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Newsline - September 25, 2002


GOVERNMENT, DUMA PREPARE FOR 2003 BUDGET DEBATE...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov presented the basic parameters of the government's draft 2003 budget to the Duma on 25 September, saying that the government's top priority is strengthening national defense, polit.ru reported on 25 September. Kasyanov also told deputies that the government would like to increase salaries for federal employees by 30 percent by introducing a flexible, incentive-based salary system to replace the unified grade system. The government is predicting that inflation will be no higher than 14 percent and foresees no difficulties in making its foreign-debt payments. More than $17 billion must be repaid in 2003, and the payments will be made by drawing on the state's large gold and hard-currency reserves, which now stand at $44.4 billion. Later, Kasyanov told journalists that the budget foresees possible decreases in oil revenues that might be caused by a possible U.S. military intervention against Iraq, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 September. VY

...AS DEPUTIES PREDICT A FIGHT
Deputy Igor Dines (Unity), a member of the Duma Budget and Tax Committee, said the draft budget does not rely on projected economic growth but seeks to fund its priorities by cutting expenses in the real sector of the economy, strana.ru reported on 25 September. That is why several Duma committees intend to ask the government to increase state investments and to redistribute them toward the interests they represent. Deputy Boris Nadezhdin, leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Duma faction, said his faction will give the draft its conditional support providing the government declassifies the now-secret parts of the military budget, strana.ru reported on 25 September. "Although we like the macroeconomic parameters of the budget, which seem quite liberal, we would like to make public such provisions as armaments procurement, the declassification of which represents no threat to national security," Nadezhdin said. VY

PUTIN CREATES AGENCY TO FIGHT DRUG TRAFFICKING
President Vladimir Putin on 24 September signed a degree on the creation of the State Committee for Combating Drug Trafficking within the Interior Ministry, Russian news agencies reported. According to the decree, the new agency will be headed by a deputy interior minister and will have an initial staff of 200. Earlier the same day, speaking at a State Council session devoted to the narcotics threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002), Putin said drug trafficking is directly connected to arms dealing and international terrorism. "Drug dealers feed terrorism with their dirty money and contribute to the pockets of instability on Russia's border. It is not by chance that drug-trafficking routes coincide with those of illegal weapons trading and [illegal] immigration," Putin added. VY

RUSSIA, NATO BEGIN JOINT ANTITERRORISM EXERCISES
More than 1,200 troops from NATO member counties and Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry on 25 September launched the "Bogorodsk-2002" antiterrorism drill in the Moscow Oblast town of Nogisk, Western and Russian news agencies reported. During the exercise, the joint force will respond to a hypothetical terrorist attack on a major chemical installation that causes a large number of casualties, serious environmental contamination, and widespread destruction of infrastructure. The exercise will also test the NATO civil-defense information system under Russian conditions and is headed by Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Lieutenant General Gennadii Korotkin. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the exercises are "a logical step in the new relations between Russia and NATO" under the agreement to cooperate in the fight against international terrorism that was reached at the Rome summit in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 25 September. VY

ANTIMONOPOLY MINISTRY WANTS MORE CONTROL OVER OFFSHORE CAPITAL
Deputy Antimonopoly Minister Andrei Tsygankov said on 24 September that his agency will propose new legislation giving it the legal basis to obtain complete information about Russian companies registered offshore, pravda.ru and other Russian news services reported. At present, financial-industrial groups in the petrochemical, coal, metallurgy, and automotive sectors, as well as companies in other industries, can easily hide their capital offshore. Therefore, the Antimonopoly Ministry needs additional authority in order to prevent companies from misusing their often dominant market positions. VY

SCIENTIST CLAIMS DEATHS FROM GLACIER SLIDE WERE PREVENTABLE...
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 24 September, Nikolai Osokin of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geography said the glacier avalanche that occurred in North Ossetia on 20 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September 2002) could not have been prevented, but it might have been predicted and people evacuated in advance. According to Osokin, there has been no monitoring of the country's most dangerous glaciers for many years, although it should be done at least once every five years. During last summer's flooding in the Southern Federal District, some scientists similarly claimed the death toll there might not have been so high had proper maintenance been done to the region's reservoir and dam infrastructure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). JAC

...AS DAMAGE ESTIMATED AT 450 MILLION RUBLES
North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov told reporters on 24 September that preliminary estimates put the damage caused by the slide at 450 million rubles ($14 million). On the same day, Emergencies Situation Minister Sergei Shoigu told ORT that the chances of finding more survivors are minimal. Between 92 and 113 people are officially missing, according to Interfax. JAC

NEW KRASNOYARSK GOVERNOR EXPECTED TO SPEED PROCESS OF MERGING REGIONS...
First deputy presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Igor Prostyakov told Interfax-Eurasia on 24 September that the election of Aleksandr Khloponin as governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai will activate the process of merging the krai; Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, the territory Khloponin currently governs; and Evenk Autonomous Okrug. However, in an interview with TV-6 the previous day, Khloponin said that he saw three or four sets of issues that need to be resolved before the autonomous okrugs could be absorbed into the krai. At the same time, he said the governors of the three regions will set up an executive board to draft amendments and submit them to the State Duma. JAC

...AND ASKS AUDITORS TO CHECK THE BOOKS
At a news conference in Krasnoyarsk on 24 September, Khloponin said he has agreed with Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin that that body will conduct an audit of the krai's previous budget expenditures. After the audit, Khloponin will make decisions regarding personnel, AK&M reported. JAC

DONOR REGION WORRIES THAT CENTER TRYING TO SHIFT BURDEN OF POORER REGIONS
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 September that federal officials participating in the recent Baikal Economic Forum in Khabarovsk were as interested in the question of reducing the number of federation subjects as they were in regional economic development. However, several participants in the forum thought a merger of Ust-Ordinskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug and Irkutsk Oblast would not be economically desirable for Irkutsk. According to the daily, these sources believe that residents of Ust-Orda live "tolerably" on federal subsidies, are actively engaged in construction projects, and do not experience problems paying the wages of state-sector workers. At the same time, Irkutsk Oblast does not receive federal transfers and is a donor region, and it is in no shape to act as a kind of "tugboat" for the poorer Ust-Ordinskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN, TATARSTAN MAINTAIN HIGH CONTRIBUTIONS TO FEDERAL BUDGET
Bashkortostan and Tatarstan were the top two largest contributors to the federal budget in the Volga Federal District in 2001, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 24 September, citing the State Statistics Committee. Bashkortostan contributed 51.5 billion rubles ($1.6 billion), and Tatarstan 49.7 billion rubles. Meanwhile, "EWI's Russian Regional Report" concluded on 18 September that Tatarstan's leadership is determined to defend the inviolability of the new republican constitution and is willing to risk the disbandment of the republican legislature by the State Duma to defend it. The fortnightly also argued that Tatarstan's leaders are "clearly employing delaying tactics in their battle to retain as much sovereignty as possible." JAC

