FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NO MAJOR DIFFERENCES DIVIDE U.S., RUSSIA...
Igor Ivanov, concluding his visit to Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002), said that Russia and the United States "have no serious differences on key issues and are ready for an enduring strategic partnership," RTR and RIA-Novosti reported on 21 September. He added that Russia has handed over to the United States information regarding "direct contacts between Georgian officials and terrorists," information that "demonstrates that Georgia either cannot or does not want to fight against terrorism." Ivanov also repeated Russia's opposition to any new UN resolutions on Iraq and to any unilateral military intervention there by the United States. In this context, Ivanov criticized the new U.S. National Security Doctrine, saying it moves from a policy of containing threats to one of preemptive strikes. Such a policy is "wrong," Ivanov said. VY
...WHILE DEFENSE MINISTER HIGHLIGHTS DIFFERENCES OVER IRAQ, GEORGIA...
Also speaking in Washington, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that Russia and the United States disagree about the situation in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported on 22 September. "Although the United States recognizes the seriousness of the situation, they call on us to be patient and to hold talks with Georgia on the problem," Ivanov said. "But we say that we will strike preemptively if our citizens are killed and if our homes, buses, and helicopters are blown up." Ivanov added that although the two countries agree on many issues -- including Afghanistan -- he emphasized their differences concerning Iraq. He denied that there are any parallels between Pankisi and Iraq, saying that Russia has "clear evidence of a terrorist threat [from Pankisi], while the United States only shows historical data when talking about a threat from Iraq." VY
...AND TALKS UP PROFESSIONAL ARMY
Speaking to reporters in Lisbon following an informal Russia-NATO meeting, Ivanov said the Defense Ministry plans to switch all units deployed in Chechnya to contract service, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 22 September. The transformation will begin with detachments of the 42nd Motorized Infantry Division, which is the core of the army's force in the republic, Ivanov said. He said that the switch will be complete within two years. Although he acknowledged that the step will be costly and might necessitate reductions in the size of the military, he said he hopes "Russia won't need so many troops in Chechnya in two years." VY
RUSSIA CALLS ON ISRAEL TO END RAMALLAH SIEGE
Foreign Minister Ivanov telephoned Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and urged Israel to end its siege of the West Bank compound of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 September. Israeli tanks and bulldozers began demolishing the compound after two Palestinian suicide-bomb attacks on 19 September left seven Israelis dead and dozens wounded. Ivanov also called on Arafat and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa to "use all existing mechanisms to stabilize the situation." He said that the escalating conflict is blocking the new peace process that was agreed upon on 17 September by representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia. VY
OUTSIDER WINS SECOND ROUND IN KRASNOYARSK
Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin won the second round of voting on 22 September to become the next governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 23 September. Khloponin garnered 48.52 percent of the vote, while krai legislature Speaker Aleksandr Uss drew 42.25 percent, gazeta.ru reported. Khloponin's victory was seen as a defeat for Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska and a win for Vladimir Potanin's Interros group. Interros owns Norilsk Nickel, which Khloponin once headed. Asked before the second round what he would do if Khloponin wins, Deripaska said, "I'll transfer all my shares to Australia," gazeta.ru reported. According to RosBalt on 23 September, Khloponin said that his initial priorities will be to pay wage arrears to state-sector workers and to develop the krai's 2003 budget. He also said that he does not plan to bring any officials from his Taimyr administration to Krasnoyarsk. RC
OVER 100 MISSING FOLLOWING CAUCASUS AVALANCHE
More than 100 people are missing and feared dead following a glacier avalanche on 20 September in North Ossetia, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to lenta.ru, the number missing is 113, although authorities continue to compile the list as rescue work proceeds. More than 500 rescuers are working in the Kolban Valley to clear away debris that is as much as 80 meters deep in places, and six bodies had been recovered as of early on 23 September. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is overseeing the rescue efforts. Among the missing is the well-known actor and director Sergei Bodrov, who starred in the action films "Brat" and "Brat-2" and was heading a large film crew that was working in the valley. Authorities have categorically denied that explosions being detonated during the filming could have caused the avalanche, which occurred when part of the Kolka Glacier broke off after a period of high temperatures, strana.ru reported on 23 September. According to AP, an avalanche from the same glacier wiped out the village of Genal and killed several dozen people in 1902. Another avalanche in 1969 was largely contained by barriers constructed earlier that decade. RC
PUTIN MEETS WITH LATVIAN PARTY LEADER
President Vladimir Putin held talks with Janis Jurkans, the chairman of the leftist organization For Human Rights in a United Latvia and the head of the Latvian-Russian Parliamentary Cooperation Group, in Moscow on 21 September, LETA reported. Putin said that Latvian-Russian relations can be as good as Russia's relations with other European countries, and he is pleased that "there are political forces in Latvia that wish fully to restore cross-border relations." Jurkans told reporters after the meeting that Putin knows the situation in Latvia very well and knows what must be changed to improve relations. Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins noted that "opening the Kremlin's door for Jurkans" is a signal indicating which party Moscow prefers in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Jurkans was invited to Moscow by Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin. SG
NEARLY HALF OF MUSCOVITES SUPPORT DZERZHINSKII RESTORATION
Forty-four percent of Muscovites favor restoring the monument to Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii that was dismantled in August 1991, polit.ru reported on 23 September, citing a poll of 500 respondents by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). Thirty-six percent of respondents oppose the proposal, which was put forward by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 13 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002). A similar poll in 1998 found that just 27 percent supported restoring the statue and 56 percent were opposed. VTsIOM stressed, however, that the poll was conducted before Putin administration officials expressed their opposition to the initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). VY
NEWSPAPER SECURITY CHIEF MURDERED IN PENZA
The head of the security department for the newspaper "MK v Penze," part of the "Moskovskii komsomolets" group, was murdered on 21 September, Regnum reported on 23 September. Igor Salnikov was shot twice in the head and chest by an unknown assailant as he returned to his home in Penza with his wife, who was not injured. According to the report, Salnikov's was the fourth media-related murder in the city since last July. RC
DUMA PASSES MODIFICATIONS TO REFERENDUMS LAW
The Duma on 20 September adopted in their third reading controversial changes to the law on referendums that would ban conducting nationwide referendums in the 12 months preceding national elections, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The vote was 302-130, AP reported. "The authorities are not just trying to prevent a Communist referendum [on land sales], but referendums in general," Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (Liberal Russia) said, according to RosBalt. "[The amendments] were initiated by the authorities so that the next State Duma will have a solid, pro-Kremlin majority that will approve any decision, including extending the president's term." Communist Deputy Ivan Melnikov said his party will appeal the amendments to the Constitutional Court. RC
LIBERAL RUSSIA ADOPTS REVISED CHARTER...
