31 January 2002, Volume
OPPOSITION FORMS 'CONSTITUTIONAL MOVEMENT.'
Representatives of six Armenian opposition parties announced at a press conference in Yerevan on 23 January the formation of a joint "constitutional movement" whose objective is to use "all legitimate means" to force the Armenian authorities to put their proposed constitutional amendments to a nationwide referendum along with those proposed by an ad hoc commission created by President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian has already rejected that option. The opposition advocates transforming Armenia into a parliamentary republic, while Kocharian's proposed amendments preserve the presidency while curtailing the president's powers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)PARLIAMENT GUNMAN DENIES KILLINGS WERE PREPLANNED.
Edik Grigorian, one of five gunmen on trial on charges of killing eight senior Armenian politicians in the parliament building in October 1999, told the court on 24 January that the group did not plan to shoot anyone, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Grigorian, who did not commit any of the killings, said that the original plan was for the gunmen's leader, Nairi Hunanian, to take hostage Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and his fellow ministers and coerce them to resign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January)COUNCIL OF EUROPE OPENS OFFICE.
The Council of Europe has opened a permanent representation in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 January. Its primary function will be to coordinate Armenia's implementation of programs relating to commitments Yerevan gave on being accepted into full membership of the council in January 2001. Those programs are primarily related to human rights, local government, and legislative reforms. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)
NEW PROTESTS OVER SHORTAGES, KARABAKH CONFLICT.
Some 1,000 residents of the village of Nardaran, 30 kilometers from Baku, staged a protest on 22 January against chronic cuts in gas and energy supplies and the lack of employment opportunities, Turan reported. They also demanded the release of Islamic Party of Azerbaijan Deputy Chairman Hajiaga Nuriev, whom National Security Ministry officials detained last November on the border with Iran on suspicion of attempting to take "suspicious documents" into that country. The villagers threatened to stage nationwide protests if their demands are not met by 1 February. Also, several thousand people took part in a sanctioned demonstration in central Baku on 26 January under the slogan "Freedom for Karabakh," Turan reported. Participants again condemned the Azerbaijani authorities for failing to resolve the Karabakh conflict and called on them to resign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 January)COUNCIL OF EUROPE INSISTS ON COMMITMENTS.
Turan on 22 January quoted Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer as saying that Azerbaijan is obliged to fulfill the commitments it made on being accepted into membership of the council one year ago. Schwimmer acknowledged that the Azerbaijani authorities have released some political prisoners, but added that other cases remain unresolved and should be addressed quickly. On 23 January, lawyers said the case of Alikram Gumbatov will be reviewed by the Appeals Court on 24 January and that of Rahim Gaziev on 30 January, Turan reported. The Council of Europe considers both men -- together with former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov -- political prisoners, and is insisting that either they be released or their cases reviewed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)U.S. PRESIDENT SUSPENDS SANCTIONS.
President George W. Bush finally signed on 25 January the long-anticipated waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which barred direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as that country persisted in its blockade of Armenia. The waiver is in acknowledgement of Azerbaijan's support for the international antiterrorist coalition, and will enable Azerbaijan to receive some $50 million in aid this year, according to Turan on 28 January. Commenting on the waiver on 26 January, President Heidar Aliyev said its significance is political, rather than economic, according to the independent broadcaster ANS-TV, as cited by Groong. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)
NEW PACE HEAD SEES BELARUS AS 'PROBLEM'...
In his inaugural speech in Strasbourg on 22 January, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Peter Schieder said that "Belarus remains a problem," the council's website quoted him as saying (see http://stars.coe.fr/President/Schieder/Opening%20Speech.htm). And he added: "On the one hand, the attitude of the presidential regime has not changed and remains totally unacceptable in terms of democratic and human rights standards. On the other hand, isolation does little to change the status quo. The assembly will have to pursue its delicate diplomatic balancing act, between support for progressive forces in Belarus and the need to avoid condoning the dictatorial attitude of the present regime." PACE Political Affairs Committee head Roman Jakic said the same day that the question of whether Belarus will regain its special guest status in PACE will depend on the findings of a special commission that is to be set up shortly within his committee, Belapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)...WHILE WIVES OF MISSING FIGURES APPEAL FOR INDEPENDENT PROBE.
