PUTIN INDICATES HE'LL PARDON POPE...
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, on 9 December, indicated that he will respect the recommendation of his pardons commission to grant clemency to Edmond Pope, who last week was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security prison for espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). Putin said he "cannot but heed" the decision of the commission, which includes "well-known and respected" public figures. Also, the president noted, the "high level" of U.S.-Russian relations will be taken into account. At the same time, he said he is unable to pardon Pope until after the Moscow City Court's ruling enters force on 14 December. On 8 December, U.S. President Bill Clinton had telephoned Putin to urge the Russian leader to release the U.S. businessman on "humanitarian grounds." Pope has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer, and his family fears his illness may have returned during the time he has spent in prison. JC
...AS CLEMENCY COMMISSION MEMBER DECRIES 'SPY MANIA'
One member of Putin's pardons commission, Maria Chudakova, was particularly critical of Pope's trial, which she said had shown that the Russian investigative authorities "still bear the marks of the Soviet system, more so that society in general." Noting that she had followed the proceedings carefully, Chudakova said that she became "more and more convinced that this all fits in to an attempt to restore in society the atmosphere of spy mania." Another commission member, theater director Mark Razovskii, was quoted by Reuters as saying that granting clemency to Pope would be a "step away from the Cold War. It's a policy of warm hearts." JC
PUTIN PROMISES TO HELP WORKING POOR...
Attending a ceremony for the best workers in industry in Magnitogorsk on 9 December, President Putin lamented the fact that in Russia "so far labor remains the cheapest stock." Putin continued, "Enterprises have their proprietors, but the state should not be a passive observer. The state cannot remain indifferent if people who have jobs live below the poverty line." Putin criticized some of Russia's new businessmen, charging that they "think only about themselves, about personal profits." Putin went on to say he had instructed Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to prevent another rise in electricity and transportation rates. "We have been observing an uncontrolled growth of tariffs lately," the president declared. Putin also noted that the new labor code, which has not yet been enacted, will promote economic growth. State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 8 December that the Duma will consider the labor code at a special session on 21 December. JAC
...CALLS FOR SINGLE RAIL TARIFF...
Putin also announced that a new government commission will be formed to set railway transportation tariffs. He added that a single tariff will be established, with no separate domestic and foreign tariffs. "That is a door for machinations," he concluded. The new tariff will be lower than the current export tariff but higher than the domestic one. The same day, Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko announced that the Russian railways network will continue to reduce its personnel from its current level of 1.1 million to 600,000 during the next four to five years. According to Aksenenko, during the past four years the number of railway personnel fell by 540,000. Aksenenko said Russian railways still lags behind its Western counterparts in terms of labor productivity. For example, he said, "the total length of railways in Russia is 87,000 kilometers, which is almost two-and-a-half times less than in the United States, but the number of specialists who control railway traffic in our country is four times more than in America." JAC
...AND SLAMS TV
Putin also said that Russians often hear superfluous things on the air, "real rubbish," and "forget and do not think about thanking those people [responsible for the fact that] the situation in the country is improving, namely "the people, workers," Interfax reported. Putin called the mammoth steel plant at Magnitogorsk "a symbol of the future might of the state," ITAR-TASS reported. He continued, "Looking back to the past, we have no right to forget the heroic deeds of our fathers and grandfathers. This is the best way to treat our history." JAC
UPPER HOUSE CONSIDERED LIKELY TO PASS BILL ON STATE SYMBOLS
Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told reporters on 9 December that the upper legislative chamber will meet on 20 December to consider the package of legislation on state symbols passed late last week by the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2000). According to Stroev, the Federation Council will fully support the bills. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters the same day that he supported President Putin's decision to put forward the legislation on the country's anthem, flag and coat of arms. "This was a difficult decision for the president, and I want to congratulate him for expressing the will of the majority on this matter." Prince Dmitrii Romanov told reporters in St. Petersburg on 8 December that he does not see anything terrible in the fact that "the old melody" was chosen for the national anthem. He said he sees in it some manifestation of continuity, which he has always favored. JAC
CAR BOMBS KILL THREE IN PYATIGORSK...
