DEFENSE MINISTER AGAIN DENIES RUSSIAN PLANES BOMBED GEORGIA...
Sergei Ivanov, who is currently visiting Buryatia, told journalists on 26 August that Russian planes did not bomb Georgian territory on 23 August and that Georgia has not furnished any concrete evidence to the contrary, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov added that his ministry is ready to conduct a joint investigation of the disputed air strike, in which several people were reported killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 August 2002). Ivanov implied that the Georgian armed forces themselves might have been responsible for the bombing. Ivanov again demanded that Georgia either round up and kill Chechen militants on its territory or detain them and extradite them to Russia, rather than simply pressuring them to return to Chechnya. LF
...AS PUTIN FAILS TO REPLY TO GEORGIAN COUNTERPART
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 August that he has not yet received a response to a letter he sent two weeks ago to President Vladimir Putin outlining ways to improve the strained relations between their two countries, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Following the disputed air raid on the Pankisi Gorge on 23 August, Shevardnadze appealed to Putin to desist from "raids on Georgian villages." But on 26 August, Shevardnadze said that he is certain it was not Putin who gave the orders for the 23 August bombing. LF
PUTIN SAYS THAT FAR EAST'S GEOPOLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE HAS GROWN...
Speaking to scientists after visiting the Far East Marine Wildlife Reserve, President Putin said that globalization has substantially increased the geopolitical importance of the Far East for Russia, Russian news agencies reported on 26 August. "No other part of Russia has the same conditions as we have here," Putin was quoted as saying. "Here there are year-round seaports, and the province is situated close to the rapidly developing and economically active Asian-Pacific region." Putin called for measures to stimulate the economy of the region, but added that this activity must be balanced with a stronger commitment to protect the environment. VY
...AND THAT GOVERNMENT IS PREPARING NEW ENVIRONMENTAL-PROTECTION LAW
The Kremlin is drafting a new federal law on protecting the environment, President Putin told journalists in Vladivostok on 27 August, according to Russian news agencies. The new law "will expound a system of measures and responsibilities for causing harm to the environment," Putin was quoted by RosBalt as saying. He noted that environmental protection in the Far East must be carried out in cooperation with neighboring countries including China, Mongolia, Japan, and North and South Korea. "The government will assist in this through the Interior Ministry and other agencies," Putin said. Putin said that ecological issues connected with exploiting the Sakhalin oil reserves must be addressed. VY/RC
DUMA BRACES FOR BUSY FALL SESSION
Deputy State Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska told reporters on 26 August that there are 472 bills awaiting consideration by the Duma in its fall session, which opens on 11 September, dni.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. One hundred twenty-seven of the bills are considered to be high priority, Sliska said, and more than half of the high-priority bills have been introduced by the government. She added that the "centrist majority" in the Duma supports the government's draft budget for 2003 and she expects that consideration of the budget can be conducted "without political ambitions." She was skeptical, though, that the Duma would actually consider all the pending bills, noting that in a typical session, the body debates 200-220 items. RC
MOSCOW TO RAZE DAMAGED APARTMENT BUILDING
The Moscow apartment building where an explosion on 20 August killed nine people will most likely be demolished, Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's press secretary, Sergei Tsoi, said that the building will be torn down and a new, larger one built in its place. Tsoi added, however, that the order to tear down the building has not yet been signed. Authorities maintain that the explosion was caused by a natural-gas leak. Following the 1999 apartment-building blasts in Moscow and other Russian cities, the authorities were widely criticized for quickly razing the damaged buildings and possibly destroying evidence. RC
ASSASSINATED DEPUTY ALLEGEDLY WORTH $100 MILLION
Former State Duma Deputy Vladimir Golovlev, who was shot to death outside his Moscow home on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August), was worth an estimated $100 million when he died, Russian news agencies reported on 27 August, citing Chelyabinsk Oblast Prosecutor Anatolii Bragin. According to izvestia.ru, prosecutors investigating the matter have allegedly uncovered bank accounts in Golovlev's name in Cyprus, the Virgin Islands, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Prosecutors are investigating accusations that the money was acquired illegally during the early 1990s when Golovlev headed the Chelyabinsk Oblast State Property Committee, which privatized a number of major enterprises. Bragin also said that he is certain that Golovlev died as a result of a contract hit, RIA-Novosti reported. In an interview with strana.ru on 19 November 2001, Golovlev said: "Most likely, all of this [investigation] really will end with investigators going after a slew of people who are well known in Moscow, and not just people from Chelyabinsk." RC
LIBERAL NEWSPAPER BECOMES CONSERVATIVE
The liberal weekly newspaper "Obshchaya gazeta," which suspended publication after it was sold to St. Petersburg businessman Vyacheslav Leibman at the end of May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 May 2002), will be relaunched this week under the name "Konservator," Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. According to rtr-vesti.ru, the paper will initially be a 32-page weekly and the first issue will appear on 30 August. The new paper will be edited by Leonid Zlotin, who in 1997-98 edited the conservative daily "Russkii telegraf." According to "The Moscow Times," Leibman views the paper as the beginning of the Leibman Media Group, which will augment his other business interests in oil trading and hotel management. "The publishing business is logical and understandable within the framework of a holding company. There are corporate interests that need to be both protected and promoted," Leibman was quoted as saying. He also said that he will personally take a "most active part in forming the editorial policy," according to the daily. RC
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS ON PROPERTY TAXES
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has drafted its concept for reforming Russia's property-tax legislation, "Vedomosti" reported on 27 August. According to the report, the tax rate for individuals will be reduced by 95 percent. However, taxes will be based on the market value of the property rather than on its state-registered value. As a result, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said, revenues from property taxes should increase by a factor of 13. Gref conceded that the new tax system could leave many Russians on the verge of bankruptcy, "Vedomosti" reported, and said that therefore the changes will be phased in gradually. According to ministry statistics, the state-registered value of residential property nationally is 2.4 billion rubles ($774 million). The market value is estimated at at least 35.6 billion ($11.5 billion). RC
PUTIN PLEDGES TO RESTORE NAVAL STRENGTH...
