Oil to pay the executive managers as employees, the daily "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 28 August. Mikhail Brudno, vice president of Yukos, has told the government that Yukos is prepared to negotiate the terms of management control of Mazeikiai Oil. AB
POLISH GOVERNMENT APPROVES PUBLIC-SAFETY PLAN...
Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet on 28 August endorsed the "Safe Poland" program aimed at cracking down on crime and corruption, Polish media reported. The program proposes a number of new laws to ensure greater transparency in business dealings, improve the efficiency of combating economic crime, and enhance security for ordinary citizens. In particular, one of the proposed measures makes it impossible for criminal suspects to protect illegally acquired property by signing it over to relatives. "Today the situation is disconcerting. Many criminals hold the law in open mockery, sometimes treating prison sentences as a calculated risk and very often a risk that pays off well," Miller said in explaining the reasons for adopting the program. JM
...PROPOSES TAX AMNESTY
One of the proposed bills in the "Safe Poland" package provides for a tax amnesty that would give Poles the chance to declare previously undisclosed earnings over the past five years, on which they would pay a 7.5 percent tax. The amnesty would apply until the end of this year, after which undeclared earnings would be taxed at a rate of 75 percent. The government estimates that next year's budget could gain 500 million zlotys ($120) thanks to the tax amnesty. JM
POLISH CENTRAL BANK CUTS INTEREST RATES
Poland's National Bank on 28 August lowered its intervention rate to 8 percent from 8.5 percent, the discount rate to 9 percent from 10 percent, and the Lombard rate to 10.5 percent from 11.5 percent, Polish media reported. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF NATO'S PRAGUE SUMMIT
President Vaclav Havel said on 28 August at a meeting at the Foreign Ministry with Czech ambassadors that the historical importance of the NATO summit scheduled for November often is not sufficiently emphasized, CTK reported. Havel said there is much talk about security risks at the summit but too little awareness of the occasion's historic significance. Havel said no such meeting has ever taken place in the country's history and probably never will again. As many as seven new NATO members could be accepted in November, he said, when "the future of the security structure of the world" will be decided in the Czech capital. MS
CZECH BROADCAST COUNCIL VOWS SCRUTINY IN RUN-UP TO MEDIA MOGUL'S SENATE BID
Czech Radio and Television Broadcasting Council spokesman Pavel Barak on 28 August told CTK that the council will make sure that TV Nova Director Vladimir Zelezny does not abuse the private channel to promote his Senate candidacy. Zelezny, who recently announced he will run for a Senate seat in the elections scheduled for October-November, has been frequently criticized for promoting his own political views on the station, particularly in his weekly "Call the Director" program. "[If] suspicion arises that the law has been violated, the council will immediately take action...using all its legal powers," Barak said, according to the agency. Critics have accused the council of giving Zelezny, who is facing a number of criminal charges in connection with his TV Nova activities, an excessively wide berth in the past. MS
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GOVERNMENT MUST BE IN PLACE SOON AFTER ELECTIONS
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told TASR on 28 August that Slovakia must have its new government formed as soon as possible after the September elections in view of the timing of the NATO summit in Prague and the EU report on candidates' progress. The NATO summit is due in November, and the European Commission is to issue its report on 16 October. On 24-25 October, the European Commission is due to discuss agricultural subsidies and the enlargement process, and "by that time at the latest" the new government should be in place, Kukan said. He added that "all major political parties are well aware of that" and that he believes they will "act accordingly" to quickly conclude negotiations on forming the next ruling coalition. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER RULES OUT POSTELECTION PARTNERSHIP WITH HZD
Prime Minister and Slovak Democratic and Christian Movement Chairman Mikulas Dzurinda on 28 August ruled out any possibility of cooperation after the September elections with the newly formed Movement for Democracy (HZD), TASR reported. Dzurinda said the next government should be formed by both members of the current coalition and parties "with new solutions," but all its members should be loyal to democratic values -- thus excluding the HZD, he said. On the same grounds, he also ruled out any cooperation with the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the Slovak National Party, or the Slovak Communist Party. MS
FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER DISMISSES POLL SHOWING HZDS TRAILING SMER
