PUTIN EXPANDS POWERS OF MILITARY IN CHECHNYA
President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree that effectively subordinates Chechnya's civilian government to the Russian military commandants' offices in Chechnya, Interfax and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 8 and 9 October, respectively. The military commandants' offices will, in turn, be subordinate to the joint military command in Chechnya, which is ultimately under the jurisdiction of the Federal Security Service (FSB). The decree empowers military commandants' offices to rule on socioeconomic issues and questions of law and order, in addition to the fight against terrorism, Chechnya military commandant Lieutenant General Sergei Kizyun was quoted by Interfax as saying. LF
RUSSIA DECRIES EUROPEAN COURT APPEAL ON EXTRADITION OF CHECHENS
In a statement issued on 8 October, the Foreign Ministry criticized as gross interference into and obstruction of a criminal investigation the European Court of Human Rights recommendation that Georgia delay the extradition to Russia of eight suspected Chechen militants apprehended after illegally crossing the Russian border into Georgia in early August, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002). The statement dismissed the court's concern that the Chechens might be subjected to inhumane treatment upon their return to Russia, noting that Russia has imposed a moratorium on the death penalty. LF
CONTROVERSIAL BLACK SEA ADMIRAL FIRED
President Putin on 9 October signed an order dismissing Admiral Vladimir Komoedov from his post as commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, ntvru.com and other news agencies reported, citing the Defense Ministry's press service. He was replaced by Vice Admiral Vladimir Masorin, who previously commanded the Caspian Sea flotilla. Although no reason for Komoedov's dismissal was given, the website reported that he failed a medical examination in July. He has also reportedly been involved in a long-running feud with Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroedov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002). According to AP, Komoedov said he has not yet been informed of his dismissal and that he was overseeing a missile exercise on 9 October. He added that he had been offered and had refused the post of head of the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg. He was appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet on 4 June 1998. RC
BEREZOVSKII DISCOVERS ANOTHER PROJECT TO BANKROLL...
In an interview with "Gazeta" on 9 October, self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovskii said that he plans to offer financial support to the Communist Party and "to all those who will try to reform Russia" and build an effective democratic government. In that context, he noted that the Communist Party recently voted against a ban on holding national referendums 12 months before federal elections, while the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko voted in favor. However, the previous day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov vigorously denied any possible alliance with Berezovskii. Asked about Zyuganov's protests, Berezovskii replied that he "doesn't know of an instance when someone turned down money," noting that he funds the Moscow-based Sakharov Center despite the protestations of some liberal activists. JAC
...AS NATIONALIST HAILS RETURN OF THE PEOPLE'S MONEY...
"Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov told NTV on 8 October that he met with Berezovskii in London recently and that "it is too early to talk about marrying Berezovskii and the Communist Party" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002). He said that the union they are talking about will probably be "tactical." Prokhanov said that he has no problem taking Berezovskii's money, which he considers to have been expropriated from the Russian people. "Berezovskii's money is not his. It is your money," Prokhanov said. "You should thank us that the money is once again being used for your needs and those of our movement. We are only expropriating this money through a complex political intrigue." JAC/RC
...AND LIBERAL RUSSIA KICKS THE OLIGARCH OUT
The political council of Liberal Russia, of which Berezovskii was a founding member and major funder, voted on 8 October to expel the oligarch for his links to the Communists, RosBalt and other Russian news agencies reported. According to party co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov, all 22 members of the council other than Berezovskii voted in favor of the expulsion. AP, however, cited Aleksandr Lebedev, head of the party's Moscow chapter, as saying the vote was 19 to four. "Berezovskii's activities discredit Liberal Russia, but we are grateful for the support he has provided," Yushenkov was quoted as saying. Yushenkov added that Berezovskii has the right to appeal the decision at the next party congress and said that the oligarch had provided nearly $1 million in funding since the party was founded in 2001. RC
KREMLIN NIXES PROPOSAL TO RAISE BARRIER TO ENTERING DUMA
Deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov said on 8 October that the recent proposal by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party to raise the barrier for parties entering the State Duma from 5 percent of the total vote to 12.5 percent is unrealistic and "simply unacceptable," Russian news agencies reported. Echoing an earlier suggestion by the leaders of a number of Duma groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002), Surkov suggested that a hike to 7 percent would be more reasonable and that raising the ceiling to 12.5 percent is possible in the future but not in the near term. State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who was expelled from the Communist Party in June, called the idea "silly," adding that such a move would produce a single-party system, ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 October, Unified Russia General Council Chairman Aleksandr Bespalov explained that it is necessary to promote ideas that might fail in order to get support, because "a dialogue has to be initiated" and "all ideas get implemented sooner or later." Yabloko party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told NTV on 7 October that he thinks nothing will come of Unified Russia's initiative and that party leaders simply made "a premature decision to unite their forces with the Communist Party." JAC
YABLOKO COMPLAINS OF PRESSURE TO APPROVE ELECTRICITY-REFORM BILLS
At a press conference the next day, Yavlinskii said his faction has been subjected to pressure "from many sides" because of its plans to join the Communists and leftist groups in voting against legislation restructuring the electricity sector. Five members of Yabloko's youth wing were detained by Moscow police on 9 October for staging an unsanctioned protest against the legislation in front of the Duma, Ekho Moskvy reported. The protestors donned auburn wigs in imitation of Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais and begged passersby for "alms for reforms." A party spokesperson told the radio station that the protestors will likely face fines or administrative sanctions. JAC/RC
PUTIN ISSUES 78 PARDONS IN ONE MONTH
President Putin pardoned or reduced the sentences of 78 convicts in September, ntvru.com and other news agencies reported on 9 October, citing the presidential press service. Thirty-four of the convicts are women aged 17 to 40; 30 of them have dependent children. Seventeen women were released. Fourteen men were also pardoned, and 30 had their sentences reduced by an average of one to two years. All of the convicts had received favorable assessments from prison authorities after serving at least half of their sentences. RC
TELEVISION REACHES FOR THE STARS
ORT television and the Russian Aerospace Agency have signed an agreement under which the victorious contestant in a new reality-based television show will win a trip to the International Space Station (ISS), Interfax and other news agencies reported on 9 October. The program will document contestants as they go through various exercises similar to the training that cosmonauts receive, and the winner will fly to the ISS in the fall of 2003. "We have proposed a television project that will demonstrate the space achievements of our country and give the victor a chance to fly to space," ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst was quoted in a press release as saying. RC
POPULATION ATTRITION IN MURMANSK WILL AFFECT NATURAL-RESOURCE EXTRACTION...
