PUTIN THANKS SAUDIS FOR HELP WITH HIJACKING...
President Vladimir Putin on 17 March thanked Saudi Arabia's King Fahd for ending the hijacking of a Russian plane the day before, Russian and Western agencies reported. When Saudi security forces stormed the plane on 16 March three people on board, including a stewardess, a passenger, and a hijacker, were killed. Moscow is seeking the return of the hijackers, who have been identified in the media as Chechens demanding the end of Russian military actions against Chechnya. After the end of the hijacking incident, which lasted 22 hours, Putin said on 16 March that the successes of Russian forces in Chechnya have forced "the cleverer of the rebels" to shift their base of operation abroad, Russian television reported. He called on Turkey to expand cooperation against their actions. PG
...CALLS FOR UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON TALIBAN DESECRATIONS
President Putin on 17 March urged that the UN Security Council discuss the Taliban's vandalizing of Buddhist statuary, Russian and Western agencies reported. Putin's comments came in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. PG
CHECHEN WARLORD SAID TO HAVE ORDERED HIJACKING...
Vladimir Pronichev, first deputy director of the Federal Security Service, said in Moscow on 16 March that the hijack the previous day of the Russian airliner by Chechens was organized by radical Chechen field commander Khattab, Interfax reported. On 17 March, First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kozlov told ORT television that during his February visit to Ankara, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo gave his Turkish counterpart a list of prominent Chechen militants believed to be in Turkey at that time, and discussed with him the possibility of plane or ship hijacks. LF
...AS CHECHEN LEADERSHIP DENIES RESPONSIBILITY
Mairbek Vachagaev, a spokesman for Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, told "Ekho Moskvy" that Maskhadov's leadership was not involved in the hijack, Interfax reported on 16 March. He said such acts are "unacceptable" to Maskhadov and his team. Also on 16 March, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov condemned the hijackers and expressed his gratitude to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd for securing the release of passengers held hostage on the hijacked aircraft. LF
FALLING OIL PRICES MAY AFFECT MOSCOW'S ABILITY TO PAY DEBTS
Aleksandr Shokhin, chairman of the Duma Banking Committee, said on 16 March that oil prices lower than $23.50 per barrel would lead Moscow to reopen talks with the Paris Club about Russian indebtedness, Interfax-AFI reported. His views were echoed in an article in "Rossiya" the same day. Meanwhile, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said on 16 March that the government will have to be very careful in implementing the budget lest inflation be reignited, Interax reported. PG
CAPITAL FLIGHT DOUBLED IN 2000
The State Statistics Committee reported that Russian companies invested $15.1 billion abroad in 2000 compared to $8.38 billion in 1999, "Segodnya" reported on 16 March. The paper said the companies did so because risks on the domestic market remain "disproportionately high." Meanwhile, the Federal Tax Police announced that it will audit Russian banks to help prevent capital flight, Interfax reported on 16 March. The Tax Police said the same day that more than 40 of its officers have been killed on the job over the past nine years, the Russian agency said. PG
IMF REPORTEDLY WON'T HELP SWISS PROBE OF RUSSIAN FINANCES
London's "Financial Times" on 16 March reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has refused to provide Swiss prosecutors with the information they are seeking concerning the alleged misappropriation of a $4.8 billion IMF loan by Moscow. PG
MONEY-LAUNDERING LAW NEEDED TO BOOST EQUITY VALUES
Writing in "Izvestiya" on 16 March, commentator Semen Novoprodskii argued that legislation against money-laundering is necessary, primarily in order to "launder Russia's worldwide reputation" and boost equity values in the eyes of potential investors. He said Russia's "unsavory reputation" means that shares in Gazprom and other major companies are seriously undervalued, possibly by as much as 80 percent. A law against money-laundering would help eliminate that problem, he said. PG
COMMENTATOR SEES ONSET OF ANOTHER 'ERA OF STAGNATION'
Analyzing the state of Russian politics in the wake of the failed no-confidence motion, commentator Otto Latsis wrote in "Novye Izvestiya" on 16 March that the vote showed that Kremlin advisers and Unity leaders had seriously miscalculated the situation. But at the same time, Latsis argues, it shows that "the Duma we have is completely unprincipled." Moreover, the failure of the vote suggests that "the traditional Soviet hierarchy of values is returning: the individual serves the state, not vice versa. The problem is not that strengthening the state for the sake of strengthening the state is pointless. The problem is that when the means become the end, the end becomes unattainable." As a result, unless there are changes soon, Latsis warned, things will end in "just another era of stagnation." PG
GORBACHEV SAYS PUTIN MUST SPEAK OUT QUICKLY OR LOSE SUPPORT
Speaking in Tomsk on 16 March, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Russian President Putin must explain his policies and goals in the near future, Interfax-Eurasia reported. If he does not, Gorbachev said, Putin risks losing the trust of the population and seeing his popularity decline sharply. PG
MUSCOVITES AGAINST USE OF RUSSIAN ARMY IN CENTRAL ASIA
A poll conducted by ROMIR-Gallup International and reported by Interfax on 16 March found that 57.6 percent of respondents oppose the use of Russian forces in Central Asia against Islamic insurgents. Only 29 percent think that Russian forces should be dispatched there. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax a day earlier showed that 56 percent of respondents believe Moscow must win the trust of the Chechens to end the conflict there, while 29 percent of those polled believe the only way to do so is to act in such a way as to instill in the Chechens a fear of Moscow. PG
DUMA RESTRUCTURING IDEAS OUTLINED
In the wake of the failure of the no-confidence measure, People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 16 March as saying that the number of committees in the parliament will be cut from 28 to 16 or 17 under a proposal he and his colleagues are preparing, and that some parties and groups -- presumably a reference to the Communists -- may lose seats and chairmanships as a result. PG
CHECHEN WAR HEATS UP ON INTERNET
"Vremya MN" reported on 16 March that hackers tried to deny service to the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr earlier last week but that they were not able to "completely" destroy it. According to Chechen officials, the hackers involved were employees of Russia's security services. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rushailo announced that security has been increased at Russian nuclear power stations in anticipation of possible Chechen attacks, "Tribuna" reported on 16 March. PG
CHINESE HARASSED IN FAR EASTERN TOWN
Two persons were hospitalized in the town of Amurzet in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast following a fight between Russian and Chinese civilians, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 March. According to law enforcement officials, drunken Russians initiated the fight by yelling at Chinese workers at a privately owned wood-processing enterprise, accusing them of "ruining our Russian forest." The enterprise is financed entirely with Chinese capital. According to the agency, this is the not the first conflict between Russians and Chinese in the oblast in recent years. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March that Russian and Chinese negotiators have been unable to agree on the demarcation of the last 2 percent of the border between their countries. JAC/PG
PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY CHALLENGES MAYOR, TV HEAD, TO DUELS...
Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, has challenged Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov and Vladivostok State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Chairman Valerii Bakshin to duels, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 March. Pulikovskii issued the challenge at a press conference in Vladivostok that day. Pulikovskii advised Kopylov, "Choose your weapon and if we fight, I will not miss." According to "Segodnya" the next day, Pulikovskii was speaking in jest, but the words express his dissatisfaction with the conduct of the gubernatorial campaign in the krai. According to Pulikovskii, since the departure of former Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, little has changed in terms of campaign tactics and the media is "pouring out filth" about various candidates. JAC
...AS FORMER JUDGE ENTERS RACE
Former Arbitration Court Chair Tatyana Loktionova informed the krai's election commission on 16 March that she intends to run in the 27 May elections. Last June, Loktionova was stripped of her position on the court by the Qualifications Collegium because of accusations that her husband had accepted a bribe to get her to change a court decision. The year before, Loktionova charged that the local police, acting under orders from Nazdratenko, were fabricating criminal cases against her and her family. Nazdratenko, in turn, accused her court of destroying the krai's economy because of its role in bankrupting local enterprises (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 August 1999). Loktionova is the 19th candidate to enter the race thus far. JAC
FEDERAL TREASURY OPENS BRANCH IN ETHNIC REPUBLIC...
