DUMA GIVES PRELIMINARY OKAY TO BILL ALLOWING NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS...
The State Duma on 21 December passed in the first reading a controversial bill that would allow Russia to import spent nuclear fuel for storage on its territory. The vote was 320 to 30 with eight abstentions. Only the Yabloko faction voted against the bill. During debate on the draft legislation, State Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Robert Nigmatullin said that feasibility studies have shown that Russia could earn more than $20 billion over the next 10 years from such storage, Interfax reported. Environmental groups have fought the measure and tried--unsuccessfully--to organize a nationwide referendum that would have asked voters to pass judgement on such a policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2000). JAC
...APPROVES MORE MONEY FOR CHORNOBYL WORKERS
Also on 21 December, Duma deputies voted to approve in its second and third readings a law changing the social benefit system for workers who took part in the clean-up following the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Interfax reported, without providing a breakdown of the vote. Under the bill, workers are divided into three different groups, each receiving a different level of monthly compensation ranging from 5,000 rubles ($179) to 1,000 rubles. One small set of workers, 332 in all, will receive 10,000 rubles a month. According to the agency, as a result of the bill spending on Chornobyl workers has increased by 1.1 billion rubles compared with the current level. JAC
GOVERNMENT TO CONSIDER AGRICULTURAL LAND USE ISSUE SEPARATELY...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 21 December that he favors the earliest possible adoption of a law legalizing private land ownership. He said, "This issue worries me very much, because further reforms will be impeded until it has been resolved," ITAR-TASS reported. "In the absence of laws regulating land turnover and the right to own land, we won't be getting any investments, either foreign or domestic." Two days earlier, the Duma had rejected a draft law proposed by the Union of Rightist Forces that would have paved the way for private ownership of land (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000). Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Gordeev told Prime-TASS on 21 December that a version of the land code might be adopted in the first half of 2001 and a separate bill covering agricultural land use must be prepared alongside it. JAC
...AS PREMIER PROMISES GAZPROM RESTRUCTURING NEXT YEAR...
Kasyanov also announced that the government will begin a restructuring of Gazprom next year designed in part to cut expenses and to increase competitiveness. Kasyanov cautioned that the reform would be undertaken with the utmost care since the gas giant's existing contracts must be thoroughly analyzed. JAC
...AND TAX MINISTER CALLS FOR REFORM OF INTERNAL OIL PRICE
Gennadii Bukaev, speaking to reporters the same day, suggested that domestic prices for crude oil should be brought into line with world market prices, Interfax reported. Bukaev also called for reducing and then abolishing the natural resource replenishment tax. JAC
ADVISER SAYS PUTIN WILL WEIGH IN ON EES CONTROVERSY
Prime Minister Kasyanov told reporters on 21 December that he sees no differences or intrigues regarding the restructuring plan for Unified Energy Systems (EES), which was discussed at a cabinet session on 15 December. He said that the document approved at that session "takes into account the comments of the president and presidential administration. It reflects the consensus of all parties to the discussion." Kasyanov's statement follows charges by presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, who said that the document presented that day essentially ignored criticisms of an initial EES restructuring plan made by President Putin himself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000). Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who has been very critical of the plan, said the same day that he expects President Putin to comment on the controversy. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," he confirmed Voloshin's version of the 15 December events, saying that it was a "dark day on the calendar" and that he "simply did not believe such things were possible." JAC
RUSSIAN SUPPLIES TO IRAQ SINCE 1996 TOTAL $1 BILLION
Over the past five years, Russia has supplied Iraq with equipment, materials, and spare parts for industry worth a total of $1 billion, State Duma Energy Committee Chairman Vladimir Katrenko (Unity) announced on 21 December, according to Interfax. Katrenko called for "liberalizing" or totally removing" the international trade sanctions imposed on Iraq "as soon as possible." He also urged government bodies to intensify efforts to resume regular, direct flights between Russia and Iraq. JC
FSB CONFIRMS CAPTURE OF LEADING CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER
Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev on 20 December confirmed a report published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 1 December that senior Chechen field commander Turpal-Ali Atgeriev was captured in October, ITAR-TASS reported. "Komsomolskaya pravda" had claimed, however, that Atgeriev was apprehended in Makhachkala, while Patrushev said he was captured during a "special operation" in the village of Alleroi, east of Grozny. LF
SAIDULLAEV PREPARES HUMANITARIAN PROGRAM FOR CHECHNYA
Malik Saidullaev, chairman of the Moscow-based Chechen State Council, told Interfax on 21 December that he has drafted a program of "urgent measures" aimed at improving the "catastrophic" situation in Grozny and other Chechen towns. He said that top priorities include providing the population with heat, light, gas, and food. He estimated the current population of Grozny at 100,000-150,000. Saidullaev said he had recently discussed the situation in Chechnya with interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and that he is ready to assume the duties of Chechen premier, which he claimed Kadyrov had offered him. He denied any knowledge of Kadyrov's statement that he considers himself the best qualified candidate for that post but would be willing to name Saidullaev as deputy premier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 December 2000). LF
CHECHEN DISTRICT ADMINISTRATOR REJECTS SEAT IN FEDERATION COUNCIL
Akhmed Zavgaev, the administration head in Chechnya's northern Nadterechnyi Raion, told Interfax on 21 December that he will not take up the seat in Russia's Federation Council to which Kadyrov appointed him. He explained that "the future of [Chechnya] is being decided right here in the republic" and that local residents had asked him not to leave. The Federation Council had approved his nomination the previous day. LF
GUSINSKII TO BE HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS?