The wives of prominent figures who have been jailed, died, or disappeared in Belarus have appealed to PACE to urge the Belarusian authorities into allowing an independent investigation with the participation of international experts into the death of politician Henadz Karpenka and the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, as well as those of businessman Anatol Krasouski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski. The Charter-97 website reported on 22 January that the appeal was publicized by Belarusian United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka at a recent meeting of the PACE Liberal, Democratic, and Reformers' Group in Strasbourg. The appeal suggests that the PACE Sub-Committee on Human Rights hold a hearing on the deaths, disappearances, and incarceration of opposition figures in Belarus. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)
POLITICAL PARTIES BREAK THE ICE.
Leaders of the eight largest political parties met in Mrakovica near Prijedor on 26 January to discuss key issues facing Bosnia, including the Constitutional Court ruling that Muslims, Serbs, and Croats must be made legally equal throughout Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The leaders agreed on the need to carry out that ruling and to implement human rights in keeping with European standards. Participants included Sulejman Tihic of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Dragan Kalinic of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), Niko Lozanic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Zlatko Lagumdzija of the Social Democratic Party, Safet Halilovic of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kresimir Zubak of the New Croatian Initiative, Milorad Dodik of the Party of Independent Social Democrats, and Mladen Ivanic of the Party of Democratic Progress, Hina reported. This was the first gathering in years of leaders from across the ethnic and political spectrum to be held without the participation of foreigners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)PROBE OF ISLAMIC ORGANIZATIONS LAUNCHED.
Alija Behmen, the prime minister of the Muslim-Croat federation, told "Dnevni avaz" on 28 January that the authorities have launched an investigation to see if certain undisclosed Islamic charities and banks have been used to provide money for terrorists. Many foreign-based Islamic charities and other offices set up branches in Bosnia during the 1992-95 conflict. Many Muslims welcomed their newfound friends as a welcome source of help, while others resented the foreigners' strict religious practices. Most Bosnian Muslims consider themselves Europeans above all and have a casual attitude toward certain Islamic practices, such as the prohibition of alcohol or strict rules regarding female dress. An unnamed Bosnian official told "The Boston Globe" on 28 January: "We have a big problem with the Saudis. They are spreading around huge amounts of money to help rebuild Bosnia. But they are also building mosques and spreading a version of Islam that is alien to our Bosnian Islam." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)KRAJINA REFUGEES TO VOTE IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA.
Deputy Prime Minister Petar Kunic said in Banja Luka on 23 January that Serbian refugees from Croatia who have obtained Bosnian citizenship will be able to vote in the next elections, which are slated for October, RFE/RL reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)
BISHOPS APPEAL ON REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT.
The Roman Catholic Bishops Conference issued an appeal in Zagreb on 23 January to the government and parliament not to resettle refugees and displaced persons together in special settlements, RFE/RL reported. The bishops called on the authorities to help those individuals who cannot or will not return to their original homes to obtain new permanent homes on a legal basis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW IDENTITY DOCUMENTS.
On 23 January, the parliament approved the design of new internal identity documents, which will be written in both Croatian and English, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Upon request, members of ethnic minorities can obtain an identity card written in their own language as well, even if it uses a different alphabet than the Latin one. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)
DISPUTE OVER ORTHODOX CHURCH OVER?
Ilmo Au, the head of the Interior Ministry Department of Religious Affairs, said that the dispute over the registration of the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia is apparently coming to an end, Aripaev reported on 10 January. The ministry will agree to register it as the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate while the church will amend its statutes to rule out the interpretation of the Moscow Patriarchate Church as part of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 January)
REPATRIATION OF CHECHEN REFUGEES DEMANDED.
Residents of Georgia's Akhmeta Raion, in which the Pankisi Gorge is located, decided at a meeting on 28 January to form their own armed groups to enter the gorge and try to secure the release of the hostages being held there, Caucasus Press reported. They demanded that Shevardnadze travel to Akhmeta within three days to meet with them. They also began collecting signatures to a petition demanding that all of the estimated 7,000 Chechen refugees in Pankisi be required to leave Georgia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SOUND ALARM OVER CONDITIONS IN PRISONS.
