28 August 2002, Volume
WILL FELIKS KULOV BE RELEASED BEFORE KYRGYZ PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO U.S.?
Human rights activists, government officials, and reporters speculated this week in Bishkek that Feliks Kulov, imprisoned former vice president of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, would be released from his jail cell in a gesture of goodwill on the eve of a trip next month to the United States by President Askar Akaev to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly and meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on 23 September, reported "Litsa," an independent Kyrgyz newspaper, on 27 August.
Kulov's case has long been perceived as a bellwether of the real intentions of increasingly authoritarian President Akaev to tolerate political rivals and a more democratic political system. Kulov was arrested in September 2000 soon after announcing plans for running in the presidential election, and convicted on 22 January 2001 by the Bishkek Military Court of abuse of his official position while serving as national security minister in 1997-98. The sudden arrest, while Kulov was getting a check-up at a clinic, seemed related to an anticipated victory in his electoral district. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, although previously acquitted in August 2000 on the same charges. His lawyers appealed, but in July 2001, he faced new charges related to alleged financial dealings while he was governor of the Chu Oblast from 1993-97 and mayor of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in 1998-99. On 8 May, the Pervomai Raion Court of Bishkek sentenced Kulov and his co-defendant Aleksandr Gasanov to 10 and six years in prison respectively, with confiscation of property and a fine of about $415,000. Lawyers and human rights groups say the charges were either fabricated for political motivations, or would not warrant imprisonment. The U.S. and the European Union agree that Kulov is a political prisoner and have called for his release.
The need for a visible sign of human rights progress is acute now, not only for Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. signed an agreement to establish military bases in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom after the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Currently 2,000 American and coalition troops are stationed there. But American officials have continued to express concern both publicly and privately about Akaev's increasingly harsh repression of political rivals, particularly after five unarmed demonstrators were shot and killed in Aksy Raion in Djalalabad Oblast in March after mass unrest over the jailing of another political opposition leader, Azimbek Beknazarov. Local human rights groups' expectations about the power of American human rights intervention have escalated with its military presence.
Historically, with pressure to display rapid improvement under the laser glare of a summit, the dramatic symbol preferred by both the U.S. and its Soviet and post-Soviet summit partners has often been political-prisoner releases. Hence, the speculation about Kulov's release now, although earlier this year the government was bent on putting him behind bars for a long time and intimidating his followers and other would-be challengers to the president.
Why else is Kulov's release needed now? With growing unrest about the mishandling of the Aksy tragedy and the lack of democracy, in the last month a "dump Akaev" movement has picked up steam, drawing in 22 of the major NGO and political leaders, Kabar news agency reported on 15 August (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 22 August 2002). The Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev and Reforms for the People, as the group calls itself, have convened two "people's conferences" calling on Akaev to step down, and leaders believe they have significant public backing for their challenge with a rolling tide of grassroots pickets around the country. The group says it will use "peaceful and constitutional" means to pressure Akaev to turn over his duties to the prime minister temporarily, to form a coalition government until elections can be held. The government quickly denounced the movement as "unconstitutional."
Policy analysts at the prestigious International Crisis Group (ICG), recommended to the opposition in an analytical report on the challenge to Akaev released last week to "develop political parties as engines of change rather than the present concentration on individuals, human rights organizations, and committees." In the same key as Western advisers, now the jailed Kulov is also counseling a more cautious path to avoid destabilization, involving the formation of political parties (presumably under a more fair associations law and better media freedom than is currently in place), a parliamentary process, and eventually presidential elections in 2005 -- not through a mass movement to dump Akaev now.
But the "individuals, human rights organizations, and committees" cannot be stopped. Well-known human rights activists Ramazan Dyryldaev of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee and Topchubek Turgunaliev, former political prisoner and leader of the Erkindik Party, as well as journalist Zamira Sydykova, Beknazarov, and others announced on 14 August that they will chair various committees within the resignation movement to organize public discussions and to make decisions by vote regarding mass actions this coming fall.
Typically, mass social movements in the Soviet and post-Soviet era take the form of human rights campaigns or committees rather than political parties during such a phase when neither law nor practice existed for legitimized political parties nor unimpeded coverage of their activities in the mass media. In this, they are no different than the dissident committees that preceded Solidarity in Poland which ultimately, only after legalization, a roundtable process with the communist government, and long struggle evolved into a political party and ultimately a presidency. Trying to work backwards from a weak parliamentary process before legalization and legitimacy are achieved will hardly work in a country like Kyrgyzstan with less sturdy civic and democratic traditions than Poland.
Worried about "radicalism," ICG also urged opposition groups to "unite around a public commitment to ensuring free and fair elections as the only route to a peaceful transfer of power and cooperate with the government and parliament to develop laws that will allow this to happen." With Kyrgyzstan's track record of failure to enforce and respect association laws or legalize NGO election monitoring, and frustrating years of workshops and NGO coalitions to revise association law with the help of Western experts, the opposition understandably lacks trust in the goodwill to make these real changes. ICG describes the opposition as "radicalized"; Akaev calls them "extremists"; they might call themselves "logical." Some sort of gesture seems in order to avoid a worsening crisis of confidence; hence, Kulov's release.