HZDS Chairman and former Premier Vladimir Meciar on 28 August dismissed the results of a poll released earlier this week by Focus that showed the HZDS trailing Smer (Direction) in party preferences, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). Meciar told journalists in Prievidza, central Slovakia, that pollsters can sometimes produce results differing by as much as 30 percent from one another. The HZDS is conducting its own polls, he said, and they reveal a different picture. Meciar said the Focus poll has "created the illusion that public opinion is changing" while in fact "nobody needs a new player on the political scene." He was presumably referring to the HZD, led by former HZDS Deputy Chairman Ivan Gasparovic. Meciar said the HZD has "nothing to offer" and its program was copied from that of the HZDS. MS
SMK WANTS SLOVAKIA TO HAVE HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY
Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Deputy Chairman Laszlo Szigeti on 28 August said the SMK's program views the establishment of a university with teaching in Hungarian language as one of the party's priorities. Szigeti said such an educational establishment is necessary to prepare teachers for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, but could be attended by members of the ethnic majority, as well as by other ethnic minorities. MS
FORMER HUNGARIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER TESTIFIES BEFORE MECS COMMISSION
Former Transport Minister Laszlo Nogradi on 28 August told the parliamentary commission headed by Imre Mecs that is investigating government officials' secret-service pasts that he had no idea Hungary's communist-era secret services opened a file on him when he began his duty as a state soldier 30 years ago, Hungarian media reported. Nogradi said secret services tried to recruit him but he flatly refused and never once passed information to them. Socialist deputy Gyula David said Nogradi's name was listed in a military counterintelligence book that said he was recruited as an agent "on patriotic grounds" and even had a code name. However, a second report said his name was subsequently deleted from the list. "Magyar Hirlap" reported last week that Nogradi was one of 11 politicians implicated in having links with the secret service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). MSZ
POLITICAL STRUGGLE CONTINUES AT HUNGARIAN TELEVISION
Hungarian Television (MTV) executive Imre Ragats on 28 August said the station has paid 800 million forints ($3.2 million) to 42 advisers in recent years but has "no idea what kind of advice MTV received," the "Nepszabadsag" daily reported. Outlining the findings of an internal probe, Ragats said that right-wing journalist Istvan Lovas was paid 13.6 million forints and Andras Wermer, an unofficial adviser to former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, 6.5 million forints. Ragats said he has terminated the advisers' contracts. Regarding recent personnel changes, which the right-wing opposition calls "purges," Ragats said he sacked no one and that 44 staff members have left on their accord over the past 45 days. Others who left upon mutual agreement received severance pay totaling 210 million forints, he said. MSZ
FIDESZ CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT'S PERFORMANCE OVER FIRST 100 DAYS
The first 100 days of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's government "brought serious disappointment to Hungarian entrepreneurs," the opposition FIDESZ party said in a position paper on 28 August. Entrepreneurs were not only excluded from taking part in highway construction, but basic programs in the previous cabinet's Szechenyi Plan, the government's economic investment and development program, were terminated, "Magyar Hirlap" reported, citing the FIDESZ statement. In other news, representatives of "polgari" (civic right-wing) groups on 28 August presented an open letter and nearly 1,000 signed postcards to the office of parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili protesting what they called police violence on 4 July, when a demonstration was held on Budapest's Erzsebet Bridge demanding the recount of votes cast in the April general elections. The letter demanded that police and executives at the Interior Ministry be held accountable for such violence and called on Interior Minister Monika Lamperth to resign. MSZ
CORRUPTION WATCHDOG RATINGS FOR CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2002, issued on 28 August and covering 102 countries, includes the following nine postcommunist countries from Central and Eastern Europe: Estonia (29th); Hungary (33rd); Belarus and Lithuania (tied at 36th); Poland (45th); Czech Republic, Latvia, and Slovakia (tied at 52nd); and Ukraine (85th). AH
MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY ORDERS ARREST OF LEADING ALBANIAN POLITICIAN
The ministry, which is headed by hard-liner Ljube Boskovski, has issued an arrest warrant for Ali Ahmeti, who heads the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), AP reported from Skopje on 29 August. Interior Ministry spokesman Voislav Zafirovski said in a television interview that an amnesty granted to Ahmeti and other former guerrillas of the disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK) under the Ohrid peace agreement applied to only one of four charges outstanding against Ahmeti. Zafirovski did not elaborate, nor did he say why the warrant was issued despite a recent pledge by Boskovski not to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). PM
WHO WAS THE INTENDED VICTIM OF THE SKOPJE GRENADE ATTACK?