At an extraordinary party congress in Moscow on 21 September, Liberal Russia delegates unanimously adopted a new party charter, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. The new charter was necessary because the Justice Ministry in July refused to register the party, citing inconsistencies between the old charter and the law on political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). Oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who is a co-chairman of Liberal Russia, told delegates by telephone that he is prepared to spend $100 million to finance the party. "I do not agree with much that is going on in Liberal Russia," Berezovskii was quoted by RosBalt as saying, "but I don't see any other organizations capable of implementing democratic transformations in the country." RC
...AND CALLS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV
Delegates at the congress also adopted a resolution calling for immediate peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who is described in the statement as "the legitimately elected president of Chechnya," Interfax reported on 21 September. The resolution criticized recent statements by President Putin threatening military intervention in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. "It is absolutely obvious that the real problem of the refugees in the Pankisi Gorge was provoked by the unlawful war the federal authorities have waged in Chechnya under the guise of an antiterrorist operation for almost three years," the Liberal Russia resolution says. RC
REGIONAL OFFICIAL REPORTS BRIBE ATTEMPT
Ulyanovsk Oblast Deputy Governor Sergei Ilinskii on 23 September discovered 150,000 rubles ($4,800) in cash in a desk drawer in his office, regions.ru reported, citing the Privolzhe news agency. Ilinskii told reporters that the money might have been a bribe connected with an application to open a new municipal alcohol warehouse. He said that he had faced numerous bribery attempts in the past, and most of them were connected with the alcohol industry. Ilinskii also refused to dismiss the possibility that the money could have been an attempt to compromise him. He told journalists that he will ask the governor to install a video camera in his office and said that he intends to remove the door separating his office from his secretary's. RC
RUSSIAN 'MISS UNIVERSE' LOSES HER CROWN
Oksana Fedorova, who was named "Miss Universe" on 29 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002), has been stripped of her title for failure to fulfill her obligations to the competition's organizers, lenta.ru reported on 23 September. According to the report, competition organizers suspect that the 24-year-old Interior Ministry lieutenant might have secretly married and might be pregnant, both of which would be violations of the conditions of her title. "Your consistent refusal to fulfill the obligations of the winner and titleholder...have led and will lead in the future to significant losses for the organizers of the competition, in addition to harming their reputations," pageant officials wrote to Fedorova in their letter explaining the decision. The "Miss Universe" title will now pass to the runner-up, Justine Pasek of Panama. RC
CHECHEN MILITARY OFFICIAL DENIES REPORTS OF MASKHADOV TV ADDRESS
Major General Ibragim Suleymanov, who is Chechnya's deputy military commandant, on 21 September denied that fighters loyal to Chechen President Maskhadov temporarily occupied a private television studio in Samashki to broadcast an address by Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev to the Chechen people, ITAR-TASS reported. But a member of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration told Interfax the same day that armed Maskhadov supporters took over a television studio in Samashki on 19 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002) and a radio station in Nadterechnyi Raion early on 21 September to broadcast a statement by Maskhadov. LF
ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP SNUBS OPPOSITION PARTY
The opposition Hanrapetutiun party, one of whose leaders is former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, was not invited to attend the official celebrations on 21 September to mark the 11th anniversary of Armenia's independence, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A second Hanrapetutiun leader, Albert Bazeyan, told RFE/RL that he and his colleagues would have ignored such an invitation had it been extended. Opposition National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian said that he received an invitation but intends to boycott the celebrations to protest the policies of the present Armenian leadership. LF
ARMENIA, RUSSIA ABANDON PLANS FOR FERRY LINK
The planned $10 million ferry link from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti to Novorossiisk, intended to facilitate and lower the costs of bilateral trade between Russia and Armenia, will not be implemented due to lack of support from the business communities of the two countries, Arsen Ghazarian, who heads Armenia's Union of Industrialists and Businessmen, told a joint meeting in Yerevan of that body and its Russian counterpart, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The scheme was first proposed in the mid 1990s and endorsed by the Armenian, Georgian, and Russian governments. LF
AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS LAUNCH OPEN-ENDED PROTEST
Following the detention on 20 September of Hadji Djabrail Alizade, residents of the village of Nardaran near Baku vowed to launch continuous protests until he and other detainees are released and their related demands are met, zerkalo.az reported on 21 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). Those demands include improved social and economic conditions and the trial of those responsible for ordering police to open fire on villagers during a standoff in early June. Five residents who tried to gain access to Alizade, who is being held in police detention, were themselves detained on 21 September; two were released while the others were held in custody for 10 days, Turan reported on 23 September. LF
U.S. PRESIDENT URGES GEORGIA TO COOPERATE WITH RUSSIA ON PANKISI PROBLEM
In a personal message to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, George W. Bush assured him that "the U.S. consistently supports the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Georgia," and that "you can count on this support in the establishment of state control in the Pankisi Gorge and other regions of Georgia," Caucasus Press reported on 21 September. At the same time, Bush urged Tbilisi to establish close cooperation with Russia, saying that the situation in the region requires the elaboration of joint measures by the governments of Georgia and Russia to strengthen stability and resolve the problems of Pankisi and Abkhazia. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO DENY THAT PANKISI IS A THREAT TO RUSSIA
Shevardnadze for his part has sent a letter to the UN secretary-general and the UN Security Council again denying that developments in Georgia pose any threat to Russia, and affirming that "the problem of the Pankisi Gorge is being artificially inflated," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 September. Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Zurab Abashidze, said in an interview published on 20 September in "Vremya MN" that no rebel bases or camps have been discovered during the ongoing antiterrorism operation in the Pankisi Gorge. Speaking on Georgian state television on 20 September, State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said there was no need in the past, when the situation was "much more difficult," for the direct participation of either Russian or U.S. forces in the antiterrorist operation in Pankisi, nor is it necessary now, ITAR-TASS reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze also said on 20 September that the United States will not participate in the antiterrorism operation in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. LF
SUSPECTED CRIMINAL DETAINED IN PANKISI AS EARLIER CHECHEN DETAINEES RELEASED
Four suspected armed criminals were apprehended on 22 September in the villages of Duisi, Omalo, and Tsinubani in the Pankisi Gorge, ITAR-TASS reported. Three of the men are Georgians and one a citizen of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, five more of the 12 Chechens detained in the gorge last week have been released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 September 2002). LF
GEORGIAN DENIES CHECHENS POISED TO CROSS INTO RUSSIA
A spokesman for the Georgian State Border Department rejected on 21 September as disinformation Russian media reports that some 100 Chechen gunmen are congregated in the Georgian village of Barisakho on the Georgian side of the Georgian-Russian border ready to cross into the Russian Federation, Caucasus Press reported. On 20 September, Colonel General Nikolai Reznichenko, who is deputy director of the Russian Federal Border Service, told journalists in Moscow he is convinced that Georgian border guards know the precise location of Chechen militant groups in Georgia but fail to pass that information on to his agency, Interfax reported. LF
GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ACCUSES UN OF BEING 'SOFT' ON ABKHAZIA