While Akaev backed away from a law amnestying the perpetrators of the Aksy shootings, returning it to parliament, he has not moved to prosecute them or enable an impartial investigation of the tragedy and responsibility for it, including his own. Mindful of the original motivation for mass protests, in an interview with the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa" summarized by akipress.org on 19 August, Kulov argued that calls for a campaign to impeach Akaev were unrealistic. Kulov said that rather than demand Akaev's resignation, the opposition People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan of which he is president will demand that those officials responsible for the deaths of the five demonstrators be brought to trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). Yet opposition and human rights leaders believe that the orders for the shootings go all the way to the top and that recognition even by the nomenklatura of that reality will lead to a faster resignation of Akaev and acceleration of the political process toward earlier elections.
It remains to be seen if a radicalized social movement would now be willing to accept prosecution of lower-level perpetrators of human rights crimes as a substitute for the resignation of the chief executive they believe to be responsible for them. Most likely prosecutions will not go through quickly in any event (nor would that necessarily be advisable in a state with a weak judiciary that cannot assure a fair trial). The release of Kulov, who is championing this "justice" cause rather than the "democracy" cause of the resignation of Akaev, would at least mean that the issue would not be forgotten and that some kind of restorative justice might commence.
Thirty years ago, in the events known as "Bloody Sunday," British soldiers shot dead 13 Northern Irish Catholic demonstrators, a tragedy that sparked decades of terrorism and civil strife. Only after many years, did the United Kingdom under the Blair government come to grips with government accountability and convene a Bloody Sunday Tribunal with outside Commonwealth judges to assess the truth of the tragedy, proceedings which have faced daunting procedural and political obstacles even in this established democracy. If Kyrgyzstan, a post-Soviet transition nation facing economic deprivation and terrorist threats already, does not grapple immediately with its own "Bloody Sunday" in Aksy through prosecution of those responsible for the tragedy, it, too, could face a long period of troubles.
"Litsa" reporters managed to dig up a photo of President Bush, then governor of the state of Texas, together with Kulov, at that time governor of Chu Oblast, dating back some years, when Kulov toured Bush's ranch during a visit to the U.S. They featured it with an article in their paper this week titled "Feliks Kulov Will Be Freed." "Litsa" also speculated that Kulov's case may have been raised in a meeting last month on Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan between Akaev and Boris Yeltsin, described by the paper as "the first Russian president, who never deigned to jail his political opponents" and who was a known master of the graceful exit.
Kulov's release could kill two birds with one stone, by appearing to mollify U.S. human rights concerns but also projecting a more moderate figure onto the Kyrgyz political scene at a time of turmoil who will not dump Akaev but dampen public anger by devising a temporary workaround for the problem created by Akaev's autocracy with an Aksy "truth commission." There are other advantages to his persona: in previous statements issued from jail, he has stressed the need for Kyrgyzstan to maintain good relations with the United States and with Russia and that both are required in the region for a balance of power. Ultimately, Kulov's release from political imprisonment and implementation of his call for meaningful prosecution are vital to Kyrgyzstan's stabilization and the credibility of U.S. human rights intervention, but should be seen in the context of an unpredictable tide of public fury and an uncertain willingness of a government to address wrongs truthfully. CAF
GOVERNMENT CLAIMS PUBLIC ENDORSES REFERENDUM.
Election officials announced on 25 August that voters approved 39 constitutional changes by an overwhelming margin. But opposition groups say the government rigged the referendum. The director of Azerbaijan's vote-counting system, Igbal Babaev, said nearly 90 percent of the country's 4.4 million voters participated in the referendum., and with 83 percent of the ballots counted, 96 percent were in favor of the constitutional amendments. President Heidar Aliyev said the country needed to change the way parliament and the president are elected to bring the constitution into Western standards. Opposition groups boycotted the vote and said the changes would hurt democracy, including one they say is designed to make it easier for Aliyev to set up his son Ilham as president. The groups along with independent media also battled before the 24 August plebiscite to gain permission to monitor and report on it independently. The Supreme Court ruled on 19 August that the 8 July decision by the Central Elections Commission requiring media outlets to submit by 15 July lists of journalists who wished to cover the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments referred only to those journalists who wished to monitor the voting, Turan reported. The court said there were to be no restrictions on journalists wishing to cover the referendum. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 26 August)OPPOSITION MARCHES, CLAIMS REFERENDUM FALSIFIED...
A mass march and demonstration took place in Baku on 20 August to protest the 24 August constitutional referendum, Turan, Reuters, and Russian news agencies reported. Reuters and ITAR-TASS estimated the number of participants at 3,000, Interfax 5,000, and Turan more than 10,000. Participants called for a boycott of the referendum and for the resignation of President Aliev, whom they accused of anticonstitutional actions. Later, after the referendum at a press conference in Baku on 26 August, the chairmen of four major opposition parties that coordinated voting observation in the referendum again rejected as falsified the authorities' claims of overwhelming support for those changes, Turan and Reuters reported. They claimed that voter participation was no higher than 15 percent, rather than over 88 percent as the Central Election Commission claimed, and charged that the authorities resorted to threats, violence, and bribery to create the impression of backing for the planned changes. Members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party responded to those allegations with shouts of "liars," according to Reuters. The opposition condemned the referendum as "illegal," and said they will contest it in court, including the European Court for Human Rights. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 August)...AS U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN.