Three people were killed and 28 injured by two car bombs in Pyatigorsk on 8 December, Russian agencies reported. Forty-eight buildings were damaged in the blasts. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii warned against blaming the bombings on Chechen terrorists before the investigation into the blasts is complete. LF
...AND MORE THAN 20 IN CHECHNYA
Twenty-one people, most of them under the age of 20, died and 30 were injured in a car-bomb explosion in the Chechen village of Alkhan-Yurt, south of Grozny, on 9 December. The explosion took place after Russian troops had neutralized one explosive device in the vehicle. Movladi Udugov, who is aligned with Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, told AFP that "dozens of witnesses" could testify that it was Russian troops, not Chechen fighters, who had planted a mine in the car. The population of Alkhan-Yurt, for its part, sent a message on 10 December to President Putin and the civilian and military administrations in Chechnya, accusing "a well-known bandit serving in the Chechen police," whom village officials refused to name, of being behind the blast. Russian First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel-General Valerii Manilov said on 10 December that four people, one of them carrying a Chechen police identity card, had been detained in Alkhan-Yurt in connection with the bombing. LF
RUSSIA, NATO AGREE TO JOINT RESPONSES TO SUB ACCIDENTS
Speaking after a NATO-Russia Joint Council meeting in Brussels, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said in Moscow on 9 December that the two sides agreed to set up a joint system to prevent accidents involving submarines and naval vessels and to respond to those in distress, Interfax reported. The report included no details of the agreement, which Russia has sought in the wake of the August sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea. Sergeev was also quoted as saying that an accord had been reached on increasing Russian-NATO cooperation in the peace-keeping operations in Kosova. These agreement show that "the time for useless discussion is apparently passing" and "real steps" will be taken aimed "at finding a common ground and jointly resolving many problems, including those concerning European security," Sergeev commented. JC
MOSCOW EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER BARAK'S RESIGNATION
The announcement of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's resignation was met in Russia "with concern," according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement issued on 10 December. That statement said that Barak's resignation is "not a way out of the current difficult situation" in the Middle East; rather, it "aggravates" that situation, which "cannot be resolved by internal political maneuvering." The statement also said that Moscow hopes that political circles in Israel will demonstrate "due responsibility and safeguard the continuity" of seeking to peacefully settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moscow, along with the U.S., is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. JC
PUTIN OKAYS PRIVATIZATION PLAN FOR TV, RADIO TRANSMISSION NETWORK
"The Moscow Times" reported on 9 December that President Putin has approved a plan by the Media Ministry to overhaul the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK). After a meeting with Putin and Prime Minister Kasyanov, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told the daily that it has been decided that with regard to the transmission network for VGTRK, a joint-stock company will be created and market players will compete in a competitive environment with equal conditions for all. Lesin said VGTRK will be split into two companies, one controlling the transmission facilities and the other the broadcasting studios. A 49 percent stake in the company overseeing the transmission network could later be sold to private investors who would fund desperately needed upgrades, according to Lesin. "Segodnya" reported last week that the new entity would be called Gostelradio, after the Soviet-era organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2000). JAC
KASYANOV CLARIFIES GOVERNMENT POSITION ON SCHROEDER PLAN?
Commenting on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's recent suggestion that Russia's Soviet-era debt could be exchanged for shares in Russian companies, Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 9 December that "we are not talking about payment of our debt to Germany with shares of Russian enterprises that hold good positions on the markets, such as Gazprom and LUKoil, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 & 7 December 2000). According to the agency, Kasyanov said that German "investments" under Schroeder's plan could be used to create processing enterprises and build small plants worth $20-$30 million in Russia. "This could even be totally German property," he said. "It is important to us that German equipment and German management start working here." JAC
USTINOV PRESSURES STAFF TO CLOSE MABETEX CASE?
An unidentified member of the Office of the Prosecutor-General told Interfax on 9 December that Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has reportedly ordered his chief investigators either to end cases that have been open for more than two years to court or close them. Cases that would be affected by this policy include former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov's and the Swiss firm Mabetex's alleged kickbacks to Kremlin officials. JAC
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES PETITION FOR ARRESTED ENTREPRENEUR'S RELEASE
Three members of the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary faction and one deputy from the Right and Accord faction have signed a petition addressed to Prosecutor-General Boris Nazarian asking him to release businessman Arkadii Vartanian and are canvassing other deputies to do likewise, Noyan Tapan reported on 8 December. They pledge to ensure that Vartanian, who is a Russian citizen, does not leave Armenia. Vartanian was taken into custody following a 30 October march by his supporters to the presidential palace in Yerevan. He has been charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership but denies that charge. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET FOR 2001 IN FIRST READING
Deputies on 8 December approved in the first reading the third draft budget presented by the cabinet, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The two earlier drafts had been rejected by President Eduard Shevardnadze or by "power ministers" who complained that it did not provide adequate funding for their agencies (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 47, 8 December 2000). The draft sets revenues at 839.7 million laris ($419.8 million) and expenditures at 1.12 billion laris. Of the resulting 277.6 million-lari deficit, 100 million will be covered by domestic sources and the remainder by foreign grants and loans. Minister of State Giorgi Arsenishvili characterized the bill as "a poor budget for a poor country." Its passage by mid-December is one of the preconditions for the disbursal of new IMF and World Bank loans. LF
TWO UN OFFICIALS ABDUCTED IN WESTERN GEORGIA
One Polish and one Greek officer serving with the UN Observer Mission in Georgia were abducted while on patrol in the Kodori gorge in Abkhazia. It is the third abduction of UN personnel in the region over the past two years. On both previous occasions, the UN observers were released unharmed within days, reportedly without any ransom being paid, but their abductors escaped capture. LF
PLOT TO ASSASSINATE GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DISCOVERED
Giorgi Baramidze, who is chairman of the parliament's Defense and Security Committee, told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 December that he had been informed of a plot to kill parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, Caucasus Press reported. Baramidze suggested that it is not known whether the plot was prepared by a foreign power or by forces in Georgia, whether acting alone or on the orders of a foreign power. He claimed there is a link between earlier acts to destabilize the political situation in Georgia, including bombings in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi last summer and abductions in the Pankisi gorge. LF
OPPOSITION PARTIES STAGE NEW DEMONSTRATION IN AZERBAIJANI CAPITAL...
