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(Un)Civil Societies Report: August 22, 2001

22 August 2001, Volume 2, Number 33
OPPOSITION FORMATION CAMPAIGNS FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION. The National Accord Front (AHCh) created in March has collected 20,000 signatures of the 1 million it hopes to amass in a bid to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 14 August. Vartan Khachatrian, who is a member of the AHCh political council, said the movement hope to collect the remaining 980,000 signatures by the end of September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

JEHOVAH'S WITNESS TRIAL ADJOURNED. The trial of Levon Markarian, a Jehovah's Witness accused of "enticing" minors into attending meetings of an "unregistered religion," resumed on 2 August but was adjourned, after only one hour, until 10 August. Markarian's lawyer Rustam Khachatrian told Keston News Service on 3 August that both the prosecution and the defense are to call additional witnesses. An internal letter leaked to Keston appears to support suggestions that the National Security Ministry (former KGB) is behind the case against Markarian. (Keston News Service, 6 August)

OPPOSITION ALARMED BY RISE IN PEACETIME DEATHS OF CONSCRIPTS. An article published on 13 August in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" expresses concern at what the party perceives as a sharp rise in fatalities among army conscripts. The article quotes Musavat First Deputy Chairman Vurgun Ayyub as claiming that the government systematically hushes up any criticism of the armed forces. Also on 13 August, Turan reported the most recent such death, of a conscript who had just returned from leave for which he had been constrained to pay 300,000 manats ($64). The agency cited unconfirmed estimates that at least 10 conscripts inducted into the armed forces this spring have died. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

STATE OIL COMPANY ORDERED TO FEED DISPLACED PERSONS. President Heidar Aliyev has issued a decree ordering SOCAR to transfer 906 million manats ($190,000) every month to the bank account of the State Committee for Refugees and Displaced Persons in order to provide food for the inmates of displaced persons camps, Turan reported on 15 August. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

DEMOCRATS TEAM UP AGAINST LUKASHENKA BEHIND HANCHARYK. Presidential hopeful Uladzimir Hancharyk on 13 August signed an agreement with a number of democratic organizations and politicians as well as with another presidential hopeful, Syamyon Domash, on conducting a single campaign against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 9 September presidential elections, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Under the agreement, Domash is to withdraw from the presidential race in favor of Hancharyk following their registration by the Central Election Commission. A number of politicians who unsuccessfully sought to register as presidential candidates will merge their campaign staffs with that of Hancharyk to support his presidential bid. Domash is to become the head of a political council on Hancharyk's staff and will be offered the post of prime minister if Hancharyk wins the election. Hancharyk pledged to restore democracy in Belarus, implement market reforms, and organize democratic parliamentary elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

JUSTICE MINISTRY SAYS OPPOSITION ELECTION DEAL UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Justice Ministry has said the signing of the agreement on the mutual obligations of single democratic presidential hopeful Uladzimir Hancharyk and the broad opposition coalition was unconstitutional, Belarusian Television reported on 16 August. In particular, the ministry stressed that Hancharyk's pledge to organize democratic parliamentary elections under a mixed majority-proportional system totally contradicts the Belarusian Constitution. The ministry also pointed out that the accord has no legal power since it was signed by representatives of unregistered organizations, including For a New Belarus, Regional Belarus, and Charter-97. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

DEMOCRATS HOLD CONGRESS. Some 900 delegates took part in the Fifth Congress of Democratic Forces in Minsk on 18 August, Belapan reported. The forum expressed support for Trade Union Federation leader Hancharyk in his bid to defeat Lukashenka in the 9 September presidential election. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

NGO TO CONDUCT ALTERNATE VOTE COUNT AT 500 POLLING STATIONS... Belarus's Independent Monitoring group on 14 August said it is planning to conduct a "parallel" vote count in the 9 September presidential elections at some 500 voting constituencies throughout Belarus, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Ales Byalatski, an Independent Monitoring coordinator, announced that there will be some 15,000 monitors prepared by Belarusian NGOs to watch over the 9 September ballot. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

...WHILE MINSK SENDS INVITATION TO OSCE ELECTION OBSERVERS. The Belarusian government has finally sent an official invitation to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to take part in monitoring the upcoming presidential elections in the country, Belapan reported on 15 August. Some commentators have viewed Minsk's delay in extending such an invitation as retaliation by the Lukashenka regime against the OSCE, which failed to recognize Belarus's legislative elections last year as democratic and fair. But many Belarusian opposition activists have pointed to the fact that by postponing the invitation, the regime prevented the OSCE from monitoring earlier stages of the election campaign in which the authorities repeatedly diverged from democratic election standards. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

