RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS WITH ARAFAT...
President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 15 March and encouraged him to use the Israeli pullout from West Bank areas to spur new peace talks, international news agencies reported. Putin said Israel's withdrawal on 15 March and a U.N.-sponsored resolution endorsing a Palestinian state "will allow for the further normalization of the Middle East situation," the Kremlin press service said in a statement. Putin added that it is important "to use the developing situation to form conditions for moving toward talks on a political resolution of the Palestinian problem." BW
...AS DUMA VOTES NOT TO SEEK MIRONOV'S RESIGNATION
The State Duma has voted down an initiative seeking the resignation of Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov, Russian news agencies reported on 15 March. Mironov sparked a wave of criticism when he cancelled a scheduled meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat during a visit to Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 13 and 14 March 2002). Viktor Alksnis, a lawmaker from the Russian Regions faction, initiated the appeal seeking Mironov's resignation, calling the speaker of the upper house "incompetent." But nationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said the Duma should not interfere in the affairs of the Federation Council. The nonbinding resolution mustered 189 votes, 37 shy of the 226 majority it needed for passage. BW
RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CRITICIZES NATO PROPOSALS
Sergei Ivanov said on 15 March that proposals for cooperation between Russia and NATO fall short of Moscow's expectations, ITAR-TASS reported. "The proposals submitted by NATO so far deal only with form and procedure, but say nothing about the crux of the matter," Ivanov said in Shannon, Ireland, during a stopover on his flight to Moscow from Washington. The alliance has offered to form a new NATO-Russia Council allowing a Russian ambassador to attend meetings to discuss and make decisions on issues of mutual concern. The new format, however, does not give Russia a veto over NATO decisions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February 2002). "If we really want to go over from the '19-plus-Russia' format to the 'twenty,' it is necessary to assume consensual commitments to fulfill the decisions. We must arrive at jointly adopted decisions and commitments to implement them," Ivanov said. BW
NEXT ROUND OF U.S.-RUSSIA ARMS TALKS SET...
Moscow and Washington will hold their next round of strategic arms talks on 21 and 22 March, AFP reported on 15 March, citing Russian Defense Minister Ivanov. Ivanov told reporters accompanying him on his flight from Washington to Moscow that the talks will be held in Geneva, Interfax reported. Ivanov said that during his visit to Washington, in preparation for a summit in May between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Putin, the two sides exchanged draft accords on reducing their respective nuclear arsenals. "There are differences between Moscow and Washington on the text of the future accord, but I would not say that we are at an impasse," Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying. The main disagreement is whether retired warheads would be destroyed, as Moscow wants, or stored, as the U.S. prefers. BW
...AS RUSSIA SAYS IT MAY STORE DECOMMISSIONED NUKES
However, Defense Minister Ivanov also said Russia may decide to store, rather than scrap, decommissioned nuclear weapons. U.S. proposals that retired warheads be stored have caused difficulties in arms reduction talks between Moscow and Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). Asked about the issue at a briefing in Washington on 14 March, Ivanov said "naturally, we are considering various options, proceeding from the principles of equal security, and will keep our American partners posted about our decisions." Ivanov added, however, that "some of the nuclear warheads, whether we want to or not, must be scrapped -- this is inevitable and concerns not only Russia but also the U.S." BW
GOVERNMENT TO DISCUSS PLAN FOR PROFESSIONAL MILITARY
Russian government officials will review a blueprint for creating a professional army, Interfax reported on 14 March, citing an unidentified Defense Ministry official. The proposal was originally to be discussed on 15 March, but was postponed because of Defense Minister Ivanov's visit to the United States. The government now plans to discuss the plan on 20 March. BW
SPEECH ANALYSTS AID 'KURSK' INVESTIGATION
A group of speech experts have begun preparations to decipher 22 recordings found in the third section of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine in hopes of shedding light on what caused the sub to sink in August 2000, Interfax reported. It will take the group at least one month to clean and dry the tapes before experts can analyze their contents. German Zubov, an expert with the group, said he hopes the recordings can help an ongoing criminal investigation into the disaster. "We do not know whether the recordings will be of any value for the investigation, but it is up to the Prosecutor's Office to evaluate them," Zubov said. Meanwhile, the remains of 107 "Kursk" crewmembers have been identified at the naval hospital in Severomorsk, northwest Russia, Interfax reported the same day. BW.
PUTIN WANTS TO EXPORT ARMS TO MALAYSIA
Russia is prepared to export weapons and military hardware to Malaysia, President Putin said on 14 March, Interfax reported. In addition, Russia plans to build a corresponding research and production base in that country, the president said following his talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the Kremlin the same day. Putin also said that Russian-Malaysian military cooperation is developing "rather well," and noted "the high quality of Russian armaments, including aircraft." BW
RUSSIA WILL HONOR IRANIAN NUKE PLANT CONTRACT
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 14 March that Russia will meet its commitments to help Iran build a nuclear power plant in Iran despite objections from Washington, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a contract between Tehran and Moscow, the first reactor in the southern Iranian town of Bushehr will go on line in 2004. "There are no disagreements with Iran over project implementation," he said, adding, "all works are proceeding according to schedule." Rumyantsev said Russia and Iran may continue to cooperate in nuclear power generation in the future. The United State is opposed to the plan, through which it believes Iran may acquire technologies with military capabilities. Rumyantsev called Washington's apprehensions on the matter unfounded. BW
U.S. AND RUSSIA TO HOLD STEEL TALKS
U.S. and Russian trade officials will meet in Paris to discuss steel trade, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. During the talks, Moscow will offer proposals from several Russian steel companies concerning access to the U.S. market. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedkov will lead the Russian delegation. Faryar Shirzad, the assistant secretary for Import Administration with the U.S. Department of Commerce, will represent the United States. Moscow says U.S. President Bush's decision to introduce tariffs of up to 30 percent on steel imports to the U.S. over the next three years will cost Russia thousands of jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). BW
RUSSIA TO BEGIN NEXT ROUND OF WTO TALKS...
Russia will continue negotiations to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 17 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March, citing Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Medvedev. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the same day that Russia should only join the WTO on favorable terms. Pointing out that Russia has been running a trade surplus over many years, Kasyanov said there is a need to balance advantages and concessions in the negotiations on Russia's entry. He added that certain Russian industries, like civil aviation and agriculture, need to be protected. "It is hard to imagine Russia not having its own civil aircraft," Kasyanov said. BW
...AS IT PREPARES ANTIDUMPING LEGISLATION
The Russian government finalized the draft of a bill on antidumping measures on 14 March, Russian news services reported. Russian officials said the new legislation, yet to be submitted to parliament, is in line with WTO standards and would replace an existing law adopted in 1996. The draft law institutes mechanisms for protecting the Russian market by allowing industries to appeal to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. After an investigation, the ministry would decide if protectionist measures are needed. BW
OIL EXECUTIVE FAVORS EXPORT LIMITS...