Several thousand people attended a rally convened by six leading opposition parties in Baku on 9 December, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Representatives of those parties adopted a resolution calling for the dissolution of the parliament elected on 5 November, the punishment of persons guilty of falsifying the outcome of that ballot, and the new elections. They also demanded the release of all political prisoners and an investigation into the police action against participants in the 18 November protest demonstration in Sheki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). For the first time, supporters of exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov participated in a protest rally convened by the opposition. Some 200 police monitored the proceedings but did not intervene. LF
...AS PROTESTS CONTINUE IN NAKHICHEVAN
Several hundred people gathered on 8 December in the village of Nehram in the Babek Raion of the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan to demand the resumption of uninterrupted power supplies, Turan reported. When representatives of the local leadership explained that power shortages make it impossible to comply with their demand, the rally participants and thousands of supporters began a march on the exclave's capital but were prevented by police and Interior Ministry troops from proceeding. Police reportedly began throwing stones at the marchers, injuring 10 of them. They also arrested 10 protesters, six of whom were subsequently released. One man from Nehram was killed in an automobile accident during the standoff with police. Thousands of his fellow villagers staged another protest on 9 December to demand an investigation into his death. LF
BORDER VIOLATORS APPREHENDED IN NAKHICHEVAN
Five men believed to be Kurds were intercepted late on 7 December in the Sharur district of Nakhichevan while seeking to cross the border into Armenia, Turan reported. The agency quoted local security officials in Nakhichevan as saying that the men confessed to being members of the Kurdistan Workers Party and to have entered Nakhichevan from Iran. Azerbaijan regularly accuses Armenia of hosting PKK bases on its territory. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT PROPOSES REVISED TERMS OF FOREIGN INVESTMENT...
Addressing a session of the council of foreign investors in Almaty on 8 December, Nursultan Nazarbaev advocated that international companies operating in Kazakhstan revise the terms of their contracts to bring them into closer conformity with international law and make their operations, tax payments, and observance of Kazakhstan's labor laws "more open and transparent," Interfax reported. But Nazarbaev explained at a press conference after that session that any such revision must be agreed by both parties. "If we want [Kazakhstan] to be a legal state, there can be no unilateral reconsideration of contracts with foreign companies," Interfax quoted him as saying. LF
...SAYS WILL NOT INTERVENE IN OIL REFINERY DISPUTE
Nazarbaev told the same press conference in Almaty on 8 December that he will not interfere in the dispute between the present and former directors of the Shymkent Oil refinery, in which Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons has an 88 percent stake, Interfax reported. With police support, Nurlan Bizakov, who was sacked as chairman of the refinery's board in August, reoccupied his office in early December after an Almaty district court reinstated him. He has since been evicted by the refinery's current president, against whom he has brought criminal charges. Meanwhile the Almaty City Court has overturned the district court's ruling reinstating Bizakov. LF
KAZAKHSTAN DENIES PLANS FOR OIL PIPELINE TO IRAN
Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov told journalists on 8 December that reports that the Kazakh government plans to create a consortium to build an oil export pipeline to Iran are untrue, Interfax reported. Those reports claimed that Kazakhstan had proposed that the participating countries (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran) have a 50 percent share, and the oil companies using the pipeline the other 50 percent. Idrisov said the distribution on 4 December of a press release, allegedly issued by his ministry, announcing the planned consortium was "a technical error." But visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Sadeq Kharrazi told journalists in Almaty on 8 December that Tehran supports the Kazakh proposal, which he said reflects the "wisdom" of the Kazakh leadership, and will cooperate in the planned pipeline construction. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REINAUGURATED
Askar Akaev was inaugurated in Bishkek on 9 December for another term as president of Kyrgyzstan, Reuters and Interfax reported. He won re-election in late October, garnering some 75 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2000). Akaev swore "before the people of Kyrgyzstan and the most holy Ala-Too mountains" to uphold the constitution and law, to preserve his country's independence, and to safeguard citizens' rights. "I will apply all my powers to live up to your high trust," he told members of the government and parliament during the ceremony. "Our main task will be to ensure our people are not disappointed in their hopes and that corruption and bureaucracy do not block creative progress," he added. Speaking in Bishkek the previous day, Akaev had pledged to battle corruption within the government apparatus, especially the taxation and customs agencies, and within the judicial system, including the Supreme Court. He also called for cuts within the civil service and the creation of a banking system in which both the population and foreign investors would have confidence, Interfax reported. LF
TURKMENISTAN HOSTS AFGHAN TALKS
