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Newsline

Newsline - March 7, 2000



PITCHED BATTLE UNDER WAY SOUTH OF GROZNY

Federal forces have been fighting since the evening of 6 March to prevent an estimated 1,000 Chechens under the command of field commander Ruslan Gelaev from breaking out of the village of Komsomolskoe, 25 kilometers south of Grozny, and advancing on the lowland towns of Urus-Martan and Achkhoi-Martan, Russian media reported on 7 March, quoting Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. On 5 March, the Chechens had occupied the village, which is being subjected to intensive air and artillery bombardment. Also on 5 March, a group of 73 mostly teenage Chechens, many of them wounded, from the force commanded by field commander Khattab surrendered to Russian troops in the village of Selmentausen, Russian agencies reported the following day. LF

RUSSIAN PARATROOP COMMANDER, PSKOV GOVERNOR CITE CONFLICTING CASUALTY FIGURES

Colonel General Georgii Shpak, commander of the Russian Airborne Troops, has denied media reports that the Pskov Airborne Division recently lost more than 100 men in battles in the Argun gorge with Chechen fighters subordinate to field commander Khattab and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported on 6 March. The news agency quoted Shpak as saying that only 31 members of that force were killed in fighting on 29 February. But Pskov Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov told Interfax that the death toll is between 60-80 and that the circumstances of the fighting in which those men were killed are still being clarified. LF

RUSSIAN JUSTICE MINISTER LABELS BABITSKII A CRIMINAL

In an interview published in "Le Figaro" on 5 March, Yurii Chaika described RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii as "a criminal" who had "falsified his passport" and "rendered assistance to 'illegal persons,'" Reuters reported. Babitskii had been in possession of a forged Azerbaijani passport, when he was detained in Daghestan on 25 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). LF

SAIDULLAEV CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE ELECTIONS OF NEW CHECHEN LEADER

Malik Saidullaev, chairman of the pro-Moscow Chechen State Council, told Interfax on 6 March that elections for a new Chechen leader to replace President Maskhadov could be held concurrently with the 26 March Russian presidential poll. He named as possible candidates for that position pro- Moscow militia commander and former Russian State Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. Saidullaev added that he would run for that post if asked by the Chechen population. Alternatively, Saidullaev said, Moscow could appoint a temporary Chechen leader, but not a governor, with the approval of the republic's population. Saidullaev argued that Chechnya should be given a special status within the Russian Federation similar to that of Tatarstan, but with even broader powers. LF

POLLS SHOW SUPPORT FOR CHECHEN CAMPAIGN INCREASING

A poll of 1,600 Russians conducted at the end of February by the All- Russian Center for Public Opinion showed 70 percent support for the continuing Russian offensive in Chechnya, up from 61 percent in favor three months ago, Interfax reported on 6 March. Only 8 percent now favor talks with the Chechen leadership, down from 17 percent in November 1999. PG

COURT ORDERS ZHIRINOVSKII'S NAME INCLUDED ON PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT

The appellate board of the Russian Supreme Court on 6 March ruled that the Central Election Commission's decision to deny Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii registration as a presidential candidate was unlawful, Interfax reported. Zhirinovskii greeted the decision as "a triumph for freedom and democracy in Russia." The commission announced that it will bow to the court's decision and register Zhirinovskii as a candidate on 7 March. PG

TITOV CALLS ON YAVLINSKII TO WITHDRAW

Samara Governor Konstantin Titov on 6 March called on Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinskii to withdraw from the presidential race, Interfax reported. Titov, who is also running for the presidency, argued that "it is only possible to preserve the democratic constitutional system in Russia if all of society's healthy forces join together during the presidential election and declare their disapproval of plans to dismantle democratic institutions." PG

IVANOV SAYS PUTIN'S NATO REMARK WAS 'HYPOTHETICAL'...

Commenting on acting President Putin's remark that he does not rule out Russia's joining NATO on "equal terms" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000), Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that statement had been taken out of context and did not represent a change of policy, Interfax reported. Ivanov told NTV on 6 March that Putin had given a "hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question." The acting president's main point was that "Russia wants to play a role in Western European institutions," Ivanov stressed. JC

...WHILE NATO CHIEF SAYS TOO EARLY TO SPEAK OF RUSSIAN MEMBERSHIP

As the U.S. and Britain welcomed Putin's NATO remark as signaling Russia's willingness to improve relations with the Atlantic alliance, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson commented on 6 March that the prospect of Russia's joining the alliance is not on the agenda for now, Reuters reported. Building on the alliance's existing ties with Moscow is already a "challenging task," Robertson said. At the same time, he noted that the alliance recognizes the need to continue its partnership with Moscow, and he lauded the "positive spirit" that Putin displayed in the BBC interview. JC

KORZHAKOV SAYS 'RUSSIA NEEDS ITS KGB!'...