POLICE DETAIN 20 PROTESTERS IN MAHILEU. Police in Mahileu, eastern Belarus, on 15 August dispersed some 200 participants in "The Chain of Concerned People" protest, which demanded the truth regarding the fate of disappeared persons in the country, Belapan reported. Police officers detained 20 people and charged several of them with littering public places, throwing cigarette butts on the street, and staging an unauthorized picket. One adolescent participant was beaten up by police officers and subsequently denied a medical examination intended to confirm the beating. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

YOUTH FACE TWO YEARS IN PRISON FOR MOCKING LUKASHENKA. The Prosecutor's Office in Shklou, Mahileu Oblast, has opened a criminal case against five members of the local branch of the unregistered youth movement Zubr on charges of defaming the president, Belapan reported on 15 August. Dzmitryy Shalashkou, Mikhail Kisyalyou, Dzyanis Senakosau, Alyaksandr Paulovich, and Mikhail Patupchyk are accused of having paraded on 14 August through the Haradzets state farm, which was once managed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, dressed as four white-coated doctors in pursuit of a mustachioed Lukashenka look-alike. The alleged Lukashenka impersonator stopped passersby to ask "Do you know me? I'm your old boss. I'm back!" The fake doctors then approached the passersby and asked "Have you seen our patient? He has escaped from a mental hospital!" If found guilty, the five face up to two years in prison. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

ONE IN FOUR NOSTALGIC ABOUT COMMUNISM. Some 24 percent of Czechs are of the opinion that the communist system was better than the current one, according to a poll by STEM in June, CTK reported on 17 August. Fifty-five percent believe the present system is better and 21 percent are of the opinion that there is no difference between the two systems. On 18 August, the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes said a total of 295 people were deported from Czechoslovakia to Soviet camps and prisons between 1945 and 1954. Many of them were Russian immigrants who fled from the Bolshevik regime between 1918 and 1920 and had taken up Czechoslovak citizenship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

ROMA WANT OWN PARLIAMENT. Romany Civic Initiative (ROI) Chairman Stefan Licartovsky on 13 August told CTK that his organization intends to propose the setting up of a Romany parliament, following the example of similar parliaments that have been set up in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia. Licartovsky said that the country's Romany minority would elect regional representatives to the parliament, which would then be in a better position to represent Romany interests vis-a-vis the government. Licartovsky criticized Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky for having alleged that the Munich-based European Center for Romanies is behind the recent exodus of Czech Roma to the U.K. He denied the allegation and said such statements are "fomenting xenophobic moods." Rychetsky on 13 August partially retracted the allegation. He told Czech Radio that his statement was based on "British suspicions" for which "no evidence has been produced." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

PRESIDENT REJECTS PROPOSED ANTICORRUPTION BILL... Having affirmed repeatedly in recent years that "we must destroy corruption before corruption destroys Georgia," President Eduard Shevardnadze on 13 August gave a negative assessment to the draft bill unveiled last week by Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili that would require government officials to prove that they acquired assets legally. Describing the draft bill as encroaching on the presumption of innocence, Shevardnadze argued that if passed, it could trigger numerous court cases against senior officials by persons simply aiming to discredit them, according to Prime News, as circulated by Groong. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

...AS OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ESTIMATES FINANCIAL DAMAGE. A total of $8 billion has been embezzled in Georgia over the past decade, of which some $6 billion has been transferred to foreign bank accounts, according to Liberal Economy Party Chairman Beso Djugheli, as quoted by the daily "Akhali taoba" on 14 August. Djugheli said Saakashvili's draft bill is "uncivilized," but that there is no other way to return illegally acquired capital to the state. "If the law enables us to regain at least half of that sum, we will consider it a great achievement," Djugheli said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

TRIAL OPENS IN ABSENTIA OF FORMER PREMIER. The trial in absentia of former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin began in Kazakhstan's Supreme Court in Astana on 15 August, AFP reported. Kazhegeldin is accused of abuse of his official position, extortion, bribe-taking, tax evasion, and illegal possession of weapons. He denies those charges, which he says are politically motivated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

TRIAL OF FORMER PREMIER CONTINUES... Kazakhstan's Supreme Court continued on 16 August questioning witnesses concerning the alleged illegal privatization in 1996 by former Prime Minister Kazhegeldin of the Ekibastuz thermal power station, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Aleksandr Tabarin, whom the court appointed as Kazhegeldin's defense lawyer, told RFE/RL's Astana correspondent that he does not think Kazhegeldin can be held criminally responsible for signing the documents authorizing the sale of that facility as he was not the only person aware of the sale. Tabarin said that if the court rules that Kazhegeldin committed a crime in doing so, then many of the witnesses who testified about the sale share his guilt. (RFE/RL Newsline,17 August)

