GROZNY BLAST KILLS LOCAL POLICE CHIEFS
At least 23 people were killed by an explosion late on 10 October in a regional police headquarters in Grozny, Russian news agencies reported. The dead included all of Chechnya's local police chiefs. Chechnya's Emergency Situations Minister Ruslan Avtaev said on 11 October that he is 100 percent certain the blast was caused by a bomb, not a natural-gas explosion. Chief Prosecutor Nikolai Kostyuchenko said the bomb must have been brought into the building by guerrillas who had infiltrated the local police force. LF
FOREIGN MINISTRY AGAIN DEMANDS GEORGIA EXTRADITE CHECHEN MILITANTS
The Foreign Ministry has addressed a note to Georgia demanding the immediate extradition of eight suspected Chechen militants, ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax on 10 October. Georgia sent five Chechens to Moscow last week but suspended the extradition of eight more at the request of the European Court of Human Rights, to which the detained Chechens had appealed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 October 2002). Yakovenko said that at his talks in Chisinau on 6 October with President Vladimir Putin, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze promised that the eight Chechens would be extradited to Russia. LF
FSB, FPS DELEGATIONS HEAD TO TBILISI
A Federal Security Service (FSB) delegation headed by FSB First Deputy Director Vladimir Pronichev arrived in Tbilisi on 10 October for talks with Georgian security officials on boosting bilateral cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. A Federal Border Guard Service (FPS) delegation also arrived in the Georgian capital the same day for related talks aimed at strengthening control over the Russian-Georgian border. Also on 10 October, FPS Director Colonel General Konstantin Totskii claimed that further group of Chechen militants is preparing to enter Russia from Georgian territory, ITAR-TASS reported. He said there are "definitely" still "bandits" on Georgian territory, and the situation on the Russian-Georgian border remains "extremely difficult and tense." LF
BLAIR PUSHES PUTIN ON IRAQ RESOLUTION...
British Prime Minister Tony Blair continued a two-day informal visit with President Putin outside of Moscow on 11 October, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The purpose of Blair's visit is to urge Putin to accede to a tough U.S.-British UN resolution on Iraq, RTR and other news agencies reported. Moscow has expressed its conditional support for a more moderate French-sponsored resolution, modified by a Russian-drafted amendment. The BBC's Russian Service reported that Moscow has drifted toward the U.S.-British position in recent days. Putin is expected to ask Blair for support for Russia's positions on Kaliningrad and Chechnya. VY
...AS PUTIN INSISTS ON SENDING INSPECTORS TO IRAQ
Speaking after meeting with Blair, Putin said that Russia "is not getting from its partners [the United States and Britain] reliable data on Iraq's nuclear or [other] weapons of mass destruction," strana.ru reported on 11 October. "One should distinguish between concerns and objective information about the presence of such weapons," Putin said. In view of the lack of reliable information, Russia is insisting on the immediate return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, Putin added. VY
PRIME MINISTER AUTHORIZES PRIVATIZATION OF SLAVNEFT
Mikhail Kasyanov signed on 10 October a directive initiating the privatization the state's 74.95 percent stake in oil giant Slavneft, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The government's stake is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, and the sale is expected to be the largest privatization deal in post-Soviet Russia. The government of Belarus owns 10 percent of the company, while a 13 percent stake is held by a trust fund controlled by oil companies TNK and Sibneft and businessman Mikhail Gutseriev. The rest belongs to minority investors. "Vedomosti" named Sibneft -- which is controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich -- and Surgutneftegaz as likely potential bidders. Gazeta.ru noted that former Sibneft executive Yurii Sukhanov recently became CEO of Slavneft and argued that this gives Abramovich an inside track toward acquiring the stake. VY/RC
DUMA TO DISCUSS HARSH RESTRICTIONS ON ENTRANCE VISAS
The Duma's Committee for State Issues will offer a bill that would forbid the Foreign Ministry to issue entrance visas to foreigners in a number of circumstances, including those entering Russia for the purpose of adopting Russian children, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 October. Under the bill, the authorities could also deny visas to anyone who violates customs regulations, provides false information, or uses forged documents. Drug addicts, people with infectious diseases, people with criminal records in their home countries, and anyone on a Russian government list of "unwelcome foreigners" could also be denied entrance. VY
FATF REMOVES RUSSIA FROM MONEY-LAUNDERING 'BLACKLIST'
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, an international body that monitors money laundering, has removed Russia from its blacklist, Russian news agencies reported on 11 October. The move comes after a long campaign by Russian officials seeking FATF recognition of the government's anti-money laundering efforts. RC
STATE TO SLASH MANDATORY FOREIGN-CURRENCY EXCHANGE RATE
The government intends to reduce the amount of foreign-currency earnings that Russian companies are required to sell to the Central Bank from 50 percent to 30 percent, Reuters and Russian news agencies reported on 10 October. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the decision was reached during a meeting with President Putin earlier this week, but he did not specify when the new regulations would come into force. "Later, the Central Bank will cut it to zero. That is, it will fully abolish this obligation, but it will retain the right to impose regulatory mechanisms in certain situations," Kudrin was quoted by Reuters as saying. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has been calling for the foreign-exchange requirement to be cut to 25 percent in 2003 and abolished in 2004, while the Central Bank recommended cutting the rate to 35 percent and not setting a time frame for abolishing it. RC
NARROW ESCAPE FOR NORILSK POLICE OFFICERS
Police in Norilsk averted an alleged terrorist explosion in a nine-story residential building, ntvru.com and other Russian news agencies reported on 11 October. Acting on an anonymous tip, police searched the building's basement and found a bag containing a hunting rifle, a grenade, and several rifle cartridges. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that a bomb containing 700 grams of explosive and another grenade had been attached to the bag. According to RIA-Novosti, a disaster was narrowly averted by a quick-thinking police officer who held the firing mechanism of the grenade in his hand after the pin had been pulled out. RC
BASHKORTOSTAN TO ABOLISH POST OF PRESIDENT...
Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov declared on 10 October that the republic will most probably liquidate the office of the president since the post was only "needed during the transitional period," ITAR-TASS reported. Now that the economy "is working steadily" and the political atmosphere is stable, he said, it is time to "switch to another political system -- that of a parliamentary republic." According to Interfax, unidentified sources close to Rakhimov said that he had discussed his plan with President Putin before announcing it. RosBalt on 9 October, however, reported that the new redaction of the republican constitution that is now being considered by the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002) retains the post of president, as well as that of republican prime minister. JAC
...AS DAGHESTANI OFFICIAL CALLS FOR SAME MOVE IN ALL REPUBLICS
Commenting on Rakhimov's announcement, Mukhu Aliev, chairman of the parliament of Daghestan, said he supports the idea of abolishing the post of president in all of Russia's republics, Interfax reported. "There should only be one president in the country -- the president of the Russian Federation," he said. In Daghestan, there is no president; instead, the republic's executive is headed by the head of the State Council, an organ to which representatives of all local ethnic groups belong. Aliev added that he believes the head of parliament should be the highest post in the ethnic republics. JAC
IS PUTIN A 'COUNTERREFORMER'...
Considerably more than halfway through President Putin's first term in office, analysts are still pondering exactly who he is. Moscow State University historian Sergei Leonov in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 39, describes Putin as a "counterreformer," using the term to denote a leader who is primarily concerned with strengthening the state and increasing stability. Leonov compares Putin extensively to Tsar Aleksandr III, noting that both rulers came to power following a period of intensely destabilizing reforms, both outwardly promised to follow the policies of their predecessors while actually manifesting an ambiguous relationship toward those policies, both were concerned with strengthening the mechanisms of the state and resisting centrifugal forces, both intensified censorship and control over information, and both advocated patriotic ideologies and the Orthodox Church. Moreover, both leaders were viewed as anti-intellectual pragmatists; neither was extensively prepared to become the ruler of the country; and both ruled at times when Russia was in a difficult international position, a situation that pushed both toward increased integration with the West. Leonov argues that Putin is in a position to help the country end its long cycle of wavering between reformers and counter-reformers by keeping his strong-state inclinations in check and, most of all, by not giving in to the temptation to seek an unconstitutional third term in 2008. RC
...OR A 'LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE'?
In a long essay in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 7 October devoted to the occasion of Putin's 50th birthday, former "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editor Vitalii Tretyakov describes Putin as a "liberal conservative" and stresses the crucial importance for Russia of his stepping down voluntarily in 2008. "If that happens in this way, then Putin -- by strengthening a barely begun, completely new tendency that was just born here at the end of the 20th century -- will have by that alone done something colossal for Russia, strengthening our democracy 10 times over," Tretyakov writes. He argues that Putin's driving concern has always been the "restoration of Russian greatness" on the world stage. "Of course, Putin prefers democracy to authoritarianism, but only in those cases when democracy is the most effective means of resurrecting Russia. Such is also his view of market economics," Tretyakov writes. He further argues that Putin "does not consider the people to be the main or only actor in history." Instead, he sees the people as "a more or less passive...object of historical processes." RC
HISTORIAN PRAISES PUTIN'S PERSONNEL POLICIES
In an interview with "Trud" on 10 October, historian Roy Medvedev declared that President Putin's staffing policies are "absolutely different" from those of his predecessors. Putin has given all the country's post-Soviet former prime ministers -- Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kirienko, Sergei Stepashin, and Yevgenii Primakov -- senior posts for which they appear well-suited, Medevdev noted. "They say the task of a politician is to make a friend of an enemy -- Boris Yeltsin contrived to do everything to the contrary," Medvedev said. Putin, on the other hand, "acts thoughtfully, even cautiously, and refrains from emotional or humiliating gestures." JAC
NATIONAL CENSUS CONTINUES...
The State Statistics Committee has acknowledged that about 30 percent of those hired to work as census takers nationally have quit their posts, citing low pay and fears for their safety, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 October. The daily also reported that committee has insured each census taker for 5,000 rubles ($161) in the event that they are killed while on duty. RIA-Novosti reported on 11 October that the census questionnaires completed that day by the three Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station will return to Earth aboard the U.S. space shuttle "Atlantis" on 18 or 19 October. After census officials have processed them, they will be displayed at the State Statistics Committee museum. Meanwhile, in Stavropol and at least five other towns in Stavropol Krai, ungrammatical, homemade leaflets appeared on city streets urging locals to boycott the census, ntvru.com reported. The anonymous leaflets assert that the census is being conducted on the orders of "the world government" based in Brussels. According to ITAR-TASS, authorities suspect the leaflets were distributed by an unspecified extremist sect. RC
...AS ORDER ALLEGEDLY ISSUED TO FALSIFY CENSUS RESULTS...
Census workers in Bashkortostan have allegedly been ordered to increase the number of Bashkirs in the republic to up to 30 percent of the population, ntvru.com reported, citing information from the Tatar Public Center. According to the site, census workers in the town of Sterlitamak told ethnic Tatars that they would be reported as Bashkirs because it is necessary to boost the number of Bashkirs to preserve the republic's sovereignty. Historically, the Bashkirs have numbered about 900,000 of the republic's total population, compared to 2 million Russians and 1.2 million Tatars. JAC
...AND DEPUTY CHARGES PRESIDENT WAS DECEIVED
Duma Deputy Fandas Safiullin (Russian Regions), having seen President Putin complete his census questionnaire on RTR television, charged that the president's questionnaire was not genuine, ntvru.com reported on 11 October. Safiullin, who represents a district in Tatarstan, noted that Putin and his wife were asked about their native language, a question that does not appear on other census questionnaires. Moreover, he added that when Putin spoke about the census in Kazan in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 2002), he specifically complained that the question about one's native language had not been included on the questionnaire, leading Safiullin to suspect that census officials might have tried to trick the president into believing that the question had been added. Safiullin asked the Duma to summon State Statistics Committee Chairman Vladimir Sokolin to the chamber to answer questions about the matter, but deputies voted down the motion. RC
COMMUNISTS HOLD ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLY...
