POLICE SEARCH LIBERAL RUSSIA'S OFFICE...
Police on 21 August searched the offices of the Liberal Russia party as part of its investigation into the murder of former party co-Chairman and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002), Russian media reported. Papers relating to the criminal investigation that was pending against Golovlev for alleged corruption during his term as head of the Chelyabinsk Oblast State Property Committee in 1991-92 were removed, as were personal papers, polit.ru reported, citing Golovlev's assistant Andrei Sidelnikov. Sidelnikov added that police planned to return to the office on 22 August to inspect the computers. The website reported that party co-Chairman and State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov considers the search an attempt to interfere in the party's ongoing legal dispute over its registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). RC
...INVESTIGATION INTO DEPUTY'S PAST IS CLOSED...
The chief of the investigation department of the Chelyabinsk Oblast prosecutor's office, Yurii Artser, said on 21 August that the investigation into Golovlev's work as the head of the oblast's State Property Committee has been closed, RosBalt reported. Duma Deputy Mikhail Grishankov (People's Deputy), who formerly headed the oblast's Federal Security Service (FSB) organized-crime department, said that the case focused on the sale of 22 billion rubles worth of shares in the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Plant. According to Grishankov, authorities suspect that Golovlev transferred 89 packets of shares to a public social-security fund, which was later allegedly illegally privatized. Reportedly, shares in several other major enterprises in the oblast were also involved. Artser added that there are five other potential defendants involved in the case and that the investigations into their activities will continue. RC
...AND POLITICIANS COMMENT ON DEPUTY'S MURDER...
Duma Deputy and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said on 21 August that law enforcement officials should look for Golovlev's murderer in Chelyabinsk, RosBalt reported. "The murder of a deputy is always a political matter, no matter what the motives [for the deed] might have been," Nemtsov was quoted as saying. Liberal Russia co-Chairman Boris Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy that the murder "was carried out on orders from the Russian authorities in order to frighten the country's political elite." "Authoritarian states based on fear have their own laws.... In order to really frighten people, the order is given to murder a concrete individual," Berezovskii said. RC
...WITH SOME CONNECTING IT TO CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov connected the murder to the Chelyabinsk investigation. "I cannot exclude the possibility that Golovlev began talking [to investigators] and so he was killed," Zyuganov said, according to RosBalt. He added that he does not believe the murder was connected to Golovlev's political activity, since "Liberal Russia does not present any threat to the authorities." Liberal Russia co-Chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin likewise pointed to the Chelyabinsk affair. "Golovlev himself said many times that he had information about some dubious affairs of highly placed officials, many of whom are in positions of power now. I cannot exclude that someone was very eager to avoid having his name mentioned publicly," he was quoted as saying by "Vremya MN." RC
EES HEAD COMMENTS ON POLITICAL SITUATION AND HIS PLANS
Anatolii Chubais, head of Unified Energy Systems (EES) and a leader of the SPS, will not run for president in 2004 or 2008, "Argumenty i fakty" reported on 21 August. In an interview, Chubais said that he also will not offer himself as campaign manager for President Vladimir Putin, who already has "a strong administration." "One can dislike [presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr] Voloshin, but it is a fact that he has created a very sound political structure," Chubais said. He also said that in just two years Putin has managed to completely reverse the course of relations with NATO and to prepare the country for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Asked who among Russia's liberal politicians would make the strongest candidates for president, Chubais named fellow SPS leader Nemtsov and Yabloko head Grigorii Yavlinskii. He said liberals should unite behind whichever candidate demonstrates the broadest public support. VY
MINISTER COMMENTS ON WTO OPPONENTS
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has said that the Russian economy has developed to a point at which many large enterprises are afraid of foreign competitors, "Vedomosti" reported on 21 August. Gref said these companies realize that it is easier for two or three domestic firms to reach an understanding on dividing market shares than it would be if outside players were to appear. He added that the business community is divided on WTO accession. One part favors the move because it wants stable rules, taxes, and legal procedures, while another part opposes membership because it thrives on instability. VY
RUSSIA MOURNS HELICOPTER CASUALTIES...
Russia observed a national day of mourning on 22 August in connection with the crash in Chechnya of an Mi-26 military transport helicopter that left 116 dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August 2002), Russian news agencies reported. The mourning overshadowed the official celebration of Flag Day, which marks the adoption of the tricolor flag and the defeat of an antidemocratic coup attempt on 22 August 1991. This year's Flag Day ceremony was shortened and the flag was only raised to half-mast. VY
...AS SAFETY AND SECURITY BREACHES ARE UNCOVERED...
Investigators looking into the crash continue to believe the helicopter was shot down from the ground, Russian media reported on 22 August. However, there is no doubt that the high death toll resulted from the violation of safety and security regulations, polit.ru and other news agencies reported. The Mi-26 -- the world's largest military helicopter -- has fixed seating for 80 troops plus crew and is designed to carry a 20-ton payload. In 1998, the Defense Ministry issued orders that the helicopter not be used to carry personnel beyond its seating capacity of 80. VY
...AND CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN REAFFIRMS RESPONSIBILITY
In a telephone interview on 21 August, Mairbek Vachagaev told a correspondent for RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service in Sofia that a Chechen fighter fired the missile that caused the 19 August helicopter crash. Vachagaev said this was not the first Russian helicopter shot down by Chechen fighters. He said the rationale for the latest attack was to force Russian society to take a new look at the situation in Chechnya to determine why Russian troops are there and "who they are trying to conquer." Vachagaev also said that the issue of Chechnya's independent status was resolved once and for all when Chechnya declared independence in 1991, "before Russia seceded from the USSR," and that the issue will therefore not figure in any future talks between Maskhadov and the Russian leadership. Such talks, Vachagaev said, will focus exclusively on "ending military hostilities." LF
INVESTIGATION EXCLUDES TERRORISM IN MOSCOW EXPLOSION
Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin said on 22 August that his agency has excluded the possibility that a terrorist act caused the Moscow apartment-building explosion that killed eight people on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002), ORT reported. Chekalin said that investigators are certain the tragedy was caused by a natural-gas leak, although some witness told RFE/RL's Russian Service that they did not smell gas at the site, but rather "something like gunpowder." Meanwhile, on 22 August, eight people were killed in the Siberian city of Kogalym when a explosion ripped through a workers' hostel, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Officials blame the incident, in which five of the victims were children, on a natural-gas leak, according to dpa. VY/RC
RUSSIAN, CHINESE PREMIERS TAKE CONTROL OF JOINT PROJECTS...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, continuing his visit to China, said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Zhu Rongji in Shanghai on 21 August that the two men agreed to take the largest joint projects -- including the construction of oil and gas pipelines -- under their personal control, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. According to Zhu, after the completion of the strategic oil pipeline from Siberia to China, China will import from 20 million to 30 million tons of Russian oil annually, constituting over half the trade volume between the two countries. Kasyanov said that it is important for Russia to persuade China to support its swift accession to the WTO. VY
...AS SENATOR URGES FRANK CONSIDERATION OF BILATERAL PROBLEMS...