NTV General Director Yevgenii Kiselev told reporters in Spain on 20 December that the Russian government plans to shut down the channel on the evening of 31 December, AP reported. Kiselev said that he learned of the plan from a highly reliable source, whom he declined to identify. Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii was scheduled to appear before Spanish Supreme Court judge Baltazar Garzon on 22 December, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. Gusinskii's lawyer Domingo Plaza said that he is hoping Gusinskii will be released on bail. JAC
KUZBASS GOVERNOR TO RESIGN
Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev announced in a letter published in the local newspaper, "Kuzbass," on 21 December that he will resign from his post so that gubernatorial elections can be brought forward to 22 April 2001 from October 2001, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Tuleev said that holding elections in April at the same time as when elections for the oblast's legislative assembly are held will save the region some 15 million rubles ($538,000). Tuleev also claimed that he received some 2,000 letters, telephone calls, and telegrams asking him to take such a step. A number of incumbent regional leaders have sought to move up the date of regional elections, believing such a move gives them an advantage by catching their opponents off-guard and under-prepared (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 January 2000). JAC
NEW KALININGRAD LEADER SAYS EXCLAVE TO REMAIN PART OF RUSSIA
Newly elected Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov told Polish reporters on 21 December that Kaliningrad Oblast "is and will remain part of Russia," Interfax-Northwest reported. He added that all questions regarding intragovernmental relations in the oblast should be decided together with the federal center. AFP reported the same day that Poland, as part of its bid to join the EU by 2003, may begin demanding visas for Kaliningrad residents as soon as the second half of next year. Yegorov also expressed the hope that the forthcoming entry of neighboring states into the EU and NATO will not have a negative effect on relations with Kaliningrad. JAC
PUTIN PAYS SECOND VISIT TO RIVAL RABBI
President Putin paid his second visit to the Jewish Community Center in Moscow, run by head of the Federation of Jewish Communities Berl Lazar, on 21 December for the opening of the celebration of Hanukkah, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2000). Lazar's followers declared him the chief rabbi of Russia last June, a post already held by Adolf Shaevich. When Lazar presented Putin with a menorah, Putin thanked him, saying "the light and warmth it radiates will illuminate the Kremlin." JAC
ROKHLINA'S SENTENCE HALVED
The Moscow District Court has commuted the sentence handed down last month to Tamara Rokhlina, who was convicted of murdering her husband, former State Duma deputy and leader of the Movement to Support the Army Lev Rokhlin, following a quarrel in 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2000). Rokhlina will now serve a four-year prison term, rather than the eight-year one she initially received, Interfax reported. Her lawyers had appealed for her acquittal. Rokhlina originally confessed to having committed the murder but later said she had been under pressure to make such a confession. JC
BOLSHOI SEEKS TO THWART TICKET-SCALPING
Moscow's Bolshoi Theater is to computerize tickets sales beginning 30 March in a bid to prevent scalpers from selling tickets on the square outside the theater, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 December, citing "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Anatolii Iksanov, the general director of the Bolshoi, pointed out that scalpers currently sell tickets that have face values of 300-400 rubles for up to 2,000 rubles. He also noted that beginning next year, tickets can be purchased immediately before performances. Until now, those wishing to buy a ticket at the last moment had to rely on scalpers. JC
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT RESUMES BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST DEBTORS
At the behest of the country's tax authorities, the Armenian government decided on 21 December to reopen bankruptcy proceedings against more than 200 enterprises fully or partly owned by the state that have failed to clear their tax debts, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous cabinet had suspended the law suits in March. Minister for State Revenues Andranik Manukian claimed that many of the supposedly bankrupt businesses continue to evade taxes, while operating and making profits. He warned that a list of known tax evaders will be published periodically, according to Noyan Tapan. The total private and public sector debt to the state budget currently stands at 57 billion drams ($103 million), having decreased by only 5 billion drams during this year. Under Armenian law, legal entities failing to meet their tax obligations can be declared bankrupt by the court, in which case their property is to be auctioned off by the state. LF
ARMENIA CONFIRMS PARTICIPATION IN CHEMICAL JOINT VENTURE WITH CHINA