The Federal Treasury officially opened a branch in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, on 17 March, Russian agencies reported. Although the treasury had opened branches in all other Russian regions, Tatarstan did not have an official treasury presence under the conditions of a power-sharing agreement that had been signed with the federal government. According to ITAR-TASS, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who attended the ceremony celebrating the branch's opening, declared "The opening of this division -- the 89th -- completes the creation of a single centralized system for implementing the federal budget for all Russian territory." JAC
...AS AGREEMENT REACHED ON PASSPORTS
The chairman of Tatarstan's legislative assembly, Farid Mukhametshin, also announced on 16 March that the federal government and the governments of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan have agreed on the format for page inserts in the new Russian Federation passport, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The four-page insert, which will be sewn into the basic document, will include republic symbols and information in national languages. Mukhametshin noted that it "took us three years to persuade Moscow to allow citizens of ethnic republics to write their names in their mother tongue." The new passports will be issued in about one month. JAC
DUMA DELEGATION EXPLORES TIES WITH UKRAINE
A Duma delegation lead by Unity deputy Sergei Apatenko is in Kyiv to consult with Ukrainian parliamentarians who have set up a parliamentary group "For the Union of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia," ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. The Ukrainian effort currently unites 60 members of the Verkhovna Rada. PG
RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY SAYS U.S. 'NOT AN ENEMY'
In an interview published by "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 17 March, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said "the United States is not an enemy" of Russia and that Russia does not view the U.S. as an enemy either. Meanwhile, an article in "Vremya novostei" on 16 March said that Moscow is considering reactivating its missile-building capacity because of American attitudes. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that Washington has signaled that "Russia is not considered an important ally or partner." PG
FOREIGN MINISTER AGAIN CALLS FOR ENDING SANCTIONS ON YUGOSLAVIA
In an interview published in Belgrade's "Politika" on 18 March, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow believes that all sanctions against Yugoslavia must now be lifted. In addition, he said that he does not see any reason to "preserve the huge bureaucratic machine into which the International Tribunal has been turned into over these years." Ivanov's comments, published in advance of his visit to the Balkans, also included a call for the preservation of a single union state of Serbia and Montenegro. Earlier, on 16 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry called for urgent steps to stop the violence in Macedonia, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG
MOSCOW SEEKS CLOSER TIES WITH IRAQ
A parliamentary delegation led by State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev is in Iraq to promote closer ties between Moscow and Baghdad, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. One measure of that new approach, AP reported the same day, is that Tatneft, Russia's fifth largest oil producer, has now received UN approval to drill 33 wells in Iraq. PG
BALTIC STATES SAID TO FEAR NMD-NATO DEAL
The Kaliningrad edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" said that Baltic governments fear that the United States is prepared to trade Russian acceptance of American NMD (national missile defense) plans for Washington's agreement not to include the three Baltic countries in NATO, BNS reported on 16 March. Indeed, the exclave paper said, reports of nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad may have been promoted to justify just such a deal. Meanwhile, strana.ru on 17 March -- the 10th anniversary of the Soviet referendum on whether the USSR should be preserved -- said Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania "spearheaded the process" of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. PG
RUSSIA'S DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS INTENSIFYING...
At a seminar entitled "Problem 2003: The Demographic Crisis and Ways of Overcoming It," First Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Development Galina Karelova said Russia now stands in 134th place among all countries in terms of male life expectancy and is 100th in terms of female life expectancy, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. First Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Mikhail Dmitriev suggested that addressing all the country's demographic problems is beyond its current financial means, Interfax reported. But Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok argued that many of the measures necessary could be accomplished without large additional expenditures. PG
...AS PROBLEMS MOUNT FOR OLD, YOUNG AND WOMEN
An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Krug Zhizni," No. 5, said older people are rapidly becoming the new "bezprizorniki" ("unsupervised ones") because their children are too busy with their own lives to attend to the needs of their parents. In the same issue of that journal, another article said that the problems of children in Russia may be more acute. Significantly more children are born unhealthy today than four years ago, the paper said, and many are contracting more diseases. In addition, more young people than ever are using drugs and alcohol, and becoming homeless. Also in that issue of the journal, another article reported that there are ever fewer women in Russian parliament, a process that has made the Duma "one of the most male-dominated parliaments in Europe." PG
GOVERNMENT SAYS SOCIAL CONDITIONS IMPROVING
At an all-Russia conference on social policy on 16 March, Russian officials said conditions in that sector are improving, but that more needs to be done, Russian agencies reported. Among the successes reported are rising pensions and government salaries, the payment of wage arrears, and a decline in the number of strikes from 7825 in 1999, to 817 in 2000, ITAR-TASS reported. PG
GAZPROM TO GET OUT OF MEDIA ACTIVITIES?
Audit Chamber official Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn told Interfax-AFI on 16 March that Gazprom has agreed to end its investments in the media and concentrate its activities in the gas industry. He said Gazprom will redirect the approximately 6 billion rubles ($210 million) it now has invested in media outlets into gas production. PG
MOSCOW RESTRICTS CERTAIN IMPORTS
The Russian government has imposed new and higher duties on the importing of Ukrainian-produced pipes as an antidumping measure, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March. Meanwhile, the State Customs Committee also imposed new restrictions on imports from Asian countries, some of whose companies have sought to avoid Russian customs, the Russian agency reported on 17 March. Companies from these countries will no longer be able to send their products to Russia via the Baltic states and Europe. PG
RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS SEEK TO CREATE NEW POLITICAL PARTY
Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, the leader of the Refakh movement, is working to form a "Prosperity" party to promote the interests of Russia's more than 20 million Muslims, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 16 March. Because Russian law prohibits purely religious parties, Niyazov noted that the group will also welcome members of other faiths. The group plans to hold its first congress on 22 May, the paper said. PG
VOLSKII DENIES PLANS TO CREATE OLIGARCH PARTY
Arkadii Volskii, the president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, in an interview published in "Trud" on 16 March, denied that his group has any plans to convert itself into a political party. One reason that they may not was suggested by an article in "Vedomosti" on 16 March. According to it, President Putin meets with the business leaders much less often than did his predecessor, but those leaders are also less afraid of him and he now serves as their lobbyist. Meanwhile, several members of Volskii's group testified at Duma hearings that they seek government help in reforming corporate governance rules, Interfax reported the same day. PG
YELTSIN WANTS TO CREATE ELDER STATESMEN CLUB
According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 March, former Russian President Yeltsin hopes to set up an international club of elder statesmen to give advice on foreign policy questions, and to help build bridges between Moscow and the West. PG
CHERNOMYRDIN IN SNOWMOBILE ACCIDENT
Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin lost control of his snowmobile on 16 March while on an Arctic expedition near Murmansk, Russian and Western agencies reported. ITAR-TASS said Chernomyrdin's injuries were not life-threatening. Meanwhile, in an interview published in "Trud" on 15 March, former Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said Chernomyrdin had pushed for the 1994 invasion of Chechnya against the advice of the military. PG
HERALDRY HEAD SEES NO PROBLEM IN COMBINING SOVIET, RUSSIAN SYMBOLS
Georgii Vilinbakhov, chairman of the State Heraldic Council in the Office of the Russian President, said in an interview published in "Vremya MN" on 16 March that he sees no problem in the continuing display of Soviet-era symbols alongside Russian ones. Vilinbakhov said there is no reason to take down Soviet symbols unless they replaced Tsarist ones, in which case they should then be restored. "In a normal state," Vilinbakhov said, "monuments are not torn down. History loves to combine things that are not by nature combinable." PG
INTERIOR MINISTRY, ORTHODOX CHURCH EXPAND TIES
Patriarch Aleksii II met with Interior Minister Rushailo on 16 March to discuss ties between their two institutions, both in general and in order to promote the restoration of a peaceful life in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy for the Central federal district, met with Orthodox hierarchy and others to discuss and approve a concept for the spiritual education of young people, the news agency reported the same day. PG
HALF OF RUSSIA'S CELL PHONES ILLEGAL
About half of the cell phones now being used in Russia were brought into the country illegally, and many of them are causing problems for their users and for others, "Segodnya" reported on 16 March. PG
UNDERGROUND BAKERY EXPOSED, CLOSED
Moscow police on 16 March told Interfax that they arrested three ethnic Armenians for operating an underground bakery in the Russian capital. The police said the arrests were part of their campaign against organized crime. PG
ARMENIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT BLOC MEETS...