Federation Council member Aleksandr Nazarov, chairman of the council's Committee for the North and Numerically Small Peoples, called for "the constructive discussion of the problems existing" between China and Russia, RosBalt reported on 22 August. Nazarov considers migration to be the main problem in Sino-Russian relations. He said that Chinese attempts to withhold support for Russia's WTO membership in order to compel Russia to lift migration limits are "direct pressure that we cannot allow." He added that the government must "use all instruments at its disposal" to protect the economic future of the Russian Far East. RC
...AND DALAI LAMA SUPPORTERS DETAINED IN MOSCOW
Police detained about 50 Buddhist protestors in Moscow on 22 August, dpa reported. The demonstrators were protesting the Foreign Ministry's recent decision not to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, who had planned to visit Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). The ministry explained its refusal by citing opposition on the part of the Chinese government. According to Interfax, the 50 demonstrators were taken to a police station for document checks. RC
U.S. CONGRESSMEN CONCERNED ABOUT MOSCOW'S TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS TO IRAN, IRAQ
A U.S. Congressional delegation visiting Moscow said on 22 August that U.S. lawmakers are deeply concerned by Russia's ongoing cooperation with Iran and Iraq, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The 11-member delegation is headed by Representative Henry Hyde (Republican, Illinois), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Hyde said that assisting Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction would have extremely negative consequences for the security of the United States, Russia, and the entire international community. The delegation expressed particular concern about Russian assistance in the construction of a nuclear-power plant in Bushehr, Iran, which some U.S. experts believe could help Teheran develop nuclear weapons. Hyde also said that he hopes Moscow will comply with international sanctions against Iraq, despite recent reports about a long-term cooperation agreement between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The delegation plans to discussion the situations in Afghanistan and Georgia with First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov. VY
NORTH KOREA'S KIM CONTINUES FAR EAST JAUNT...
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visited a pharmaceutical plant and an Orthodox church in Khabarovsk on 22 August as he continued his four-day tour of Russia's Far East, Russian and Western news agencies reported. He also visited a military training center outside the city before embarking for Vladivostok. Kim will meet with President Putin in Vladivostok on 23 August. RC
...AS PUTIN SETS OUT ON ONE OF HIS OWN
President Putin will spend one week touring Siberia and the Far East, beginning in Vladivostok on 23 August and returning to the Kremlin on 30 August, ITAR-TASS reported. From Vladivostok, Putin will travel to Chita, where he will meet with commanders of the Siberian Military District. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov will attend that meeting. Next, the president will travel to Kemerovo where he will chair a session of the State Council's Presidium. The main topic of that meeting will be developing the coal industry, State Council Secretary Aleksandr Abramov told the news agency. Finally, Putin will end his tour on 30 August in Kazan, where he will meet with officials preparing for the 1,000th anniversary of the city's founding. He is also expected to meet with delegates to the third annual convention of the World Congress of Tatars. RC
LDPR LEADER ENDORSES LONGER TERM FOR PUTIN
In an interview with Novosti On-Lain radio on 20 August, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovskii endorsed a recent proposal by the legislature of Magadan Oblast to extend President Putin's term of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Zhirinovskii claimed that his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) has supported a longer presidential term for "five or six years" and urged the Duma to schedule a national referendum on the question for 14 December simultaneously with Duma elections. He also indicated that he supports changing the constitutional provision that limits a president to two terms. Finally, Zhirinovskii said that the "non-Russian" word "president" should be removed from the constitution and replaced with the "fine Russian political term" supreme leader of Russia (verkhovnyi pravitel Rossii). RC
An item entitled "Dmitrii Vasiliev Suspected of Plundering U.S. Financial Aid" in the 25 March issue of "RFE/RL Newsline" contained a number of errors. The "Noviye izvestiya" article referred to in the item was published on 22 March. The article did not say -- as the "RFE/RL Newsline" item asserted -- that U.S. officials had informed Russian law enforcement that former Federal Securities Commission head Dmitrii Vasiliev had received a bribe in exchange for assisting the investment company Pallada Asset Management, and thus the title and the content of the "RFE/RL Newsline" item were not accurate. Instead, the "Novye izvestiya" article speculated that U.S. authorities might investigate any possible role that Vasiliev could have played in facilitating the business success of Pallada Asset Management. We regret the errors.
ARMENIA ARRESTS FOUR FOR SPYING FOR AZERBAIJAN
Four citizens of Armenia were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of spying for Azerbaijan and have been charged with high treason, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 21 August, citing a National Security Ministry statement. The identity of those detained was not divulged. A former Armenian government employee was arrested in January on charges of spying for Turkey and remains in pretrial detention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 February 2002). LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS, COUNCIL OF EUROPE DIFFER OVER ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY
During talks in Yerevan on 21 August with visiting Council of Europe officials, Armenian parliament deputies and relatives of the eight victims of the October 1999 parliament shootings again argued that the five gunmen who perpetrated those killings should be executed despite Armenia's pledge to abolish capital punishment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 June, and 8 and 9 July 2002). Rima Demirchian, whose husband Karen was one of those killed, said, "We, the relatives, will fight to the end for the death penalty." Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs Chairman Viktor Dallakian, who authored a clause in the recently adopted Criminal Code that provides for handing down the death penalty for crimes committed before the code took effect, said the Armenian leadership should raise the issue with the Council of Europe, which continues to insist on the full and unconditional abolition of capital punishment. LF
AZERBAIJAN'S CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION REJECTS CRITICISMS OVER REFERENDUM MONITORS...
