INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS CLAIM BABITSKII IS ALIVE...
Russian Interior Ministry officials said in Moscow on 10 and 11 February that RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitskii is alive. AP quoted spokesman Oleg Aksenov as telling Russian Television on 10 February that Babitskii is in the village of Alkhazurovo in southern Chechnya. According to Reuters on 11 February, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said Babitskii may be in Duba-Yurt with President Aslan Maskhadov. "The Moscow Times, " for its part, quoted staff at RFE/RL's Moscow bureau as saying on 11 February that in a letter dated 3 February, which appears to be authentic, a Russian soldier mentions having seen Babitskii at the Chernokozovo filtration camp in northern Chechnya, where detainees are routinely tortured and raped. LF
...AS EC INSISTS ON RIGHT TO INVESTIGATE HIS DISAPPEARANCE
European Commission President Romano Prodi told journalists on 11 February that the commission "has a strong commitment on Chechnya" and will insist on sending a mission to Russia to investigate the circumstances of Babitskii's disappearance, Reuters reported. In Moscow, prominent human rights activists have addressed an open letter to acting President Vladimir Putin calling for the release of all information concerning Babitskii's disappearance, according to Interfax. LF
BABITSKII CASE LINKED TO DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER'S DEPARTURE...
Yabloko deputy Vladimir Lukin told RFE/RL on 10 February that the recent resignation of Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov could be an indication that the Russian government is looking for scapegoats to blame for the alleged exchange of Babitskii for two (or possibly three) Russian soldiers. Kolesnikov was considered a candidate for the top post at the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2000). On 11 February, 277 State Duma deputies voted not to include discussion of Babitskii on their agenda. Lawmakers had also rejected a similar request on 9 February. JAC
...DESCRIBED AS POLITICAL MISTAKE
Former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais told reporters that the exchange of Babitskii was "undoubtedly a mistake." He added that "there is no doubt that in its essence and [given] its further consequences, including with regard to acting President Putin, [the exchange] is negative." "Segodnya" reported on 10 February that in a opinion poll of 3,299 of its readers, 70 percent said that their attitude toward Putin has "worsened" in light of the Babitskii affair, while 30 percent said it has improved. "Segodnya" backed the Kremlin's chief opposition, the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, during the December 1999 State Duma elections. JAC
CHECHEN PRESIDENT VOWS ALL-OUT GUERRILLA WAR
In a videotaped interview acquired by Reuters on 10 February and reportedly filmed two days earlier, Maskhadov announced the beginning of "a large-scale civil war in the mountains, the lowlands, in every village," Reuters reported. He added that the Chechen people "are rising up," having realized that the Russian military campaign is directed against them rather than against "terrorists," as Moscow claims. Maskhadov also criticized the recent decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to postpone a debate on whether Russia's membership in the council should be suspended because of that country's actions in Chechnya. Maskhadov expressed regrets that six months after the war began, not a single representative of the UN, the OSCE, or the European Parliament has offered to meet with him. LF
RUSSIAN FORCES CLAIM TO TAKE ITUM-KALE
Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 10 February said that federal forces took control of the south Chechen town of Itum-Kale earlier the same day, Interfax reported. That town controls the highway south to Georgia. He added that the village of Serzhen-Yurt, where Chechen units are based, was almost completely surrounded by Russian troops the previous day and that a 100-strong detachment of Chechen fighters commanded by Arbi Baraev were ambushed trying to retreat south to the mountains. There has been no confirmation of those claims from the Chechen side. LF
PUTIN PLEDGES FUNDS FOR CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION
Acting President Putin told a government session on 10 February that some 50 million rubles ($1.8 million) have already been spent on restoring Chechnya's economy and that amount could increase to 2 billion rubles. Interfax reported. He added that medical and education facilities and Chechnya's energy system have been totally destroyed. In an indication that Moscow may be hoping to destroy the national awareness of the younger generation of Chechens, Putin advocated that "special attention should be paid" to sending young Chechens to study elsewhere in the Russian Federation. He called on the cabinet to draft a program to this effect. Later on 10 February, Putin flew to Krasnodar where he met with the commander of the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Viktor Kazantsev, and praised the performance of those troops as "excellent." LF
MORE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES REGISTERED...