The Kola Peninsula, which has seen a 20 percent decline in its population over the last 10 years, is expected to lose an additional 300,000 people by 2025, ntvru.com reported on 8 October, citing Andrei Zasypkin, director of the Foundation for Strategic Development-Northwest. According to Zasypkin, in order to effectively use the region's vast natural wealth, it will be necessary not only to maintain the current work force, but also to introduce the latest technology and equipment. Zasypkin called on federal and local authorities to begin preparations for the "new reality" in this far northern region. JAC
...AS DISPROPORTIONATE INFLUENCE OF YUKOS FEARED
Meanwhile, in an interview with RosBalt on 8 October, Sergei Musikhin, executive director of the Murmansk Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, complained about the recent appointment of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii as "curator" of Murmansk Oblast within the structure of the national organization of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Musikhin said the Murmansk branch was not asked for its opinion on the appointment, and that Khodorkovskii's assignment "cannot help but arouse negative emotions from structures such as LUKoil, MDM Group, Severstal, and SUAL, which have their own interests in this region." Dmitrii Kovalenko, general director of the Murmansk Center for Social and Legal Research, added that Khodorkovskii will become the custodian of the entire group of oligarchs in Murmansk Oblast. JAC
MONEY FOR OLYMPIANS
Russia's largest oil producer, LUKoil, has signed an agreement to become the first major sponsor of Russia's 2004 summer Olympic team, Reuters and other news agencies reported on 8 October. Under the agreement, LUKoil will provide $1 million to $1.5 million annually to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). ROC head Leonid Tyagachev was quoted as saying that the team needs $9 million per year and that the ROC expects to sign a similar agreement with gas giant Gazprom within the next few days. The Olympic Games will be held in Athens in August 2004. RC
BOOKSTORE OWNER COMPLAINS OF PERSECUTION
In a letter to the editor of "The St. Petersburg Times" published on 7 October, Mary Duncan, co-owner of the Shakespeare and Company Moscow bookstore, complains that her business might face closure in connection with the pornography case filed against avant-garde writer Vladimir Sorokin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). The store is co-owned by Aleksandr Ivanov, who also owns the Ad Marginem publishing house, which published Sorokin's controversial novel "Blue Lard" and is also a defendant in the case. Duncan, a U.S. citizen who lives in France, wrote that police have repeatedly visited her store since the case first started and have confiscated numerous copies of Sorokin's books as well as documents pertaining to the store. She said that she has been advised by Ivanov not to try to enter Russia for fear that she will be detained by the authorities, who are allegedly investigating "the U.S. money" invested in the bookstore. "This assault...is pure politics, especially when you consider the raw sex that is carried on Russian TV and the pornography that is available in the kiosks. We are a general literary bookstore and do not specialize in pornography unless Henry Miller and James Joyce fit that category," Duncan wrote. RC
LOCAL OPPOSITION TRIES TO BLOCK SAMARA GOVERNOR FROM SEEKING THIRD TERM
A court in Samara Oblast will begin hearings on 18 October in a lawsuit filed by regional politicians who are challenging amendments to the oblast charter that would allow current Samara Governor Konstantin Titov to seek a third term, RosBalt reported on 8 October. The amendments were adopted by the legislature last June. Titov has already served as head of the oblast for more than 11 years. Involved in the legal fight against Titov are his longtime foe, Samara Mayor Georgii Limanskii, and two former oblast legislators. Limanskii is considered a likely contender in the next gubernatorial election. JAC
ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR NOT READY TO GIVE IN
Vladimir Yakovlev said on 8 October that a recent decision by the city's Charter Court banning him from seeking a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2002) is not the end of his bid to remain in office, RosBalt reported. Speaking on local municipal-controlled television, Yakovlev said, "Wait, it isn't evening yet," when asked about the ruling. He added that the city's Legislative Assembly will take up the issue following legislative elections on 8 December and added that the court's ruling was "a slap in the face to the deputies." RC
NORTHERN CAPITAL EXPERIENCING RISE IN EXTREMISM OR HOOLIGANISM?
The St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office has filed a report that sharply criticizes the city administration for its failure to combat growing racially motivated and extremist crime, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 7 October. The report, submitted at the end of September, warns that city youth are becoming increasingly violent and blames that development on "unsatisfactory youth policies on the part of government organs and administrative bodies, insufficient attention paid to the problem of youth crime by law enforcement organs, and the increasing shortage of education work and general preventative measures against youth and teenage crime." It charges that the authorities have done nothing to learn about informal youth groups and their leaders. Shortly before the report was filed, a group of St. Petersburg skinheads allegedly murdered an Azeri watermelon vendor and videotaped the crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002). An administration spokesman denied that there is a problem. "There has been a lot of talk about a few extremist slogans here and there. For me, this doesn't indicate a rise in extremism. It is simple hooliganism," said Governor Yakovlev's spokesman Aleksandr Afanasiev. The prosecutor's report urged the administration to adopt measures to combat extremism and to hold responsible officials accountable for shortcomings. RC
HEROIC SUBMARINERS SEE THEMSELVES THROUGH HOLLYWOOD'S EYES
The Hollywood film "K-19: The Widowmaker" made its St. Petersburg premier at the Mariinskii Theater on 6 October to an audience including 52 veterans and crew family members from the ill-fated Soviet submarine, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 7 October. On 4 July 1961, the "K-19," the first Soviet submarine to carry ballistic missiles, experienced a nearly catastrophic nuclear-reactor leak that potentially could have detonated its missiles. The film tells the story of how the 139 crewmembers and Captain Nikolai Zaitsev -- played by Harrison Ford -- heroically averted a disaster by exposing themselves to severe doses of radiation. Eight crewmembers died within two weeks of the incident, and 12 others died over the next two years. Some "K-19" veterans complained about the film's depiction of the crew's drinking, swearing, and lack of discipline, but others gave it high marks. "I'm very thankful to the American filmmakers who finally reflected the heroism of the 'K-19' sailors who had to keep silent about the accident for decades," crewmember Vladimir Pogorelov told the newspaper. "Ford even looks like our captain. He managed to show the image of a Soviet captain realistically." RC
CENSUS TAKERS ENCOUNTER GHOST TOWNS...