COURT ORDERS ACCUSED SCIENTIST RELEASED PENDING TRIAL
A court in Siberia has ordered the release of scientist Valentin Danilov, who has been jailed since February 2001 on charges of spying for China, AP and Russian news agencies reported on 25 September. The decision is unusual because Russian courts have generally declined to release prisoners who are being held pending investigation and trial. Researcher Igor Sutyagin, for instance, has been held without trial since October 1999 while being investigated for allegedly passing military secrets to the United States. Danilov's trial was suspended earlier this year when the court ordered prosecutors to reinvestigate it. That investigation was completed in August, but the court has not yet set a date for the resumption of the trial, AP reported. RC

FAR EAST PROFESSOR MURDERED...
Sergei Melnik, a professor of pathology at Vladivostok State Medical University, was shot dead in his office at the university on 25 September, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported. The 56-year-old professor was shot three times in the chest by an unidentified assailant during a break between classes. ITAR-TASS reported that the gun was apparently equipped with a silencer. In addition to heading the university's pathology department, Melnik served as the chief pathologist for the Primore Krai administration and was the director of a private company. RC

...AS IS VOLGA REGION BUSINESSMAN
Yurii Gashimov, general director of the private company Samarskie Avtomobili, was murdered in Samara on 25 September, rtr-vesti.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. A grenade was fired through the windshield of Gashimov's car at a downtown intersection. His bodyguard and two bystanders were hospitalized. Samarskie Avtomobili is primarily engaged in the retail sale of foreign automobiles, Interfax-Eurasia reported. RC

TWELVE MONKEYS
Thieves on 25 September broke into the Leningrad Zoo in St. Petersburg and stole 12 South American monkeys, including three tamarins, from their winter enclosure, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. An investigation has been launched. Zoo officials note that selling the monkeys would be extremely difficult and they might have been stolen on order from a client. They said that such monkeys are easily traumatized and when two stolen monkeys were returned to the zoo in 1999, it took months for them to completely recover, ntvru.com reported. RC

TWO NEW FACES FOR THE DUMA...
Two new deputies for the State Duma have been named to replace legislators who died during the past year, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 September. Sergei Shchechkov, deputy director of development of the Perm-based Yuridicheskaya Kontora Osnova, will replace the late Vladimir Golovlev, who was originally elected from the SPS party list and who was murdered in Moscow on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002). Golovlev had left the SPS faction a couple of months before his murder. Yevgenii Loginov will replace Vladimir Semenkov, who died in a traffic accident earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002). Loginov worked most recently as aide to the Liberal Democratic Party's faction leader, Igor Lebedev. JAC

...AND ONE FOR THE UPPER CHAMBER
On 23 September, Tomsk Oblast's legislature selected First Deputy Governor Vladimir Zhidkikh to represent the oblast in the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported the next day. Zhidkikh will replace Yurii Gurdin, director of the Moscow-based Yunivers Kholding Company. According to "Kommersant Daily" on 25 September, Gurdin resigned of his own volition after less than one year in the upper chamber. He declined to comment on the reason for his resignation. JAC

MORE QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT PETERSBURG JUBILEE PREPARATIONS
Mikhail Novikov, director of the northwest directorate of the State Construction Committee, charged on 24 September that federal monies earmarked for preparations for St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations have not been spent as specified, Interfax Northwest reported. Novikov lodged his charges while addressing a working group headed by the Northwest Federal District inspectorate of the Chief Control Directorate of the presidential administration. According to Novikov, money for restoration work on certain buildings such as the Pushkin Theater and the Russian National Library are being spent too slowly. Earlier this month, the Audit Chamber raised similar concerns and issued a report criticizing delays in restoration and construction work at Aleksandrovskii Park, the Lomonosov Museum, the Komarov Botanical Institute, and the Peter and Paul Fortress, RosBalt reported on 17 September. JAC

UPPER CHAMBER OKAYS REFERENDUMS AMENDMENTS
The Federation Council on 25 September approved controversial amendments to the law on referendums, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. The amendments, which forbid conducting national referendums in the twelve months preceding a national election, were endorsed by 151 senators. The Duma adopted the amendments on 18 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). RC

MAYOR CLEARED FOR RE-ELECTION BID
Kaliningrad Mayor Yurii Savenko will be allowed to run for re-election in the city's 6 October race, RosBalt reported on 25 September. A local court refused a request by another candidate in the race, oblast Duma Deputy Igor Rudnikov, to strip Savenko of his candidate's registration on accusations that Savenko misused the resources of his office and campaigned in the media prior to the beginning of the campaign period. The court found no violations and dismissed Rudnikov's complaint. RC

CENSUS TAKERS DISCOVER REMAINING MEMBERS OF LOW-PROFILE RELIGIOUS SECT
Census takers working in the deep taiga of the northern Republic of Komi have discovered a village of members of a sect of Old Believers called "skritniki," who shun all contact with the outside world, polit.ru reported on 24 September. Three elderly women live in the village and do not accept pensions or any other kind of social subsidies from the state, so little is known about them. The windows of their homes are always shuttered, and they venture out only at night. Members of the sect, which was founded in the mid-19th century, believe that complete withdrawal from the world is the only path to salvation. Experts had believed the last members of the sect died some 20 years ago. JAC

JUST FLOWERS, PLEASE
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters on 24 September that no budget funds have been set aside to celebrate President Putin's 50th birthday on 7 October, ITAR-TASS reported. She said that Putin is a "very modest" man and that the government plans to give him only flowers. JAC

RYBKIN SAYS CHECHEN RESISTANCE WOULD AGREE TO DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL RULE
In a lengthy interview published in "Novye izvestiya" on 24 September, former Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin divulged details of his 20 hours of talks in Zurich last month with Chechen Vice Premier Akhmed Zakaev, during which they agreed on the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the start of peace talks. He said that at a conference on Chechnya in Liechtenstein, Zakaev read out a 15-point draft peace proposal, the first point of which was that Chechnya is prepared to accept direct presidential rule for a "transition period," the duration of which he did not specify. According to chechenpress.com on 25 September, the reasoning behind that apparent major concession is that presidential rule is the only way to guarantee an end to reprisals against the civilian population by federal troops and the military formation loyal to current Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. LF