The Liberal Democratic Party submitted some 574,600 signatures in support of the presidential candidacy of its leader, Vladimir Zhirinovskii, to the Central Election Commission on 10 February, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Zhirinovskii's support is strongest in Arkhangelsk, Bryansk, Rostov, and Nizhnii Novgorod Oblasts. So far, the commission has also received signatures for two other candidates, acting President Putin and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. On 9 February, the commission officially registered Aleksei Podberezkin, head of the Spiritual Heritage movement. The only other officially registered candidate so far is Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. On 9 February, he said he would like to debate the leading candidate, Putin, on public television. JAC
...AS POTENTIAL FIRST PETS PROFILED
London's "The Times" reported on 11 February that the name of Putin's white poodle, which made its debut on Russian Public Television three days earlier, is Chiapa, which roughly translates as "Pooch." The Putins' previous dog, a Caucasian sheepdog, was called Malysh or "Young Lad." According to the daily, Zyuganov owns a tabby with red-and-yellow markings--the same colors as the Soviet flag--called Vaska, while Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii owns two dogs, a pedigree Alsatian and a mixed-breed, whose names were not given. JAC
RUSSIA TO REINTRODUCE MILITARY TRAINING FOR SCHOOLCHILDREN
"The Moscow Times" reported on 11 February that acting President Putin signed a decree on 31 December reintroducing military training in schools. The decree requires two to three hours of military training in schools a week. Schoolgirls will receive basic medical training, while boys will be taught how to take apart a Kalashnikov automatic rifle and put it back together again. Meanwhile, in Belgorod Oblast, Governor Yevgenii Savchenko recently issued a decree stipulating that all residents of the oblast over the age of seven receive training in how to respond in the event of "hostilities or terrorist acts" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 9 February 2000.) JAC
DUMA MINORITY GROUPS PUT FORTH CANDIDATES FOR REJECTION
Despite having said earlier that they would not nominate candidates for the deputy speaker positions in the State Duma, the Duma minority groups of Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko each put forth one candidate. OVR Deputy Georgii Boos was elected deputy speaker on 11 February, while Yabloko deputy Vladimir Lukin and SPS deputy Boris Nemtsov were rejected. The required number of votes was 226: Lukin got only 194 and Nemtsov 177. Meanwhile, First Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told reporters on 10 February that the State Duma will consider the second part of the Tax Code in its second reading by the end of April. JAC
NIKOLAEV DISCUSSES STATE OF THE ARMY
Retired General Andrei Nikolaev, who is chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee and is considered by some a possible future defense minister, gave an interview to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 10 February in which he discussed the state of the armed forces. Bemoaning the lack of clearly defined goals and objectives for those forces, Nikolaev suggested the use of terms such as "prevention" and "deterrent" are meant to deflect attention from "the really important question"; namely, "What happens if prevention fails?" Asked about reforming the military sphere, Nikolaev suggested that the reform must be more systematic, since the "chaotic moves made nowadays" do nothing to ensure "military security." And with regard to the "discord" between the legislative and executive authorities, Nikolaev expressed optimism that given the "bitter experience of mutual misunderstanding" and the need to solve "common" problems, the two branches will start working together "sooner or later, setting aside personal ambitions." JC
WILL HE, WON'T HE?