Census takers conducting preliminary research in remote regions of the Far North and Far East found several ghost towns, which remain on the official register but have in fact been deserted by their inhabitants, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 October. Irina Zbarskaya, head of the population census and demographic statistics department of the State Statistics Committee, told reporters that there is one formerly large fishing village in the Oktyabr District in Kamchatka that remains on local maps, but "there are few people left in the town." However, earlier journalists in Karelia discovered that local officials wanted to remove several towns that were still inhabited by elderly and needy residents from the official lists. That way, local officials would no longer be responsible for providing for the basics of life such as potable water for the settlements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2001 and 14 May 2002). JAC
...AND POLICE PROMISE NOT TO USE CENSUS INFORMATION
The deputy head of Moscow's Interior Ministry office, Viktor Cherkashin, told Ekho Moskvy on 9 October that law enforcement agencies will not use any information gained during the current national census for "operative purposes." He said that information will not be used as the basis for searches or arrests, including sweeps for draft dodgers. RC
FAR EAST GEOTHERMAL PLANT TO GO ON LINE
The first block of the Mutnovo Geothermal Power Station on the Kamchatka Peninsula will begin full operation on 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 October. Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said in a statement that the new plant, which was built partially using financing from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, will help mitigate increases in power rates for Kamchatka residents and improve the reliability of energy supplies in the remote region. The plant is Russia's first geothermal-energy station and uses equipment manufactured by the German company Siemens. By mid-2003, it should be producing 50 megawatts per year, meeting approximately 25 percent of Kamchatka's electricity needs. RC
YES TO ANDERSON, NO TO STOLYPIN
At a session on 8 October, members of Moscow's municipal commission on monumental art endorsed an initiative to erect a monument in Moscow to Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, Interfax-Moscow reported. A site for the statue has not yet been selected, but it would be completed by 2005 in time for Andersen's 200th birthday. At the same session, commission members rejected a proposal to honor former Tsarist-era minister Petr Stolypin, noting that a monument to him already exists in St. Petersburg and that the best location for another one might be Saratov, where Stolypin served as governor from 1903-06. The same day, an unidentified vandal in St. Petersburg defaced a monument to the 12th-century Azerbaijani poet Nizami by splattering it with white paint, Interfax-Northwest reported. JAC
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES ANTITERRORISM MEASURES
On 8 October, deputies began debating amendments to the country's banking laws that would empower the Central Bank to block any financial transaction by banks or individuals suspected to involvement in financing international terrorist organizations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Some opposition deputies have criticized the amendments as too sweeping and infringing upon the presumption of innocence. Also on 8 October, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian told a two-day seminar on international terrorism that the South Caucasus is vulnerable to international terrorism in view of its geopolitical situation, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. He called for closer cooperation between the three states of the region to counter that threat. LF
AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY INTENSIFIES CRITICISM OF OPPOSITION
Parliament deputies from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) on 8 October accused the opposition of betraying national interests and colluding with states hostile to Azerbaijan, zerkalo.az reported the following day. YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov claimed that the majority of participants in the 5 October mass demonstration in Baku were paid to attend, according to Turan. Deputy parliamentary speaker Ziyafet Askerov accused the opposition of seeking in the first instance to compel the present authorities to agree to a power-sharing agreement, and the West of supporting that campaign. LF
IS AZERBAIJAN'S EX-PRESIDENT IN IRAN?
Ayaz Mutalibov is currently in Iran, zerkalo.az reported on 9 October, citing unidentified "reliable" Russian sources. The paper stressed that that report has not been independently confirmed. Mutalibov fled to Moscow in May 1992 after an abortive comeback attempt. He reportedly left the Russian capital in July 2002 following the announcement that several of his supporters had been arrested in Baku on charges of preparing a coup d'etat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). LF
GEORGIA SPELLS OUT LIMITS TO ANTITERRORISM COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA
The agreement reached in Chisinau on 6 October between the presidents of Russia and Georgia on cooperation to prevent the free traffic of Chechen militants across their common border envisages only joint border patrols, but not joint military action on Georgian territory, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 October. Speaking in Moscow the same day, Russian Federal Border Service (FPS) spokesman Major General Sergei Ivanchenko said FPS Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii will meet "soon" with his Georgian counterpart Lieutenant General Valeri Chkheidze to discuss the logistics of joint patrols of the Georgian-Chechen border, Interfax reported. Also on 8 October, Georgian Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburzania met in Moscow with Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev to discuss both the planned joint border patrols and other aspects of planned cooperation in the fight against terrorism, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIA'S KURDS STAGE PROTEST
Some 50 members of Georgia's estimated 25,000-strong Kurdish minority staged a demonstration in Tbilisi on 8 October to demand that the Georgian government abandon its ongoing military cooperation with Turkey and its plans to seek NATO membership, Caucasus Press and Russian news agencies reported. They explained that the fear that if Georgia joins NATO, Turkey will establish military bases in Georgia, which will lead to reprisals against Georgia's Kurds. They threatened mass protests if the Georgian leadership fails to met their demand within two weeks. LF
NON-GEORGIANS FLOCK TO ENROLL AT TURKISH-FUNDED GEORGIAN MILITARY COLLEGE
A Turkish military delegation arrived in Tbilisi on 8 October to attend the formal opening of the United Military Academy set up and co-staffed by members of the Turkish armed forces, Caucasus Press and the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 8 October. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze stressed that instruction will comply with NATO standards. Some 210 cadets have been admitted to a five-year course of study at the academy, including sizeable contingents of Azerbaijanis and Kists (ethnic Chechens), who will receive additional special Georgian-language training, Caucasus Press reported. LF
KAZAKHSTAN, UAE SEEK TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION
President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov met separately in Astana on 8 October with a visiting government delegation from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) headed by Prince Sheikh Halifa bin Zaid al-Nazaya, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The talks focused on the possibility of U.A.E. investment in the Kazakh oil-and-gas sector; expanding bilateral trade turnover, which currently amounts to $360 million; and exports to the U.A.E. of Kazakh grain. LF
ANOTHER PROTEST HELD IN KYRGYZSTAN AGAINST AKSY-SHOOTINGS TRIAL
Between 200 and 500 people attended a protest demonstration on 8 October in Djalalabad Oblast to protest the suspended trial of six local officials charged in connection with the deaths of five people in March when police opened fire on a protest march in Aksy Raion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The demonstrators argue, as did participants in earlier similar protests, that the six men are being made scapegoats for senior officials who gave orders to local police to open fire on the demonstrators. They say that former presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov, former Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, and former Djalalabad Oblast Governor Zootbek Kudaibergenov should stand trial as it was allegedly they who issued the orders to open fire. LF
SUPPORTERS OF JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST BEGIN HUNGER STRIKE
Seven supporters of opposition Ar-Namys Party leader and former Vice President Feliks Kulov embarked on a hunger strike in Bishkek on 8 October to demand Kulov's release from prison, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kulov is serving a 10-year prison sentence on charges of embezzlement and abuse of his official position while serving first as Chu Oblast governor and then as national security minister. Supreme Court Chairwoman Nellia Beishenalieva assured Ar-Namys Party Deputy Chairman Emil Aliev on 7 October that the Bishkek City Court, which is considering Kulov's appeal against his sentence, will hand down a fair ruling on that appeal. LF
ENVOY DETAILS KYRGYZ ASSISTANCE TO AFGHANISTAN
Abdulkadyr Dostum, who is Afghanistan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and the brother of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, told journalists in Bishkek on 8 October that Kyrgyzstan will participate in the restoration of highways and water-supply systems in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek on 7 October devoted to the Central Asian Cooperation summit in Dushanbe the previous day, Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev said Kyrgyzstan will provide Afghanistan with building materials, and is willing to send both specialists to participate in reconstruction of the country's infrastructure and medical personnel, akipress.org reported. LF
PRIVATIZATION GATHERS MOMENTUM IN UZBEKISTAN
Since the beginning of 2002, 1,182 state-owned enterprises have been privatized, which represents a 50 percent increase over 2001, according to uza.uz on 7 October. Revenues from privatization over the same period likewise grew by 60 percent to 27.78 billion soms ($36.4 million), Interfax reported on 8 October, quoting Uzbek State Property Committee Press Secretary Vladimir Salamov. Foreign investors acquired shares worth a total of $22.2 million in 43 enterprises, and 19 joint ventures were established. LF
FORMER BELARUSIAN LAWYER TRIED FOR SLANDERING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
Ihar Aksyonchyk began his closed-door trial at a district court in Minsk on 8 October on charges of slandering Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, Belapan reported. Aksyonchyk, a now-disbarred lawyer, had represented the family of missing ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski in a trial of elite police officers charged with kidnapping him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). In a statement issued to the media on 13 February, Aksyonchyk linked the Zavadski case to the disappearances in 1999 of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. Aksyonchyk accused President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "illegal interference" with the investigation into the disappearances. He also cited testimony from former investigators saying that the abductions and subsequent murders of Zavadski, Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were ordered by Lukashenka's top aide, Viktar Sheyman, who is now Belarus's prosecutor-general. JM
OSCE MISSION IN MINSK TO EXIST EVEN WITHOUT REPRESENTATIVES ON THE SPOT?