Speaking aboard the antisubmarine ship "Marshal Shaposhnikov" on 26 August, Putin said Russia's Pacific Fleet is the guarantor of Russian interests not only regionally, but across the Pacific Ocean, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said that although the navy had been neglected for a long time, the government has now adopted a new program for rearming it and bringing it to a new technological level, ITAR-TASS reported. He also pledged that the Pacific Fleet will soon hold a major exercise, comparable to the one held on the Caspian Sea earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August 2002). Finally, he added that the Nautical Collegium was recently created to oversee problems relating to the navy and merchant shipping. VY
...AS PACIFIC FLEET WELCOMES NAVY'S PATRON SAINT
A special aircraft arrived in Vladivostok on 27 August carrying the relics of the 18th-century admiral, Fedor Ushakov, who was canonized by the Orthodox Church last year, RTR reported. The relics were accompanied by the archbishop of Saransk and Mordova, who said that some of the saint's relics had already been given to the Baltic and Black Sea fleets. Ushakov (1744-1817) was an innovative naval commander who won major battles against the Turks and Napoleonic France. He is widely considered never to have lost a battle. VY
OIL, GAS PRODUCTION UP
Russian oil production reached 360-62 million tons in the first seven months of the year, an increase of 8.3 percent over the same period last year, ABNews reported on 27 August, citing Deputy Energy Minister Igor Matlashov. Natural-gas production increased 3.3 percent over the same period to 214.4 million tons, according to the reported. RC
INVESTIGATION OF PETERSBURG DEPUTY GOVERNOR CLOSED
A criminal investigation of St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Aleksandr Potekhin has been closed, RosBalt reported on 26 August. According to Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Zubrin, some of the charges against Potekhin were dropped because they fell under the terms of Duma amnesties. Others were dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Potekhin was being investigated for allegedly engaging in commercial activity while serving as a public official. Potekhin was one of several close associates of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev -- including former Deputy Governor Valerii Malyshev and Deputy Governor Anatolii Kagan -- to be investigated by federal prosecutors on a range of corruption charges. "Society must become accustomed to respecting the presumption of innocence," Yakovlev's spokesman, Aleksandr Afanasiev, was quoted as saying. "The Kagan case will turn out just the same, as did the Malyshev case." RC
ORTHODOX CHURCH LOBBIES TO INCLUDE CONFESSIONAL PREFERENCE IN CENSUS DATA...
Antonii Ilin, spokesman for the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, has said that the Russian Orthodox Church has a "direct interest" in including a question about citizens' religious confessions in the questionnaire of the national census, which will be conducted in October, strana.ru reported on 27 August. Ilin said such a question would be "very useful because it would highlight the real percentage of [the population espousing] traditional confessions in Russia." Ilin added that not including questions about citizens' religious adherence would deprive the census of its "spiritual and cultural significance." VY
...BUT GOVERNMENT DISAGREES...
However, Vladimir Zorin, the government minister who oversees nationalities policy, said there is no urgent need to include this question, the website reported. Such data is already available at the Justice Ministry, which he said is responsible for registering religious organizations. Zorin noted that no religious confession -- except for the Orthodox Church -- has advocated including this question in the census, and it was not asked during the last few censuses conducted during the Soviet era. VY
...AS TWO-THIRDS OF RUSSIANS PROFESS FAITH IN GOD
More than two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) claimed to be adherents to one or another religious confession, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 August. According to the survey, 58 percent of respondents declared themselves Orthodox believers, while 5 percent said they were Muslims and less than 2 percent said they belonged to non-Orthodox Christian confessions. Thirty-one percent declared themselves atheists. Of those who said that they believe in God, 60 percent said that they had never read any biblical text. Of those who claimed to be Orthodox believers, 42 percent said that they had never been in an Orthodox church, while another 31 percent said that they went to church "not more than once a year." "The biggest difference between believers and nonbelievers is not how often they go to church, but whether or not they pray to God," said VTsIOM sociologist Aleksandr Golov. RC
NEARLY ONE-THIRD OF SCHOOLS TO BE ONLINE BY 2003
By the middle of 2003, 31 percent of Russian schools will be connected to the Internet, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov made the announcement at a Moscow Internet conference. According to Filippov, 10.3 percent of schools are already connected. He also said that a number of regions have adopted measures to encourage teachers to incorporate new technologies into their programs. In Krasnodar Krai, Filippov said, teachers who do so can earn bonus worth up to 50 percent of their base salaries. "The Internetization of primary education in Russia is extremely important," Filippov said. RC
RUSSIA PROVIDES FLOOD ASSISTANCE TO CZECH REPUBLIC
The Emergency Situations Ministry has sent 45 tons of humanitarian aid to the Czech Republic, which is recovering from historic flooding earlier this month, ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported on 27 August. The assistance includes thermal ventilators used to dry out flooded buildings, nine tons of chlorine tablets for purifying drinking water, and other supplies. The assistance is worth an estimated 14 million rubles ($450,000). In addition, a team of Russian engineers arrived in Prague on 27 August to assess damage to the Czech capital's metro system and to assist in repairs. RC
MILITARY ARRESTS SUSPECT IN HELICOPTER DOWNING...