In a statement released on 21 August the Central Election Commission (CEC) denied opposition parties' allegations that it refused to register thousands of opposition supporters to monitor voting in the 24 referendum on constitutional amendments, Turan reported. The statement said opposition parties may now collect from the CEC registration certificates for all the observers they proposed; it had previously ruled that would-be monitors must collect that documentation in person. Turan suggested that the CEC may have softened its position under pressure from the international diplomatic community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). LF
...AS MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY STILL RISKS EXCLUSION
It remains unclear whether the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) will be able to field monitors for the 24 August referendum, as three bodies bearing that name have formally submitted applications to do so and the CEC has reportedly not yet received clarification from the Justice Ministry which of the three -- the "conservative" and "reformers'" AHCP wings and the new body recently established by Gudrat Gasankuliev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 28, forthcoming) -- has the legal rights to the AHCP name, zerkalo.az reported on 22 August. LF
AZERBAIJANI EX-PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS EVICTED FROM HEADQUARTERS
Tax officials forced members of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Ayaz Mutalibov to vacate their recently acquired office in Baku on 21 August, claiming that they have not yet signed a formal lease for the premises, Turan and Interfax reported. Fourteen members of the committee intended to start a hunger strike on 21 August to protest the ongoing trial of five Mutalibov supporters charged with planning to stage a coup in October 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 15 August 2002). "Ekho" on 21 August quoted Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since 1992, as expressing support for the opposition's calls to boycott the 24 August referendum. LF
AZERBAIJAN CREATES CHARITABLE FUND TO SUPPORT ARMED FORCES
President Heidar Aliev signed a decree last week establishing a fund to help modernize, raise the professional standard of, and purchase weaponry and ammunition for the country's armed forces, Turan reported on 21 August, the same day that the text of the decree was published in the official press. The Defense Ministry will recommend how the monies should be used, and Aliev himself must approve all such expenditures. Meanwhile, 17 servicemen from the Nakhichevan garrison have been hospitalized with malaria, Turan reported on 21 August. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIAL CALLS FOR BLACKLIST OF CORRUPTION SUSPECTS...
Addressing a government session on 21 August, Audit Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili advocated creating a databank of officials dismissed for abuse of their official position in order to preclude their appointment to senior posts in future, Caucasus Press reported. President Eduard Shevardnadze endorsed that proposal. Molashvili further argued that the Audit Chamber should be empowered to bring legal action against persons or organizations who have embezzled state funds or failed to repay credits they received from the state. LF
...IMPLICATES OPPOSITION LEADER
Among the persons whom Molashvili implicated in serious financial crimes was former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, whom he accused of using an unspecified amount of state funds on building houses that he reportedly made available to various religious sects, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, according to Caucasus Press. Koba Davitashvili, a member of Saakashvili's opposition National Movement, told journalists later on 21 August that Molashvili made those accusations against Saakashvili at Shevardnadze's instigation. Molashvili said that he is ready to resign if Saakashvili can prove that the accusations are unfounded. LF
GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTRY REFUSES TO DIVULGE DETAILS OF PANKISI OPERATION
Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili informed the 21 August Georgian government session that the antiterrorism and anticrime operation in the Pankisi Gorge announced by President Shevardnadze on 19 August began early that day, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 August 2002). On 22 August, the National Security Ministry declined to release any details of the operation, or either to confirm or deny a statement released on 21 August by the "Round Table" that comprises supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. That statement claimed that 3,000 troops and armor including 72 tanks and armored cars have already been sent to eastern Georgia, and a further 3,000 troops will follow; and that emergency medical facilities have been prepared and 40 doctors sent to the region from Tbilisi. LF
COMMANDER DENIES RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN GEORGIA SELL ARMS
Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, on 21 August rejected as untrue a statement by Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania earlier that day accusing the Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia of illegally selling arms, ITAR-TASS reported. Yevteev demanded that Khaburzania furnish proof of those allegations. Lieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, who is deputy commander of peacekeeping operations for the Russian armed forces, similarly denied Khaburzania's allegations, Caucasus Press reported. Khaburzania adduced a recent case in which a Georgian officer was intercepted transporting a shipment of state-of-the-art weaponry from South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2002). LF
GEORGIAN DETAINS JAPANESE CITIZEN
Minami Hiroshi was remanded in pretrial detention in Tbilisi for three months on 21 August, days after being apprehended by Georgian border guards after entering the country illegally together with a Chechen militant, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported, quoting the National Security Ministry press service. The ministry said he had been issued a visa to visit Georgia three times in recent years. An official from the Japanese Embassy in Baku met with him in detention the same day. "Akhali taoba" on 21 August characterized him as a former professional army serviceman who traveled to Chechnya to fight on the side of President Aslan Maskhadov after being rejected by the French Foreign Legion, and who subsequently converted to Islam. Interfax on 6 August quoted Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for the Russian forces in Chechnya, as saying that the group of Chechen fighters that attempted to enter Chechnya from Georgia in late July "might" have included a Japanese citizen. LF
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO GEORGIA MEETS ABKHAZ LEADERS
Richard Miles traveled on 21 August to Sukhum where he met with Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and Vice President Valerii Arshba, who is acting president for the duration of Vladislav Ardzinba's vacation, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Miles expressed concern at the lack of progress toward a peaceful solution of the Abkhaz conflict and affirmed that the UN-drafted "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competences between Tbilisi and Sukhum" constitutes an ideal basis for resuming talks on such a settlement. Djergenia again said he sees "no sense" in discussion that document, under which Abkhazia would remain a part of Georgia. He added that "no one can force us to reject the idea of independence." LF
KAZAKHSTAN, U.S. DISCUSS EXPANDING MILITARY COOPERATION
U.S. General Tommy Franks, who is U.S. Forces commander in chief for the Middle East and Central Asia, met in Astana on 21 August with Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev to discuss regional security, reinforcing the infrastructure of Kazakhstan's western military district, and increasing the number of Kazakh servicemen to undergo training in the United States, Interfax reported. Franks also met earlier that day with President Nursultan Nazarbaev whom he thanked for his support in the ongoing international antiterrorism operation. LF
NEW KAZAKH JOURNALISTS' GROUP TO INVESTIGATE POLICE ABUSES
Independent Kazakh journalists in Almaty formed a new group on 21 August that will probe reports of human rights violations and crimes committed by the country's special police units, AP reported. They will begin by investigating last week's attack on television journalist Artur Platonov, who had criticized the activities of Interior Ministry troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 21 August 2002). LF
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT REPEATS WARNING TO OPPOSITION
A Kyrgyz government statement circulated by akipress.org on 21 August rejects opposition criticism of Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov's 15 August warning that the newly founded opposition movement for the resignation of President Askar Akaev is unconstitutional and a threat to the stability of the state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). The statement says that the government continues to do all in its power to improve social and economic conditions and to defuse the tensions that arose during the mass demonstrations early this year that culminated in the clashes in Aksy in March. It stressed that Akaev is the legally elected president, and that the procedures for his resignation are laid down in the constitution. The movement stated that it intends to use only peaceful means to constrain Akaev to step down. LF
On 20 August, "RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously reported that Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has signed the law amnestying not only participants in the March clashes in Aksy but also those who condoned the use of violence against them. Citing numerous flaws, Akaev has sent that bill back to the parliament for revision.