A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 9 October that "it is simply too early for the OSCE to say anything new" about the fate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Minsk. Keith Jinks' pronouncement appears to be the OSCE's response to the Belapan report of 7 October, in which the agency quoted Alina Josan, the group's last remaining international representative in Minsk, as saying that the AMG will cease to exist if the Belarusian authorities fail to prolong her diplomatic accreditation beyond 29 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). "The situation would not change on 30 October because of that. The AMG would remain legally in existence; it has been budgeted until the end of this year and it remains in the budget proposal for next year. It would be for Belarus itself to say if they are closing the OSCE mission, since they are the host country," Jinks explained. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES AUTHORIZING ARMS SALES TO IRAQ...
At a news conference in Kyiv on 8 October inaugurating the press center of the presidential administration, President Leonid Kuchma denied that he has ever authorized the supply of weapons to Iraq, UNIAN reported. Kuchma said such supplies are impossible for "objective reasons," adding that Ukrainian military contracts are monitored by the Security Service of Ukraine and a special committee under the UN Security Council. "[Had I authorized a sale of weapons to Iraq], the entire world would have known about that," Kuchma added. The Ukrainian president said the recent allegations that Kyiv may have sold radar systems to Baghdad "will sink into oblivion." JM
...AND SAYS HE WANTS 'CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONS' WITH WASHINGTON
Kuchma also said at the news conference that Ukraine is interested in "normal, constructive relations with the United States," UNIAN reported. He said he regrets that the current relations between Kyiv and Washington do not match the level of the strategic partnership that existed during the presidency of Bill Clinton. "Ukraine is not to blame for what is taking place," Kuchma added. The Ukrainian president also said he is sorry that the Ukrainian-U.S. relations have been affected by the "dubious tapes" made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. "I don't know for sure who is behind this [audio tape] scandal, but my firm conviction is that it is not the major [Melnychenko], with his intellect," the Ukrainian leader noted. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES READINESS TO DISCUSS CENSORSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS...
Kuchma pledged at the 8 October news conference that he is ready to negotiate with representatives of the recently launched independent union of journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002) in order to "sort out what they claim to be political censorship" in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. "[I do not rule out that] there is some pressure somewhere. However, according to the constitution, censorship is not permitted. Someone is exaggerating somewhat here," the president said. Kuchma stressed that "antipresidential publications" in Ukraine are distributed freely. He recalled that the State Tax Administration has agreed that the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders can be present at regular audits of Ukrainian media organizations. JM
...STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF RECENT ACCORD ON JOINT GAS CONSORTIUM WITH RUSSIA...
At the same 8 October news conference, Kuchma said the signing in Chisinau on 7 October of an accord between Ukraine's Naftohaz and Russia's Gazprom on the creation of an international consortium for managing and developing Ukraine's gas-pipeline system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002) was an important step, UNIAN reported. "This was not a final resolution, this was an interim resolution," Kuchma said about the signed document. He added that the document is not about the sale or privatization of Ukraine's gas-transport system but about "increasing gas supplies to Europe without building gas pipelines to bypass Ukraine." JM
...AND SLAMS POLAND FOR PROPOSAL TO HOST TALKS BETWEEN UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION
Kuchma said at the 8 October news conference that he assesses the recent proposal by Polish Premier Leszek Miller to hold talks between the Ukrainian authorities and the opposition during an upcoming international conference in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2002) as "interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs," UNIAN reported. He said, "We will sort out [our problems] by ourselves. Let them not stand in our way. I don't think that this [proposal] means assistance, pardon my saying." JM
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES EU ISSUES WITH FRENCH
In Paris on 8 October, Kristiina Ojuland told French Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Andre Dulait that Estonia supports the further development of European security and defense policies and military capabilities of the European Union, BNS reported. In a review of the ongoing EU membership negotiations, she paid particular attention to the yet-uncompleted chapters on agriculture and finance and budgetary provisions. In meetings the previous day with her French counterpart Dominique de Villepin, President of the Senate's EU delegation Hubert Haenel, and President of the National Assembly EU delegation Pierre Lequillier, Ojuland stressed that large and small countries must have equal opportunities in the EU and that candidate states should be allowed to participate in the European Convention and in debates on the future of Europe. In talks with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Deputy Secretary-General Seichi Kondo, she expressed Estonia's wish to join the organization and emphasized the need to continue the current cooperation with OECD committees and other working groups. SG
ESTONIAN TRADE UNIONS BREAK OFF DIALOGUE WITH GOVERNMENT
Central Association of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) Chairwoman Kadi Parnits announced on 8 October that the trade unions have severed their social dialogue with the government, as it has failed to fulfill its obligations set in a trilateral agreement with the trade unions and employers' organizations, ETA reported. She noted that Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir did not attend a scheduled meeting earlier that day with the EAKL and leaders of the White-Collar Trade Unions Organization (TALO). Parnits mentioned as specific failings the government's announcement that it will not raise the minimum tax-free income to 1,400 kroons ($87.5) next year or increase unemployment benefits to the minimum prescribed by the International Labor Organization. SG
POSSIBLE PARLIAMENTARY COALITION TAKES SHAPE IN LATVIA
New Era Party Chairman Einars Repse said at a meeting with members of the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) on 8 October that he is in favor of forming a coalition with the ZZS, Latvia's First Party, and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK), LETA reported. Earlier that day, New Era (26 deputies) and Latvia's First Party (10 deputies) agreed to form a joint parliamentary bloc and endorsed the priorities for the government set out by New Era, but supported the First Party's suggestion that combating drug dealers also be included. The proposed coalition of the four parties would have 55 of the 100 seats in parliament, as the ZZS and TB/LNNK won 12 and seven seats, respectively. The coalition would not include the leftist For Human Rights in a United Latvia (24 seats) and right-of-center People's Party (21 seats). SG
PRESIDENT PROMOTES LITHUANIAN CULTURE DURING VISIT TO GERMANY
Valdas Adamkus began a four-day working visit to Germany on 8 October with a meeting with Peter Moller, the president of the Hessen State Parliament, ELTA reported. They discussed bilateral economic relations as well as Lithuania-Hessen cooperation in culture, education, and science. Adamkus later spoke at the opening of the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, which Lithuania is attending as the guest of honor, the smallest country to have received this distinction. He said the Lithuanian exposition named "Lithuania: The Story Continues" will provide an opportunity for Germany to become better acquainted with Lithuania's culture and literature. The Lithuanian exposition features a varied program with readings by authors, discussions on cultural and political issues, and concerts. SG
POLISH CABINET CHANGES POSITION IN EU TALKS ON AGRICULTURE
Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet on 8 October changed Poland's negotiating position on farming in the EU accession talks, PAP reported. According to the government, the changes are intended to improve Polish farmers' competitiveness in the EU market. Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski said the changes include providing subsidies for farmers from the state budget, shifting some of the EU funds planned for rural development to finance greater direct subsidies, and introducing customs duties to protect some food markets. The cabinet's move appears to anticipate the prospect that Polish farmers will not be given the same direct subsidies from Brussels as those in the current EU states. The cabinet also changed its negotiating position on taxes. The new position includes a zero VAT rate on international passenger-transport services and a reduced VAT rate on construction materials (7 percent) to stay in force until the end of 2007. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT MOLLIFIES KUCHMA'S IRE OVER CONFERENCE IN WARSAW