OPPOSITION THWARTS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY VOTE
Twenty-eight members of minor opposition factions on 24 September boycotted a parliament session, as a result of which the parliament failed for lack of a quorum to pass legislation on privatizing several dozen hospitals, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The same factions announced later on 24 September their intention to create an "unofficial union" that will coordinate their legislative activities and launch a "resolute struggle" against anticipated attempts by the present leadership to falsify the outcome of the upcoming local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. LF

ANNIVERSARY OF ARMENIAN JAZZ-CAFE MURDER COMMEMORATED
Some 100 Armenian opposition members gathered on 24 September outside the Aragast cafe in Yerevan to mark the first anniversary of the killing there of an Armenian from Georgia by one of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguards, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and 1 October 2001). The bodyguard received a two-year suspended prison sentence for manslaughter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT LAUDS RUSSIA'S APPROACH TO FIGHTING TERRORISM
In a 24 September address to students and faculty of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, Heidar Aliev expressed "full support for Russia's struggle against international terrorism on [its] national territory, Russian news agencies reported. In a possible veiled warning that Baku may resort to military force to restore its control over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic if talks to resolve the conflict by political means fail to yield a settlement, Aliev affirmed that "Russia is actively fighting against international terrorism and shows where this struggle should be [waged by] political [means] and where other methods should be applied." Speaking at the same meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov echoed Aliev's statement of two days earlier, affirming that Azerbaijan is Russia's "strategic partner," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI FACTORY WORKERS STRIKE
An unspecified number of the remaining 418 employees of Azerbaijan's state-owned Sardarov machine-building plant began a strike on 24 September to demand payment of 11 months' wage arrears totaling 1.2 billion manats ($245,200), zerkalo.az reported on 25 September. A manager complained that numerous qualified specialists have quit the plant, which during the early 1990s produced equipment for the defense sector. He said it would be "a crime against the state" to close the plant. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S SNIFFER DOGS WIN EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Two German shepherds from Azerbaijan were declared the winners of a recent Europe-wide contest in Slovakia for border service, customs, and police dogs trained to detect explosives, Turan reported on 24 September. LF

PART OF CLASSIFIED GEORGIAN SECURITY COUNCIL DOCUMENT LEAKED TO PARLIAMENT
Parliament deputies on 24 September criticized one of the 27 provisions of a classified document drafted by the Georgian National Security Council listing measures to overcome the current crisis in Georgian-Russian relations, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The paragraph in question, the leak of which presidential Press Secretary Kakha Imnadze termed "a tragic mistake," instructed the law enforcement agencies to take "appropriate measures" against any deputies whose actions pose a threat to Georgian statehood. Deputies construed that provision as an attempt to pressure deputies to moderate their response to Russia's ongoing threats of military strikes against Georgia. Deputy Boris Kakubava said he and Ertoba co-Chairman Djumber Patiashvili top the list of deputies to be targeted, Caucasus Press reported. Imnadze insisted that the measure does not herald "a witch hunt," and that deputies' immunity is not at risk. Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili said on 25 September that his ministry will not resort to shadowing deputies or wiretapping their telephones, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA TO ESTABLISH SPECIAL COMMISSION FOR PANKISI
Meeting in Strasbourg on the sidelines of the current session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), former Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin agreed to establish a joint commission under the PACE aegis that will travel to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to inspect the situation there, Caucasus Press reported on 25 September. LF

GEORGIA AGAIN ACCUSES RUSSIA OF PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVE IN ABKHAZIA
Georgian presidential Press Secretary Imnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 24 September that Russia is engaged in a buildup of troops, including Chechens and Kabardians, and military hardware close to the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Chechenpress.com quoted him as saying that some of the forces are Russian Interior Ministry troops wearing Abkhaz army uniforms. Asked whether the UN Observer Mission in Georgia could confirm the buildup, Imnadze said it is taking place outside the security zone. But Interfax on 24 September quoted Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze as saying after visiting Kodori together with Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze and State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania that "no concentration of armed forces is in progress" by either side. LF

FRANCE TO HELP TRAIN GEORGIAN MILITARY
Georgian Defense Minister Tevzadze and a visiting senior officer from the French armed forces' General Staff signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 24 September under which France will provide technical assistance to the Georgian Army and provide training in specific fields for Georgian military personnel, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S OPPOSITION, INTELLECTUALS APPEAL TO AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Thirty-six opposition political figures, journalists and intellectuals, including former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, signed an appeal on 19 September, subsequently posted on forumkz.org, to Amnesty International to declare former Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov political prisoners. The two men, both leading members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, were recently sentenced to six and seven years' imprisonment, respectively, on charges, widely believed to be unfounded, of abuse of their official position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 5 August 2002). LF

OSCE OFFICIAL CALLS FOR CONTINUING DIALOGUE BETWEEN KYRGYZ OPPOSITION, AUTHORITIES
Senior OSCE official Herbert Salber told journalists in Bishkek on 24 September that he considers the recent protests by the Kyrgyz opposition a normal phenomenon in a developing democratic society, AP and Interfax reported. Salber expressed approval of the government's recent decision to recall from parliament a draft bill that would have imposed a three-month moratorium on public protests and demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2002). He urged the Kyrgyz leadership to continue dialogue with opposition forces. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT TOURS NORTHERN OBLAST
Saparmurat Niyazov toured Dashoguz Oblast on 24 September and criticized the regional leadership for having this year delayed the planting of cotton, of which Dashoguz is one of the country's leading producers, turkmenistan.ru reported on 25 September. He warned local leaders they will be held responsible if the upcoming harvest fails to meet the planned target of 560,000 tons. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DENIES SUPPLYING DUAL-USE TECHNOLOGY TO IRAQ
Alyaksandr Lukashenka flatly denied allegations that Belarus has provided dual-use technology or goods to Iraq that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, AP reported on 24 September, quoting his interview with BBC the previous day. "We have very good relations with Iraq, but we cooperate with Iraq only in those areas that are not prohibited by the United Nations," Lukashenka said. He stressed that Belarus "is not the kind of state, in its potential and might, that could defy the opinion of the world community." JM

RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST HEADS PACE COMMISSION ON DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUS
In Strasbourg on 24 September, Russian human rights advocate and Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev was appointed to head a commission on disappearances in Belarus that was formed within the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Belapan reported. The commission consists of 10 lawmakers from Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The mandate and authority of the commission will be discussed later this week during the ongoing PACE session. Kovalev told Belapan that he is almost 100 percent certain that the commission will not find those who ordered, organized, and perpetrated the kidnappings of politicians Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 1999-2000. He added, however, that the commission will document Belarusian authorities' reaction to "this bloody problem" and efforts to investigate the disappearances. JM

BELARUSIAN WRITERS UNION APPOINTS NEW HEAD
Belarusian writers elected 30-year-old novelist Ales (Alyaksandr) Pashkevich the chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers (SBP) at their extraordinary congress in Minsk on 24 September, Belapan reported. Volha Ipatava, the previous chair of the SBP, said the election of Pashkevich was a "victory of the democratic forces among the literary community." Some Belarusian media suggested before the congress that the authorities planned to take control of the writers' organization by pressuring writers to elect a submissive SPB leadership. "Our realities show that it is impossible for democratic writers to cooperate with the current authorities," Ipatava told the congress prior to the election. Earlier this year, the government took control of several literary periodicals that belonged to the SBP and introduced ideological censorship in them. "Writers said today that they will be looking for nonstate support to publish their works and will not beg for money from the state, which hates the Belarusian language and does not give a damn about the national culture," translator Lyavon Barshcheuski commented on the congress. JM

UKRAINE DENIES SELLING RADAR SYSTEM TO BAGHDAD...
Kyiv on 24 September denied that it sold a radar system to Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions, Ukrainian media reported, quoting the presidential press service. "The Ukrainian president has repeatedly stated that his country has sold neither military weapons nor military technology to Iraq," the presidential press service stated in response to reports earlier the same day that Washington has blocked $5 million in aid to Ukraine over suspicions that the Ukrainian government may have sold a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). According to the statement, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry sent an open letter to the head of the UN Security Council "a few days ago," requesting the creation of a special commission to investigate Ukraine's possible role in providing arms to Iraq. JM

...BUT WASHINGTON REMAINS UNCONVINCED
"We are not certain that these systems [Kolchugas] are in Iraq. On the other hand, there are some indications that suggest it may be there and we are continuing to assess those," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told journalists on 24 September. Boucher confirmed that the United States has assessed as authentic a recording by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in which the Ukrainian president approves the sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 April 2002). U.S. State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel said the same day that an analysis of Melnychenko's recording "has led us to reexamine our policy toward Ukraine, in particular toward President [Leonid] Kuchma." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS OCCUPY PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING...
Fifty lawmakers from the Communist Party (19), Socialist Party (12), Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (11), and Our Ukraine (eight) entered the presidential administration building on 24 September with the intention of handing President Kuchma the resolution of the 16 September protest rally demanding his resignation, Ukrainian media reported. The deputies' action took place after a 5,000-strong crowd of anti-Kuchma demonstrators moved from the rally in front of the parliamentary building to the square in front of the presidential office. Following Kuchma's refusal to meet them, the deputies declared a hunger strike and spent the night in the presidential building, which was blocked by special-task troops. JM

...FORCING KUCHMA TO MEET WITH THEM
Kuchma commented on 24 September that the occupation of his office by lawmakers is a "manifestation of Bolshevism," UNIAN reported. He added that he would not meet with them because he sees no specific proposals from their side. However, Kuchma changed his mind and met with Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Yuriy Orobets (Our Ukraine) in the morning of 25 September. The three opposition leaders told journalists after the meeting that Kuchma refused to step down. Meanwhile, presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk announced that Kuchma has proposed the creation of a parliamentary commission to deal with allegations of illegal arms sales by Ukraine. Kuchma wants the commission to tackle not only the recent accusation that Ukraine sold a radar system to Iraq but also all other allegations of illegal arms deals voiced during Ukraine's 11 years of independence. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS CALL ON PARLIAMENT TO IMPEACH KUCHMA...
While the 5,000-strong crowd picketed the parliamentary building on 24 September, lawmakers were engaged in a heated debate, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Tymoshenko, Symonenko, and Moroz appealed to the Verkhovna Rada to put aside previously scheduled legislative issues and to urgently discuss the current political situation in Ukraine as well as Kuchma's impeachment and early presidential elections. Tymoshenko said her caucus will boycott the parliamentary session as long as these issues are not properly addressed. Moroz proposed to hold an emergency parliamentary session devoted Ukraine's arms trade. "The state budget has not received a single kopek from arms sales, while nearly 3 billion hryvnyas ($560 million) filled the pockets of the head of state and his adherents," Moroz added. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko also called on lawmakers "to stop talking nonsense about laws and budget" and to address the current political crisis. JM

...AS INTERIOR MINISTER APPEALS TO BUILD 'DEMOCRATIC STATE'
Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov on 24 September reported to the Verkhovna Rada on police behavior during the 16 September antipresidential rally in Kyiv and appealed to lawmakers to show "exemplary respect for the law" and "make a step toward building a democratic state," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Smyrnov said police have evidence that people were paid money to participate in the 16 September rally. Tymoshenko immediately denied this allegation. The interior minister also accused some lawmakers, including Tymoshenko, of assaulting police officers when they dismantled an opposition tent camp near the presidential office on 17 September. According to Smyrnov, only some 15,000 people -- not 30,000, as reported by some media -- took part in the 16 September demonstration. JM

ESTONIA AND SLOVENIA TO DEEPEN COOPERATION ON ECONOMIC AND EDUCATION ISSUES
During a visit to Estonia on 23-24 September, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel held meetings with parliament Chairman Toomas Savi, Prime Minister Siim Kallas, and Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, ETA reported. The talks focused on the two states' efforts to join NATO and the European Union as well as bilateral relations. The foreign ministers decided that the two countries will draft agreements on preventing double taxation and that conferences on economic cooperation will be organized in the capitals of Tallinn and Ljubljana. They also called for greater cooperation between the countries' universities and scientific establishments. Kallas mentioned the need not only to receive security from NATO, but also to reciprocate through such acts as sending Estonian bomb experts to Afghanistan. SG