ANOTHER RUSSIAN SERVICEMAN MURDERED IN TAJIKISTAN
A Russian serviceman was found murdered in Dushanbe in the morning of 21 August, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. ITAR-TASS quoted a senior Russian officer as saying later the same day that the killing was not politically motivated. It is the second violent death of a Russian serviceman in Tajikistan in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS PUTIN FOR 'ULTIMATE INTEGRATION' PROPOSAL...
During a meeting with Daghestani State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov in Minsk on 21 August, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka harshly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent proposal of "ultimate integration" between Russia and Belarus. "Today Russia's leadership deliberately puts forward absolutely unacceptable proposals of an insulting character to us. Even Lenin and Stalin did not go so far as to try to dissolve Belarus and make it a part of Russia or even of the Soviet Union," Belarusian television quoted Lukashenka as saying. The Belarusian leader was visibly disconcerted and apparently forgot that the Belarusian SSR was a part of the Soviet Union in 1922-91. "Nobody will allow the republic [Belarus] to be cut into pieces and incorporated into some state, even if it is a brotherly state," Lukashenka added. JM
...PLEDGES TO REMAIN TRUE TO UNION TREATY SIGNED WITH YELTSIN...
President Lukashenka also suggested that Putin, by mentioning an integration variant "along the lines of the European Union," has actually proposed that Minsk nullify the union treaty Lukashenka signed with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. "Russia proposes to follow the [integration] path of the European Union only after we break the union treaty currently in force," Lukashenka said. "There is a proposal to weaken [this treaty]. It is unacceptable to us. I cannot break the treaty that has cost me a lot of blood and sweat, and not only me, but also Russia's former leadership." Lukashenka also explained why he wants to stick to the current treaty, saying: "We need to build an attractive union, in order to include former [Soviet] republics in it; for instance, Ukraine. But will Ukraine make even a single step toward the union built according to this ['ultimate unification'] model? Never in this life!" JM
...AS POLL SAYS ONLY 3.5 PERCENT FAVOR BELARUS'S ABSORPTION BY RUSSIA
Immediately after its report on the Lukashenka-Magomedov meeting, Belarusian television cited a poll conducted by the Institute of Social and Political Research, which operates under the presidential administration. According to the poll, 35 percent of Belarusians support integration with Russia in the form of an "international union of independent states," 25 percent are in favor of a "union of two states with limited independence," 23 percent back a "single-state" integration model, and just 3.5 percent want Belarus to become part of the Russian Federation. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ASKS PARLIAMENT TO LIFT TYMOSHENKO'S IMMUNITY
Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun has addressed the Verkhovna Rada with a request to lift the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko in connection with a criminal investigation launched against her earlier this month, UNIAN reported on 21 August. Prosecutors have accused Tymoshenko of embezzling funds while she headed Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine in 1995-97. Other charges include forgery and abuse of office. "It's a single criminal case that touches upon activities of former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko, and other officials from Ukraine's Unified Energy Systems," Piskun told journalists about the probe against Tymoshenko. He added that the charges against Tymoshenko could carry a prison term of 10-15 years. JM
ESTONIAN LOCAL-ELECTION CANDIDATE REGISTRATION OPENS
The campaign season has officially opened for Estonia's 20 October local elections, with the first registrations of candidate lists with election commissions, Estonian media reported on 22 August. Five parties submitted their candidate lists on 21 August, including governing coalition members of the Center Party and the Reform Party, as well as the Moderates, Pro Patria Union, and Russian Baltic Party in Estonia. Despite Estonian parliament speaker Toomas Savi's decision not to run in the local election and his appeal to colleagues to do the same, most parties listed current members of parliament as candidates -- including Savi's own Reform Party, BNS reported on 21 August. MJZ
MOSCOW MAYOR CANCELS VISIT TO LATVIA?
Yurii Luzhkov has reportedly canceled his plans to visit Riga in late September, according to a BNS report on 22 August that cited the Latvian Television evening news program "Panorama" of 21 August. Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars told BNS that he does not possess such information, and expressed his hope that the "Panorama" report does not prove true. One of Bojars' advisers, Armands Kruze, told LETA on 22 August that "If there are no insurmountable obstacles, Luzhkov will arrive in Latvia at the end of September," stressing that the upcoming visit should not be politicized. BNS quoted Bojars as saying on 21 August that he has received "signals indicating certain state institutions are considering rejecting Luzhkov's application for a Latvian visa." The same day, Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins was quoted by BNS as saying that Luzhkov's planned visit on the eve of the October 5 parliamentary elections, "may look like...an attempt to strengthen the bloc of Bojars and [Alfreds] Rubiks," the leaders of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party and the Latvian Socialist Party, respectively. Interior Minister Mareks Seglins, Citizenship and Migration Department deputy head Janis Lejins, and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins all denied the existence of any plans to deny Luzhkov a visa. MJZ
LITHUANIA DENIES OBSERVER ROLE IN RUSSIAN MILITARY EXERCISE
The Lithuanian Defense Ministry has denied published Russian media reports that it will send observers to an upcoming Russian naval exercise in the Baltic Sea, ELTA reported on 21 August. While the ministry confirmed that Vilnius has been notified by Russian military officials of the exercise, it has yet to receive an official invitation from Moscow to actually send observers. Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov discussed the possibility of Lithuanian military observers being invited to the exercise during their meeting in Palanga on 30 June. MJZ
LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT EXPECTED TO APPROVE WILLIAMS-YUKOS DEAL
The Lithuanian government has signaled that it is likely to approve U.S. energy company Williams International's proposed sale of its financial interest and operating rights for Lithuania's Mazeikiai Oil (Mazeikiu Nafta) to the Russian oil company Yukos, ELTA reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). The proposed deal has set off a heated political debate in Lithuania. After meeting with President Valdas Adamkus to discuss the national-security implications of the sale, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters that his government is interested in "profitable operations by Mazeikiai Oil," and there is a "need to change the company management to create motives for profitable work." According to Brazauskas, the Lithuanian government has lost 160 million litas ($40 million) since the company has been "operated by the Americans." Williams assumed operating rights in October 1999. While the total sum invested in the company during this period was about 1.7 billion litas ($425 million), Brazauskas said, "1.15 billion litas was borrowed by Mazeikiai Oil with the loans due in 2006 and 2007." At the same meeting, President Adamkus proposed various alternatives to the shareholder formula so Lithuania can exercise "control when making strategically-important decisions on the country's energy sector." AB
POLISH PREMIER SETS LOCAL ELECTIONS FOR 27 OCTOBER