In his 19 September speech to the UN General Assembly, Irakli Menagharishvili criticized the most recent UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia as being too soft in its condemnation of Abkhazia's refusal to discuss a UN-drafted document on the relation between Abkhazia and the central Georgian authorities within a single Georgian state, Caucasus Press reported on 20 September. He called on the international community to condemn Abkhazia for failing to begin the teaching of Georgian in schools in Gali Raion, and criticized the Russian peacekeepers deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone for allegedly failing to fulfill their mandate. LF
UN ENVOY MEETS WITH ABKHAZ PREMIER
Heidi Tagliavini, who is the UN Secretary General's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, met in Sukhum on 21 September with Anri Djergenia, who once again demanded that Georgia withdraw the estimated 900 armed men it has deployed in the Kodori Gorge, Interfax reported. Interfax quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as saying prior to those talks that Abkhazia would demand the demilitarization of the Kodori Gorge. On 20 September, Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba denied Georgian claims that Russian and Abkhaz forces are preparing an offensive in Kodori, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). LF
GEORGIAN MINERS END STRIKE
Employees of Chiatura Manganese Mine have ended the strike they began on 17 September to demand payment of 12 months' wage arrears after receiving an unspecified proportion of that backlog, Caucasus Press reported on 20 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). LF
EURASIAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY PREMIERS FAIL TO AGREE ON JOINT CUSTOMS, TAX POLICIES
At a meeting in Astana on 20 September, the prime ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan failed to reach any agreement on the introduction of a single import tariff and other measures aimed at speeding up economic integration between their countries, RFE/RL's Kazakh and Kyrgyz services and Interfax reported. Tajik Premier Oqil Oqilov expressed his disappointment at the stalemate, arguing the "urgent need" for a transportation union among the five states. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov suggested that using Russian rubles rather than hard currency in trade between the five countries would accelerate economic integration, Interfax and akipress.org reported. LF
FOUR CENTRAL ASIAN STATES DISCUSS WATER, ENERGY CONSORTIUM
Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov told journalists in Astana on 19 September that he has discussed with his Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek counterparts -- Oqil Oqilov, Nikolai Tanaev, and Utkir Sultanov -- the creation in 2005 of a water and energy consortium, in which the four countries would undertake to meet each others' requirements for electricity and water, Interfax reported. Tasmagambetov said Oqilov endorsed that proposal, while Sultanov asked for more time to think it over. LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SAYS HE MIGHT RUN FOR FURTHER TERM...
In a question-and-answer session broadcast live on state television on 20 September, Nursultan Nazarbaev said he may avail himself of what he termed his "constitutional right" to run for a further presidential term in 2007, Interfax reported. "God willing, if everything goes right, I am sure that the people will support me," he said. Nazarbaev, who turned 62 in July, was elected president of the Kazakh SSR in April 1990. His term was prolonged for a further five years in a referendum in 1995, then in October 1998 the constitution was amended to extend the presidential term from five to seven years. Also in October1998, Nazarbaev scheduled preterm presidential elections for January 1999, and was re-elected with 81.7 percent of the vote in a ballot from which his most serious challenger, former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was excluded and which the OSCE slammed as falling far short of accepted international standards. Nazarbaev insisted in June 2000 that he has no intention of remaining president for life. LF
...SAYS MORE OFFICIALS TO BE CHARGED WITH CORRUPTION
Nazarbaev also announced on 20 September that details of new corruption charges against high-level officials will be made public soon, Interfax reported. He professed to feel "very sorry" for former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who were recently sentenced to six and seven years' imprisonment, respectively, on corruption charges that both men claim were fabricated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 5 August 2002). Nazarbaev also criticized the international community for failing to provide adequate funds to restore the Afghan economy, as a result of which, he said, Afghanistan remains a source of narcotics and a potential exporter of radical Islam, Interfax reported. LF
KAZAKHSTAN NAMES HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN
President Nazarbaev signed a decree on 20 September creating the post of ombudsman and named to that post 56-year-old Bolot Baykadamov, who served previously as secretary of the presidential human rights commission, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The ombudsman is required to monitor the observance of human rights nationwide, but is not empowered to interfere with the work of either the police or the judicial system. LF
KAZAKH PREMIER SAYS IRANIAN OIL PIPELINE PREFERABLE TO BTC
Exporting oil from Kazakhstan via Iran would be more economically viable than using the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline (BTC), Prime Minister Tasmagambetov told journalists on 20 September, Interfax reported. Echoing numerous analysts' conclusions, he said that the motivating force behind BTC is political, rather than economic, and that that pipeline will not be economically viable unless Kazakhstan too agrees to use it. Speaking on 18 September at the groundbreaking ceremony for BTC, Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer urged Kazakhstan to commit itself to exporting oil through BTC. But U.S. special envoy for Caspian energy issues Steven Mann said in Tbilisi on 20 September that the viability of BTC does not hinge on Kazakhstan's participation, Interfax reported. LF
KAZAKHSTAN, TAJIKISTAN DISCUSS COOPERATION
Tasmagambetov met in Astana on 19 September on the eve of the Eurasian Economic Community prime ministers' meeting with his Tajik counterpart Oqilov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 September. The two men discussed possible Kazakh investment in the Tajik economy, clearing mutual debts, and other aspects of strengthening bilateral economic cooperation and trade. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO DEMOCRACY
In his 20 September address to the UN General Assembly in New York, Askar Akaev admitted that Kyrgyzstan has encountered "defeats" during its transition from authoritarianism, but pledged that his country "will follow [the path of democracy] despite all difficulties and obstacles," Reuters and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In an apparent reference to those opposition factions who demand his resignation and the abolition of the presidency, Akaev criticized factions he said pretend to support democracy but interpret democracy as the destruction of existing institutions and the conduct of political experiments. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ACQUITTED OF SLANDER CHARGES
A Bishkek district court on 19 September found parliament deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov not guilty of slandering residents of a Bishkek hostel, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 14 August 2002). LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT BLAMES NATIONAL BANK CHAIRMAN FOR $40 MILLION THEFT
At a televised cabinet session on 20 September, President Saparmurat Niyazov announced the dismissal of National Bank Chairman Imamdurdy Gandymov, whom he accused of gross negligence in failing to prevent a bank official, Arslan Kakaev, from illegally transferring $40 million from the country's foreign-currency reserves, Reuters and Russian news agencies reported. The whereabouts of both Gandymov and the unnamed official are not known. Niyazov named Khalq Bank Chairwoman Shakersoltan Mukhammedova to head the National Bank and ordered the police and National Security Ministry to recover the stolen cash within 10 days. The Turkmen opposition website gundogar.com on 22 September quoted former Turkmen Ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhamed Khanamov as saying that he was informed by an unnamed central bank official that the money was illegally transferred from one of Niyazov's own accounts with Deutsche Bank on 12 September. LF
ANOTHER BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST FACES LIBEL CHARGES
The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched criminal proceedings against Iryna Khalip, a journalist of the private newspaper "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," on libel charges, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 September. The office also issued an official warning to "Dlya sluzhebnogo polzovaniya" (For Official Use), a monthly supplement to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," in which Khalip published in June and July an investigative article alleging that Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman and other investigators may have accepted a bribe to close a criminal investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). Three Belarusian journalists -- Mikola Markevich, Pavel Mazheyka, and Viktar Ivashkevich -- were sentenced earlier this year to confinement on libel charges. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR ANTIPRESIDENTIAL RALLY ON 24 SEPTEMBER...