MOSCOW MAYOR DELAYS VISIT TO LATVIA DUE TO UPCOMING ELECTIONS
In working out the agenda for Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's planned visit to Latvia on 27-29 September, Riga and Moscow representatives decided on 24 September that it would be better to postpone the trip for about a month in order not to affect the parliamentary elections on 5 October, BNS reported. Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars expressed regret that the over-politicized atmosphere in Latvia ahead of the elections could affect his city's cooperation with Moscow, but said that Luzhkov's visit will take place in a businesslike atmosphere and contribute to further development of economic relations between the two cities. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Andris Berzins had each expressed their desire to meet with Luzhkov during his visit. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS NEW CANDIDATE FOR ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF
The cabinet on 24 September endorsed Prime Minister Andris Berzins' recommendation that Security Police deputy chief Guntis Rutkis be nominated to head the new Corruption Prevention Bureau, LETA reported. Prior to the meeting Berzins met with Rutkis and Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka, who was the head of a special commission evaluating applicants for the post. Earlier in the month, the parliament overwhelmingly rejected the nomination of lawyer Janis Jonass for the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). It appears likely that the parliament will approve the appointment of Rutkis, as leaders of the parties in the ruling coalition have expressed support for his candidacy. SG

LITHUANIA AND UZBEKISTAN SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS
Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov began his official two-day visit to Lithuania on 23 September with a greeting from President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. The presidents signed an agreement on strengthening interstate relations, friendship, and cooperation. Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius and Kadyr Gulamov signed an agreement on military cooperation. Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis and Abdulaziz Komilov endorsed a cooperation protocol between their ministries. Customs Chief Valerijonas Valickas and Uzbek State Customs Committee Chairman Rovshan Khaidarov signed an agreement on cooperation in preventing illegal trade in weapons, ammunition, explosives, psychotropic substances, and illegal drugs. Representatives of Vilnius University and the National University of Uzbekistan also signed a cooperation agreement. Karimov's talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas focused mainly on economic matters, with both leaders expressing their desire for greater bilateral trade, but Karimov noted that the higher port tariffs in Klaipeda have convinced Uzbek businesses to use Riga for shipping their exports. Karimov was scheduled to meet with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and a delegation of Lithuanian businessmen on 25 September before departing for Tashkent. SG

NATO MINISTERS IN POLAND DISCUSS REPORTS ON IRAQI THREATS...
Following the first day of an informal NATO summit in Warsaw on 24 September, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told journalists that NATO defense ministers discussed two reports concerning the situation in Iraq and the development of weapons of mass destruction in that country, Polish Radio reported. These were a British dossier and a report from the CIA presented by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Robertson said the information contained in both documents was convincing, adding that no one should be surprised that the threat of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction is serious. Robertson also emphasized that during the discussion about Iraq the United States did not ask for any support and did not insist on carrying out a military operation in that country. JM

...AND CREATION OF RAPID-REACTION FORCE
Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told PAP that the NATO forum also discussed the U.S. idea of establishing a NATO rapid-reaction force. "The American proposal for a reaction force is connected with the issue of defense capabilities," Szmajdzinski said. "We now know that this involves a force of more-or-less 21,000 men. I can say I was rather surprised that no one questioned the need to establish a force that could react within five to 30 days. It would reach its operational capability in 2004-06. No one sees any conflict here with the European Union forces that are being set up." JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK TRIMS INTEREST RATES
The Monetary Policy Council, which supervised the operation of Poland's National Bank, has reduced the bank's four interest rates by 0.5 percent each, lowering the Lombard rate to 10 percent, the rediscount rate to 8.5 percent, the intervention rate to 7.5 percent, and the deposit rate to 5 percent, PAP reported on 25 September. JM

LONGTIME CZECH PARTY LEADER TO FACE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
Vaclav Klaus, leader of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) since its inception in 1991, is facing the first real challenge to his leadership, Czech media reported on 24 September. Klaus has consistently refused to say whether he intends to run for re-election as chairman at a December party congress, his position weakened by a disappointing showing in mid-June elections to the lower house. Evzen Tosenovsky, who declared his intention to run for the ODS leadership post in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 23 September, said it is time for the ODS to try to unite the political right. A number of Czech and foreign political commentators have said a challenge to Klaus, who is a popular candidate to succeed Vaclav Havel as president in early 2003, could lead to welcome changes within the ODS. BW

CZECHS TO RETHINK ISAF PULLOUT, REPORTEDLY AT U.S. REQUEST
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 25 September that senior Czech officials are considering a U.S. request that they reverse a decision to withdraw a field hospital serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The paper characterized the U.S. position as believing that the need for such mobile health facilities will increase in the future. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik reportedly announced during a recent trip to the United States that Czech participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission will end at the close of this year, although the cabinet's decision requires legislative approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). Deputy Defense Minister Stefan Fule was quoted by "Mlada fronta Dnes" as suggesting that a final decision will be made during an upcoming visit to Afghanistan by Tvrdik and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. AH

CZECHS WANT TO LEAD NATO IN MOBILE BIO-LABORATORIES
The Czech Republic is ready to take a leading role in the field of mobile biological laboratories within NATO, Defense Minister Tvrdik said on 24 September, CTK reported the same day. Tvrdik made his comments during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Warsaw. He said the initiative is part of a planned redefinition of NATO forces to make the Atlantic alliance capable of reacting to threats in the post-11 September world. Tvrdik also said the Czech Republic hopes to cooperate with Poland in creating mobile strike and rescue teams. BW

SLOVAK POLLING AGENCIES BLAME PRE-VOTE MORATORIUM FOR INACCURACIES
Slovak polling agencies blamed their failure to accurately predict the results of the 20-21 September elections on a moratorium on issuing polls within two weeks of the vote, "Sme" reported on 24 September, according to TASR. The final pre-election polls mainly erred in predicting that 37-year-old lawmaker Robert Fico's Smer party would finish in second place, ahead of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU). In fact, SDKU finished ahead of Smer by more than 1 1/2 percentage points (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). BW

PLURALITY OF SLOVAKS SATISFIED WITH VOTE
Some 45 percent of Slovaks are fully or partly satisfied with the outcome of the general election, TASR reported on 24 September, citing a poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). According to a telephone poll of 500 people conducted on 22-23 September, 30.4 percent said they are not satisfied with the election results, 17.2 percent took a neutral position, and 7 percent did not respond. Middle-aged and older voters, those with a higher education, and residents of large cities were most satisfied with the results. Younger voters, those with less education, and rural residents were less satisfied. BW