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Tokyo on 11 February that he is scheduled "in principle" to meet with NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson in Moscow on 16 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier this week, Russian and NATO officials had issued contradictory statements, with the former suggesting that Robertson's visit was to be postponed and the latter maintaining no date had been set in the first place. Meanwhile, Robertson himself did nothing to clear up the confusion when he commented in Bucharest on 10 February that "there is still a possibility" that the visit will take place at "some point in the near future" but declined to give a date, according to Reuters. JC
NEW JUDGE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT SUGGESTED
Acting President Putin is to nominate Nikolai Bondar of the Rostov State University's Law Department for a seat in the Constitutional Court, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 February. According to the agency, the Federation Council will discuss Bondar's candidacy on 16 February. Bondar, 49, would replace Nikolai Vederenikov, who has reached retirement age. JAC
SMALL-BUSINESS REGISTRATION DRIVE TO BE LAUNCHED
State Statistics Committee head Vladimir Sokolin announced that his organization is planning to register all Russia's small businesses in 2001, "Vremya MN" reported on 10 February. This summer, a pilot program will be conducted in seven regions. Sokolin added that the registration process generally takes five to 10 years in developing countries. Labor Minister Sergei Kalashnikov told reporters on 10 February that 30,000 small businesses were created in 1999. He added that no fewer than 50,000 should be started in 2000, employing some 250,000 people. JAC
MORE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CRITICIZE UKRAINE'S LANGUAGE POLICY
Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov on 10 February criticized Ukraine for its policy on the use of the Russian language. Mironov said that Ukraine's restriction on the official and business use of the Russian language "is a gross and explicit violation of the norms of civilized relations among peoples and of the basic rights and freedoms of citizens proclaimed by the European Convention, to which Ukraine is a signatory," ITAR-TASS reported. He also urged international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE to increase their monitoring of the situation. Mironoov's comments follow a similar unofficial condemnation by the Russian Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2000). JAC
MINIMUM PRICE OF VODKA RAISED
The Economics Ministry has announced that the minimum price for 1 liter of vodka will increase from 56 rubles ($2) to 62 rubles as of 25 February, Vremya MN reported on 11 February. According to Reuters, short lines have begun to form at shops where customers are hoping to stock up. The agency added that at least one Russian pensioner reacted to the price increase by vowing not to vote for acting President Putin. JAC
PUPPETS SAFE FOR NOW
Presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov told reporters on 10 February that acting President Putin does not intend to file any complaints against the popular weekly puppet show "Kukly." Earlier, some professors at Putin's alma mater, St. Petersburg University had issued a statement expressing their "regret about the two most recent episodes," which presented "not only grotesque but completely indecent parodies of major national political leaders, including Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," "Kommersant-Daily" reported. NTV spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova told "The Moscow Times" that the letter recalled the Soviet era. "It seems like people will be writing this type of letter now," she added. "Kukly" producer Viktor Shenderovich told Ekho Moskvy that "Vladimir Putin has not become president yet, but toadies are bending over backward to please him. I think their main aim is not to imprison us but to show the acting president" that he has supporters willing to defend his honor. JAC
ARMENIAN PREMIER REJECTS CALLS FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Aram Sargsian said in an interview published in "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" on 10 February that calls for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian in the wake of the 27 October parliament shootings are understandable, but he added that Kocharian should not resign at present because Armenia "is in need of stability like never before." Sargsian added that "there is no real or deep disagreement as such" between himself and the president, but he hinted that tensions nonetheless derive from the present distribution of power between the president and prime minister. LF
ARMENIAN EX-PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER TO REMAIN IN DETENTION
At the request of Armenia's military prosecutor, Kocharian's former adviser Aleksan Harutiunian will be held in pre-trial confinement for another two months, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 February. Harutiunian resigned and was taken into custody in December on suspicion of involvement in the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 21 December 1999). LF
ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DENY PRO-RUSSIAN BIAS IN ENERGY SYSTEM PRIVATIZATION
The World Bank has reportedly expressed concern to Armenian Prime Minister Sargsian over rumors that Yerevan may give unwarranted preferential treatment to a subsidiary of Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom in the ongoing tender for privatization of four energy distributing enterprises, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 10 February. On 8 February, Energy Minister David Zadoyan had denied those rumors, pledging the "maximum transparency" in the sell-off. He added that the decisive factor would be the level of investment that potential buyers are prepared to make in the energy sector. In addition to Gazprom, four companies--from the U.S., Switzerland, Italy, and Spain--are short-listed. LF
DETAINED JOURNALIST RELEASED IN AZERBAIJAN
Elbey Hasanli, the "Yeni Musavat" journalist abducted from the newspaper's Baku headquarters on 7 February and taken to Nakhichevan, was released on 9 February and allowed to return to Baku, Turan reported. Hasanli told fellow-reporters the following day that he had been pressured to retract a report that Vagif Talybov, the brother of the Nakhichevan parliamentary speaker, demands a $200 bribe from persons applying for a passport. Hasanli said he was taken before a Nakhichevan court and sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment for refusing to obey police instructions. He was then released and allowed to return to the capital. Hasanli said that local leaders of other Azerbaijani opposition parties are currently being held in detention in Nakhichevan (see also "End Note" below). LF
TWELFTH CANDIDATE NOMINATED FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL
An initiative group representing Georgia's unemployed has proposed engineer Gela Gelashvili as a candidate in the 9 April presidential elections, Caucasus Press reported on 10 February. LF
GEORGIA SAYS RUSSIAN PLANES AGAIN VIOLATE ITS AIRSPACE
Russian military aircraft five times flew 10-15 kilometers into Georgian airspace on 10 February, Caucasus Press reported, quoting a Georgian Frontier Department official. OSCE observers deployed along the Georgian-Chechen border reportedly registered the incursions. Two Russian military helicopters entered the same sector of Georgia's airspace one week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2000). LF
KAZAKHSTAN TO HOLD ELECTIONS FOR REGIONAL GOVERNORS?