A group of parliament deputies who undertook a study of conditions in Georgian prisons reported on their findings on 23 January, Caucasus Press reported. They described the overall situation as catastrophic, noting that at night prisons are lit by burning abandoned automobile tires. On 23 January, Caucasus Press reported that the number of fatalities in Georgian jails since the beginning of this year has risen to eight as the result of two deaths the previous day. Georgian human rights activist Giorgi Kervalishvili told a press conference in Tbilisi on 10 January that he believes riots in Georgian penitentiaries are imminent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)TEACHERS DEMAND PAY INCREASE.
The head of a Georgian organization to defend teachers' rights has written to President Eduard Shevardnadze asking him to raise teachers' monthly salaries from the present 30-60 laris ($13.6-$27.2) to 120 laris, which is the subsistence wage, Caucasus Press reported on 24 January. During the parliament debate on the budget for 2002, several parliament factions argued that increased revenues from the excise on cigarettes should be used to raise teachers' wages, but Shevardnadze rejected that proposal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January)
FORMER PREMIER ASKS ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO KEEP OUT OF POLITICS.
Former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn sent an open letter to Archbishop Istvan Seregely, the chairman of the Conference of Hungarian Catholic Bishops, asking him to keep his church and priests out of the election campaign, Hungarian media reported on 23 January. Horn claims that some Catholic leaders and priests argue against the Socialist Party and in favor of FIDESZ even in the confessional. "It is possible for citizens to be both religious and left-wing in thinking," he wrote. Horn's letter comes one week after Hungary's Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran churches issued statements in support of the Status Law. The Socialist candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, said Horn's opinion is not that of the party, and therefore the Socialists will not comment on his letter. Several provincial priests called Horn's remarks "incredible and unfounded." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)
PRESIDENT EXCORIATES OPPOSITION.
Nursultan Nazarbaev convened a meeting in Astana on 25 January of government ministers and regional governors at which he characterized the current political situation as a "free-for-all" and warned that "strict measures" are needed to end it, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev accused "so-called independent media outlets and political figures" of "accusing Kazakhstan's leadership of deeds it has never committed" and of ignoring its achievements, especially in preserving interethnic harmony. He further rejected the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces' claims that there is no democracy in Kazakhstan. "If that is the case, how did they manage to hold a mass gathering last Saturday [19 January]?" Nazarbaev asked rhetorically. He instructed the Prosecutor-General's Office to file criminal charges against all those who have "offended state officials," ITAR-TASS reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)NEW PREMIER OUTLINES PRIORITIES.
Speaking to journalists late on 28 January after parliament confirmed his nomination as premier, Imangali Tasmagambetov pledged to promote democratization and social accord, Interfax reported. He said the government's short-term priorities as listed by Nazarbaev are the development of the oil and gas transportation sector, social reform, and broadening cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Cooperation Organization. Tasmagambetov described the emergence of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) as "not an extraordinary event." He said constructive opposition is the hallmark of a civilized society, but added that it is not yet clear how constructive DVK will prove to be. On 25 January, representatives of political parties and organizations representing Kazakhstan's Russian and Slav minorities had condemned DVK outright for allegedly "attempting to destroy ethnic harmony and stability." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)
WITNESSES IN CASE OF ARRESTED DEPUTY THREATENED WITH TORTURE.
Djaparali Kamychbekov, whom arrested Kyrgyz parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov is accused of failing to arrest and charge with murder following a killing in 1995, was detained by police in Djalalabad Oblast on 24 January together with his father, the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights reported the following day. Both men have been beaten in an attempt to coerce them to testify against Beknazarov. Meanwhile, Beknazarov's supporters are continuing hunger strikes and protest demonstrations to demand his release, RFE/RL reported. Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones told journalists in Bishkek on 25 January that she discussed Beknazarov's case with President Askar Akaev and hopes that Beknazarov will be released "soon," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Jones also told journalists that the U.S. is not turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Central Asia, AP reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)POLICE DENY FUGITIVE FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SUBJECTED TO POLITICAL PRESSURE.
A Bishkek city police official told a specially convened press conference in Bishkek on 28 January that former presidential candidate and Social-Democratic Party Co-Chairman Almaz Atambaev did not flee the country as a result of political pressure, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The official said Atambaev hoped to escape an attempt on his life. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)
RUSSIAN LANGUAGE EDUCATION ADVOCATED.