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 8 October spoke by telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, Polish media reported. The conversation took place after Kuchma's news conference at which he accused Poland of interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs (see above). Kuchma's charges were provoked by Poland's proposal to gather representatives of the Ukrainian government and the opposition for roundtable talks during a conference in Warsaw on 15-16 October on Ukraine's role following expected NATO and EU enlargement. According to a statement issued by the Polish president's office, Kuchma "accepted with interest" the initiative to hold such a conference in Warsaw and promised to send his representative to the conference. The statement also said that Kuchma will be unable to personally attend the conference owing to the upcoming visit by the Iranian president to Kyiv. JM
POLISH RULING PARTY EXPELS LAWMAKER FROM ITS PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS
The parliamentary caucus of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has ousted National Party of Pensioners leader Tomasz Maminski from its ranks, Polish media reported on 8 October. Maminski earlier tendered his resignation from the SLD parliamentary group, saying he was forced to do so by offensive statements from some SLD politicians. Maminski's party has recently thrown its support behind opposition Civic Platform leader Andrzej Olechowski, who seeks the post of Warsaw mayor in the 27 October local election. SLD parliamentary caucus spokesman Robert Smolen commented that the SLD has its own candidate for Warsaw mayor, Marek Balicki, and expects support for Balicki from every one of its parliamentarians. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT MAKES FINAL ADDRESS TO PARLIAMENT
President Vaclav Havel on 8 October told journalists that he is satisfied with the state of the country that his successor will inherit after he steps down early in 2003, CTK reported. "I think the situation is relatively stable and good now and that the transformation processes are continuing," Havel said. On 9 October, Havel is scheduled to address parliament for the last time as head of state. Ahead of that event, the Chamber of Deputies on 8 October approved a resolution, sponsored by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, according to which Havel's address will be debated by the chamber after it is delivered. It will mark the first time that the lower house has debated a presidential address, and deputies will be allowed to propose resolutions concerning the presidential speech or his term in office. Havel's spokesman downplayed the address, saying the president plans primarily to welcome new parliamentarians. MS
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EU ASSESSMENT POINTS TO MEMBERSHIP IN JANUARY 2004
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda on 8 October said the European Commission's yearly evaluation of candidate performance in meeting EU requirements signifies that the Czech Republic has a good chance of becoming an EU member on 1 January 2004, CTK reported. Svoboda was reacting to those parts of the draft report that were approved and released by the commission on the same day. CTK said other parts of the report that have yet to be approved are more critical of the Czech performance, expressing serious concern about corruption and the need to improve the situation of the Romany minority. According to CTK, the commission will also call on the Czech Republic to reduce the length of court proceedings, particularly in civil cases. MS
MORE CZECH ASYLUM SEEKERS DEPORTED FROM U.K.
A group of 46 unsuccessful asylum seekers were deported on 8 October from the U.K., CTK reported. They arrived at Prague airport in a plane chartered by British authorities, who last month began to forcefully deport those asylum seekers who were unwilling to return home. Those agreeing to return to the Czech Republic are sent back on regular flights. Since the beginning of September, 151 Czech asylum seekers have been forcefully deported. CTK reported that the overwhelming majority are Roma. MS
SLOVAK PARTIES SIGN COALITION AGREEMENT
The four center-right parties forming Slovakia's new government on 8 October signed the coalition agreement, TASR and international agencies reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the new cabinet is "ready to lead Slovakia into NATO and the EU," according to Reuters. President Rudolf Schuster is due officially to appoint the members of the new cabinet on 16 October. Dzurinda heads a coalition formed by his own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, the Hungarian Coalition Party, the Christian Democratic Movement, and the Alliance for New Citizens. He said the cabinet will strive to cut the public deficit so as to meet the criteria for joining the EU monetary union by 2006. Dzurinda said the new government will work to cut bureaucracy, attain sustainable economic growth, attract foreign investment, and create additional jobs, according to AP. He also pledged to "fiercely fight" corruption and improve the situation of the Romany minority. According to TASR, the coalition agreement stipulates that any breach of discipline by joining the opposition in voting on important issues will be regarded as a breach of the coalition agreement. MS
CHIEF SLOVAK EU NEGOTIATOR TO SEE THROUGH ACCESSION PROCESS
Jan Figel, Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, will continue to fill this position until the conclusion of accession negotiations, TASR reported on 8 October. The coalition partners agreed earlier this week that Figel will become chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission, but according to the report Figel will take up his parliamentary seat only at the end of the negotiating process, expected to come at the end of this year. MS
FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER LOSES BATTLE TO HALT CHALLENGE TO HZDS LEADERSHIP
Embattled former Premier Vladimir Meciar on 8 October failed in his effort to block an extraordinary convention of his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) that is to debate the electoral results and possible changes in party leadership, TASR reported. The Presov regional branch of the HZDS the same day voted in favor of convoking the extraordinary congress, becoming the third regional branch to do so after Bratislava and Trnava. HZDS statutes stipulate that an extraordinary HZDS convention must be called if three regional branches approve the resolution. The Presov branch proposed that the extraordinary convention be held on 14 December, one week after local elections are scheduled to take place. MS
SLOVAK POLICE CHARGED OVER ROM'S TORTURE, DEATH WHILE IN CUSTODY
The Banska Bystrica regional prosecution on 8 October charged seven police officers and the former mayor of the village of Magnetizovce with complicity in the death of Roma Karol Sendrei in 2001, TASR reported. They are accused of torturing Sendrei while he was in custody, including beating him after they tied him to a heater on 5 July 2001 following a violent incident in the mayor's courtyard in which Sendrei and two of his sons were involved. One of the seven policemen is also charged with abuse of authority and with having caused bodily harm to Sendrei's widow. Charges were also filed against three of Sendrei's sons in connection with a clash with a group of Magnetizovce villagers. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER SIGNS COMPENSATION AGREEMENT WITH JEWISH COMMUNITY
Prime Minister Dzurinda and representatives of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities (UZZNO) on 8 October signed an agreement providing for compensation to Slovak victims of the Holocaust and their inheritors, TASR reported. The agreement was approved by the outgoing government last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). It provides for the creation of a fund into which the state will contribute 850 million crowns (nearly $20 million) to compensate Holocaust victims and their relatives. After 10 years, the fund and the accrued interest will be transferred to the UZZNO. Revenues from the principal are to be used for direct compensation and for financing social, educational, and cultural projects of the UZZNO. MS
FIDESZ TO BOYCOTT PARLIAMENTARY CEREMONY MARKING 1956 REVOLUTION
The FIDESZ leadership on 8 October decided that the party will not attend a solemn session of the parliament on 23 October that will mark the anniversaries of the proclamation of the Republic of Hungary in 1989 and of the 1956 Uprising, Budapest dailies reported. FIDESZ deputy parliamentary group leader Antal Rogan explained his party's decision by saying the governing Socialists and Free Democrats did not accept the FIDESZ request that only two speeches be delivered at the session: one by the speaker of parliament and a second by a 1956 participant nominated by the opposition parties. MSZ
