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Newsline - September 18, 2002


PUTIN UNHAPPY WITH SHEVARDNADZE'S RESPONSE...
Speaking at a news conference in Sochi on 17 September, President Vladimir Putin said he is not satisfied with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's response to his recent message about the Pankisi Gorge problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 14 September 2002), RTR reported on 17 September. "We wanted guarantees that there will be no terrorist attacks on our territory from the Georgian side, but we did not get such guarantees or commitments," Putin said. He added that Georgia is virtually not cooperating with Russia to combat terrorism and that more and more information indicates that Georgia is cooperating with terrorists. He repeated his demand to Shevardnadze to clear the gorge and said that he hopes he will be able to meet with his Georgian counterpart in Chisinau in October. He also rejected recent calls for economic sanctions against Georgia. "Tough economic sanctions will affect the Georgian people, with whom we traditionally have very warm relations," Putin said. VY

...AS TOP MILITARY OFFICIAL CALLS FOR SECURITY ZONE ALONG GEORGIAN BORDER...
Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii said after a meeting with President Putin in Sochi on 17 September that he and Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin briefed the president about measures for "strengthening the Russian border from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea," Russian news agencies reported on 18 September. Totskii said that Russia considers it "extremely necessary to create a 20- to 40-kilometer security zone along the border region with Georgia." Totskii added that the creation and functioning of such a zone should be the subject of negotiations with "our Georgians colleagues." Kvashnin compared the administration of Georgian President Shevardnadze to the former Taliban leadership in Afghanistan and added that Georgia must still do a lot "to take the same stand against terrorism as was taken by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf," lenta.ru reported on 18 September. VY

...AND DEPUTY CRITICIZES DUMA LEADER FOR ANTI-GEORGIAN STATEMENTS
Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Olenev (Agro-Industrial Group) on 18 September introduced an initiative in the Duma proposing that Deputy Duma Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii be stripped of his post as deputy speaker because of his "public calls" for military strikes against Georgia, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. The Duma's council will consider the initiative on 19 September. Olenev argued that Zhirinovskii's statements "fall within the framework of the Criminal Code." He was particularly disturbed by a statement Zhirinovskii made on national television on 14 September in which he called for "bloody" strikes against northern Georgia. Olenev said that, according to the Criminal Code, any official of the Russian state who makes such statements faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison. RC

PUTIN SAYS BELARUS SHOULD ACCEPT RUSSIAN CONSTITUTION...
Answering a question about the Russia-Belarus Union during his Sochi news conference, President Putin reiterated his proposal that the unification of the two states proceed on the basis of the Russian Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002), RTR reported on 17 September. Continuing to oppose Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who insists on Belarus's political and financial sovereignty within the union, Putin said that the merging of the two countries will only be possible if Belarus accepts the federalist basis of the Russian Constitution. "The future union state can only be a federation," Putin declared. He also categorically rejected the idea of two banks controlling the union's single currency. "There will be only one [currency] emission center, and it will be in Russia," Putin said. VY

...AS GOVERNMENTS HOLD TALKS ON QUICK INTRODUCTION OF JOINT CURRENCY
Speaking after a joint session of the Russian and Belarusian governments in Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that the ministers discussed a proposal by President Putin to introduce the Russian ruble as the single currency for both countries as of 1 February 2004, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 September. A final decision on the issue will be made in December, and the union budget for 2003 will be adopted then as well. Kasyanov added that the cabinets also discussed potential problems arising from the accession of Russia and Belarus to the World Trade Organization (WTO). VY

WHISTLEBLOWER TRANSFERRED TO PRISON
Former military journalist Grigorii Pasko, sentenced to four years in prison for illegally passing state secrets to Japanese journalists, was transferred on 18 September to a prison camp near the Siberian city of Ussuriisk, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Pasko has already spent more than half of his sentence in a Vladivostok jail as his case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. According to strana.ru, Pasko will be in quarantine for one month, during which time he will not be able to see any visitors. The report cited the camp commandant as saying that "the convict has a pen and paper, but he is not writing anything." RC

GOVERNMENT FAILING TO HEED PRESIDENT'S MARCHING ORDERS
The Main Control Directorate of the presidential administration on 16 September released the results of its check of how well federal ministries and departments have carried out presidential decrees and orders and a series of federal laws during the first half of the year, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Twenty-two federal ministries and departments in 40 regions were examined, and the results were poor, according to the daily. The directorate concluded that the government has not developed an effective investment strategy nor has it created conditions for attracting foreign and domestic investment into the real sectors of the economy despite being directed to do so. The so-called power ministries were also found lacking because they had not taken measures to cut off the flow of weapons and financing to terrorist organizations. In general, "positive changes in the struggle against crimes of a terrorist nature have not taken place." The directorate also reported that only 543 of 891 direct presidential orders were fulfilled last year, and of these, only 48 percent were completed within the designated time period. JAC