Speaking in Washington on 26 August, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that reports from the U.S. Embassy in Baku suggest "widespread irregularities, such as voter-list fraud, multiple voting, and ballot-box stuffing" during the course of the 24 August vote, Reuters reported. Boucher said those reports raise concern that "this referendum did very little to advance democratization or to lay the groundwork for a presidential election in the fall of 2003 that can meet international standards." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August)ODIHR HEAD SAYS COUNCIL OF EUROPE SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSULTED...
In a 22 August interview with Turan, Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, who is the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said his organization was not consulted over the wording of the constitutional amendments. He expressed regret that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission was not consulted either. The OSCE did not send monitors to observe the vote because it was invited to do so too late, on 25 July, said Stoudmann, who also called for registration of local monitors after reports they were being blocked. Stoudmann also expressed doubt that all voters will be able to comprehend the complexities of the proposed changes, which are subdivided into eight blocks of questions. Meanwhile, in a statement released on 21 August, the Central Election Commission (CEC) denied opposition parties' allegations that it refused to register thousands of opposition supporters to monitor voting in the referendum, Turan reported. The statement said opposition parties could collect from the CEC registration certificates for all the observers they proposed; it had previously ruled that would-be monitors must collect that documentation in person. Turan suggested that the CEC may have softened its position under pressure from the international diplomatic community. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 August)...AS RULING PARTY ACCUSES INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS.
Speaking on 20 August at a roundtable discussion organized by the OSCE's Baku office, presidential administration official Shahin Aliyev argued that unspecified international organizations violated Azerbaijani law by financing the opposition's campaign for a referendum boycott, according to zerkalo.az on 21 August. A second presidential administration official, Ali Hasanov, similarly condemned alleged attempts by those organizations to prove that the referendum outcome will be falsified. He warned that a criminal investigation could be opened into such lobbying. Hasanov reiterated the claim that of 4.8 million registered voters 3.5 million have participated in the discussion of, and expressed their support for, the proposed constitutional amendments. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August).AUTHORITIES SET NEW CONDITIONS FOR MEETING VILLAGERS' DEMANDS.
During talks on 18 August, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov told residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku that their fellow villagers detained following clashes with police in early June will be released only after the villagers formally approve the authorities' candidate for the new local government head in the district of Sabunchi, Turan reported on 19 August. The identity of that candidate is not known. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August).BAKU REFUSES CHECHEN BIRTH REGISTRATIONS.
A group of 19 Chechen refugee women in Baku presented an appeal to the president's administration protesting refusal of bureaucrats to register the births of their children born in camps in Azerbaijan, the Chechen Human Rights Center in Baku reported 27 August. Officials at the civil registration bureaus in Nasim and Binagad refused to issue birth certificates, said the women, despite an unambiguous guarantee under Article 52 of the Azerbaijani Constitution of citizenship status for anyone born on the territory of Azerbaijan. The bureaucrats said the documents would have to be obtained from the Russian Embassy, the Chechen women told reporters, which they believed would be impossible. "Russia has lost the right to call itself our homeland, and we refuse even under fear of death to give our children up to that country...we do not want our children to be Russians and the name is offensive to us," Turan quoted the women as saying in a statement on 27 August. Thousands of civilians have made their way from war-torn Chechnya in recent years to nearby Azerbaijan, where they have had an uneasy welcome, due to Russian pressure on the Aliyev government. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has registered about 4,500 persons, but has given few of them refugee status, although it has worked to prevent their deportation. CAF
ACTIVISTS JAILED FOR ANTIMERGER PROTEST.
Activists in the movement known as Zubr (Bison) staged a picket on 20 August near the statute of Belarusian patriot Marat Kazey to protest Russia's proposals for a closer merger with Belarus, reported charter97.org and Russia's NTV and other stations. The youths ripped portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin to signify their displeasure at his recent widely publicized calls to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to accelerate the Belarus-Russian Union "under the Russian Constitution" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 August 2002). While police did not react at the time, after Russian television aired footage of the demonstration, Belarusian police hunted down the Zubr members and jailed them. Yauhen Afnahel was taken from his home on 23 August and arraigned in court, where a witness for the prosecution said police drew up the arrest warrant based on video cassettes taken from Russian television station bureaus in Minsk. Afnahel demanded an attorney and managed to get a postponement of the court hearing until 27 August, but his petitions were declined by Judge Tatyana Pavlyuchuk, who sentenced him to 10 days in jail. Afnahel announced a hunger strike and declared in court: "I spoke out for the independence of Belarus. That was my duty as a citizen of this country," reported charter97.org on 27 August. On 19 August, Pavlyuchuk sentenced three other Zubr activists to five to 10 days in jail for protesting in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk. CAFPOLL SAYS ONLY 3.5 PERCENT FAVOR BELARUS'S ABSORPTION BY RUSSIA.