Representatives of the center-right Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the left-wing People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), partners in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, met in Yerevan on 17 March in a bid to strengthen cohesion and cooperation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Rumors of the impending collapse of the 49-deputy Miasnutiun faction into its two constituent parts have been circulating since last summer, but the HHK now faces internal pressures after several prominent party members left last month to protest the refusal of its chairman, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, to challenge President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 34, 24 August 2000 and Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). Those defectors, including former Premier Aram Sargsian and former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan, have established a rival party named Hanrapetutiun (Republic), which dozens of disaffected HHK members have already joined. LF
...AS NEW OPPOSITION COALITION TAKES SHAPE
Up to one dozen left-wing opposition parties, including the Communists and the HZhK, are preparing to launch a new anti-Kocharian National Accord Front (AHCh), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 16 March, quoting senior members of the parties involved who asked not to be identified. The driving force behind the new grouping is pro-Moscow former presidential national security adviser Ashot Manucharian, who now heads the Union of Socialist Forces. Petros Makeyan, chairman of the small opposition Democratic Fatherland Party, told journalists in Yerevan the same day that the new alliance will try to harness and direct popular dissatisfaction with President Kocharian's policies. LF
ARMENIA DENIES TERRITORIAL CLAIMS ON AZERBAIJAN, TURKEY
An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on 15 March denied that Presidential Human Rights Commission Chairman Paruyr Hairikian's call for the abrogation of the 1921 Treaty of Kars reflects official policy, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 March 2001). She said Hairikian's statements "absolutely do not correspond to Armenia's foreign policy." LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT UNDERSCORES SIGNIFICANCE OF FLORIDA KARABAKH TALKS...
Speaking to journalists at Baku airport on 17 March following his return from a five-day official visit to Turkey, President Heidar Aliyev said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's invitation to himself and Armenian President Kocharian to discuss the Karabakh conflict in Florida early next month is "the most important" recent initiative aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported. Aliyev noted that it will be the first time that the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group will be present at talks between the two presidents. In Ankara the previous day, Aliyev expressed the hope that the Florida talks will result in the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territories, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 16 March, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian visited Moscow for talks on Karabakh and bilateral ties with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov and Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. LF
...WHILE FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES FILING CHARGES AGAINST ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev has rejected as untrue Azerbaijani media reports that he has filed charges with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague against Armenian President Kocharian for war crimes against the Azerbaijani people, Turan reported on 17 March. But Quliev admitted he has appealed to international organizations to issue a formal condemnation of the killing of several hundred Azerbaijani villagers in February 1992. At that time, Kocharian headed the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's wartime government. LF
GEORGIA, ABKHAZ AGAIN ABJURE USE OF VIOLENCE...
At the close of the 15-16 March talks in Yalta between Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations, Georgian State Minister Gia Arsenishvili and Abkhaz Premier Vyacheslav Tsugba signed yet another undertaking to abjure the use of force in seeking to resolve the Abkhaz conflict, and asking the UN, the OSCE, and the CIS to act as guarantors of a nonresumption of hostilities, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. The two sides earlier signed such pledges in May 1998 and August 2000. Arsenishvili and Tsugba also pledged to expedite the return to their homes in Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons who fled during the 1992-1993 fighting, and empowered Russian peacekeepers, who since 1994 have been deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia under the CIS aegis, to intervene to curtail any future outbreak of hostilities. UN Special Representative Dieter Boden said the program of confidence-building measures agreed on during the talks "should assist in achieving...a complete peaceful solution of the conflict," while Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatolii Zlenko said the talks "justified our expectations," AP and ITAR-TASS reported. LF
...BUT ATTACKS ON POLICE OFFICERS CONTINUE
Five Abkhaz police officials were wounded on 18 March when their checkpoint came under fire from a grenade-launcher, AP reported. Three of them have since died of their injuries, according to Caucasus Press on 19 March. A spokeswoman for the Abkhaz Interior Ministry said a grenade was fired from the Georgian bank of the River Inguri, but Georgian police denied this, according to ITAR-TASS. Over the past three years, Georgian guerrillas have systematically targeted Abkhaz police officials, killing several dozen of them. LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS U.S.
Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze met in Washington on 16 March with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss expanding bilateral military cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
GEORGIAN POLICE BREAK UP COMMUNIST DEMONSTRATION
Georgian police used violence on 17 March to disperse a demonstration in Tbilisi by some 200 communist sympathizers demanding the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, ITAR-TASS reported. Between one dozen and 27 people were injured. In his traditional Monday radio interview on 19 March, Shevardnadze accused the Georgian communists of undermining Georgia's liberty and independence, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze expressed concern over the recent rapprochement between right-wing opposition forces and the Georgian Communist Party. LF
RENEGADE GEORGIAN PRIEST AGAIN TARGETS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili and several dozen of his followers on 16 March broke into the Margalita publishing house and set fire to 500 copies of a volume printed for the local community of Jehovah's Witnesses, AP reported quoting Interfax. An adviser to that community said the following day that police observed the incident but declined to intervene, and that the fire brigade was called only when almost all of the books had already been destroyed. LF
KAZAKH MILITARY REFORM ENTERS NEW PHASE
Following a session of Kazakhstan's Security Council on 15 March, Council Secretary Marat Tazhin told journalists that President Nursultan Nazarbaev has appointed Colonel General Alibek Kasymov to the posts of deputy defense minister and head of the army General Staff, Interfax reported. Tazhin said Nazarbaev's move reflected the enhanced role that the General Staff will play in future, explaining that the General Staff will assume responsibility for tactical and strategic planning while the Defense Ministry will focus on issues relating to political and financial support for the armed forces. Georgii Doubovtsev, who is deputy head of the Defense Ministry's military-scientific center, told Interfax on 16 March that the Defense Ministry may in future be transformed into a purely civilian organ, leaving the chief of General Staff as the country's highest military official. At the 15 March Security Council session, President Nazarbaev instructed Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sat Toqpaqbaev to take specific measures to strengthen the recently established military districts, especially the southern one. Nazarbaev has also appointed Bulat Dzhanasaev as commander of the Republican Guard. LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEBATES CUTS IN RETRANSMISSION
A parliament working group on 16 March discussed amendments to a media law that would reduce the volume of international broadcasting retransmitted by Kazakh electronic media, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Arguing that almost 90 percent of airtime is taken up by rebroadcasting of Russian programming, and that the predominance of the Russian programming undermines Kazakhstan's sovereignty, deputies decided after a heated debate that the volume of international programming retransmitted should be cut by 50 percent by 2002 and by 80 percent by 2003. Discussion of the amendments will continue this week. LF
HOMES OF PROMINENT KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY OFFICIALS VANDALIZED
Unknown vandals targeted the homes in Almaty of Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan acting Chairman Amirzhan Qosanov and of the party's press secretary, Almira Kusainova, during the night of 16-17 March, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The perpetrators threw stones at Kusainova's apartment, breaking three windows, and daubed insulting and vulgar slogans on Qosanov' s door. Both Qosanov and Kusainova have received numerous anonymous telephone threats over the past week, warning that their lives will be at risk unless they abandon their political activities. LF
KYRGYZ OFFICIAL DEFENDS LIBEL SUITS AGAINST JOURNALISTS