WRITERS OPPOSE DZERZHINSKII RESTORATION...
Nobel Prize laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told "Izvestiya" on 17 September that the restoration of the monument to Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 September 2002) would be an outrage to the millions who perished in the concentration camps. "[Dzerzhinskii] was a Red henchman, and his figure is a symbol of the punitive organs of the USSR," said the writer, who himself served time in the gulag and documented it in his "Gulag Archipelago." Another well-known writer, Fazil Iskander, said that he opposes the proposal because "this measure does not frighten embezzlers of public funds, brings nothing to ordinary people, and gives intellectuals reason for gloomy thoughts about the future of the country." Aleksandr Gelman told the daily that playing with symbols begets false fears in some and false hopes in others. He said that if the proposal was made in order to please President Putin then it is mistaken, because the move would simply prove to the world that the president is a creature of the secret services. VY

...AS DEPUTY PROPOSES A MONUMENT TO ANDROPOV
At its plenary session on 18 September, the Duma rejected a proposal by Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) to erect a monument to former KGB Chairman and former General Secretary of the CPSU Yurii Andropov on Lubyanka Square instead of restoring the Dzerzhinskii statue, polit.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Mitrofanov argued that Andropov is a much less controversial figure than Dzerzhinskii and noted that many people currently in the government and the security organs began their careers under Andropov. However, only 23 deputies voted in favor of the initiative. VY

TOUGH TALK ON INTELLECTUAL PIRACY
The Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on 16 September held a roundtable discussion of intellectual property rights chaired by chamber head Yevgenii Primakov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 September. Although the session did not adopt any resolutions, it agreed to meet and discuss the issue regularly. Primakov criticized the media for publishing "paid articles" justifying piracy, and Duma Deputy Margarita Bazhanova (Fatherland-All Russia) urged roundtable participants to begin the war against piracy by eliminating illegal software in their own offices. Yevgenii Safronov, general director of Intermedia, said that there are at least three production lines in Russia currently making illegal DVDs. All participants noted that the government must take a tough stand against piracy in order to facilitate Russia's entry into the WTO. RC

OLIGARCH TIPPED TO WIN SIBERIAN RACE...
A poll of 1,000 people in Krasnoyarsk Krai conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) from 10-15 September revealed higher support for Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin than for his competitor Aleksandr Uss, the speaker of the krai's legislature, Russian news agencies reported on 17 September. Khloponin has the support of 44.9 percent of respondents, compared with 34.3 percent for Uss. According to polit.ru, a poll conducted by the same agency on the eve of the first round accurately predicted the results of that voting. However, Vyacheslav Novikov, a Federation Council member representing Krasnoyarsk, told polit.ru that he heard that the krai branch of the Communist Party has called on its supporters to vote against all candidates in the next round. The Communist-backed candidate, Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev, finished third in the first round. Although the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has taken no official stance on the race, Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of the party's General Council, said in a recent interview with "Vedomosti" that "from his personal point of view," Khloponin should win because he is best prepared to solve the region's problems. JAC

...AS FORMER FRONT-RUNNER IN NIZHNII URGES VOTERS TO SELECT NONE OF THE ABOVE
Meanwhile, Andrei Klimentiev, the former mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod whose registration as a candidate in the 14 September mayoral elections there was cancelled at the last minute, told reporters on 17 September that he is urging his supporters to vote against all candidates in the second round on 29 September, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Klimentiev, the proportion of voters voting against all candidates was actually higher than was reported during the first round, because 10,500 ballots that had been marked "against all" were declared invalid. "Vremya novostei" reported the same day that the "against all" option garnered just 0.5 percent fewer votes than the Kremlin-favored candidate, State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov (People's Deputy). JAC

NONPARTY CANDIDATES TO FACE NEW BARRIERS TO ENTERING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 17 September, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that the draft bill on presidential elections, if approved, will stipulate easier conditions for presidential candidates who are nominated by political parties. Under the draft, parties or blocs that attract more than 5 percent of the total vote in the 2003 State Duma elections can nominate a candidate without collecting signatures, Russian news agencies reported. Other parties will be able to nominate candidates, but they must first collect 2 million signatures from no fewer than 40 regions of Russia, TV-6 reported. Veshnyakov also predicted that there will be only four or five candidates in the 2004 presidential election, according to ITAR-TASS. In an interview with "Gazeta" on 16 September, State Duma Deputy Boris Nadezhdin (Union of Rightist Forces) said the spending ceiling of 150 million rubles ($5 million) per candidate stipulated by the bill is too low, particularly in light of the general rule of thumb that candidates generally spend at least $1 per voter. The Duma is expected to consider the bill in the middle of October, polit.ru reported. JAC

INTERNET USE SOARS IN TATARSTAN
There are more than 61,000 regular users of the Internet in Tatarstan, tatnews.ru reported on 16 September, citing the republic's Communications Minister Rinat Zalyalov. By comparison, the number of regular users was only about 17,000 six months ago. However, users are still encountering serious problems with their Internet service providers. For example, the operator IntelSet for a long time blocked its own subscribers from using the modem pools of other providers, which is a violation of antimonopoly laws and for which the company was fined about 200,000 rubles ($6,300). JAC