The cabinet has submitted to the lower chamber of the parliament a draft law on the election of regional governors, which might take place this summer, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 10 February, quoting unnamed sources within the presidential administration. Until now, the appointment of governors has been the prerogative of the president. In April 1999, Nursultan Nazarbaev had argued that popular elections to the post of governor could "destabilize the social and economic situation" (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). Azamat movement leader Ghalym Abelseitov said his organization is ready to propose candidates for those elections, while members of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan said they might also do so but that the identity of those candidates would not be made public in advance. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY ASKS SUPREME COURT TO REVERSE ELECTION BAN
Jypar Jeksheev, who is chairman of the Party of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan (PDMK), told journalists in Bishkek on 10 February that delegates to an emergency party congress the previous day appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse a district court's 5 February ruling barring the party from contesting the 20 February parliamentary elections under the proportional system, RFE/RL correspondents in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The local court had endorsed a complaint by three former members of the party who alleged they had been unjustly prevented from attending the PDMK's 5 January congress. Jeksheev explained that the three were not entitled to attend as they had not been selected as delegates by their local party branches. On 25 January, the Central Electoral Commission registered the PDMK as a participant in the poll. LF
SOME REGISTERED CANDIDATES NOT TO BE LISTED ON KYRGYZ BALLOT SHEET?
Kyrgyz Central Electoral Commission official Tynybek MomunAliyev said in Bishkek on 10 February that the names of only 418 of the 455 candidates originally registered to run in single-mandate constituencies will be printed on the relevant ballot sheets, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said the remaining candidates were excluded for reasons he declined to specify. Originally, 239 candidates registered to contend 45 seats in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and 216 for the 45 seats in the People's Assembly (upper house). A further 15 seats in the Legislative Assembly will be allocated under the party list system. Nine political parties and two blocs will contend those seats. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS NO NEGOTIATIONS WITH OPPOSITION
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 February said he is not going "to sit at either a round or square or any other table with the opposition," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. He added that "as a political factor, the opposition is unable to influence the situation in the country in any way." And he noted that he has not authorized anybody to hold negotiations with the opposition, saying that the authorities are ready to participate in "a general political dialogue, but not in negotiations." Lukashenka was speaking at a cabinet meeting devoted to Belarus's foreign-policy guidelines, where he stated that international recognition of the 2000 parliamentary elections in Belarus will be a "decisive factor" in stabilizing the country's foreign-policy course. JM
BELARUSIAN POLICE REPORTEDLY USE INTIMIDATION TO DISCREDIT DEFECTOR
Mikhail Baturyn on 10 February said two men who introduced themselves as police officers insisted earlier the same day that he write a statement saying his brother Aleh, a police officer, is mentally ill, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. When Mikhail refused to comply with the demand, the men hit him and threatened to arrest his fiancee. Mikhail managed to escape from them and sought shelter with his fiancee in the Belarusian Popular Front headquarters, where he told journalists his story. His brother Aleh had published an open letter, accusing the police of provoking clashes during the opposition "Freedom March" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2000). "My brother is a totally sane man," Mikhail said. An RFE/RL Minsk correspondent reported that a videotape of Aleh's interview has been handed to the OSCE mission and a number of embassies in Minsk. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 2000 BUDGET IN SECOND READING
Lawmakers on 10 February voted by 241 to six with one abstention to approve a 2000 budget draft in the second reading, excluding those articles that include budget figures, Interfax reported. A third reading of the bill including those budget figures will take place on 15 February. According to the agency, leftist minority deputies took the floor during the debate but neither registered nor voted. Natalya Vitrenko's progressive Socialists remained in seats in the public area during the debate. Speaker Ivan Plyushch announced the dissolution of Vitrenko's caucus, which has only 11 deputies (at least 14 are necessary to form such a group). JM
COURT ASKED TO RULE ON CONSTITUTIONALITY OF UKRAINIAN REFERENDUM
Serhiy Holovatyy, an independent deputy who belongs to neither the leftist minority nor the center-right majority, said on 10 February that he has collected the signatures of more than 45 lawmakers asking the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the presidential decree providing for the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported. The signatures of at least 45 lawmakers are required for the Constitutional Court to make such a ruling. Holovatyy said many other deputies support the motion but refused to sign it because they fear "reprisals." According to Holovatyy, signatures supporting the referendum were falsified in "Zhytomyr, Lviv, and other regions." Holovatyy also accused the presidential administration of concealing a letter from Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly head Lord Russell-Johnston in which the latter expresses his "serious anxiety" about the referendum. JM