Russia should extend limits on oil exports through the second quarter of 2002, Vladimir Bogdanov, president of the oil and gas company Surgutneftegaz, said on 14 March, RBK reported. Speaking at an energy conference in Khanty-Mansiisk, Bogdanov said many OPEC members failed to abide by export quotas in the first quarter of 2002. Russia, he said, "should continue limiting its oil exports in order to prevent a decline in world oil prices... At the same time, we should think about how to prevent the situation when the supply exceeds the demand on the domestic market." Concerned about low crude prices, OPEC cut output by 1.5 million barrels a day as of 1 January. Russia, one of the largest non-OPEC oil exporters, reluctantly agreed to cut its exports by 150,000 barrels a day for the first three months of this year, but Russian officials and oil companies have yet to decide whether to extend those cuts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2002). BW
...BUT PLANS TO INCREASE PRODUCTION ANYWAY
Bogdanov also said, however, that Surgutneftegaz plans to increase its own crude production to 65 million tons a year by 2003, RBK reported on 14 March. He said the company has made 51 billion rubles ($1.64 billion) in capital investments over the last year. Surgutneftegaz will increase its production of natural gas to 12 billion cubic meters a year, Bogdanov said. BW
NEW BUILDINGS FOR ST. PETERSBURG PONDERED
Federation Council speaker Mironov told reporters in Moscow on 14 March that he is not excluding the possibility that the Culture Ministry will be moved to St. Petersburg, RIA-Novosti reported. Other federal agencies that he said are well suited for the city are the Marine Register, and the Russian Heraldry Service. Mironov said he agrees with President Putin's statement that federal ministries could be dispersed all over the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). He added that legislation transferring some state functions to St. Petersburg will soon be introduced in the State Duma. The same day, a number of senators interviewed by Interfax said they do not support moving the State Duma and Federation Council to St. Petersburg. Ingushetia's former president and current representative on the Federation Council, Ruslan Aushev, said he thinks all federal structures should be in the same place -- "in this case Moscow." However, he said he sees some sense in locating the "Ministry for Marine Transport" in St. Petersburg. JAC
CITIZENS TO HAVE NEW ACCESS TO SENATORS
A new office in which the general public can meet with members of the Federation Council opened in Moscow on 14 March, "Izvestiya" reported. Senators plan to hear complaints and suggestions from citizens two days a week. According to the daily, a number of citizens were already there as soon as the office opened, including Valentina Tislenok of Bryansk Oblast. She came to complain about her inadequate pension and rising radiation levels in her raion. She also read for journalists some verses about President Putin that she had written. Tatyana Shishanova, who heads the new office, called it a "Russian tradition," and that drop-by visitors "existed in Russia during the time of Lenin." JAC
NEW STATE COUNCIL MEMBERS SELECTED
President Putin issued an order on 14 March naming the new members of the State Council, Russian agencies reported. They include: Chita Oblast Governor Ravil Geniatulin, Astrakhan Oblast head Anatolii Guzhvin, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Yurii Neelov, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, and Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov. The governors, each of whom represents the federal district in which their region is located, will serve a term of six months. JAC
ONE BIDDER EXPELLED FROM TV-6 CONTEST
The Media Ministry has completed its review of the applications submitted for the 27 March tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, Russian agencies reported on 14 April. As a result, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin announced that one application has been rejected and the bidder, the Party for Social Protection of the Citizens of the Federation, an NGO, will not be allowed to compete, Interfax reported. All other applications have been accepted. JAC
FORMER KREMLIN PROPERTY CHIEF REJECTS FINE
Pavel Borodin will refuse to pay a 300,000 Swiss franc ($177,000) fine imposed by a Geneva prosecutor, claiming he is innocent of any wrongdoing, AP reported 15 March. Prosecutor Bernard Bertossa fined Borodin earlier this month for laundering $30 million in alleged kickbacks from Swiss firms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). "Borodin won't pay the fine, because he doesn't think he has committed any crime either at home or abroad," Borodin's lawyer Yeleonora Sergeyeva told AP. She also said Borodin won't appeal Bertossa's action because he believes he is out of Swiss officials' jurisdiction. "We don't recognize any decisions by the Swiss prosecutor," Sergeyeva said. BW
MONUMENT TO BRODSKY PLANNED
St. Petersburg has invited sculptors from Russia and abroad to join a competition to design a monument to Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. The winner of the competition, sponsored by Alfa Bank and the St. Petersburg government's Architecture and City Planning Committee, will receive a prize of $15,000. Second and third place finishers will receive $5,000 and $3,000 respectively. Among the luminaries judging the designs will be the poet's widow Maria Brodskaya. "The competition has an international status because the poet belongs not to Russia only, but to the whole world," Alfa Bank Vice President Aleksandr Gafin said. Brodsky, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1970 and settled in the United States. In 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev restored Brodsky's citizenship, but he never returned to his homeland. Brodsky died in 1996. The monument will be constructed on St. Petersburg's Vasilevskii Island. BW
TATAR GROUPS FEAR LOSS OF TATAR-LANGUAGE RADIO STATION...
The Chally branch of the moderate nationalist group Tatar Public Center (TPC) appealed to Russian Media Minister Lesin on 13 March, asking him to cancel bidding for the 105.3 FM frequency in Chally that was formerly occupied by the Tatar-language Dulkin station, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The TPC warns that cutting off Dulkin's broadcasts will undermine Russian authority among the Tatar, Bashkir, Chavash, and Mari peoples. The TPC asserts that Dulkin presented all the necessary documents for resuming its broadcasting; however, the ministry decided to organize a tender for the station's broadcasting rights to be held on 27 March. Russian-language Radio Shanson and Radio Retro, along with Tatarstan's TAIF group, have applied to take over the frequency. Dulkin's general manager Ravil Rustyamov told Tatar-Inform that he is afraid that the other stations such as Radio Shanson and Retor have much more money and better political connections than Dulkin. He added that the station has received tens of thousands of letters from Tatars all over the world and also broadcasts in Tatar on the Internet 24 hours a day. JAC
...AS MORE PROTESTS OF CENSUS DIVISION VOICED
The Tatar and Bashkir public movement Tugan Tel held a forum on 10 March in Ulyanovsk Oblast at which they condemned the federal center's ethnic policies, Tatar-Inform reported on 14 March. It adopted an appeal criticizing the Russian government's decision to divide the Tatar people into various categories, including Kryashens (or baptized Tatars), when the national census is conducted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November and 14 December 2001). It said that if the same logic were applied to the Russian people then they should be divided into Old Believers, Molokans, Kulugurs, Kubans, and Don Cossacks, etc. JAC
HEAT AND ELECTRICITY TURNED OFF AT ULYANOVSK'S STATE HOUSE...