Representatives of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government and the Northern Alliance held separate meetings with UN special representative Frances Vendrell and Turkmen diplomats in Ashgabat on 9 December to try to reach an end to the civil war, AP and Russian agencies reported. Interfax quoted both Afghan sides as saying after those consultations that they reject any new UN sanctions against Afghanistan. Also on 9 December, Zharmakhan Tuyakbaev, speaker of the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, discussed the Afghan situation with Indian leaders in New Delhi, ITAR-TASS reported. Both sides expressed their readiness to coordinate efforts to resolve the Afghan conflict and endorsed the planned imposition of tougher UN sanctions against the Taliban. LF
UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS REFORMS SHOULD BENEFIT POPULATION
Speaking in Tashkent on 8 December at a ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of the adoption of Uzbekistan's constitution, Islam Karimov complained that many members of the country's leadership continue to abuse their authority, Interfax reported. He admitted to "a lot of difficulties" in implementing political and economic reforms that, he said, should benefit the population. Karimov cited bribery and swindling among those problems. He added that the population needs to "develop an appreciation of the law [and] a sense of freedom and responsibility." LF
BELARUSIAN TELEVISION SAYS U.S. WANTS ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST MINSK
Belarusian Television's main newscast, "Panarama," reported on 8 December that "on behalf of the U.S. administration," Daniel Speckhard, former U.S. ambassador to Minsk, has called on the EU to introduce trade and economic sanctions against Belarus. The newscast said Speckhard also pledged that Washington will continue "to support anti-Belarusian actions." According to the program, Speckhard made those pronouncements at a meeting with "the leadership of the George Marshall Research Center in Garmish-Partenkirchen." The report also said Speckhard recommended that the OSCE mission in Minsk "work out scenarios for uniting the opposition forces of Belarus and hold a meeting of opposition leaders in the first half of 2001." The program commented that the OSCE Minsk group "has lost its independence and has in fact transformed from an advisory and monitoring group into an instrument of subversive anti-constitutional activity against the Belarusian state." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT INTERROGATED ABOUT JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE...
Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko said on 8 December that he has questioned Leonid Kuchma in connection with the slander case against Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000), Interfax reported. Potebenko added that investigators have also questioned Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, whom Moroz accused, along with Kuchma, of being behind the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "They all think that [Moroz's accusation] is slander [based on] a fabricated material," Potebenko noted. Potebenko said Moroz has already been interrogated twice, adding that the Socialist Party leader "diplomatically avoids [answering] some questions." JM
...WHILE MOROZ PLEDGES TO RELEASE INTERVIEW WITH SECURITY SERVICE DEFECTOR
Oleksandr Moroz said on 8 December that he will soon make public an interview with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) officer who gave him the tape allegedly demonstrating Kuchma's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance. Moroz said the interview was brought to Ukraine by three Ukrainian lawmakers. The same day, people's deputies Serhiy Holovatyy, Oleksandr Zhyr, and Viktor Shyshkin said they had met with the officer in "one of the Schengen Agreement countries" and made audio and video recordings of conversations with him. "[Moroz's tape] is not a falsification, and I can prove this to anyone," Zhyr told journalists. The three lawmakers said they were searched by security officers at Kyiv airport after their return to Ukraine. The materials they had with them were confiscated for "several minutes" and subsequently returned. JM
BALTIC ASSEMBLY CONVENES IN VILNIUS
The 17th session of the Baltic Assembly, convening in Vilnius on 8-9 December, adopted a statement declaring that "the early integration of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into NATO is in the interest of promoting democracy and security in Europe," BNS reported. Lithuania's proposal that the statement point out that the invitation of at least one Baltic state would be beneficial for all three was not accepted. The session urged the restoration of the direct rail route between Tallinn and Warsaw, called for developing youth tourism in the Baltic states, and approved that each state contribute $102,000 to the 2001 assembly budget. There was not enough time to prepare a final version of an appeal to Russia asking it to recognize the occupation and annexation of the three states in 1940 and open talks on compensation. That question will be discussed further at the assembly's18th session in Riga in June 2001. SG
LATVIA'S NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK LEADER BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE
Vladimir Moskovtsev launched a hunger strike on 7 December to protest being held in custody without a court judgement, BNS reported the next day. He was detained in late November on suspicion of involvement in illegal border crossings and the seizure of St. Peter's Church in Riga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 November 2000), He declares that the charges against him do not warrant pre-trial detention. SG
LITHUANIA GAINS WTO MEMBERSHIP
