|Saturday, 27 February 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-03-14
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PROGRESS REPORTED ON U.S.-RUSSIAN ARMS PACTSRussia and the United States made progress toward arms control agreements during talks between defense officials in Washington, international news agencies reported on 14 March. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush have promised to cut their respective strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 2,000 warheads, but differences remain over U.S. suggestions that some of its retired warheads should be stored rather than destroyed. "I think that some specific results have been achieved," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 13 March. Ivanov added that the two countries exchanged proposed drafts of an agreement. Ivanov was in Washington to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and iron out details for a summit in Russia between Bush and Putin scheduled for 23-26 May. Ivanov was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Collin Powell and CIA officials on 14 March. BW
 IN MOSCOW, AFGHAN LEADER LAUDS UNITED STATES...At the end of a two-day visit to Moscow where he secured badly needed Russian aid, Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai said he gives priority to his country's relations with the United States, AFP reported. "Today everybody tries to make friends with the rich and strong. Afghanistan is no exception," Karzai said on 13 March during a meeting with Afghan community leaders in Moscow. While there were once "two strong powers, now there is only one strong power -- the United States," Interfax quoted Karzai as saying. The same day, "Kommersant-Daily" decried Russia's lack of influence in Afghanistan. "The present-day Afghanistan, where the U.S. military took a firm hold, is practically closed to Russian political influence," the daily wrote. BW
 ...AND SAYS HE WOULD WELCOME RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS...Karzai said he would not object to Russian troops contributing to peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. The issue of Russian troops in Afghanistan is sensitive due to the Soviet Union's 1979-89 invasion and occupation of the country. "Afghanistan welcomes the participation of any friendly state in the peacekeeping operation on its territory, which the Afghan people consider as a guarantee against foreign interventions," Karzai said. During his first visit to Russia, Karzai discussed increasing the number of international peacekeepers in Afghanistan. "The need for this presence is demanded by the people of the country, which has suffered for the last 23 years from foreign interventions and would like the international community to give it guarantees against outside aggression," Karzai said. BW
 ...BUT SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD REBUILD WHAT IT DESTROYEDKarzai also said Russia should cover all the costs of restoring Soviet-built property destroyed in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. "The Soviet Union built them, the Soviet Union destroyed them -- let Russia now rebuild them," Karzai said on 13 March. During Karzai's two-day visit, Moscow and Kabul signed agreements for Russia to help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 13 March 2002). The Afghan leader left Moscow for Germany on 13 March. BW
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS HARMONY IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS...President Putin instructed Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to take measures to ensure harmony between the foreign policy moves of the executive branch and parliament, the Kremlin announced in the evening of 13 March. In a letter to Ivanov, Putin ordered him to "take measures to ensure close interaction on a permanent basis with the leadership of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation in matters of the international activity of the State Duma and the Federation Council," Interfax reported the same day. Putin added that special attention should be paid "to the efficient coordination of foreign contacts and visits at all levels" to assure "the implementation of a single foreign policy course of the Russian Federation." During a visit to Israel on 12 March, Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov sparked controversy when he cancelled a scheduled meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 March 2002). BW
 ...AS MIRONOV IS ACCUSED OF 'RUNNING BEFORE THE ENGINE'The controversy over the canceled meeting of Mironov with Palestinian leader Arafat has had some political fall-out back home for the Federation Council chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 March that Andrei Vdovin, special envoy of the Foreign Ministry to the Middle East, had to stress that Moscow still views Arafat as the "acknowledged leader of the Palestinian people." The daily declared that "a few months ago, when Mironov was appointed speaker...it was already clear that this protege of Putin's was doomed to permanent scandals." It continued that Mironov "sometimes 'runs before the engine' in the hope that his fervor will be noticed and rewarded." JAC