Belarusian television cited a poll conducted by the Institute of Social and Political Research, which operates under the presidential administration. According to the poll, 35 percent of Belarusians support integration with Russia in the form of an "international union of independent states," 25 percent are in favor of a "union of two states with limited independence," 23 percent back a "single-state" integration model, and just 3.5 percent want Belarus to become part of the Russian Federation. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)NEW SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMERGES.
A congress of 163 delegates from the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (led by Alyaksey Karol), the Women's Party Hope (led by Valyantsina Palevikova), and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (led by Stanislau Shushkevich) set up the United Social Democratic Party (ASDP) in Minsk on 24 August, Belapan reported. Karol's and Palevikova's groups reportedly ceased to exist following this unifying congress. However, the array of social-democratic forces in Belarus has not became less complex than before. Apart from the ASDP, there is still Shushkevich's party (Shushkevich did not attend the congress), the Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) headed by Mikalay Statkevich, and the Women's Party Hope led by Valyantsina Matusevich. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)
SOCCER VIOLENCE LEAVES SEVERAL BADLY INJURED.
Almir Dzuvo, who is interior minister of Sarajevo canton, said on 22 August that soccer violence after a Bosnia-Yugoslavia match left one Montenegrin man badly injured and seven Bosnians in need of medical attention, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Nineteen police were injured, two of them badly. Some critical voices in the media have argued that it is still too early to consider restoring sporting links between Yugoslavia and Bosnia. Others said that time has come to end the politicization of soccer that is widely associated with Serbian nationalists such as the late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan. Police said the trouble began when fans from Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska chanted "Karadzic, Karadzic" and were attacked by stone-throwing Bosnian fans. Only 10,000 spectators showed up at Sarajevo's Kosevo Olympic stadium for a match that had been expected to draw 30,000 people. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 August)
POLICE ARREST GADFLY SLOVENIAN POLITICIAN.
Zagreb County Court Judge Vladimir Vidovic said on 22 August that police arrested Josko Joras the previous day for ignoring several summons dating back to 1999 and will hold him for 30 days, AP reported. Joras is a town council member in the Slovenian port of Piran but lives just inside the Croatian border, which he refuses to recognize. He has long been known for stunts designed to attract the attention of the media, such as playing Slovenian nationalist songs at a loud volume and flying the Slovenian flag from the roof of his house, for which the Croatian authorities recently charged him with disturbing the peace. Following Joras's arrest, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel wrote the Croatian government that "severe measures such as stripping a Slovenian citizen of his freedom at this moment in no way contribute to the alleviation of tensions" between the two countries over their common border in the Bay of Piran. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)
PRESIDENT BLAMES COMMUNIST ERA FOR FLOOD DEVASTATION.
President Vaclav Havel said on 21 August that Czechs partly brought on themselves the devastation caused by the worst floods in history, laying the blame on the country's communist-era rulers, Reuters reported. In a commentary for the "Financial Times," Havel wrote: "We must consider the damage we may have caused through the excessive use and exploitation of our waterways, especially in the communist era, when gigantic fields were sown and rivers were diverted into concrete channels to irrigate them. That era has passed in Europe, but its legacy is still with us today." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)SPIDLA SAYS CZECHS 'PASSED TEST' DURING FLOODS.
Addressing an emergency session of the Senate on 25 August, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the Czechs "passed the test" of the recent floods, demonstrating that the Czech Republic is a welfare social state prepared to support its citizens while at the same time respecting democratic principles, CTK reported. Spidla said the floods are probably the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Ten of the country's 14 regions were affected, he said. The Senate on the same day approved a government request for an extension till the end of October in the deadline for submitting the 2003 draft budget. The one-month delay will allow the cabinet to assess flood damage. The upper house also approved an amendment to the law on the Housing Fund, following up on a 23 August vote in the lower house and allowing lending for new homes to people whose houses were destroyed by the flood. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)ANNIVERSARY OF 1968 WARSAW PACT INVASION MARKED.
Some 150 people gathered outside the Czech Radio building in Prague on 21 August to pay homage to the victims among civilians who were fired on when Warsaw Pact troops occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968, CTK reported. The ceremony was attended by Chamber of Deputies speaker Lubomir Zaoralek and Senate Chairman Petr Pithart. A wreath was laid at a memorial plaque on behalf of ailing President Havel. Pithart said that in August 1968, just as when floods recently ravaged the country, people were prepared to selflessly rush and help where they thought they were needed. Zaoralek said the ideals of the 1968 reform process are still relevant today. "Democratization and modernization,...national self-awareness and the creation of conditions for a dignified life, are ideals that should be defended today as well," he said. The names of 15 people who were killed in the vicinity of the Czech Radio building during the invasion are inscribed on a memorial plaque on the building. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)
OPPOSITION BLAMES PRESIDENT FOR RUSSIAN AGGRESSION.