Aleksandr Korzhakov, former head of President Boris Yeltsin's security service and now a member of the Duma, said in an article published in "Argumenty i fakty" on 6 March that the time has come to reestablish the KGB. "By supporting Vladimir Putin for the country's president," Korzhakov said, "our people are sending an utterly clear message to those in power: it is high time at last for special services to make a fist and strike those who are preventing them from building a normal life. Russia needs its KGB! It is high time to say this without blushing." In the article, Korzhakov said that the "first step" in this direction should be the formation of a coordinating council of the security services directly subordinated to the Russian president. PG

...AND MAJORITY OF RUSSIANS APPEAR TO SHARE THAT VIEW

In a nationwide poll conducted from 11-13 February among some 1,600 respondents, more than 50 percent of respondents said they have no objection to a former KGB officer becoming president, "Kommersant-Vlast" (No. 8) reported. The publication points out that those most loyal to the former KGB are the military as well as residents of Russia's Communist-dominated central region and of the regions to which those persecuted by the KGB were traditionally banished, namely the North and the Far East. JC

DUMA TO DEBATE START-2 LATER THIS MONTH

Andrei Nikolaev, chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, told U.S. Ambassador James Collins on 6 March that the lower house will debate ratification of the START-2 treaty on 21 March, ITAR- TASS reported. Echoing Moscow's frequently stated standpoint, Nikolaev said that Duma deputies will most likely link ratification with U.S. attempts to modify the 1972 Anti- Ballistic Missile treaty. JC

PUTIN SUPPORTS MATVIENKO FOR ST. PETE GOVERNOR

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told journalists on 6 March that acting President Putin would like to see her run for the post of governor of St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. Matvienko was speaking after a meeting with Putin in Moscow. She added that she intends to continue consultations with the leaders of the political parties represented in St. Petersburg before making a final decision on her candidacy. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has also expressed his support for Matvienko's possible bid for the post of St. Petersburg city head, Interfax reported on 3 March. JC

PUTIN, LUZHKOV AGREE TO AGREE

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 March that the federal government and the city authorities have reached an agreement on cooperation, Interfax reported. At a recent meeting with acting President Putin, Luzhkov said, "we decided that we will be working closely, hand in hand. It is impossible to do otherwise." The Moscow mayor also told the newspaper that Putin's address to the recent Unity congress in the capital contained "quotes, nearly intact" from Fatherland documents. Luzhkov is a leader of the Fatherland movement. JC

ZYUGANOV CALLS FOR OVERHAUL OF EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Speaking in the State Duma on 6 March, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for "the overhaul of the executive arm of government," ITAR-TASS reported. He said the constitution should be amended to create what he called "budget federalism," under which the federation, the regions, and local government would have equal shares in state revenues. PG

KASYANOV OUTLINES ECONOMIC SITUATION

In an interview with "Izvestiya" published on 6 March, First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Russia is due to pay some $10.2 billion on its foreign debts. He said that an increase in export duties on petroleum products should help Moscow to meet these payments. And Kasyanov predicted that economic growth would rise to 2.5-3 percent "by the end of the year, with inflation between 18-20 percent." Meanwhile, the Russian Central Bank cut the refinancing rate from 45 percent to 38 percent as of 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA, U.S. SIGN FOOD AID AGREEMENTS

Russian and U.S. officials signed agreements on 6 March that will allow Russia to receive 200,000 tons of foodstuffs and 20,000 tons of seeds, ITAR-TASS reported. The aid is to be distributed through non-government organizations. PG

MOSCOW ALLOWS FOREIGNERS TO TAKE OUT MORE CASH

Under new rules, foreign visitors to Russia will now be allowed to take out from the country $1,500 without making a declaration, ITAR-TASS reported. Until now, they had been allowed only $500. The change means that foreigners will enjoy the same allowance as Russian citizens. PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES ISRAELI PLAN TO PULL OUT OF LEBANON

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 6 March issued a statement welcoming Israel's announcement that it will pull its troops out of southern Lebanon by July 2000, Interfax reported. The statement added that Moscow seeks "the resumption of Israel's talks with Syria and Lebanon as soon as possible on the basis of appropriate UN Security Council resolutions and the 'land for peace' principle." PG

ORTHODOX LEADER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST JAPANESE SECT

Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who is also head of the External Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, has spoken out against the continued activities of the Aum Shinro Kyo sect in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. The sect, which was banned in Russia following the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, is "taking advantage of a certain disorder that still exists in our country," Kirill commented during a visit to the Japanese capital. He also argued that Russian laws "on this problem" are not clear enough. According to recent reports, Aum Shinro Kyo adherents have virtually bought up a village in Vladimir Oblast (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 1 March 2000). JC

RUSSIAN JEWISH LEADER INDIGNANT AT U.S. VISA DENIAL

Aleksandr Osovtsov, the executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said on 6 March that the U.S. denial of a visa to a 12-year-old girl whose fingers were cut off during captivity in Chechnya "arouses indignation but not surprise," Interfax reported. Osovtsov said the U.S. has the right to decide to whom to give visas but that the current pattern of denials "looks like a mental derangement, an unfriendly policy with regard not only to the Russian state but to ordinary Russian citizens." PG

SAKHALIN HEAD SEEKS TO BAR FOREIGN FISHING IN OKHOTSK SEA

Igor Farkhutdinov, the governor of Sakhalin, said on 7 March that it has become "a pressing necessity" to close the Sea of Okhotsk to all foreign fishing vessels, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that such a step is necessary to end what he called the "depredation" of the sea's bio-resources and to give Russian fishermen a chance to earn a living. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS DEMAND TO FIRE ASSOCIATES...

In an interview with Armenian National Television on 6 March, Robert Kocharian rejected as "ludicrous" the demand made three days earlier by the Miasnutiun parliament majority that he dismiss two senior officials, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Miasnutiun had called on Kocharian to dismiss his chief of staff, Serzh Sarkisian, and the director of National Television, Tigran Naghdalian, claiming that the two men were obstructing and misrepresenting the investigation into the 27 October parliament shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). Kocharian said on 6 March that National Television did not violate the law by reporting on a 2 March press conference at which the lawyers for two officials accused of complicity in the 27 October killings criticized Chief Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian's conduct of the investigation. LF

...QUESTIONS PARLIAMENT MAJORITY'S POLITICAL MATURITY, COHESION

In his 6 March interview, Kocharian for the first time publicly cast aspersions on Miasnutiun, calling into question its members' political maturity and responsibility, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian also suggested that the People's Party of Armenia, the junior partner within that bloc, agreed to endorse the 3 March ultimatum to him only under pressure from its partner in the alliance, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), of which Prime Minister Aram Sargsian is a member. In a move intended to forestall possible further pressure from senior military officials who are members of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, a sister organization to the HHK, Kocharian on 6 March also signed a decree stressing his constitutional powers to make senior appointments within the armed forces. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT

In a statement issued on 6 March, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) criticized Miasnutiun's ultimatum to Kocharian, warning that political circles should not interfere with judicial investigations under any circumstances, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The HHD statement also expressed concern at the ensuing heightening of tensions in the country, saying that "conflicts and ultimatums that are again emerging between Armenian state institutions are unacceptable at this critical juncture" and "cast doubt on the recent agreement on solidarity and cooperation." That agreement was signed by Prime Minister Sargsian and representatives of the eight political parties represented in the parliament. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

Kocharian's aide Aleksan Harutiunian, who was arrested in December and charged with complicity in the 27 October parliament shootings, has ended the hunger strike he began late last month to demand that the investigation into his case be transferred from the military prosecutor to the Prosecutor- General's Office, Noyan Tapan reported on 6 March. LF

IRAN SLAMS U.S. PRESSURE OVER ARMENIAN GAS PIPELINE PROJECT

The Iranian Embassy in Yerevan issued a statement on 4 March condemning statements made by a senior U.S. official last week, Noyan Tapan reported on 6 March. Jan Kalicki, who is an adviser to the U.S. Department of Commerce, reportedly told Armenian officials that the U.S. opposes plans for Armenia and Iran to push ahead with a long-planned pipeline to supply Armenia with Iranian natural gas. Armenia and Iran resumed talks on that project in Yerevan in February, after the EBRD, along with French and Greek companies, had indicated that they may provide part of the estimated $120 million costs. Kalicki suggested that instead, Armenia could receive Turkmen natural gas through the planned Trans-Caspian pipeline. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS, OPPOSITION COMMENT ON PUTIN'S NATO STATEMENT...