Prime Minister Leszek Miller announced on 21 August that local elections in Poland will be held on 27 October, Polish media reported. "Local elections are an opportunity for winning something more than only local power. They are an opportunity for positive activity for local communities," Miller said in a televised address. Poles will elect 46,835 councilors of commune, district, and provincial councils, as well as 2,489 administrators -- commune heads (wojt), town mayors (burmistrz), and city mayors (prezydent miasta). If a candidate for an administrative post does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote on 27 October, then the two highest-placed candidates will take part in a runoff ballot two weeks later (10 November). JM
POLE ARRESTED FOR THREATENING TO KILL POPE
Police on 21 August said they have arrested a man who posted a threat on the Internet to kill Pope John Paul II during his recent visit to Poland, AP reported. The man, identified as Ryszard M., was arrested in Gdansk on 15 August, a day before the pope's arrival, after posting a threatening e-mail at an Internet chat site hosted by "Gazeta Wyborcza." The message was immediately removed by the daily, which reported the incident to police. JM
U.S. DECLARES PARTS OF CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE 'DISASTER AREAS'
The United States on 21 August declared portions of Central and Eastern Europe "disaster areas," freeing up hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency flood-relief aid, AFP reported. The State Department officially designated flood-affected parts of the Czech Republic, Romania, and Slovakia "disaster areas," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker announced. He said Washington has already provided $50,000 to each of the three countries for immediate flood-relief operations and is considering more assistance. Reeker said an additional $500,000 worth of material has been provided by the U.S. Defense Department for the Czech Republic, including the use of six giant pumps and support staff to operate them 24 hours a day. Reeker also said Secretary of State Colin Powell called his Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda and "assured him that the U.S. government and the Department of Defense in particular are doing everything they can to provide assistance." Assessment teams from the U.S. Agency for International Development will start examining the needs in the three countries at the end of this week, Reeker said. He added that providing flood assistance to Russia is also under consideration. MS
CZECH LOWER HOUSE, SENATE TO MEET IN EMERGENCY SESSIONS
Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek on 21 August heeded a government request and called a "state of legislative emergency" that will last between 22 August and 23 September, CTK reported. As a result, the lower house will be able to meet on 22 August to debate and approve in shortened procedure bills designed to overcome the consequences of the recent floods. Lawmakers will also debate the government's request to postpone the deadline for submitting the 2003 draft budget. The Senate will hold an extraordinary session on 24 August to discuss the bills approved by the Chamber of Deputies on 22 August, thus significantly shortening by several months the time it usually takes for parliamentary approval. In related news, the cabinet at its 21 August meeting approved a draft bill postponing the deadline for submitting lists for the autumn local elections from 27 August to 3 September. The Chamber of Deputies will discuss this draft at its 22 August session as well. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT BLAMES COMMUNIST ERA FOR FLOOD DEVASTATION...
President Vaclav Havel said on 21 August that Czechs partly brought on themselves the devastation caused by the worst floods in history, laying the blame on the country's communist-era rulers, Reuters reported. In a commentary for the "Financial Times," Havel wrote: "We must consider the damage we may have caused through the excessive use and exploitation of our waterways, especially in the communist era, when gigantic fields were sown and rivers were diverted into concrete channels to irrigate them. That era has passed in Europe, but its legacy is still with us today." MS
...WHILE CZECHS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF 1968 WARSAW PACT INVASION
Some 150 people gathered outside the Czech Radio building in Prague on 21 August to pay homage to the victims among civilians who were fired on when Warsaw Pact troops occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968, CTK reported. The ceremony was attended by Chamber of Deputies speaker Zaoralek and Senate Chairman Petr Pithart. A wreath was laid at a memorial plaque on behalf of ailing President Havel. Pithart said that in August 1968, just as when floods recently ravaged the country, people were prepared to selflessly rush and help where they thought they were needed. Zaoralek said the ideals of the 1968 reform process are still relevant today. "Democratization and modernization,... national self-awareness and the creation of conditions for a dignified life, are ideals that should be defended today as well," he said. The names of 15 people who were killed in the vicinity of the Czech Radio building during the invasion are inscribed on a memorial plaque on the building. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT ILL, CANCELS PARTICIPATION IN VISEGRAD FOUR SUMMIT...
President Rudolf Schuster, suffering from high fever after a sunstroke, on 21 August canceled his participation in a meeting of heads of states from the Visegrad Four countries, TASR and international news agencies reported. The meeting was to take place on 21 August at a castle in Castlovice, Czech Republic, and to focus on the consequences of the recent floods and on cooperation of the four countries ahead of the expected EU expansion. Schuster suffered the sunstroke after attending mass celebrated on 18 August by Pope John Paul II in Krakow, Poland. MS
...CONSIDERS NATO, EU ACCESSION SECURE
President Schuster said in an interview with Reuters on 21 August that he expects a broad coalition to emerge from the September parliamentary elections, and that he believes the new coalition will ensure Slovakia's integration into NATO and the European Union. Schuster said the next coalition may be even broader than the current one, and talks for setting it up are therefore likely to be "complicated." Rather than appoint someone to form the government after the elections, Schuster said, he may leave it to the parliamentary parties to negotiate the coalition and propose the name of a new premier to him. He said he will not back any political party in the election campaign, concentrating instead on campaigning for a high voter turnout. "The higher the participation of voters, the more objective the result of the vote, and the closer we'll be to the doors of NATO and the EU," he said. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER MARKS 1968 INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told TASR on 21 August that democracy and liberty "cannot be built in isolation, but only in cooperation with other countries that cherish the same values." Dzurinda spoke on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Warsaw Pact. He said the aim of the invaders was "to suppress the promising democratization process" that had started in the country. He said that at that time there was little chance to defend the pro-democracy policy in the middle of a "communist sea," but that now the priorities of Slovak foreign policy are to gain membership in the two groups that can grant both economic and military security -- the EU and NATO. Dzurinda added that the purpose of marking the anniversary of the invasion is to avoid "making the same mistakes" in the future. MS
SLOVAKIA REPORTS NEW CASE OF BSE
The State Veterinary Institute on 21 August said a new case of BSE (mad cow disease) has been discovered on a farm in the Nitra region, TASR reported. This the 11th time that a bovine from a herd in Slovakia has tested positive for the disease. MS
HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT CLEARS WAY TO MAKE MECS COMMISSION FINDINGS PUBLIC...