Meeting in Bishkek on 16 March with editors of independent and opposition media outlets, Secretary of State Osmonakun Ibraimov denied that the numerous libel suits that have brought several publications to the verge of ruin were politically motivated, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said it is normal for individuals to "defend their dignity in court." Meanwhile, two of the newspapers threatened by closures as a result of such lawsuits, "Asaba" and "Res Publica," published a further joint edition on 16 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2001). LF
TAJIKISTAN AGAIN DENIES PRESENCE OF ISLAMIC MILITANTS
Nuralisho Nazarov, the deputy secretary of the Tajik Security Council, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 19 March there are no members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), or any international terrorists, on Tajik territory. He added that Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topev's statement to Interfax on 17 March that there are now some 2,500 international terrorists in Tajikistan was intended to discredit his country. He added that the situation in Tavildara, where observers believe the IMU maintains a permanent presence, is "fully under control," and that the Tajik Interior Ministry is closely monitoring the situation there. Nazarov said Bishkek has not yet responded to a Tajik invitation to form a joint group to inspect the situation in the border region's of Tajikistan. LF
CONSCRIPTION SHORTCOMINGS NOTED IN TAJIKISTAN
Two Tajik Defense Ministry officials have been fired and a further 14 reprimanded in connection with shortcomings during the spring call-up, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 March. At a meeting the previous day of the Defense Ministry board, officials noted that medical evaluations of draftees' health are frequently wrong. It is not clear whether the problem is incompetence, as a result of which young men who are physically unfit to serve are drafted into the army, or whether officials are accepting bribes to exempt healthy individuals from the draft. LF
MORE ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS SENTENCED IN TAJIKISTAN
A district court in Tajikistan's Sughd region handed down prison terms of eight and nine years on two members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic party on charges of conspiring to overthrow the country's leadership, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 March, quoting the Tajik Interior Ministry. The sentences are the most severe passed to date on members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the agency noted. LF
AFGHAN OPPOSITION REPRESENTATIVES HOLD CONSULTATIONS WITH UZBEK LEADERSHIP
A Northern Alliance delegation representing Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and headed by Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah held talks in Tashkent on 15 March with Uzbek officials, Reuters and AP reported. Abdullah told journalists after those talks that although the Uzbek government established contact late last year with the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000), it has not retreated from its official recognition of the Rabbani government. Interfax on 16 March quoted Abdullah as having assured his Uzbek counterpart Abdulaziz Kamilov that the Northern Alliance will take steps to drive Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants out of those areas of Afghanistan under its control. LF
BELARUS HOLDS REPEAT LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IN 13 CONSTITUENCIES
Repeat elections to the Chamber of Representatives were held on 18 March in the 13 constituencies where turnout during the initial ballot on 15 October 2000 was below 50 percent, Belapan reported. According to preliminary results from the Central Electoral Commission, turnout this time was 72.7 percent nationwide and the ballot was valid in all constituencies. Two deputies were elected on 18 March, while 22 candidates will compete for 11 legislative seats in the second round of the repeat elections. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Electoral Commission, told ITAR-TASS that the second round will take place no later than 11 April. JM
BELARUSIAN TRADE UNION FEDERATION PRESSURIZED TO BREAK UP?
Uladzimir Hancharyk, head of the Trade Union Federation of Belarus (FTUB), told journalists on 16 March that authorities intend to break up the federation before this year's presidential elections, Belapan reported. He said the authorities are carrying out a "vigorous trade union reform" that boils down to persuading workers to defect from industrial unions, which form the FTUB, and join new trade union organizations controlled by factory management and the government. Hancharyk added that workers of Integral and the Belarusian Steel Works, two major plants in Minsk, have already quit the federation. JM
UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER FIRED?
Yuriy Karmazin, head of the Parliamentary Committee for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, told journalists on 19 March that President Leonid Kuchma on 17 March dismissed Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, Interfax reported. A report by ITAR-TASS on 17 March also alleged that Kravchenko was dismissed. The Presidential Administration Office said it has no information about Kravchenko's sacking. Kuchma is currently on a short vacation in the Crimean peninsula. Kravchenko's ouster is one of the key demands of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement. Kuchma's opponents blame Kravchenko for the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Meanwhile, according to an official report, Kuchma appointed Mykola Humynskyy as deputy head of the Security Service and Serhiy Kyslov as deputy head of the State Protection Directorate. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR FULL INVESTIGATION OF GONGADZE CASE
Viktor Yushchenko on 16 March called for a thorough investigation into the murder of Gongadze, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that he does not believe President Kuchma ordered Gongadze to be killed. "Morally, I cannot assume that the country's president may somehow be involved in Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearance. It would be a tragedy for me," Yushchenko said. JM
U.S. AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION
Carlos Pascual on 16 March criticized the actions of both opposition demonstrators and the authorities during violent protests in Kyiv on 9 March. "The events on 9 March were disappointing from all sides. The challenge for Ukraine's authorities is to give the people confidence that they can express dissent without fear of violent repression. Peaceful action is also very important on the part of demonstrators and restraint is also required [on their part]," AP quoted Pascual as saying. Pascual spoke after presenting a new $750,000 media development fund in Ukraine, a two-year project sponsored by the U.S. to encourage an independent press. The fund is aimed at improving the legal, administrative and tax environment for Ukrainian media, expanding the use of the Internet, improving professional standards among journalists, and providing direct grant support for Ukrainian media and nongovernmental organizations. JM
UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS STAGE ANTI-GOVERNMENT MARCH IN DONETSK
Some 3,000 mostly elderly people took part in a march organized by the Communist Party in Donetsk on 17 March, Reuters reported. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko, as well as forging closer ties between Ukraine and Russia. Some 350 people participated in a similar rally in Dnipropetrovsk the same day, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told a 17 March conference of lawmakers from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia that only a union of those three countries will help Ukraine "overcome the misery which we find ourselves in and avoid new threats." JM
ESTONIAN PARTIES AGREE ON TIMING OF EU REFERENDUM
In a meeting with Prime Minister Mart Laar on 16 March, the leaders of the parties represented in parliament agreed that a referendum on Estonia's EU accession should be made once membership talks are completed and all of its terms are clear, but before the accession agreement is signed, BNS reported. They affirmed that the referendum must be kept apart from parliamentary and local municipalities' election campaigns, but could not decide on whether the constitution would have to be amended after accession. Estonia hopes to complete the talks early next year and the Pro Patria Union has suggested that the referendum be held in the summer of 2002. The meeting also agreed that the amount of information given to the population concerning EU membership should be increased. SG
LATVIAN CAPITAL'S CITY COUNCIL RULING COALITION STILL UNCLEAR
Although the Riga Election Commission has announced the candidates elected to the new Riga City Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2001), it remains unclear which parties will form the ruling coalition, LETA and BNS reported on 16 March. The Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which won 14 of the 60 seats in the council, signed a cooperation agreement that day with the Prosperity Party, which won two seats. It hopes to form a 34-member coalition by adding deputies from For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK), which holds 11 seats, and other smaller parties with a combined seven seats. TB/LNNK Chairman Maris Grinblats, however, said he wants a coalition that will include the other two parties in the government coalition, the People's Party and Latvia's Way. SG
TWO LITHUANIAN PARTIES HOLD CONGRESSES
Parliament Deputy Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis was re-elected as party chairman during the Peasant Party congress held on 17 March in the northern Lithuanian town of Kursenai, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 19 March. The congress did not admit 54 delegates from the Kaunas region, two of whose leaders the party's council had dismissed last month after they severely criticized the activities of Karbauskis. The Kaunas delegates then decided to leave the Peasant Party and join the Social Democratic Party. The National Democratic Party congress held in Kaunas the same day elected former parliament deputy Kazimieras Uoka as its chairman. The small party, which has no deputies in the current parliament, criticized Lithuania's plans to join the EU and NATO. SG
POLISH CENTRIST PARTY QUITS SOLIDARITY ELECTORAL ACTION...