Latvia's Russian-Language School Support Association has sent a letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, urging her to propose to the parliament and government that every child should have the right to obtain an education in his/her native language in primary and secondary schools, LETA reported on 9 January. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 January)LATVIA'S WAY CONGRESS APPROVES RESOLUTION ON LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS.
The 12th Congress of Latvia's Way on 26 January adopted a resolution which stated that the proposed amendments to abolish Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils are acceptable if the status of the state language is simultaneously strengthened by other laws. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)PRISON REGULATIONS DEEMED UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The Constitutional Court has ruled that the prison regulations, approved by the Correctional Institutions Administration, not allowing some prisoners to receive food parcels from friends and relatives did not comply with Latvia's Constitution, LETA reported on 2 January. It noted that the regulations would discriminate against prisoners whose relatives did not have the possibility of sending money. ("RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 23 January)
PARLIAMENT CONCLUDES FALL SESSION.
The parliament ended its fall session on 25 January by approving by a vote of 108 to two, with one abstention, an amendment to Article 119 of the constitution that would extend the term of local council deputies from three to four years and allow noncitizens permanently residing in Lithuania to elect and be elected to local councils, ELTA reported. To complete the amendment process, it must be approved a second time in three months by two-thirds of the parliament (94 deputies). The session also ratified by an unanimous vote the 1999 Criminal Law Convention against Corruption, and ruled in favor of handing over more than 300 rescued Jewish Torah scrolls -- which are currently being stored in the National Mazvydas Library -- to the Jewish society Hechal Shlomo in Jerusalem. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)
ROMANIA REJECTS ALLEGATIONS IT MASTERMINDED CHISINAU PROTESTS...
President Ion Iliescu on 25 January rejected allegations made by Viktor Stepaniuk, the leader of the parliamentary group of the Party of Moldovan Communists, that Romania is involved in the staging of protests against compulsory Russian-language classes in Chisinau, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The allegations were also rejected by Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. During the debates that led to the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of three leaders of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), Stepaniuk deplored the fact that deputies representing the Braghis Alliance joined the PPCD deputies in boycotting the meeting in protest, and said that the situation created is the result of "gross Romanian interference." Iliescu said that the lifting of the deputies' immunity "proves once more the political involution" underway in Moldova. Geoana said Stepaniuk's "insinuations are totally unfounded," and that the Moldovan leadership is persuaded that "European norms can be applied only partially and whenever they suit its interests." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)...WHILE MOLDOVAN PREMIER REBUKES ROMANIAN COUNTERPART.
In a letter to Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase, Moldovan Premier Vasile Tarlev wrote last week that Nastase's statement on the suspension of the PPCD "once more proves that Romania is steering away from the path of European norms, democratic standards, and international principles of noninterference in other countries' affairs," Flux reported on 28 January. Tarlev said Nastase is "regrettably too preoccupied by inner-party politics," and forgets that Moldova is a "sovereign and independent state" that is a "UN...and OSCE member." He said it is deplorable that Romania has failed to realize that "over 3 million people in Moldova believe they are Moldovans and live in their own country," and that failure to respect that choice amounts to "publicly insulting the people." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)CHISINAU LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON PROTESTERS.
The Chisinau mayoralty decided on 26 January to lift the restrictions forbidding protesters to hold their meetings in the National Assembly Square, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The restrictions were cited by Justice Minister Ion Morei as grounds for suspending the activity of the PPCD for one month and for lifting the parliamentary immunity of its three leaders. Mayor Serafim Urechean said the decision calls on the Justice Ministry and the parliament to clarify two articles in the law regulating the rights and duties of parliament deputies. He added that in spite of the decisions, demonstrations remain forbidden, as "there is no authorization for holding them." PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said in response that Urechean is "maintaining his positions of political complicity [with the government] and of hostility toward the PPCD." On 27 January, the protests were joined by the leaders of the Popular Party Christian Democratic and the Social Liberal party, Valeriu Matei and Oleg Serebrean. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)PARLIAMENT AMENDS ELECTORAL LAW.
On 25 January, the parliament approved the final reading of an amendment proposed by the PPCD to the electoral law, Infotag reported, In accordance with the amendment, an alliance of two parties will need at least 9 percent to pass the threshold for representation, and alliances of three parties or more will need 12 percent. Parties running alone will continue to face a 6 percent threshold and independent candidates 3 percent. The electoral campaign was reduced from 90 to 60 days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)
POLL GIVES SLIGHT EDGE TO INDEPENDENCE.