'KILLER SON' OF WELL-KNOWN ESTONIAN GETS 10 YEARS
A Narva court on 10 February sentenced Aleksei Paal to 10 years in prison for the murder of his father, Anatoli Paal, director of the Narva Power Plant and former deputy mayor of Narva (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 1999), "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. Aleksei Paal first confessed to the killing last June. However, he recanted when the trial began, denying any involvement in the killing. The murder apparently took place during a domestic dispute. MH
EC PRESIDENT VISITS LATVIA
During a visit to Latvia on 9-10 February, European Commission President Romano Prodi, reassured Latvia of continued EU support for its membership drive. The EU plans to allocate 100 million euros ($98.5 million) to Latvia this year for its European integration bid. That money is intended mainly to help improve the business climate, according to Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, who accompanied Prodi to Latvia, LETA and BNS reported. Prodi told the parliament that a compromise needs to be worked out over Latvia's decision to impose import tariffs on pork, as the interests of Latvian farmers also need to be recognized. This appears to be a softening of an earlier EC position strongly criticizing the move as a violation of Latvia's agreements with the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). Prodi also expressed satisfaction with Latvia's integration policy. MH
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT RFE/RL'S BABITSKII
In its fourth resolution on Chechnya in the past few months, the Lithuanian parliament on 10 February expressed concern over the fate of RFE/RL's Andrei Babitskii and deplored the way the journalist "was captured by the Russian military and allegedly handed over to unidentified persons." The resolution added that the "Russian government has to take direct responsibility for the journalist's safety from the moment of his arrest," BNS reported. The statement also calls for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to convene an emergency session to discuss the Chechen conflict and Babitskii. MH
POLAND'S KWASNIEWSKI SAID TO HAVE NO PROBLEM WINNING RE- ELECTION
Leszek Miller, chairman of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, said on 10 February that the result of this year's presidential elections is predetermined, PAP reported. According to Miller, incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski will have "no problems" in being elected for a second term. A poll held by the CBOS polling center in mid- January said 81 percent of respondents assess Kwasniewski's performance positively. Another mid-January poll, conducted by the OBOP polling center, suggested 61 percent will vote for Kwasniewski as president. Miller, who has already expressed support for Kwasniewski's re-election bid, said his party "is now focusing its attention" on next year's parliamentary elections. JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER WELCOMES AUSTRIAN POLICY STATEMENT
Jan Kavan on 10 February welcomed the policy statement that Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel made to the parliament, CTK reported. The statement included none of the points that had been made public earlier and against which Kavan's ministry had protested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). Kavan also welcomed Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner's statement that the Austrian government does not link EU enlargement to the revoking of the 1945 Benes decrees. However, Kavan emphasized that fears about the new Austrian government's policies persist and that his ministry will be "carefully monitoring" the situation. He said that Austria's reaction to earlier Czech statements demonstrates that these were "right, balanced..., and not [made] under the pressure of emotions." MS
HUNGARY'S FIDESZ REJECTS CSURKA'S COALITION OFFER
Istvan Csurka, chairman of the opposition extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), confirmed on 10 February that his party expects to enter into a coalition with the ruling Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ- MPP) in 2002, Hungarian media reported. FIDESZ deputy chairman Zoltan Illes responded by saying that "no one in the party's leadership is considering this possibility." Illes said he respects the fact that MIEP won seats in the parliament through the will of the voters but noted that FIDESZ will not work with the radical right. MSZ
CYANIDE SPILL CAUSES DISASTER IN HUNGARY
The cyanide spill into the Romanian part of the Tisza River has resulted in more than 10 tons of toxic waste, the daily "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 11 February. European Commission Vice President Loyola de Palacio said in Budapest that the EU will examine the possibility of compensating Hungary for the damage. Hungarian Environment Minister Pal Pepo and Romanian Deputy Environment Minister Anton Vlad, meeting in the Romanian town of Oradea, agreed to set up an interministerial committee to assess the damage. Brett Montgomery, the president of the Australian company that co-owns the Romanian company from which the cyanide originated, said reports about an environmental disaster are "grossly exaggerated." MSZ
SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS PRAISE DECISION TO EASE SANCTIONS
Serbian opposition leaders said on 10 February that a decision by the EU and the U.S. to ease some sanctions against Yugoslavia would benefit democratic forces, AP reported. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic said Serbia "should not be treated like a crisis area...with forceful interventions." He added that ending an air embargo would allow the Serbian people to realize that the opposition is "the democratic alternative...that we are making life better here and (will) take our country out of isolation." A formal decision by the EU on easing sanctions is expected on 14 February. An EU official in Brussels said on 11 February that the ban on air links with Yugoslavia will be suspended only if member states agree to tighten other sanctions. PB
SLAIN YUGOSLAV DEFENSE MINISTER BURIED...