...AS POLITICAL PARTIES OFFER DIVERGING ASSESSMENTS. Alash Party Chairman Zhaqsybai Bazylbaev said in a statement released in Almaty on 16 August that all the 75 witnesses for the prosecution, most of them present and former of government officials, should also be in the dock, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Azamat Party Chairman Petr Svojk for his part told a press conference in Almaty the same day that he believes Kazhegeldin deserves to be put on trial as "one of the founding fathers of corruption" in Kazakhstan, but that the trial proceedings are "judicially absurd," Interfax reported. Svojk argued that Kazhegeldin, who has lived abroad since 1999 and is being tried in absentia, should have "a normal, independent and just trial" to ensure that the fight against corruption in Kazakhstan "does not degenerate into a farce." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

CHARGES AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DROPPED. The Osh Oblast department of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service announced on 14 August that it has terminated the case against human rights activist Noomanjan Arkabaev, who was arrested in late June on charges of having called for the overthrow of President Askar Akaev. A National Security Service official told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he cannot prove Arkabaev's guilt. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

UIGHURS ON TRIAL. The trial opened in Bishkek on 15 August of four Uighurs, two from China, one from Uzbekistan, and one from Turkey, accused of the murder last year in Bishkek of an Uighur businessman and other crimes, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The four men are also accused of planning to establish a branch in Kyrgyzstan of the Eastern Turkestan Liberation Front, which aims to establish an independent Uighur state. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

POLICE ILLEGALLY HARRASS BAHAIS. Police in southern Kyrgyzstan are demanding both to register members of a Bahai congregation and to be admitted to services. When Keston pointed out that this is illegal, the police stated that "the Bahais could write a complaint to the prosecutor's office." (Keston News Service, 16 August)

REGIONAL GOVERNMENT REPLACES IMAM. A regional government in southern Kyrgyzstan has illegally forced the replacement of an imam, although officials rejected these assertions to Keston News Service. (Keston News Service, 16 August)

UNEMPLOYMENT RISES. An unemployment survey conducted in line with EU norms by the Statistics Department indicated worse results in May than the rates previously announced by the Lithuanian Labor Exchange, ELTA and BNS reported on 14 August. The survey revealed that the unemployment level in May was 16.6 percent -- 1.1 percent higher than in May 2000 -- with the number of unemployed persons increasing from 280,100 to 284,000. The unemployment rate for men (19.3 percent) was higher than for women (13.9 percent). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS TO FORM PARTY ON THE MODEL OF SINN FEIN? Perhaps the most interesting parts of Ahmeti's interview with Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 16 August, however, were his references to the upcoming election campaign. He suggested that the fight for Albanian rights has moved from the battlefield into the parliament. He noted that he does not know if the parliamentary struggle will be led by "us or our politics and the parliament." There has been speculation for some weeks that the UCK might set up a political wing to contest the 27 January 2002 elections, just as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has used Sinn Fein. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

RED CROSS LOOKS AT CIVILIAN DISPLACEMENT. Officials of the Macedonian Red Cross said in Skopje on 18 August that some 115,000 Macedonian citizens have been displaced by the current conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Only 62,000 of them have received the status of displaced persons officially. Most were ethnic Macedonians from the Tetovo region. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

ORTHODOX CHURCH REMAINS IN CONSTITUTION. Despite previous announcements that the recently signed "Framework Agreement" to the Macedonian Constitution would exclude the Macedonian Orthodox Church and proclaim the equality of all religious communities, the new solution recognizes certain churches and groups and their rights, principally the Islamic Religious Community and the Catholic Church. (Keston News Service, 15 August)

DESTRUCTION AND MISUSE OF RELIGIOUS SITES. The destruction of religious sites, mainly mosques, and their use as military bases is continuing in the Macedonian conflict, Keston reports. The constitution and international law forbids this and it has been condemned by the OSCE. (Keston News Service, 15 August)

TRANSDNIESTER TO ISSUE INTERNAL PASSPORTS. Valerii Litskay, the "foreign minister" of the separatist government, on 14 August said that the breakaway region plans to issue internal passports, dpa reported, citing Infotag. Litskay said the Transdniester "government" has run out of blank passports that it received from the former Soviet Union, but Russia has since destroyed the printing plates and "we have no choice but to issue our own passports." Litskay said tension with Chisinau makes issuing Moldovan passports to residents of the breakaway region "difficult." He said Transdniester residents will still be able to use their old foreign passports, such as Moldovan, Ukrainian, or Russian, for travel abroad and the new "Transdniester passport" will be used as an internal document for identification. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