The Conservative Peasant Party (SKL), one of the four main pillars of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), has decided to leave the AWS and sign an alliance accord with Citizens' Platform (PO), Polish media reported on 18 March. The SKL Political Council simultaneously declared that the party will continue rendering support to the cabinet of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. Buzek commented that the SKL's decision is not good "for the building of unity and force of the Polish right-wing." Solidarity trade union leader Marian Krzaklewski said the SKL's defection is "a sort of political betrayal." It is not clear whether SKL ministers -- including Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski and Agriculture Minister Artur Balazs -- will withdraw from Buzek's cabinet. JM
...BUT WILL GET NO SPECIAL TREATMENT FROM NEW ALLY
"We have expected that," Maciej Plazynski, a leader of the Citizens' Platform, commented on the SKL's decision to join the PO. Donald Tusk, another PO leader, said the PO will not form an election coalition with the SKL, adding that the SKL will have to undergo a primary election procedure in order to include its candidates on the PO election ticket. "I think that this is a reasonable way," SKL leader Jan Maria Rokita commented on the primary election requirement. Meanwhile, SKL activist Wieslaw Walendziak said he and some SKL members will stay in the AWS and form a new conservative group within the party. JM
CZECH PREMIER ENDS SOUTH KOREAN VISIT
Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 17 March ended a two-day visit to South Korea, CTK reported. The visit followed one to India between 11 and 15 March. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung promised Zeman that his government will support investments by South Korean companies in the Czech Republic. Zeman said his government backs the South Korean president's policy of reconciliation with North Korea. He also said Czech foreign policy opposes as "ineffective" the use of blockades as instruments in bringing about democratic change in nondemocratic countries, and is therefore also against the use of sanctions against North Korea. Zeman said there is no difference between Prague's position against the use of sanctions against Cuba and their use against North Korea. MS
KAVAN CRITICIZES CZECH OPPOSITION OVER CUBAN RESOLUTION...
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 16 March blamed the Czech opposition for the difficulties being encountered in mobilizing support for the Czech draft of the resolution condemning human rights abuses in Cuba concurrently with criticizing sanctions against that country. Kavan told journalists that the opposition has called the attention of the media to the latter aspect, and this, in turn "narrows the room for maneuver" in support of the resolution to be submitted to the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva this week, CTK reported. MS
...SAYS HE 'DISCUSSES DEFENSE PROBLEMS' WITH ZEMAN
Kavan also said the current "critical situation" in the Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2001) is often a subject for discussion between himself and Premier Zeman, but "it would not be helpful to finding a solution" if he and the premier were to "inform each other via the media." Asked by CTK whether the problems involving the ministry's handling of equipment purchases could lead to the dismissal of Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy, Kavan replied that he "never discusses personnel matters" and that "it is up to the premier to decide on any dismissals." Also on 16 March, Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy told CTK that the Defense Ministry's acquisition office must be "radically decentralized." Sedivy was reacting to a proposal by Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik that the office be eliminated. MS
CZECH NUCLEAR PLANT IS RELAUNCHED
The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant resumed test operations on 18 March, following 10 days of repairs, AP and CTK reported. The plant was shut down on 8 March to repair regulatory valves that were causing vibrations in the main turbine generator. Plant spokesman Milan Nebesar said the four valves had been fixed and the reactor's output will be gradually increased to 55 percent later this week, aiming to reach full capacity in late June, one month behind the original schedule. On 16 March, Austrian opponents of Temelin again demonstrated at the Wullovitz/Dolin Dvoriste border crossing, distributing leaflets and placing an "anti-radioactive mat," corresponding to the disinfectant mat placed on the Czech side of the border to prevent the spread of "foot-and-mouth disease" on Czech territory. MS
CZECH AUTHORITIES BLAME RADICAL LEFT FOR SPREAD OF VIOLENCE
Interior Ministry spokesman Samuel Truska, in a written statement to dpa on 16 March, said a "hard nucleus" of radical anarchists is responsible for a recent increase in violent street fighting with radical right-wing groups. The spokesman said that in contrast with the past, when the anarchists contented themselves with shouting antiracist slogans, they now start fights with both their ideological opponents and police. Truska said that the "bloody battle" between anarchists and skinheads during the anti-IMF demonstrations in September 2000 "shows that such clashes must not be underestimated" and that anarchist groups may be "a threat not only to the public, but also to police." In what it labels the "anarcho-autonomous scene," the ministry includes the Czechoslovak Anarchist Federation, the Federation of Social Anarchists and the Anti-Fascist Action, whose declared goals are combating racism, xenophobia, globalization and corporate polluters. MS
SLOVAKIA, TURKEY, TO BACK EACH OTHER ON JOINING EU, NATO
"Slovakia will support Turkey's quest to join the EU if it succeeds in joining it among the first wave of candidates" and is "expecting Ankara to support its own admission to NATO," Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik told journalists on 16 March after meeting in Bratislava with his Turkish counterpart Mesut Yilmaz, CTK reported. Yilmaz said Turkey intends to gradually eliminate shortcomings in the respect of human rights, for which it has often been criticized by the EU. He said Turkey will soon submit to the EU a program envisaging the elimination of these shortcomings (some immediately, and some over the longer term). Hamzik and Yilmaz agreed that the free movement of labor in the EU must not be discriminatory. "It is unacceptable to the Slovak Republic that the EU would give green cards to young people with a university education...while placing strong restrictions on, say, those in the construction professions," Hamzik said. MS
SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER SEES DANGER OF RENEWED ROMA EXODUS
Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner on 17 March said that last week's EU decision to abolish visa requirements for Slovak citizens could prompt a new wave of emigration by Slovak Roma to Western Europe. On his return from Brussels, Pittner told journalists that Slovakia needs more help from the EU to cope with the problems of its Romany minority. and called on the EU to expand aid for programs destined for this purpose. Pittner said that during the meeting in Brussels of interior ministers from EU and candidate countries, he had proposed the involvement of intelligence services in the struggle against illegal immigration. "Secret services must be involved in this internationally organized people-smuggling," he said. MS
TORGYAN FACES PROTESTS IN HUNGARIAN PROVINCES
Zsolt Lanyi, former deputy chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), told a rally attended by some 300 Smallholder "reformers" in Miskolc on 17 March that the goal is "to create a party organized in a democratic way at the grassroots level without [party Chairman Jozsef] Torgyan." Asked how he envisages Torgyan's removal, Lanyi said he trusts that the governing coalition will realize that they need a strong Smallholder ally at the next elections and "will lend a helping hand to save the FKGP." Last week Torgyan was confronted by protesters in Gyor, Debrecen, and Bekescsaba. FKGP parliamentary group leader Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi told the daily "Vilaggazdasag" that he does not believe Torgyan's trips to the provinces are beneficial to the party. MSZ
HUNGARIAN AIR FORCE CANNOT MEET NATO REQUIREMENTS
Due to a large number of grounded MiG-29 jet fighters, the Hungarian air force was unable to meet NATO requirements for the training of pilots last year, and will not be able to do so this year either, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 19 March, quoting Chief of Staff General Lajos Fodor. Fodor said Hungary had made commitments to NATO regarding the number of flight hours and in future such "unrealistic commitments" will have to be "reworded." In other news, the Yugoslav government on 15 March approved a plan to open a Hungarian Consulate in Subotica. The activities of the consulate will encompass the entire area of the Vojvodina province, and its top priority will be to promote economic cooperation and foster relations with ethnic Hungarians from the region, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath told reporters. MSZ
NATO TO BOOST CONTROLS ON KOSOVA-MACEDONIAN BORDER
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim in Brussels on 19 March that the Atlantic alliance supports the Macedonian government and that country's democratic parties, AP reported. Robertson said that there is "no question" of extending KFOR's mandate from Kosova into Macedonia, but promised to send an additional unspecified number of troops to help close smuggling and supply routes along the Kosova-Macedonian frontier. "We are determined to starve this limited group of extremists" of the means of waging a guerrilla war, he added. Kerim stressed that his government will be able to handle the situation once KFOR cuts the supply routes. PM
NATO'S ROBERTSON BLASTS ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS
Speaking in Brussels on 19 March, Robertson said that "NATO strongly condemns the armed attacks that have taken place against soldiers and policemen from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," RFE/RL reported. He added that "Those responsible for this violence are inflicting serious damage to the interests and the image of ethnic Albanians in the whole region, and they should stop and they should stop now." He also warned the guerrillas that "this is the time in the Balkans where decisions should be taken by the ballot box and not by the bomb or by the bullet, and that is a message that these extremists are receiving from Tirana, from Prishtina, as well as from the democratic Albanian representatives in Skopje, as well." Representatives of most Western governments in addition to Russian President Vladimir Putin have also condemned the insurgents in recent days. PM
PUTIN SEEKING INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION IN MACEDONIA?