CHUBAIS SURVIVING ON LESS THAN $5,000 A YEAR
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais stated on 17 September that his annual salary is 120,000 rubles ($4,000), Interfax reported. According to the agency, Chubais disclosed the figure after members of the Duma's Fatherland-All Russia faction criticized him for what they believe are overly high salaries in the energy sector. JAC

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS KALUGIN VERDICT
The Supreme Court on 17 September upheld the 15-year sentence handed down on 25 June in absentia to former KGB General Oleg Kalugin for treason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002), polit.ru reported. Kalugin, who now resides in the United States, has denied his guilt and believes that the case is politically motivated. RC

RESEARCHER CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR RUSSIAN WOMEN ABROAD
More than 75,000 Russian women have emigrated to the United States in the last 10 years, ntvru.com reported on 18 September, citing researcher Olga Makhovskaya. The majority of them, Makhovskaya said, left because they married foreigners. She called for the government to create a program to support such women and their children in the event of divorce. "The lack of a clear family program in Russia means that women who find themselves abroad do not know how to handle the situation effectively in case of divorce," Makhovskaya was quoted as saying. RC

SOUTHERN REGION RESIDENTS NERVOUS ABOUT CHECHENS' PROXIMITY TO RAILWAY
Some residents of Astrakhan Oblast are concerned that a local railway route could be taken over by Chechens, regions.ru reported on 17 September, citing the newspaper "Astrakhan region." According to the publication, the Basinskii train station is located in a village that used to be occupied only by native Russians, but now the make-up of the local population has altered dramatically and some 250 displaced persons from Chechnya live there. In addition, a work brigade made up of Chechens works on the railway. Because the railway is considered an important strategic object, the presence of the Chechen workers has attracted the attention of local police, who maintain a list of all Chechens who work on the railway. The head of the village's local administration, Mikhail Puchin, predicted that in the next 10-15 years there will be fewer and fewer Russians and more Chechens in the area, since young people are leaving and it is difficult for Russians to live there. Meanwhile, Abubakar Mutsiev told "Astrakhan region" he is offended by how he has been treated. Mutsiev, a former physics teacher from Chechnya, moved to the oblast three years ago and works in a taxi depot. "We are treated not like normal people, but like Chechen bandits," he said. JAC

BEEN DOING SOME HARD TRAVELING
In the two years and four months of his presidency, President Putin has spent more than six weeks in his airplane, ntvru.com and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 18 September. Putin has made 192 domestic and international flights, covering a total of 753,000 kilometers -- about 60 times the circumference of the Earth. In September 2000, Putin made a round-the-world trip from Moscow-Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk-Tokyo-New York-Moscow. In all, Putin has visited 91 Russian cities and towns. RC

CHECHEN MUFTI CALLS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV
In a joint statement addressed to the population of Chechnya, Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Shamaev and Salambek Maigov, who is chairman of the Chechen Antiwar Congress, demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and that the Russian leadership embark on talks with President Aslan Maskhadov, chechenpress.com reported on 18 September. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CONFIDENT OF FIRST-ROUND ELECTION VICTORY?
Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 17 September that he hopes the recently forged alliance of 16 opposition parties succeeds in reaching agreement on a single candidate to run against him in the presidential ballot scheduled for 19 February 2003, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a tacit expression of confidence that he can manage to poll 50 percent of the vote against any candidate the opposition might select, Kocharian reasoned that a single candidate would exclude the need for a runoff ballot and thus avoid either political destabilization or additional expense that would hurt Armenia's struggling economy. LF

MINISTER DEFENDS DECISION TO DISPLAY ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PORTRAIT IN SCHOOLS
Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian on 17 September defended his controversial decree requiring that all schools display portraits of President Kocharian and Catholicos Garegin II, together with the Armenian state flag and coat of arms, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002). He argued that doing so will help strengthen young Armenians' sense of patriotism and their readiness to defend their country against external aggression. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER URGES GEORGIA TO IMPROVE CONDITIONS IN DJAVAKHETI
Meeting on 17 September with visiting Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze, Andranik Markarian called on the Georgian leadership to make a greater effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the largely Armenian-populated south Georgian region of Djavakheti, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian said Yerevan is ready "to do everything it can" to help Tbilisi address those problems. On 11 September, the Georgian government adopted a three-year program aimed at improving social conditions and infrastructure in the region and at creating new jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). But it is not clear how much funding the cash-strapped Georgian government has allocated for implementing that program. LF

ARMENIA CONCERNED OVER VIOLENCE AGAINST ARMENIANS IN KRASNODAR
The Armenian leadership is "very concerned" at renewed acts of violence against the Armenian community in Russia's Krasnodar Krai, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 17 September. Arminfo, as cited by Groong, reported on 16 September that some 300 mostly teenaged residents of the town of Slavyansk-na-Kubani went on a rampage on the evening of 14 September, vandalizing Armenian-owned businesses and beating individual Armenians. More than a dozen Armenians were hospitalized with serious injuries. Viktor Stepanian, deputy editor of Krasnodar Krai's Armenian-language newspaper "Yerkramas," told RFE/RL that local police did nothing to halt the violence. LF