Interior Ministry Spokesman Voislav Zafirovski said on 28 August that the office of the BDI most likely was not the target of the grenade that exploded nearby, RFE/RL's Macedonian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). "The bomb exploded in front of the bakery. The bakery and two automobiles were damaged. If someone wanted to throw a bomb at the BDI, he would have thrown it at their house, not at the bakery," Zafirovski said. In related news, unknown persons threw a Molotov cocktail at the headquarters of the small ethnic Albanian National Democratic Party (PDK). The attack caused only slight damage. UB
MASSIVE CROSS DEDICATED IN SKOPJE
With eyes on the 15 September parliamentary elections as well as on a postcommunist religious revival, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and several other political leaders attended a ceremony on Vodno Hill to dedicate a 66-meter-high cross, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002). The news agency noted that "the cross has three concrete platforms on 12 pillars symbolizing the 12 apostles. The steel construction lies on four concrete pillars, symbolizing the four evangelists. In the middle of the cross is an elevator for visitors." Georgievski told a crowd of several tens of thousands amid ubiquitous Macedonian flags: "This cross represents a cornerstone of the future for thousands of years of Macedonia and Macedonians." Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule and Boskovski also attended the ceremony. PM
MACEDONIAN AND BULGARIAN PRESIDENTS TRAVEL TOGETHER TO JOHANNESBURG
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski will travel together with his Bulgarian counterpart, Georgi Parvanov, to the ongoing UN World Summit in Johannesburg, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 29 August. The daily cited purely practical and economic reasons for the move. UB
SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS RELATIONS WITH CROATIA AT ALL-TIME LOW...
Janez Drnovsek said in Ljubljana on 28 August that relations between his country and Croatia "have reached their lowest level since our countries became independent" in 1991, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 August 2002). He added that he will meet with Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan in the coming week. But Drnovsek cautioned that if a temporary solution eludes them and "incidents in the Bay of Piran persist, then we could either freeze the status quo for a certain period or ultimately seek international arbitration." PM
...AS CROATIA ALLOWS FOR ARBITRATION
Zlatko Tomcic, who heads the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) and is speaker of the parliament, said in Zagreb on 28 August that the governing coalition feels that "arbitration is the only logical and normal solution at this moment, even though it will not be easy," Hina reported. He added that matters should be clearer after the two prime ministers meet. Slovenia has generally favored arbitration to settle the Piran issue, whereas Croatia has preferred a bilateral package deal involving a number of outstanding issues. PM
SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SEEKS $100 BILLION IN DAMAGES
Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, an actor known for playing Partisan war heroes in World War II movies and now the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), told the Croatian weekly "Globus" that he will seek $100 billion from NATO countries for damages sustained by Serbia during the 1999 bombing campaign, dpa reported from Zagreb on 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000). The Serbian presidential election will take place on 29 September. But AP reported from Belgrade on 29 August that the SPS is "in shambles" following former President Slobodan Milosevic's endorsement of Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj for the Serbian presidency and Milosevic's demand that Bogoljub Bjelica lead the SPS. PM
SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION BACKS AGREEMENT WITH MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT
The governing body of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition agreed in Belgrade on 28 August to endorse the text of the Constitutional Charter as worked out by the governments of Serbia and Montenegro to regulate their future relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 August 2002). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic stressed that the agreement was the best possible deal for all concerned. PM
SERBS TESTING LIMITS IN KOSOVA?
Susan Manuel, the spokeswoman for the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 28 August that KFOR sent back to Montenegro a Bosnian Serb delegation that had arrived in Kosova unannounced to meet with local Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). The delegation included Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic, parliament speaker Dragan Kalinic, and Religious Affairs Minister Dusan Antelj. Antelj said that the international community's decision to expel his delegation was "entirely politically motivated." In Mitrovica, Momir Kasalovic of the Serbian government's Coordination Center for Kosova said that schools in northern Kosova will begin instruction in September using the plans and programs of the Serbian Education Ministry. The Povratak (Return) coalition, which represents Kosova's Serbian minority in the parliament in Prishtina, has also called for policies from Belgrade to be implemented in the schools, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. PM
UN SEEKS INVESTIGATION OF BOSNIAN POLICE INVOLVEMENT IN PROSTITUTION
Kirsten Haupt, the spokeswoman for the UN-supervised police in Bosnia (IPTF), said in Sarajevo that the UN and Sarajevo canton's Interior Ministry have begun an investigation of 25 local policemen whom five women forced into prostitution identified as customers of the brothel where they were held, dpa reported on 29 August. Haupt added that the UN was astonished at the attitude of the local public prosecutor, who "saw no grounds for a criminal investigation against these police officers." PM
IMF APPROVES RELEASE OF FUNDS TO ROMANIA
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 28 August approved the additional memorandum of understanding reached by its representative, Neven Mates, with the Romanian cabinet earlier this year, Romanian radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2002). The IMF executive board consequently decided to release the second and third installment of a $383 million standby loan agreed in October 2001. The IMF had blocked the first tranche of each of its previous five loan agreements with postcommunist Romania after the country failed to meet obligations it assumed under the loans. As a result of the 28 August decision, Bucharest is to immediately receive a total of $109 million and the World Bank is expected to approve a new credit. President Ion Iliescu on 29 August saluted the IMF decision, saying it "reflects a general perception that the Romanian economy has started moving forward." MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SLAPS DOWN PREMIER ONCE AGAIN...