PREMIER ON GAGAUZ AUTONOMY. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 16 August said that the Moldovan government is not opposed to the autonomy of the Gagauz-Yeri region and intends to "do away with all inconsistencies still existing in Moldovan legislation, including the constitution," that might be interpreted as infringing on the region's autonomous status, Infotag reported. Tarlev added that "certain forces" in Gagauz-Yeri want to "complicate the relationship between Chisinau and Comrat." The premier cited an invitation he received to attend the celebrations of "the 11th anniversary of the Gagauz Republic" as an example of the existence of such forces. That self-styled "republic" ceased to exist in 1994, when the region agreed to accept an autonomous status within Moldova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

FUND HEAD SACKED OVER NAZI SLAVE LABOR PAYMENTS ROW. Premier Jerzy Buzek on 16 August fired Bartosz Jalowiecki, the head of the Polish-German Reconciliation Fund handling 920 million euros ($840 million) in compensation payments to former Polish slave laborers of Nazi Germany, Polish media reported. Jalowiecki previously accused the German side of exchanging the compensation funds at an "unacceptable" rate that deprived former Polish slave laborers of some $12 million. A government team investigating the exchange deal concluded last week that both the Polish-German Reconciliation Foundation and its sister body in Germany were responsible for the mismanaged exchange. Buzek replaced Jalowiecki with Lower Silesia Province Governor Witold Krochmal. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

ROMANIA SUBSIDIZING MOLDOVAN PASSPORTS. Romanian Ambassador to Moldova Adrian Balanescu on 15 August told journalists in Chisinau that experts from the Romanian and Moldovan foreign ministries have finalized the agreement under which Bucharest will grant Moldova $1 million to subsidize passports which are now obligatory for Moldovan citizens entering Romania, Romanian Radio and AFP reported. The regulations for crossing the border between the two countries were changed on 1 July in response to EU orders to step up security along the border, and Moldovan citizens will no longer be able to cross into Romania by showing ID cards. Since the measure took effect, the number of Moldovans traveling to Romania has dropped significantly, largely because the cost of a passport exceeds the average monthly salary in Moldova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

MINISTER HINTS AT PRESIDENTIAL PARDON FOR COZMA. Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said miners' leader Miron Cozma's sentencing to 18 years in prison in 1999 was "a political act." He said the sentence was "exaggerated" and had been changed from three to 18 years in prison "within two weeks" of an appeal by the prosecutor-general, thus indicating that the punishment was due to "inadmissible interference of politics in the realm of the judiciary." Cozmanca said neither the government nor the ruling Social Democratic Party will interfere in the presidential decision on whether to pardon Cozma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

ROMANIANS FEEL 'MARGINALIZED' IN COVASNA, HARGHITA COUNTIES. Ethnic Romanians living in Harghita and Covasna counties, with ethnic Hungarian majorities, complained during debates at Izvorul Muresului Summer University that all Romanian governments in the last 10 years have neglected their problems and that they feel "marginalized" and "discriminated against" by the Hungarian majority, Romanian Radio reported. The Izvorul Muresului Summer University, which closed after two days of debates, is largely a response to the Balvanyos Summer University, where Hungarians from Romania, Hungary, and other countries gather every year. Participants said an attempt should be made to hold the two gatherings jointly and transform them into "a real and honest forum of interethnic communication." Participants from Serbia and Bulgaria complained about discrimination, saying that Belgrade and Sofia refuse to recognize them as "Romanians," considering them "Vlachs" (an indigenous rural people speaking a Romance language) instead. Moldovan Popular Party Christian Democratic leader Iurie Rosca complained about the policies of "de-Romanianization" underway in Moldova. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

PUBLIC OPINION EXPERT EXPLAINS ATTITUDES TOWARD 1991 PUTSCH. Writing in "Obshchaya gazeta" No. 33, Yurii Levada, the director of the polling agency VTsIOM, said that most Russians do not celebrate the failure of the pro-communist coup of August 1991, because in their opinion there were two conspiracies to stage a coup in Russia at that time. The first, unsuccessful plot was organized by older members of the nomenklatura, who were antagonistic to reform. The second conspiracy was the successful one orchestrated by Boris Yeltsin and his "democratic" entourage. The two plots had two things in common, according to Levada: They were coups d'etat rather than revolutions, and they were more destructive than creative. Levada added that this attitude toward the August events explains why most Russians looking to the past see themselves more as witnesses than as persons who were involved in a historical process. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

RUSSIA REMEMBERS THE 1991 COUP. Taking part in a recent roundtable on the events of the attempted coup on 19 August 1991, political allies of former President Boris Yeltsin, such as former speaker of the Supreme Soviet Ruslan Khasbulatov, former Prime Minister Ivan Silaev, former Press Minister Mikhail Poltaranin, former State Secretary Gennadii Burbulis, and others expressed their regrets about the disintegration of the Soviet Union that followed the coup, "Moskovskie novosti" No. 33 reported. Meanwhile, in a recent poll conducted by VTsIOM, 10 percent of respondents described the 1991 events as a "democratic revolution, while 43 percent evaluated them as a "power struggle." Only 20 percent of respondents thought that the plotters were defeated as result of the "people's resistance," while in 1991, 57 percent of respondents in a similar poll thought so. An even smaller number (9 percent) now believe that putsch leaders lost because of the decisive actions of Yeltsin and the Russian leadership at the time, while in 1991, 55 percent of the respondents shared that opinion. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