SMER SNUBS MECIAR'S OFFER, WILL BE IN SLOVAK OPPOSITION...
Smer leader Robert Fico said on 24 September that his party will be in opposition for the next four years, TASR reported the same day. Fico said Smer has turned down a request from Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) to enter talks to try and form a coalition government. Fico, whose party lay first or second in most pre-election polls but finished third behind the SDKU, admitted that he expected a better result. "Everything is over for us, we are in opposition," he said, adding that his party will support all European Union and NATO integration-related legislation. BW

...AS WILL COMMUNISTS
The Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) says it will accept whichever new government is formed but not whatever program it adopts, KSS Chairman Jozef Sevc said on 24 September, TASR reported. The KSS exceeded expectations in the 20-21 September elections, garnering 6.32 percent to secure its first parliamentary berth for 13 years. Sevc expressed fears over the proposed ruling coalition of four center-right parties led by current Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and predicted that the new government will be in crisis by January or February. "We want to be a constructive opposition," Sevc said. The KSS backs Slovakia's integration into the European Union and favors a strong social welfare state, Sevc said. In economic policy, the KSS believes that small and mid-sized firms must be supported by tax concessions, subsidies, and loans, rather than by promises. BW

PROSPECTIVE RULING PARTIES RESIST FORMER SLOVAK LEADER'S OVERTURES
The four center-right parties that have agreed to try and form Slovakia's new ruling coalition -- the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the New Citizens Alliance (ANO), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), and Dzurinda's SDKU -- are resisting partnership overtures from Meciar's HZDS, TASR reported on 24 September. SMK Deputy Chairman Arpad Duka-Zolyomi refused on 24 September to meet HZDS negotiators Jan Kovarcik and Viliam Sobona, Kovarcik said. The SDKU has no plans to meet representatives of the HZDS, according to party spokesman Sergej Michalic. The KDH and media mogul Pavol Rusko's ANO party also have ruled out any cooperation with the HZDS. BW

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT PLEDGES BETTER ECONOMY
Speaking at a campaign rally in central Belgrade on 24 September, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica criticized the Serbian government for not raising living standards, AP reported. Kostunica said that "Today, Serbia is dissatisfied, humiliated, and hungry," implying that he holds the government of Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic responsible for such social conditions. Kostunica, the front-runner in a close race with Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus for the post of the Serbian presidency, has consistently accused the Serbian government of failed economic and social policies and corruption in carrying out privatization. Kostunica told the estimated crowd of 5,000 supporters that he will not promise them "milk and honey," but said, "if I am elected you will certainly have a law-abiding state that you can be proud of." The election will be held on 29 September. PB

YUGOSLAVIA ONE STEP CLOSER TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved a resolution on 24 September that pledged to accept Yugoslavia as a member as soon as Serbia and Montenegro ratify a draft constitution establishing a new union state, Reuters reported. PACE passed the proposal with a vote of 120 to six. PACE President Peter Schieder said, "This is a landmark decision in the process of Council of Europe enlargement." Claude Frey, the PACE deputy in charge of evaluating Yugoslavia's membership bid, said that "We can now contribute towards closing this tragic chapter and allowing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to resume the normal course of its history." Yugoslavia, Belarus, and Monaco are the only three European states not in the 44-member Council of Europe. PB

YUGOSLAV SOLDIER ADMITS KILLING ETHNIC ALBANIANS, BURNING BODIES
Yugoslav Army reservist Danilo Tesic said in a military court in Nis on 25 September that he did kill two ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosova, but did so under orders from his superiors who threatened to kill him if he did not comply, AP reported. Tesic said he knew it was wrong to kill civilians but was not aware of international conventions protecting civilians in wartime. He said his former superiors, Lieutenant Colonel Zlatan Mancic and Captain Radeta Radivojevic, threatened to kill him if he did not follow orders. "They told me I had to carry out the orders or I could myself be shot on the spot." Mancic has denied issuing such an order and said that "the whole thing has been made up." Tesic is being tried for the crimes along with Misel Seregi. Tesic said they both killed and burned the bodies of the victims near the Kosovar town of Prizren in 1999. PB

DNA TESTING IDENTIFIES 16 VICTIMS OF KOSOVA WAR
The head of the United Nations Office on Missing Persons and Forensics in Kosovo, Jose Pablo Baraybar, said on 24 September that his office used DNA matching to identify 16 bodies of those killed during the 1999 NATO-led war in Kosova, AP reported the same day. The technology is being used in an effort to help relatives find the remains of the more than 4,000 people who remain unaccounted for since the war. The Kosova office is cooperating with the International Commission for Missing Persons based in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. By comparing DNA samples from bodies uncovered in mass graves with blood samples provided by relatives of missing persons, the centers have been able to identify 1,000 bodies in Bosnia so far this year, the UN said in a statement. CB

TWO KOSOVAR OFFICIALS ARRESTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
A UN spokesman said on 24 September that two public officials in charge of maintaining property-ownership records in the regional capital of Prishtina have been arrested on suspicion of illegally transferring publicly owned property to private individuals, AP reported the same day. The UN's Derek Chappell said that "The two employees were involved in numerous illegal transfers of property ownership over the past 2 1/2 years," adding that about 80 percent of the 15,000 transactions carried out by the agency during that period were dubious. UN police arrested the men, both ethnic Albanians, based on information discovered during an investigation of former rebel commander Rustem Mustafa in August, according to Andrea Angeli, a spokesperson for the UN mission in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002). CB

CROATIAN DAILY MAKES BOBETKO ITS POSTER BOY
Croatia's largest-circulation daily, "Vecernji list," on 25 September weighed in on the international dispute over the fate of General Janko Bobetko with free color posters of the suspected war criminal for its readers, dpa reported the same day. The oversized depiction of the embattled 83-year-old former chief of Main Staff bears the words "I have decided," an apparent reference to his vow not to be taken alive for trial to The Hague. Officials have refused to comply with an indictment and request for the handover of Bobetko and insist that the majority of Croats support that decision, which is likely to draw international condemnation and perhaps sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). AH

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE CHIEF ASSASSINATED
Zeljko Markovic, who was credited with leading efforts to combat lawlessness in a Serb-controlled administrative area east of Sarajevo, was gunned down at his home in the early hours of 24 September, international news agencies reported. Authorities are searching for multiple gunmen, who reportedly ambushed Markovic with automatic weapons at his Sokolac home around 2:30 a.m. local time. A spokesman for international high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Paddy Ashdown condemned the murder as the "worst kind of lawlessness" and "a brutal reminder of how far this country has to go before the rule of law is established," Reuters reported. A UN spokeswoman said the organization "strongly condemns this hideous crime," according to AP. The killing comes less than two weeks ahead of 5 October national elections, and is the highest-profile police slaying since a still-unsolved drive-by shooting took the life of former Serbian warlord and police chief Ljubisa Savic Mauzer two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2000). AH