The building housing the Ulyanovsk Oblast administration has had its heat and electricity turned off by local supplier Ulyanovskenergo, pravda.ru reported on 14 March. In addition, entire villages are undergoing blackouts. During a recent trip by Prime Minister Kasyanov, Ulyanovskenergo authorities agreed to stop the cut-offs; however, they claim that city authorities have failed to live up to their end of the bargain (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 February 2002). JAC
...AS KOSTROMA RESIDENTS USE KEROSENE LAMPS...
Meanwhile in Kostroma Oblast, Kostromaenergo has turned off electricity in almost every raion, rosbalt.ru reported. According to the website, local residents have returned to using kerosene lamps. JAC
...AND FAR EAST CITIZENS ARE FORCED TO READ NEWSPAPERS
Meanwhile, in Kamchatka Oblast the same day, Kamchatskenergo cut off electricity supplies to the oblast's raions and television broadcasting center, so residents are again deprived of radio or television, Interfax reported. JAC
GOVERNOR, ENVOY CONTINUE TO HAVE DIFFERENCES OF OPINION ABOUT ASSOCIATION
At a press conference in Moscow on 14 March, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said the Greater Urals interregional economic association still plays a necessary role. There are currently four regions from the Urals federal district and five from the Volga federal district in the association, according to Rossel, who said the federal districts were not carved up along economic lines. Earlier, when asked about the association's future, the presidential envoy to the Urals federal district, Petr Latyshev, said that it was created during a period when at the federation level there was little coordination among regions, even at the economic level, but that now the task of organizing the work of domestic economic policies has been given to the presidential envoys, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Latyshev continued that such associations are just voluntary structures, and their decisions are not obligatory and do not have the force of a government order. Last year, Rossel accused Latyshev of trying to break up the association (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 October 2001). JAC
TAX OFFICIALS TAKE TODDLER TO TASK
Parents of a one-year-old child in Perm Oblast received a summons in their child's name from the oblast's tax inspectorate, ntvru.com reported on 14 March, citing VolgaInform. The surprised parents were informed by local tax authorities that their child, identified by the news agency only as "Citizen K.," was not contacted by accident. Citizen K. needs to be assigned his individual taxpayer number because the law states that each person must have one -- regardless of age. JAC
NO WORD YET FROM FRENCH JUDGE
In Moscow's Revolution Square, representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records observed the preparation of the world's largest blini, ntvru.com reported on 14 March. To make its preparation easier, the blini was made in a rectangular rather than round shape on a special stove equipped with a conveyer belt. The blini, which Guinness representatives certified as a new world record, measured 1 kilometer in length and weighed 300 kilograms. JAC
RUSSIAN MILITARY, SECURITY OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO DENY CIVILIANS KILLED IN STARYE ATAGI
North Caucasus Military District commander Colonel General Gennadii Troshev and General Sergei Babkin, who is the head of the Chechen branch of the Federal Security Service, both affirmed on 14 March that the burned bodies of men killed by Russian troops in the village of Starye Atagi, which were brought to Grozny the previous day by outraged village residents, are those of Chechen fighters killed in a "special operation," Interfax reported. Presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov said on 14 March that a thorough investigation will be conducted into the circumstances of the deaths of the seven men. The Prosecutor-General's Office has already sent investigators to Chechnya for that purpose. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yelagin, who is responsible for overseeing reconstruction in Chechnya, proposed that local elders and religious leaders should also participate in the investigation. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 'PARIS PRINCIPLES' COMMITTED TO PAPER IN KEY WEST...
In an extensive interview with AFP on 14 March, President Robert Kocharian said that, during talks in March 2001 in Paris with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and French President Jacques Chirac, agreement was reached on the principles of a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the first draft of which was committed to paper in April 2001 during further meetings in Florida. He said Armenia remains committed to those principles, and that other options for resolving the conflict "simply do not exist." Kocharian added that he considers the present format of OSCE Minsk Group, which is jointly co-chaired by France, Russia, and the U.S., to be "optimal." He again said he sees no legal grounds for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to remain a constituent part of Azerbaijan. Referring to repeated warnings by Azerbaijani officials that, if the Minsk Group talks fail to yield a peace settlement, Baku could use military force to re-establish its control over the Karabakh, Kocharian predicted that "whoever starts the war is likely to be defeated." LF
...AND REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR COOPERATION WITH TURKEY, IRAN
Kocharian pointed out that Armenia achieved 9.3 percent GDP growth in 2001 despite the absence of economic ties with Turkey. At the same time, he added that Armenia has said on numerous occasions that it is ready to normalize relations with Turkey, but Turkey "prefers to keep the border closed." He suggested that trade ties with Armenia could help to resolve Turkey's current economic difficulties. Kocharian also said the U.S. condemnation of Iran as part of an "axis of evil" will not result in any change in what he termed Armenia's centuries-old good-neighborly relations with Iran. He said plans to build a gas-export pipeline from Iran to Armenia will not be shelved. He also denied that there is any "serious" military component in Armenian-Iranian relations. LF
REVIEW COURT REJECTS APPEAL AGAINST ARMENIAN CAFE DEATH VERDICT
Armenia's Review Court on 13 March rejected an appeal by the family of Poghos Poghosian, an Armenian from Georgia who died after being assaulted and beaten last September in a Yerevan cafe by men believed to be members of President Kocharian's bodyguard, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The dead man's family argued that the two-year suspended sentence handed down to bodyguard Aghamal Harutiunian on charges of involuntary manslaughter is too lenient. The Review Court ruled that it cannot consider the appeal because the Armenian Code of Procedural Justice empowers only the prosecution, but not the family of the victim, to appeal an entire court verdict. LF
ARMENIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF ENCROACHING ON ITS FRONTIER ZONE
Speakers at a joint meeting of the National Academy of Science and the Armenian Ecology Ministry expressed concern that over the past few years the Georgian side has progressively moved the border between the two countries in the Djiliz forest further into Armenian territory, according to Arminfo on 13 March, as cited by Groong. Academicians urged that the border be formally demarcated and a buffer zone established. LF
KARABAKH PRESIDENT INSPECTS ARMY UNITS
Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has toured army units and observation posts in Mardakert Raion, according to Arminfo on 14 March, as cited by Groong. Ghukasian assessed combat readiness as satisfactory. But he admitted that it will take more than two or three years to rebuild facilities in the district destroyed during the fighting of 1992-1994. LF
UN, CIS PEACEKEEPERS TO CHECK REPORTS OF ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN ABKHAZIA