Referring to acting Russian President Vladimir Putin's remark in his BBC interview that Russian does not exclude joining NATO as an equal partner, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said in Baku on 6 March that that remark, if sincerely meant, could have a positive impact on the South Caucasus states, which are seeking integration with the West, Caspian-Caucasus Press reported. But Guliev added that he cannot rule out that Putin's statement was intended primarily "to score political dividends" in the runup to the 26 March presidential election. The chief of the Azerbaijani presidential administration's international relations division, Novruz Mamedov, told Turan that "Russia's intention...to become part [of NATO]" is a positive factor. But leading members of the opposition Musavat and Azerbaijan Popular Front parties suggested that Putin's statement was intended to allay increasing Western concern, resulting from the war in Chechnya, about Russia's policy priorities. LF

...AS DO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER

Speaking in Tbilisi on 6 March, Eduard Shevardnadze characterized Putin's remarks as evidence of the latter's sagacity, adding that Georgia would benefit from a Russian policy aimed at greater integration with the U.S. and Western Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. But Shevardnadze predicted that although Russia may adopt new principles for cooperation with NATO, it is unlikely to become a member of the alliance in the next few years. Deputy Defense Minister Giorgi Katamadze told Caucasus Press he "welcomes Putin's statement." He said Russian membership of NATO would contribute to stability in the South Caucasus. LF

GEORGIA SEEKS TO REASSURE MOSCOW OVER CHECHEN PRESENCE

Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 6 March that no official Chechen representation has been registered in Georgia, nor will such registration be granted, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze was responding to a Russian Foreign Ministry demand that the Chechen representation and information office be closed immediately on the grounds that its staff are abetting Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). Shevardnadze said that Khizri Aldamov, who heads a Chechen bureau in Tbilisi and calls himself Chechnya's representative in Georgia, is a Georgian citizen. LF

KAZAKH OIL OFFICIAL REOPENS TENGIZCHEVROIL DEBATE

Former Kazakh Premier Nurlan Balghymbaev has told the independent weekly newspaper "Karavan" that he supports the proposed sale of part of Kazakhstan's 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil consortium, Interfax reported. Balghymbaev, who now heads the Kazakh state oil company, argued that the Kazakh leadership will not begin receiving dividends from that stake until 2006 at the earliest. When the debate within the Kazakh leadership over the expediency of that sale began late last summer, Balghymbaev said that the sale of part of Kazakhstan's stake in Tengizchevroil "is not an urgent matter." Kazakhstan and Chevron failed last fall to agree on conditions for Chevron to purchase part of the Kazakh stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September and 6 December 1999). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION TO PROPOSE SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?

El (Bei Bechara) Party Chairman Daniyar Usenov said in Bishkek on 6 March that his party, together with the Ar-Namys Party, the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan, the Republican Party, the Kairan El party, and Ata-Meken, will align in a bloc to contest the presidential elections due in December, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Earlier, both Usenov and Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov had announced their intention of running as presidential candidates. LF

FORMER TAJIK PREMIER GETS NEW CABINET POST

President Imomali Rakhmonov on 6 March dismissed opposition politician Davlat Ismonov as minister for the economy and foreign economic relations and appointed in his place former Prime Minister Yahyo Azimov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Ismonov had received that post a year ago as part of the 30 percent quota granted to the opposition under the 1997 peace agreement, whose final provision was parliamentary elections, the first round of which took place on 27 February. Rakhmonov also dismissed and named replacements for eight city or district administrators. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS IN TAJIKISTAN PROTEST MEDIA SLUR

The Press Service of the Russian Border Guard Force in Tajikistan issued a statement on 6 March protesting what it termed an inaccurate report on Tajik television two days earlier, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. That report claimed that Tajik security officials had apprehended 68 kilograms of heroin in the Farkhor district, implying that Russian border guards had failed to intercept that consignment at the Tajik- Afghan border and may have acted in connivance with the smugglers. The Russian statement said such allegations "do not help promote cooperation between allies." LF

TURKMENISTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS PAKISTAN

Boris Shikhmuradov, who arrived in Islamabad on 4 March, has held talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Abdul Sattar, and with a Taliban delegation on the possibility of reviving plans to route a gas export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, ITAR-TASS reported. The original consortium created to implement that project collapsed when the U.S. partner Unocal pulled out in late 1998, but Shikhmuradov said on a visit to Pakistan early last year that his country still intended to forge ahead with the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS OFFICIAL ON 'DIALOGUE'...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 March instructed Uladzimir Rusakevich, deputy head of the presidential administration staff, to hold consultations with leaders of political parties and public associations on their participation in "a dialogue of all sociopolitical forces of Belarus," Belarusian Television reported. Rusakevich, who heads a working group for organizing such a dialogue, appealed to political and public organization leaders to apply to take part in that dialogue by 15 March. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION URGES ACCESS TO MEDIA

A group of media experts from the Consultative Council of Opposition Parties on 6 March said the state-controlled media continue to remain inaccessible for both opposition parties and "a majority of citizens," despite the authorities' declared intention to hold a broad dialogue in society, Belapan reported. The group notes that the official media have launched a campaign to "discredit the political opposition and democratic ideas" in Belarus. The opposition urges the authorities to comply with last year's bilateral accord on opposition parties' access to state-run media. JM

NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO RETURN TO BELARUS?