IS THE ARMY UNHAPPY WITH PUTIN? The initial euphoria of the Russian officer corps toward President Vladimir Putin has subtly begun to be replaced by embarrassment and even dissatisfaction, "Vek" No. 32 concluded. Part of the reason, according to the publication, is that the hike in officers' salaries that Putin promised would take effect by 1 January 2002, has been shifted to mid-2003. And the increase in wages for the military rank and file has likewise been postponed from 2003 to 2004. In addition, officers are increasingly resorting to legal proceedings to ensure that their payments are disbursed since paychecks are being issued with more frequent delays. So far this year the Defense Ministry has already paid out 150 million rubles ($5.1 million) as a result of such lawsuits. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

DUMA COMBINES SOVIET CREST WITH RUSSIAN COAT OF ARMS. The Soviet crest will remain on the facade of the State Duma's Moscow headquarters, while the new Russian coat of arms will be set along side it, deputy chief of the Duma's staff, Anatolii Popov, told Russian news agencies on 15 August. According to Popov, that decision was made despite protests by liberal parliamentarians, because the Soviet symbol "is a part of the building's [original] architectural design and has historical value." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

SECRET CITY'S EXISTENCE KEPT TOO SECRET. Residents of the formerly closed military city of Sergiev Posad-15 organized a protest meeting demanding that federal authorities set up an administrative affiliation linking their town with an oblast, the website reported on 13 August. The population of the city is composed mostly from the families of officers of a unit of the Strategic Missile Forces that was disbanded in 1998. The city lies within the territorial boundaries of Vladimir Oblast, but for reasons of secrecy, the Defense Ministry kept it affiliated with Moscow Oblast. After the Defense Ministry ceased its supervision of the city, it terminated the town's connection with Moscow Oblast. But the Interior Ministry did not list it as being in Vladimir Oblast either. As the result, the local residents cannot apply for even routine documents such as identification certificates, marriage certificates, and drivers licenses. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

FORMER DIPLOMAT CONVICTED AGAIN OF SPYING FOR SOUTH KOREA. A Moscow city court on 14 August found former Russian diplomat Valentin Moiseev guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 4 1/2 years in prison, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The previous day, state prosecutor Vladimir Titov had asked the court to sentence Moiseev to 12 years in prison, because such a sentence would be "the minimal punishment set for such crime," RTR reported. Moiseev was previously sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1999, but in 2000 the Supreme Court annulled the verdict and ordered the second trial, leaving Moiseev in custody. Moiseev is now eligible to be released in less than 1 1/2 years since his time in pretrial detention counts toward his sentence, ITAR-TASS reported. One of Moiseev's attorneys, Kseniya Kostromina, told the bureau that Moiseev plans to appeal the verdict. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE CLAIMS TO HAVE THWARTED COUPS IN TWO NORTH CAUCASUS REPUBLICS. In a statement issued on 16 August, coinciding with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov's arrival in the North Caucasus, his office claimed that the investigations into bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in the late summer of 1999 and into car bomb explosions in Mineralnye Vody, Yessentuki, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia during the spring of 2001 led to the arrest of 11 Islamic extremists who had planned to overthrow the leaderships of the North Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia with the aim of establishing an Islamic state in the North Caucasus, Russian agencies reported. But "Izvestiya" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 August quoted senior security officials in both republics as saying they have no idea what the statement refers to. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

CHEREPKOV REVEALS PLANS FOR NEW POLITICAL PARTY. State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Viktor Cherepkov told reporters in Vladivostok on 15 August that he intends to launch a new nationwide political party, the goal of which will be to unite "all progressive forces into a single strike force," Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Cherepkov, the need for a new party has arisen because of the lack of a civil society in Russia capable of influencing the authorities. He added that the real power is in the hands of the oligarchs and the country is ruled by presidential administration head Voloshin and his team, while Putin is only a "decorative president." Last June, Cherepkov was disqualified from running in the second round of gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

NIZHNII NGOS CALL FOR DISTRICT-LEVEL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION. The heads of four nongovernmental human rights organizations, the Committee for Soldiers' Mothers, the ecological center Dront, the Nizhnii Novgorod Society for Human Rights, and the Committee Against Torture, announced on 16 August that they have appealed to the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, to form a human rights commission at the federal okrug level, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported. The activists suggested that the commission should work with the participation of representatives from NGOs. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