At the weekly meeting between representatives of the Abkhaz and Georgian governments, the UN Observer Mission (UNOMIG) and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, the UN and CIS representatives overruled Abkhaz objections and announced that they will investigate Georgian officials' claims that some 60 suspicious persons are encamped at a terrorist training base in Abkhazia's Tkvarcheli Raion, Caucasus Press reported. UNOMIG head General Anis Akhmed Bajwa said earlier this week that he cannot confirm the presence of Islamic militants in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2002). On 13 March, Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili said police are investigating reports of the presence of some 2,000 unknown persons in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, which borders Tkvarcheli to the south. On 15 March, "Rezonansi" quoted Emzar Kvitsiani, governor of the Georgian-controlled upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, as arguing that more Georgian troops should be sent to the district. Under agreements signed in January and February this year, Tbilisi undertook to withdraw the 300 troops it sent to Kodori last fall. LF
AFGHANS APPREHENDED IN GEORGIA NOT CONNECTED WITH AL-QAEDA
The four Afghans recently detained in Tbilisi do not have links with Al-Qaeda, Georgian State Security Ministry official Murad Tskhovrebov told Caucasus Press on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002) . He said the men were illegal immigrants who had paid $5,000 to an intermediary who transported them to Georgia and then abandoned them. LF
GEORGIA SIGNS KEY GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENT
Georgia's state-controlled Georgian International Oil Corporation signed in Tbilisi on 14 March the key Host Government Agreement with the consortium created to build a pipeline to export gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz deposit to Turkey, Turan reported. Azerbaijan signed an analogous agreement last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, who attended the signing ceremony, said construction of the pipeline "will ensure Georgia's energy independence and security, and contribute to the development of the economic potential of the country and the entire region," according to Interfax. Under an agreement signed last September by Shevardnadze and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, Georgia will receive 5 percent of the gas exported via the pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2001). LF
QUESTION MARK OVER KAZAKH PARTICIPATION IN AFGHAN PEACEKEEPING OPERATION
The dispatch to Afghanistan, originally scheduled for next month, of some 500 members of the Kazakh peacekeeping force KazBat will be delayed until Kazakhstan signs a memorandum of understanding with the UN, Deputy Defense Minister Malik Saparov told a parliamentary committee on 14 March, according to Interfax. Saparov explained that Kazakhstan's defense doctrine does not provide for the participation of its armed forces in any peacekeeping operations that are not under the aegis of the UN. He added that Kazakhstan has not yet enacted legislation on social welfare for the peacekeeping force. Kazakh veterans of the war in Afghanistan have twice protested the planned deployment of Kazakh troops in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 12 and 18 February 2002, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FORMALLY APPROVES PRESENCE OF MORE FOREIGN TROOPS
The Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 14 March ratified agreements signed by the Kyrgyz government allowing the deployment in Kyrgyzstan for a period of one year of military contingents from France, Canada, Spain, Turkey, Denmark, Italy, and Australia that are participating in the antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan, Reuters and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. But the head of the assembly's State Security Committee, Ismail Isakov, asked the Foreign Ministry to conclude additional agreements specifying that the foreign troop contingents may only use Kyrgyz territory for attacks on Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. He also proposed that those contingents be gradually transferred from Bishkek's Manas international airport to the Kant air base 20 kilometers away. Addressing the assembly, Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev said that the presence of foreign troops on Kyrgyz territory does not violate Kyrgyzstan's commitments under the CIS Collective Security Treaty. LF
PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR SEVEN-YEAR SENTENCE FOR KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY
Presiding judge Bolot Mombekov adjourned the trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov late on 13 March until 18 March after public prosecutor Choibek Sydykov demanded a seven-year sentence, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov is accused of dereliction of duty in failing to bring murder charges against Djaparaly Kamchybekov, who killed a man in self-defense in 1995. The judge rejected a 12 March request by Beknazarov for Kamchybekov, who appeared as a witness, to undergo a medical examination to determine the cause of serious bruises on his face (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). On 14 March, residents in Aksy, which is Beknazarov's constituency, erected roadblocks on the roads leading to the village to protest the trial, which they believe is politically motivated, and to demand Beknazarov's release. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT SACKS SECURITY CHIEF, DEFENSE MINISTER...
On 14 March, President Saparmurat Niyazov fired National Security Committee Chairman Lieutenant General Mukhammed Nazarov, whom he had publicly criticized and demoted 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002), and appointed Interior Minister Colonel General Pran Berdyev to replace him, turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov also fired Defense Minister Major General Kurbandurdy Begendjev and appointed parliament Chairman Redjepbai Arazov as his successor. Western diplomats in Ashgabat describe Arazov, who is a former oil and gas minister, as an intelligent and able administrator who as parliament chairman was receptive to ideas on cooperation with foreign parliaments. Tagandurdy Khallyev, a former justice minister and adviser to Niyazov on legal affairs, was named as the new parliament chairman. Niyazov accused both Nazarov and Begendjev of "serious shortcomings" in their work and of abuse of their official positions. It is not yet clear who will succeed Berdyev as interior minister. LF
...AS FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES ACCUSATIONS OF EMBEZZLEMENT
Former Deputy Prime Minister and National Bank Chairman Khudaiberdy Orazov has dismissed as "lies and a provocation" the Turkmen Prosecutor-General's claims that he embezzled part of a $120 million credit from Credit Suisse and the Deutsche Bank to develop the country's agricultural sector, gundogar.com reported on 13 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). LF
DOUBTS REMAIN FOLLOWING TRIAL OF SUSPECTED KIDNAPPERS OF BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS
Syarhey Tsurko, the lawyer representing the wife of abducted Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in the trial of suspected kidnappers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2002), told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 14 March that the evidence presented in the court was insufficient to confirm unambiguously that Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, kidnapped the journalist. United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka told Belapan that Ihnatovich and Malik were made "scapegoats" to cover real perpetrators of the abduction. "The Zavadski case has been postponed pending impartial examination," Lyabedzka noted, adding that the judiciary in Belarus obeys orders from the presidential administration rather than renders justice. "I have an impression that the Ihnatovich gang was just a cover-up for more important people. How could this case be declared investigated and go to court [as a case of abduction]...if Zavadski's traces were lost?" commented Uladzimir Nistsyuk from the Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CHARGES OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE
Leonid Kuchma on 14 March denied as "absolutely absurd" the accusations that Ukraine has illegally supplied arms to Iraq, Interfax reported. Kuchma's comments came two days after lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website that he has evidence of Kuchma's alleged involvement in a $100 million arms trade deal with Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN ELECTION WATCHDOG CITES ADMINISTRATIVE LEVERAGE AS MAJOR IRREGULARITY