Citing a source "close to Belarus's top leadership," the 7 March "Novye izvestiya" reported that Moscow and Minsk have reached "an agreement in principle" on returning nuclear weapons to Belarus. The newspaper said missiles with nuclear warheads may reappear in Belarus "as soon as in 2000." According to the newspaper, nuclear missiles could be located in former silos or on former launch pads, but a "more likely" option for Moscow is to deploy mobile launching systems and strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons. "Novye izvestiya" speculates that Russian generals are urging the redeployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus and that such a move would secure Lukashenka's political future. JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER WANTS TO LIMIT PARLIAMENT'S PARTICIPATION IN CIS BODY

Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch said on 6 March that Ukraine's Supreme Council should cease participating in sessions of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Interfax reported. Plyushch said the Ukrainian parliament should maintain contacts with the CIS Inter- Parliamentary Assembly only "at the level of parliamentary committees" to discuss unifying CIS legislation on pensions, social security guarantees for servicemen, and the economy. CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly sessions are not "needed by anybody since they do not imply any commitments," he commented. Plyushch added that limiting the participation of the Supreme Council in the CIS body will save Ukraine money. JM

UKRAINE'S INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION GROWS

The State Statistics Committee on 6 March reported that the country's industrial output grew by 14.7 percent last month, compared with February 1999. Industrial growth was up 10.2 percent in the first two months of 2000, compared with the same period last year. The committee commented that companies increased production to take advantage of cheaper production costs, compared to those of foreign competitors, after the hryvnya lost value owing to the 1998 regional crisis. JM

RUSSIA'S BLACK SEE FLEET HEAVILY INDEBTED TO SEVASTOPOL

Sevastopol Mayor Leonid Zhunko on 6 March said Russia's Black Sea Fleet has run up huge electricity debts to the city and impaired the city's ability to provide normal electricity and gas supplies to residents, Interfax reported. According to Zhunko, the fleet currently owes the city 40 million hryvni ($7.2 million), while the city's annual budget totals 100 million hryvni. Zhunko said Sevastopol has become "hostage to the fleet's untimely payments," but he added that the city administration continues to maintain "working, non- politicized relations" with the fleet. JM

FINNISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN ESTONIA

Erkki Sakari Tuomioja was in Tallinn on 6 March, on his first foreign trip since being appointed foreign minister. Tuomioja, meeting with his Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, discussed the issue of property restitution for those who were evacuated to Finland during the Soviet and Nazi occupations, BNS reported. The two side agreed that each case will be dealt with individually. Tuomioja replaced Tarja Halonen as foreign minister, when the latter won Finland's presidential election. Halonen has said she will make her second foreign visit in that capacity to Estonia, following a trip to Sweden. MH

LATVIAN LAWMAKER NAMED AS KGB AGENT

The Zemgale District Court on 3 March found that parliamentary member Janis Adamsons of the Social Democratic Workers Party had been a KGB staff officer during the Soviet occupation, LETA reported. The court viewed Adamsons's service in the Soviet border guards to have been KGB service. Adamsons said he will appeal the verdict. The parliament can revoke Adamsons's mandate under the lustration rule, which does not allow former KGB operatives to serve as parliamentary members. Leader of the Social Democrats Juris Bojars has admitted to being a KGB agent and does not serve in the parliament. MH

LITHUANIA DROPS TO SECOND PLACE IN NUCLEAR DEPENDENCY

Lithuania dropped to second place, behind France, in terms of dependence on nuclear energy in 1999, BNS reported. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 73.1 percent of electricity was produced by the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, whereas France's dependency stood at 75 percent. Ignalina's decrease in generation was attributed to both a drop in demand and regulatory problems. As a result of the latter, the entire plant was closed for several weeks during the summer. MH

POLISH FARMERS' PROTESTS SMALLER THAN EXPECTED

Some 1,300 farmers erected 11 road blockades and staged more than 30 pickets throughout the country on 6 March to protest the government's agricultural policies, PAP reported. Police spokesman Pawel Biedziak said the protests were smaller than expected owing to the police warning that protesters would be dealt with firmly. Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical farmers' trade union Self-Defense, said 70 road blockades were organized throughout the country and claimed that the protest was a success. "Our goal was achieved, society has realized that the government has not kept any of its promises in the last year," Reuters quoted him as saying. The protest was not supported by the Farmers' Solidarity and the National Association of Farmers and Agricultural Circles and Organizations, both of which are scheduled to hold talks with the government on 8 March. JM

CZECH ANARCHISTS THROW EGGS AT ALBRIGHT...