Several hundred opposition activists held meetings on Kyiv's Independence Square on 20 and 21 September in which they called on people to take part in a large-scale antipresidential rally in front of the parliamentary building on 24 September, UNIAN reported. According to organizers, people should gather on 24 September to demand that the Verkhovna Rada include the question of President Leonid Kuchma's impeachment on its agenda. Last week, lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko submitted to the parliament a draft resolution calling for Kuchma's impeachment. JM
...AS AUTHORITIES RELEASE DEMONSTRATORS ARRESTED LAST WEEK...
Ukrainian authorities released the last nine protesters who had been jailed after riot police broke up their tent camp outside the president's office on 17 September, but ordered them not to leave their home cities pending the conclusion of criminal investigations, Ukrainian media reported. "[We] decided not to apply extreme measures of punishment against them, but to take more humane measures," the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office said in a joint statement. JM
...AND POLICE BREAK UP TENT CAMP IN KHARKIV
Before dawn on 22 September, police dismantled four tents pitched by activists of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign in downtown Kharkiv the previous day, UNIAN reported. Several opposition activists remain at the site and are collecting signatures under an appeal demanding the ouster of President Kuchma and Kharkiv Oblast administration head Yevhen Kushnyarov. JM
ESTONIA JOINS EU ELECTRONIC INFORMATION-EXCHANGE PROGRAM
In Tallinn on 20 September, Economy, Transport, and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson and European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society Erkki Liikanen signed a memorandum on Estonia joining the European Union's electronic information-exchange program, eContent, ETA reported. The program has three main areas of activity: improving access to and expanding the use of public-sector information, enhancing content production in a multilingual and multicultural environment, and increasing the dynamism of the digital-content market. In talks with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Liikanen offered his help in solving problems that may arise in the work of the European Future Convention. He also delivered a report at the telecommunications and information-technologies forum "From Vision to Solutions 2002" in Parnu. SG
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS AT UNITED NATIONS
Kristiina Ojuland told the UN General Assembly on 20 September that the three major challenges the world is facing are fighting terrorism and human trafficking as well as ensuring sustainable development, BNS reported. She noted that Iraq must unconditionally comply with UN resolutions and that agreeing to the return of UN arms inspectors was only the first step. Ojuland also signed three additional protocols to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which Estonia signed in December 2000. The first protocol deals with the prevention of and punishment for trafficking in persons, especially women and children, as well as assistance to victims. The aim of the second protocol is to prevent the smuggling of migrants, while the third protocol addresses the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, their components, and ammunition. SG
LITHUANIA AFFIRMS WILLINGNESS TO ACCEDE TO CFE
Responding to comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Washington on 18 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002), Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Secretary Giedrius Cekuolis told BNS on 20 September that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told the United Nations that his country will join the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) when it becomes feasible to do so, which will only be after the 30 signatories have ratified it. Only two have done so thus far. Ivanov had said Russia is concerned by the prospect of the Baltic states joining NATO because they did not sign the revised CFE treaty that imposes ceilings for the deployment of certain types of conventional arms (tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, warplanes, and helicopters). Russian officials warned in July that Moscow might not ratify the CFE treaty unless the Baltic states accede to it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 29 July 2002). LF
SWEDISH QUEEN SPEAKS AT AIDS CONFERENCE IN VILNIUS
Queen Silvia flew to Vilnius on 20 September to give a speech at the fourth European AIDS Conference, titled "European Approach Towards AIDS: Research, Policy, Prevention, and Care," ELTA reported. She was the guest of honor of the three-day conference, which opened the previous day with more than 260 representatives from 38 countries and 600 participants from Lithuania. Queen Silvia said that "Poverty, ignorance, unemployment, and desperation are reasons why HIV is spreading so rapidly." Together with President Adamkus she later opened the Lithuanian center of the organization Save the Children. The center, which was in part financed by the World Childhood Foundation that she founded, will primarily work with children who not attending school for various reasons. The queen also visited the Take Care of Children children's home and Lukiskes Prison. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT WELCOMES BUSH'S PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LOAN FOR JETS
President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that U.S. congressional approval of a credit to Poland for the purchase of jet fighters would make the American offer "very attractive," PAP reported on 20 September. U.S. President George W. Bush has asked Congress to grant Poland a $3.8 billion credit for the purchase of 48 F-16 fighter jets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). "I think this is an important decision and I am happy that such a decision was made by President Bush," Kwasniewski said, adding that "the Americans have well understood that in this case, regarding the financing of the tender, they simply must propose something serious and far-reaching." JM
POLISH GOVERNMENT ADOPTS 2003 DRAFT BUDGET
The Polish cabinet on 20 September adopted a 2003 draft budget projecting revenues at some 155 billion zlotys ($36.4 billion), which is 6.6 percent more than in 2002, and spending at 193 billion zlotys (4.5 percent more than last year). The projected budget deficit, 38.7 billion zlotys, is lower than last year (40 billion zlotys) and is equal to 4.9 percent of GDP. Poland's GDP in 2001 is to rise by 3.5 percent, inflation is estimated at 2.3 percent, and unemployment is to remain at approximately 18 percent. Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko called the goals set by the 2003 draft budget "ambitious." In a televised address to the nation on 21 September, Premier Leszek Miller said the 2003 spending plan is "a budget of development [and] a messenger of good hope." JM
CZECH PRESIDENT, UN SECRETARY-GENERAL DISCUSS IRAQ...