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) organized an authorized antigovernment protest near the Kremlin on 11 October, NTV and other Russian news agencies reported. Party officials estimated that as many as 50,000 people participated, but independent sources put the figure at between 5,000-10,000. Smaller rallies were organized in other Russian cities. Demonstrators protesting the sale of agricultural land and reforms to communal services and the electricity sector called for a national referendum on these issues. Many carried placards with slogans such as "Putin go away," "Down with the corrupt Duma," and "Anti-people government resign!" Police reported no incidents, RTR noted. VY
...AND SAY THAT STATE TELEVISION IS IGNORING THEM
In an interview with TV-6 on 10 October, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov charged that Russian Television, RTR, deliberately chose not to cover the national protests organized by the Communists that day. Zyuganov also said that Oleg Dobrodeev, chairman of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, "is increasingly becoming a servant of [presidential administration head Aleksandr] Voloshin." JAC
NATIONAL POLICYMAKERS WANT ISLAMIC CLERICS TRAINED AT HOME
At a conference in Moscow on cooperation between government and religious organizations on 10 October, Viktor Zorkaltsev, chairman of the State Duma's Committee on Public and Religious Organizations, called for creating a center in Russia for the training of Islamic clerics in order to provide Russia with greater "spiritual security" and to limit the training of Russian citizens in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries, RIA-Novosti reported. Zorkaltsev said that Russia's concept of national security includes defending the country's spiritual and moral heritage and its historical traditions. Speaking at the same conference, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Kirienko called for providing basic scholarly training in Islam within the borders of the Russian Federation, the website religio.ru reported. JAC
DUMA TO TAKE UP ELECTION ISSUE NEXT WEEK
State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unity) told reporters on 10 October that the lower chamber will take up the issue of raising the barrier for political parties to enter the Duma from 5 percent of the total vote to 7 percent as early as 16 October, RIA-Novosti reported. Sliska said that she considers 7 percent more realistic than the 12.5 percent ceiling originally suggested by the Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). However, she added that any changes would not be made until after the 2003 Duma elections. JAC
POLICE OFFICER WHO THREATENED TO KILL JOURNALIST IS BEING INVESTIGATED
A criminal case has been launched against an Interior Ministry officer Sergei Lapin for threatening the life and well being of "Novaya Gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 10 October. In October 2001, Politkovskaya fled to Western Europe because of death threats she allegedly received in connection with an article she wrote for the magazine about the disappearance of a resident of Chechnya named Zelimkhan Murdalov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Murdalov had been arrested in January 2001 by OMON officers in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug on suspicion of possessing narcotics. He was kept for some time in jail and then disappeared without a trace. Lapin is being charged not only in connection with the threats he allegedly made against Politkovskaya but also in connection with Murdalov's disappearance. JAC
ANOTHER RNE BRANCH LIQUIDATED
An Omsk Oblast court on 10 October ruled in favor of a suit by the oblast's prosecutor seeking the annulment of the registration of the oblast chapter of the ultranationalist movement Russian National Unity (RNE), RIA-Novosti reported. The court also found that the activities of the organization violated three federal laws, including the law on preventing extremist activities. It was shown during the hearing that the group distributes materials using stylized Nazi symbols and disseminates leaflets inciting racial conflict. Last June, prosecutors in Tomsk sought to ban another RNE branch, and in July prosecutors in Khabarovsk succeeded in banning the local RNE chapter there, polit.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June and 30 July 2002). JAC
RED GOVERNOR TO SEEK SECOND TERM
Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov has declared his intention to seek an additional term, VolgaInform reported on 10 October. Tikhonov, who was elected in December 2000, is a former Communist Duma deputy. He said he considers his likely challengers to be Anatolii Golovkov of Unified Russia, Sergei Sirotkin of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and well-known local businessman Pavel Pozhigailo. Tikhonov could not confirm reports that the head of the oblast's Interior Ministry department, General Gennadii Panin, also intends to run. JAC
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO ARMENIA
Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma pledged during talks in Yerevan on 10 October to strengthen bilateral political, military, and economic relations and trade, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Trade turnover doubled last year to reach $38.5 million and is expected to expand a further 30 percent this year, according to Kocharian. The two sides signed four bilateral agreements, including one between their respective defense ministries that provides for the training of Armenian personnel at Ukrainian military academies. Kuchma also met with the leaders of Armenian parliamentary factions. LF
ARMENIAN MINISTER BLAMES MEDIA FOR CONFUSION OVER WTO ADMISSION TERMS
Armenian Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian accused the media on 10 October of distorting comments he made last week on the reasons for the most recent delay in Armenia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Khachatrian denied stating on 3 October that the United States wants to delay Armenia's accession so that Armenia and Azerbaijan could join the WTO simultaneously. The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has already denied that Washington has set any such condition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). LF
NEW KARABAKH CABINET UNVEILED
Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on 9 October endorsed the list of new cabinet members submitted by Prime Minister Anoushavan Danielian, Noyan Tapan reported on 10 October. Outgoing Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian was not reappointed to that position, which remains vacant. "Haykakan zhamanak" on 9 October reported that the delay in naming the new cabinet was due to disagreements between Ghukasian and Armenian President Kocharian, and that Ghukasian opposed Melkumian's reappointment as foreign minister. Kocharian for his part was said to have demanded the replacement of National Security Department head Bako Sahakian, who nonetheless retained his post in the new cabinet. LF
MORE AZERBAIJANI CADETS SENT TO SERVE ON FRONT LINE
The number of cadets recently expelled from the Higher Military College in Baku and sent to serve at the front is not nine (as reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 10 October) but 62, Turan reported on 10 October. Nine cadets were expelled from the college in August for unspecified violations of discipline; a further 62 were expelled on 8 October and sent to the front. Parents of the young men protested that decision as insulting and staged a demonstration on 10 October outside the presidential administration building in Baku to demand a meeting with President Heidar Aliev. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO DESIGNATE ABKHAZIA AN AUTONOMOUS REPUBLIC
At the insistence of representatives of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, the Georgian parliament included in its agenda this week a constitutional amendment designating the breakaway unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia an autonomous republic within Georgia. The constitution adopted in 1995 failed to define the region's status within Georgia pending the restoration of the central government's control over the entire territory of Georgia. Deputies approved the proposed amendment unanimously on 10 October by 167 votes. It is not clear how that move will affect efforts by the UN to mediate a solution to the conflict on the basis of a draft document "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies Between Tbilisi and Sukhumi." LF
FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER DECLINES CO-CHAIRMANSHIP OF OPPOSITION MOVEMENT...