 RUSSIA DENIES SECRET TALKS WITH JAPANAs he prepared for talks with Japanese officials, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov denied reports that Moscow and Tokyo are holding secret talks over the disputed Kurile Islands, international and Russian news agencies reported on 13 March. "[Russia] is not bargaining on handing over these or those islands in exchange for having its foreign debts cleared or any other proposals," Ivanov told the State Duma. Disagreements over the tiny islands, seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, have plagued Russian-Japanese relations and prevented the two countries from signing a formal postwar peace treaty. Ivanov was set to meet with Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Toshiyuki Takano later the same day, but did not expect any breakthroughs, ITAR-TASS reported. "We favor continuation of talks with Tokyo in all directions, including cooperation in the economic sphere," Ivanov told reporters. BW
 DUMA SLAMS U.S. OVER 'AXIS OF EVIL'The State Duma on 13 March condemned the U.S. position on Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, defined as an 'axis of evil' by President Bush, ITAR-TASS reported. In a resolution that passed by a vote of 291 to six, lawmakers said the antiterrorist motto "cannot be used by the U.S. for settling scores with Iran, North Korea, and Iraq, which Washington has included in the axis of evil." The resolution said any U.S. effort to overthrow those regimes, "under any pretext, be it the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the fight against terrorism, are an interference in the internal affairs of these states, are fraught with unpredictable consequences, and are strongly condemned by the State Duma." BW
 RUSSIA TO DELAY OIL DECISION...The Russian government will hold off on a decision on whether to maintain crude production limits until Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov meets with oil executives next week, AP reported on 13 March. OPEC has been pressing Russia to agree to the production cuts before the cartel meets in Vienna on 15 March. Concerned about low crude prices, OPEC cut output by 1.5 million barrels a day as of 1 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2002). Russia, one of the largest non-OPEC oil exporters, reluctantly agreed to cut its exports by 150,000 barrels a day for the first three months of this year, but Russian officials and oil companies have yet to decide whether to extend those cuts. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told Russian news agencies on 13 March that future export volumes will be decided only after Kasyanov meets oil executives "in a week." He did not give a specific date. Russian media speculated on 13 March that Moscow will maintain the export limits. BW
 ...AND CUTS EXPORT QUOTAS FOR DEBTOR COMPANIESA government commission regulating access to Russia's oil pipelines announced that it will slash export quotas by 20 percent for 24 companies that are in debt to the federal government. Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko said the companies collectively owe the Russian government 2 billion rubles ($64.54 million), RBK reported on 13 March. The companies are expected to collectively lose 25,000 tons in exports. Meanwhile, Sibneft, Russia's fifth largest oil company, announced the same day that it has raised its crude output forecast for this year by 29.2 percent, AFP reported. The company plans to invest $686 million in order to raise its production to 530,000 barrels per day in 2002, up from 408,000 a day in 2001. BW
 PUTIN UNHAPPY WITH RUSSIA'S GROWTH RATE...Despite strong growth rates in recent years, President Putin said Russia's economy must become more dynamic if it is to catch up with other industrialized countries, ITAR-TASS reported. "We need to ensure fair rates of economic growth so that we can retain our statehood and historical prospects," Putin said in a meeting on 13 March with the staff of "Izvestiya" on the occasion of the newspaper's 85th anniversary. "Despite positive tendencies in the economy," he said, it is not improving quickly enough. After a decade of post-Soviet decline, Russia's economy grew by 5.4 percent in 1999, 9 percent in 2000, and 5 percent last year, according to the State Statistics Committee. Putin said that while it is not feasible to reduce income taxes at this time, other taxes should be simplified and reformed. BW
 ...WANTS TO TRANSFER SOME OF MOSCOW'S CROOKS AND SWINDLERS NORTHAt the same meeting, President Putin said he supports the transfer of some state capital functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russian agencies reported on 13 March. He said that doing so would make life in the northern capital livelier, adding that in some European countries the central bank, government, and parliament are located in different cities. "The distribution of functions across the country is better for the country," he said, because this "reduces the concentration of crooks and swindlers who always hang out around power." JAC
 GOVERNMENT APPROVES BILL ON FARMLAND SALES...The Russian government approved draft of a bill on 14 March allowing for the sale of farmland, Interfax reported. The bill, which will be submitted to parliament, forbids foreigners from buying land in the country's border regions. President Putin will issue a decree governing land sales in those regions. Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev called the bill "momentous," adding that it "is of interest for all political movements, the whole population, and all economic entities." Last fall, Russia passed a Land Code that allows for private land ownership and sale of nonagricultural land, including to foreigners. But due to opposition from communist lawmakers, farmland was excluded from the code. BW