AZERBAIJANI, GEORGIAN, TURKISH PRESIDENTS MEET
Heidar Aliev held talks in Baku on 17 September with his visiting Turkish and Georgian counterparts, Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Eduard Shevardnadze, and with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Turan reported. Shevardnadze also had a separate meeting with Sezer. Sezer deplored the bureaucratic obstacles and corruption encountered by Turkish businessmen willing to invest in Azerbaijan, noting that bilateral trade turnover between the two countries has fallen by 15 percent, zerkalo.az reported. Aliev for his part focused on the positive benefits for his country, Georgia, and Turkey of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Turan reported. He said construction of the pipeline, the ceremonial start of which is scheduled for 18 September, will "make the South Caucasus region much safer." Abraham similarly said the pipeline will strengthen the guarantees of Azerbaijan's independence. Aliev said Baku needs U.S. support to help preserve stability in the South Caucasus. LF

TENDER WINNER FOR AZERBAIJANI PIPELINE DENIES ARMENIAN CONNECTIONS
In a statement carried by Turan on 17 September, Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCIC), which won the tender to build the Azerbaijani section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, denied Azerbaijani media reports that one of its senior executives is an Armenian, Kevork Toroyan, who is vice president of the U.S.-based Hayastan All-Armenian Fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 September 2002). The statement said CCIC "is opposed to Armenian aggression and ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh." LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF OVERT SUPPORT FOR ABKHAZIA
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued after the 16 September talks between Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin and Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia is tantamount to direct support for Abkhazia and raises doubts whether Russia can play the role of mediator between Tbilisi and Sukhum, Russian news agencies quoted Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze as saying on 17 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2002). The Russian statement called for the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge and for Georgia to prevent the infiltration of "terrorist groups" into the gorge. LF

FORMER GENERAL ACCUSES GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY OF ILLICIT ARMS SALES
The former commander of the Georgian Army's ground forces, General Gudjar Kurashvili, who served a prison term on charges of preparing a coup in May 1999 against President Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999, 9 November 2001, and 25 February 2002), on 17 September accused the Georgian Defense Ministry of selling Strela missiles to Chechen guerrillas, Caucasus Press reported. He dismissed parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Irakli Batiashvili's claim that the Georgian military never possessed such weapons. Kurashvili said that when he was commander, the ground forces had 44 Strela missiles, all of which later disappeared. LF

SHOTS FIRED AT GEORGIAN MILITARY PROSECUTOR
Gia Djikia escaped injury on 17 September when an unknown attacker rang his apartment doorbell and then opened fire on him, Caucasus Press reported. Djikia said he is not sure whether the shots were intended to kill or just to intimidate him. LF

PROTESTERS DEMAND RELEASE OF ARRESTED GEORGIAN POLICE CHIEF
Residents of Akhmeta in eastern Georgia have collected 2,500 signatures on a petition demanding the release from detention of police chief Avtandil Turkiashvili, Caucasus Press reported on 17 September. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili ordered Turkiashvili's arrest on 14 September after a wounded Chechen apprehended during the ongoing anticrime operation in the Pankisi Gorge escaped from a local hospital. Turkiashvili's supporters claim that he was ordered by a senior official to remove the guards watching over the wounded man. LF

GEORGIAN MINERS STRIKE
Miners at the Chiatura manganese mine in western Georgia began their fifth strike this year on 17 September to demand payment of their salaries for the past 12 months, Caucasus Press reported. The mine employs some 3,000 people. LF

NEW PROTEST IN KYRGYZSTAN
Some 1,000 people attended a protest in Bishkek on 17 September convened by the opposition People's Congress, which comprises the Ar-Namys, Ata-Meken, People's, and Social-Democratic parties, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The participants demanded the arrest and trial of those responsible for authorizing police to open fire on demonstrators in Aksy in March, killing five people; the end of political oppression; and the release of former Vice President Feliks Kulov, who is serving a 10-year prison term on charges of embezzlement and abuse of his official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING POWERS OF EXECUTIVE
At its seventh session on 17 September, the Constitutional Assembly discussed a proposal, which the majority of participants favored, to expand the powers of the executive, including by empowering the prime minister to appoint and dismiss local government officials, akipress.org reported. They also discussed, but failed to reach a consensus on, proposals to prevent too frequent changes of prime minister. LF

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST SENTENCED
A Tashkent court on 17 September sentenced Yuldash Rasulov, a member of the Human Rights Movement of Uzbekistan, to seven years' imprisonment on charges of disseminating antigovernment propaganda and recruiting members for the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, AP reported. Rasulov's sister Khakima said that, on the contrary, he had persuaded several Hizb members to leave that organization. Fellow human rights activist Surat Ikramov said that the prosecution produced no evidence during the trial, which began on 3 September, to substantiate the charges against Rasulov. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS OSCE FOR RELUCTANCE TO TALK...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a mammoth news conference in Minsk on 17 September with the participation of more than 100 domestic and foreign journalists and answered more than 40 questions, Belarusian television reported. Touching upon the relations with the OSCE, Lukashenka said that "the OSCE does not want to sit down at the negotiating table," Belapan reported. The Belarusian leader reiterated his former requirement that the OSCE discuss changes to the mandate of its Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. "But I cannot force them, you know," Lukashenka said, adding that the accreditation terms of several OSCE representatives in Minsk expired and "they, naturally, have left." Lukashenka accused unidentified Westerns sponsors of investing up to $300 million in the Belarusian opposition over several years prior to the 2001 presidential ballot. "Where is that money? Stolen, and you realize this now and do not know with whom to conduct a dialogue." JM