The World Trade Organization, meeting in Geneva on 8 December, voted to accept Lithuania as its 141st member, BNS reported. To complete the process, Lithuania's parliament will have to ratify 28 major agreements and fulfill all negotiation commitments by 1 May 2001. Lithuania is the last EU candidate country to join the WTO (Latvia and Estonia joined in 1998 and 1999, respectively). Noting that trade accounts for 80 percent of Lithuania's GDP, President Valdas Adamkus told the General Assembly that WTO membership "will secure and consolidate my country's due place in the global network of economic interdependence." SG
POLAND GETS AS MANY VOTES IN EU COUNCIL AS SPAIN
The EU summit in Nice proposed on 10 December that Poland be given 28 votes in the EU Council, the same number as Spain, which has roughly the same population and territory as Poland, PAP reported. The previous day's proposal that Poland be given 26 votes drew a sharp response from the Polish government. "Poland expects the functioning of member states in the EU to be based on identical principles," it said in a statement. Premier Jerzy Buzek telephoned German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar reportedly to enlist their support for Poland's position. Under the latest EU proposal, Spain and Poland will have 52 members each in an enlarged 738-seat European Parliament. JM
WARSAW SAYS POSITION ON BYPASS GAS PIPELINE 'UNCHANGED'
Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft said on 8 December that Poland's position on a new link of a gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe that would bypass Ukraine remains unchanged, PAP reported. Luft was commenting on an Interfax report asserting that Poland and Slovakia have given Russia a "green light" to build the bypass pipeline. Interfax quoted Gazprom Vice President Petr Rodionov as saying that the "issue has been practically resolved." Luft said Poland remains "open to all solutions." Warsaw earlier voiced objections to the project, saying that Russia's-proposed route for the pipeline along Poland's eastern border disregards Poland's economic interests (since there are not many gas consumers in eastern regions), its ecological interests (it runs through national parks), and its political interests (it bypasses Ukraine). JM
CZECH REPUBLIC WELCOMES NICE SUMMIT SIGNALS ON EU ENLARGEMENT
The Czech Foreign Ministry welcomed the statement by the 15 EU members at the Nice summit saying they expect the new EU member countries to be able to take part in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, CTK reported on 8 December. The ministry said the statement indicated that the enlargement will take place "as of 1 January 2004, or even 1 January 2003." It added that it is also satisfied with those parts of the statement endorsing the strategy on accession talks proposed by the European Commission in November; according to that strategy, negotiations will proceed faster with the best-prepared candidates. MS
CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS CONFIRM KOPRIVA'S CANDIDACY
The National Conference of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDU-CSL) approved the earlier choice of Jaroslav Kopriva as the party's candidate for the leadership of the Four-Party Coalition, CTK reported on 8 December. The KDU-CSL leadership first chose Kopriva for that post in late November. He was endorsed by 42 votes, while KDH-CSL chairman Cyril Svoboda received 32 votes. The Freedom Union, which is also a member of the Four-Party Coalition, will select its candidate for the coalition's leadership on 15 December, while the Civic Democratic Alliance will do so by the end of the month. The Democratic Union does not intend to name a candidate of its own. The head of the coalition in to be chosen in January 2001 by the coalition's Political Council. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER ADMITS SDK HAS PROBLEMS
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, speaking to journalists on 8 December, presented his proposals for a new agreement between the five parties that set up the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) before the 1998 elections. He conceded, however, that so far his proposals have met with "embarrassed reactions," CTK reported. "It is not enough if good-will is shown on my side only," Dzurinda said, adding that he is ready to "listen attentively" to his partners if they "want to come up with a better idea." Dzurinda's decision to set up the new Democratic and Christian Union prompted the Christian Democrats and the Democratic Party to leave the SDK parliamentary group. MS
SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER QUITS DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Ivan Miklos, deputy premier in charge of the economy, announced on 9 December that he is leaving the Democratic Party, CTK reported. Miklos said that "for the time being," he does not intend to join another formation and will remain in the cabinet. A group around Miklos and Democratic Party deputy chairman Ludovit Kanik has criticized the recent decision of the party leadership to withdraw from the SDK parliamentary group, saying the move violates the party statutes. Kanik and other members of the group remain members of the party, but government commissioner for public service reform Viktor Niznansky announced he is also resigning his party membership. MS
SMER DETERMINED TO WIN 25 PERCENT IN NEXT SLOVAK ELECTIONS
Speaking at the National Conference of the Smer (Direction) party on 9 December, General Secretary Monika Benova said Smer aims to win 25 percent of the seats in the 2002 elections, CTK reported. Party chairman Robert Fico said he expects Smer to become "a crucial political force in Slovakia" after the elections and to participate in the formation of the cabinet. Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar, who attended the conference, called for cooperation between the two parties, saying the premier's post after 2002 should be filled by the party that performs best in the elections. In response to a question by journalists whether he would cooperate with Meciar, Fico replied "We have [already] said 'no' a thousand times." MS
KOSOVAR LEADER: NATO MUST STAY IN KOSOVA
Moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova told the Hamburg weekly "Der Spiegel" of 11 December that the province is de facto independent, if not in name. He suggested that it is only a matter of time before the international community and especially the EU reach a consensus to recognize Kosova's independence. Rugova added that any talks with the Serbian authorities must take place only at a "low level" and only after the 23 December Serbian elections. He ruled out any agreement with Belgrade on autonomy for the province, adding that "any past agreement with the Serbs led to tragedy for us." Rugova stressed that "Belgrade recently waged a 10-year-war against us, in which thousands of Albanians were killed, robbed, and beaten." He added that any union of the ethnic Albanians in the Balkans is a long-term project that can be realized only in the framework of a united Europe. In any event, NATO must remain in Kosova in order to ensure regional stability. The alliance could maintain bases to guarantee security for the Balkans as a whole, Rugova added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2000). PM
KOSOVA SERBS STAGE PROTEST
Several hundred Serbs protested in the village of Merdare on Serbia's border with Kosova on 10 December to demand the right to return to their homes across the frontier, Reuters reported. Some of the demonstrators attempted to cross into Kosova but were blocked by peacekeepers. The UN's civilian administration has said that it is still too dangerous for Serbs to return to Kosova. Meanwhile on the border between Kosova and the Presevo region, KFOR troops detained 13 Albanians seeking to enter Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. And in Mitrovica on 11 December, KFOR troops arrested two ethnic Albanians after an explosion and bursts of machine gun fire were heard, AP reported. PM
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT MEDIA
Vojislav Kostunica told a two-day conference in Belgrade on 10 December that Serbia's media must be financially independent in order to maintain their political independence, Reuters reported. He said at the gathering, which is sponsored by Serbia's Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) and the Council of Europe: "This means that media cannot be funded by the state or by foreign countries. It is the only way the media can continue to serve the truth and help democratization." Kostunica said that foreign assistance should center on providing programs and training journalists. He called the media "fellow combatants" in the struggle to overthrow the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer stressed the need for laws to ensure the independence of the media from state interference, especially state-run Radio Television Serbia. PM
YUGOSLAVIA PREPARES TO JOIN IMF...
Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade on 10 December that he expects his country will join the IMF on 20 December. In the meantime, he added, Serbia will remove the last obstacle to its membership when it reaches an agreement with the other successor states to the former Yugoslavia on dividing that country's properties and assets. The agreement is expected to be concluded in Brussels on 18-19 December. PM
...RAPIDLY NORMALIZES RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBORS
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and his Slovenian counterpart, Dimitrij Rupel, signed an agreement in Ljubljana on 9 December establishing diplomatic relations. Rupel said that the agreement put an end to an "abnormal" situation, "Dnevnik" reported. In Sarajevo, the Bosnian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Svilanovic and Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic will sign a similar declaration in Belgrade on 15 December, "Vesti" reported on 10 December. In Zagreb on 9 December, President Stipe Mesic said that Kostunica must distance himself politically from the Bosnian Serbs, just as Mesic's government has done in relation to the ethnic Croats of that republic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
BERLIN'S 'BAMBI PRIZE' FOR SERBIAN POLITICIAN
Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic received Berlin's Bambi Prize for his role as "creator" of the Serbian revolution, "Vesti" reported on 10 December. The Bambi awards are sponsored by the Burda publishing house for people who have achieved success in the worlds of entertainment, politics, or the media. Djindjic studied in Berlin and speaks excellent German. He frequently appears in the German media. PM
MONTENEGRO TO DO MORE AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Cejovic said in Podgorica on 10 December that his government will step up efforts with foreign countries--especially with Italy and Albania--to reduce the flow of traffic in human beings. Most of the traffic involves prostitutes and illegal migrants from former communist countries working in Montenegro or seeking passage to Western Europe. Cejovic said that Milosevic's policy of visa-free travel for Chinese citizens made controlling the flow of Chinese migrants particularly difficult, AP reported. PM
GREEK DEFENSE MINISTER SIGNS AGREEMENT IN MACEDONIA
Akis Tsochatzopoulos signed a bilateral security agreement in Skopje on 10 December with his Macedonian counterpart, Ljuben Paunovski. The two men also discussed the situation in southwestern Serbia. Paunovski said: "We agreed that there are clear signals of tension in southern Serbia, but that there is no indication yet that it might escalate." He called on both sides to "behave responsibly," dpa reported. On 11 December, Tsochatzopoulos is slated to meet with President Boris Trajkovski, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, and Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim. In related news, a first-ever conference of mayors of Balkan cities ended in Thessaloniki with a joint declaration, Makfaks news agency reported on 10 December. Delegations from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia participated. Macedonia was represented by officials from Skopje, Tetovo, and Kumanovo. PM