In an open letter to the two jailed leaders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, to leaders of the Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan and to the Executive Council of his own Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK), former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin rejected an offer by Abliyazov and Zhaqiyanov that he assume the post of DVK co-chairman. Kazhegeldin pointed out that it is difficult for him to coordinate opposition political activity from his exile abroad. He advocated instead creating a collective DVK leadership, that would include representatives of other opposition parties, in the form of a political council that would simultaneously serve as a shadow government of national unity, pending the advent to power of the consolidated opposition in free and fair elections. Kazhegeldin agreed to Abliyazov's proposal to name Asylbek Kozhakhmetov coordinator between DVK's political council and its regional organizations, and Tolen Toqtasynov and Amirzhan Qosanov to represent the DVK and RNPK as coordinators during the first six months of the political council's activity. LF
...CALLS FOR DRAFTING NEW KAZAKH CONSTITUTION
In the same open letter, which was dated 4 October and posted on forumkz.org on 9 October, Kazhegeldin also stressed the importance of embarking immediately on drafting a new constitution that would preclude a reversion to dictatorship and unite the people of Kazakhstan. He said international organizations (which he did not name) have offered assistance in preparing that document. Also needed, Kazhegeldin said, are proposals for reforming the judicial system and the secret services. He further advocated preparing for an opposition congress to be held as soon as possible that would draft both proposals for defying the new restrictive laws on the registration of political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2002) and a broader program of measures to achieve the opposition's proclaimed objective of "Kazakhstan without [President Nursultan] Nazarbaev." LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEPUTY DENIES TRYING TO SMUGGLE MOBILE PHONE INTO PRISON
Toqtasynov, who is a deputy to the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, rejected on 10 October as untrue the claim made the previous day by a senior Justice Ministry official that he solicited the aid of a prison inmate to try to pass a mobile phone to Abliyazov in the jail where he is serving his six-year term, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). He added that he lost his phone last week and believes it may have been stolen. Toqtasynov also rejected as untrue the Justice Ministry official's claim that Zhaqiyanov's lawyers have held several meetings with him since he was sentenced two months ago. LF
KAZAKHS FROM UZBEKISTAN TO HAVE PRECEDENCE IN REPATRIATION PROCESS
Kazakhstan's Demography and Migration Agency announced on 10 October that all 48 families of Kazakhs from abroad who will be permitted to settle in Kazakhstan this year within the framework of a long-term repatriation program will come from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Preference will be given to families from Kazakh-populated villages that were designated part of Uzbekistan's territory under the recently concluded border agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2002). LF
NEW OIL FIELDS DISCOVERED ON KAZAKHSTAN'S CASPIAN SHELF
Kazakhstan's national oil-and-gas company KazMunayGaz announced on 10 October the discovery of new oil reserves located in the Caspian Sea, some 80 kilometers southwest of the giant Kashagan field, ITAR-TASS reported. A trial well is producing some 2,300 barrels of crude per day. The estimated size of the new field was not specified. LF
DONORS PLEDGE $700 MILLION FOR KYRGYZSTAN
The third international donors' conference in Bishkek has resulted in pledges of loans and grants worth $700 million for the period 2003-05, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported. Approximately half that sum is earmarked for Kyrgyzstan's poverty-reduction program. Expressing his appreciation, President Askar Akaev said that sum "surpasses all expectations." He predicted that the financial assistance will enable his country to achieve annual GDP growth of 7 percent over the next three years, rather than 5 percent as originally planned. LF
KYRGYZSTAN, CHINA BEGIN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
Some 100 servicemen from the Chinese Liberation Army embarked on two-day maneuvers on 10 October with a similar number of Kyrgyz troops in mountainous terrain in Osh Oblast, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The maneuvers -- the first in which Chinese troops have ever participated abroad -- are intended to achieve "maximum coordination" between the two contingents in fighting international terrorist groups. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES EXTRA FUNDS FOR HISTORICAL MOVIE
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 10 October promised to allocate an additional 400 million Belarusian rubles ($214,000) early next year for the shooting of a historical epic movie called "Anastasiya of Slutsk," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka made this pledge during his visit to the film set in response to director Yury Yelkhau's request for more funding. The movie's original budget was equal to 1.4 billion Belarusian rubles. According to scanty historical accounts, Anastasiya of Slutsk was a duchess who played a major role in defending the town of Slutsk (south of Minsk) from an invasion of Crimean Tatars in the 16th century. Lukashenka reportedly said the picture should be "a genuine Belarusian film" showing the true history, culture, and mentality of the ancestors of present-day Belarusians. Slutsk in the 16th century was in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a vast multiethnic state comprising the whole area of today's Belarus as well as large chunks of Ukraine and Lithuania. The official written language of the duchy was Ruthenian, a Slavic language closely related to modern Belarusian and Ukrainian. JM
MINISTER SAYS BELARUS'S ECONOMIC MODEL IS TENABLE
Economy Minister Andrey Kabyakou said at the opening session of an international economic conference in Minsk on 10 October that Belarus's economic model has stood the test of time, Belapan reported. Kabyakou explained that the Belarusian model combines "free private initiative and competition with the government's active role, and efficiency with a high level of social security." Kabyakou added that this economic model has allowed Belarus to "overcome a deep recession, launch institutional market reform, avoid social shocks, and consolidate the country's statehood and sovereignty." JM
OPPOSITION LEADER CLAIMS UKRAINE HAS IMPORTED KOLCHUGA FROM BELARUS TO FOOL INSPECTORS
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, told journalists on 11 October that "opposition representatives have been informed by six sources, including customs officers and employees of a military unit, that a Kolchuga radar system was shipped from Belarus through the customs checkpoint at Slavutych to a military unit in the town of Lyubych (Chernihiv Oblast)," UNIAN reported. According to Tymoshenko, the radar unit was shipped in three railroad cars and repainted in Ukraine. Tymoshenko predicted that Kyiv will now inform Washington that no Kolchuga radar is missing in Ukraine, thus countering the U.S. allegations that Ukraine might have sold a Kolchuga unit to Iraq. Tymoshenko pledged to provide "in the near future" more information about the alleged shipment of the radar unit from Belarus to Ukraine. The Defense Ministry press service said later the same day that Tymoshenko's allegations are absolutely untrue. According to earlier media reports, a group of U.S. and British experts is to arrive in Ukraine on 13 October to conduct on-the-spot investigations into the alleged Kolchuga sale. JM
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TO RALLY IN KYIV ON 12 OCTOBER FOR 'TRIBUNAL' OVER KUCHMA