President Vaclav Havel met in New York on 20 September with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, discussing various alternatives for the planned UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, CTK reported. Havel told journalists after the meeting that the resolution should set clear demands and, if Iraq does not meet them, a full-scale military operation should be launched against that country. MS
...MEETS WITH CUBAN DISSIDENTS IN MIAMI, RECEIVES PRIZE
President Havel on 22 September received the Heroes of Liberty prize from representatives of the Cuban community in exile in Miami, CTK reported. He assured them of his own and his fellow Czech citizens' solidarity with the struggle for human rights and respect of human dignity in Cuba. He then met with several former political Cuban political prisoners. Havel said earlier in New York that Cuban exiles should not provoke any conflict with the country's ruler, Fidel Castro, and that Cuba "differs in every case" in comparison to Iraq. "In the case of Cuba one could hardly find a reason for intervention," he added. Havel failed to contact by telephone Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya Sardinias, whom he has proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT LOOKS BACK WITHOUT ANGER
Addressing an audience at the City University of New York on 20 September, President Havel said that in the 13 years of his presidency, first of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic, he has "become a lot more humble" and a lot less sure of himself, CTK reported. Havel said that he is constantly afraid that his "lack of qualifications" for the presidential job will reveal themselves, and that "despite my good faith, I will make ever bigger mistakes," lose credibility, and thus "lose the right to do what I do." Havel said that, "overnight I was catapulted into a world of fairy tales and, in following years, I had to return to Earth." He said he was forced into the presidential job by "an accident of history," but was not granted any "immunity from that hard fall back to Earth, from the exhilarating world of revolutionary excitement into the mundane world of bureaucratic routine." He said the time is nearing when he will have to account not for what he sought to achieve but for what he actually accomplished. However, he added that, in any event, his presidency has been "a magnificent gift of destiny." MS
CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SET DATES FOR PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY
Social Democratic Party Deputy (CSSD) Chairwoman Marie Souckova said on 20 September that CSSD members and nonparty members will vote from 22-28 October in a party primary for the party's presidential candidate, CTK reported. Deputy CSSD Chairman Zdenek Skromach said that each candidate will have to submit in writing his or her consent to run in the primary. Souckova said that no candidate has officially been asked to run, but added that former Premier Milos Zeman, former Justice Minister Otakar Motelj, former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures, and former Czech Academy of Sciences President Rudolf Zahradnik have all unofficially agreed to run. On 21 September, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky said on Czech television that Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, who is the chosen candidate of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, has no chance of being elected as Havel's successor. MS
CHALLENGER TO CZECH ODS CHAIRMAN EMERGES
Evzen Tosenovsky, who is commissioner of the Moravian-Silesian Region, announced on 22 September that he intends to run for the post of Civic Democratic Party (ODS) chairman at the party's national conference in December, CTK reported. Tosenovsky said his decision to run against current ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus was prompted by the party's failure in the June elections and by "appeals from the rank-and-file" to do so. Tosenovsky said the time is ripe for a change in the policies of the ODS to be effected through changing the party's leadership. "No party can rely on a single man," he said in an apparent reference to Klaus. The 46-year-old Tosenovsky is an engineer by training. MS
CZECH JOURNALIST'S WOULD-BE ASSASSINS REPORTEDLY POLICE INFORMERS
Citing a "well-informed police source," the daily "Pravo" reported on 21 September that three suspects detained in connection with the alleged plot to assassinate journalist Sabina Slonkova are registered as police informers, CTK reported. The three suspects -- Eva Tomsovicova, Michal Novotny, and Petr Volf -- are suspected of colluding with former Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba in allegedly commissioning the assassination attempt. Tomsovicova is a personal acquaintance of Srba, who is also in detention. Police have refused to comment on the "Pravo" report. MS
MORE CZECH ASYLUM SEEKERS DEPORTED FROM UNITED KINGDOM
Forty-eight asylum seekers were deported from the United Kingdom to the Czech Republic on 20 September after their asylum requests were denied by the British authorities, CTK reported. Most of them are members of the Romany minority. MS
MECIAR'S PARTY WINS SLOVAK BALLOT, LOSES CHANCE TO FORM GOVERNMENT
Preliminary results of the Slovak parliamentary elections held on 20-21 September indicated that although the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) will be the largest party in the new parliament, former Premier Vladimir Meciar's party will be unable to form a coalition, TASR and international agencies reported. The HZDS won 19.5 percent of the vote and will have 36 seats in the 150-seat legislature. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) appeared to have placed second, with 15.09 percent and 28 seats. Robert Fico's leftist Smer (Direction) did considerably worse than expected (13.46 percent, 25 seats). With an 11.16 percent share of the vote, the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) will have 20 deputies. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Alliance for New Citizens (ANO) scored 8.25 and 8.01 percent, respectively, and will each field 15 lawmakers. For the first time in Slovakia's postcommunist history, parliament will also include the unreformed Communist Party (KSS), which will have 11 deputies after it garnered 6.5 percent of the vote. Turnout was high at 70.07 percent. Observers expect a center-right coalition to be formed by the SDKU, the SMK, the KDH, and ANO, which would have an eight-seat majority with 78 deputies. Final results are due on 23 September. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS SLOVAKIA CAN NOW JOIN NATO, EU
President Rudolf Schuster said on 22 September that after the election results are in, he is confident that his country will receive an invitation to join NATO and the EU, TASR and CTK reported. Schuster said he was ready to accept a coalition formed by the four center-right parties but refused to comment on whether Smer might also join that coalition, saying that is "the politicians' business." But later the same day, Schuster said on TV Markiza that he doubts whether a majority that does not include Smer will be sufficient to ensure political stability. He also said he does not regard as "a tragedy" the presence in parliament of the KSS, since the party was elected democratically by Slovak citizens. Schuster was to start consultations with political parties on 23 September. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER DZURINDA LIKELY TO STAY ON...
KDH Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky said on 22 September, after a meeting with SDKU, SMK, and ANO leaders that "the chairmen of the four parties have expressed the will to form a right-wing government in Slovakia," CTK reported. SDKU Deputy Chairman and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told Reuters on 22 September that his formation is "unequivocally" backing Dzurinda for a new mandate as premier. Meanwhile, Dzurinda told journalists, "If 78 percent of Slovak citizens want Slovakia to be a part of the EU, they could not have voted better." He added, "If the majority of Slovaks...want Slovakia to become part of the safe world of NATO, they could not have made a better choice," RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. MS
...THOUGH HZDS WANTS TO HEAD THE COALITION
HZDS Deputy Chairman Jan Kovarcik told journalists on 22 September that his party won the largest share of votes, adding, "We want to form the coalition, create a government," CTK reported. Kovarcik said the HZDS does not rule out any party except the KSS as a potential member of its own ruling coalition. HZDS Chairman Meciar did not make any public appearance after the announcement of the preliminary results. In an apparently more realistic mood, Smer Deputy Chairwoman Monika Benesova told TASR on 22 September that, "It is not Smer's go now," adding that she was not sure whether her party will join the four center-right formations that are likely to seek to form a government. Smer Chairman Fico said his party could be either in the coalition or the opposition, but he reiterated that he is not ready to work with Dzurinda or with Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos. MS
SLOVAK ELECTION LOSERS DRAW CONCLUSIONS
Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos resigned on 22 September as chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) following the poor electoral performance of his party, TASR reported. The SDL garnered only 1.36 percent of the vote versus 14 percent four years earlier. Koncos said he accepts personal responsibility for the failure. Romany Civic Initiative (ROI) Chairman Milan Mizic also resigned, calling the electoral results of his party (less than half a percentage point) "disastrous," CTK reported. MS
EU WELCOMES OUTCOME OF SLOVAK ELECTIONS
In a statement released by the EU's Danish rotating presidency, the organization said on 22 September that it "looks forward to the formation of a new Slovak government that will be able to continue the Slovak Republic's important progress toward membership in the EU," AP reported from Copenhagen. In Brussels, European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox said, "The Slovak people have given the clearest indication that they wish to attain EU membership as soon as possible," according to TASR. MS
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS APPROVE, FIDESZ SLAMS SECOND 100-DAY PROGRAM
The government on 20 September approved its second 100-day program, which will be implemented before the end of the year, Hungarian dailies reported. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told reporters in Szolnok that within the second 100-day program the government will considerably increase nonrefundable housing-construction benefits in order to improve the chances of families with children to build their own homes. Beginning on 1 December, social allowances will be raised for families with one child from the current 200,000 forints ($800) to 500,000 forints, for families with two children from 1.2 million to 1.6 million forints, families with three children from 2.2 million to 2. 7 million forints, and those with four children from 2.4 million to 3.2 million forints. FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader described the second 100-day program as "FIDESZ ideas, but a pale imitation, patched together in an amateurish way and laced with bluffs," "Magyar Nemzet" reported. MSZ
FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER'S RIGHT-WING UNIFICATION PLANS EXTENDED TO MIEP
In an interview with Hungarian Radio on 22 September, Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he would like to see a united right wing, to which he would even admit members from the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP). He said he hopes that even more MIEP supporters find that FIDESZ or a "united party comprising a united right wing" can offer solutions to their problems. "I am not interested in MIEP, but I am interested in all MIEP members," he added. For his part, MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said Orban's statement leaves him cold as MIEP supporters "can be won only by someone who tells the truth." He said Orban failed to say that FIDESZ approved the Socialist government's supplementary budget. In other news, Orban told Info Radio on 20 September that FIDESZ will submit a motion to parliament to amend the media law in order to establish a new public television station. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS EXPECT VICTORY IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Gyorgy Janosi, the chairman of Socialist Party's National Council, told reporters on 21 September that Socialists have every chance of winning the October local elections, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Janosi said opinion polls show that the Socialists have managed to increase their advantage over the right wing, and have a chance to win the elections since they have proven the existence of a political force that makes good on its pledges. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Tarki polling agency, support for the Socialist Party has grown in recent months from 55 to 57 percent among party voters, while for FIDESZ it remains at 34 percent. MSZ
SERB REFUGEES TURNED BACK AT KOSOVAR BORDER
UN peacekeepers turned back several dozen Serbian refugees attempting a symbolic return to Kosova on 21 September, Reuters reported. The refugees had a brief standoff with police near the Serbian village of Merdare before returning peacefully to Serbia proper. They were the last remaining protestors from a larger group that had threatened to block the crossing and stage a mass return to Kosova. Serbian military and police officials on 20 September persuaded the refugees to call off the mass protest. Miroslav Solevic, a representative for the refugees, said: "We are giving up the protest for now. We were told by police and army generals that groups of ethnic Albanians would shoot at us if we try to return to Kosovo." He added, "No one is ready to take responsibility for possible casualties." Only a small proportion of displaced Serbs -- an estimated 5,000 -- have returned to Kosova since many tens of thousands fled the province in 1999. PB
UN ADMINISTRATOR ORDERS ENERGY CUTOFFS FOR DELINQUENT CONSUMERS
Michael Steiner, the UN administrator of Kosova, signed an order on 20 September allowing Kosova's Energy Corporation (KEK) to cut the electricity supply to tens of thousands of users who have not paid their bills, dpa reported. Almost 60 percent of electric bills are not being paid, KEK said, and the company is owed some 200 million euros. Households, companies, and institutions -- even entire villages, including some Serbian enclaves -- have refused to pay their bills. Under the order, special consideration will be given to people experiencing financial hardship. Kosova is in the midst of an energy crisis caused when lightning severely damaged one of the province's two power plants in June. Since then, electricity has had to be imported from Bulgaria. PB
UN SEIZES WEAPONS CACHE ON TRUCK
UN border guards and customs officials discovered 140 shotguns on a regular cargo vehicle traveling from Istanbul to Prishtina on 22 September, AP reported. The weapons were found in boxes covered with clothes in the Bulgarian-registered truck. The Bulgarian driver and his ethnic Albanian passenger were arrested. PB
THREE POLITICAL PARTIES TURN AGAINST DJINDJIC, GIVE SUPPORT TO KOSTUNICA
Three small parties allied to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic have decided to back Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in the upcoming presidential election, AP reported on 22 September, citing B92 Radio. The three parties hold 15 seats in the 250-seat Serbian Parliament and are part of the 17-party bloc that ousted former President Slobodan Milosevic two years ago. Djindjic supports Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus in the 29 September election. Zoran Zivkovic, Yugoslavia's interior minister and a top Djindic aide, called the loss of the parties support "insignificant." He said, "They enjoy the support of less than 1 percent of voters; Labus is even stronger now, because those worthless [people] fell off." But Belgrade political analyst Milica Kuburovic said the fact "that members of the ruling coalition are refusing to support Djindjic's candidate is damaging for both Labus and [Djindjic]." PB
RUSSIA TO WRITE OFF LARGE PORTION OF YUGOSLAVIA'S DEBT
The Yugoslav government announced on 20 September that Russia has agreed to write off 66 percent of Belgrade's debt to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. The announcement came at the end of three days of talks between acting Yugoslav Finance Minister Veroljub Dugalic and the Russian Finance Ministry and comes within the framework of an agreement between Yugoslavia and the Paris Club of creditors signed on 28 December 2001. The amount to be forgiven is reported to be $66 million. Meanwhile, a delegation from Serbia's Naftna Industria Srbia is to fly to Moscow on 23 September for talks on settling the company's $255 million debt to Russian gas giant Gazprom. PB
ALBANIA DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN FLOODED NORTH
Heavy rainfall has displaced thousands of families and cut off energy and drinking water in areas of northern Albania including Lac, Lezha, Shkodra, and Kukes, Western news agencies reported on 22 and 23 September. The government has set up a coordination committee headed by Prime Minister Fatos Nano and ordered that special measures be taken to repair damaged infrastructure to keep rail and road networks open. No casualties had been reported as of early 23 September. Trucks are carrying aid to some areas, and army units are being used to evacuate people and clear debris, Reuters reported. Flights in and out of Rinas International Airport near Tirana were being canceled due to the inclement weather, AP reported on 22 September. AH
JUDGES RELEASE BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES DEFENDANT, CITING ILL HEALTH
UN judges have "granted a provisional release for medical reasons" to Bosnian Serb General Momir Talic, who is accused of war crimes including genocide, following his diagnosis with terminal cancer, Reuters quoted a Hague spokesman as saying on 20 September. Talic is on trial with fellow defendant and former regional leader Radoslav Brdjanin for alleged atrocities in the Krajina region. He was flown on 23 September to Belgrade and was taken to the military hospital in the Serbian capital. AH
CROATIA 'BUYS TIME' OVER INDICTMENT OF WARTIME MILITARY LEADER...