Russian President Putin told a government meeting in Moscow on 19 March that the situation in Macedonia is "out of control," dpa reported. He argued that "first the Albanian separatists were given arms, then today no one knows how to deal with them." Elsewhere, Putin said in a letter to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica that "only decisive political and, if necessary, military steps by the international community can prevent the conflict spreading through the Balkans" It is not clear whether he elaborated. In Belgrade, Kostunica and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called on the international community to combat "terrorism." PM
MACEDONIA HOPES FOR EU HELP
Kerim told EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 19 March: "I believe that the European Union, with its measures, combined of course, with the measures the Macedonian government is undertaking on the diplomatic, political, and security level, will manage to resolve a very grave situation in my country," RFE/RL reported. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, acting as EU chair, said that "it is extraordinarily important that all actors such as KFOR, the EU, and the OSCE are now cooperating and coordinating our efforts so that we will be able to make the borders more secure and [do] whatever we can do to stop the violence." PM
MACEDONIAN PREMIER BLASTS WEST
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Skopje on 18 March that "nobody will negotiate with the terrorists [of the National Liberation Army (UCK)], and I can assure you that there will be no change in the constitution," Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service reported. He praised Yugoslavia's role in the conflict, but blamed Western countries, particularly the U.S. and Germany, for refusing to "admit" that Kosova is the source of the insurgency, lest the admission reveal Western failures there. He stressed that the "Western democracies" have willy-nilly helped "create a new Taliban" in Europe. Georgievski said that the Macedonian military is constantly receiving fresh arms and ammunition from abroad but did not elaborate. He added that the government forces will win, and that Macedonians and Albanians will continue to live together "as we have to." PM
MACEDONIAN MILITARY FAILS TO DISLODGE REBELS
Georgievski also said in Skopje on 18 March that government forces are using tanks and heavy artillery in the area around Tanusevci in the north as well as near Tetovo. The government previously claimed to have the situation in the north under control. Around Tetovo, the UCK appears to be holding its own and even to have captured an additional strategic position despite earlier government reports of success against the guerrillas. Reuters reported that army units as well as police are involved in fighting the UCK. The army is a conscript force up to 40 percent Albanian in make-up, whereas the police are a more highly trained professional body. The authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew in Tetovo and announced a mobilization of army reservists. On 17 March, the BBC also reported fighting near Kumanovo. PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT TELLS MILITANTS TO GO HOME
Several thousand Slavs from Tetovo demonstrated in Skopje on 17 and 18 March to demand weapons to fight the UCK. They chanted anti-government slogans. President Boris Trajkovski told them on 17 March to go home and live with their neighbors in peace. He reassured them that Tetovo was, and is, a Macedonian town. The protests took place in front of the parliament, which held a two-day session to discuss the crisis. A parliamentary resolution called for a "dialogue with the relevant political subjects" and state bodies, dpa reported. The resolution also called on NATO to secure the border with Kosova, but stressed that Macedonia does not need military intervention from neighboring countries. PM
ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS HOLDING THEIR OWN IN MACEDONIA
A UCK spokesman told the BBC near Tetovo on 19 March that their ranks have swelled from "200 to 2,000" in recent days. The BBC reporter did not confirm those figures but added that the UCK's forces have "increased dramatically" recently. The guerrillas have groups organized and ready in Skopje and in many other communities, a UCK spokesman told Vienna's "Die Presse." Skopje has large Macedonian and Albanian communities, which, roughly speaking, are divided by the Vardar River. On 17 March, the UCK called on able-bodied Albanian males to join the nearest guerrilla unit. The UCK also urged Albanian members of the police to desert to the guerrillas with their arms. In Tetovo, ethnic Albanian police chief Rauf Ramadani said that his men are professionals and will not heed the UCK's call, dpa reported. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER CALLS FOR URGENT DIALOGUE
Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) is represented in the government, told "Fakti" of 17 March that the rebels are resorting to violence as a short-cut to taking power, Reuters reported. "I do not think that you start a war in order to create a political party," he added. The veteran Albanian leader, who is clearly in declining health, stressed that "the situation calls for the opening of a dialogue between the two peoples on the mode of co-existence. I hope that both the Macedonian government and the foreign powers will try to launch this dialogue that will benefit all. Nobody will lose." PM
RUGOVA: INTERNATIONAL MEDIATION IN MACEDONIA
Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Stuttgart on 17 March that the Macedonian authorities should pay more attention to the legitimate grievances of their fellow citizens of Albanian origin. He said that the way out of "the war" in Macedonia is through an "international organization," namely one with "more weight" than a "purely political one, like the OSCE," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Rugova also called for sending international peacekeepers to Macedonia. He warned that the conflict in Macedonia and crisis in Presevo could have a destabilizing effect on Kosova. An independent Kosova would have a calming effect on the political atmosphere in the Balkans, he added. PM
YUGOSLAV POLICE HEAD SEES QUICK RETURN THROUGHOUT SECURITY ZONE
Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said that he expects that Serbian forces will return to positions throughout the security zone along the border with Kosova "within one month," "Vesti" reported on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). He added that this will "create conditions" for a political solution in Kosova "from a different perspective" than had previously been the case. Predrag Simic, who is one of President Kostunica's advisers, has long argued that Serbia can "return to Kosovo" by working with the international community. PM
SOME OF SERBIAN OLD GUARD ON WAY OUT?