The Armenian government on 21 December gave its formal approval to Armenian participation in the establishment of a large chemical factory in China's Shangsi province, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Chinese government will provide $130 million to build and equip the factory, which is to produce synthetic rubber and other chemical products and will operate with the same technology as that of the huge Nairit chemical plant in Yerevan. Construction is due to begin next year. LF
FORMER ARMENIAN EDUCATION MINISTER APPEALS SENTENCE
Ashot Bleyan has lodged an appeal against the seven-year prison sentence handed down to him on 15 December by a Yerevan district court, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 December. The court had found Bleyan guilty of embezzlement and abuse of power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). He maintains the charges against him were fabricated. LF
GEORGIAN NGOS, OPPOSITION DECRY PRESIDENT'S ATTACK ON MEDIA
Two Georgian human rights organizations on 21 December expressed outrage at President Eduard Shevardnadze's criticism the previous day of what he termed the media's aggressive reporting, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000). The extra-parliamentary Republican Party of Georgia similarly issued a statement accusing the authorities of trying to offload on to the media responsibility for the failure to resolve the country's problems. LF
TWO MORE DEPUTIES QUIT MAJORITY GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION
Two more deputies have announced their intention to leave the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia parliamentary faction, Caucasus Press reported on 21 December. They include the respected chairwoman of the parliament's Human Rights Committee, Elena Tevdoradze. Twelve deputies have already quit the faction in the past four months, leaving it with 114 deputies out of a total 235. LF
RUSSIA AGAIN PROPOSES RETAINING USE OF GEORGIAN MILITARY AIRPORT
During the fourth session of the Georgian-Russian Intergovernmental Council in Tbilisi on 21 December, Russian Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov again proposed that Georgia and Russia jointly utilize the airfield at the Vaziani military base near Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia had previously begun withdrawing military equipment from that base on 1 August with a view to its closure by 30 June 2001; it has since suggested, however, that it be allowed to continue using the airfield (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2000). LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER ENUMERATES ECONOMIC SUCCESSES
Qasymzhomart Toqaev told the cabinet on 21 December that this year has been a success for the country's economy, Interfax reported. He said that during the first 11 months, industrial production increased by 15 percent compared with 1999 while investments rose by more than 29 percent. He estimated GDP growth for 2000 at 8 percent. The inflation rate has remained more or less constant at 8.5 percent. Foreign trade during the period January-October rose by 56 percent to exceed $11 billion. LF
NEW FIRST DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER NAMED IN KAZAKHSTAN
President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 21 December promoted Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov to the post of first deputy premier, Reuters reported. Akhmetov replaces Aleksandr Pavlov, who was fired last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Economics Minister Zhaksybek Kulekeev was reappointed to that post but following last week's streamlining of ministries will also assume responsibility for trade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). Yerzhan Utembaev, who was relieved of the post of deputy prime minister on 20 December, has been named deputy head of the presidential administration. LF
IRAN'S CASPIAN ENVOY VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
During talks in Astana on 21 December with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Toqaev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani said that while there are grounds for a rapprochement between the five Caspian littoral states with regard to the sea's legal status, Iran will not moderate its position, Interfax reported. Russia and Kazakhstan proposed dividing the seabed into national sectors according to the modified median line, while Tehran advocates joint use of the sea's resources or its division into equal sectors. Iran's sector accounts for only 14 percent of the sea. Ahani also noted the potential for expanding trade and bilateral relations, especially in the science and technology spheres. LF
NEW PROTEST AGAINST KAZAKHSTAN'S DRAFT LAND LAW
At a press conference in Almaty on 21 December, political parties and movements aligned in the so-called Land Protection Front again called for amendments to the draft land law passed by the lower house of parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). The front's chairman, Salim Orazaliev, pointed out that the law fails to make provision for the repatriation to Kazakhstan of an estimated 5 million Kazakhs currently living in China, Uzbekistan, and the Russian Federation. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW PRIME MINISTER...