An unidentified Chechen militant has been detained on suspicion of firing the missile that caused the 19 August crash of a military helicopter at Khankala in which 118 people died, AP and ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. Said-Selim Peshkhoev, who heads the Interior Ministry's branch in Chechnya, said the suspect, whom he did not name, was detained during a special operation and is suspected of having committed other serious crimes. LF
...AND CLAIMS TO HAVE KILLED ANOTHER CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER
Field commander Aslanbek Alikhadzhiev was killed on 25 August in a special operation by Russian forces in Shali Raion, Russian news agencies claimed on 26 August, quoting Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the joint federal forces in Chechnya. Moltenskoi claimed Alikhadzhiev was a close associate of Shamil Basaev and had participated in the raid Basaev led on the south Russian town of Budennovsk in June 1995. LF
RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS OPPOSE TALKS WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseeva told a press conference in Moscow on 26 August that she favors talks on ending the conflict in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported, But she said that the Chechen representative to those talks should be "anyone except [Chechen President Aslan] Maskhadov," because, she argued, Maskhadov does not speak for the entire Chechen population. LF
INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL ORGANIZATIONS QUESTION SALE OF ARMENIAN POWER GRID
The Armenian government on 26 August endorsed the sale two days earlier of an 81.1 percent stake in the country's power-distribution network to a little-known offshore company with no proven experience in the energy sector, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). But a spokesman for the World Bank's Yerevan office hinted that the bank may withhold the release of a $20 million budgetary loan that was contingent on the successful sale of the power grid, while an IMF official in Yerevan similarly expressed "reservations" about the deal on the grounds that Midland Resources, which was the sole bidder in the tender, "does not have the necessary experience or international standing." The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was expected to acquire the remaining stake, is no longer prepared to do so, an unidentified official told RFE/RL. He added that President Robert Kocharian unequivocally supported the sell-off. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION AGAIN CLAIMS REFERENDUM OUTCOME FALSIFIED...
At a press conference in Baku on 26 August, the chairmen of four major opposition parties that coordinated monitoring of the voting in the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments again rejected as falsified the authorities' claims of overwhelming support for those changes, Turan and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). They claimed that voter participation was no higher than 15 percent, rather than over 88 percent as the Central Election Commission claimed, and charged that the authorities resorted to threats, violence, and bribery to create the impression of backing for the planned changes. Members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party responded to those allegations with shouts of "liars," according to Reuters. The opposition condemned the referendum as "illegal," and said they will contest it in court, including the European Court for Human Rights. LF
...AS U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN
Speaking in Washington on 26 August, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that reports from the U.S. Embassy in Baku suggest "widespread irregularities, such as voter-list fraud, multiple voting, and ballot-box stuffing" during the course of the 24 August vote, Reuters reported. Boucher said those reports raise concern that "this referendum did very little to advance democratization or to lay the groundwork for a presidential election in the fall of 2003 that can meet international standards." LF
POLICE DETAIN AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER'S SON
Traffic police detained Samir Hadjiev, the only son of Civic Solidarity Party Chairman Sabir Hadjiev, on 25 August and are holding him under administrative arrest for three days, Turan reported the following day. The Civic Solidarity Party backs former President Ayaz Mutalibov; one of its Baku members was detained on 21 August and charged with resisting the police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). LF
SPOKESMAN DENIES AZERBAIJANI ARMY HIT BY MALARIA
A spokesman for Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry denied on 23 August a report by Turan the previous day that cited health-service officials in the exclave of Nakhichevan as saying that up to 17 Azerbaijani servicemen have been hospitalized with malaria, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002). LF
TENSIONS AGAIN ON THE RISE IN NORTHERN AZERBAIJAN?
Eleven "militants," some of them residents of neighboring Daghestan, were arrested in the Balakan Raion of northern Azerbaijan on 21 August, Turan reported on 23 August, quoting the newspaper "Azadlyg." The paper commented that the situation remains tense in Balakan and the neighboring Zakatala Raion, where police last year apprehended an armed group, three of whose members were sentenced to death in April for murder and banditry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 20 July 2002). LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS WITHDRAWAL OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS AND CLOSURE OF BASES
Meeting in emergency session on 26 August, parliament deputies passed by 81 votes to two a resolution condemning Russian "aggression" against Georgia, Caucasus Press and "Vremya MN" reported. The resolution also demanded the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone and that the Georgian government pressure Moscow to close its two remaining military bases in Georgia. Deputies deleted from the resolution initial demands for severing diplomatic relations with Russia and for Georgia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States. LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DEMANDS INCREASE IN FUNDING FOR AIR DEFENSE
In the wake of the 23 August air raid, the Defense Ministry has asked for 12.8 millions laris ($5.81 million) to make the country's air-defense system more effective, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. Also on 26 August, "Akhali taoba" quoted parliament deputy Nodar Djavakhishvili (Revival Union) as arguing that a defense minister who is constrained to admit that he cannot afford to buy guns to shoot down enemy aircraft should resign. Djavakhishvili added that a country that cannot afford military equipment should not attempt to maintain a 35,000-man army. The same paper also quoted Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili as saying that Georgia has begun talks with Ukraine and the Czech Republic on establishing an air-defense system, but that doing so would be extremely expensive. LF
SPOKESMAN SAYS OPPOSITION POLITICIAN EXAGGERATED COST OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S SECURITY
The annual cost of ensuring President Shevardnadze's personal security is 6.83 million laris, not 80 million-90 million laris as claimed by opposition National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili, and Saakashvili, who is a former government minister, should have been aware of this, a spokesman for the presidential security service told Caucasus Press on 26 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REFUSES TO CUT STATE CHANCELLERY STAFF
President Shevardnadze has rejected proposals by Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze to streamline the state chancellery, reducing personnel by some 100 people, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August, quoting an unnamed informant. Shevardnadze reportedly said he is unwilling to dismiss people who have worked with him for more than 10 years, which suggests that at least some of those likely to be affected are people whose ties with Shevardnadze date back to his tenure as Georgian Communist Party First Secretary from 1972-85. Shevardnadze returned to Georgia from Moscow in March 1992. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT GIVES GREEN LIGHT FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM...