MACEDONIA TO RESUME TIES WITH BEIJING
Stojan Andov, who is the new president of the Macedonian parliament, met recently in Belgrade with a top official of the Chinese embassy there, MIC news service reported from Skopje on 8 December. A Macedonian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that his government is seeking ways to resume diplomatic links to China without ending its economic relationship with Taiwan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). He stressed, however, that the government has not yet launched any formal initiative to that end. Former presidential hopeful Vasil Tupurkovski and many others in Macedonia expected that recognizing Taiwan in early 1999 would lead to massive Taiwanese investment into Macedonia's lagging economy. The hopes proved unfounded. Several other Balkan countries are believed to have been carefully watching Macedonia's "Taiwan experiment" to see if it would economically prove to their advantage to switch recognition from China to Taiwan. PM
MACEDONIAN COURT WORKERS GO ON STRIKE
The union representing workers in the judiciary called a strike over pay for 11 December, Makfaks news agency reported. PM
CROATS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF TUDJMAN'S DEATH
Up to 10,000 people attended a memorial service at the Zagreb grave of the late President Franjo Tudjman on 10 December to mark the first anniversary of his death. Ivo Sanader, who heads Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community, said that Tudjman's critics have resorted to "disgusting lies and defamation" to blacken his memory, AP reported. President Stipe Mesic, who did not attend the memorial service, said in Zagreb that Tudjman did much for the cause of Croatian independence but that he made serious mistakes in his policies toward Bosnia and Europe, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
ILIESCU WINS ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF...
With more than 95 percent of the votes in the 10 December presidential runoff officially counted, Party of Social Democracy in Romania chairman Ion Iliescu has secured a new term as head of state. Romanian Radio reported on 11 December that Iliescu gained 73.87 percent and Greater Romania Party (PRM) candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor 26.13 percent. Responding to exit polls on 10 December, Iliescu called on Romanians to display unity in an effort of "economic and social reconstruction and struggle against poverty, corruption, and crime." He said he will strive to "accelerate Romania's dignified integration into the EU and NATO" and pledged to punish those who "plundered national wealth [and] infringed on the constitution and the country's law". The president-elect also said he hopes international lenders will display "understanding" of Romania's difficult situation and "back its reforms blueprint." MS
...WHILE TUDOR CRIES FOUL PLAY
Responding to exit polls, Tudor accused the PDSR of having bribed both pollsters and the Central Election Commission, saying this was "the greatest fraud in this century's Romanian history." He said he will appeal to the International Tribunal in The Hague and to the OSCE. The falsified election results signify "the victory of the Antichrist," he said. In an incident at a Bucharest polling station, a PRM member threw a bottle of blue ink at President Emil Constantinescu. The man, who is known to have psychological problems, was charged with "offending a state official." MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT WILL NOT USE FORCE AGAINST SQUATTERS
Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said on 8 December that the government does not intend to use force against squatters who one day earlier occupied a building that is intended to accommodate members of the parliament. Some of the squatters, most of whom are Transdniester war veterans and members of police, are reported to be armed, according to RFE/RL's Chisinau Bureau. They say they live in very poor conditions, while the deputies for whom the flats are destined "have no merits." Parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov condemned the action, hinting that the protesters are being manipulated by the same forces that want the presidential elections under way in the parliament to fail--a probable allusion to President Petru Lucinschi. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS BUDGET TO MEET NATURAL DISASTER COSTS
The parliament on 8 December approved adding 30 million lei ($2.42 million) to the expenditures of the 2001 budget, to pay for the damage caused by the extreme frost experienced from 26-28 November. This increases the budget deficit. The World Bank, Romania, Russia, Belarus, and China have announced relief measures to help Moldova overcome the consequences of the disaster. MS
BULGARIAN POLITICIAN LAUNCHES NEW PARTY
Former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev was elected chairman of the recently-formed center-right Civic Party on 9 December, Reuters reported. Bonev said his party will try to attract voters in the 2001 elections who are disappointed with the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and still remember the failures of the main opposition Socialist Party. He ruled out an alliance with the SDS after the elections. Bonev was sacked from the cabinet last year and in April 2000 demanded that Prime Minister Ivan Kostov resign. He accused Kostov of having failed to respond to an Interior Ministry report on graft among top officials. MS
SREBRENICA: MUSLIMS RETURNING TO THEIR HOMES (PART 1)
By Jolyon Naegele
There are no road signs pointing the way to Srebrenica. A good map and sense of direction, however, should get the visitor through the market town of Bratunac and onto the road up through Potocari, where most of the mass killings occurred in July 1995. The mining and spa town of Srebrenica lies beyond, nestled at the end of a steep and narrow valley.