...SAYS HOW MUCH RUSSIA SAVES FROM BELARUS'S AMITY...
At the same 17 September news conference, in an apparent reference to Gazprom's recent comment that it supplies gas to Belarus on a "charity basis" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002), Lukashenka presented his own estimate of Belarus's balance sheet with Russia, Belapan reported. He admitted that Belarus owes Gazprom $215 million for natural gas but added that Minsk pays in a timely manner for current supplies. On the other hand, Lukashenka said Gazprom saves from $800 million to $1 billion annually because Minsk does not charge any transit fees for Russian gas transiting Belarus to Europe. He added that Russia does not pay anything for the use of two military radar stations located in Belarus. He also recalled that Belarus provides both military and customs protection of Russia's western frontier. According to Lukashenka, Russia would have had to spend $30 billion to create the necessary defense and border-control infrastructure had Belarus not done it. "Don't think that the Russian state and the Russian leadership are subsidizing Belarus in any way," Belapan quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

...FORECASTS IMPROVING RELATIONS WITH WEST SOON...
"Soon, whether you like it or not, our relations with the West will significantly improve," Lukashenka told the 17 September news conference. He said Minsk has received "signals" regarding this anticipated improvement from some Western states, Belapan reported. "I don't believe that the West is not interested in establishing close contacts with the Republic of Belarus," he noted, adding that improving relations with Europe and the United States is "a priority of Belarus's multivector policy." JM

...AND DOES NOT RULE OUT RUNNING FOR THIRD TERM
At the news conference, Lukashenka did not exclude the possibility of his running for a third presidential term in 2006, Belapan reported. He said he has not analyzed this option yet but added that it could be possible only after holding a referendum to amend the constitution, which currently allows a Belarusian citizen to serve only two presidential terms. On the other hand, Lukashenka ruled out the possibility, which he utilized in 1996, of prolonging his presidential powers directly in a referendum. JM

UKRAINE, ROMANIA PLEDGE TO SETTLE BORDER DISPUTE BY JUNE 2003
Following talks with his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu in Kyiv on 17 September, President Leonid Kuchma said both countries agreed to sign an agreement on their border regime by 1 June 2003, UNIAN and Interfax reported. Both presidents signed a declaration to this effect. "Thus we have reached a consensus on this sensitive issue and we should feel satisfied," Kuchma added. Ukraine and Romania differ on how to delimitate the common border near Serpents Island in the Black Sea and in the estuary of the Danube. Kuchma also pledged to "move from a standstill" the controversial issue of the Ore-Enriching Combine in Kryvyy Rih. The construction of the plant -- which was inaugurated in 1985 with the participation of Ukrainian, Romanian, and Slovakian investors -- has never been completed. Romanian enterprises have recently been demanding the return of the funds Romania invested in the construction. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REFUSES TO MEET WITH OPPOSITION
President Kuchma has turned down a proposal to meet opposition activists who apparently intend to take advantage of the opportunity to hand him the resolution of the 16 September protest rally in Kyiv demanding his resignation (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002), UNIAN reported on 18 September, quoting opposition lawmaker Anatoliy Matviyenko. Presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk reportedly told Matviyenko that Kuchma considers the resolution insulting and therefore cannot meet with opposition representatives. Meanwhile, Kyiv prosecutors have initiated criminal proceeding against the organizers of the 16 September rally on charges of impeding city traffic. Tents from the dismantled tent camp around the presidential-administration building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2002) have been impounded by police as evidence. Kyiv police chief Petro Opanasenko said police found a grenade and two sawn-off shotguns in one of the tents. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz responded that these weapons were deliberately planted by police to add to charges against the opposition. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES 2003 DRAFT BUDGET
On 17 September, the cabinet approved the draft 2003 budget with expenditures of 38.7 billion kroons ($2.38 billion) and revenues of 38.46 billion kroons, ETA reported. The 2003 draft budget is approximately 4.5 billion kroons greater than this year's budget. Prime Minister Siim Kallas said the policy of having a balanced budget remains with the exception of allocating expenditures of 384 million kroons to launch the second pillar of the pension system. Kallas claimed that the budget does not reflect an attempt to woo the electorate prior to local elections in October and parliamentary elections in March 2003, as "it does not include all the things that we might want to make voters like us exceptionally." The government intends to submit the budget to the parliament on 25 or 26 September. SG