Pavle Bulatovic was buried in Gornji Rovci, Montenegro on 10 February at a ceremony attended by thousands of people. Yugoslav Premier Momir Bulatovic (no relation) and the chief of the general staff of the Yugoslav army, Dragoljub Ojdanic, were the highest ranking Yugoslav officials in attendance. Bulatovic was assassinated in Belgrade on 7 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2000). PB
...AS SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER THREATENS INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS
Vojislav Seselj, who is also the chairman of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, said on 10 February that independent journalists "working for the Americans" will suffer "the worst possible consequences," the radio station B2-92 reported. Seselj said in an interview that journalists "working for foreign intelligence services are murderers." He said that "whoever lives by the sword can die by the sword and you should keep this in mind." Seselj named the Belgrade dailies "Danas," "Blic," "Glas javnosti," "Novosti," and B2- 92 as the media organizations he was referring to. PB
SERBIAN TEACHER STRIKE GROWS
The teachers' strike, which entered its 11th day on 11 February, now includes teachers from some 770 elementary and high schools across Serbia, Beta reported. The strike, which is in protest at low and unpaid salaries and is being led by four teachers' unions, has reportedly been joined by 48 percent of teachers in Serbia. PB
FRANCE DEFENDS ITS TROOPS' ROLE IN KOSOVA...
The French Defense Ministry denied reports on 10 February that its troops were biased toward Serbs, and it defended their work in keeping ethnic Albanians and Serbs apart in Mitrovica, Reuters reported. The ministry's spokesman said "there was no favoritism by France..., everyone knows the French contingent is in the most delicate of positions in Kosovo, in between two hostile communities." Western papers recently charged that French troops did not properly protect ethnic Albanians being attacked by a Serbian mob in Mitrovica and failed to take the injured to a French-run hospital. The same day, 140 British troops were sent to Mitrovica to help qualm the violence that has led to the deaths of at least 10 and injured dozens in the past week. PB
...AS REPORT SAYS CONDITIONS FOR MINORITIES REMAINS BAD
A report by the UNHCR and the OSCE says the situation for minorities in Kosova "has not improved" since an earlier report was issued in November, Reuters reported on 11 February. According to this latest assessment, in some places the situation has even deteriorated: "Kosovo continues to be volatile and potentially dangerous, with ethnicity often remaining a determining factor in the risk of falling victim to crime." The report calls on political leaders to accept more responsibility in creating a tolerant society. PB
ANOTHER MASS GRAVE FOUND IN KOSOVA
NATO-led peacekeeping forces said on 10 February that a mass grave containing between eight and 10 bodies was discovered near the village of Mires, about 22 kilometers south of Prishtina, AP reported. PB
CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BOSNIA
Tonino Picula arrived in Sarajevo on 10 February on his first official foreign visit, Hina reported. The trip is seen as a gesture by Zagreb that improved relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina are a major policy goal of the new government. Picula will meet with top Bosnian officials as well as with representatives of the international community overseeing the implementation of the Dayton agreement. Before leaving for Sarajevo, Picula said that Premier Ivica Racan will meet with NATO Secretary- General Lord Robertson in Brussels on 14 February and apply for membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He added that Racan will also meet with EU officials to "open a new page in our relations." PB
CROATIAN PRESIDENT KEEN TO RESOLVE PROBLEMS WITH SLOVENIA
Stipe Mesic said on 10 February that outstanding disputes between Slovenia and Croatia must be resolved soon, Hina reported. Mesic told Slovenia's POP-TV that "there are problems, but they can be solved. They must be solved by this generation, and they must be solved during my mandate." Mesic said the resolution of disputes with Bosnia and Slovenia are of paramount importance for Zagreb to be accepted into the EU and NATO. Croatia and Slovenia have yet to resolve a sea- border issue and problems over a nuclear power plant located in Slovenia near the Croatian border. PB
SIX BALKAN STATES RESOLVE TO INCREASE TRADE, INFRASTRUCTURE
Officials from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and Romania agreed on 10 February to set up a program to encourage free trade and transportation across their borders, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The EU, the U.S., and the World Bank will give financial aid for the upgrading of border crossings, customs administration, and enhancing the Internet infrastructure in order to increase the flow of information among those countries. The program is to be completed by 2003. PB