WEEKLY PREDICTS SOCIAL UNREST WILL RESULT FROM CABINET'S ECONOMIC REFORMS. "Novaya gazeta" No. 56 argues that the government headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has taken a number of decisions over the past 15 months that increase the likelihood of social upheaval in Russia. The first of these decisions was one calling for a reduction in state subsidies for housing and public utilities. According to the weekly, "at least 30 million Russian citizens simply cannot afford to pay in full for their housing and utilities." Likewise, the cabinet's approval of the restructuring plan for Unified Energy Systems could lead to "the unrestrained growth of electricity rates, and power cuts to residential areas, schools, hospitals, and other vital facilities." Kasyanov also approved measures proposed by the Railways Ministry that will result in a hike in passenger rail fares of 2 1/2 to three times countrywide. The weekly concludes that blackouts, skyrocketing rail fares, heating disruptions, and evictions will lead to "mass demonstrations in the regions." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

CITIZENS EXTEND A HAND DURING CRISIS. Commentator Russell Working noted in "The Moscow Times" on 13 August that the recent storm brought "out a spirit of enterprise in Primore's rugged citizenry," making it "impossible to be pessimistic about the region's economic future." For example, in one village where about 500 cars were trapped, a local hotel jacked up its rates four times higher than normal, and several brave bus drivers trekked to where the drivers were trapped and offer a ride for 500 rubles -- about 10 times the normal rate. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

MORE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS PAYING FEES. The number of students in Russia's higher educational system increased by 16.4 percent over the past year, while enrollment in technical colleges jumped by almost 10 percent, "Ekonomika i Zhizn" No. 31 reported. According to the publication, the number of students increased despite the fact that state spending on education and professional training in Russia is among the lowest in the CIS because fee-based education has become more widespread. During the 2000-2001 school year, about 29-33 percent of students in Russia's higher educational institutions were paying fees. According to "Izvestiya" on 13 August, some 50,000 below-college-age children across Russia will attend private schools this school year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

ARE JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES TERRORIST TARGETS? Keston has found that a local authority in Stavropol province has issued instructions banning a Jehovah's Witness congress due to be held on two weekends this month "due to the threat of terrorist acts." The congress was to take place in the Jehovah's Witnesses own building, so they are appealing against it in court. Last year the same local authority banned a similar Jehovah's Witness congress. (Keston News Service, 17 August)

SERBIA TO WORK WITH HAGUE -- NEXT YEAR. Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic said in Belgrade on 15 August that he expects the long-awaited law on cooperating with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal to be ready "by the end of the year," RFE/RL reported. He noted that Belgrade is obliged to work with the tribunal because its work is sanctioned by the UN. Markovic stressed, however, that cooperation must be regulated by law. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

PRIME MINISTER: TIME FOR TRUTH IN MURDER CASE. Zoran Djindjic told "Blic" on 16 August that the governing coalition is "finished" unless the facts surrounding the recent murder of state security officer Momir Gavrilovic are brought to light. Attention centers on possible links between the office of President Vojislav Kostunica and criminal elements close to the former regime of President Slobodan Milosevic. "Vesti" noted that Rade Markovic, who was Milosevic's secret police chief, visited Kostunica in his office a total of 22 times between October 2000 and Markovic's arrest in February 2001. Social Democratic leader Vuk Obradovic and some other members of the governing coalition, however, argue that it will be counterproductive for democracy in Serbia for politicians to deal with the murder. Obradovic wants unspecified "investigative bodies" to handle the case. Some other observers argue that the Gavrilovic case must not be allowed to jeopardize the unity of the coalition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S OFFICE DENIES LINK TO MURDER. President Vojislav Kostunica's office sent documents to the public prosecutor in Belgrade on 13 August regarding talks between murdered security officer Momir Gavrilovic and Kostunica's staff shortly before Gavrilovic's death, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kostunica's office said that it is "difficult to believe" that there was a link between those talks and the killing of Gavrilovic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August)

NEW RACIAL INCIDENT. Marches have been staged by Roma since 14 August in Holic, western Slovakia, in protest against a racial incident on 10 August, when skinheads attacked and injured a young Rom, CTK reported. The Rom suffered serious injuries but his life is not in danger. The protesters say the police "do nothing" to hinder such incidents, which the police deny. On 15 March, skinheads in cars circled some 120 Roma protesters and police had to deploy all local forces and request reinforcements from other districts. Police said the attack on the young Rom is being investigated and that "racial motives are not being ruled out." But the local Romany community says it does not trust the police and that it will continue demonstrations until Holic's police chief is dismissed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August)