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN VISITS LATVIA
National Assembly Chairman Armen Khachatrian met with the Latvian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 17 September and expressed interest in gaining from Latvia's experience in seeking membership to the European Union, LETA reported. He agreed with Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns that the two countries should draft and sign an agreement on cooperation in culture, education, and science. During a later meeting he invited President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to visit Armenia. Khachatrian began his four-day official visit to Latvia on 16 September with talks on bilateral relations with Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, who stressed the need to strengthen economic ties. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NEW CITIZENSHIP LAW
The parliament approved a new citizenship law on 17 September that will allow its nationals to retain Lithuanian citizenship after acquiring citizenship of another country, ELTA reported. Under the previous law, Lithuanian citizens were automatically stripped of their citizenship when they became citizens of another country. The new law was proposed by the Liberal Union, but also received support from the ruling coalition. The main motivation for the change is the emigration, mainly to the United States, over the last 10 years of some 200,000 Lithuanians. Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas said that "By depriving these people of citizenship we practically prevent them from ever returning to Lithuania." The parliament also rejected a civil initiative, supported by 50,000 signatures, calling for a reduction of the pension age to 55 years for women and 60 years for men. Under current legislation, women are eligible for retirement at age 60 and men at 62 1/2 years of age, according to BNS. SG

ANNIVERSARY OF SOVIET AGGRESSION AGAINST POLAND COMMEMORATED
Representatives of the president, the government, the country's churches, and veteran organizations marked the 63rd anniversary of the Soviet invasion with a solemn gathering in Warsaw on 17 September, PAP reported. The ceremony took place at a monument to Poles who died as a result of the Soviet aggression. Complying with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939, the Red Army moved into Poland on 17 September 1939. Some 180,000 Polish soldiers and officers were taken prisoner by the Soviets; Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the NKVD to kill more than 20,000 Polish prisoners, primarily officers. JM

POLISH PREMIER REPRIMANDS TWO MINISTERS
Leszek Miller has reprimanded Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski and Economy Minister Jacek Piechota in connection with their conflicting comments regarding a recent Polish-Hungarian accord on lifting some agricultural export-import tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002), PAP reported on 17 September. Government spokesman Michal Tober said the document at issue is only a protocol from a meeting and does not oblige the sides to do anything. Meanwhile, Self-Defense farmers union leader Andrzej Lepper has called for setting up a legislative commission to investigate what he said are "uncontrolled" imports of farm products into Poland. According to Lepper, "nobody controls borders in Poland any longer." JM

POLISH PARTY LEADER FOUND GUILTY OF SLANDERING WALESA
A court in Gdansk ruled on 18 September that Law and Justice leader Lech Kaczynski has to apologize to former President Lech Walesa and his former aide Mieczyslaw Wachowski on Radio Zet and in "Gazeta Wyborcza," as well as to pay 10,000 zlotys ($2,400) in damages, PAP reported. Walesa and Wachowski sued Kaczynski for a statement he made on 18 June 2001 on Radio Zet in which the then-justice minister echoed his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski's claims that Walesa committed criminal offenses and that Wachowski was a criminal. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT CRISIS DEFUSED
The four-day government crisis in the Czech Republic has been defused following the approval by the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) leadership of a proposal submitted by junior coalition partner Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU), CTK reported. Under the US-DEU proposal, an addendum to the coalition agreement is to be signed that stipulates that the US-DEU will leave the coalition if it fails to secure the support of all its 10 deputies for key government bills. In that event, the US-DEU pledges to support in parliament a minority government of the CSSD and its other coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party. US-DEU deputy Hana Marvanova earlier pledged support for the proposed agreement, saying that she can do so because it also stipulates that consultations will take place on key bills among the three coalition partners. Marvanova triggered the coalition crisis by voting on 13 September against a government-sponsored bill that effectively hiked taxes. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said, "The guarantees [offered by the US-DEU] are strong enough" for the coalition to survive. MS

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS CZECH REPUBLIC WILL JOIN U.S. MISSILE-DEFENSE PROJECT
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 16 September told journalists in Washington, D.C., that the Czech Republic will join the U.S. missile-defense project, which is aimed at defending the United States and its allies from missile attacks, CTK reported. Tvrdik said Prague will do so "within its capabilities." Tvrdik also said: "I offered the U.S. the possibility to deploy the missile-defense system on Czech territory." He spoke after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Richard Armitage. Tvrdik said the same day that during the NATO summit in November, U.S. aircraft will help defend Czech airspace, according to CTK. MS

EU URGES HIGH VOTER TURNOUT IN SLOVAKIA...
The EU on 17 September urged Slovak voters to turn out in force for the 20-21 September parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. In a letter to Slovak voters published in the daily "Pravda," Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, said: "Before elections, politicians like to say this will be the most important vote we have had. This is not always true. In the case of Slovakia's parliamentary elections in a few days, however, it is." MS

...AS DOES PRESIDENT SCHUSTER
President Rudolf Schuster on 17 September also called on Slovak citizens to go to the polls, AP reported. "As you probably realize, these are the most important elections...often called historic," Schuster said in an address broadcast on Slovak state radio and television. "I sincerely believe that these elections will definitely confirm our unchangeable direction into the democratic world," Schuster said, adding that the elections "will open the door to the North Atlantic Alliance, which [is] followed by the door to the EU." MS