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine has said abuses of office by officials from central and local governments related to support for particular campaigners, usually the pro-government For a United Ukraine bloc, are among the most widespread campaign irregularities, UNIAN reported on 14 March. President Kuchma the same day grudgingly acknowledged the existence of such irregularities, known in Ukraine under the name of "administrative resources." But he immediately added that the practice of utilizing officials' powers for campaigning is also known in the West. "If the authorities interfere [in the campaign], I am ready to use harsh measures. I am for fair and open elections," Kuchma said. JM
UKRAINE HAS 36.8 MILLION ELIGIBLE VOTERS
Central Election Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets on 14 March said 36.8 million people have been entered on the lists of voters to participate in the parliamentary election on 31 March, UNIAN reported. Ryabets said that this figure may be corrected, but not significantly. Ryabets said there are 33,055 polling stations in the country, including four in military units, 132 in prisons, and 730 in sanatoriums. Also, 58 polling stations have been set up on ships that will be at sea on the day of the election, and there are 89 polling stations abroad. JM
POLL SAYS OUR UKRAINE WELL AHEAD OF RIVAL BLOCS
A poll conducted by the GfK-USM polling agency from 1-8 March among 1,500 Ukrainian voters found that if a parliamentary ballot had been held at that time, Our Ukraine led by Viktor Yushchenko would have won 28.3 percent of the vote, the Communist Party 15.5 percent, the Social Democratic Party (United) 6.5 percent, and the For a United Ukraine bloc 4.9 percent. The other parties obtained results below the 4 percent voting barrier, including: Greens -- 3.5 percent, Women for the Future bloc -- 3.5 percent, Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- 3.3 percent, Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc -- 2.5 percent, and the Socialist Party -- 2.2 percent. The poll's margin of error was 2.5 percent. Under Ukraine's election law, polling agencies are not allowed to publicize their surveys later than two weeks before the election date, which sets 15 March as the deadline for the 31 March ballot. JM
BALTIC PREMIERS EXPRESS THEIR DISSATISFACTION WITH EU'S PROPOSED AG QUOTAS
In talks with his Baltic counterparts in London on 14 March, British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the potential membership of the three Baltic states in NATO and the EU, as well as relations with Russia, BNS reported. Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania), Andris Berzins (Latvia), and Siim Kallas (Estonia) were praised by Blair for their countries' progress in defense reforms, and were told that their states should not have any problems being invited to join NATO at the Prague summit in November if they continue the reforms. The Baltic premiers expressed their dissatisfaction with the low agricultural quotas and subsidies the European Commission has proposed for new EU member states. Blair said the next few years will determine whether the EU will opt for liberal reforms, which Britain supports, or retain the current system of generous aid and state subsidies. SG
ESTONIAN ENERGY TO RAISE ELECTRICITY PRICES IN APRIL
Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) announced on 13 March that the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity will be increased as of 1 April by 0.15 kroons to 1.05 kroons ($.058) instead of the previously planned 0.20 kroons, ETA reported. The company also introduced a monthly electricity fee, which was set at 5 kroons instead of the earlier planned 20 kroons. Economy Minister Liina Tonisson expressed disappointment in the lower price increases, and said setting nighttime electricity rates at 0.07 kroons per kilowatt-hour lower will not boost use. SG
LATVIAN, RUSSIAN CULTURE MINISTERS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Karina Petersone and Mikhail Shvydkoi signed an agreement on cooperation between their ministries in Moscow on 14 March, BNS reported. It replaces a similar treaty, signed in March 1996, which was effective through March 2001. Petersone cited the Latvian cinema days in Moscow and St. Petersburg planned for late April, and performances of the Latvian National Opera in Moscow in spring 2003 as examples of future cooperation. SG
SOCIAL DEMOCRAT ELECTED FIRST DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT
Ceslovas Jursenas was elected First Deputy Chairman of the parliament by 80 votes on 14 March, ELTA reported. Some members of the opposition did not participate in the vote, arguing that their opinions about the appointment were not sought, and that the post should have been given to a member of the opposition. Earlier discussions on appointing former Premier Rolandas Paksas to the post fell apart after he and his supporters left the Liberal Party in January. Social Liberal Arturas Skardzius, Social Democrat Vytenis Andriukaitis, and Liberal Gintaras Steponavicius are currently serving as parliament deputy chairmen. Jursenas's election may have been due in part to the fact that he served as the parliament's chairman from 1993-96. SG
POLISH PARLIAMENT CALLS ON MONETARY AUTHORITY TO SUPPORT GOVERNMENT
The Sejm on 14 March voted by 304 to 104, with 17 abstentions, to pass a resolution calling on the Monetary Policy Council (RPP) to support the government's economic policy, PAP reported. The resolution, supported by lawmakers from the governing coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party as well as from Self-Defense, is intended to force the RPP into reducing the National Bank's interest rates, which the government considers a major measure to boost the flagging economy. Meanwhile, Susan Schadler, the head of the IMF's annual mission to Poland, advised the same day that the government cease pressure on the central bank. "Leaving the rules of the National Bank and its monetary council exactly as they are is absolutely critical for preserving market-based institutions in Poland," AP quoted Schadler as saying. JM
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER'S POLICY STATEMENT PROVOKES STORMY DEBATE
Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's address to the Sejm on 14 March on the government's foreign policy priorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002) provoked a clash between pro-EU and anti-EU deputies, Polish Television reported. "Several generations of Poles dreamed of the abolition of the division of Europe. Now, we are close to the full implementation of this dream. Europe is a civilizational, economic, and political necessity. There is no alternative," Cimoszewicz said in his address. "Sometimes I get the impression that the minister's theses...are as outdated as support for the USSR around the year 1990," Roman Giertych from the League of Polish Families told the parliament. "For us, integration is not an end in itself. When the negotiations lead to unfavorable solutions, we will be with the nation and not with the elites," said Janusz Dobosz of the Peasant Party, which is in the ruling coalition but is reluctant over what is sees as the government's too far-reaching concessions to Brussels regarding the issue of land sales. JM
CZECH SECRET POLICE FILES OPEN TO PUBLIC
Czech President Vaclav Havel signed a law on 14 March opening the files from the StB, communist Czechoslovakia's feared secret police, to the public, Radio Praha reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 11 March 2002). According to the law, any Czech citizen who is at least 18 years old can view any file. Prior to the law, Czechs only had access to their own StB records. Critics of the law argued that opening the files could lead to the spread of incorrect allegations, since the StB often falsified information in the files it kept on citizens. But Havel said the need for truth outweighed the risks. BW
CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSED OF INTIMIDATING PARLIAMENT
Opposition lawmakers have accused Stanislav Gross of trying to strong-arm parliament, "Mlada fronta dnes," reported on 14 March. While parliament was debating a bill the same day proposing higher salaries for law enforcement officers, Gross invited a group of 40 policemen into the chamber. Opposition lawmakers said the situation resembled a coup d'etat and called for the resignation of Police President Jiri Kolar, the daily reported. Gross denied allegations that he organized the incident, but said he knew the police were coming. Members of the ruling Social Democrats said that any citizen, including police officers, has the right to watch sessions of parliament. BW
A NEW 'AXIS OF EVIL'?