Two anarchists threw eggs at U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Brno on 6 March, shortly after she had finished giving a speech at the local university, CTK and international agencies reported. The anarchists shouted "death to American imperialism" and were later detained by police, who said the two men may be charged with causing a riot, an offense carrying a penalty of up to two years in jail. In her speech, Albright had said that democracy sometimes requires the "payment of a financial price" in defense of common values. She warned that nuclear proliferation is a great danger and that "to keep the best technology from falling into the wrong hands, U.S. firms are required to forego many potential contracts." The remarks were an allusion to the Czech pledge to cancel delivery of equipment for a nuclear plant under construction in Iran (see also "End Note" below). MS

...PROMPTING PRESIDENTIAL REACTION

"He who is unable to think about the serious problems facing contemporary civilization, including globalization, can do nothing else but take an egg and throw it at somebody," President Vaclav Havel commented on Nova television, according to CTK. MS

HAVEL STILL WANTS ALBRIGHT AS SUCCESSOR

Earlier on 6 March, Havel told journalists that despite Albright's insistence she is not interested in the post, he would still like her to succeed him as president when his term expires in 2003, Reuters reported. He noted that the decision will be made by the Czech parliament and that "there is time enough for consideration." Addressing a ceremony marking 150 years since the birth of Czechoslovakia's first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, in Hodonin, southern Moravia, Havel said he sometimes wonders whether Czech society is capable of defending the freedom for which it had struggled. He noted that Masaryk's legacy shows that one must not hesitate to use force when combating evil. MS

BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES SLOVAK GOVERNMENT

Robin Cook, on a one-day visit to Bratislava on 6 March, said his country supports Slovakia's bid to join NATO and the EU and is prepared to offer Bratislava "political and moral support" to achieve that goal, AP and Reuters reported. Cook also praised the efforts of Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet to improve the situation of minorities, and in particular the situation of the Roma. But he said Britain is not yet ready to remove visa requirements for Slovak citizens, which were introduced in the wake of the 1998 exodus of Roma from Slovakia to the U.K. Cook also praised the government and President Rudolf Schuster's criticism of the plaque about to be unveiled in Zilina in memory of wartime fascist leader Jozef Tiso. MS

HUNGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS

Kalman Gyorgyi tendered his resignation on 6 March to President Arpad Goncz, Hungarian media reported. His resignation had been expected since last week, when the parliament approved incomplete media boards and Gyorgyi pronounced that move to be a violation of the country's media law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). Gyorgyi had served in his post since 1990, and his current term was due to expire in 2002. MSZ




SERBIA CLOSES BORDER WITH MONTENEGRO

Serbian police sealed off the border with Montenegro on 6 March, AP reported. Vojin Djukanovic, Montenegro's economics minister, said the police are allowing only coal, steel, and aluminum to cross from Montenegro. The action has caused long lines of trucks and passenger cars to form at all border crossings. Large quantities of goods are also being confiscated from private cars and bus passengers. Djukanovic said Belgrade "wants to trigger changes in our government by sealing off the border." He said the border was tightened last week after Montenegro secured a $20 million credit from Germany. Montenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic said "raising political tensions and destabilizing Montenegro is a permanent task of the Belgrade regime." PB

KFOR TROOPS STEP UP EFFORTS ALONG KOSOVA'S BORDERS...

NATO- led peacekeepers in Kosova (KFOR) have increased control over the Kosova border region in an effort to calm tensions in the adjoining area where ethnic Albanians and Serbian security forces have clashed, AP reported on 7 March. KFOR troops are hoping that increased vehicle and foot patrols will stop a flow of weapons and armed guerrillas from leaving Kosova and going to a predominantly ethnic Albanian area just outside Kosova. NATO's commander in Kosova, General Klaus Reinhardt, said at the UN in New York that movement across the boundary was previously unrestricted. He said "we cannot support any adventurism which might lead to new atrocities in the Presevo valley." Reinhardt added that several armed people have been arrested recently trying to travel to the Dobrosin region. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that some 630 ethnic Albanians from the Presevo area registered in Kosova on 6 March. PB