SMK LEADER SAYS HIS PARTY WANTS TO JOIN NEXT SLOVAK GOVERNMENT
Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said on 17 September that his party wants to participate in the next Slovak government. Bugar told CTK that the SMK might have to sacrifice many points in its program for this purpose but warned, "We will also have to offer our voters something in exchange." He added: "If this is not understood [by potential coalition partners], the SMK does not have to be in the government." Bugar refused to elaborate any minimal conditions for joining a coalition. He also said the SMK will refuse to pledge not to raise the issue of the Benes Decrees, but said the party realizes that most Slovaks believe abolition of the decrees amounts to a cancellation of Slovak independence. "This is why we will not touch the decrees," Bugar said, adding that amendments could be passed that would make possible the restitution of land confiscated under the decrees "from Germans and Hungarians, as in the case of [the restitution of] Jewish property." MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER CAMPAIGNS FOR SLOVAK SOCIAL DEMOCRATS
Former Czech Premier Milos Zeman on 17 September participated in a rally organized by the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) in Kosice, eastern Slovakia, CTK reported. Addressing participants, Zeman asked, "Why should anyone vote for the Party of the Democratic Left [SDL] if they can vote directly for the Communist Party of Slovakia"? He also said that Slovakia's main political problem is that the country is "limping on two legs." He said Slovakia, has "no classical left, no classical right, not even a classical centrist party." Zeman continued: "I am not so much worried about Slovakia's limping on its right leg, but I am concerned about its limping on the left leg as well," saying that was one of the reasons he decided to come to Slovakia and support the SDA. Miroslav Grebenicek, Czech leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, on the same day campaigned in Kosice on behalf of the Communist Party of Slovakia. MS

SLOVAK ELECTORAL COMMISSION STRIKES OUT DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE LISTS
Reacting to the announcement by the Democratic Party that it has withdrawn from the coming elections, the Central Election Commission on 17 September announced that ballots carrying the name of the Democratic Party will not be distributed to polling stations, according to TASR. Commission Chairman Pavol Baxa also said the party's representatives at polling stations will be recalled and replaced either by consensus among other party representatives at those stations or by a draw. MS

BUSH CALLS HUNGARY 'A RELIABLE PARTNER'
U.S. President George W. Bush called Hungary "a reliable partner in the struggle against terrorism" in a letter he sent to Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 18 September. The letter, made public by the Government's Communication Office, said the two countries "are bound by a friendship based on jointly advocated democratic values" that has "lived through wars, totalitarianism," and provided support for the United States in the fight against intolerance, hatred, and violence. President Bush expressed his thanks to the Hungarian people, and to Medgyessy in particular, for the contributions they have made to the international antiterrorism campaign. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT INSTITUTES NEW NATIONAL ORDER
The parliament on 17 September adopted a motion to amend the act on state decorations in order to establish the Imre Nagy Order of Merit, named after Hungary's prime minister during the anti-Soviet uprising in 1956, Hungarian media reported. The president will present the award annually on 23 October to individuals deemed exemplary for their patriotic stance, service to Hungarian independence, promotion of social dialogue and peace, and fostering national unity. Deputies also passed a resolution stipulating that parliament will commemorate 16 June, the day of Nagy's execution in 1958, and 23 October, the date of both the outbreak of the 1956 Uprising and of the Proclamation of the Republic of Hungary in 1989. MSZ

AHMETI WANTS ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES TO JOIN COALITION...
Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the victorious Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and former political leader of the National Liberation Army (UCK), has called on the other ethnic Albanian political parties to form a coalition, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 17 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 September 2002). He has, however, received positive signals only from the small National Democratic Party (PDK), although Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) representatives said the proposal deserves attention. According to "Utrinski vesnik," the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) said it prefers to serve as a "constructive opposition." Ahmeti's earlier attempts to unite the ethnic Albanian parties in the Cooperation Council of the Albanians failed because of animosities among the party leaders (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February 2002). Ahmeti won 16 seats in the 15 September parliamentary elections, while the other ethnic Albanian parties took a total of 10 seats. UB

...WHILE CRVENKOVSKI PLAYS COY WITH THE ALBANIANS
The Social Democrats (SDSM), which won the largest number of votes among the ethnic Macedonian majority, have not made any approach to Ahmeti or other ethnic Albanian leaders about a possible coalition, dpa reported from Skopje on 17 September. With at least 60 out of 120 seats in the parliament, the SDSM may be theoretically in a position to form a government on its own. The international community and parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority, which constitutes about 23 percent of the population, have nonetheless made it clear that any Macedonian government must include ethnic Albanians, if only for the sake of legitimacy. SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski has said that he will not invite anyone indicted for war crimes to form a coalition, but it is not clear whether this applies to Ahmeti following the recent amnesty. PM

MACEDONIA ON THE ROAD TO THE WTO
Macedonia has completed negotiations to join the World Trade Organization, having applied for membership in December 1994, AP reported from Geneva on 17 September. The WTO's governing body is expected to agree on the deal on 15 October, following which approval by the Macedonian parliament will be necessary. Some 27 countries are still negotiating their membership applications, including Russia, Yugoslavia, and Saudi Arabia. China was admitted in 2002. PM