Elemer Kiss, the head of the prime minister's office who also oversees the secret services, on 21 August authorized that the names of politicians found to have worked with communist-era secret services can be made public, Hungarian media reported. Kiss gave his decision to Imre Mecs, the chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating cabinet members who served after 1990 for their involvement with those secret-service organizations. Kiss has already cleared the way for the names of eight implicated politicians to be made public, Hungarian media reported. Kiss said it is up to the Defense Ministry to decide on the status of two other persons affected. Mecs said the commission plans to draw up a report by the middle of September. A list of those implicated will be made public, and will specify with which services they had contacts and in what capacity, he added. MSZ
...WHICH PROMPTS HARSH CRITICISM FROM FIDESZ LEADER
FIDESZ Executive Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover, who is the chairman of parliament's National Security Commission, said some personal data can only be released with the consent of the person affected, Hungarian dailies reported on 22 August. Kover referred to a similar position taken by Ombudsman Attila Peterfalvi and argued that the commission chaired by Mecs is not entitled to release any data, as it lacks a quorum since the opposition withdrew from it. He called the whole affair a "disgusting comedy" and said that "if it could not be proved that the Soviet Union collapsed in the Cold War because of [the counterintelligence activity of Prime Minister] Peter Medgyessy, mud must be slung on everyone possible, especially on right-of-center politicians." MSZ
FIDESZ-MDF TO COOPERATE ONLY IN SOME LOCAL-ELECTION DISTRICTS
The FIDESZ National Council on 21 August approved a plan for the 20 October local elections, according to which FIDESZ and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) will launch joint lists in Budapest and 11 counties, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The parties failed to reach agreement on joint lists in the remaining eight counties, as FIDESZ politicians claimed the MDF's requirements were excessive. The MDF believes it is capable of meeting the 4 percent threshold for representation without FIDESZ support in those eight counties. MSZ
FIDESZ INITIATES MOTION ON FREE DISTRIBUTION OF SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS
The opposition FIDESZ party will submit a motion to parliament proposing that primary- and secondary-school students receive free textbooks, party officials announced on 21 August. FIDESZ deputy Laszlo Sio, former state secretary at the Education Ministry, said the motion would allow all students to have free textbooks beginning on 1 January 2003, Budapest dailies reported. He recalled that the Socialists' election promises included free textbooks, but said it has become clear that the government does not want to honor that promise. For his part, Education Minister Balint Magyar called the proposal "hypocritical." He claimed that FIDESZ only began to press for free textbooks after losing the April parliamentary elections, although it had four years to transform the system. MSZ
EU DISMISSES MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT'S CRITICISM...
Replying to a recent article by Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in "The Washington Post," a spokeswoman for EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana told Reuters in Brussels on 22 August that the European Union is not meddling but simply trying to help (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). Cristina Gallach told the news agency that "we are only encouraging [Serbia and Montenegro] to finalize the constitutional procedures as soon as possible so [that the proposed Constitutional Charter] can be ratified before Montenegro's elections" on 6 October. PM
...AS DJINDJIC PREDICTS SUCCESS
, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 21 August that he expects that the charter will be finished by the end of August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that the document could be approved in the two republics as early as September and that parliamentary elections could follow. PM
MILOSEVIC'S PARTY SELECTS ITS CANDIDATE
The steering committee of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) agreed on a candidate for the 29 September Serbian presidential vote, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 21 August. The SPS selected Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, an actor known for playing Partisan war heroes in World War II movies. Party leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is undergoing trial in The Hague for war crimes, previously endorsed Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj for the post, but the SPS turned down the recommendation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). Some observers have suggested that the SPS might split and disappear as a serious political force if Milosevic insists on backing the ultra-right Seselj. Asked on 22 August if he has Milosevic's support, neo-communist Zivojinovic told AP: "No, and I didn't ask for it." PM
MANY HURT AFTER BOSNIA-YUGOSLAVIA SOCCER MATCH
Yugoslavia defeated Bosnia 2-0 on 21 August in the first friendly between the two teams since Milosevic and his local Serbian allies set off the Bosnian war in 1992, dpa reported. Following the match, several hundred Bosnian fans clashed with 200 police, leaving 26 fans and three police injured. Eight fans were arrested, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Police said the trouble began when fans from Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska chanted "Karadzic, Karadzic" and were attacked by stone-throwing Bosnian fans. Only 10,000 spectators showed up at Sarajevo's Kosevo Olympic stadium for a match that had been expected to draw 30,000 people. PM
BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS REBUFF NATO
Zivko Radisic, the ethnic Serb representative on the joint Bosnian Presidency, said in Banja Luka on 21 August that SFOR commander General John Sylvester was wrong to insist that Bosnia must have a unified Defense Ministry if it wants to join NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). Radisic added that Sylvester's recommendation plays into the hands of those politicians in the Muslim-Croat federation who want a unitary Bosnian state at the expense of the two constituent entities. Elsewhere, the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said in a statement that Sylvester has aligned himself with one partisan faction in Bosnian politics and departed from a position of neutrality. The PDP called Sylvester's proposed ministry "unconstitutional." NATO has repeatedly told Bosnia that it must have one military with a single command structure if it wants to join PfP. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service commented that the recently created Bosnian Permanent Committee for Military Affairs is a halfway measure unlikely to meet NATO's demands. PM
SLOVENIAN CONSORTIUM BUYS NOVA MAKEDONIJA PUBLISHING HOUSE
The Slovenian consortium Jug-uslugi has purchased the state-run Nova Makedonija publishing house (NIP), the Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" reported. Economy Minister Besnik Fetai and Vito Komac, the Jug-uslugi representative, signed the deal on 21 August. Jug-uslugi will take over 70 percent of the company's shares, for which it will pay $2.25 million. Jug-uslugi will also pay off NIP's debts ($10.3 million). The deal provides that the 1,427 jobs within NIP will be guaranteed for the next five years, even though Komac said that NIP would function best with fewer than 600 workers. NIP's main publications are the Macedonian-language dailies "Nova Makedonija" and "Vecer," and the Albanian-language daily "Flaka." NIP also publishes a number of magazines. UB
CROATIA ARRESTS GADFLY SLOVENIAN POLITICIAN...