President Iliescu on 28 August said he believes early parliamentary elections would "benefit nobody" and would only obstruct the process of economic consolidation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu was reacting to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's statement the previous day that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) would rather call early elections than accept the demands of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) for constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002). In an apparent response to Iliescu, Nastase later said on 28 August that the PSD has not made any decision on calling early elections and "just discussed theoretical options" at the "party-leadership level." MS
...WHILE UDMR CHAIRMAN 'RETURNS COMPLIMENT'
In response to Nastase's statement that the UDMR is indulging in blackmailing when it threatens to withdraw parliamentary support from the PSD if its demands are not met, UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said on 28 August that Nastase's mention of early elections "has undertones of blackmail," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Marko said that "we cannot be blackmailed, but we are ready to discuss any problem." He said the constitution cannot be amended to suit the purposes of any one political party. Marko also said he believes Nastase's declarations were "somewhat hasty" and that the top priority of all political formations in Romania should be NATO integration. National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said he does not believe Romania needs early elections. In a hint to the PSD, Stolojan said that after the 2004 elections the PNL will not rule out cooperation with any political party "except for the extremists." Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the apparent target of the comment, said he would welcome early elections as a means "to end the Romanian people's suffering." MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER ESTIMATES FLOOD DAMAGE AT CLOSE TO $100 MILLION
Prime Minister Nastase said on 28 August that the cabinet estimates damages caused by recent flooding in the country at some 100 million euros ($98 million), Romanian Radio reported. Nastase was speaking at a special meeting of the cabinet chaired by President Iliescu to discuss ways of preventing future flood calamities. Iliescu, who is a hydraulic engineer by training, criticized at the meeting both the communist and postcommunist governments for neglecting ecological aspects that greatly increase the threat of natural calamities. He told cabinet members to "get your hands on books" and read relevant professional literature. MS
ROMANIANS LEAD AMONG EU CANDIDATES IN SUPPORT FOR CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
According to a comparative public-opinion poll conducted by the Czech Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM), support for capital punishment in six European Union candidate countries is highest in Romania (79 percent), closely followed by Poland and Lithuania (75 percent), dpa reported. Sixty-eight percent of Bulgarians favor capital punishment and smaller majorities back the death penalty in Hungary (60 percent) and the Czech Republic (56 percent). MS
SECOND MEETINGS HELD IN MOLDOVAN CAPITAL TO DISCUSS OSCE PROPOSALS...