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told journalists at the UNIAN headquarters on 11 October that the opposition will form three columns of demonstrators that will converge on Kyiv's European Square at 2 p.m. local time on 12 October, UNIAN reported. Symonenko said the rally on European Square is planned as an "all-Ukrainian people's tribunal" to judge President Leonid Kuchma. According to Symonenko, similar "tribunals" will be organized in all Ukrainian regions on that day. JM
VERKHOVNA RADA STILL HAGGLES OVER PRO-GOVERNMENT MAJORITY
The parliamentary caucuses of Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party have announced that they will continue boycotting parliamentary debates during the upcoming session week, 15-18 October, UNIAN reported on 10 October. This announcement followed a futile meeting of parliamentary-caucus leaders devoted to discussing the impasse in the Verkhovna Rada, where a nominal, fragile majority is unable to vote effectively and pass laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). In a move aimed at persuading some deputies to join the pro-government majority, its leaders threatened to reappoint parliamentary committee heads to the detriment of the three opposition caucuses and Our Ukraine. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, against whom this threat appears to be primarily directed, said on 11 October that his bloc is not interested in "trade" over parliamentary committees and is not going to "lose its political forces" for opposing a possible redistribution of the posts of committee heads. JM
ESTONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER HOLDS TALKS IN LONDON
Sven Mikser made a two-day trip to London on 9 and 10 October, BNS reported. The first day he spoke on Estonia's view on recent developments in the European Union and NATO at a roundtable discussion chaired by General Sir Harry Johnson at the Royal United Services Institute of Defence Studies. Mikser also met with Bruce George, the chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee. On 10 September he discussed with British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon NATO enlargement, bilateral Estonian-British defense cooperation, Baltic cooperation projects, the international fight against terrorism and the world security situation. SG
LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF
By a vote to 65 to one, with 18 abstentions, the parliament approved Security Police Deputy Chief Guntis Rutkis as the head of the new Corruption Prevention Bureau on 10 October, LETA reported. The post was to have been filled by 1 August, but the parliament rejected three previously proposed candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). President Vaira Vike-Freiberga praised the decision, saying, "Latvia can not afford to wait any longer until an institution coordinating and raising the efficiency of the fight against corruption starts working," BNS reported. The parliament elected on 5 October will hold its first session on 5 November. SG
U.S., LITHUANIA SIGN ACCORD ON CURTAILING SPREAD OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
In Vilnius on 10 October, Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Ian Brzezinski signed a bilateral-cooperation agreement on combating the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the world, ELTA reported. Brzezinski was part of a large delegation of U.S. NATO officials, headed by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, which is visiting all NATO candidate countries from 6-11 October. The delegation, which also includes Deputy Assistant Secretary for NATO Robert Bratke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nordic/Baltic States Heather Conley, and U.S. National Security Council Deputy Director for NATO and West European Affairs Kurt Volker, held talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who informed them of his country's preparation for NATO membership not only by improving armed forces, but also by building political stability and strengthening the economy and civil services, with special attention given to preventing corruption. In talks with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Burns expressed his thanks for Lithuania's contribution to the fight against international terrorism. SG
FRANCE ENDORSES POLAND'S EU MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in Warsaw on 10 October that France will stand by Poland during the last stages of membership negotiations with the European Union, PAP reported. At a news conference following his meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, de Villepin praised Poland's efforts on its road to the EU. Commenting on Iraq, the French minister said France views military action to force Iraq to admit weapons inspectors a "very last resort," and only to be used in the event that international pressure on Baghdad fails, AP reported. "We do not think that it is necessary to resort to the use of force at this first [UN] resolution," de Villepin said, adding that France is promoting a two-step UN resolution process. JM
POLISH POPULIST LEADER WANTS TO OBSERVE IRAQI REFERENDUM
Lawmaker Andrzej Lepper, the populist leader of the farmers union Self-Defense, has expressed his willingness to go as an observer to the upcoming Iraqi referendum, following an invitation he received from Baghdad, Polish media reported on 10 October. In order to travel to Iraq with a diplomatic passport, Lepper needs approval from Sejm speaker Marek Borowski, who denied Lepper's request on 11 October, PAP reported. Borowski reportedly failed to persuade Lepper not to go to Iraq. "I'm not going there to support [Saddam] Hussein, only to see how human rights are being observed there and what [all] this has in common with democracy," Lepper said. It is not clear how Lepper will travel to Iraq, since he told journalists that his ordinary passport has been invalid for some time. JM
FORMER CZECH PREMIER REGARDS KLAUS AS HIS STRONGEST PRESIDENTIAL COMPETITOR...
Following Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus's announcement on 10 October that he might seek the post of president, former Prime Minister Milos Zeman said he regards Klaus as his most powerful rival for that post, CTK reported. "Vaclav Klaus is the most difficult rival I have come across in my political life, [but] I have already defeated him twice," Zeman said. He said he defeated Klaus in the parliamentary elections in North Moravia in 1996, where both were leaders of their respective parties, the ODS and the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), and in the 1998 general elections. Zeman has registered in the primary the CSSD is conducting to select its presidential candidate, but he told journalists on 10 October that he is not "announcing my candidacy yet" and that he is running in the primary "only to examine the opinion of the majority in the CSSD." MS
...IS PRAISED BY CZECH PRESIDENT
President Vaclav Havel on 10 October said he is satisfied with the country report of the European Commission published one day earlier and that the minority cabinet that Zeman headed until the June elections deserves most of the praise for that achievement, CTK reported. The agency cited presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek as saying Havel "hopes the current cabinet of Premier Vladimir Spidla will continue this work." In turn, Zeman was quoted by the news agency as saying, "One of the biggest successes of my four-year government is...that it markedly accelerated the preparations for EU entry." Prime Minister Spidla told journalists the same day that the most important aspect of the commission's report rests in its consideration of the Czech Republic as being prepared for accession. "We are on the verge," Spidla said, according to CTK. "The doors to an extraordinary opportunity are opening, not just for the Czech Republic but for all of Europe." MS
BRITISH CIVIL RIGHTS GROUP LOSES COURT BATTLE ON BEHALF OF DEPORTED CZECHS