ALBANIA TURNS TO NEIGHBORS, EU FOR AID IN WAKE OF FLOODING
The Albanian government is "contacting European natural-disaster aid bodies and friendly governments [that] have expressed readiness to help" mitigate the damage wrought by massive flooding, Reuters reported on 24 September, citing government spokesman Aldrin Dalipi. Greece, Italy, and Turkey have already offered assistance, the news agency added. Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano meanwhile said 26,000 hectares of farmland and 7,500 homes were inundated, according to AP. About 2,000 families were evacuated, he said, but added that no casualties have been reported since rainfall and water levels surged over the weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2002). AH

MACEDONIAN ROMANY LEADER TO GO TO STRASBOURG
Roma Union of Macedonia (SRM) Chairman Amdi Bajram said at a press conference on 24 September that he plans to file a lawsuit against the Macedonian government with the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, "Nova Makedonija" reported. Bajram said he decided to take action after the State Election Commission disregarded the SRM's complaints pertaining to irregularities and fraud in the recent elections. "This is an attack on the Romany people and it is an obvious scenario directed by the [Social Democratic Union], which through the State Election Commission took political revenge [and ensured] that I not be elected a member of parliament," Bajram said. However, a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that armed SRM members tried to intimidate voters through their massive presence at polling stations serving Skopje's Romany community. UB

U.S. COMPANY TO ADVISE MACEDONIAN ARMY
Representatives of Booz Allen & Hamilton, a U.S. military management and information-technology consultancy company, have arrived in Skopje, "Dnevnik" reported on 24 September. "We will ask the experts for help in four different functional areas -- training, personal management, logistics, and purchases of new equipment, as well as planning, budgeting, and programming," Macedonian Army Spokesman Zoran Sekulovski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters. UB

ANTIFRAUD OFFICE TO PROBE UTILIZATION OF EU FUNDS IN ROMANIA
The director of the European Commission's Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), Franz-Hermann Bruener, announced on 24 September in Bucharest that his office and the Romanian government's Control Office will jointly investigate how EU funds distributed in Romania were used, Mediafax reported. He said he will talk to Romanian Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase to see how persons guilty of misuse of these funds will be prosecuted, adding that a few such cases have emerged. Victor Ponta, the director of the Romanian government's Control Office, said he has received a few complaints regarding possible fraud, all of which are to be investigated. However, he stressed that there are "tens of thousands of European programs that are conducted correctly" in the country. EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele implied that no new funding for EU-sponsored programs will be released until after the investigation. ZsM

ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES REJECT GENERAL MOTORS' OFFER FOR LOCOMOTIVE MANUFACTURER
The Authority for Privatization and Management of State Ownership (APAPS) announced on 24 September that it will restart the privatization process for locomotive manufacturer Electroputere Craiova, Romanian media reported. APAPS found the price offered by General Motors and its German partner Karsdorfer to be insufficient. GM offered $2.4 million for the purchase of and $8.9 million toward investment in the company. GM also asked for special advantages for purchasing some other state-owned companies and that the Romanian government ensure 40 percent of orders by the state for three years. Electroputere posted losses of $2.4 million for the first half of 2002. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN POLITICIANS' 'PREJUDICES'
Speaking in the southeastern Romanian city of Mangalia on 24 September, Romanian President Ion Iliescu said several Moldovan politicians exhibit "prejudices" deriving from the "politics promoted by Stalin" when they argue that the Moldovan language is different from the Romanian language, Flux reported. He did not specify which politicians he was referring to. He claimed that these politicians believe that if a new state is formed, with a new social and political society, "a new nation is formed." He offered the example of former GDR leader Erik Honecker, who wanted to proclaim the "German socialist nation." He argued that acknowledging the unity of language, culture, and history between Romanian and Moldovan citizens does not mean Romania aspires to Moldova's territory. ZsM

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HALTS EXAMINATION OF AGREEMENT WITH UKRAINE
Moldovan Constitutional Court Chairman Victor Puscasu said on 24 September that the court has halted its examination of the border delimitation agreement reached last year with Ukraine, Moldovan media reported (see "End Note"). Puscasu said that "at this stage" this matter is not within the court's jurisdiction, adding that the delimitation process is not finished. Popular Party Christian Democratic leaders Iurie Rosca and Stefan Secareanu have protested the agreement, arguing that it violates the constitution (see RFE/RL's "Newsline," 20 September 2002). ZsM

BULGARIA AGREES TO CLOSE UNITS OF KOZLODUY NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT, SETS CONDITIONS
Energy Minister Milko Kovachev said on 24 September that the government would agree to close down blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant on condition that the European Union agree to carry out a security inspection of those blocks in 2003, BTA reported. "This allows us to provisionally close the energy chapter [of the acquis communautaire for EU accession], then to reopen [that chapter] after the inspection and have objective dates [for the shutdown of the blocks] set on the basis of the technical findings," Kovachev said. The European Union wants Bulgaria to shut down the blocks by 2006, while Bulgaria is seeking to operate them as long as possible. UB

BULGARIAN MINISTERS DEMAND CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
In separate statements on 24 September, Justice Minister Anton Stankov and Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov demanded constitutional reforms to clarify the functions of the judicial system, mediapool.bg reported. According to Stankov, misunderstandings among institutions of the legal system are due to shortcomings in the constitution. Petkanov, for his part, underscored the necessity to amend the constitution in order to speed up the judicial process. Neither Stankov nor Petkanov specified which kind of amendments they have in mind. In related news, Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev said on 23 September that he hopes parliament will find the optimum solution for making the judiciary more effective, faster, and more just and ensuring that appropriate sentences are enforced, BTA reported. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES MEASURES TO IMPROVE INVESTMENT CLIMATE
Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the junior coalition partner in the government, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, told the daily "Standart" of 24 September that the government has discussed a number of proposals by Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev for improving the country's investment climate. According to Dogan, Vasilev proposed to use part of the country's currency reserve to set up an investment fund in which interested foreign investors could participate, as well as the formation of a guarantee fund. Dogan added that the government has also discussed the idea of setting up tax-free industrial zones following China's example. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS FARMER SUPPORT ACT
During a parliamentary debate on the Farmer Support Act on 25 September, Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme said that the budget subsidy for the Agriculture Fund will be $75.4 million in 2003 and will be doubled over the following two years, BTA reported. According to the new provisions, the Agriculture Fund can intervene in the domestic market for agricultural products. The new law also provides for measures through which the Agriculture Fund will promote higher-quality agricultural goods. UB

ROMANIA ATTEMPTS TO ALLEVIATE BORDER PROBLEMS WITH UKRAINE


The timing of Romanian President Ion Iliescu's visit to Ukraine on 17-19 September was not unexpected. Ukraine's "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" newspaper predicted as far back as its 8-14 June edition that Romania would be pushed into patching up its border dispute with Ukraine by the impending November NATO summit in Prague.