...WHILE YUGOSLAV ARMY BEGINS EXERCISES NEAR KOSOVA

Yugoslavia's Pristina Corps has begun "regular" spring maneuvers near the border area with Kosova, Reuters reported. Major Milan Mojsilovic said "our unit is carrying out regular planned exercises." He said the troops are 9 kilometers from Kosova. There is a 5-kilometer buffer zone around the Kosova border. An increase in military operations in southern Serbia prompted Macedonia to put its troops along the Serbian border on higher alert. PB

UN CHIEF IN KOSOVA SAYS IT'S TIME TO TALK ABOUT PROVINCE'S FUTURE

Bernard Kouchner told the UN Security Council in New York on 6 March that it is time to hold talks on the province's political future and draft an interim constitution, Reuters reported. Kouchner said the council needs to define what it meant by "substantial autonomy" for Kosova. Kouchner said until this is clarified, the Serbian minority in Kosova fears it will be pushed out of the province. Kouchner said local elections for Kosova could be held in September or October but need to fit into an overall political structure for the province that is still undefined. NATO commander Reinhardt said the relationship between ethnic Albanians and minority communities is intolerable and has been "exacerbated by the continuing ambiguity over Kosovo's future." PB

SERBIAN OFFICIALS USE FORCE IN BID TO CLOSE TV STATION

Serbian opposition leaders condemned as "state terrorism" a raid on the transmitter site of the opposition television station Studio B on 6 March, Reuters reported. Dragan Kojadinovic, editor in chief of the station, said five people in police fatigues beat up two workers and then destroyed equipment at the station's main transmitter site. He said the repression "has now taken on the form of a real war against Studio B." Later that same day, a Belgrade court fined Studio B and Kojadinovic 450,000 dinars (about $11,000 at the black market rate) for breaking an information law during a live broadcast. It was also ordered by Yugoslavia's Telecommunications Ministry to pay some $900,000 in outstanding costs in eight days or face closure. Studio B has been jammed for months. It is owned by the Belgrade City Council and controlled by Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement. PB

CROATIAN PREMIER SAYS NEW EVIDENCE COULD CLEAR BLASKIC

Ivica Racan said on 6 March that recently discovered files on the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina could strengthen the appeal of convicted General Tihomir Blaskic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000), Reuters reported. Racan said the government of late President Franjo Tudjman withheld some files from Blaskic's lawyers at The Hague. Racan said the new files may help identify those who carried out the crimes in central Bosnia that Blaskic was found guilty of allowing. Racan added that the 45-year sentence given to Blaskic was "unduly high" considering he did not take part in any killings and because he had turned himself in to the authorities. PB

CONVICTED WORLD WAR II COMMANDER APPEALS SENTENCE

Dinko Sakic, who was found guilty last year of crimes against humanity for his part as commander of the World War II camp at Jasenovac, has filed an appeal against his 20-year prison sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 1999). The appeal was filed with the country's Supreme Court. PB

POLICE ARREST BOSNIAN CROATS ON WAR CRIMES CHARGES

Police in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar have arrested five Bosnian Croats suspected of committing war crimes, AP reported on 7 March. Public prosecutor Ibro Bulic said the five were Bosnian Croat soldiers, including Zeljko Djidic, the former head of the Mostar branch of the Croatian Democratic Union party. They are accused of "ethnic cleansing" and other war crimes against civilians and prisoners and are also wanted for questioning in the disappearance of 13 Muslim soldiers arrested in Mostar in 1993. Bulic said the arrests of the Bosnian Croats were approved by the UN war crimes tribunal. PB

SENIOR EU OFFICIAL IN ALBANIA

European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten began a week-long visit to the Balkans on 6 March with a stop in Tirana, dpa reported. Patten held talks with Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, Premier Ilir Meta, and Foreign Minister Paskal Milo. An Albanian government spokesman said the leaders discussed their desire for closer ties with the EU. They also urged that negotiations on a stabilization and association agreement with the EU begin this year. In other news, Greece is investigating allegations that Greek officials in Tirana and Gjirokaster illegally issued visas to Albanians, allegedly at the request of Albanian government officials. The Athenian daily "Ethnos" reported that Albanian Foreign Minister Milo regularly sent lists of the names of people for whom Tirana wanted visas to be issued and that those lists received blanket approval. PB

ROMANIAN COALITION CRISIS OVER?