A lawsuit launched by the British Liberty civil rights organization on behalf of the European Roma Rights Center was rejected by a British court on 10 October, AP reported. The judge ruled that under the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees, the U.K. is under no obligation to refrain from "taking steps to prevent a would-be or a potential refugee from approaching its border in order to be in a position to claim asylum." The lawsuit argued that checks first introduced in July 2001 on passengers flying to destinations in the U.K. from Prague's international airport in an effort to cut the flow of Romany refugees from the Czech Republic are in breach of international law. MS
EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT SAYS SLOVAKIA HAS MAJORITY OF EU WORK BEHIND IT
European Commission President Romano Prodi on 10 October told Slovak journalists in Brussels that their country has completed 80-90 percent of the work necessary for gaining EU membership and it should have no major problem in finishing the rest, according to TASR. "If you do not fall asleep, you will be in the EU," Prodi said. President Rudolf Schuster said in Bratislava the same day that the commission's report confirms that Slovakia is a strong candidate for accession, according to TASR. Schuster noted that the report also mentions lingering shortcomings. He said that, in his opinion, Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who was in charge of minority and human rights in the previous cabinet, has not been successful in advancing solutions to Romany minority issues. However, he added, he doubts the decision to transfer the handling of Roma issues to the Culture Ministry, as the incoming government decided to do, is a suitable solution. MS
HUNGARIAN AUSCHWITZ SURVIVOR WINS NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE
The Swedish Royal Academy on 10 October awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Hungary's Imre Kertesz for his work "presenting the experiences of a fragile man exposed to the barbaric tyranny of history," Hungarian and international media reported. Kertesz, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, wrote his novels about the Holocaust and its aftermath. His books were less popular in Hungary than in Western Europe. The 73-year-old writer is the first person in Hungarian literary history to win the prestigious award. Hungarian President Ferenc Madl sent a congratulatory telegram to Kertesz, saying, "It is again a feast to be Hungarian." Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy released a statement expressing his gratitude to the writer "for bringing such glory to his homeland." MSZ
POLLS SHOW INCUMBENT BUDAPEST MAYOR LEADING THE RACE
Some 51 percent of Budapest residents said they will vote for incumbent Mayor Gabor Demszky in the 20 October local elections, while 38 percent favor right-wing candidate Pal Schmitt, Budapest dailies reported on 11 October, citing a Median poll. Socialist candidate Erzsebet Nemeth lagged a distant third at 9 percent. Support for Demszky has dropped by 1 percentage point since last month, while Schmitt's popularity increased by 4 percentage points. In other news, the gap in popularity between the senior coalition Socialist Party and the opposition FIDESZ party narrowed from September to October, but the Socialists still lead at 51 percent support, compared to 40 percent for FIDESZ, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 11 October, quoting a poll conducted by Szonda Ipsos. MSZ
ARMED KOSOVARS ATTACK RETURNING SERBS
About 600 ethnic Albanians clashed with Spanish and Argentinian UN police as well as Italian KFOR troops in Peja on 10 October, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Albanians used stones and Molotov cocktails to protest the arrival of a busload of about 50 mainly elderly Serbs, who are in the process of returning to the nearby village of Osojane and had come to Peja to open bank accounts. The police fought the Albanians for two hours with tear gas while the Serbs took shelter in the bank. The Serbs subsequently returned to the bus and their homes. At least two police were injured in the clash. Members of the international community have repeatedly told the Kosovars that they must treat the Serbian minority according to European standards if Kosova is to have any possibility of attaining independence. PM
KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER HAILS UNMIK PLAN
Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 10 October that the recent plan by Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), to reintegrate the two halves of Mitrovica is highly commendable and will have the support of his government, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). In related news, Reuters reported the same day that a Kosova court has reduced the charges against Serbian extremist leader Milan Ivanovic from attempted murder to organizing a violent demonstration and released him on bail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 October 2002). PM
TOP TV RATINGS FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
Ratings agency AGB has calculated that nearly 1.5 million Serbian television viewers watched the 9 October debate between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 10 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). The only larger audience recorded by the ratings service was that for the final game of the World Basketball Championship in September, which the Yugoslav team won. PM
GREEK FIRM ACQUIRES MAJORITY STAKE IN MONTENEGRIN OIL COMPANY
Hellenic Petroleum has acquired a 54.33 percent stake in Jugopetrol Kotor for nearly $65 million, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 10 October. The Greek firm pledged to invest an additional nearly $35 million in the Montenegrin company and almost $5.5 million more in infrastructure and social programs. PM
MACEDONIA: GOVERNMENT PLATFORM AGREED
Negotiators for the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) agreed on a common platform for the future government, "Dnevnik" reported on 11 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 October 2002). It seems clear that the BDI will have four ministries, while the SDSM and the LDP together will hold 10 posts in the new cabinet led by SDSM Chairman Branko Crvenkovski. The BDI, which is led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, reportedly wants at least one power ministry -- that is, either the Defense, Interior, or Foreign ministry. Some observers note, however, that it is unlikely that the BDI will be granted a ministry linked to state security. Some other observers feel that the large ethnic Albanian minority must have a visible presence in the power ministries if the Albanians are to be truly integrated into Macedonian public life. UB/PM
SPECIAL MACEDONIAN POLICE UNIT TO BE REORGANIZED?
The Interior Ministry announced on 10 October that plans are under consideration to reorganize the elite police unit known as the Lions, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. According to the plans, one part of the Lions will become part of the border police while another part will be retrained as an antiterrorism unit. The announcement came in response to a statement by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, who had called for the Lions to be dissolved because they do not contribute to the democratic process. The Lions are widely regarded as an armed branch of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of outgoing Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his hard-line interior minister, Ljube Boskovski. Dpa reported from Skopje, however, that the Lions have no intention of disappearing from the scene completely. A spokesman said: "It is hard to believe that patriots who successfully defended the country last year present a larger threat to democracy in Macedonia than former rebel commanders, who have been allowed to take seats in the parliament." UB/PM
SLOVENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN BEGINS
Campaigning for the 10 November presidential elections has begun, Hina reported from Ljubljana on 11 October. Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek is considered the front-runner in the race to succeed Milan Kucan, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 September 2002). Both Kucan and Drnovsek are former communist officials who played key roles in the struggle for independence in 1991. PM
ROMANIAN POLLS SHOW PSD, NASTASE LEADING...