It was therefore somewhat disingenuous of Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana to say in August that "Romania is not under any time pressure from the point of view of European and Euro-Atlantic integration." In June, Romania presented to NATO its progress in implementing its Membership Action Plan as the basis for NATO membership.

Romania's actions followed a similar pattern in 1997, when Bucharest sought to resolve outstanding border problems on the eve of the Madrid NATO summit. On 28 April 1997, Ukraine and Romania resolved their border dispute only a day before reformist President Emile Constantinescu applied for Romania to join NATO. The treaty was formerly signed in June 1997, a month before the NATO summit, and went into effect in October of that year. The Romanian Foreign Ministry complained in 1997 that postcommunists and nationalists who opposed the border treaty with Ukraine were "circles alien to Romania's interests that wanted the country to stay outside European and Euro-Atlantic structures."

After the signing ceremony, President Constantinescu said "Romania now fulfils all of the conditions to be accepted in the first wave." But, even French and Italian lobbying failed to secure Romania as a candidate for NATO membership in 1997.

Iliescu's visit to Ukraine last week came after thirteen rounds of negotiations had failed to reach a breakthrough in the final obstacle in Romania's border dispute with Ukraine. In 1997 the existing border was confirmed in the treaty, but the delimitation of the maritime border was deferred for two years. However, this has yet to be achieved.

Of Ukraine's seven neighbors, Romania has ranked alongside Russia as the most intransigent over border issues. Both the former communists led by Iliescu and extreme nationalists, such as the Greater Romania Party, opposed the 1997 treaty. Only because of a reformist president and his allies in parliament did the treaty muster support. The treaty was narrowly ratified by the Romanian Senate by a vote of 65 to 50, with three abstentions, and in the lower Chamber of Deputies by a vote of 165 to 92. Three opposition left and nationalist parties boycotted the signing ceremony (including Iliescu's party).

The Romanians were the only one of Ukraine's many national minorities who called for a boycott of the 1 December 1991 referendum on Ukrainian independence. In the early 1990s, Romania challenged Ukraine's right to North Bukovina, which has a Ukrainian majority; northern and southern Bessarabia; and Hertza and Serpents islands, which are located 30 kilometers from the Danube River and 120 kilometers from Odesa.

Soviet forces occupied North Bukovina (now Chernivtsi Oblast), Bessarabia, and Hertza in 1940 as part of the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These regions were confirmed as part of the USSR by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. After 1945, the central Bessarabian region was added to the interwar Moldavian ASSR, which had been part of the Ukrainian SSR, to create the Moldavian SSR. The former Moldavian ASSR, lying to the east of the Dniester River, has been de facto independent as the diplomatically unrecognized Transdniester Republic since seceding from Moldova in 1990-92.

Although Romania and the USSR successfully demarcated their land border, they did not do the same for the maritime border in the Serpents Island region. By 1995 the Romanian-Ukrainian dispute over this maritime region flared up anew as Romania sought to appeal to the International Court of Justice. In a December 1995 statement, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry claimed that Romania's actions "qualify as an effort to raise territorial claims against Ukraine."

In response to Romania's territorial claims, Ukraine built up military installations on Serpents Island, although the 1997 treaty forbade Ukraine from placing "offensive weapons" there. Ukraine built a modern wharf, seismic station, wind-and-diesel power station, modernized military barracks, and a telephone communications network. The military installations are to be closed down this year. In May, the Ukrainian government earmarked 161 million hryvni ($32 million) to expand infrastructure, communications, and economic activities on Serpents Island, as well as to demilitarize it. These government plans cover improving border protection of Serpents Island's continental shelf and territorial waters.

The dispute between Ukraine and Romania over Serpents Island resembles recent disputes over similar small uninhabited small, rocky islands between Greece and Turkey (Imia in Greek/Kardak in Turkish) and Morocco and Spain (Leila in Moroccan/Perejil in Spanish). The major difference is that in the mid-1990s, 17 major oil and gas deposits were discovered in the Serpents Islands region.

Besides Serpents Island, two other problems have bedeviled Romanian-Ukrainian relations. First, the status of the 325,000 ethnic Moldovans and 35,000 ethnic Romanians in Ukraine. Geoana accused the Ukrainians of continuing to implement "Stalin's theory about the existence of a Moldovan language and a Moldovan nation," which he believes is "fiction." Romania's postcommunists therefore hold similar views to the country's nationalists that Ukraine has in reality 460,000 "Romanians" (not 135,000, as per the 1989 Soviet census). Within Moldova, only nationalists back this viewpoint while postcommunist centrists support a policy of "one people, two states" and the left sees Moldovans as a completely separate people, as in the former USSR.

The second issue is the reciprocity of rights for Romanian and Ukrainian minorities in Ukraine and Romania, respectively. The 1997 treaty included -- on Romania's insistence -- the Council of Europe's Recommendation 1201 allowing for territorial autonomy, following opposition by Bucharest to the inclusion of that recommendation in the treaty it signed with Hungary relating to the rights of ethnic Hungarians in Romania. Romania has demanded the establishment of a "multicultural" university in Chernivtsi (in Romanian Cernauti) while refusing to open a Hungarian equivalent in Transylvania.

In Ukraine, the Romanian minority has 20 newspapers, journals, television, and radio programs. Romanian-language schools exist in every region where Romanians and Moldovans reside. In Romania, on the other hand, there is only one Ukrainian-language school, which was reopened in 1997, that caters to 10, 000 Ukrainian school pupils. Ukrainian-language textbooks encounter publishing difficulties and Ukrainian television and radio programs are rare.

During President Iliescu's visit last week the two sides agreed to settle the final section of their border dispute by June 2003. It remains to be seen if they will in fact manage to do so, after the failure of the two-year period between 1997-99 set for this same purpose.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies and adjunct staff in the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.

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