The second meeting of the first round of negotiations over the OSCE's draft proposal for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict was held in Chisinau on 28 August, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Representatives from Moldova and the unrecognized Transdniester Republic as well as the three mediators also discussed the observance of previously signed agreements, according to an Infotag report. The negotiations were to continue on 29 August. MS
...AS U.S. OFFICIAL WELCOMES OSCE DRAFT
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer said in a videoconference with Moldovan journalists in Chisinau that the United States welcomes the OSCE draft, Infotag reported. Pifer said Washington hopes the draft will open up new possibilities for settling the conflict, and added that the settlement should be based on the assumption that Moldova is a unified state, in which the Transdniester enjoys some degree of autonomy. Pifer added that Washington's support for the draft does not signify that the United States is becoming a participant in the negotiations. In response to a question from an Infotag correspondent, Pifer said that U.S. investors will not even consider investing in the region as long as it is beset by conflict. He also said the OSCE proposals by no means change Russia's assumed obligation to abide by the OSCE's 1999 Istanbul summit resolution and withdraw its forces from the Transdniester. Tiraspol, he added, must not obstruct that process. He said that after withdrawal Russia may participate in peacekeeping operations in the Transdniester as part of the OSCE's peacekeeping forces. MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION LEADER ALLEGES HARASSMENT
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca on 28 August protested against harassment, allegedly by the authorities, of his party, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca wrote to President Vladimir Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, complaining that measures are being taken to obstruct the 1 September rally organized by the PPCD. He said the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry, and the Transportation Ministry are all involved in attempts to prevent the meeting. According to Rosca, police have warned school directors in Chisinau and asked them to sign a pledge to forbid school students and teachers to participate in the planned rally. Rosca also said Education Minister Gheorghe Sima has instructed university deans and school directors to hinder young people's participation in the rally and that the Transportation Ministry has issued warnings to transportation companies that their licenses will be revoked if they transport participants to the rally. MS
MOLDOVAN GDP GROWS BY 6 PERCENT
Deputy Premier Stefan Odagiu told a meeting of the cabinet on 28 August that year-on-year economic growth was 6 percent in the first six months of the year, Infotag reported. Odagiu said the government intends to bring annual GDP growth to 7-10 percent by the end of 2002 and to eventually increase it to 10-12 percent. MS
GAGAUZ UNIVERSITY CLOSED DOWN
Leonid Dobrov, the founder of Gagauz University, on 28 April announced in Comrat that the university established in 2001 has been closed down, Infotag reported. Dobrov said the authorities in Chisinau refused to grant a license to the university and alleged that they did so for political reasons. He said the decision to refuse licensing was " a manifestation of discrimination toward the Gagauz language and culture." Dobrov said the 86 students of Gagauz University will be able to continue their studies at Comrat State University or at the Slavic University in Chisinau. MS
GREECE TO FINANCE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS IN BULGARIA
Deputy Economy Minister Milen Keremedzhiev and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos signed an agreement on 28 August on a five-year program for bilateral cooperation and development, BTA reported. Under the program, which is part of a $539 million Greek initiative for Balkan reconstruction, Greece will provide Bulgaria $53.2 million for infrastructure projects, 80 percent of which will be allocated for state projects and 20 percent for private ones. UB
BULGARIAN DEFENSE, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTERS MEET WITH INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
In what Bulgarian media described as a surprise, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and National Intelligence Service General Dimo Gyaurov made an appearance at the Foreign Ministry on 28 August to hold talks with Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, mediapool.bg reported. After the meeting, Svinarov, Pasi, and Gyaurov told journalists that they assessed the effect that Bulgaria's so-called special services -- the National Intelligence Service and the National Security Service -- may have on the country's bid for NATO accession. Gyaurov said the secret services will not negatively affect Bulgaria's NATO candidacy. Media have reported that Bulgaria is the only NATO candidate that does not have legal regulations in place for its secret services. Gyaurov, Svinarov, and Pasi refuted speculation that they discussed the position Bulgaria would take in the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq. UB
BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL DEMANDS MORE STATE ASSISTANCE FOR FORMER SPECIAL POLICE
In connection with the arrest of former members of the Interior Ministry's Special Antiterrorist Unit (SOBT) on charges of carrying out contract murders and terrorist acts, Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Boyko Borisov said on 28 August that the state has to take more care of former policemen, mediapool.bg reported. Citing neighboring Greece and Turkey as examples, Borisov told Darik Radio that former police officers must be provided adequate incomes upon their retirement from the service in order to prevent them from being tempted to seek other, sometimes illegal, sources of income. "His whole life [a former police officer] has been trained to shoot and to jump -- to be strong and brave. [No wonder that] he is attracted by people who will commission this kind of work," Borisov said. UB
CORRUPTION WATCHDOG RATINGS FOR SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
Transparency International issued its Corruption Perceptions Index 2002 for 102 countries on 28 August. The following are countries' rankings in Southeastern Europe, from best to worst: Slovenia (27th); Bulgaria (45th); Croatia (51st); Romania (77th); Albania (81st); and Moldova (93rd). AH
LUKASHENKA TRADES INSULTS WITH PUTIN OVER INTEGRATION
Things in Moscow have gone really bad for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka since mid-June. Russian President Vladimir Putin on 13 June, two days after a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, called Minsk's proposals for a common Belarusian-Russian state "legalistic nonsense" and flatly refused to follow the integration path that, in his view, would lead to the recreation of "something along the lines of the Soviet Union."
"It's necessary to separate the flies from the cutlet," Putin stressed in June, and commentators in both Russia and Belarus were quick and unanimous in explaining that the Russian leader meant "intrusive Belarusian flies" buzzing over the "fat cutlet of the Russian economy." To make matters even clearer, Putin publicly reminded Minsk that Belarus's economy amounts only to some 3 percent of Russia's.