A recent poll by the Podgorica Center for Democracy and Human Rights and the Damar Agency suggests that 52 percent of Montenegrins would vote for independence in a referendum while 47 percent would vote against, RFE/RL reported on 23 January. Opponents of independence demand that more than a simple majority be required for the long-awaited proposal on independence to pass. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)
ORGANIZATIONS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT'S POLICIES TOWARD THE CSANGOS.
In a joint report released on 23 January, the Association for the Defense of Human Rights-Helsinki Commission and the Pro-Europa League said the government is promoting a policy of assimilation of the Hungarian-speaking Csango minority in Moldavia and denies members of that minority the right to receive instruction in their native language and to attend church services conducted in Hungarian, Romanian television reported. Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu called the report "unprofessional" and "biased," and said the Association of Hungarian Csangos in Moldavia is not legally registered. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)
SOCIAL INJUSTICE LESS DANGEROUS THAN SOCIAL EXPLOSION?
Writing in "Argumenty i fakty" on 23 January, former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov said that despite more social injustice and widening disparity in the distribution of the nation's wealth, there is no threat of a social explosion in Russia similar to that experienced by Argentina over the last few months. Popov said the reasons for his conclusion lay in the ineptness of the opposition and weariness of a population exhausted after enduring numerous wars and repressions in the 20th century. But Communist Party of the Russian Federation leader Gennadii Zyuganov recently offered another view at his party's extraordinary congress when he said: "Our people do not need to explode their country from within, as has happened in other countries. How can one 'explode' a country that has thousands of nuclear warheads, worn and torn nuclear reactors, many big hydro-power stations with decaying equipment, and about 30,000 chemical enterprises making highly hazardous products?" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)NEW PASSPORTS TAKE SHAPE.
The Russian government announced on 24 January that the future Russian external passport will upon the request of the bearer include their tax identification number, blood type and Rh factor, and data about previously issued identification documents, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, the government has decided to extend by one year to 1 January 2004 the deadline for exchanging old Soviet external passports for Russian ones. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January)RUSSIAN BUSINESS DELEGATION MEETS WITH PROSECUTOR-GENERAL.
The leadership of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) headed by Arkadii Volskii met with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to express their concerns about the way his agency is investigating recent economic affairs including the case of Sibur, polit.ru reported on 28 January. Oleg Deripaska of Siberian Aluminum, Ruben Vardanyan of Troika-Dialog, and Vladimir Shcherbakov of Interprivatizatisiya told Ustinov that they are particularly worried that law enforcement agencies tend to protect state but not private property. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)PUTIN RAISES JUDGES' WAGES.
President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree raising the wages of judges by some 1.6 times, polit.ru reported on 24 January. Deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak said the measure was necessary to ensure an "independent and dispassionate" judiciary and to raise its prestige and authority. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January)CHECHEN LEADERS, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSS RECONSTRUCTION.
Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov met on 22 January in Moscow with Russian President Putin and federal Minister for Chechen Affairs Vladimir Yelagin to discuss economic reconstruction in Chechnya, including providing permanent housing for displaced persons now living in camps in neighboring Ingushetia whose homes were destroyed in the fighting, Russian agencies reported. Kadyrov said he wanted to prove to Putin that Chechnya is not "a black hole" into which funds for reconstruction disappear without trace. Ilyasov said over 200,000 displaced persons returned to Chechnya in 2001. He also predicted that the "antiterrorism" operation currently under way will be ended within six months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S ENVOY SAYS CONTACTS WITH KREMLIN CONTINUE...
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, told Reuters on 24 January that contacts are continuing between himself and Russian representatives, but that no further meetings between himself and presidential envoy to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev are currently planned. The two met in Moscow last November for inconclusive talks on conditions for ending the war. Zakaev affirmed that the Chechen side is still "ready for talks without preconditions." In an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 23 January, Zakaev dismissed as "one more way of dragging out a peaceful solution to the Russian-Chechen conflict" the Consultative Council created in Chechnya under the auspices of PACE. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January)...AS PRESIDENTIAL AIDE REJECTS MASKHADOV'S DENIAL OF TIES TO AL-QAEDA.
Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii rejected as untrue denials by Chechen President Maskhadov and his envoy Zakaev of any links with members of Al-Qaeda, Russian agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said that the U.S. magazine "Newsday" has acquired in Kabul a videotape that reportedly features both field commander Khattab and Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden. But "Moscow News" reported on 23 January that the tape does not show the two men together. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)EXPLOSION, DEPUTY MAYOR SHOT DEAD IN DAGHESTAN.
The deputy mayor of Makhachkala, Akhmad Aliev, and his wife were shot dead outside their home on 22 January, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported the following day. Aliyev was a close associate of Mayor Said Amirov, who has survived several assassination attempts in recent years. Also, a member of Daghestan's police force was injured late on 22 January by a booby-trap bomb, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported the following day. The attack is believed to be part of the long-standing power struggle between the republic's two largest ethnic groups, the Avars and Dargins, and to be aimed at undermining the position of Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, who is an Avar. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 January)HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY IN MOSCOW...
On 27 January, the Federation of Peace and Accord in Moscow observed Holocaust Memorial Day, Russian agencies reported. The memorial holiday coincides with the date the Red Army liberated Nazi death camps in Auschwitz in 1945, and the decision to observe it in Russia was taken by 47 state representatives during the conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm in 2000. In opening the event, Alla Gerber, the head of the Russian Holocaust Foundation, said: "Auschwitz was a climax of human degradation and human baseness. What happened in the U.S. on 11 September is also a climax of human degradation," Interfax reported. Among participants in the event were Vasilii Petrenko, a former division head who participated in the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camps; survivors from Auschwitz; Israeli Ambassador to Russia Nathan Meron; German Ambassador to Russia Ernst-Joerg von Studnitz; Chief Russian Rabbi Adolf Shaevich; and Federation Council member and President of the Russian Jewish Congress Leonid Nevzlin. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)...WHILE MOSCOW FASCISTS ALSO MEET.
A 20 January "poetry reading" organized by neo-Nazi groups at Moscow's Mayakovsky Museum played video footage of Jews being executed and tortured by Nazis, according to a report on the website jewish.ru. The event was organized by the People's National Party, which distributed its anti-Semitic newspaper "Ya Russky!" (I am Russian!) as well as the monarchist newspaper "Tsarsky Oprichnik." (Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, 25 January)GROWING MUSLIM COMMUNITY COURTED IN SIBERIA.
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed personally led the first session of the regional Council of Muslims created by the krai administration, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 January. According to the daily, the number of Muslims in the krai has sharply increased over recent years because of migration from former Soviet republics and other regions of Russia. In fact, according to recent data Islam is the second most popular religion in the region with more than 100,000 followers. Mosques have been erected in two of the krai's largest cities, Krasnoyarsk and Norilsk. Local Muslims also have their own schools and cemeteries. At the council's first session it became clear that local Muslims were hoping to get financial assistance from the krai government for the construction of more schools and mosques. Lebed responded that the krai does not have enough funds, but pledged to include a Muslim representative on the new regional Pardons Commission. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)PUTIN RECEIVES AWARD FROM RUSSIAN PATRIARCH.
On 22 January, Patriarch Aleksii II awarded President Putin with the prize of the International Fund of Unity of Orthodox Peoples, RIA-Novosti reported. The annual prize is generally offered for outstanding activity in strengthening the unity of Orthodox peoples. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January)DUMA TO GIVE STUDENTS DEFERMENTS.
On 27 January, Duma deputies voted to approve an amendment to the law on military duty and service, overcoming a previous Federation Council veto. The vote was 387 in favor with zero opposed, and no abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, students in secondary schools can defer military service until they turn 20. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, if the bill comes into force, up to 18,000 young men annually will be able to finish their secondary education without it being interrupted by the need to serve in the armed forces. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)MOSCOW SEEKS TREATMENT FOR JUVENILE DRUG ADDICTS ON ARBITRARY BASIS...
The Moscow Duma has initiated within the State Duma a proposed amendment to the federal law "On Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances" according to which juvenile drug addicts could be subject to medical treatment without their will or consent, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 January. Current legislation bans such imposition of treatment, but should the amendment be accepted, up to 1 million Russian teenagers could potentially be subject to treatment, "Moskovskaya pravda" reported on 23 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)...AS ALCOHOLISM DECIMATES ADULTS.