ROM RECOVERING AFTER BRAIN SURGERY. Milan Daniel, who was badly beaten by skinheads in the west Slovak town of Holic on 13 August, underwent brain surgery in a Bratislava hospital and his condition is "stable," CTK reported on 17 August. The doctors said he may suffer memory loss. On 18 August, about 300 Slovak and Czech skinheads gathered at the Prievidza cemetery in central Slovakia to commemorate one of their members who was killed by a Rom five years ago. Leaflets were distributed calling for an "end to racial discrimination against white citizens." Participants, some wearing T-shirts with swastikas and other Nazi symbols, sang nationalist songs, CTK reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

THREE PARTIES TO UNITE. The leaders of the Party of Regions, the Popular Democratic Party, and the Labor Ukraine Party -- Mykola Azarov, Valeriy Pustovoytenko, and Serhiy Tyhypko, respectively -- said in a joint statement that they want to unite their organizations in "one powerful party," Ukrainian media reported on 17 August. The statement said the party leaders are confident that the new party "can become the gravitation center for all democratic forces in society." The three leaders also believe that "the new party will become a reliable platform for national unification and will promote further strengthening of freedom and democracy in Ukraine." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO CHARGE EX-PREMIER WITH TWO CONTRACT KILLINGS. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko told the 18 August "Zerkalo nedeli" that he will ask parliament to agree on instigating criminal proceedings against former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko for ordering the killings of parliamentary deputy Yevhen Scherban in 1996 and of former National Bank Governor Vadym Hetman in 1998. Last week, Potebenko disclosed that a current parliamentary deputy is responsible for those two murders. Lazarenko, who was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 1998, is now in a U.S. prison on charges of money laundering. He is expected to testify in U.S. federal court in September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

VISA RULES EASED FOR FOREIGNERS OF UKRAINIAN ORIGIN. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has introduced new visa rules allowing ethnic Ukrainians who live abroad to obtain five-year, multiple-entry visas instead of one-entry visas valid for six months, Ukrainian media reported on 14 August. Ukrainian Television added that the participants in the third global forum of Ukrainians, which will be held in Kyiv on 18 August, will get their visas free of charge. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

PRESIDENT HECKLED AT DIASPORA FORUM. Leonid Kuchma on 18 August addressed the Third World Forum of Ukrainians in Kyiv, which was attended by 300 delegates from the Ukrainian diaspora, 300 delegates from Ukrainian regions, and some 2,500 guests. Dozens of forum participants booed and shouted "Shame!" and "Kuchma, go away!" after the president said he has nothing to do with the disappearance and death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, AP reported. The audience again hissed Kuchma after he began speaking of economic improvements in the country. Kuchma received generous applause after he said Ukrainian should be the country's only official language. Kuchma is rather unpopular with Ukrainians living in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

KUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD DECLARES READINESS TO COOPERATE IN PROBING UKRAINIAN CORRUPTION IN U.S., RUSSIA. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who last year publicized secret audio recordings from President Kuchma's office, told RFE/RL on 14 August that he is ready to cooperate with Russian and U.S. authorities in revealing corruption on the part of Ukrainian officials in these countries. Melnychenko said his recordings testify that President Kuchma is guilty of violating Russian and U.S. laws as well as of committing other offenses "that are punishable in the world." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

LAWMAKER TRIED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT IN GERMANY. Ukrainian legislator Viktor Zherdytskyy, the former head of Kyiv's Gradobank, went on trial in Hildesheim, Germany, on 16 August for embezzling German compensation money intended for Ukrainian victims of the Nazis, AP reported. Zherdytskyy is accused of diverting 4 million German marks ($1.9 million) in 1995 by transferring the money from Germany to a company he founded in London instead of to a Ukrainian reconciliation fund meant to benefit Nazi victims. Hildesheim court spokesman Jan-Michael Seidel said prosecutors cannot charge Zherdytskyy in connection with another alleged embezzlement of 82 million German marks because the statue of limitations has expired. Zherdytskyy was arrested in Hanover last October when he attempted to withdraw $50,000 from one of his accounts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August)

THIRTY-SIX MINERS KILLED IN METHANE EXPLOSION. A methane explosion killed at least 36 miners in the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk on 19 August, Ukrainian and world media reported. At least 10 miners are still missing, and 39 were hospitalized with severe burns. Rescue teams halted their search for survivors due to a fierce fire at the accident site, 1,300 meters underground. In May 1999, a methane explosion in the Zasyadko mine killed 50 miners. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August)