Askar Akaev on 21 December proposed Kurmanbek Bakiev to head the new government, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Of the 45 deputies in the upper house of parliament, 34 endorsed Bakiev's candidacy, while nine supported Amangeldi Muraliev, who headed the previous government. Bakiev, who is 51, is a graduate of the Bishkek Polytechnical Institute and worked for 10 years in Moscow Oblast. Since returning to Kyrgyzstan, he has served as director of the State Property Fund and as governor of Djalalabad and then of Chu Oblast. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 December had predicted that Bakiev would replace Muraliev. The newspaper noted that although MurAliyev managed Akaev's successful re-election campaign and is a competent economist, he was unable to pull the country out of its ongoing economic crisis. In addition, the newspaper writes, Bakiev is from the south of Kyrgyzstan, whose "clans" are under-represented in the upper echelons of the leadership and have made clear that they want that imbalance redressed. Akaev is from northern Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev told parliamentary deputies that he considers the government's top priorities are to stabilize the economy and eradicate poverty, according to Interfax. He also pledged to support small and medium-sized businesses. LF
As presidential press secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov had predicted earlier this month, Akaev also proposed to the parliament on 21 December a new structure for the government whereby number of government agencies is reduced from 42 to 29 and the number of ministries from 17 to 12, plus a government committee for managing state property and attracting investments. The number of deputy premiers is cut to one, and ministers will have no more than two deputies, with the exception of the law enforcement bodies. The National Security Ministry will be excluded from the cabinet and renamed the National Security Service. Akaev estimated that the streamlining measures will save some 55 million soms ($1.12 million) and make the work of the government more effective, according to Interfax. LF
MINSK WANTS OSCE MISSION TO STICK TO ITS MANDATE
Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou on 21 December met with OSCE mission head Hans Georg Wieck, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The ministry said Khvastou briefed Wieck on how Minsk perceives the mission's activities in Belarus and urged the mission to perform its duties "in strict accordance with its mandate." Wieck commented that both sides made proposals and agreed to continue consultations, but he did not elaborate. Citing "informed sources," an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent reported that Khvastou and Wieck discussed possibilities to resume consultations between the opposition and the government and to engage European experts in the process of improving Belarus's electoral legislation. In recent weeks, Belarusian Television conducted a mud-slinging campaign against the OSCE mission, while a number of Belarusian officials accused it of attempts to undermine the system of power in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 December 2000). JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT URGES GOVERNMENT TO SPEED UP PROBE INTO JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE...
Lawmakers on 21 December adopted a resolution urging the government to speed up the investigation into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Earlier the same day, the parliament was addressed by Volodymyr Chemerys, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest campaign. Gongadze's disappearance was "the drop that overfilled the cup of distrust in the authorities," Interfax quoted Chemerys as saying. According to Chemerys, the authorities want to conceal the truth about Gongadze's disappearance. "Leonid Danylovych [Kuchma], you expect that an expert investigation [of the Moroz tape] will prove your innocence. But there are no experts who could bring back the people's trust in you," he said in the parliament. Protesters in a tent camp on Kyiv's central square are demanding that Kuchma step down, accusing him of ordering Gongadze's murder. JM
...WHILE KUCHMA BLAMES DISAPPEARANCE SCANDAL ON 'PROVOCATION'
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Moscow on 21 December that Gongadze's disappearance is a "provocation," Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that "big money and professionals" are behind that provocation. "I am inclined to think that these professionals are ours, Ukrainian, homebred," he added. Earlier this month, Kuchma blamed unspecified foreign secret services for creating a scandal over the journalist's disappearance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December 2000). Commenting on the "Moroz tape," which allegedly proves the president's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance, Kuchma said the recording does not include "even a hint" that he wanted to get rid of the journalist. JM
LATVIAN COMMERCIAL LAW AMENDED
The Latvian parliament on 21 December voted by 46 to 26 with 17 abstentions to amend the commercial law so that it goes into effect on 1 April 2001 rather than 1 January, BNS reported. Last month, the People's Party had proposed that it not go into effect until 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000), arguing that it will place a great financial burden on farms as well as on small and medium-sized companies. Under the amendments, cooperative and vocational activities will no longer be regarded as commercial operations and the activities of farmers and handicraftsmen will be governed by a law that has not yet been adopted. The parliament also ordered the government to provide by 1 March 2001 the funding necessary for the commercial law to take effect. SG
LITHUANIAN SHIP FINALLY RELEASED BY EQUATORIAL GUINEA
Equatorial Guinea on 20 December released the Lithuanian vessel "Rytas," which it had detained last month (see "RFE/RL 14 November 2000) for alleged illegal fishing in its waters, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The ship had no fishing equipment aboard but a cargo of 2,700 tons of frozen fish valued at almost $1 million, which it was transporting from Mauritania to Cameroon. The authorities had initially demanded that the ship pay a fine of $1.3 million but later reduced that penalty to $500,000. Since Lithuania has no diplomats in Africa, it asked Russia, France, Spain, and the U.S. to help free the ship. About 250 tons of fish were taken from the ship, which did not pay the fine. The case will go before the International Tribunal in the Hague. SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES PENSION CUTS