The Croatian government on 20 September rejected a UN court indictment of former Croatian military leader General Janko Bobetko for war crimes, citing technical shortcomings, AP and Reuters reported. The UN unsealed its indictment after Croatian officials reportedly sent it back because an accompanying letter addressed the prosecution rather than the Croatian government, according to Reuters on 20 September. An unidentified government source said the government believes it is "not formally obliged to do anything as a result," Reuters reported. "Basically, we have bought ourselves some time," the source added. The reformist government could face a severe domestic backlash if it acts against the man who calls himself "Europe's oldest antifascist" and who is viewed by many Croats as a hero of World War II and of the 1991-95 Croatian war. The document charges Bobetko, now 83, with five counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in connection with more than 100 civilian Serb deaths and the killing of captured or wounded soldiers in the so-called Medak Pocket in 1993, AP reported. He was army chief of staff at the time. AH
...THEN SIGNALS DEFIANCE OVER BOBETKO'S FATE
A senior official hinted that Zagreb will "enter a legal dispute" with The Hague tribunal over the charges against Bobetko. "The indictment is not in harmony with our constitution, and I will suggest that the government enter a legal dispute with the tribunal," Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic told Croatian television on 20 September, according to Reuters. Granic, who is responsible for his government's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, added that the indictment "in fact condemns the Croatian Army's legitimate action," according to AP. Granic added that Bobetko had acted out of "duty." The government is expected to take a formal position as early as 23 September on the Bobetko charges, which emerged last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 September 2002). The president of Croatia's parliament, Zlatko Tomcic, was quoted by Hina as saying that he opposes the charges and the possible extradition of Bobetko. AH
SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN, KAZAKH COUNTERPARTS
President Milan Kucan followed up on a Slovenian-Russian friendship treaty signed two weeks ago with a brief visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 22 September, AP reported. Putin said that "top-level contacts have become a tradition between us, and we regard this as a good sign," the news agency reported. ITAR-TASS said the two men discussed bilateral relations, antiterrorism efforts, and the Balkans. Kucan then moved on to the Kazakh capital, Astana, where he met with President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 23 September, according to ITAR-TASS. The two leaders signed an intergovernmental agreement on trade and economic cooperation, the news agency added. ITAR-TASS reported that Nazarbaev called plans for a Constanta-to-Trieste oil pipeline through Romania and Slovenia "a very interesting" concept. AH
ELECTION WINNERS IN MACEDONIA DISCUSS CABINET POSTS
The coalition Together for Macedonia, which won the 15 September parliamentary elections, has started discussions about the distribution of cabinet posts among its members, "Dnevnik" reported on 23 September. It seems clear that the leading member of the coalition -- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) -- will take over the Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Interior ministries. The SDSM's junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats (LDP), has signaled it is interested in the Economics, Finance, and Ecology ministries. While it is clear that a number of posts -- such as the Health Ministry or the Local Self-Government Ministry-- will be given to representatives of an ethnic Albanian party, it is not yet clear which party that might be. At present, neither the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) of former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti nor the SDSM's former coalition partners of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) have been officially invited for coalition talks. UB
EXPLOSIONS ROCK SKOPJE SUBURB
Two grenades exploded in the Aerodrom Skopje suburb in the early morning hours of 22 September, Makfax news agency reported. The grenades destroyed two cars belonging to Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's chief bodyguard Vlatko Stefanovski and damaged nearby cars and buildings. Nobody was injured in the blasts. UB
EUROPEAN COMMISSION TAKES OVER HOUSING RECONSTRUCTION IN MACEDONIA
The European Commission has officially taken over the housing reconstruction program from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Makfax reported on 20 September. So far, 85 percent of the nearly 7,000 houses damaged during last year's conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and government troops have been rebuilt. "Progress in the shelter sector has been steady, and we are extremely pleased that the majority of damaged houses will be repaired or reconstructed before the end of the year," UNHCR Humanitarian Coordinator Amin Awad said. UB
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OFFERS U.S. OVERFLIGHTS, USE OF ROMANIAN TERRITORY
During last week's talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said his country will allow overflights for U.S. aircraft in the event of military action against Iraq, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). Pascu also said that U.S. troops could use Romanian territory, but later told journalists that any commitment of Romanian troops would depend on parliamentary consent. MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PREDICTS DOUBLE SUCCESS
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 20 September that his country is "on the eve of a double success" -- being admitted to NATO in November and to the European Union "in the near future," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Geoana spoke upon his return from Brussels, where he met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and other EU officials. He said Romania could accede to the EU within the next five years, which would be within the 2007 target date set up by the cabinet. Geoana said after the talks with Verheugen that "there will be no ratification...by the Romanian parliament" of the accord reached with the United States on the proposed International Criminal Court "before we see the conclusion of the ongoing discussions between the U.S. and the EU," according to Reuters. The agency also cited Verheugen as saying that "there will be a gradual increase of pre-accession [EU] support, although I remind you that Romania is already the second-biggest recipient of EU funds [among candidate countries]." But Verheugen did not commit the EU to establishing a "road map" specifying the target accession date for Romania, saying only that the possibility is "under debate." MS
ROMANIA'S UDMR SETS CONGRESS DATE...
Meeting in Targu-Mures on 22 September, the Council of Union Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) decided to hold the UDMR's next congress on 1-2 February 2003, the daily "Curierul national" reported on 23 September. The decision met with stormy protest from the Reformist Bloc and other UDMR wings opposed to the current leadership, which said that prior to the congress the UDMR must first conduct elections to reflect the weight of the party's different factions. In his address to the council (which is a sort of UDMR internal parliament), UDMR Chairman Bela Marko criticized the "pessimists" who "only see the glass as half empty," saying they "demoralize" the Hungarian minority. He pointed out that the cooperation agreement with the ruling Social Democratic Party has produced some notable successes, among which he enumerated the recent opening of a Hungarian-language school in Sighet, the agreement to allow the Csango population in two Moldavian localities to receive instruction in Hungarian, and the recent unveiling of a statue of Hungarian national poet Lajos Kossuth in Bihor. MS
...WHILE OPPOSITION IN PARTY THREATENS SPLIT
Reformist Bloc leader Tibor Toro criticized the UDMR leadership for having abandoned the objective of autonomy for the Hungarian minority and said the UDMR should condition support of Romania's integration into NATO and the European Union upon agreement to grant autonomy to Transylvanian Magyars. An article in a pro-Reform Bloc publication distributed to participants in the 22 September meeting called for setting up a separate Hungarian political party in Romania. MS
ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY SIGNALS RETURN TO POLITICAL LIFE
Some 4,000 supporters of the extraparliamentary National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) demonstrated in Bucharest on 21 September, protesting against widespread poverty and accusing the government of corruption, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Addressing participants, PNTCD Chairman and former Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea urged them to sign a petition demanding that public officials declare their assets. He said the PNTCD intends to gather 250,000 signatures in support of the petition, which would oblige the parliament to debate it as a draft law. The PNTCD recently required all members of its leadership to declare their assets. Ciorbea later met with government Secretary-General Serban Mihailescu, who told him that several points in the petition drive could be included in legislation currently being prepared to the cabinet. MS
RUSSIAN SECURITY SERVICES CHIEF SAYS WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER 'MEETS OBSTACLES'...