Two public-opinion polls released on 10 October showed the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase are the frontrunners in the parliamentary and presidential elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. According to the poll conducted by the INSOMAR institute, the PSD would garner 47.2 percent of the vote if elections were held next week, followed at a distance by the Greater Romania Party (PRM), with 18.7 percent; the National Liberal Party (PNL), 12.2 percent; the Democratic Party, 10.4 percent; and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), 6.8 percent. Asked whom they believe will be Romania's next president, 48.5 percent named current Premier Adrian Nastase, 17.2 percent PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, 12.2 percent Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, and 9.3 percent PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan. A poll released the same day by CURS produced similar findings: 46 percent for the PSD, 16 percent for the PRM, 14 percent for the PNL, 10 percent for the Democratic Party, and 7 percent for the UDMR. MS
...BUT ONE POLL INDICATES PRESIDENTIAL RACE IS NOT DECIDED
According to the CURS poll, a Stolojan-Basescu team running in tandem as candidates for president and premier, respectively, would score 35 percent of the vote and thus "pose problems" for any PSD candidate for the post. If the tandem were to be reversed, it would score 25 percent of the vote, the dailies "National," "Adevarul," and "Curentul" reported on 11 October. MS
CNSAS MEMBERS DEMAND THAT CHAIRMAN STEP DOWN
Three members of the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) demanded on 10 October that CNSAS Chairman Gheorghe Onisoru resign and that PSD-nominated CNSAS member Mihai Gheorghe be dismissed from the council, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Horia Roman Patapievici, Andrei Plesu, and Mircea Dinescu accused Onisoru of not defending the CNSAS resolutely enough against attempts by the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) to manipulate data on those who served the "former political police" and to procrastinate on delivering that data to the CNSAS. They also said Gheorghe's position that those Securitate members who acted on orders are not guilty of "serving as political police" nullifies any reason for the CNSAS's existence. The three said that the SRI has delivered data on only 10 of the 104 members of the former Securitate suspected of having served as "political police." Of these, six had retired before the 1989 overthrow of regime, one had done so in 1990, and the other three were said to be "unknown," although they had been "notorious torturers" serving as heads of section in the communist Interior Ministry, they claimed. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES DEFENDING VACAROIU, ACCUSES JOURNALISTS
President Ion Iliescu on 10 October accused journalists from the daily "Romania libera" of deliberately falsifying his statement on the "Vacaroiu affair." Iliescu said that the report in the daily said "Iliescu considers that Vacaroiu is the victim of a calumny," whereas his statement was "he [i.e., Vacaroiu] considers he is the victim of a calumny." The journalists who misquoted him, Iliescu said, either did that on purpose or should be sent back to school to learn basic rules of grammar. He also said he "reserves the right" to refuse contact with journalists who "are either unprofessional or of bad faith," since this is not the first such incident. He added that he did not wish to comment on the affair, according to the daily "Curentul"(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 October 2002). MS
ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS PRM-SPONSORED MOTION
The Senate on 10 October rejected a motion submitted by the opposition PRM to debate what the motion defined as "democracy in danger," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The PRM said the ruling PSD has subordinated the judiciary to its political will, reduced local administration autonomy, is preparing the ground for falsifying the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections, has reintroduced censorship, and is guilty of ethnic discrimination directed against the country's ethnic majority. The motion was defeated by a vote of 79 against and 30 in favor, with 10 abstentions by Democratic Party senators. MS
UDMR CLASH BETWEEN 'RADICALS' AND 'MODERATES' ON HORIZON
Following the lawsuit by Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes against the organization's leadership, UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said the bishop's action will be debated at the next congress of the UDMR, Mediafax reported. Marko said he will personally not propose that Toekes be stripped of his honorary chairmanship, "but others might do so." He said Toekes is now on par with the PRM, which has also sued the UDMR. Meanwhile, the "radical" group in the organization is mobilizing in defense of the bishop, according to a report in the daily "Curentul." The daily says the radicals intend to support a Toekes candidacy for the UDMR chairmanship at the party's February 2003 congress and that if Toekes refuses to run against Marko, either Reformist Bloc leader Tibor Toro or Odorheiul-Secuiesc Mayor Jenoe Szasz will be proposed as alternative candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002). MS
SWISS AUTHORITIES DEPORT MORE ROMA BACK TO ROMANIA
Two further groups of Romanian Roma arrived on 10 October in Bucharest on chartered flights accompanied by Swiss officials, Mediafax reported. The majority of the 173 expelled Roma had crossed he border into Switzerland from France and only four of them had passports. The rest claimed that their passports had been stolen or that they had destroyed the documents, apparently in an attempt to avoid the nullification of their travel documents for a period of up to five years, which the law allows for. Another group of 60 Roma are expected to arrive on 11 October from Switzerland. MS
TRANSDNIESTER SECURITY UNIT FAILS TO CAPTURE RUSSIAN CANTEEN AT TIRASPOL MILITARY AIRPORT
A spokesman for the Russian contingent stationed in Transdniester on 10 October told RFE/RL that Russian troops foiled an attempt by a Tiraspol state-security unit to take over a building at the Tiraspol military airport. The spokesman said the Tiraspol forces tried to take over the building that houses the airport's canteen, saying they were acting on the personal orders of separatist leader Igor Smirnov. The spokesman said the Russian contingent's forces took the "required measures" and the Transdniester forces withdrew. The spokesman did not specify what measures were taken. ITAR-TASS quoted a spokesman for the separatists' State Security Ministry as saying no attempt was made to take over the building by force and that the unit only intended to take over a building that is not in use "to prevent its plundering." ITAR-TASS reported observers as saying the incident reflects the tense relations between the Russian contingent and the separatists, who claim that all assets of the Russian Army in the region are the property of the Transdniester people. MS
CHISINAU WEEKLY'S EDITOR IN CHIEF DETAINED
Sergiu Afanasiu, editor in chief of the weekly "Accente," and two of the weekly's journalists were detained by the authorities on 10 October, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. They were charged with blackmail and accepting bribes. Police searched the offices of the weekly, confiscating $1,500 in cash, materials prepared for the next issue of the weekly, and archives. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said Afanasiu asked for a bribe from a businessman to refrain from publishing compromising materials on him. Afanasiu's lawyer, Roman Mihaes, said the case is a police fabrication aimed at preventing the weekly from publishing compromising materials on State Security Service Director Ion Ursu, Interior Minister George Papuc, and Moldovan Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Turcanu. He said that those three have warned him in the past to stop publishing such materials. "Accente" staff members said police acted on the orders of the highest echelons of Moldovan leadership. MS
BRAGHIS ALLIANCE ACCUSES COMMUNISTS OF PROCRASTINATING ON REFERENDUM DRIVE
The Braghis Alliance on 10 October accused the Communist majority in the parliament of procrastination on voting on the referendum initiative to change the country's electoral system, Infotag reported. The party's leader, former Premier Dumitru Braghis, said more than two months have passed since the Alliance submitted to the Central Election Commission a petition signed by over 200,000 citizens in support of the initiative, which calls for a referendum to decide on the issue. In line with current legislation, the parliament must decide whether to hold the plebiscite. The Party of Moldovan Communists majority rejected the accusation, saying that under current legislation, the debate in the parliament must take place within six months after the petition has been submitted. MS
MOLDOVAN EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTIES TO MERGE
The permanent bureaus of the extraparliamentary Party of Democratic Forces and the Social-Liberal Party on 10 October decided in a joint meeting that the two formations should merge, Flux reported. The meeting decided that the national conventions of the two parties should meet on 20 October to approve the merger, which would take place at a joint congress on 1 December. MS
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO BRITAIN
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski wrapped up his visit to Britain with a one-hour meeting with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, on 9 October, BTA reported. Saxecoburggotski, who is a former Bulgarian king, and Prince Charles reportedly discussed possibilities for the improvement of organic farming in Bulgaria. Earlier the same day, Saxecoburggotski held talks with British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon on Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession as well as plans for reforming NATO. "For us it is very important to have an idea of the decisions to be adopted at the Prague summit not only regarding enlargement, but also regarding reforms in NATO command," Deputy Foreign Minster Lyubomir Ivanov said after the meeting. UB
BULGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DISCUSSES PRESSING ISSUES WITH PRIME MINISTER
Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 10 October that his party would withdraw a lawsuit against the government in the event that the government accepts as binding the parliamentary decision of 2 October on the decommissioning of the older blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, mediapool.bg reported. The BSP filed a lawsuit against the government with the Supreme Administrative Court because the government did not agree to the parliamentary decision. The government argued that there are no substantial differences between the government position and the parliamentary decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 9 October 2002). Stanishev also demanded that the privatization of the state telecommunications company BTK be halted, as he considers the prices offered by the two remaining bidders too low (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2002). UB
DOES THE SERBIAN PRESIDENCY MATTER?