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BUCHAREST
Lord Robertson on 10 February thanked Romania for its assistance to NATO during the Kosova conflict. He met with President Emil Constantinescu, Foreign Minister Petre Roman, and other officials, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In response to a question from journalists, Robertson said the guarantees that NATO extended to Romanian security during the conflict in Kosova are no longer applicable since, he commented, there is no longer any conflict in which Romania is involved. He said NATO members will decide in 2002 on the organization's further expansion and that until then candidate states must continue economic and military reforms to meet NATO standards. MS
BUCHAREST MAYOR LEAVES RULING PARTY
Viorel Lis on 10 February announced he is resigning from the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD). He accused the party's secretary-general, Remus Opris, of "having taken over the party" and of promoting only his supporters. PNTCD Chairman Ion Diaconescu said that mayor's decision is based on his realization that he will not be nominated as PNTCD candidate for this year's local elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Romanian media reported on 11 February that Lis may be joining the Popular Party, headed by former Premier Radu Vasile. On 10 February, PNTCD Senator Gheorghe Pavalascu announced he is joining Vasile's party. Meanwhile, Diaconescu and Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, leader of the National Liberal Party, have agreed that the Democratic Convention of Romania will be chaired by two chairmen representing their parties. MS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ASKS EU COMMISSIONER TO CLARIFY STATEMENT
The opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) has asked Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, to clarify a statement he made at a press conference in Brussels on 8 February. Verheugen was asked whether the EU will react as strongly as it did toward Austria if "extremist parties" such as the PDSR or the Slovak Movement for a Democratic Slovakia come to power. Without mentioning these parties by name, Verheugen responded that the EU "does not want to see populist and nationalist movements or parties participating in European governments" and that this position extends "to candidate countries as well." The PDSR responded that the statement may be used by its adversaries in the forthcoming elections and has asked the commissioner to clarify it, Mediafax and Reuters reported. MS
MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS QUESTION COUNTRY'S NEUTRALITY
Sergiu Burca, head of the Moldovan parliamentary delegation to the North Atlantic Parliamentary Assembly, said on 10 February that it is "unfortunate" that Moldova has "weak diplomatic representations" at NATO and the EU. Moldova has only associate status in the NATO assembly. Burca said Moldova's neutrality "must not be viewed as dogma" allowed to undermine "the general interests of the state," Flux reported on 10 February. He said other European neutral states are "closely cooperating with NATO" and are being "integrated into the European collective security system." Vitalia Pavlicenco, a member of the delegation headed by Burca, predicted that "the moment will come when Moldova will accept to trade its neutrality" in order to "become integrated into a zone that provides security." She commented that owing to the presence of Russian troops, Moldova is "not a genuinely neutral state, having remained in the Russian zone of influence." MS
BULGARIA APPEALS TO GREECE, TURKEY TO HALT ARMS RACE
Defense Minister Boiko Noev said in an interview with AP on 10 February that Bulgaria "does not welcome" the "arms race south of us," and he urged Greece and Turkey to halt that race, which "does not pose a threat to Bulgaria because we have excellent friendly relations with both [countries]." But he commented that the two countries "waste their money" on a "military race [that]...will not solve their problems." Noev said the problems between the two countries must be solved by a political solution and that recent signs that such a process is beginning are viewed by Bulgaria "with great hope and optimism." MS
by Liz Fuller
On 7 February, a group of some 100 armed men attacked the Baku headquarters of the opposition Musavat Party and the newspaper "Yeni Musavat," breaking down the main door, smashing windows, and abducting "Yeni Musavat" journalist Elbey Hasanli. Police summoned to the building failed to intervene. The attackers were identified as inhabitants of the village of Nehram in Nakhichevan's Djulfa Raion who were reportedly incensed by articles in which Hasanli criticized conditions in the exclave. Hasanli was taken to Nakhichevan to face court charges but was released late on 9 February.