 ...AS PREMIER SAYS ITS PASSAGE WOULD REDUCE CORRUPTIONPrime Minister Kasyanov called on parliament to quickly pass the government's land bill into law, Russian media reported on 14 March. "It is essential to pass a clear law so as to create transparency" in the way farmland is traded, Kasyanov said on RTR state television. The lack of legislation governing land sales gives rise to corruption and depreciates the real value of lands, Kasyanov said the same day, according to ITAR-TASS. In the absence of legislation, he stressed, farmland is bought and sold on the black market. BW
 CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS ARBITRARY DETENTIONSRussia's Constitutional Court on 14 March rejected a section of the country's new Criminal Code that would have allowed authorities to detain suspects for more than 48 hours without a court ruling, Russian and international news agencies reported. The legislation was scheduled to take effect on 1 July, but the court ordered the government "to immediately make changes" to the legislation, AP reported. The Russian parliament approved the new Criminal Code in January as part of sweeping plans to overhaul the country's Soviet-era legal system. The new code calls for jury trials to be introduced beginning on January 1, 2003, requires a court's sanction for arrests and searches, and sets age limits for judges. BW
 PUTIN SAYS HE SUPPORTS ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE...Putin said on 13 March that he supports civilian alternatives to military service and shorter induction periods for conscripts, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. "Russia must have a choice, but no one has the right to speculate on this issue," Putin said. The president added, however, that until there is a law governing alternative military service, any "experimentation" on the issue is illegal. "As long as there is no law, everything that happens in this sphere is a violation of legislation" and must be considered by the Prosecutor-General's Office, Putin said. The Russian Constitution guarantees the option of alternative civilian service, but opposition by military brass and conservative lawmakers has stifled legislation on the matter. BW
 ...AS HE SLAMS NIZHNII NOVGOROD'S EXPERIMENTDuring his visit to "Izvestiya" on 13 March, President Putin criticized Nizhnii Novgorod's experimental program offering its young male citizens alternative military service (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 30 January 2002). "Take this experiment in Nizhnii Novgorod," Putin said, "What's happening? It is politicization...mayoral elections are coming up soon there, and the mayor's popularity rating is negligible. He has no chance of being elected. That's why he is making political capital of this. It is absolutely impermissible." Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev responded to Putin's comments by saying that he is ready to take personal responsibility for the city's "experiment." He said: "If today in the history of introducing alternative military service in Russia we need an extremist, then I am ready to be one. If only a federal law had been adopted [by now], then our children would have the opportunity to sign up for alternative military service," which is their right under the constitution. JAC
 STILL MORE PRESSURE ON 'NOVAYA GAZETA'"Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Dmitrii Muratov reported that the publication has recently lost two lawsuits, the combined judgments for which total $1.5 million, Interfax reported. Muratov said that "I think there is not one newspaper in the country that could pay such a sum. It is intended not as a punishment but as [an order] to destroy." Muratov noted that in one of the cases lost by the newspaper, the author of the article in question was Sergei Zolovkin, who recently survived an assassination attempt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). Last month, other journalists with the weekly who ran into trouble were State Duma deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikin, and North Caucasus specialist Anna Politkovskaya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 20 February 2002). JAC
 TUVAN PRESIDENTIAL ALLY DROPS OUT OF ELECTION ON EVE OF VOTEBiche-ool Shyyrapa withdrew on 13 March from the 17 March election for the head of the Tuva government, strana.ru reported. Shyyrapa, who is the head of the Tes-Khemskii Raion, asked his supporters to vote for incumbent President Sherig-ool Oorzhak. According to the website, Shyyrapa is considered a close ally of Oorzhak, and local observers believe that Oorzhak's campaign headquarters was behind Shyyrapa's candidacy in the first place. JAC
 MEDIA-MOST EXECUTIVE'S CASE SENT BACK FOR ADDITIONAL INVESTIGATION...A court in Moscow has sent the criminal case against Media-MOST executive Anton Titov back for additional investigation, Interfax reported on 13 March. Prosecutors have accused Titov, together with Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, of swindling a 5 billion ruble credit from Gazprom. Titov will remain in jail. JAC
 ...AS SUTYAGIN CASE POSTPONEDThe Supreme Court decided on 13 March to postpone consideration of the appeal of political scientist Igor Sutyagin to 20 March. Sutyagin has been charged with espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). JAC
 U.S. GROUP TO WORK ON COMBATING TRAFFICKING OF WOMEN IN FAR EAST, SIBERIAThe U.S.-based NGO Winrock International has started a new project called "Preventing the Trade of Women in the Far East and Siberia," nns.ru reported on 13 March, citing the Khabarovsk-based "Tikhookeanskaya zvezda." According to the newspaper, the group has received a grant of $15,000 to study the problem. The publication noted that local "law enforcement agencies have [already] been studying the problem for some time"; however, "perhaps it is not bad that now the problem has interested the Americans." According to Winrock International's website, "the 2 1/2 year project will combine research, training, and volunteer technical assistance with a grant program for Russian NGOs." It is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. JAC