MANY STILL MISSING AFTER BALKAN CONFLICTS
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced in Geneva on 17 September that some 23,339 individuals remain unaccounted for as a result of the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in the 1990s, Reuters reported. The total includes 2,543 from the Croatian conflict, 17,087 from Bosnia, and 3,709 from Kosova. The cases of an additional 8,202 people have been resolved, but most of them were found to have been killed. PM

FORMER CROATIAN COMMANDER REFUSES TO GO TO THE HAGUE
Former General Janko Bobetko, who was chief of the General Staff during the 1993 Medak Pocket operation, said that he "will not go to The Hague alive" if the war crimes tribunal indicts him for atrocities against ethnic Serb civilians in that operation, dpa reported from Zagreb on 18 September. There has been speculation in the Croatian media in recent days that Bobetko and possibly some additional former commanders have been indicted and that the paperwork is on its way to Croatia. Bobetko made his statement to the weekly magazine "Globus." Speculation surrounding possible indictments from The Hague has been regular fare in the media throughout the former Yugoslavia for years. PM

BOSNIAN POLICE SHUTTING DOWN ARIZONA MARKET?
Police have made several arrests as part of efforts to shut down at least part of the Arizona Market in the Brcko district, a region that enjoys special legal status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Brcko on 18 September. The Arizona Market has been famous for years for its freewheeling business culture that figuratively and literally crosses ethnic lines. It has also acquired a reputation for lawlessness, which apparently led to the latest moves. Onasa news agency reported that there were scuffles between police and some ethnic Croats when the police tried to shut down an illegal parking lot. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN NORWAY
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 17 September held talks in Oslo with his Norwegian counterpart Kjell Magne Bondevik, discussing Romania's quest for NATO membership and the prospects of intensifying bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries, Romanian Radio reported. Bondevik assured Nastase of Norway's support for Romania's NATO candidacy, adding that if Romania is included among the countries offered NATO membership at the November Prague summit it must continue to strive to meet the organization's requirements. MS

COMMISSION APPROVES ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
After Romania joins the European Union, EU citizens who are residents of Romania will be entitled to vote and run for office in local elections in Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 17 September. An amendment to the constitution granting this right was approved the same day by the ad hoc parliamentary commission examining constitutional amendments. EU citizens will also be entitled to vote in the Romanian elections for the European Parliament. The Romanian parliament has yet to vote on the commission's recommendations on constitutional amendments. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF SAYS NEGOTIATIONS ON OSCE PLAN FOR TRANSDNIESTER WILL RESUME...
David Schwartz, the chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Moldova, said at a press conference on 17 September that the negotiations on the plan for resolving the Transdniester conflict would be resumed in Tiraspol the next day, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the decision was made after his 16 September meeting in Tiraspol with separatist leader Igor Smirnov and Valerii Litskay, who heads the Tiraspol negotiation team. MS

...AND RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER BY END OF 2002 IS 'UNLIKELY'
Schwartz told journalists at the same press conference that it seems "less and less likely" that Russia will honor its obligations to withdraw its troops from the Transdniester by the end of this year, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said this was not due to Russia's unwillingness to abide by the decisions of the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit, but to obstruction by Tiraspol authorities, "who bear a heavy responsibility for having blocked the process of [Russian] military ammunition scrapping and evacuation." MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NEW UN RESOLUTION NEEDED FOR IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told a news conference on 17 September that the UN Security Council should pass a new resolution on the return of the weapons inspectors to Iraq, BTA reported. The resolution should determine the mandate of the inspectors, the timeframe for fulfilling their task, and possible sanctions in the event that their mission is obstructed. Pasi added that such a resolution could be adopted during the Bulgarian presidency of the UN Security Council, which ends on 30 September. UB

SUPREME ADMINISTRATIVE COURT HALTS BULGARTABAC PRIVATIZATION
The Supreme Administrative Court decided on 17 September to halt the Bulgartabac privatization procedure, mediapool.bg reported. The decision came after three Bulgartabac bidders appealed against the state Privatization Agency's decision naming the Tobacco Capital Partners consortium as the winner of the tender. Representatives of the Metatabak consortium -- one of the losing bidders -- have claimed that the country's privatization rules were violated during the tender. The first hearing in the case is to take place on 3 October. UB

NEW PROGRAM TO IMPROVE FUNDING FOR SMALL COMMUNITIES IN BULGARIA
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Lidia Shuleva has announced a new program that is intended to improve funding for small communities with high unemployment rates, BTA reported on 16 September. The project is to encourage the interaction of private companies, NGOs, and state institutions at the local level. The project is funded by the Japanese Fund for Social Development, USAID, and the Bulgarian government. Municipalities in six northeastern Bulgarian districts -- Silistra, Dobrich, Shumen, Razgrad, Varna, and Targovishte -- will be eligible to participate in the program. UB

There is no End Note today.


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