Askar Akaev has signed a decree on creating a constitutional council that on 4 September will embark on the process of drafting constitutional reforms, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In a television and radio address on 26 August, Akaev proposed that all political parties represented in parliament be included in the council, and invited other political parties to propose representatives, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He also said that the clashes in March in Aksy between police and demonstrators testified to the existence of serious communication failures within the executive branch and in its interaction with other branches of power. He said the constitutional amendments will expand the powers of the prime minister, the government, and local authorities. LF
...AND FOR TESTING HIS STAFF'S PROFICIENCY
President Akaev has also signed an ordinance establishing tests for all members of his staff to assess their knowledge, ability, and prospects for promotion, according to ITAR-TASS on 26 August. A commission chaired by Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov will draft those tests, the schedule for which has not yet been made public, and which will be "much tougher" than comparable tests for members of the civil service, according to the presidential press service. LF
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT MOVES TO STAMP OUT SHADOW ECONOMY
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev has established a commission chaired by Deputy Premier Djoomart Otorbaev and Finance Minister Bolot Abdildaev that is charged with drafting within one month a program to legalize the shadow economy, Interfax reported on 26 August. According to the National Statistics Committee, the shadow economy accounts for a minimum of 13 percent and possibly as much as 40 percent of GDP. LF
TAJIK PRESIDENT, U.S. GENERAL DISCUSS SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN
Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 26 August with visiting U.S. General Tommy Franks, who heads U.S. Central Command, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Russian news agencies and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov again argued that the mandate of the International Security Force should be extended throughout the entire territory of Afghanistan. Franks told journalists after the meeting that the security situation in Afghanistan has improved dramatically, although much still remains to be done. He also repeated his earlier statement that he is convinced that Djuma Namangani, the leader of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, is dead, although he added that he has no evidence to prove it. In May, Afghan Defense Minister Fahim Khan said while on a visit to Dushanbe that Namangani may still be alive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January and 28 May 2002). LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT VAUNTS 'COOPERATION' WITH NEIGHBORS...
During talks in Ashgabat on 26 August with visiting U.S. State Department official William Taylor, Saparmurat Niyazov said his country is expanding cooperation with neighboring states on the basis of economic expediency where doing so lies in Turkmenistan's interests, Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Taylor as saying that the United States provided $16.4 million in aid for Turkmenistan in 2001, which is considerably less than for other Central Asian states. Taylor also expressed support for the planned pipeline to export Turkmen gas to Pakistan via Afghanistan, Interfax reported. LF
...EMPOWERS PEOPLE'S COUNCIL TO PROPOSE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES...
President Niyazov has signed a law "On the Selection of State Leaders and Public Service Officials" investing the People's Council with the authority to propose presidential candidates of whose programs it approves, turkmenistan.ru reported on 26 August. The primary criteria for selecting presidential candidates and other senior officials will be their knowledge of the state language, their professional education, and the impeccable moral probity of both the candidates themselves and members of their families dating back for several generations, according to ITAR-TASS on 24 August. LF
...NAMES NEW MINISTERS, AMBASSADOR
At a government session on 23 August, Niyazov named Turkmenistan's former Ambassador to Germany Dortkuli Aydogyev as minister for the textile industry, replacing Djamal Goklenova, who will take up the post of adviser to the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow, turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov also appointed former Education Minister Annakurban Ashirov ambassador to Turkey. His replacement as minister is National Institute of Education Director Mameddurdy Sarykhanov. Imamdurdy Kandymov was named chairman of the Central Bank, and Nurberdy Bayramov was appointed to replace him in his previous position as chairman of the board of the state commercial bank Daykhanbank. LF
UZBEK GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES MACROECONOMIC REFORM WITH INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL ORGANIZATIONS
Representatives of the Uzbek Central Bank, the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development met in Tashkent on 21-22 August to evaluate Uzbekistan's progress in implementing macroeconomic and structural reforms aimed at expediting the transition to a market economy, uza.uz reported on 26 August. Participants positively assessed the Uzbek government's most recent reforms and noted sustained macroeconomic stability and improvements in tax and budget policy, reform of the banking system, and the agricultural sector. Last week Uzbekistan abolished the artificially low prices at which farmers were hitherto obliged to sell cotton to the state, according to AP on 21 August. Domestic cotton prices will in future be pegged to world prices. LF
BELARUSIAN TRADERS PROTEST ECONOMIC POLICIES
Some 1,000 traders held an authorized rally in Minsk on 26 August to protest what they perceive as too many state controls and too much tax pressure on private businesses in Belarus, Belapan reported. In particular, the traders are demanding that the authorities halve the tax on private businesses, revoke regulations requiring them to use cash registers and keep bank accounts for paying the tax, review regulations regarding the payment of social-security contributions, limit the trade-area rent, shorten the list of goods subject to certification and hygienic registration, and reduce the costs of and simplify certification procedures. In another resolution, the protesters appealed to the Belarusian legislature to launch an impeachment procedure against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Posters displayed at the rally included the following slogans: "Bolshevism Down the Drain!" "The State Lives on Robbery," and "Belarusian Economy Model Copies a Backward State Farm." JM
OUR UKRAINE CALLS FOR NATIONAL FORUM OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES...