Czech philosopher Miloslav Bednar called Austria, Germany, and Hungary an "axis of evil" at a meeting of the Czech-German discussion forum in Berlin, "Lidove noviny" reported on 14 March. The three countries have been pressing the Czech Republic and Slovakia to revoke the controversial Benes Decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, and 14 March 2002). Bednar's comments were sharply criticized by German representatives at the conference, as well as by a majority of the Czechs present. Bednar, a member of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, later apologized. BW
SLOVAK SINGERS CROON AGAINST RACISM
As part of a campaign to promote tolerance, a group of leading Slovak singers has teamed up to make an antiracist record, AP reported on 13 March. The pop-rock ballad "Our World is Motley," which was released on 11 March, has been hailed by antiracism activists and government officials. "It is only a drop of water...but sometimes even a drop can cause the cup to overflow," said Ibrahim Maiga, a musician from Mali who has lived in Slovakia for more than a decade. In "Our World," Maiga sings both in Slovak and in the Bambara language spoken in his homeland. "This song is what we want Slovakia to be," said Ladislav Durkovic, a member of People Against Racism. The song was dedicated to the memory of Anastazia Balazova, a Romany woman and mother of eight who died as the result of an attack in her home in 2000. BW
SLOVAK COMPANIES SHOW STRONG PROFITS...
Profits for Slovak companies in 2001 rose to 134.8 billion Slovak crowns ($2.8 billion), a 55 percent increase over the previous year, TASR reported on 14 March, citing the Slovak Statistics Office. All sectors were in the black, with the highest profits in industry, wholesale and retail sales, vehicle repairs, and consumer goods. Utilities, transport, and telecommunications companies also posted strong gains. BW
...AS UNEMPLOYMENT RISES
Unemployment in Slovakia rose by 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2001 over the same period in 2000, TASR reported on March 14, citing the Slovak Statistics Office. Unemployment stood at 18.7 percent with the highest rates being recorded in the public sector, most notably in social services. The real estate, trade, and research and development sectors also experienced sharp layoffs. BW
CHINA UPSET OVER WITH HUNGARY OVER TAIWANESE VICE PRESIDENT'S VISIT
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has voiced strong objections to a decision by Hungary to allow Taiwanese Vice President Anette Lu to attend the upcoming Liberal International congress in Budapest, Hungarian Radio reported on 13 March. The Chinese Foreign Ministry contacted the Hungarian Embassy in Beijing to protest the decision, the radio reported. Lu is one of Taiwan's most vocal politicians in calling for independence for Taiwan. PB
HUNGARIAN COMPANY TO WORK WITH U.S. FIRM ON CANCER DRUGS
The Hungarian Innovative Technologies Fund (HITF) announced on 12 March that one of its portfolio companies, N-Gene Research Laboratories Inc., will work with the U.S. company Allos Therapeutics to develop cancer-treatment drugs, Reuters reported. The deal will link N-Gene's Hungarian research and development capabilities with Allos's expertise in the clinical trial and regulatory drug-approval processes in the U.S. market, according to the agency. HITF was launched by the Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund in 1999 to provide venture capital to local entrepreneurs who develop new technologies. BW
PRAISE FOR AGREEMENT BETWEEN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
International media on 15 March generally hailed the recent agreement between Serbia and Montenegro as a contribution to stability and a triumph for the diplomacy of the EU and its security policy chief Javier Solana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). En route to the EU summit in Barcelona, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic stressed that the agreement preserves all of the reforms that Montenegro has carried out in recent years, and is the best deal that Podgorica can expect. His rival, pro-Serbian political leader Predrag Bulatovic, said in Podgorica: "Within three years the new state will stabilize itself and demonstrate its efficiency. There will be no need for referendums on independence," AP reported. PM
...FROM THE NEIGHBORS...
In Ljubljana, the Slovenian Foreign Ministry welcomed the pact and noted the "determined mediation" of Solana, Hina reported. In Sarajevo, the Bosnian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the agreement will help stabilize the region. In Zagreb, the Foreign Ministry stated that "Croatia has always supported negotiations as a way to solve open issues between the two remaining Yugoslav republics. It is in Croatia's best interest to have a peaceful neighborhood," dpa reported. President Stipe Mesic said the agreement removes a major source of regional instability, and that Croatia has a "strategic interest" in stability as a guarantee of peace and progress, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
...AND REJECTS MOLDOVAN ACCUSATIONS
Romanian Orthodox Church spokesman Costel Stoica said on 13 March that the church has always recognized Moldova's statehood, but wants Moldovan authorities to respect the religious freedom of Romanians living there, Mediafax reported. The spokesman was responding to Moldovan Justice Minister Ion Morei's recent accusations that the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Church is opposed to Moldovan statehood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). Stoica added that just as the Romanian Orthodox Church recognizes the Moscow-subordinated Moldovan Orthodox Church, the Moldovan state should also recognize the Bessarabian Church. ZsM
...AND FROM WASHINGTON...
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 14 March: "We commend the leaders of Serbia and Montenegro," Reuters reported. "The agreement is in line with our long-standing view that there should be a democratic Montenegro within a democratic Yugoslavia. We believe that the agreement signed today will help Serbia and Montenegro best achieve their aspirations to fully integrate with Europe and will promote stability within Yugoslavia and the region. Much work remains to be done. We look to the political leaders in Serbia and Montenegro to work constructively to fully realize this agreement," he added. PM
...BUT NOT FROM SOME SERBIAN AND MONTENEGRIN POLITICIANS
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade that Serbia is the big loser and Djukanovic the big winner in the deal, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported on 15 March. Batic argued that the only fair and realistic solution for Serbia is to become an independent country. He added: "This imitation of a nation cannot survive long. This kind of loose union does not exist anywhere in practice, or even in political theory," AP reported. In Novi Sad, Vojvodina political leader Nenad Canak and several other politicians also criticized the agreement. They said the negotiations were not transparent and that the decisions were not democratically arrived at. The Vojvodina leaders stressed that they want more autonomy and rights for their province as well. In Podgorica, Liberal Alliance spokesman Slavko Perovic called the pact an "act of betrayal," adding that "all Montenegro is in shock," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
MIXED REACTIONS IN KOSOVA TO SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN AGREEMENT
Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 14 March that he welcomes the deal between Belgrade and Podgorica. He added, however, that it will not affect Kosova's determination to seek independence, AP reported. Rexhepi said: "We have a clear vision. We want peace to prevail in our regional neighborhood. However, we don't want our fate to be bound by the agreements that are made [outside of] Kosova." Elsewhere, Ruxhdi Sefa, a senior official in the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), told Reuters: "This agreement will accelerate the process of independence for Kosova, because from today Yugoslavia no longer exists." But Susan Manuel, a spokeswoman for the UN in Kosova, told AP: "In theory, we believe that if Serbia and Montenegro is considered the successor state of Yugoslavia, then there will be no effect at all on the status of Kosovo or the role of the UN here. Kosovar Serb leader Rada Trajkovic hailed the agreement, adding: "I expect Serbs to be integrated in Kosovo and Kosovo to be integrated in the new state with Serbia and Montenegro." PM
STEINER SAYS KOSOVA SHOULD SEEK REGIONAL INTEGRATION...