Zagreb County Court Judge Vladimir Vidovic said on 22 August that police arrested Josko Joras the previous day for ignoring several summons dating back to 1999 and will hold him for 30 days, AP reported. Joras is a town council member in the Slovenian port of Piran but lives just inside the Croatian border, which he refuses to recognize. He has long been known for stunts designed to attract the attention of the media, such as playing Slovenian nationalist songs at a loud volume and flying the Slovenian flag from the roof of his house, for which the Croatian authorities recently charged him with disturbing the peace. Following Joras' arrest, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel wrote the Croatian government that "severe measures such as stripping a Slovenian citizen of his freedom at this moment in no way contribute to the alleviation of tensions" between the two countries over their common border in the Bay of Piran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). PM
...AS TENSIONS CONTINUE
The Croatian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Slovenian authorities on 21 August to criticize what the ministry called the "provocative behavior" of Slovenian fishermen who enter what the ministry described as Croatian territorial waters, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Ljubljana, Slovenian President Milan Kucan said that criticism by unnamed Croatian politicians of recent remarks by Rupel serve only to aggravate matters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). PM
UNMIK ASKS SERBIA TO ARREST IVANOVIC
The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has written to Serbian Interior Minister Vladan Batic, calling on him to arrest Serbian extremist leader Milan Ivanovic, who is wanted in Kosova for murder, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). Batic said in Belgrade, however, that he will forward UNMIK's request to the Interior Ministry when he receives it. He added that arresting Ivanovic is the Interior Ministry's responsibility, not his. PM
KOSOVA PRESIDENT'S PARTY CALLS FOR RULE OF LAW
The Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), which is led by President Ibrahim Rugova, called for respect for the rule of law in regard to the recent arrest by UNMIK of some former guerrilla leaders, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). Kosova's other two large ethnic Albanian parties have criticized UNMIK for arresting the men. In related news, Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana that UNMIK used excessive force in dealing with some street protests against the arrests. UNMIK has said that its police were under attack by stone throwers at the time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). PM
NATO ARRESTS ALGERIANS ON TERROR-RELATED CHARGES
KFOR peacekeepers said in a statement in Prishtina on 21 August that they recently detained five people of Algerian origin suspected of being a "threat to security" of Kosova, Reuters reported. The brief statement added that the five were detained in several operations in the course of the past two weeks and are being held at the U.S. base at Camp Bondsteel. PM
ROMANIA CONSIDERS PARTICIPATION IN EXPANDED ANTITERRORISM CAMPAIGN
Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior said on 21 August that Romania is prepared to consider participating in "possible [further] actions taking place within the framework of the anti-terrorist campaign," Mediafax reported. Maior gave this answer in response to a journalist's question on whether Romania is prepared to participate should the United States launch a military campaign against Iraq. "In the Defense Ministry, we are attentively following the evolution of the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan and other overt or covert places. We shall continue participating, after consultation with members of the [antiterrorism] coalition and with the U.S. in possible actions taking place within the framework of this campaign," Maior said. Maior also said that a delegation composed of parliamentarians and Defense Ministry officials will visit Afghanistan between 28-30 August to examine "the operative readiness" of the Romanian contingent serving in that country under U.S. command "before [the contingent] begins participation in combat." MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS ACCORD WITH UNITED STATES...
President Ion Iliescu said on 21 August that the accord recently signed with the United States by which Romania agreed not to extradite U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) does not signify that Romania has opted to side with the United States as opposed to the European Union, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said that the decision to conclude the accord was "an opportunity and a necessity" for Romania, and that the disagreement over the ICC between the United States and the EU is "a new phenomenon that we are facing. We did not expect it, but we will have to learn how to deal with both sides," he said, adding that he hopes the dispute will be resolved through dialogue between Washington and Brussels. MS
...CRITICIZES FAILURE TO ATTRACT FOREIGN INVESTMENT
President Iliescu, during a visit on 21 August to the office of the newly launched Romanian Agency for Foreign Investments, criticized the country's failure to attract investors from abroad, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" reported the next day. Iliescu said that in 2001 Romania was unable to attract more than $1.4 billion in foreign investment, while countries such as Vietnam or China, where he said there is less red tape and whose legislation pertaining to foreign investment is "simple and efficient," managed to attract as much as $35 billion. He added that among international business circles, "in the last years, Romania's reputation has been negative because of high corruption and administrative bureaucracy." The daily captioned the criticism under the headline "Ion Iliescu launches attack against [Prime Minister Adrian] Nastase cabinet" and added that later on 21 August Iliescu dubbed the measures taken by the government to cope with the recent floods in Romania as "amateurish." MS
ROMANIA'S SRI SAYS EU AMBASSADOR'S PHONE WAS NOT TAPPED
The investigation launched by the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) has concluded that the SRI has not tapped EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele's telephone, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Commission Chairman Ion Stan told journalists on 21 August that the investigation shows that Iasi Prefect Corneliu Rusu Banu -- who recently submitted his resignation over the affair -- has received no information from the SRI about telephone conversations between Scheele and local journalists. Stan also said that the commission he heads intends to present a draft law on amending legislation authorizing the SRI to wiretap telephones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, 7, and 20 August 2000). MS
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY GRANTS SO-CALLED SUSPENSION OF OFFICIAL
The Permanent Delegation of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 21 August granted Vrancea County Council Chairman Marian Oprisan's request that he be suspended from the PSD Central Executive Bureau for six months, pending the clarification of allegations regarding his involvement in illicit deals, Mediafax reported. Romanian media reports earlier alleged that Oprisan was involved in illegal sales of land and an investigation conducted by the Court of Accounts revealed several irregularities regarding Oprisan's administration of public funds. The Permanent Delegation said the Government Control Office will reinvestigate these allegations. However, Oprisan remains chairman of the Vrancea County Council. In related news, PSD Secretary-General Cozmin Gusa said an investigation by the PSD into allegations that Ilfov County Prefect Teodor Filipescu was involved in illegal transactions and corruption has "yielded no proof." MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER WANTS FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told journalists in Chisinau on 21 August that his country intends to conclude a free-trade agreement with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Tarlev also said that Moldova could become a "transit corridor" between the East and West due to its unique geopolitical position. "We are the only country in Southeastern Europe that has free access to CIS and Romanian markets," he said. In related news, ITAR-TASS reported the same day that the governments of Russia and Moldova may sign an agreement on the completion of the Giurgiulesti Moldovan oil terminal on the Danube River. Citing sources from the Moldovan Economy Ministry, the agency said the agreement is to be signed before the end of 2002. MS