The Our Ukraine bloc intends to gather a national forum of democratic forces to formulate "basic demands" with regard to the authorities, UNIAN reported on 27 August. Our Ukraine's Political Council at its meeting on 25 August decided that the bloc will take part in the antigovernment protests scheduled by the opposition for September. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said he regards the planned protests as "a part of the bloc's political strategy and [I] want to widen the circle of political participants in the [protest] action." JM
...WHILE SOCIALIST PARTY WANTS POLITICAL REFORM WITHOUT KUCHMA
The Socialist Party has said the reform of Ukraine's political system proposed by President Leonid Kuchma in his address to the nation on 24 August (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 August 2002) could be implemented much quicker if Kuchma resigned his post, UNIAN reported on 27 August. The Socialists noted that Kuchma's proposals to move Ukraine's political system toward a parliamentary-presidential republic replicate their party-program goals and stressed that the implementation of those goals has thus far been blocked by the president. JM
NORDIC-BALTIC-EIGHT AGREE TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Meeting in Tallinn, the foreign ministers of the eight Baltic and Nordic countries have decided to step up cooperation in the fight against human trafficking, ETA reported on 26 August. Sweden's Foreign Minister Anna Lindh authored the proposal. The number of victims of human trafficking from the Baltic countries has grown in recent years, BNS reported. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that some 2,000 women from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania fall victims to this slave trade annually. The ministers also discussed impending NATO enlargement and adopted a common position that NATO enlargement should continue past the Prague summit in November. The governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been meeting on a regular basis over the last eight years, expanding the traditional Nordic Council to a five-plus-three framework. A year ago, at the annual meeting of foreign ministers in Denmark, it was decided to formally adopt the title of Nordic-Baltic-Eight (NB-8). The next meeting of foreign ministers of the NB-8 will be in Riga in 2003. AB
ESTONIAN MINISTER SAYS U.S. LOCOMOTIVES ARE DANGEROUS
Estonia's Interior Minister Ain Seppik issued a warning that the heavy U.S.-made locomotives recently imported by Estonian Railways are hazardous to railway bridges that were designed for lighter locomotives, ETA reported on 26 August. Seppik said the "axle loading of the locomotives is three times higher" than that of previously used Soviet and Russian equipment. The minister listed nine bridges that need to be reinforced, one of them in central Tallinn. The minister criticized the Railway Board and Estonian Railways for ignoring safety precautions and warned that his ministry may bring charges against officials for violating railway-safety regulations. AB
CANDIDATE STRICKEN FROM ELECTION LIST FILES APPEAL IN LATVIA
Janis Adamsons, who was recently stricken from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party's (LSDSP) parliamentary election list, filed an appeal to the Latvian Supreme Court asking for a reversal of the Riga Central District Court's ruling, LETA reported on 26 August. Adamsons called the lower court's ruling "absurd" and said he may also turn to the Constitutional Court. The LSDSP was to stage a rock concert with popular musicians on 27 August to draw attention to the case. The party hopes to collect over 15,000 signatures on a petition to the courts during the concert. On 20 August, Adamson's petition against the Central Election Commission's decision to strike his name from the electoral lists for the 8th Saeima was turned down by the district court in Riga. The court found that Adamsons had worked for the Border Guards as a political officer under the control of the Soviet security services, and was therefore ineligible to run for office. AB
POLISH DEFENSE MINISTRY MULLS BILL ON MILITARY-PERSONNEL POLICY
The Defense Ministry will soon submit to the cabinet a draft bill on the service of career soldiers (as opposed to draftees), PAP reported on 26 August. "It is high time to change the rules of personnel policies to make them transparent and simple," Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told journalists. The draft bill provides for the number of newly employed officers to be equal to that leaving the armed forces, as well as for close coordination between military ranks and posts. It is planned that the 150,000-strong Polish military will have 25,000 officers. Some 750 graduates of officers' schools are to join the ranks and an equal number of servicemen are to leave the military every year. Earlier this month, a senior Polish officer and commander accused the Defense Ministry and top brass of implementing "mafia-style" personnel policies in the Polish armed forces (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 August 2002). JM
CZECH PREMIER WANTS EUROPEAN VIEWS CONSIDERING IRAQ TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said at a meeting of Czech ambassadors at the Czech Foreign Ministry on 26 August that "our position [regarding military intervention in Iraq] should necessarily take the general European attitude into consideration," CTK reported. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told the gathering that "we support the idea that a military operation is not an optimal solution. On the other hand it is necessary to force Baghdad to enable U.N. arms inspectors to return to Iraq." Svoboda did not say whether the Czech Republic would participate in a military operation against Iraq. MS