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Washington that Kosovars must recognize that Kosova is "not an island," the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 15 March. He called on the people of Kosova to "expand their horizons" and seek regional cooperation with their neighbors, especially with Serbia. Observers note that an emboldened EU will face difficulties if it seeks to use on Kosova the same carrot-and-stick tactics it used on Montenegro to force it into a joint political structure with Serbia. While Montenegrins have close linguistic and cultural ties with Serbia, and perhaps half the Montenegrin population would oppose independence in a referendum, Albanians and Serbs share few cultural bonds. All of the political parties representing Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority want independence. PM
...AND THAT THE U.S. MUST REMAIN IN KOSOVA
Steiner told the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 15 March in Washington that the U.S. must remain in Kosova despite its interest in scaling down its presence in the Balkans. He added that Kosova could become a major base of organized crime in Europe unless the U.S. as well as its allies remains committed to the province's future. In related news, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" wrote that the U.S. has a clear interest in "nation building" in Bosnia lest that country become a base for Islamic terrorism. Observers note that the Albanians of Kosova (and Macedonia) and the Bosnian Muslims regard a continuing U.S. presence as a guarantee of their security and do not believe that the EU is willing or able to provide them with the same degree of security. PM
NATO HAILS BOSNIA'S MOVE AGAINST TERRORIST FUNDING
Speaking in Sarajevo on 14 March, NATO spokesman Major Scott Lundy said: "The cooperation Bosnia-Herzegovina has given the international community to reduce the threat of transnational terrorism is commendable. The Bosnian government is making great strides in addressing the terrorist threat," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). He made his remarks after the Bosnian authorities announced that some of the funds of three foreign-based Islamic charities are not accounted for, and promised to block their assets. The U.S. has already blocked the assets of two of the three agencies -- Benevolentia and the Global Relief Foundation -- and is planning to freeze those of the third, Al-Haramain. PM
BULGARIAN MINORITY ORGANIZATION REGISTERED IN MACEDONIA
The spokesman of the Association of Bulgarians in the Republic of Macedonia, Vlado Perev, said in an interview with Radio Blagoevgrad that a Skopje court has officially registered his organization, focus.bg reported on 14 March. According to Perev, who is a journalist, it is the first time in history that a Macedonian court has registered an organization with the word "Bulgarian" in its name. The organization was founded by five Skopje residents and is headed by Lyuben Metodievski. UB
HAGUE SENTENCES BOSNIAN SERB CAMP WARDEN
On 15 March, The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced Milorad Krnojelac to 7 1/2 years' imprisonment for atrocities committed while he was a warden at the KP Dom prison camp near Foca in 1992-1993, Reuters and AP reported. He was convicted on four counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. Inmates -- including mentally and gravely ill Muslims -- suffered starvation, forced labor, and both psychological and physical abuse. Many were killed. The Foca area also witnessed the systematic rape of thousands of Muslim women and girls. PM
CROATIA TAKES LEAVE OF CARDINAL KUHARIC
Several thousand people attended the funeral of Cardinal Franjo Kuharic at Zagreb's cathedral on 14 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). As the emissary of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Josef Tomko called Kuharic "a great man of the church and a great son of the noble Croatian people," AP reported. Kuharic will be buried in the cathedral next to the controversial Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, whom the pope beatified in 1998. PM
MACEDONIAN PARTY LEADERS AGREE ON ELECTION RULES
The leaders of the four main political parties -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the Socialist Union (SDSM), the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) -- agreed on 13 March on the rules for the next parliamentary elections, "Dnevnik" reported. Members of parliament will be elected by proportional representation based on party lists. The question as to whether there will be only one nationwide electoral district or six regional districts remains to be resolved (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 February 2002). UB
ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS 'CORRUPTION' MOTION
The Romanian Senate rejected a simple motion put forward by opposition parties on 14 March, Romanian media reported. In the "Institutionalized Corruption" motion, senators from the Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the Greater Romania Party accused the government of illegal privatizations of an oil refinery and the "Romanian Tobacco" company. They also asked for the dismissal of three ministers accused of having illegally subsidized the new owners of the two companies. The three opposition parties also put forward two new motions -- one accusing local public administrations of widespread corruption, and another on the government's inability to solve the social issue of high energy costs paid by the population. ZsM
ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OPPOSES LEGALIZING PROSTITUTION...
Bishop Vincentiu Ploiesteanul said in a press conference on 14 March that the Romanian Orthodox Church strongly condemns the draft law on legalizing prostitution, Mediafax reported. He further argued that the proposal is merely "an untrue attempt to present vice and sin as virtue." He added that the church's Synod has sent an open letter to parliament signed by Patriarch Teoctist that calls the legislative measure "anti-Christian" and "antihuman." ZsM
ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES SEND STRONG WORDS TO CHISINAU...
Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 14 March called Moldovan authorities' decision to expel Romanian military attache Ion Ungureanu a "regrettable and dangerous" act, Mediafax reported. Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase added that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin "spits venom" on bilateral relations. The Foreign Ministry issued a press release denying all charges of Romanian interference in the "profound crisis" in Moldova. It also accused Chisinau of "deliberately" infusing a "climate of confusion and false tension" in the area. Meanwhile, a Mediafax analyst argued that Moldova has decided to isolate itself from Western Europe and secure a safe place within Russia's sphere of interest. ZsM
...WHILE MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES EXPLAIN GESTURE
A Moldovan Foreign Ministry press release hopes the diplomatic incident "will not aggravate" bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. The release said the incident is "absolutely noncharacteristic" of the two countries' relations, which it called "special and privileged." The release also argued that Chisinau's decision was based on "sure and undeniable evidence" related to Ungureanu that Chisinau found incompatible with his diplomatic status. Party of Moldovan Communists deputy Andrei Neguta, the chairman of parliament's Foreign Politics Committee, said the Moldovan secret services have video surveillance evidence that proves Ungureanu coordinated the anti-communist protests in Chisinau, Flux reported. ZsM
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DISMISSES SPECULATION ABOUT RESIGNATION, SLAMS PRESS
Prior to his departure to Spain on 14 March to attend the EU summit in Barcelona, Simeon Saxecoburggotski told journalists that speculation that he plans to resign is unfounded, "Monitor" reported. When asked whether he intends to quit on 6 April and nominate General Boyko Borisov of the interior ministry as his successor, Simeon said: "I read about this rumor in the press, and I am surprised." Saxecoburggotski added that "much of the chaos in the country that is written about in the press is a result of all possible unverified...statements, theories, and repeated rumors." General Borisov has become popular for his efforts to fight corruption. Also to join the premier at the EU summit are Deputy Prime Minister Lidia Shuleva, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, and Finance Minister Milen Velchev. UB
NATO OFFICIAL SAYS BULGARIA ON TRACK, BUT HAS WORK TO DO
After meetings with Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski, President Georgi Parvanov, and other high-ranking representatives of the Bulgarian government on 14 March, NATO Assistant Secretary-General Guenther Altenburg told a press conference in reference to Bulgaria's efforts to join the Atlantic alliance that "you have not yet reached the final objectives you have set for yourself," BTA reported. But he added that "a very good and productive progress has been made and has been noted by the NATO team." Altenburg said that his contingent and the Bulgarian representatives agreed that more has to be done as regards combating corruption and reforming the country's administrative and judicial system. "The important thing is not to expect that this will happen overnight," Altenburg said. "It is an effort that needs to be sustained --nobody asks for miracles." UB
COULD 'ALTERNATIVE' ISLAM BECOME A FORCE IN AZERBAIJANI POLITICS?
On 12 January, for the first time since the genesis of the Azerbaijan Popular Front in the summer of 1989, participants in an opposition demonstration in Baku openly displayed green Islamic banners. And a few weeks later, residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku taunted visiting city Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov with shouts of "Allahu Akbar." At the same time, the prestige and influence of Azerbaijan's official religious "establishment," the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus that has been headed since the 1980s by Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, is reportedly rapidly evaporating, while that of some other members of the unofficial Muslim clergy is on the rise.
Those developments suggest that Islam is becoming a rallying point for the dispossessed, impoverished, and unemployed, and even simply for those Azerbaijanis who reject many aspects of Western culture. Turan last month quoted Zardusht Alizade, co-chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Azerbaijan as saying: "The politicization of Islam has helped drive the secular opposition into corner. A holy place is never empty, and the population has reached out for the mosques... The politicization of Islam was the reaction of the lower classes to the introduction of such attributes of Western mass culture as beauty contests, the cult of eroticism, the legalization of sexual minorities, and the provocative consumption of the upper classes. The ethical puritanism of the conservative sectors of the population manifested itself in the form of devotion to the Islamic behests of their forbears."
Moreover, it appears to be not the mosques that are directly subordinate to the Muslim Spiritual Board to which believers are flocking, but other mosques, often built with funds from abroad and with self-appointed imams. One of the most influential such mosques is the Cuma or Abu-Bekr mosque in Baku, the construction of which was financed by the Kuwaiti foundation "Restoration of the Islamic Heritage," and whose imam, Hadji Hamet Suleymanov, is said to be more popular than Sheikh ul-Islam Pashazade. The mosque was investigated in January for a possible connection with the young Azerbaijanis who went on trial on charges of aspiring to fight as mercenaries in Chechnya. But the authorities decided against either closing it down or appointing another imam to replace Hadji Hamet, instead imposing restrictions on its activities and banning the sale there of religious literature.
The Abu-Bekr mosque is only one of an estimated 150 built in Azerbaijan since 1992 with funds from abroad. The independent newspaper "Ekho" reported on 16 February that over that period the Turkish government has financed construction of eight new mosques and the reconstruction or repair of two more. The total number of registered functioning mosques, according to State Committee for Religious Affairs Chairman Rafik Aliev, is around 1,300.
That committee is currently completing the process, which it began last fall, of reregistering all religious communities in Azerbaijan. Keston News Service on 11 March quoted Aliev as saying that 120 religious organizations (100 of them Islamic) have been registered to date, while "about 100" applications remain to be considered. He declined to specify how many of the previously registered 406 organizations applied for re-registration, or how many had been refused.
In an interview with ANS TV on 21 January, however, Aliev said there are up to 2,000 unregistered religious organizations in Azerbaijan. (The deadline for applying for registration was 1 February.) He also said 22 unregistered and Iranian-funded medreses (religious schools) that had been operating for six-seven years have been closed down because the course of instruction they offered was deemed unacceptable by the Azerbaijani government. (The Iranian influence is also said to be particularly strong in Gyanja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic amenities and very high unemployment.)
In the course of that TV interview, Aliev also admitted that his committee is concerned at the sums of money being channeled into religious activities. He pointed out that not all the funds earmarked by foreign organizations for the construction or repair of mosques are actually used for that purpose, adding that his committee is trying to establish how the remainder is used. "Ekho" for its part calculated that the Turkish government claimed to have spent $2.7 million on the 10 mosques referred to above, a sum the paper considered far exceeded the actual building costs.
In addition to funds provided by foreign Islamic organizations for promoting religious activities in Azerbaijan, individual mosques collect considerable sums from the faithful: Turan quoted the independent TV station Space TV as calculating that the monthly revenues of the Bibi-Geybat mosque in Baku amount to 235 million manats ($50,000), while the annual revenues republic-wide total millions of U.S. dollars.
Azerbaijan's opposition parties are well aware that the burgeoning popularity of Islam could both destabilize the domestic political situation, and undercut the degree of support they currently enjoy. Some parties, including the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, have amended their programs to give greater emphasis to the role of Islam in Azerbaijani society, according to the party's deputy chairman for religious affairs, Nariman Gasymoglu. The party advocates compulsory religious education in secondary schools, the establishment of a higher religious college subordinate to the State Committee for Religious Affairs, and a more effective investigation of the financial activities of religious organizations.
With the exception of the compulsory re-registration of religious organizations -- which many unofficial religious communities appear to have ignored -- few suggestions have been made as to how to stem the rise of "parallel" Islam. But Nazim Imanov of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party proposed last November to the newspaper "Zerkalo" that all persons aspiring to the position of mullah should undergo a public attestation with the aim of barring those who are either corrupt, or who have only a rudimentary knowledge of the Koran.