EMBATTLED FIDESZ PARTY LEADER RESIGNS FROM PARLIAMENT
FIDESZ Director Attila Varhegyi resigned his seat in parliament on 8 October, one day after the Pest County Court found him guilty of gross mismanagement of funds and gave him a suspended one-year jail sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002), Hungarian media reported. Varhegyi said he made his move without waiting for the court to send its verdict to parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili, adding, "Seeing the ruthless hunt conducted by the Socialists and the Free Democrats, I am aware that my political opponents would do their best to sling mud on the values I represent and on FIDESZ." FIDESZ is expected to name a replacement for Varhegyi from its own ranks. MSZ
BUDAPEST MAYOR REVEALS DEAL WITH SOCIALISTS
"Magyar Nemzet" on 9 October quoted Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, a Free Democrat, as admitting on TV-2 that he struck a deal in late August with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, in the presence of Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and Budapest MSZP chapter leader Laszlo Mandur, stipulating that MSZP mayoral candidate Erzsebet Nemeth will step aside if Demszky accepts her as deputy mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2002). Demszky said the will of the MSZP's Budapest leadership was stronger than that of Medgyessy and Kovacs, and therefore Nemeth remained in the race. Kovacs said on 8 October that talks with the Free Democrats on mutually withdrawing less popular candidates for the local elections will probably be held soon. Kovacs denied that the situation regarding mayoral candidates is leading to coalition tensions, the daily reported. MSZ
CSURKA DENIES REPORT ON MIEP INVESTIGATION
According to a statement quoted by "Nepszabadsag" on 9 October, Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka, who is the party's candidate for Budapest mayor, refuted reports that the Budapest Prosecutor-General's Office has requested a copy of a MIEP campaign document, as was reported by the daily one day earlier. "Nepszabadsag" reported that the document contained seemingly anti-Semitic comments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). Csurka said this "dirty trick" has a two-fold goal: to intimidate MIEP voters and to deliberately mislead the international media. "The method is familiar," he said in his statement. "The campaign of the other party [Socialists] is run by Israeli resident Ron Werber." Budapest Prosecutor-General Istvan Sodor said he told Csurka's campaign chief that no investigation is being conducted into the document. The document is already at the disposal of the prosecutor's office, he said, so it is merely necessary to read it to decide whether it needs investigation. MSZ
KOSOVAR SERB EXTREMIST LEADER TURNS HIMSELF IN
Accompanied by an unnamed Serbian government official, Serbian extremist politician and murder suspect Milan Ivanovic surrendered voluntarily at the UN police station in Mitrovica on 9 October, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 28 August and 6 September 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). A UN spokesman said that a judge will be appointed to conduct an investigation into the case and decide what will happen next. Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), said: "I welcome that Milan Ivanovic has indeed put himself at the disposition of the legitimate UNMIK court. I have always said this was the only proper way open to him." PM
STEINER SAYS KOSOVA PLAN CANNOT BE NEGOTIATED
Steiner told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" of 9 October that he receives letters "daily" from Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic calling for a revision of Steiner's seven-point plan for Kosova and Mitrovica, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). Steiner added that those who do not participate in the 26 October local elections rule themselves out of the political process for the coming four years as far as local government in Mitrovica and elsewhere in Kosova are concerned. He added that he is willing to talk about decentralization and joint self-government in Mitrovica, but only after 26 October. PM
GERMANY AND ITALY TO CONSOLIDATE THEIR OPERATIONS IN KOSOVA
As part of a NATO plan to reduce the size of and streamline KFOR, the German-led brigade in southern Kosova and the Italian-led one in the west will form a joint southwest command beginning in mid-November, AP reported from Prishtina on 8 October. A similar consolidation of the British- and French-led brigades is also envisaged. The reason for the changes is the improved security situation in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). PM
ANNAN CALLS FOR ENDING THE UN MANDATE ON CROATIA'S PREVLAKA PENINSULA
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended to the Security Council on 8 October that the mandate for UN monitors on the Prevlaka Peninsula be ended when their current term runs out on 15 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 October 2002). Annan noted that Zagreb and Belgrade are making progress toward settling their differences over the peninsula, which controls access to Yugoslavia's only deep-water port, in Kotor Bay. He added that the situation in the area presents no danger to regional security. In separate interviews with RFE/RL, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Yugoslav officials welcomed the move. Croatian Ambassador to the UN Ivan Simonovic stressed points similar to those that Annan made. Outgoing Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic noted that an agreement is not far off. Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic said that 15 December is just the right time to end the UN mandate. PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT WANTS NATO TO EXTEND AMBER FOX
President Boris Trajkovski has written to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson to request the extension of NATO's peacekeeping mission -- known as Operation Amber Fox -- to 15 December, AP and Reuters reported from Skopje on 8 October. Trajkovski added that he wants "no change in the mission's role and responsibility" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 30 September and 3 October 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 May and 9 August 2002). The EU has planned to take over the mission from NATO for some time. During the summer, there was much speculation in Brussels that a surge in anti-American sentiment in the EU stemming from the dispute over the proposed International Criminal Court would enable the EU to galvanize its energies in time to take over Amber Fox in the fall. In the end, however, continued haggling between Greece and Turkey over the EU's use of NATO planning, intelligence, and logistics has hamstrung the EU's plans. Meanwhile, in Brussels on 8 October, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported that NATO expects to honor Trajkovski's request. PM
SENIOR ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICIANS GIVE UP THEIR MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENTARY SEATS
Two senior ethnic Albanian politicians will give up their seats in the new Macedonian parliament, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 9 October. Arben Xhaferi, the chairman of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), will leave the parliament in recognition of his party's loss of voter confidence. Xhaferi will be replaced by Zamir Dika, the coordinator of the PDSH's parliamentary group in the previous parliament. Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) Chairman Abdurrahman Aliti gave up his mandate in favor of Abduladi Vejseli for unspecified reasons. The PDSH and the PPD have lost much of their support to the newly formed Union for Democratic Integration (BDI) led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti. UB
CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION FOR SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO MEET AFTER ELECTIONS
The commission charged with drawing up the Constitutional Charter for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro will meet on 23 October, which is after the 13 October Serbian presidential elections and the 20 October Montenegrin parliamentary elections, Hina reported from Belgrade on 8 October. The main issue facing the commission is the procedure for selecting members of the planned joint parliament, whom the Montenegrin government wants appointed by the respective republican parliaments and most other players want directly elected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2002). Furthermore, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic wants the recent agreement between his government and that of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to be the basis of the charter. Other questions include whether the Yugoslav Army or republican police forces will patrol the country's borders, and whether a military judicial system will be maintained. PM
REFERENDUM IN SERBIA ON RELATIONS WITH MONTENEGRO?