The material destruction in this Bosnian Serb-administered corner of eastern Bosnia is as bad as anywhere else in the war-damaged land. The landscape is pockmarked with houses lacking roofs or even walls. In some places, nothing more than the foundations are left. Burned-out vehicles and other remains of the war still lie piled up by the roadside.
But it is the human losses that make Srebrenica different from every other community in Bosnia. Some 7,000 men from this town and surrounding communities have been missing and presumed dead since General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb forces swept down the mountains and divided the men from the women and children. The men have not been seen alive since.
The town itself had a pre-war population of 7,000--mainly Muslims and Serbs, but also Croats, Montenegrins, and Roma--out of a total of 37,000 in the surrounding district. During the war, Srebrenica's population swelled to about 45,000, as both residents and displaced Muslims from elsewhere in eastern Bosnia crowded into the UN-declared safe haven.
Srebrenica's misfortune was its strategic importance to both the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims. It is close both to the Drina River border with Serbia just over the hills to the east and to other largely Muslim towns in the area, including Zvornik, Bratunac, Zepa, Gorazde, Foca, and Visegrad.
In the outside world, the name "Srebrenica" has become synonymous with mass murder. But what happened here five-and-a-half years ago is rarely mentioned by the town's residents themselves, at least not in public.
Srebrenica auto mechanic Mirsad Djozic, a 42-year-old Muslim, survived the entire war in the besieged town, living in constant hunger. When Srebrenica fell, Djozic succeeded in hiking over the mountains all the way to Tuzla. He says he hid in the woods for several weeks before making the 15-day hike, mostly at night, to freedom. He lived in exile in Vogosca, near Sarajevo, but five months ago he returned to Srebrenica to rebuild his house, which he says the Serbs burned to the ground.
Djozic says he has found a wall of silence about the recent past: "There is still no justice, but otherwise things are quite good here. There are no provocations. The police behave correctly to me. The authorities are really acting correctly. We haven't had any more problems so far." He added that he does not intend to bring his family back until war-damaged school and health facilities are reconstructed. He says he has applied for assistance to rebuild his house but so far has received nothing.
The OSCE representative in Srebrenica, Gerard Keown, says about 100 gutted houses have been prepared for reconstruction. This year, 10 Muslim families have returned to Srebrenica; about 20 Muslim-owned homes have been reconstructed so far with international assistance, and authorities expect another 10 families to be returning soon.
Fata Husejnagic returned five months ago, together with her daughter, Sanela and her 90-year-old mother, Mejra. Fata, who used to work at the local spa of Banja Guber, says Srebrenica was one of the most beautiful towns in Bosnia before the fighting erupted in early 1992. She fled with Sanela to Tuzla in April of that year, leaving behind her mother and two of her brothers.
The Serbs expelled Fata's mother after they overran the town three years later. But her two brothers, one of them a professor of biology and chemistry, were never heard from again and are presumed to be among the more than 7,000 Srebrenica men murdered by the Serbs.
Fata says she was not afraid to return because she still has her family's property--now a shell-damaged house and an overgrown garden. A displaced Serb, Sanja, together with her parents, husband, and baby son, were living in the Husejnagic house when Fata returned. Sanja asked if they could stay, but Fata said 'no' and they moved elsewhere.
At first, Fata found communication with almost all the Serbs in Srebrenica difficult. Old friends turned their heads away, but Fata persisted in greeting them when she saw them and, after four days, they finally began returning her greetings. Neighbors she no longer even recognized came by with coffee and offers of sympathy and help.
Fata says the fighting left no psyche unscarred. As she puts it: "Everyone suffered psychologically from what happened, and we have to forgive." At the same time, she says, it is impossible to forget. "I cannot forget that I had two brothers and a normal family," she remarks.
The author is an RFE/RL senior correspondent based in Prague. Part II of this article will appear in tomorrow's "RFE/RL Newsline."