The incident was widely condemned by other Azerbaijani opposition parties and by human rights groups. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov, while suggesting that he considered the villagers' indignation justified, nonetheless conceded that the form in which they expressed that protest was unacceptable. Baku police have opened a criminal case on charges of hooliganism.
Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar blamed the attack on the Azerbaijani authorities, claiming that they had known in advance that it was planned but had taken no steps to prevent it. Other opposition parties, meeting in Baku the following day, condemned the violence as "political terrorism" aimed at creating artificial tensions and destabilizing the political situation.
At a quick glance, the attack on Musavat could be regarded merely as the continuation of a pattern in recent years of seemingly arbitrary reprisals against opposition political parties and publications. Moreover, Musavat was earlier subject to harassment in Nakhichevan: party secretary Sulkhaddin Akper was detained last summer in Djulfa Raion and fined for insulting the police, and the party's Djulfa branch was evicted from its office in November. Three officials from the Musavat Party's Nakhichevan branch were arrested in early February on charges of slander. On 5 February, a group of 70 people attacked Musavat Party headquarters in the town of Nakhichevan, destroying documents and office equipment.
However, both the timing of the attack and the fact that Musavat, rather than another prominent opposition party, was the target may be significant. Last month, Gambar proposed that opposition parties should join forces and field a combined list of candidates in the parliamentary elections due this November. True, other opposition parties reacted coolly to the proposal, which some political observers have claimed is unrealistic. But in making that proposal, Gambar may also have been making a bid for the status of "primus inter pares" within the ranks of opposition party leaders. The previous claimant to that role, Azerbaijan Popular Front Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey, is widely regarded as a spent political force, and some commentators have predicted that perceived tensions between him and that party's charismatic young first deputy chairman, Ali Kerimov, could ultimately split the party.
In addition, Mahir Samedov, a former member of the Popular Front's Supreme Council has recently quit the party's ranks to found a rival party and has subjected Kerimov to blistering criticism in the press. The fact that it was Musavat, not the Popular Front, that was subject to attack may serve as grist to the mill of those observers who believe that Kerimov has been secretly coopted by the current Azerbaijani leadership.
The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, too, is reportedly rent by tensions between its two co-chairmen, Ilyas Ismailov and exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev.
Musavat's Gambar thus has grounds to contest a leading role in the runup to the November poll. Musavat and the Popular Front have each drafted a new election law, while the Akhrar Party and the presidential apparatus have prepared amendments to the existing law. Akhrar chairman Vagif Gadjibeyli told "Zerkalo" in early January that the main points of the two alternative draft laws and of his party's amendments largely coincide. He noted that a single opposition version is likely to be drawn up and submitted for approval to the dozen opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress.
But Gambar, too, has a potential Achilles's heel, in the form of "Yeni Musavat," the main target of this week's reprisals. Although it was originally founded by the Musavat Party, that newspaper is now a privately funded publication, whose editor Rauf Arifogly has described as "working against the existing regime" in the hope of expediting democratization. The newspaper's approach is, moreover, uncompromising: Arifogly told RFE/RL in October 1998 that "we write everything we want." Indeed, the outspokenness of "Yeni Musavat" and its connections with the Musavat Party could continue to prove a liability for the latter.
A systematic campaign of reprisals against either "Yeni Musavat" or other opposition publications could, however, negatively affect Azerbaijan's chances of being granted full membership in the Council of Europe. The council's decision on whether Azerbaijan qualifies for full membership will depend primarily on the conduct of the parliamentary elections.