Russian Federal Security Services Director Nikolai Patrushev told journalists in Chisinau on 20 September that Russia is "encountering obstacles" in the withdrawal of its troops form the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In Chisinau on 19-20 September, Patrushev attended the 13th meeting of CIS security-department and secret-services chiefs. He did not specify the nature of those "obstacles," but alluded to the Transdniester authorities' opposition to the withdrawal. Patrushev said that Russia has made every possible effort to meet the obligations it assumed at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit and that it will not renounce its pledge to fulfill those obligations. He also said that the meeting of CIS security chiefs resulted in the signing of several accords on combating terrorism and drug trafficking. MS
...BUT PROMINENT MOLDOVAN POLITICIAN SAYS TROOPS SHOULD REMAIN FOR TIME BEING
Victor Stepaniuc, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists' (PCM) parliamentary group, said on 20 September that Russian troops should not leave the Transdniester before an agreement is reached with Tiraspol on federalizing Moldova, Flux reported. In an interview with the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei," Stepaniuc said that such an agreement will take at least 18 months to reach and that it would be premature to replace the Russian contingent stationed in Transdniester with OSCE peacekeeping forces. Stepaniuc also said that the Russian contingent should not be withdrawn before the process of scrapping and evacuating the former 14th Army's ammunition has been completed. He said that "for better or worse" the Russians are guarding the ammunition, which could otherwise fall into the hands of the separatists. MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION APPEALS TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Democratic Forum, in which most Moldovan opposition parliamentary and extraparliamentary parties are represented, on 21 September approved a resolution stipulating that the country's current leadership "does not understand" the significance of "a strategic orientation toward European values," Romanian Radio reported. The forum said the government has implemented only one of the 24 April recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe -- namely, the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. It also said that failure to implement the other recommendations may result in Moldova's inability to take over the rotating chair of the European Council's Committee of Ministers in 2003. Responsibility for this failure, the forum said, would squarely fall on the ruling PCM. MS
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS BULGARTABAC PRIVATIZATION MIGHT AFFECT BULGARIA'S BID FOR NATO ACCESSION
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski told journalists in Veliko Tarnovo on 22 September that the delay in the privatization of Bulgartabac may prove to be an obstacle for Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession, BTA reported. "The bottom line is to prove to the business community that we have laws and transparency. This will be taken into consideration by all who will see to it that the procedure takes its normal course," Saxecoburggotski said. In related news, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew told "Monitor" that for the United States it is important that no company connected with the Russian businessman Mikhail Chernoi will be chosen as winner in the Bulgartabac tender. Chernoi, who allegedly has ties to organized crime, stands behind some of the bidders who have challenged the privatization process before the Supreme Administrative Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). UB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS REINFORCEMENT OF STATE INSTITUTIONS
Addressing an international conference in Sofia on 22 September on civil society and the reform of security systems in southeastern Europe , President Georgi Parvanov said increasing security, and defeating crime and corruption can only be achieved when the state institutions act jointly and without jealousy, BTA reported. Parvanov said it is unacceptable that some of the secret services still operate in a legal vacuum. He demanded that legislation on money laundering and human trafficking be amended quickly. Parvanov added that the possibilities for the president, parliament, and political parties to control the security institutions remain unsatisfactory and that the control mechanisms for citizens, NGOs, and the media are minimal. UB
A NEW SETBACK FOR AZERBAIJAN'S SUCCESSION PLAN
Recent developments in Azerbaijan, including the 14 September protest by between 7,000-10,000 demonstrators, have renewed concerns over the succession to ailing 79-year-old President Heidar Aliev and raised new fears of mounting instability. Aliev continues to insist he will run for a third presidential term in 2003, clearly hoping to win time to bolster support for his son Ilham, whom he intends to succeed to the presidency no later than 2008. But mounting social problems and political challenges are increasingly eroding the chances of establishing an Aliev family dynasty styled on the Syrian model.
The first challenge to the Aliev government came in early June, with a clash between police and villagers in Nardaran after residents protested the village's lack of employment opportunities and poor living conditions. The clashes left at least one dead and dozens injured and was the first time since the country's independence in 1991 that police killed an unarmed civilian engaged in a demonstration.
The root causes of the Nardaran protests stem from overall frustration with the government's failure to address severe socioeconomic problems, including shortages of water and electricity and an unemployment rate of 70-80 percent. Although the situation in Nardaran is not markedly different than many other towns and villages throughout Azerbaijan, and is probably even better than conditions in the country's impoverished temporary displaced-persons camps, the authorities' overreaction sparked a serious crisis.
Unlike similar sporadic protests over poor living conditions and governmental neglect over the past several years, the Nardaran incident galvanized much of the country's political opposition and became a rallying point for social discontent over neglect by the Aliev leadership. The situation was further exacerbated when the government responded to the Nardaran crisis by arresting village leaders and some leaders of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, citing as its rationale for dong so the need to avert the threat of "an organized radical Islamic conspiracy."
The authorities' heavy-handed response gave rise to additional demonstrations through August. The Nardaran issue has also significantly empowered the country's political opposition, which has closed ranks in the face of recent challenges. More importantly, Nardaran also allowed the opposition to articulate a popular and emotional appeal calculated to exploit the increasing social discontent in the country. And for the first time, the newly coordinated opposition was able to channel this discontent in its political campaign against the Aliev leadership.
Against this backdrop of social unrest, the Aliev transition plan was presented with a reinvigorated challenge from the opposition parties at the most inopportune time. The government's planned national referendum on constitutional amendments, the vehicle designed to codify and legitimize important elements of the succession plan, offered the opposition an ideal opportunity to challenge the Aliev regime by drawing on the outrage and discontent triggered by the Nardaran crisis.
The Aliev government sought to present its proposed constitutional amendments in a single national referendum on 24 August, with 39 amendments divided into eight separate groups. The ballot sheet was criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe as too complex for the ordinary voter to comprehend. The government also dismissed a call by the United States to postpone the vote in order to allow for more extensive debate on the proposals.
The most controversial constitutional amendment entailed naming the prime minister as the "next in line" to assume the president's duties in the event that the president is incapacitated. The presidential powers earlier devolved to the parliament speaker in such circumstances. That proposal incurred a barrage of criticism, since the prime minister, unlike the parliamentary speaker, is not elected to office but is appointed by the president. The amendment thus grants the president virtually unlimited power in naming his successor, given the leverage at the acting president's disposal. Another controversial measure included the abolishment of the proportional election system, which represents 20 percent of the seats in the current 125-mandate parliament.
According to the official results, an estimated 88 percent of the 4.4 million eligible voters participated in the referendum, of whom between 96 and 97 percent ratified the proposed changes. The vote was tainted by complaints of fraud and voter intimidation by opposition monitors and the validity of the outcome was also questioned by international observers.
The government's mishandling of the 24 August referendum only strengthened the growing distrust and frustration of the general population. The subsequent criticism by the OSCE and the Council of Europe actually constituted an indirect endorsement of the opposition's arguments, endowing it with an unprecedented degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the Azerbaijani public.
The aftermath of the national referendum has endangered much more than the Aliev government's international standing and domestic popularity, however. The current situation has revealed a fundamental vulnerability that, although obscured by President Aliev's authoritarian rule and virtually overlooked in pursuit of the Caspian energy reserves, suggests a dangerous looming instability. The events of this past summer have demonstrated that the post-Aliev period will be one of serious confrontation, as the lack of democratic institutions and traditions (every leader of post-Soviet Azerbaijan has come to power through civil war or unrest) will only increase the dangers inherent in the succession process.