The parliament on 21 December voted by 62 to 52 with three abstentions to amend the state pensions law, BNS reported. Passed earlier this month, that law provided that working pensioners receive only the base monthly pension of 138 litas ($34.50). The amendments establish a system of helping low-income pensioners whereby they will receive the base pension plus 50 percent of additional pension for the first 100 litas, another 20 percent for second 100 litas, and 10 percent for third 100 litas. If the amount exceeds 300 litas, the pensioner will not be eligible for any additional pension; thus, pensioners earning more than 645 litas a month will receive only the base pension. A working pensioner could receive a maximum pension of 218 litas. The Social Democratic coalition and the Conservatives voted against the amendments, which are intended to save the government 80 million litas. SG
POLISH PARLIAMENT APPROVES BALCEROWICZ AS CENTRAL BANK CHIEF
The parliament on 22 December voted by 226 to 214 to approve former Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz as head of the National Bank. Balcerowicz's candidacy was supported by the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and his own party, the Freedom Union (UW), while the Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party opposed it. Polish media suggested earlier that the AWS traded its backing of Balcerowicz for the UW's pledge to endorse next year's budget. Balcerowicz, who is internationally recognized as the architect of Poland's successful transition to a market economy, remains highly unpopular among Poles, who blame him for high unemployment and other hardships connected with the economic reform. JM
TEMELIN REACTOR CONNECTED TO POWER GRID
One of the two reactors at the controversial nuclear power plant in Temelin was connected to the national grid on 21 December for testing purposes, dpa reported. Plant spokesman Milan Nebesar said the reactor, running at 29 percent capacity, had produced 59 megawatts. Austrian anti-nuclear campaigners called the news "a bad Christmas surprise," but the government in Vienna said in a statement that the on-line test run did not breach the agreement between the two countries under which EU experts are to inspect the plant before the start of commercial operations. MS
VACLAV KLAUS WANTS TO PRIVATIZE CZECH TV...
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus, responding to the recent uproar over the appointment of one of his supporters as director general of Czech Television, said on 21 December that "the hybrid called [the Czech television] public corporation does not function, as it is neither a state nor a privately owned institution. It is time to start preparing for its privatization," CTK reported. Social Democratic Party (CSSD) deputy Miroslav Kucera said in response that Klaus has "succumbed to emotions" and is "unfortunately fomenting another wave of emotions" among the staff of Czech Television. Senators Michael Zantovsky and Jan Ruml of the Four Party Coalition said the proposal "reflects his frustration over the fact that Czech Television...continues to defend its right to be an independent and impartial medium" as well as the "last bastion against the arrogance and corruption of politicians and political parties." MS
...AS PROTESTS OVER TV APPOINTMENT GROW
Most unions representing professional groups at Czech Television have joined the protest against Jiri Hodac's appointment as general director, and some 6,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the appointment be revoked. Among the signatories are newly appointed Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl and Jiri Dienstbier, government commissioner for human rights. Some 300 people gathered in Prague's main Wenceslas square on 21 December to protest the appointment. They accused the ODS and the CSSD of trying to gain control over Czech Television ahead of the 2002 elections. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER VETOES PARTNER'S NOMINEE FOR DEFENSE MINISTER
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 21 December refused to accept the nomination of former chief of staff Jozef Tuchyna as defense minister, TASR and CTK reported. The post will become vacant on 2 January 2001, owing to Pavol Kanis's resignation. Tuchyna was nominated by the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), on whose lists he was elected to the parliament. Dzurinda said he does not contest the SDL's right to appoint Kanis's replacement but noted that Tuchyna's appointment would run counter to Slovakia's drive for NATO integration, since all NATO countries have defense ministers who are civilians. The SDL leadership met after the announcement but deferred a decision on another nominee to after the Christmas holidays. Tuchyna said he is "not disappointed" but will now "have to reconsider my relations with the ruling coalition." MS
HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT, JEWISH COMMUNITIES, SIGN 'HISTORIC PACT'
Culture Minister Zoltan Rockenbauer and representatives of the Hungarian Federation of Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) signed an agreement on 21 December described by MAZSIHISZ President Peter Tordai as "historic..., the like of which has not been signed in Hungary for 150 years," Hungarian media reported. Media reports compared the agreement to the Concordat with the Vatican and with similar agreements concluded with the Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Serbian Orthodox Churches in Hungary. The document says the cabinet "highly appreciates" the traditions of the Jewish faith and the community's contribution to "the moral and intellectual progress" of Hungary, as well as its participation in Hungarian "freedom struggles." The cabinet undertakes to support efforts for the dissemination of knowledge on the Holocaust in educational institutions and to provide assistance for the preservation of Jewish memorial sites. MS
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL HINTS AT MILITARY COOPERATION WITH BELGRADE...