...AS CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS POSITION ON MIDDLE EAST TO BE MORE BALANCED
Addressing the same forum on 26 August, Foreign Minister Svoboda said he firmly believes the Czech Republic should "return to our balanced position [on the conflict in Middle East] and not to a position in which we would clearly side with one or the other country," CTK reported. In addition, he said, "it is necessary to persuade our partners in the Arab world [that this position is sincere]." Svoboda noted that in the recent past the Czech Republic has taken a pro-Israeli position. MS
CZECH GOVERNMENT POSTPONES DECISION ON PURCHASING FIGHTER JETS
Svoboda told the meeting of Czech ambassadors on 26 August that the cabinet has postponed making a decision on the purchase of supersonic fighters until after the November NATO summit in Prague, CTK reported. MS
WORKERS PUMP CHEMICALS FROM FLOODED CZECH FACTORY
Workers at the Spolana chemical factory in Neratovice on 26 August continued pumping chlorine from a damaged tank that has leaked highly poisonous chlorine gas in the wake of the recent floods, CTK and international news agencies reported. The operation began on 25 August, after another chlorine leak was reported the previous day, and was to continue on 27 August. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said that the operation is supervised by firemen and that they are in control of the situation. The mayors of Neratovice and Libise, central Bohemia, as well as mayors from other surrounding communities, were informed of the operation and buses are ready to evacuate local residents if necessary. The mayors said the residents, who already are stressed by the recent flood, are following the news about Spolana with great concern. Health Minister Marie Souckova told the BBC on 26 August that the authorities will monitor pollution in Neratovice for one month. MS
SECRET GOVERNMENT BUNKER IN PRAGUE INUNDATED DURING FLOOD
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 27 August that a secret government bunker, which is linked to the Prague metro's Malostranska Station, was inundated during the recent floods, CTK reported. The secret shelter was built during the 1950s. A Prague metro official told the daily that under the communist regime there was always someone on duty in the bunker, but that the practice was discontinued in the 1990s. The official also said that the metro was not designed to resist water levels as high as those of the recent flooding, which resulted in water leakage through some pressure seals. Seventeen out of the metro's 51 stations were flooded and some sections of the subway are likely to remain closed for a long time. On 26 August, CTK reported that Russia is sending five experts to help assess the damages and assist in the metro's reconstruction. The former Soviet Union helped Czechoslovakia build the metro in the 1970s. MS
CZECH POLICE COMBINE SRBA INVESTIGATIONS
Czech police have decided to combine the investigations on former Foreign Ministry Secretary Karel Srba, CTK reported on 26 August, citing Srba's lawyer Miroslav Kriznecky. Srba, who is under detention, is being investigated on suspicion of having commissioned the murder of journalist Sabina Slonkova, as well as on suspicion of corruption. Kriznecky also told CTK that Srba suffers from depression and will be moved from the Plzen na Borech prison where he is currently held to a psychiatric prison hospital in Brno. Kriznecky said that after one month of detention, two weeks of which the lawyer said was in complete isolation, Srba has exhibited suicidal tendencies and suffers from claustrophobia. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT DIAGNOSED WITH GALLBLADDER PROBLEMS
Tests carried on 26 August on ailing Slovak President Rudolf Schuster revealed gallbladder problems, TASR reported. The agency said that the president's doctors nonetheless are unable to explain the bout of fever Schuster suffered from on 25 August before he was returned to the hospital. Presidential spokesman Jan Fuele told CTK that Austrian President Thomas Klestil phoned Schuster on 26 August to offer him treatment at the Innsbruck clinic where Schuster underwent treatment two years ago after suffering from post-surgery complications. MS
DATE SET FOR SLOVAK LOCAL ELECTIONS
Parliamentary speaker Jozef Migas announced on 26 August that the Slovak local elections will take place on 6 and 7 December, TASR reported. MS
FORMER HUNGARIAN MINISTERS REACT TO 'MAGYAR HIRLAP' REVELATIONS
Imre Boros, a former minister who oversaw PHARE funds in Viktor Orban's cabinet, on 26 August said he was blackmailed into working with state-security organizations during the communist era, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Boros said authorities at that time told him that unless he cooperated they would "prove" he had committed currency-market crimes. Former Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi again denied that he worked with state-security organizations and pledged to take legal action after "Magyar Hirlap" reported that he is alleged to have done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). Bela Kadar, another former cabinet member listed by "Magyar Hirlap," said he has contacted Imre Mecs, chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the secret-service links of government officials, to find out which documents implicated him. MSZ
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CONDEMNS KILLING OF MACEDONIAN POLICEMEN...