Opposition National Movement head and former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 23 August that the Russian bombing raid on the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia was a response to President Eduard Shevardnadze's pathological helplessness and inability to protect the country's interests, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili said that between 80 million-90 million laris ($36 million-41 million) have been spent annually to maintain Shevardnadze' presidential guard, while funding for the Border Guards is one-tenth that amount. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)VILLAGERS WANT BASIC AMENITIES TO COMPENSATE FOR PIPELINES.
Residents of the village of Akhali Samgori have staged a demonstration to focus attention on their opposition to routing the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipelines through that village, Caucasus Press reported on 19 August. The villagers warned they will prevent construction unless the village is provided with a mains water supply and decent roads. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)
'MAGYAR HIRLAP' SCORES WEEKEND SCOOP.
"Magyar Hirlap" on 24 August published the names of 11 ministers and state secretaries who are alleged to have ties to the communist-era secret services. The daily published the names without the consent of the parliamentary commission leading the investigation in the matter. The list included five officials who worked in the cabinet headed by Viktor Orban between 1998 -2002, four members of the 1990-94 Jozsef Antall government, one minister from the Gyula Horn cabinet from 1996-98, and Peter Medgyessy, finance minister from 1996-98 and current prime minister. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)EXTREMIST LEADER WANTS REFERENDUM AHEAD OF EU ACCESSION.
Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, on 24 August called for a countrywide referendum to determine if Hungarians "truly want to join the EU," the MTI news agency reported. Csurka argued that the country's population is not well informed on accession and that politicians only speak about its advantages. He said Hungary's admission to the European Union would constitute an end to the Hungarian nation. He added that members of the former and current governments act as "servants to EU countries." In other news, the Budapest Prosecutor-General's Office recently pressed charges against Sandor Gede and Tibor Gede for publishing arrow-cross literature. (The Arrow Cross Party was an anti-Semitic fascist party led by Ferenc Szalasi that ruled Hungary from October 1944 to January 1945.) The Gede brothers were accused of fomenting hatred against a community and misusing personal data after they published anti-Semitic works in reprint editions, "Nepszabadsag" reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)JUSTICE AND LIFE PARTY CHAIRMAN SAYS 'SOZIONISTS' RULE HUNGARY.
Speaking to a crowd of several thousand people who gathered in Budapest's Heroes' Square on 20 August, Istvan Csurka denounced the government, the media, and the ongoing investigations into the communist-era secret-service activities of cabinet members who served after 1990, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 21 August. Csurka said that for the second time a "sozionist" (a combination of "socialist" and "Zionist"), traitorous government is in power, and called on Hungarians to remove the "non-Hungarian ruling elite from the scene and topple the government." As for the media, he said "never have so many dirty, morally jaded, lying people inundated the media as now." Csurka also lashed out at Prime Minister Medgyessy, and claimed that those who were "nail-tearing traitors" are now heroes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)UNEMPLOYED INVITED TO JOIN ARMY.
The Labor Ministry is inviting 30,000 unemployed men aged 18-25 with a high school diploma to join the army, "Napi Gazdasag" reported on 23 August. The government intends to abolish the compulsory draft by 2006; but, in order to transform the army into a professional body, 4,000-6,000 soldiers must be recruited by 2006 and 4,000 soldiers annually thereafter in order to attain the planned level of 40,000-45,000 professional soldiers. The Labor Ministry will spend 10 million forints ($40,000) on the campaign. The army has 1,500 vacancies at the moment and is offering a 80,000-100,000 forints ($320-400) monthly wage to new recruits, the daily reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)
JAILED OPPOSITIONIST APPEALS SENTENCE.
Lawyers for former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was sentenced on 2 August to seven years in prison on charges of abuse of his official position, appealed that sentence to the Pavlodar Oblast court, forumkz.org reported on 20 August. Meanwhile, the local prosecutor's office has brought charges of obstructing the course of justice and slander against a human rights activist and two close associates of Zhaqiyanov. In an interview with the official newspaper "Kazakhstanskaya pravda," Bekbulat Demesinov, the prosecutor at Zhaqiyanov's trial, listed further criticisms of the latter's performance as Pavlodar Oblast governor. He claimed that the oblast's economy deteriorated steadily, its net share of total industrial production declined, unemployment increased, and Zhaqiyanov sold off several local enterprises at suspiciously low prices during his tenure, according to panorama.kz. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)
SMALL FARMERS APPEAL TO PRESIDENT FOR RELIEF.
President Valdas Adamkus met with 10 representatives of the small farmers of the Suvalkija region (southwestern region) after they arrived in the capital after having walked from their county seat, Marijampole, for four days, ELTA reported on 23 August. The farmers were calling attention to rural problems that plague small landholders such as low purchase prices for milk, the failure of dairies to pay farmers promptly, and the lack of equitable subsidies. Currently, only farmers with five or more dairy cows are paid subsidies by the state. The petitioners also met the same day with Agriculture Minister Jeronimas Kraujelis, who told them that the state cannot afford to earmark more than the current 11 million litas ($2.9 million) in support the smallholders receive. The minister, however, did promise the farmers that they will be paid a minimum of 0.35 litas (about $0.01) per liter of milk for at least the next two months. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)
EMIGRE ORGANIZATION SUES JUSTICE MINISTER.