Lord Robertson said in Sarajevo on 21 December that "the Serb government is frustrated by what is happening in the safety zone [on Serbia's border with Kosova] and so am I. That is why we are taking active measures, politically and militarily, to stop the violence going on," AP reported. He added that "with restraint being shown on the Serbian side, the active measures that are being taken [by KFOR] on the Kosovo side of the boundary...will address this issue. The growing political isolation of the extremists, who use the safety zone to launch violence and to try provoke violence, is now starting to produce results. It is in nobody's interest that these provocations get a response. Therefore, NATO, KFOR, and, if necessary, an association with the [Yugoslav] and Serbian authorities will continue to deal with the problem of the small number of extremists." Robertson did not spell out the terms of the possible "association" between NATO and Belgrade. PM
...WHILE KFOR COMMANDER OFFERS POSSIBLE TREATY REVISION
General Carlo Cabigiosu told Reuters in Prishtina on 21 December that it may soon be possible to revise the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ban Serbian forces from the demilitarized zone on the border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2000). He said of the Serbs: "Why should we treat them as enemies forever? We [may] soon have the opportunity to review those treaties" after the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections. President Vojislav Kostunica and his allies are expected to win in a landslide victory. They have called for a revision of the Kumanovo documents (see also "End Note" below). PM
NATO COMMANDER IN KOSOVA WARNS 'EXTREMISTS'
General Cabigiosu said in Prishtina on 21 December that KFOR troops may soon crack down on Serbian extremists in the north of the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). He said that "the hard-liners there will be soon dealt [with] appropriately," but he did not elaborate, AP reported. Cabigiosu also urged ethnic Albanian fighters in the demilitarized zone to disarm and go home. "We want to interrupt any line of communication between Kosovo and the armed groups," he added. PM
ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS PLEDGE TO FIGHT
Commander Muhamet Xhemaili of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) told "The Daily Telegraph" of 22 December that his men will fight Serbian forces massing in the area. He added that the UCPMB will also fight NATO troops if the alliance sends them into the area without making a prior agreement with the guerrillas and without trying to convince the Serbian forces to leave. PM
MACEDONIA BOSNIA CALL FOR SERBIAN-ALBANIAN DIALOGUE
Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim and his Bosnian counterpart, Jadranko Prlic, said in Skopje on 21 December that leaders of Serbia and of the Kosovar Albanians should begin talks soon aimed at defusing the tensions in southwestern Serbia. Kerim argued that "Belgrade and Pristina must start talking as soon as possible... There is no question that cannot be resolved through negotiations," AP reported. He added that both Macedonia and Bosnia are "adamantly against resolving issues with force, regardless of their nature." Prlic noted that "Bosnia has had long experience with the practice of having guns 'speak' instead of people." Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski was less impartial, saying that "if the [Albanian] extremists continue their efforts, this will be the beginning of a new cycle of instability for all" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). PM
KOSOVARS REJECT ANNAN PROPOSAL FOR NEW YUGOSLAVIA
Alush Gashi, who is an adviser to moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova, said in Prishtina on 21 December that independence is the only future for Kosova. "We strongly believe that independence is a much better solution than attempting different arrangements that would be a question mark for the Kosovars and for others," AP reported. He was referring to a recent suggestion by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Yugoslavia be reconstituted as a tripartite federation consisting of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova. The daily "Zeri" wrote that "the future of Kosova will be decided by the Kosovars themselves," adding that Serbs and Albanians have become "irreconcilable" foes. Ramush Haradinaj, who is president of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, said that the proposal can only undermine "stability in the region [because it ignores] the will of the Albanian people [for independence]." Kostunica has already rejected Annan's proposal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000), while the majority of Montenegrin political parties have also turned it down, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 21 December. PM
SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TO OPEN POLLING PLACES IN KOSOVA
Serbian Election Commission authorities plan to open 250 polling stations for the 23 December legislative vote in three districts of Kosova where an estimated 100,000 Serbs live. The regions are Peja, central Kosova, and Mitrovica, dpa reported on 21 December. The UN civilian authorities have not sought to encourage or discourage the organization of the Serbian vote in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). PM
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT SAYS ARRESTING MILOSEVIC 'NOT A PRIORITY'
Kostunica said in Paris on 21 December that "France was one of the first countries to lead the European Union to support democratic change in Serbia, even before our election in September," dpa reported. He added that Paris played a "very important" role in Belgrade's subsequent reintegration into European political life. Kostunica met with President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. The French leaders stressed the importance of "democracy, reconciliation, and regional cooperation," AP reported. They also reminded their guest of Yugoslavia's obligations toward the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Kostunica replied that the tribunal will open an office in Belgrade but that bringing former President Slobodan Milosevic to justice is "not a priority" for him. PM
SERBIAN INTELLECTUALS STAGE PARIS 'HAPPENING'
Serbian artists and intellectuals opened a multi-media exhibition in Paris on 21 December to present what they called the "true face of Serbia." "Serbia is ready to become part of Europe," one spokesman said. He added that "Milosevic's Serbia was a version that did not exist in reality, a false image that has to be corrected," Reuters reported. PM
YUGOSLAV AIRLINES TO BUY AIRBUS