Yugoslav National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic, who is a member of Miroljub Labus' campaign committee in the Serbian presidential race, said in Belgrade on 8 October that the proposed Constitutional Charter contains much that is detrimental to Serbian interests, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Dinkic added that he wants Serbian citizens to express their views on the document in a vote. In related news, Dinkic called on both presidential candidates to agree that if the 13 October vote is invalid because of a low turnout, the candidate with the poorest showing will not take part in the subsequent contest. Campaign officials for Labus' opponent, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, rejected the idea. Finally, the Karic Brothers private television station announced that it will not provide live coverage of the Labus-Kostunica debate on 9 October as planned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). The station cited a previous commitment to broadcast a basketball game in the same time slot as the debate. PM
MONTENEGRIN TESTIFIES AGAINST MILOSEVIC
Former Montenegrin Foreign Minister Nikola Samardzic told the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 8 October that the 1991 Montenegrin attack on Dubrovnik was "the greatest Montenegrin disgrace," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2002). Samardzic stressed that backers of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic -- such as Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic and General Pavle Strugar -- incited the government to violence, claiming that "30,000 Ustashe are moving toward Montenegro...[which must] defend itself." On 9 October, Milosevic said that Samardzic's claims are "completely untrue." PM
CROATIA TO JOIN CEFTA
Croatian officials signed an agreement in Zagreb on 8 October on the basis of which Croatia will join the Central European Free Trade Association (CEFTA) on 1 March 2003, Hina reported. The group includes Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria. PM
SLOVENIA LOOKS TOWARD THE EURO
Slovenian National Bank Governor Mitja Gaspari said in Ljubljana on 8 October that he hopes that the euro will replace the tolar as his country's currency in about five years, dpa reported. Slovenia is expected to become a full member of the European Union in 2004, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 9 October. PM
DISCREDITED BOSNIAN LEADERS TO QUIT?
Zlatko Lagumdzija and other members of the presidency of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have handed in their resignations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Sarajevo on 9 October. The daily "Dnevni avaz" noted, however, that these same people might seek reinstatement at the party's extraordinary congress that will take place in November. The SDP was the biggest loser in the recent elections, widely blamed for failing to deliver on its promises of reform and prosperity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 October 2002). Many critics regard Lagumdzija as a jet setter who made his career by cultivating officials of the international community. At the latest meeting of the presidency, Sejfudin Tokic called for Lagumdzija to quit. PM
ROMANIA WANTS TO BE 'LOCOMOTIVE' OF NATO EXPANSION
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 8 October that the resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on 7 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002), which recommended a "big bang" NATO expansion at the Prague November summit on 21-22 November, is a "good signal," Mediafax reported. Geoana said Romania's record on military reform and recent performance on the international stage could well transform a country whose prospects for joining NATO were questionable not long ago into "the locomotive" of the next wave of expansion, just as Poland was in the first wave. In a resolution approved on 8 October, the government "saluted" the U.S. House decision. President Ion Iliescu the same day said the House resolution "cannot but provide us with grounds for satisfaction," but added that "the game is not yet over." An invitation in Prague, Iliescu said, "does not yet mean our integration, which would be accomplished only when all NATO members' parliaments approve it," Romanian Radio reported. Also on 8 October, the Permanent Committee of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly approved a resolution calling for the admission of seven states at the Prague summit, Romania included. MS
ROMANIAN CABINET APPROVES 2003 DRAFT BUDGET
The government approved the 2003 draft budget on 8 October, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The budget envisages 5.2 percent economic growth, a deficit of 2.65 percent of GDP, and 14 percent inflation, which is eight percentage points fewer than the 2002 draft budget. The budget is predicated on an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent (as compared to 9.2 percent in the 2002 draft budget) and allocates 10 percent of GDP to social welfare. Allocations for defense are 2.38 percent of GDP. MS
PROPOSED AMENDMENT GUARANTEEING OWNERSHIP OF PRIVATE PROPERTY APPROVED
The ad hoc parliamentary commission examining proposed constitutional amendments unanimously decided on 8 October to recommend that the constitutional provision currently "protecting" private property be replaced with a provision "guaranteeing" that property, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The National Liberal Party hailed the decision as "historic." The commission also decided to recommend that a provision be added to the constitution that would allow EU citizens to purchase the land on which real estate owned by them is placed. The right would also apply to citizens of countries with which Romania has treaties mutually granting the same right. Currently, the constitution prohibits land ownership by non-Romanian citizens. MS
ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE LIFTS PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY OF PRM DEPUTY...