Following the killing of two policemen near Gostivar on 26 August, representatives of the international community held talks with President Boris Trajkovski, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, and Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule, "Nova Makedonija" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002). After the meeting, Ambassador Craig Jenness, the head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, said, "We believe all leaders and citizens in this country, regardless of ethnicity, will join us in condemning this despicable and cowardly act." The government said in a statement that "the murder of the two Interior Ministry reservists in Gostivar is a terrorist-extremist act with political goals and represents a challenge to the democratic processes and, with that, to the security of Macedonia," Reuters reported. Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service noted that Gostivar is not an area known for political violence. UB/PM
...AS DO POLITICAL PARTIES -- IN PRE-ELECTION STYLE
While the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) ascribed the incident to "Albanian terrorists," its junior coalition partner, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) did not comment on the killings. Hard-line VMRO-DPMNE Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said: "This incident has a political background and [should be seen in the context of] the attack on army personnel in front of the Ilinden barracks [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002], the attack near the village of Kondovo, and the attack on civilians on the Tetovo-Gostivar road." The Social Democratic Union (SDSM) called on Boskovski to moderate his words and actions and thereby ensure that the campaign for the 15 September parliamentary elections can be conducted peacefully, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Elsewhere, police arrested eight persons, three of whom were questioned in connection with the killings. "Dnevnik" also reported that police found weapons and explosives in one suspect's home. UB
KOSTUNICA CANCELS A MEETING...
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica cancelled a meeting he had scheduled for 26 August of the two chairmen of the Constitutional Commission and the signatories of the March Belgrade agreement to discuss the proposed Constitutional Charter, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 27 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 26 August 2002). He took the step after two key participants -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus -- refused to attend. Kostunica said their refusal means that the constitutional process "is back to square one," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
...AS SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS GOES AHEAD
A spokesman for Labus, who is Kostunica's main opponent in the 29 September Serbian presidential elections, told "Vesti" of 27 August that Labus prefers meeting with peasants on the campaign trail to taking part in a "political circus." The spokesman called Kostunica's proposed meeting a throwback to the futile gatherings held by republican leaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s aimed at holding former Yugoslavia together. Meanwhile, in Podgorica, the government made available texts of the charter as agreed by the two republican governments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Belgrade, Zoran Zivkovic of Djindjic's Democratic Party announced that copies of the text had been sent to the commission, Kostunica, and the European Union. But on 27 August, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who heads the Democratic Alternative, called the proposed charter "unacceptable" because it represents a Serbian cave-in to Montenegrin demands. PM
SERBIAN-AUSTRALIAN TENNIS STAR ENDORSES EXTREMIST
Jelena Dokic said in a letter from New York on 27 August that she supports Radical Party candidate Vojislav Seselj for the Serbian presidency, dpa reported. She wrote him that "only when you, Mr. Seselj, win, will I have a place to return" to. Her family members are refugees from Croatia. The current Serbian authorities recently turned down a proposal by her father, Damir Dokic, to build tennis courts and a home on prime land in New Belgrade. PM
CROATIAN-SLOVENIAN EXCHANGES READY FOR 'BELIEVE IT OR NOT'
Jozef Jerovsek, who heads the legislative committee charged with overseeing the secret services, said in Ljubljana on 26 August that the reason for the recent incidents in the Bay of Piran is that Croatia wants to destabilize Slovenia and sabotage its attempts to join Euro-Atlantic institutions ahead of Croatia, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 August 2002). In response, Josip Paro, who is assistant foreign minister of Croatia, told Croatian Television that Jerovsek's statement "is so unbelievable that it must be checked in any case. If its true, I believe it should be placed in a 'believe it or not' column. This is absolutely ridiculous. It is in Croatia's interest that all of its neighbors, including Slovenia, join Euro-Atlantic organizations as soon as possible." PM
CROATIAN-BOSNIA BORDER CROSSING FINALLY OPENED
The border crossing on the Una River at Kostajnica opened on 26 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 August 2002). Officials of the two republics signed a long-delayed document on border crossings. PM
BOSNIA CLOSER TO JOINT DEFENSE MINISTRY?
Meeting in Sarajevo on 26 August, the three-man joint Bosnian Presidency approved the controversial Permanent Committee for Military Affairs, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002). The committee will consist of the three Presidency members, the presidents of the two entities, and the country's prime minister and foreign minister. Voting will be on a majority basis, except on unspecified "strategic issues," which will require a consensus. It is not clear what will happen if the fractious Bosnians fail to reach such an agreement. Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian member of the Presidency, opposes a joint Defense Ministry but called the latest solution "workable." AP called it "half-hearted." NATO insists that Bosnia must have a unified military and a single Defense Ministry if it wants to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. Also at its 26 August meeting, the Presidency "took note" of a U.S. request for a bilateral agreement pledging not to turn American citizens over to the new International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, 15, 16, and 19 August 2002). PM
MASSIVE SACKING OF BOSNIAN POLICE LOOMS
UN police (IPTF) spokeswoman Kirsten Haupt said in Sarajevo on 27 August that nearly 1,400 police throughout Bosnia could be fired if they cannot prove by 10 September that they have a legal right to live where they do, Hina reported. PM
ALBANIAN PYRAMID-SCHEME BOSS ARRESTED
On 26 August, police arrested Rrapush Xhaferri in the village of Starova, south of Tirana, AP reported. He offered no resistance when police surprised him during his dinner. He is wanted in connection with the collapse in 1997 of the Xhaferri's People's Democracy pyramid scheme and for subsequently fleeing from a prison where he was being held on fraud charges. He is now in Tirana prison where, as one police official put it, "he will answer for his sins." PM
ROMANIAN SOLDIERS JOIN COMBAT ACTION IN AFGHANISTAN
Romanian Radio reported on 27 August that the Romanian military contingent serving in Afghanistan took part the previous day in "Operation Mountain Trip" aimed at liquidating Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in southeastern Afghanistan. This is the first time that the contingent has taken part in actual combat. The radio said the allied forces captured 10 prisoners in two clashes, without suffering any losses. They also discovered five arms cashes, in two of which documents were hidden. Some 2,000 troops, including U.S. Army Airborne Rangers and Air Force personnel, as well as Afghan militia, participated in the operation, which is still ongoing, the radio said. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT FIRM ON NOT SEEKING ADDITIONAL TERM...