Todor Petrov, the leader of the emigre organization known as the World Macedonian Congress (SMK), announced on 22 August that he has begun legal proceedings against Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti, "Nova Makedonija" reported. The move comes in response to Mehmeti's decision to drop the names of 3,500 Macedonians from Albania from the voters lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August 2002). The SMK is suing Mehmeti for denying Macedonian citizens the right to vote. Petrov added that his organization has also filed a complaint with the State Election Commission. Mehmeti argues that all voters must have a permanent residence in Macedonia. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)
PPCD DEPUTY CHAIRMAN URGES PROSECUTORS TO INVESTIGATE COMMUNIST DEPUTY.
Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov on 22 August officially asked Chisinau interim municipal prosecutor Victor Ababii to question a Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) deputy "as a witness" in the case of Cubreacov's own kidnapping earlier this year, Flux reported. In his letter, Cubreacov cited an article published in the weekly "Accente" by Romanian Senator Ilie Ilascu. Ilascu wrote that PCM parliamentary deputy Andrei Neguta told him in Strasbourg one day after Cubreacov's abduction that he knew where Cubreacov was being held hostage. According to Ilascu, Neguta also told him that the government "will do everything it can" to bring about Cubreacov's release. Cubreacov said other Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deputies overheard Neguta make this statement and that the prosecution must consequently question him in the ongoing investigation into the abduction. In the letter, Cubreacov reiterates his demand of former municipal prosecutor Petru Bobu that several prominent PCM leaders also be questioned, including President Vladimir Voronin and parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)
POPE WRAPS UP TRIP WITH PRO-EU MESSAGE.
"I'm sorry to leave," John Paul II told a crowd bidding him farewell at the Krakow airport on 19 August. "May the spirit of mercy, fraternal solidarity, harmony and cooperation, as well as authentic concern for the good of our Motherland reign [among you]," PAP quoted the pope as saying. "I hope that by cherishing these values, Polish society -- which has belonged to Europe for centuries -- will find its due place in the structures of the European Union, and that it will not only maintain its identity but also enrich this continent and the entire world with its tradition." Earlier the same day, the pontiff prayed at the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary, asking "Our Lady of Calvary" for physical and spiritual strength to continue his mission "to the end". ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)
STEELWORKERS RENEW PROTESTS.
Workers from the CSR and Otelul Rosu steelworks in Resita, both of which are foreign-owned, renewed protests on 26 August and blocked a major road near Caransebes, Romanian radio reported. Some 1,000 workers chanting "We are hungry," and "Down with the government" were involved in the strike, AP reported on 23 August. The steelworkers had halted their protests on 23 August, but the government failed to address the issue of the two troubled privatized plants. Both plants -- one owned by the U.S.-based Noble Ventures and the other by the Italian Gavazzi Steel -- have halted production because of debts to suppliers, and wages have not been paid for several months. ("RFE/RL Newsline" 26 August)
RESIDENTIAL REGISTRATION RULES CHANGED.
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a directive altering the rule regulating the registration of citizens at their place of residence, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 August. According to the new instructions, citizens changing their residences must notify the police within three days and be registered. However, unlike in the past when such registration was valid for only six months, the new system offers a flexible and negotiable term. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)DALAI LAMA SUPPORTERS DETAINED IN MOSCOW.
Police detained about 50 Buddhist protestors in Moscow on 22 August, dpa reported. The demonstrators were protesting the Foreign Ministry's recent decision not to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, who had planned to visit Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia next month. The ministry explained its refusal by citing opposition on the part of the Chinese government. According to Interfax, the 50 demonstrators were taken to a police station for document checks. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)COURT STRIKES BLOW AGAINST STALLING MAYORS.
The Sverdlovsk Oblast Court has ruled that provisions of the oblast law on local self-government that allowed mayors the choice of not enacting certain local laws contradicts federal legislation, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 August. Under the old law, mayors often squelched laws of which they did not approve by simply not signing them, since the law did not specify a deadline for them to do so if they declared that they intend to contest the law in court. The daily reported that Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, for example, has used the tactic to delay some local legislation as long as seven years, although he never filed any actual complaints. "As a result, it is useless for deputies to pass legislation that has not been previously agreed upon with the executive branch," said Sergei Belyaev, president of the Sutyazhnik society, who filed the suit. According to the paper, the oblast duma will amend the law in its upcoming session, requiring mayors to sign legislation within a certain time frame and allowing them to contest laws in court only after they have come into force. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)GREENS FILE SUIT TO STOP LUKOIL PROJECT OFF LITHUANIAN COAST.