The Chamber of Deputies on 8 October heeded the request of Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu and lifted the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) deputy Danut Saulea, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Saulea is charged with the dissemination of false information and damaging Romania's international image. On the same grounds, the Senate in November 2001 lifted the parliamentary immunity of PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Tudor and Saulea claimed in September 2001 that Hamas terrorists were trained in Romania in 1995. The vote was 210 in favor to 31 against. PRM deputies boycotted the voting procedure. MS
...APPROVES LAW ON 'DEFENSE OF LANGUAGE'
Also on 8 October, the Chamber of Deputies approved the law passed one day earlier by the Senate on the defense of the Romanian language, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). The legislation makes obligatory the translation of any foreign terminology on signs displayed in public and on advertising, including television advertising. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN NATIONAL UNITY LEADER MIGRATES TO DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Former Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) Chairman Valeriu Tabara on 8 October joined the Democratic Party and became a member of that party's Standing Bureau, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tabara was replaced as PUNR chairman in May 2002 by retired General Mircea Chelaru, who one year earlier was forced into retirement after attending an inauguration ceremony of a bust representing wartime leader Marshal Ion Antonescu. Tabara resigned from the PUNR on 30 September of this year. MS
SWITZERLAND, SPAIN TO DEPORT MORE THAN 300 ILLEGAL MIGRANTS TO ROMANIA
In the first half of October, Switzerland and Spain plan to deport to Romania more than 300 illegal migrants, Mediafax reported. They will be returned in line with the current "readmission" agreements Romania made with the two countries. Meanwhile, in Bucharest on 8 October, Foreign Minister Geoana received Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles, ahead of a report regarding Romania's respect for human rights that Gil-Robles is soon to present to the council. Gil-Robles also met with Interior Minister State Secretary Pavel Abraham to discuss, among other things, the problems of refugees coming to and from Romania, human trafficking, and the use and abuse of firearms by Romanian police. MS
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER WILL NOT MEET OSCE DEADLINE
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Chisinau on 7 October, said that his country "might be unable to succeed in withdrawing its troops and arsenal from Moldovan territory by the end of this year," as it pledged at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit to do, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Ivanov said Russia should not be blamed for failing to meet the 31 December 2002 deadline and that "new problems" might yet arise as a result of Transdniester's obstruction of the withdrawal process. It was the first time a high-ranking Russian official has mentioned the possibility that the deadline might not be met. MS
BRITAIN TO SUPPORT BULGARIA'S BID FOR NATO, EU ACCESSION
After meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski in London on 8 October, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed confidence that Bulgaria will receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague on 21-22 November, BTA reported. "I have no doubt at all, as a result of the changes that are being made in Bulgaria by the government, as a result also of the tremendous endeavor by the people in Bulgaria, that the vision of a Bulgaria in NATO and the European Union can indeed be achieved," Blair said. Blair also lauded Bulgaria's role as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council. "We thank [Saxecoburggotski] and Bulgaria for your support in the Security Council on difficult issues that we are handling at an international level at the moment," Blair said. UB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT TO HOLD CONSULTATIONS OVER KOZLODUY
President Georgi Parvanov announced on 8 October that he will hold consultations with the responsible ministers, members of parliament, and experts to clarify Bulgaria's position over the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, BTA reported. Parvanov's announcement follows last week's confusion among the government, the parliament, and the European commission over the closure of the older blocks of the plant. While the government says there are no differences between the government's official stance on the decommissioning of the older blocks of the nuclear-power plant and the parliament's decision of 2 October, the parliamentary opposition sees substantial differences and demands that the government change its stance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 October 2002). Following the consultations, Parvanov plans to send a letter to the European Commission and the presidents of the EU member states clarifying Bulgaria's position. UB
WORLD BANK REPORT CALLS FOR BULGARIA TO CUT EXPENDITURES
A report by the World Bank published on 8 October states that Bulgaria's expenditures on health care, transport, energy, defense, and security are the highest of all Central and Eastern European countries, BTA reported. The report calls for Bulgaria to cut expenditures for transport and communications -- especially for the state railways company -- and for defense and security. It advises that excess state expenditures for health, social welfare, and education should be reallocated and that clear priorities should be set, according to the report. In response, government representatives stressed that the government's economic policies are largely in line with the World Bank's recommendations, while some NGOs criticized the report as coming too late. "The document should have been drafted three years ago so as to have real use now," said Tsvetan Manchev of the Agency for Economic Analyses and Forecasts. UB
LATVIA AT A CROSSROADS -- AGAIN
The 5 October elections to Latvia's eighth Saeima (parliament) were remarkable in two respects.
First, they represented the "doubling" of Latvia's experience as an independent democratic state. During the first period of independence (1918 -40) there were only four parliaments, between the period 1922-34. The earlier years (1918-22) constituted a transitional period to democracy, while the later period (1934-40) was one of dictatorship under Karlis Ulmanis, the former head of the rightist Farmers' Union party.
Second, the elections were held less than two months before the NATO Prague summit at which Latvia is expected to receive an invitation to join that Atlantic alliance.
True, the Latvian political scene still displays some signs of immaturity, such as the creation of ever more political parties. Analysts regard the overwhelming success in the recent elections of a new and unknown political force -- the New Era party led by a former head of Latvia's monetary bank, Einars Repse -- with a certain degree of caution. The fact that Latvia's Way, the party that served as the main driving force toward NATO and European Union membership, has disappeared from the political-power scene only contributed to this caution. But at the same time, in some respects Latvia has achieved greater electoral maturity over the past 11 years than during the first era of independence. The election law currently includes a 5 percent barrier for parties seeking representation in the 100-seat parliament. No such limitation existed during the first four Saeimas. The first Saeima had 20 political parties and groups, the second 25, and the third and fourth 27 parties each. The outgoing (seventh) parliament had six parties and groups that form six factions and one group of seven independent deputies.
What has remained as a constant throughout Latvia's entire two-part democratic experience is high voter participation. In the election to the first Saeima, 82.2 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballots; in the second 74.9 percent; in the third 79.3 percent; and in the fourth 80 percent. During elections to the seventh Saeima in 1998, voter participation was 71.9 percent. When the election results are declared official in about two weeks, the newly elected eighth Saeima will have six political parties. Voter participation was 72.5 percent.
The first four parliaments functioned on the basis of a partially finished constitution, which lacked provisions securing the fundamental human rights of citizens, as well as some procedural provisions. The second part of the constitution was adopted and amended during the period since independence was restored in 1991.
One could argue that the upcoming NATO summit is the third crucial crossroads in Latvia's history, the first two being the declarations of independence in 1918, and again in 1991 when it regained independence on the ruins of the collapsing Soviet Union. Being invited to join NATO, along with its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia will be an unprecedented achievement, and will change the geopolitical realities of a region that historically has generally been dominated by Russia.
Moscow is clearly aware of this impending geopolitical shift, and appears to be seeking to ways to take advantage of it. Russian diplomacy seems to have adopted more flexible tactics toward Latvia than toward its Baltic neighbors. Just a few weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin received Janis Jurkans, the leader of Latvia's leftist coalition, in the Kremlin -- an honor Putin has not shown to any other politician of Jurkans's stature. Jurkans was the third Latvian politician to be received by a Russian president, the others being the current President Vaira-Vike Freiberga and the former President Guntis Ulmanis, during his term.
Jurkans represents a political group that partially relies on Latvia's ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking community, which constitutes almost half the country's population (47 percent, compared with 53 percent Latvian speakers). The local press, far from trying to contribute to mutual understanding between those two groups, is itself divided along ethno-linguistic lines and continues to perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Latvia's government has recognized the dangers inherent in this polarization and has started to promote a Social Integration Program of linguistic and ethnic reconciliation that has been commended by international experts. But the process has not been as smooth as one could wish. Radical politicians are trying to use the country's controversial history as a battleground for today's nationalistic agenda. Each year the "red" and "brown" oriented extremist groups such as Latvia's neo-Bolsheviks from Pobeda organization and the right-wing movement All For Latvia attempt on 16 March, the internationally notorious Latvian Waffen SS veterans' day, to split society along ethnic lines. To stand firm in such emotionally divisive situations has been a challenging experience for successive post-independence governments.
Like many post-Soviet countries, Latvia still has problems to solve and reforms to implement. But there is one underlying trend that makes Latvia unique. By advancing its social integration program, the current Latvian government has undertaken an enormous effort that may be compared only to that of the founding fathers of the first Republic of Latvia. President Vike-Freiberga and a number of leading politicians have embarked on the hard task of building a political nation: an effort that not many politicians would dare today. An invitation next month to join NATO would signal the international community's recognition of that undertaking.Peter Zvagulis is director of RFE/RL's Latvian Service.