President Ion Iliescu on 26 August said he would not run for an additional presidential term even if the constitution were amended to allow it, Mediafax reported. While on a visit to Tulcea, Iliescu said a "formula must be found based on the premise that Iliescu is not a candidate in 2004." He said that "the hall of candidates would benefit from some fresh air." The president said he believes Prime Minister Adrian Nastase would be the best candidate the Social Democratic Party (PSD) could name. "Nastase has accumulated experience and I believe a suitable formula will be found in the end." He also said he believes the number of presidential terms should not exceed two and that this provision must not be deleted from the constitution. In response to a journalist's question, Iliescu said he believes Romania's electorate "will display enough wisdom" not to vote for Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the event of a Tudor-Nastase presidential contest. MS
...AND CONGRATULATES NEW PNL CHAIRMAN
President Iliescu on 26 August congratulated Theodor Stolojan on his election as chairman of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Romanian radio reported. Iliescu said in his congratulatory message that he has good memories of his cooperation with Stolojan during Stolojan's premiership in 1991-92. He said he hopes their relations will be based on "mutual respect" and the common duty to serve national interests. The PSD said in a separate message to Stolojan that it hopes that under his leadership the PNL will be an "honest political rival" that places national interests at the top of its list of priorities. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said in a message to Stolojan that he hopes their two parties will "cooperate in opposition" to the PSD and that he is happy the "turmoil period" in the PNL has come to an end. MS
ROMANIAN ROMA WARN FRANCE, EU AGAINST 'COLLECTIVE INCRIMINATION'
Associations representing Romany organizations in Romania on 26 August sent a letter to French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy and his counterparts in the European Union, warning against a "collective incrimination" of Romanian Roma, Mediafax reported, citing AFP. Against the background of recent measures taken in France against Roma from Romania alleged to be involved in human trafficking and in forcing handicapped Roma into begging in that country, the associations said the measures intended to curb illegal immigration must not "collectively incriminate people described as Roma or Gypsies." The associations also warn that the campaign in the French media might lead to a growth of interethnic tension in Romania proper. Sarkozy and his Romanian counterpart Ioan Rus are scheduled to sign an accord in Bucharest by the end of this month on combating illegal immigration and the return to Romania of several hundred illegal immigrants, some of whom are handicapped Roma who were forced into begging in France. MS
HAS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT BEEN TRAPPED BY MALICIOUS COUNSELING?
The military parade that was to crown Moldova's Independence Day celebrations of 27 August was canceled on short notice at the request of the authorities, Romanian radio reported. The parade was replaced by a ceremony attended by President Vladimir Voronin, Premier Vasile Tarlev, and other officials, at which a bust representing Romanian playwright Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912) was unveiled. The unveiling was originally scheduled for 31 August, when Moldova marks its Language Day. In his speech on the occasion, Voronin said it was "no coincidence" that the bust was inaugurated on Moldova's Independence Day, since Caragiale's ideas "greatly contributed to the social changes [in Moldova] in the 1980s" and gave an impetus to "the movement of national rebirth that culminated on 27 August ." Caragiale, a prominent satirist who had little to do with the Romanian province of Moldavia and nothing to do with present-day Moldova, would have enjoyed the occasion, as he excelled in depicting the sort of politicking in which Voronin has obviously been indulging. MS
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO BUY UP WHEAT HARVEST
Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme announced on 25 August that the government will form a grain-commodities fund, BTA reported. The fund is to purchase some 200,000 tons of wheat at the price of $80 per ton with the support of the Finance Ministry, and is intended to bypass traders and middlemen in the wheat trade. "The government is seeking to stop the present speculation on the grain market," Finance Minister Milen Velchev said. Dikme added that farmers will also profit from other measures, including the rescheduling of loan repayments, and direct subsidies to the State Agriculture Fund for grain storage. In related news, Sofia Commodities Exchange Executive Director Hristo Milenkov on 26 August accused organized-crime structures of using the grain trade for money-laundering operations. "Purchasing grain works like a washing machine for money. There are people who already in April could buy 200-300,000 tons of the new wheat harvest at a price of $60 [per ton], but there is no evidence that the banks granted any credits," "Dnevnik" quoted Milenkov as saying. UB
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO SYRIA
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi described as "extremely positive" his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad on 26 August, BTA reported. "There is no divergence between the views of Bulgaria and Syria, especially as regards the view that the Middle East peace process should be based on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council," Pasi said. He added that the UN, the European Union, the United States, and Russia play key roles in this process. Regarding Bulgarian-Syrian relations, Pasi said that "it is an extremely positive fact that the Syrian prime minister pledged to make arrangements for the opening of a dialogue on the settlement of Syria's debt to Bulgaria. Bulgarian firms applying for participation in competitive biddings in Syria received additional encouragement as a result of this visit." Pasi's visit to Syria follows recent official contacts with Libya, Lebanon, and Jordan. It is part of a long-term strategy to revive Bulgaria's relations with Arab countries after they were reduced to a minimum under previous governments. UB
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