Almost 30 percent of men and 15 percent of women in Russia suffer from alcoholism, and consumption of alcohol tends to grow from year to year, utro.ru reported on 23 January. Official statistics reveal that Russia has lost 27 million of its citizens to alcoholism over the last 50 years, a figure equal to the casualties incurred by the Soviet Union in WW II, according to the website. In 1984 the Soviet Union was named the "most drunk country in Europe," with per capita alcohol consumption of 13.6 liters per year, and today that figure has risen to some 25 liters per person, utro.ru reported. Meanwhile, according to the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, annual per capita alcohol consumption of countries' citizens should not exceed eight liters, as levels of more than that amount lead to the degradation of the state, the website reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)MOTHERS IN PRISONS ARE PROMISED PARDON.
President Putin approved the proposal by presidential adviser Anatolii Pristavkin and Presidential Department for Pardons head Robert Tsivilyov on extending an amnesty to mothers regardless of their crimes or prison terms, Interfax reported on 24 January. The State Duma earlier adopted a resolution on amnestying some 10,000 minors and 14,000 women. However, women guilty of serious crimes or with a long criminal record were not eligible for the pardon, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)MOSCOW'S FOREIGN COMMUNITY SURVEYED.
A new survey of foreign diplomats, journalists, and corporate staff resident in Moscow was conducted by Russia's Main Department of the Diplomatic Corps Service (UPDK), tasked to provide support and facilities to the 15,000 foreign personnel in that city. UPDK Director Ivan Sergeev told a press briefing that 138 embassies were now represented in Moscow, along with 23 different international organizations, over 1,000 foreign firms, and 200 media outlets. (strana.ru, 25 January)
PARLIAMENT PASSES VOJVODINA AUTONOMY BILL.
The parliament voted on 23 January to restore Vojvodina's autonomy, RFE/RL reported. The vote was 119 to 74, with 42 abstentions reflecting the deep divisions over the issue, AP reported. Leaders from Pancevo and other local governments called for broader autonomy for their regions, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Many local and regional opposition leaders were instrumental in the overthrow of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January)
RELEASED BAPTIST STILL 'UNDER SURVEILLANCE.'
Shageldy Atakov, who was unexpectedly released from prison earlier this month is under surveillance by state security officials and has been warned not to re-establish contacts with fellow Baptists, Keston News Service reported on 27 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January)
ELECTION COMMISSION REFUSES TO REGISTER TAPE-SCANDAL MAN.
The Central Electoral Commission has refused to register former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko as a candidate on the Socialist Party's election list, Ukrainian media reported on 26 January. The commission said Melnychenko, who is currently residing in the U.S., cannot be viewed as a permanent resident of Ukraine, which is a requirement of the election law for parliamentary candidates. Yosyp Vinskyy from the Socialist Party disagreed with the ruling, saying that the election law allows anybody staying abroad under Ukraine's international agreements to become a parliamentary candidate. He recalled that in 1998 the Central Election Commission registered businessman Yukhym Zvyahilskyy, who had lived in Israel for more than two years. "The Central Election Commission interprets this provision differently for different people. I see this as an element of political persecution against our candidate who is running for parliament on the list of the Socialist Party," Vinskyy told Inter Television on 26 January. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)
PRESIDENT DEFENDS AUTHORITARIANISM.
Casting his vote on 27 January in a referendum in which Uzbekistan's estimated 13 million voters were called upon to approve the creation of a bicameral parliament and the extension of the presidential term from five to seven years, President Islam Karimov slammed the West for demanding a swifter transition to democracy in his country, Reuters and AP reported. Voter turnout in the plebiscite was estimated at 94 percent. Abdurafik Akhadov, head of Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission, told a news conference on 28 January that between 91 and 92 percent voted "yes" to the proposal to extend the president's term, while 93 to 94 percent backed the second proposal concerning the bicameral legislature, Reuters reported. The final results were supposed to be announced on 30 January, which was Karimov's 64th birthday, but Akhadov said on 28 January that final results from the referendum will be released within 10 days. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January)
DIRECTORY OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS AGENCIES.
The Keston Institute has produced a directory of government agencies handling religious affairs in the CIS, Baltic republics, Eastern Europe, and China. The role of such state or government agencies varies widely from country to country. The list draws on information provided by a number of embassies in London, Keston's Moscow and Central Asian correspondents, and contacts in the region. (Keston News Service, 29 January)