Mihajlo Vujinovic, who heads Yugoslav Airlines, said in Belgrade on 21 December that "JAT and the Serbian government have made the decision to purchase eight Airbus 319 planes. The value of the project is almost [$500 million]," Reuters reported. The first two planes are expected to be delivered in 2002. A deal was originally concluded in 1998 but held up because of EU economic sanctions against the Milosevic regime. Some three months ago, France and Germany called for the early lifting of EU sanctions against Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 27 September 2000). PM
MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT WARNS FEUDING CHURCHES
The legislature passed a resolution reminding Montenegro's feuding Serbian Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches that the purpose of Churches is to unite people and not to exacerbate divisions among them, Montena-fax news agency reported from Podgorica on 21 December. The resolution advised rival Church leaders to pursue their claims over property and other rights in the courts and nowhere else. Most Montenegrins who express a religious affiliation are Serbian Orthodox. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is nonetheless vocal and well connected with the independence movement. The Montenegrin Church's members charge that they and their Church do not enjoy equality with the Serbian one. PM
CROATIAN GOVERNMENT STANDS FIRM ON GENERAL'S HAGUE TESTIMONY
Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said in Zagreb on 21 December that the government will not allow General Petar Stipetic, who heads the General Staff, permission to testify in Croatia before representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal until The Hague makes it clear whether it regards him as a witness or a defendant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2000). Ivanisevic stressed that the general will not testify "until the prosecutors clarify why they first summoned him as a witness and then as a suspect" in conjunction with the 1995 offensive against Serbian rebels, Reuters reported. The minister added that Croatia cannot accept a state of affairs in which "the court dictates and we listen," AP reported. Many Croats believe that the tribunal has rewarded the government's cooperative attitude by making far more demands on it than on Belgrade or Sarajevo. PM
HUNGARIAN FIRM WINS MACEDONIAN TELECOM STAKE
The Macedonian government said in a statement in Skopje on 21 December that it has decided to sell a 51 percent stake in its Global System for Mobile to Hungary's Matav. The Hungarian bidder offered $674 million to purchase and develop the system. A Macedonian government spokesman said that the government was impressed with the Hungarians' pledges for the "future development" of Telecom. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski called it the "biggest [single] foreign investment in Macedonia," AP reported. PM
EMBITTERED CONSTANTINESCU HANDS OVER ROMANIAN PRESIDENCY
Former President Emil Constantinescu told his successor Ion Iliescu on 21 December that Iliescu will have "advantages that I did not have." Among these, Constantinescu named "the backing of a large and compact party that is well-represented at local administration level," the backing of financial-economic groups formed during Iliescu's former presidential terms between 1990 and 1996 that managed to keep their influential positions under Constantinescu's presidency, and the support of a substantial part of the mass media. "Unlike me," Constantinescu commented, Iliescu will "not have political friends who criticize him more than political adversaries do," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
ILIESCU SAYS 1989 CULPRITS MAY NEVER BE DISCOVERED
President Iliescu on 21 December addressed a joint session of the two chambers of the parliament marking 11 years since the "Romanian Revolution of 1989." Before that meeting, Iliescu told journalists that those events had been "a genuine revolution," regardless of "diversionist attempts" that might have taken place at that time. He said those who are guilty of killing innocent people "may never be discovered" because "it is difficult to establish [such guilt] when one deals with a movement of such magnitude". However, he said, "the main culprits had been sentenced and executed: these were the Ceausescu couple," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE BLOCKED BY BOYCOTT
Only 48 deputies attended the 21 December parliamentary session, at which the next round of presidential elections was scheduled to take place, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. As a quorum of 61 is necessary for the ballot to take place, the elections could not be held. Parliamentary chairman and Democratic Party leader Dumitru Diacov said this was a "political decision" taken by the center-right parties to hinder the election of Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin to the post. A statement issued in the name of these parliamentary groups said they are now ready to agree to early parliamentary elections, "which have been imposed on us by destructive forces." On 22 December, the special parliamentary commission on the presidential election decided that the next round of voting will take place on 16 January, but observers say Lucinschi may dissolve the parliament with the next few days. MS
BULGARIA OPTS FOR 'GROWTH-FRIENDLY' ECONOMIC POLICIES
Deputy Premier Petar Zhotev told journalists on 21 December that his country's economic policies next year will move from "emphasis on stabilization to emphasis on quick [economic] growth and high incomes," AP reported. Zhotev said this does not mean that Bulgaria is abandoning the strict financial discipline imposed three years ago, with the setting up of the currency board. But Sofia will reduce borrowing from lenders such as the IMF and the World Bank and will instead seek external loans for its private sector in order to make itself more attractive to foreign investors. "Bulgaria now needs a policy of high and stable economic growth...generated in conditions of durable macroeconomic stability, controllable inflation, and large foreign currency reserves," Zhotev said. He also said the cabinet will try to keep annual inflation below 10 percent. MS
SERBIA ELECTS A NEW PARLIAMENT
by Jolyon Naegele
The campaigning for the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections has been brief and low-key, largely because the outcome of the vote seems a foregone conclusion. The 18-party anti-Slobodan Milosevic coalition of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) is expected to score a landslide victory. Pre-election projections give DOS between 70 percent and 80 percent of the vote, while Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists have a little more than 15 percent.