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Chairman (PNTCD) Ion Diaconescu on 6 March said he has secured the agreement of the National Liberal Party (PNL) to replace Victor Babiuc with Sorin Frunzaverde as defense minister, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Diaconescu added that he has received a letter from Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman assuring him that all laws that the PNTCD and the PNL consider to take priority will be supported by the Democrats once an agreement on Babiuc's replacement as defense minister is reached. A meeting of the coalition leadership has been scheduled for 9 March in a bid to finalize that agreement. Earlier on 6 March, President Emil Constantinescu urged Diaconescu and PNL leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus to find as soon as possible a solution to the coalition crisis so that the legislature can pass urgently-needed legislation. MS

ROMANIAN ULTRA-NATIONALIST TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

The National Council of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 5 March nominated PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor as its candidate for president and Corneliu Ciontu as first deputy chairman, replacing Valeriu Buzea, who died earlier this year. Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar was appointed director of the PRM electoral campaign. Tudor said the PRM supports Romania's EU integration, provided the country's national sovereignty is fully respected. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER

Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea on 6 March told journalists that Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman's recent comments suggesting that the situation in Moldova has become more "complicated" and shows signs of "aggravating tension" are "ungrounded." Golea said that the government crisis in Moldova has been overcome and Dumitru Braghis's cabinet is seeking to establish "mutually beneficial relations" with Romania. Roman's comments that "one must await the results of the next presidential election" in Moldova can also be applied to Romania, he added. Golea also said Lucinschi has instructed the Foreign Ministry to follow up reports in the Romanian media that local police will be authorized to grant citizenship to Moldovans. The Moldovan constitution prohibits dual citizenship. MS

MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS

Deputy Premier Eugen Slopac resigned on 6 March, RFE/RL's Chisinau Bureau reported. Slopac, who was in charge of the economy and reform, said his resignation came at the "insistence" of the Australian QBE insurance company that he head the Moldovan-Australian joint venture QBE-ASITO. He said the Australians have invested $5 million in the joint venture, but only on condition that Slopac take over its management. "I am not going to return to politics. I am an economist, not a politician," he commented. MS




ALBRIGHT PRESSES FOR DEMOCRATIZATION IN THE BALKANS


By Lisa McAdams

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said one of the themes of her three-day visit to the Czech Republic is "democratization" and what the U.S. and Czech governments can do to further the cause of peace and ethnic tolerance in the Balkans.

Speaking in Prague on 6 March, Albright said the Czech Republic could serve as a "model" for peaceful democratic transition in the region, and she urged the democratic opposition in Serbia to take note: "It's important for them to look at lessons from this part of the world, where dissidents who might have disagreed on some long-term goals, or even some tactics, ultimately figured out it was in their advantage to ultimately cooperate together and get rid of a dictatorship."

Albright said this is where the importance of sustained contact with NGOs enters in--a process she said the West hopes to better facilitate in the days and weeks ahead.

Asked to comment on increasing tensions in southern Serbia, Albright expressed the U.S.'s "deep concern." And she warned ethnic Albanians there not to miscalculate the international community's determination to keep the peace. Albright made the comment after being asked to address suggestions that the Kosovar Albanians could try to provoke Serbia, in order to spur a western military response.

"The international community is devoting a great deal of time and energy into helping the Kosovars create a place where they can exercise a high degree of autonomy and self- government," she noted. "That is what the U.S. is concentrating on, and that is what the Kosovars should concentrate on too."

Albright was also asked her view on whether it is possible to defeat dictatorship and violence with democracy. She responded by saying that negative, repressive tactics may work for a time, but she said they ultimately prove to be "flawed." Here, she named Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as a case in point, saying that she believed Milosevic wanted to be "another Tito" but instead is "another Enver Hoxha," who has "isolated [his people] and given them a lower standard of living than they have ever had. I don't think the Serb people deserve Milosevic. They are a good people who want to lead a peaceful life, and they don't deserve a leader like him."

Albright heads to the Balkans on 8 March, where she will make stops in Sarajevo, Brcko and Banja Luka. She told RFE/RL the purpose of the trip is to stress U.S. support for the creation of strong state institutions. Albright, who has long described herself as a "realistic optimist," said she believes democracy ultimately will win out in the Balkans. But not before a fair amount of burden-sharing between the U.S. and the West.

Albright also described recent events in Croatia as a bright beacon, signaling democratic change. And she credited the united opposition in that country with helping to foster the change: "What President Mesic and Prime Minister Racan made quite clear is they want to support the federation and central institutions in Sarajevo, instead of doing what [Croatian President] Franjo Tudjman did, which was to support separatism. So, that is a big step forward."

Albright said officials in Zagreb also had urged Serbs to return to Croatia--an appeal Albright said should serve as a guiding principle for how things ought to be done in the Balkans. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington.


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