A familiar scenario appears increasingly likely as the second round of the Serbian presidential elections on 13 October draws nearer: a turnout of less than 50 percent, resulting in new elections in December.
This is reminiscent of the last Serbian presidential elections in 1997, when a low turnout prevented ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj of the Radical Party from being elected, even though he defeated his opponent from Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party. While not gathering enough votes to be a contender in the second round this time, Seselj has called for a boycott, which might prove decisive in preventing the vote from being valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2002).
Turnout in the first round on 29 September was a mere 56 percent, which means that a great many voters who stayed at home in the first round would have to go to the polls this time to compensate for supporters of nationalist candidates who observe the boycott.
The 9 October televised presidential debate -- a first in Serbia -- might have been the only opportunity to motivate voters after a lackluster electoral campaign. There is widespread disenchantment among the electorate with the economic situation and the feuding between Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.
Some Serbian media have speculated that, in fact, Djindjic has been banking on the presidential elections being invalid in order to delay the expected cohabitation with Kostunica. Djindjic will, however, most likely be the loser if the second round is invalid. Kostunica is likely to win over Miroljub Labus in any case, thus boosting Kostunica's credibility when the balloting is repeated.
Defeat in the second round will make Labus -- even in the event that the vote is invalid due to a low turnout -- a lame-duck candidate and unlikely to run again in a rerun. Djindjic's popularity is too low for him to stand in for Labus, and no other candidate from Djindjic's Democratic Party or its allies seems likely at the moment to have sufficient support to pose a serious challenge to Kostunica.
In such a situation, it is possible that Seselj and not a reformist would face Kostunica in a December vote. In any event, a Kostunica victory seems likely, leading to a period of cohabitation between him and a cabinet and parliament controlled by Djindjic.
What would a President Kostunica mean for Serbia? He would probably continue his policy of hesitant cooperation with international organizations and a reluctance either to face up to the past or to engage in rapid and painful economic and social reforms.
The Serbian presidency is not a strong one, but its powers have rarely been used to the full, thereby leaving room for a new president to develop the institution as he sees fit.
The presidency was tailored to suit Milosevic, who relied on extra-institutional means -- such as control of the media and the use of security forces -- against the political opposition. The constitution itself was never followed to the letter. In any event, it defined minimal powers rather than limits.
After Milosevic changed offices to the federal level in 1997, the Serbian presidency diminished drastically in political stature. The only requirement for his successor, Milan Milutinovic, was to obey his boss rather than use his powers.
The contradiction between the presidential powers as set down by law and the office's lack of political stature in practice was further accentuated after the fall of Milosevic in 2000, when Milutinovic became the only institutional holdover of the previous regime. The indicted war criminal subsequently scaled back his involvement in public life and exercised few of his powers.
Although the current system can be described as semi-presidential, the president's powers are fewer than in France, for example. The president may propose a candidate for prime minister (after consulting with the strongest party in parliament) and can veto legislation passed by the parliament. The parliament can, however, override the veto. The president is thus only able to delay legislation, rather than block it outright.
A crucial question is the power of the president to dissolve the parliament, which Kostunica demanded during the election campaign. But the constitution permits the president to do so only on the recommendation of the government.
In addition to its formal powers, however, the presidential office is likely to carry considerable weight in Serbia for three reasons. First, the federal presidency -- according to any new arrangement between Serbia and Montenegro -- is likely to be a weak office if it is preserved at all. The chief executive will probably be indirectly elected and possibly be a political figure from Montenegro in order to secure Montenegrin support for the new union.
Second, the instability of the party system and the strong division between the Djindjic and Kostunica camps suggest that the prime minister of Serbia is likely to be less secure than the president of Serbia, who will be in power for four years.
Third, the authoritarianism in the country's political culture works to the advantage of the president, as has been the case with Kostunica so far. He has been able to build up his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to be second only to Djindjic's Democratic Party in terms of organization and first in polls largely due to the advantage of incumbency.
Nevertheless, the power of the president should not be overestimated. The regional trend in Southeastern Europe points toward a more ceremonial presidency, as has been the case in Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Only Croatia and to some degree Bosnia have stronger presidential systems. The inability of the Serbian president to influence the reform agenda, except indirectly through his political party, might allow the presidential system in Serbia evolve in this direction.
Recently, the director of the Serbian election monitoring NGO CeSiD, Slobodanka Nedovic, noted that "although Serbia has a presidential system, the [track record] of current Serbian President Milan Milutinovic shows that Serbia can function without a president quite well."
Florian Bieber is senior nonresident research associate at the European Centre for Minority Issues (email@example.com).