The first court hearing on a lawsuit filed in Kaliningrad Oblast's Moscow District Court by representatives of the Russian environmental group EcoDefense, to block LUKoil-Kaliningradmorneft's plans to begin production at the D-6 offshore oil field, 8.7 kilometers south of the Lithuania-Russia border and 22 kilometers off the Curonian Spit, was delayed until 17 September, BNS and ELTA reported on 22 August. EcoDefense lawyer Elena Gorbacheva said in a 21 August press release that "We have number of claims against 'LUKoil-Kaliningradmorneft,' from procedural to principal. First of all, a lot of information was hidden from the public, and public-hearing procedure rules were violated." EcoDefense also said in its release that "One of primary dangers of this project is that, in case of an accident, the only means of removing oil from the sand beach is to remove a layer of sand.... The Curonian Spit is a very narrow peninsula between sea and lagoon, and it could very easily wash away if large amounts of sand were removed." Russia pledged during the just-concluded meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission, HELCOM) in Riga to provide more information on the environmental safety of the LUKoil project. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)OSCE DENIES PLANS TO AID CHECHEN MILITANTS' FAMILIES.
Jorma Inki, who heads the OSCE mission to Chechnya, on 23 August rejected as untrue a report circulated by the joint Russian forces in Chechnya claiming that his mission will soon receive some $100,000 to allocate to the families of Chechen men who died while fighting against the Russians, Interfax reported. He said the mission has never received such a large sum and that the Russian representative to the OSCE in Vienna is free to check the existing records of the mission's financial transactions. Inki added that the mission provides aid to schools and hospitals in Chechnya. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)
FORMER PREMIER VOWS TO DEFY POLLS AND WIN.
Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar said on 19 August that despite polls showing a drop in support for the HZDS, he expects the party to win 30 percent of the vote in the 20-21 September elections, Reuters reported. Meciar said there is "more than [a] 50 percent chance" that the HZDS will be a member of the next ruling coalition, the agency added. He said that no coalition formed without the HZDS has a chance of surviving. Meciar again denied that he is an obstacle to Slovakia's integration in NATO and the EU, asking: "Why are they focusing on me as a person? Am I integrating into the West or is it the Slovak Republic?" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)PREMIER MARKS 1968 INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA.
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told TASR on 21 August that democracy and liberty "cannot be built in isolation, but only in cooperation with other countries that cherish the same values." Dzurinda spoke on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops of the Warsaw Pact. He said the aim of the invaders was "to suppress the promising democratization process" that had started in the country. He said that at that time there was little chance to defend the pro-democracy policy in the middle of a "communist sea," but that now the priorities of Slovak foreign policy are to gain membership in the two groups that can grant both economic and military security -- the EU and NATO. Dzurinda added that the purpose of marking the anniversary of the invasion is to avoid "making the same mistakes" in the future. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)
BORDER GUARDS HIT BY TYPHOID OUTBREAK.
More than 20 border guards on the Vanch sector of the Tajik-Afghan frontier have been hospitalized with typhoid, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August, quoting Tajik Border Guards commander Lieutenant General Abdurakhmon Azimov. He admitted that his force cannot afford to vaccinate its personnel at a cost of $30 a shot. On 14 August, Tajik Health Minister A. Akhmedov denied that Tajikistan is suffering an epidemic, according to "Bizness i politika," as cited by Asia Plus-Blitz. He gave the number of registered cases during the first seven months of this year as 1,582, which, he said, is 11 percent fewer than during the same period for 2001. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)
UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA TO HOLD PROTEST ON 16 SEPTEMBER.
The Ukraine Without Kuchma movement is planning to hold a mass protest rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on 16 September, the second anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, UNIAN reported on 20 August. "[Ukraine needs] a revolution to purify and revive society, to change the system of social, economic, and political relations," the movement said in a statement. Ukraine Without Kuchma's main demands include ousting President Leonid Kuchma, making Ukraine a parliamentary republic, and punishing those guilty for the disappearance and/or death of well-known Ukrainian journalists and political activists. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)OPPOSITION REACTS WITH DISTRUST TO PRESIDENT'S CLAIM OF CONCERN.
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told UNIAN that Kuchma's announcement of political reform is a populist step intended to weaken the opposition's political demands ahead of protests planned for next month. Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc said Kuchma's reformist proposals are "insincere" and made "out of fear" of the upcoming opposition protests. Turchynov added that Kuchma's address lacked the main message -- an announcement of his resignation. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said Kuchma's proposal to form a coalition government coincides with Our Ukraine's postulates, but added that "we read the notion of coalition in a different way" than the president. "I think Ukraine does not need a government formed by political forces that will be artificially herded into a parliamentary coalition," Yushchenko added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)
HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS STAGE PUBLIC PROTEST.
Some dozen human rights activists picketed the Justice Ministry in Tashkent on 20 August to protest official corruption and human rights abuses by the police and judiciary, AP reported. They demanded a meeting with President Islam Karimov to discuss those shortcomings and how to eliminate them. Justice Ministry officials informed the protesters that they are not in a position to take action on their demands. Police did not intervene to break up the protest as they have routinely done in the past. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August)U.S. GRANTS HUMANITARIAN AID TO UZBEKISTAN.