Putin's pronouncements in June about integration with Belarus did ring an alarm bell for Lukashenka, who admitted for the first time that the Kremlin wants to absorb Belarus as the "90th subject of the Russian Federation." However, Lukashenka subsequently tried to shrug off these pronouncements by joking that Russia "is a democratic country," therefore Putin "has the right to say what he thinks." Lukashenka pledged not to give up Belarus's sovereignty in the union with Russia and predicted that Belarusian-Russian integration will advance like a "wave rolling in from both nations."
On the eve of his 14 August meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, Lukashenka announced that Belarus is ready to integrate with Russia "as far" as the Russian leadership is prepared to advance. But he was apparently not ready for what Putin proposed at a joint news conference following their talks. Putin put forward a detailed timetable for "ultimate unification" of both states. According to Putin, both countries should hold referendums in May 2003 on creating a federal state on the basis of the Russian Constitution, introduce the Russian ruble as the new state's single currency as of 1 January 2004, and elect a president of the new state in March 2004.
Lukashenka, who has usually been very loquacious on integration issues, was visibly stunned and did not make a single comment on Putin's "ultimate unification" proposals in Moscow. He recovered only during his return flight to Minsk. Upon arriving at the Minsk airport, Lukashenka said that Putin's proposals are tantamount to "dividing Belarus into seven parts, incorporating these parts into the Russian Federation, and granting to these Belarusian parts equal rights with Russia's regions." Lukashenka called these proposals "unacceptable for Belarus."
It was apparently the massive welcoming reactions from Russian politicians and media to Putin's proposal to incorporate Belarus into Russia that made Lukashenka respond in tougher and more abusive terms in subsequent days. On 21 August, Lukashenka said Putin's integration proposal is "of an insulting character" to Belarus. "Even Lenin and Stalin did not go so far as to try to dissolve Belarus and make it a part of Russia or even of the Soviet Union," he added.
On 22 August, Lukashenka said Putin's "ultimate unification" proposals were an "impromptu" at the news conference, adding that he watched as Russian presidential aides "planted" a list of them into Putin's hand. "The third question [proposed by Putin for the referendums] -- to form union bodies on the basis of the Russian Constitution -- is totally absurd. Such proposals cannot be drawn up sober-mindedly," Lukashenka said. There has not been any reaction from the Kremlin to Lukashenka's insulting comments.
Some commentators in Russia and Belarus have voiced the opinion that, following Putin's "ultimate unification" proposal on 14 August, Lukashenka's days as Belarus's president are numbered. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the days of Belarusian independence are numbered as well. Both predictions seem to be overly optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on how one views Belarusian-Russian relations).
While it would seemingly be quite easy for the Kremlin to bring about a "local economic collapse" in Belarus and unseat Lukashenka on a wave of popular ire, it is hardly believable that Moscow would venture such a step without having a suitable successor who could mind his own (and Russian) business in Minsk without making too many claims on the Russian "cutlet." Up to now, no such figure to replace Lukashenka has surfaced.
It is also highly improbable that Moscow could undertake the political incorporation of Belarus as a whole or in parts. Doing so could be fraught with unpredictable repercussions in both Belarus and the international arena. For example, it could push the Lukashenka regime and the anti-Lukashenka opposition to cooperate -- and even call for international assistance -- in the face of annexation.
Russia has too much to lose in Belarus to risk a political change and possible instability there. It should be recalled that Lukashenka -- no matter how erratic he is in the political arena -- secures unconditionally the transit of Russian oil, gas, and commodities to Europe through Belarus. The Lukashenka regime also serves as Russia's intermediary in various financial and business deals, including arms sales. It makes no sense for the Kremlin to oust such an ally.
What has obviously changed after Putin's "ultimate unification" proposals of 14 August is Lukashenka's status as the promoter of Russian-Belarusian integration. Putin put an end to Lukashenka's aspirations to play some political role in Russia by creating supranational bodies of power in the Belarus-Russia Union. Putin made unambiguously clear that Lukashenka is not an equal political partner for him. This was a painful lesson for Lukashenka and, judging by his reactions, he still needs time to digest all the instructions he was given in Moscow. But there is no other way for Lukashenka than to go to Moscow again once he comes to terms with the enormous public humiliation he suffered in August 2002. Quite obviously, he will travel there with the status of a supplicant rather than of a partner. And nobody can predict now how long it will be before the Kremlin allows him to present his plea.