DOCTORS INVESTIGATED FOR STEALING HUMAN BODY ORGANS. Several doctors from the Lviv Regional Clinical Hospital are suspected of trading in healthy body organs, which they allegedly removed from bodies of living road- accident victims. ICTV Television reported on 14 August that the physicians removed undamaged organs of these victims and then stated that death resulted from the injuries received. The station also reported that no less than 10 people were released from the hospital after treatment without one kidney. Some of those people have agreed to testify against the doctors. Prosecutors opened an investigation into the alleged crimes but none of the suspects have been arrested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

NEW REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS -- WHO BENEFITS? A new draft Ukrainian law on religion is in the final stages of discussion, Keston News Service has learned. The text introduces a number of harsh new provisions compared to the existing law, covering registration requirements and religious property, education, and the religious activity of foreign citizens. It is unclear how unregistered organizations will be treated. The first reading of the law was rejected by the Supreme Rada on 29 May, but it is unknown when the Supreme Rada will discuss the new draft. (Keston News Service, 8 August)

CONFLICT OVER FATE OF MADRASSAH. On 25 July a demonstration organized by the Crimean Tartar's representative body, the Mejlis, took place about the fate of a former madrassah in Bakhchisarai, the site of which is claimed by the Zyndzhyrly madrassah and a neighboring monastery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The demonstration began peacefully but ended in a clash between demonstrators and OMON riot police. Keston News Service has learned that official commissions have been formed to settle the issue, but the Muslim community believes that the new Crimean government will not help resolve the issue. (Keston News Service, 13 August)

RETURN OF RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS TO KARAITES EXPECTED. The Crimean authorities have decided to return kenassahs -- Karaite religious buildings -- to them. The Karaites are an offshoot of Judaism, who are not ethnically Jewish but are Tatar and recognize only the Torah. The Karaites have for a long time been trying to reclaim these buildings. The responsible official declined to give Keston News Service any details, but confirmed that two kenessahs would be returned to the "Karaite Spiritual Administration." (Keston News Service, 17 August)

COURT SENTENCES SIX FOR 'TERRORISM.' A regional court in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Valley passed sentence on 14 August on six men charged with terrorism, including the murder of police and government officials, AP and Interfax reported. Two men identified as leaders of a group that recruited young men to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, while four others received sentences ranging from nine to 12 years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August)

HELSINKI WATCH REPORT ON MUSLIM PERSECUTION... In a 17-page memorandum -- based on over 800 individual cases of religious persecution documented since 1999 -- released on 20 August, Human Rights Watch documented the country's campaign against independent Muslims, including the arrest, torture, and sentencing of thousands of pious Muslims who practice their faith outside state controls. The memorandum also includes a list of independent Muslims who died in custody in the past three years, apparently due to torture; see (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 20 August)

...INCLUDING ARRESTS... Last week, nine men were sentenced by a Tashkent court to prison terms ranging from eight to 16 years for membership in an unregistered Muslim group. At least 43 people are currently on trial in Tashkent for similar offenses. In the vast majority of cases documented in the Human Rights Watch report, victims prayed in mosques not run by the government, belonged to unregistered Islamic groups, possessed or distributed Islamic literature not generated by the government, were affiliated with disgraced imams, or met privately for prayer or Islamic study. Sentences for such crimes range from 15 to 20 years in prison. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 20 August)

...IMAM NOT EXEMPT... Among those convicted in the past year, was the state-appointed Imam Abduvohid Yuldashev, tortured during five months of incommunicado detention and then sentenced to 19 years in prison, basically due to the claim that lessons he gave on the Koran and other Islamic texts were actually lessons in "fundamentalism." Authorities earlier subjected the imam's wife to a series of Stalinesque hate rallies, publicly denouncing her as an "enemy of the people." They threatened to arrest her if she did not remove her headscarf, a symbol of her piety. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 20 August)

...NOR ARE DEVOUT MUSLIM WOMEN. In recent months, the authorities have begun to arrest women. In March 2001 police arrested Rahima Akhmedalieva, the wife of an imam who had fled the country fearing arrest. They kept her, a mother of three, in custody in the basement of Tashkent police headquarters, and have refused to release her until her husband surrenders to police. Five months later, she remains a hostage in police custody. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 20 August)

U.S. COMMISSION LISTS COUNTRIES WHICH SERIOUSLY VIOLATE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Last week the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its recommendations to the Bush administration for countries of particular concern; including Iraq, Iran, and Turkmenistan but not Uzbekistan. Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, countries whose governments engage in serious violations of religious freedom can be named countries of particular concern for religious freedom. The law offers the president options for dealing with such countries, ranging from limiting certain kinds of assistance to full sanctions. In previous years the U.S. administration for the most part designated as countries of particular concern those already under U.S sanctions, leading some to see the list as serving political aims rather than the goal of religious freedom. "The Bush administration should name Uzbekistan a 'country of particular concern' for religious freedom," Human Rights Watch urged on 20 August. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 20 August)