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the government's point man on Presevo, believes that Belgrade must improve its image by removing prominent officials held over from the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. One person whom he would like to see out is the chief of the General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commanded army forces in Kosova during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign, "Vesti" reported from Belgrade on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2001). Covic was unhappy that Pavkovic and General Vladimir Lazarevic, who is also a veteran of the Kosova campaign, led Serbian troops into the security zone recently. Pavkovic, for his part, denied press reports that he had publicly referred to Covic as "the marshal." PM
PEACEFUL PRESEVO PROTEST
Some 6,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Presevo on 17 March to protest the readmission of Serbian forces to the security zone. Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi said that "the presence of [Serbian] military forces is a cause of uncertainty for us," AP reported. He added that "there will not be peace here for a long time...if the Serbian government impedes negotiations by rejecting [talks including representatives of] the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac [UCPMB]." Covic said on 18 March that talks on southern Serbia will begin soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
SERBIAN PREMIER CONFIDENT ON NO EARLY EXTRADITION OF MILOSEVIC
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 17 March that "it is not realistic, it would be judicial violence" to expect that Milosevic could be arrested and sent to The Hague by the end of March, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2001). He added: "I am sure that we can persuade the international factors to accept our position. In the next 10 days we are going to press ahead with that persuasion process. We'll tell them that what we are doing here is the maximum, and that this is best for this country. The final goal is to see that justice is done but in a regular way." On 16 March, Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac told U.S. Balkans envoy James Pardew and U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery that he will "do everything he can" to show by the end of the month that his government is cooperating with The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
HAGUE COURT EXPECTS ACTION BY SERBIA
Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for The Hague's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said in Belgrade on 17 March that "the prosecutor expects a concrete and clear move by the Yugoslav authorities before the end of the month. The concrete move should be the beginning of the process of arresting and transferring fugitives who are on Yugoslav territory," Reuters reported. The previous day, she said that the Belgrade authorities are not cooperating with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, Kostunica argued that he has no authority to order anyone's extradition. In recent months, some other Belgrade officials have suggested that he does not have the authority to prevent an extradition, either. PM
KOSOVAR SERB LEADER SUGGESTS TWO TRIALS FOR MILOSEVIC
Archbishop Artemije, who is president of the Serbian National Council in Kosova, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 18 March that Milosevic should be tried for war crimes in The Hague and on various criminal charges in Belgrade. PM
PRO-BELGRADE MONTENEGRIN RALLY
Some 1,000 Montenegrins living in Serbia held a rally in support of continued ties between Montenegro and Serbia in Belgrade on 17 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Speakers charged that President Milo Djukanovic is trying to "create" a fictitious Montenegrin identity separate from that of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). The previous day, Djukanovic told the Paris-based daily "Le Figaro" that "Serbian nationalism and the dream of a greater Serbia" hold sway among Belgrade's new leaders. PM
MILITARY ROLE AT MONTENEGRIN AIRPORT ENDED
The Montenegrin authorities and the federal army reached an agreement in Podgorica on 17 March to withdraw the military guard from the civilian area of Podgorica airport, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
BOSNIAN FEDERAL DEFENSE MINISTER CLEANS HOUSE
Defense Minister Mijo Anic, who is an ethnic Croat belonging to the multiethnic governing coalition, has sacked eight of his Croatian hard-line deputies and replaced them with men loyal to the pro-federation views of his coalition, AP reported from Sarajevo on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). PM
IMF DELEGATION ARRIVES IN ROMANIA
An IMF delegation is expected in Bucharest on 19 March to discuss with the government the draft 2001 budget, and the fund's chief negotiator for Romania, Neven Mates, will join the delegation on 20 March. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 16 March said the arrival of the delegation "two weeks ahead of schedule" bodes well for the prospects of signing a new agreement with the IMF on a standby loan. None of the agreements previously signed by successive Romanian governments was implemented and the IMF repeatedly suspended delivery of tranches due to nonfulfillment of agreements. The cabinet is discussing the new budget at its 19 March meeting and on 16 March Nastase said the budget will be one of "austerity," envisaging a 3.7 percent deficit, 4.1 percent growth of GDP, and an inflation rate of between 25 and 27 percent. MS
PREMIER ATTACKS ROMANIAN LIBERALS
Nastase on 16 March said that every country needs legislation aimed at protecting state secrets, and called National Liberal Party (PNL) leader Valeriu Stoica a "political chameleon." He said the recently adopted law on protecting state secrets was "90-95 percent" based on the draft law initiated by the Justice Ministry headed by Stoica in the former coalition government. Last week, the PNL, the Democratic Party, and eight members of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the law's constitutionality. Stoica responded that "in politics, what is important is to acknowledge one's mistakes and correct them," and this is precisely what the PNL is now doing in opposing the legislation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
ROMANIAN EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTY RE-ELECTS CHAIRMAN...
Teodor Melescanu was re-elected chairman of the extraparliamentary Alliance for Romania (APR) at a party congress held in Brasov on 17 and 18 March and the delegates approved the party's new "social-liberal" ideological platform and its new statutes, a local correspondent of RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service reported. Viorel Catarama, considered to be Melescanu's main rival for the chairmanship, withdrew from the competition and was elected first deputy chairman. The congress also approved the setting up of an APR Senate, and Mircea Cosea was elected chairman of that new body. Cosea, who has previously left the APR and joined the Union of Rightist Forces, announced on 17 March that he was returning to the party. MS
...AND SUFFERS SCHISM
Former prominent members of the APR leadership who oppose its new social-liberal doctrine on 16 March announced they were setting up a new political formation, to be called Alliance for Romania-Social Democrat (APR-SD). The group is led by Doru Viorel Ursu, Marian Enache, Emil Putin, and Dan Mihalache, Mediafax reported. Ursu told journalists that while he does not exclude the possibility that the APR-SD will register as a new political party, its main aim is to "conduct a dialogue with political forces of the center-left" with the aim of setting up a unified "powerful Social Democratic Party." MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BELGRADE
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, in his capacity as OSCE rotating chairman, on 16 March inaugurated the new OSCE offices in Belgrade, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana conducted talks with his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic, Prime Minster Djindjic, and President Kostunica, to whom he conveyed an invitation to visit Romania. The talks concentrated on the conflicts in Macedonia and Kosova, Bosnia, and the forthcoming elections in Montenegro. The sides also discussed bilateral, particularly economic relations. A Romanian request that the authorities in Belgrade act more quickly to re-establish navigation on the River Danube was rejected by Svilanovic. According to a Mediafax report, Svilanovic said Romania is "not the only country interested in the resumption of navigation" but Belgrade is "interested in the reconstruction of all bombed bridges," not just those of Novy Sad, where traffic is delayed and directed to bypassing channels. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES RFE/RL
President Ion Iliescu on 16 March said Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty played an important role before the fall of the Nicolae Ceausescu regime, but that it later became "stridently partisan" and backed his political opponents. Romania-Moldova Service Director Nestor Ratesh said in reaction that RFE/RL "does not engage in polemics with its critics" and believes it has always "provided accurate and balanced" reporting. Ratesh said it is "natural " that "those who dislike such reporting" disagree with RFE/RL's positions. In an editorial broadcast on 17 March, Ratesh said that democratic reforms in Iliescu-led post-1990 Romania are encountering difficulties, the media is weak and electronic media subordinated to the rulers. In that situation, international broadcasters, including RFE/RL, attempt to "substitute and provide alternative sources of information." He also said tension between governments and the media is "natural" in any democracy, but "in the democratic West governments rarely indulge in virulent criticism of the media." MS
VORONIN TELLS U.S. THAT REFORMS IN MOLDOVA WILL CONTINUE