Ambassador William Taylor, who is the U.S. official responsible for coordinating assistance to Europe and Eurasia, presented Uzbekistan on 22 August with hospital equipment and medical supplies worth some $51 million, Reuters reported. The aid is destined for use in the Ferghana Valley, where overpopulation and high unemployment are seen as creating favorable conditions for an upsurge of militant Islam. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August)IS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IMPROVING?
In early August, the normally secretive National Security Service of Uzbekistan opened its doors to journalists for the first time in its history. Two members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), condemned by the United States as a terrorist organization, who had been arrested during the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were allowed to make public confessions and meet with foreign correspondents. Some 100 family members linked to the IMU were permitted to return home from Pakistan under a presidential amnesty, and law-enforcement officials are organizing for foreign journalists a special tour of the notorious Jaslik prison in remote Karakalpakstan, housing mainly religious prisoners. These steps are being assessed by some observers as a sign the secular government is softening its policy toward radical Islamic groups, while others such as Vasila Inoyatova, chairwoman of Ezgulik (Virtue), a human rights group active on mainly religious prisoners' cases, are more doubtful about the motives because they have seen the government stage such charades with prisoners in the past in order to obtain their public recantations. ("Uzbekistan: Government Seeks To Improve Human Rights Image, But Some Question Motives," rferl.org, 26 August)
KOSOVA PRESIDENT'S PARTY CALLS FOR RULE OF LAW.
The Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), which is led by President Ibrahim Rugova, called for respect for the rule of law in regard to the recent arrest by the UN civilian administration of Kosova (UNMIK) of some former guerrilla leaders, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 21 August. Kosova's other two large ethnic Albanian parties have criticized UNMIK for arresting the men. In related news, Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana that UNMIK used excessive force in dealing with some street protests against the arrests. UNMIK has said that its police were under attack by stone throwers at the time. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August)SERBIAN MINISTER SEEKS EXTRADITION OF KOSOVAR LEADERS...
Justice Minister Vladan Batic asked the UNMIK on 23 August to arrest and extradite to Serbia three prominent Kosovar leaders, Reuters and AP reported. Belgrade wants to try them for acts of terrorism and genocide allegedly carried out during former President Slobodan Milosevic's 1998-99 crackdown in Kosova. The three are Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova, Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, and General Agim Ceku, who heads the civilian Kosova Protection Force. The three are among the most influential ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosova. Batic said in a letter in Belgrade that "their arrest and extradition to Serbia's judicial bodies should be carried out by UNMIK and KFOR." He added that Thaci has already been sentenced by a Prishtina court to 10 years in prison for "terrorism." Batic did not add that the "trial" in absentia took place during Milosevic's rule, when the judicial system carried out his orders. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)...WHICH UNMIK REJECTS.
In Prishtina on 23 August, UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said that only UNMIK has a mandate to prosecute and try war criminals in Kosova, AP and Reuters reported. She added that the UN has received no letter from Batic and that the extraditions are not likely to take place. Observers note that Batic's call for the three extraditions comes during the run-up to the 29 September Serbian presidential elections, with parliamentary elections expected later in the year. His letter also comes shortly after several prominent Westerners called for involving Belgrade in the affairs of Kosova. Batic has long taken a hard line on Kosova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS EU UNDERMINING DEMOCRATIC FORCES.
Milo Djukanovic wrote in "The Washington Post" of 20 August that "a destabilizing, antireform coalition supported by certain bureaucracies of the European Union is threatening to set back the progress of democracy in Montenegro. Since the signing in March of the Belgrade agreement on a new Serb-Montenegrin union, a combination of forces within Yugoslavia has tried to hijack the negotiation process and force Montenegro into a tighter Serbian orbit." Djukanovic added that "this antidemocratic axis has managed to gain the ear of some political circles in Brussels and in some Western European countries. These policymakers naively believe that pushing out the current pro-Western government in Montenegro will ensure stability by preventing Montenegro from gaining self-determination and national independence." The president argued that "for several months the EU bureaucracy in Brussels has in effect tried to rewrite the agreement. Its ostensible goal is to establish uniformity within the Serb-Montenegrin union, but in practice this has meant pushing for Montenegro's economic subordination to Belgrade." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)
MOLOTOV-RIBBENTROP VICTIMS MEMORIALIZED IN LATVIA, LITHUANIA.
Several hundred people in Riga and Vilnius attended memorial services for the victims of Soviet and Nazi aggression during World War II launched by the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 23 August 1939, BNS reported on 24 August. The Vilnius service was organized by the same political and religious dissidents who held a service on that occasion 15 years ago, setting off the country's democratic and independence movement. The participants of this year's service adopted a declaration "on the colonial war and genocide perpetrated by Russia in Chechnya," calling on the United Nations, the Holy See, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, as well as many heads of state to stop Russia's war in Chechnya. In Riga, the participants solemnly marched from the Latvian Occupation Museum to the Freedom Monument, LETA reported on 24 August. Five representatives of the "Helsinki 86" were the first to place flowers at the monument, and numerous politicians attended, including Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August)