LIBYAN FOREIGN LIAISON VISITS BULGARIA
Abd Al-Rahman Shalgam, Libya's secretary of the General People's Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation, arrived for a two-day official visit in Bulgaria on 21 August, BTA reported. Shalgam's visit will focus on the case of the six Bulgarian medical workers who are charged with deliberately infecting Libyan children with HIV. After a meeting with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, Shalgam said that "the need to uncover the truth is the only relevant concern" during the trial against the Bulgarians. He added that he cannot predict the outcome of the trial, but said that "justice is 100 percent guaranteed." President Georgi Parvanov, who also met with Shalgam, voiced his hope that the case will be settled promptly and fairly. On 26 August, the Arraignment Chamber in Benghazi is expected to decide whether to close the case against the Bulgarians or to forward it to a criminal court. Shalgam's visit is the first to Bulgaria by an official from his office in 17 years. UB
BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS AFGHANISTAN
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev arrived in Kabul on 20 August, together with the second Bulgarian contingent of the multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), BTA reported. Svinarov met the same day with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and during a meeting on 21 August with Afghan Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Fahim, Svinarov expressed Bulgaria's readiness to provide economic and military aid to Afghanistan. General Manfred Schlenker, who heads the Kabul Multinational Brigade, lauded Bulgaria's contribution to the ISAF. The Bulgarian ISAF contingent operates a decontamination shower facility in Kabul. UB
BULGARIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS ANTICRIME STRATEGY
At a meeting summoned by President Parvanov on 21 August, Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov, Interior Ministry First Secretary Boyko Borisov, and Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev discussed measures for combating organized crime as well as the ongoing large-scale operation against drug trafficking, BTA reported. Parvanov demanded that the Interior Ministry drop its current campaign against organized crime and begin implementing long-term measures. The daily "Sega" reported that Parvanov, Petkanov, and Filchev agreed to form a coordination council for combating organized crime that should help synchronize the work of the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the courts. In the past, these institutions have often worked against each other. UB
DID UKRAINIAN DEATH SQUADS COMMIT POLITICAL MURDERS?
The Kyiv newspaper "Segodnya," owned by Tax Administration and Donbas clan head Mykola Azarov, published a sensational report on 1 August claiming that death squads have existed in Ukraine since 1996. The new Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun and Interior Ministry State Secretary Oleksandr Gapon subsequently confirmed that at least one such squad exists.
Gapon said the death squad is composed of nine members and includes the former head of Kyiv city's Interior Ministry directorate for the struggle against organized crime and another Interior Ministry colonel. The remaining members were former criminals. According to Gapon, all members of the squad are now in custody. The death squad is accused of undertaking 10 murders.
According to later official information, similar death squads also existed in Odesa and Lviv. Nine former Interior Ministry militiamen are soon to go on trial in Kharkiv accused of belonging to a death squad that operated in that city and the Donbas. The squad is accused of committing eight murders with their own service weapons. The Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating another 330 Interior Ministry personnel for a range of offenses.
According to Gapon, an investigation into the activities of death squads began in 2000 but the material that was collected was only handed to the Prosecutor-General's Office this year. In 2000, the head of the Kyiv Interior Ministry department, Yuriy Smyrnov, hinted that one such death squad existed. In May 2001, then-Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko claimed that a Kyiv organized-crime boss had told his office that two of his gang had taken a Georgian, who they said may have been Heorhiy Gongadze, to a forest near Kyiv on 16 September 2000 because he owed them money.
There are two likely reasons why the existence of death squads is being revealed now. First, Prosecutor-General Piskun may have been instructed to clean up President Leonid Kuchma's image at home and abroad by finding a scapegoat for Gongadze's murder. Pinning the blame for Gongadze's death on organized crime would deflect attention away from the more plausible culprits in the higher echelons of Ukrainian politics.
Second, when the Interior Ministry and prosecutor-general initially claimed that organized crime was behind the death of Gongadze they were ridiculed, especially after the two gangsters ("Cyclops" and "Matros") who are supposed to have abducted Gongadze produced an alibi saying they were participating in a wedding at the time of the crime, one of them as the groom. Neither of the two men are alive today. Gongadze was followed by unmarked cars for months prior to his abduction. When he reported their license plates to the police he was told they were police vehicles.
Other journalists and opposition leaders were subjected to similar harassment and some died under suspicious circumstances. Since 1997 there have been at least eight suspicious car accidents involving large KamAZ trucks. The most suspicious of these was that in which Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil was killed in March 1999. In October of that year, two opposition deputies, Hrihoriy Omelchenko and Anatoliy Yermak, a former Security Service (SBU) officer, were shown a videocassette by Yevhen Marchuk, then an anti-Kuchma presidential candidate who was trying to woo national-democratic voters. The video included an interview with a colonel of the special-purpose MVS unit "Orly" (Eagles) who described the purpose of his unit as dealing with individuals on behalf of the authorities and admitted that the "Orly" were behind Chornovil's murder. The "Orly" colonel said he was ready to give evidence if his safety was assured.
Were the "Orly" the same as the death squads that the authorities now admit have existed since 1996? It is difficult to believe that death squads -- which the authorities now admit included high-ranking Interior Ministry officers who used official cars and weapons -- would go unnoticed by the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), the SBU and even President Kuchma for seven years.
The tape recordings made illicitly in Kuchma's office by his security guard Mykola Melnychenko led to the "Kuchmagate" crisis of November 2000 and reawakened interest in the evidence of malpractice in Chornovil's death. A fragment on the Melnychenko tapes includes a conversation between Kuchma and then-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko in which Kravchenko gloated about the existence of his "Orly" unit. "I have such a unit who have their own methods and have no morality or anything. So, God help anybody," Kravchenko was recorded as saying. Vyacheslav Chornovil's son, Taras Chornovil, a member of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, is convinced that the "Orly" were behind his father's "accident" and Gongadze's abduction, as are many other members of the opposition.
It may be significant that the existence of officially sanctioned death squads in Ukraine was confirmed only after Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted in October 2001 the existence in Belarus of a special unit named "Zubr" drawn from the Presidential Protective Service. The first unconfirmed reports of Zubr's existence surfaced one year earlier, in November 2000. Although Lukashenka insists that "Zubr" only targeted criminals, it is believed to have also murdered leading opposition figures and a Russian television cameraman.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies, University of Toronto.