Moldova intends to continue its course of economic reform, integration into European structures and into the world community at large, Party of Moldovan Communists leader Vladimir Voronin told a visiting delegation of the U.S. State Department 16 March. The reforms are being hindered by "budgetary constraints" and it is consequently necessary to "attract foreign investments, primarily in order to back domestic producers and the agrarian sector," Infotag cited him as telling the delegation headed by acting deputy assistant secretary of state for the CIS, John Purnell. Voronin said it is necessary to continue the "Land Program" for completing the privatization of agriculture. He also said the Transdniester region conflict must be "urgently solved" and that the decisions of the 1999 Istanbul summit on the withdrawal of Russian troops from that region must be respected. MS
BULGARIAN MURDER SPARKS PROTESTS IN SOFIA
Thousands demonstrated in front of the parliament in Sofia on 16 March in protest against a raising crime wave, while the opposition Socialist Party called for the government's resignation and early elections, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov addressed the protesters, who called on him to resign and to reinstate the death penalty. The protest was triggered by the murder of a three-year-old boy, whose mother claimed he had earlier been abducted by unidentified persons as she was accompanying him to school. On the next day, the Interior Ministry announced that the mother, who has a history of mental disorders, had confessed to strangling the boy herself, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported. On 18 March, an unidentified gunman shot and killed a security guard in front of a Sofia restaurant. MS
BULGARIANS' TRIAL IN LIBYA POSTPONED AGAIN
The trial of six Bulgarian medics -- a doctor and five nurses -- charged with deliberately infecting Libyan children with the HIV virus was postponed for the 10th time in Tripoli on 17 March, "Monitor" and Reuters reported. The trial was postponed due to the absence of a lawyer representing a Palestinian facing the same charges. The trial is to be resumed on 28 April. "Monitor" reported that one of the Bulgarian nurses looked seriously ill and in need of medical help, but the prison authorities refuse to allow that help, citing security reasons. MS
PROTESTING BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS MAY FACE SANCTIONS
The acting director of Bulgarian state radio on 18 March threatened to discipline some 500 journalists who have been protesting for over a month against he appointment of Ivan Borislavov as the new radio director, "Monitor" reported. Alexander Barzitsov, who is substituting for Borislavov while he recovers from a heart attack, urged the journalists to drop plans to launch a civil-disobedience campaign on 19 March. He said the planned campaign "seriously threatens national security," and commented that "we shall not allow anybody to use the national radio in this manner and we shall react in the adequate legal way." MS
BULGARIA WANTS RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS OUT
Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 17 March told Reuters that Bulgaria wants three Russian diplomats suspected of having links to alleged spies expelled from the country. Vlaikov said the diplomats' actions were "incompatible with their status" and threatened "Bulgarian national interests." He further commented that "it is a sign of good will [that] we do not declare them persona non grata and will await for a week for the problem to be solved." Vlaikov said there is evidence linking the three diplomats with the arrest last week of a Defense Ministry employee and a retired colonel on charges of spying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). BTA, citing Defense Ministry sources, said Colonel Yani Yanev was arrested at the entrance of the Russian Embassy. Ambassador Vladimir Titov denied any Russian involvement in the case. MS
HAS A YEAR WITHOUT YELTSIN BEEN A YEAR WITHOUT CHANGE?
By Julie A. Corwin
President Vladimir Putin will soon mark the end of his first full year as Russia's elected president, as his regional "reforms" -- the one policy to which he has devoted the most attention -- appear to be unraveling. Within the last two months, President Putin has taken a series of actions that appear to be at odds with their declared aims of restructuring Moscow's relationship with its far-flung regions.
Last May, Putin issued a decree reorganizing the Russian Federation into seven federal districts and appointed individual presidential envoys to enforce federal laws in each. Putin then persuaded the country's legislators to give him the power to dismiss elected regional leaders, and reorganized the country's upper legislative chamber, making seats in that body appointed, permanent positions. The rationale for all these moves, according to Putin, was to put an end to Russia's "legal chaos" and strengthen the so-called "power vertical." Russia's integrity as a nation-state was to be ensured by reinforcing the primacy of federal laws and institutions over regional ones. An additional, equally important -- although unstated -- goal was to reduce the power of the country's governors. Under former President Boris Yeltsin, they had been able to rule virtually unchallenged in most regions across the country because they had de facto control over all who might "check" their power. That is, the courts, local media, local elections commissions, and federal officials that operated on their territories.
At the one-year mark, it's too early to say whether Putin's reforms have succeeded or failed. News reports suggest that the effort to bring regional laws into conformity with federal laws is proceeding -- albeit slowly. However, judging from the results of dozens of gubernatorial elections held last year, the powers of incumbent governors have hardly been curbed. In many cases, they were able to deploy the vast administrative resources at their disposal into the service of their campaigns (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). And, with the cooperation of local legislatures, they were able to move up their election dates, leaving potential opponents little time to organize.
The presidential envoys, who were installed in part to ensure that federal laws be obeyed, have done little to intervene. In fact, they increasingly appear not to be performing any kind of control function at all. Instead, they seem to be building independent power bases from which they can actively engage in local politics. One deputy presidential envoy has already been elected to the governorship in one of the country's most important regions, the oil- and gas-rich Tyumen Oblast, while another has just declared his plans to run in the strategically important home of the Pacific Fleet, Primorskii Krai. So far, President Putin, to whom the envoys must answer, has done nothing to check this trend.
Instead, Putin has taken three actions in recent months that undermine the reforms he devoted so much attention to at the beginning of his term. Last month, Putin signed into law a bill that allows the majority of the country's incumbent governors to seek a third term and some even to seek a fourth term. As a result, the new "governors-for-life" are likely to amass even more power, rather than less. While the Kremlin didn't author the final version of the bill that extended additional terms to so many governors, it apparently did not oppose it, as President Putin chose to sign the bill instead of employing his veto.
A second contradictory action undertaken by Putin has been to back a regional solution to the question of land reform. Last month, Putin declared that Russia's regions should be "given maximum freedom in setting the land problem within the framework of basic law." While this may be the only politically feasible solution, it cannot help but work against Putin's aim of creating a "single legal field" throughout Russia.
A third step that appears to undermine Putin's reforms is his appointment last month of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko as chairman of the State Fishing Commission. Rewarding a flamboyantly corrupt regional official with a plum new job assignment in Moscow would hardly seem to reinforce Russia's "power vertical" -- particularly when this official is already openly challenging the policy he has been tasked by his superiors with carrying out. On 11 March, Nazdratenko gave a press conference in Vladivostok in which he again condemned the commission's policy of distributing quotas for fish and seafood catches by auction, charging that it "threatens the food supply." As head of the commission, Nazdratenko should be ensuring that the auctions are successful.
Some analysts have attributed Putin's recent actions to indecision -- he hasn't yet chosen what he wants or how to go about it. They believe that Putin has not yet decided whether he wants to try to establish the rule of law in Russia's provinces or whether his ultimate goal is simply to ensure that the regional leaders in place be loyal. This would explain why he extended a "carrot" to them in the form of a third term and even a fourth. Other analysts suggest that Putin's recent actions reveal his weakness. He may still be popular, but his success in public opinion polls is merely a useful, but ultimately indecisive, weapon in the battle among the Moscow political elite. They suggest that Putin didn't simply dismiss Nazdratenko and install a new regime in the krai, because he did not possess the power to do so. Instead, he had to lure Nazdratenko away to Moscow with a job offer. Also, they conclude, Putin hasn't tried to push for the kind of land code that reformers in his government might want, because he knows that he would fail.
Putin's lack of progress on the regional front is leading ever more observers to think that Putin may be indecisive, weak, or perhaps both, perceptions that almost certainly will reduce his popularity -- unless he is able to show some real progress soon.