Eight parties and coalitions will be competing for 250 seats in the Serbian parliament. Six-and-a-half million registered voters will be able to cast their ballots at some 8,700 polling stations.
In contrast to the Yugoslav federal elections two months ago, which Milosevic's Socialists tried to steal through electoral fraud and by barring Western monitors, these elections will be considerably more transparent. The OSCE, which Yugoslavia recently rejoined, is fielding 335 monitors, while the Serbian non-governmental Center for Free Elections and Democracy is supplying 12,000 monitors.
In addition, ballot boxes this time will be--literally--transparent. Each voter will have to sign a voter list and have his or her hand sprayed with invisible ink in an effort to prevent multiple voting.
Zoran Djindjic, DOS campaign manager and candidate for prime minister of Serbia, was the sole speaker at the coalition's final campaign rally in Novi Belgrade earlier this week. At that meeting, he restated DOS's four-point program for recovery: "A state of law, meaning no revenge and no amnesties. Second, a successful economy--fair work for fair pay, fair work for a decent living. Third, social policy as the main state program so that the transition that awaits us is not accomplished at the expense of the poorest [members of the population]. They have already paid too much over the past 10 years. Fourth, the decentralization of power."
Djindjic called on Serbs, above all, to establish a clean, non-corrupt, and capable government that can turn the country into what he called a "model of a modern, organized state." In words tailored to a public weary of war after four bloody conflicts in 10 years, Djindjic declared: "Let's try to win in peace, we don't want wars any more. Let's make the 21st century an era of peace in the Balkans."
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said this week that the public's expectations of change are immense and that the main problems can be tackled only once the Serbian parliament is elected and a new government formed. "The entire process of democratic changes will have to wait until Serbia is strengthened," he commented.
There has been much speculation about an ongoing contest of wills and political styles between Djindjic and Kostunica, which could come into the open after the elections. Once the voting results are known, current Serbian President Milan Milutinovic--indicted by The Hague tribunal for war crimes--is likely to be forced out of office. Moreover, the Yugoslav presidency would cease to exist and Kostunica would be out of a job if Montenegro, the smaller of the two constituent Yugoslav republics, goes ahead with its threatened secession.
But Kostunica insists he is not considering running for president of Serbia. He says it is more important to elect a new parliament as the foundation of democratic transformation. Kostunica, a constitutional law professor, says the post of president is less important, because, in his words, "democracy does not depend on personalities but on institutions."
As in previous campaigns, Milosevic's Socialist Party exploited popular fears of the disintegration of the Yugoslav state as its main theme. Speaking at a rally in Belgrade earlier this week, Socialist General Secretary Zoran Andjelkovic warned of possible attempts to grant republican status to at least two ethnically diverse regions: Serbia's Vojvodina and the Presevo Valley. "We are," he said, "for a united Serbia." But while pledging to keep the country whole, Andjelkovic also tried to show a kinder, gentler Socialist face than Milosevic's.
"Our program and our candidates are not against anyone," Andjelkovic said. "These are candidates for a new era who are for Yugoslavia, a Yugoslavia of equal republics, in the best interests of the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro--Serbs and Montenegrins-- that's what we favor and they [DOS] probably oppose. We are the guarantee that Yugoslavia will continue to exist and these candidates are for the existence of Yugoslavia."
Yugoslavia's territorial integrity is threatened on several fronts--Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosova, and the Presevo Valley. Once the Serbian legislative elections are behind him and once the Socialists finally vacate the republic's ministries they have clung to since Milosevic's ouster in October, Kostunica will face the formidable task of keeping the Yugoslav federation together. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.