 CHECHEN VILLAGES PROTEST RUSSIAN TROOP BRUTALITY...Several hundred residents of the village of Starye Atagi south of Grozny converged on the government building in the Chechen capital on 13 March to protest Russian troops' brutality against civilians during repeated security operations in the village since the beginning of the year, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 19 February, and 7 March 2002). The protesters brought with them the burned bodies of several victims of those search operations. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov promised that the killings will be thoroughly investigated and those found responsible will be punished. LF
 ...AS FSB DENIES CIVILIANS WERE KILLED...Commenting on Russian television coverage of the Grozny protest, Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said in Moscow on 13 March that the bodies brought from Starye Atagi were those of Chechen fighters who showed "fierce resistance" but were killed in a "special operation" by special Russian antiterrorist units, Interfax reported. Zdanovich also claimed that the Starye Atagi village council chairman signed a document affirming that the "special operation" had taken place and that he had no criticisms of the way it was conducted. LF
 ...AND RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY REJECTS UN CRITICISMVladimir Kalamanov, who is the Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya, on 13 March rejected as misplaced the criticism of Russian troops' brutality in Chechnya expressed by UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). He said Russia "is trying to comply" with the international conventions on human rights that it has signed. He added that Robinson relies on information from Human Rights Watch, which does not have an office in Chechnya, and interprets the information she receives subjectively. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 TRIAL OF FORMER ARMENIAN PRISON DIRECTOR BEGINSFormer Armenian prison service head Mushegh Saghatelian went on trial in Yerevan on 13 March on multiple charges of mistreatment or torture of detainees, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He is also accused of offering a $50,000 bribe to one of the suspects in the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings if he claimed that the killings were masterminded by President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and of then manufacturing evidence to substantiate that claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2001). Saghatelian, who is close to the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, pleaded not guilty, claiming that the charges against him are politically motivated. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ANTICIPATES INCREASE IN FOREIGN INVESTMENTPresident Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 13 March following a meeting with Armenian Development Agency officials that, thanks to the government's efforts to improve the business environment, there is likely to be a sizeable increase in foreign investment this year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Foreign investment in 2001 was slightly under $100 million, just over half the $190 million registered the previous year. LF
 ARMENIAN DOCTORS DEMAND SALARY ARREARSSeveral dozen doctors staged a picket on 13 March outside the Armenian government building in Yerevan to demand payment of their back wages for the past 18 months, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. An aide to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian advised the protesters to contact the Yerevan Mayor's Office, which is responsible for medical facilities in the city. Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian announced later the same day that the doctors will receive four months' back salary on 14 March. He did not indicate when the remaining arrears will be paid. On 11 March, Noyan Tapan quoted a senior health sector official as estimating the total wage backlog within that sector at close to 10 billion drams ($17.7 million), most of which dates back prior to 2001. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DECLARES NEW AMNESTY...President Heidar Aliev signed a decree on 13 March pardoning or reducing the sentences of 89 prisoners, including some considered to be political prisoners, Turan reported. Seventy-five of those released were serving sentences for alleged crimes against the state, including the abortive uprisings of October 1994 and March 1995, and alleged plots to assassinate President Aliev in 1993 and 1994. Also released were Azerbaijan Popular Front Party members Faradj Guliev and Asaf Guliev, and former Interior Ministry official Nizami Godjaev, who was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in March 2000 on charges of conspiracy to murder, abusing his official position, illegal possession of arms, and accepting bribes (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 11, 17 March 2000). Azerbaijani human rights activists welcomed the amnesty, but stressed that some political prisoners still remain incarcerated. LF
 ...BUT 115 MEMBERS OF SPECIAL POLICE REMAIN IN PRISONOn the seventh anniversary of the insurrection led by Rovshan Djavadov, commander of the Azerbaijani Interior Ministry's special police division, 115 of the 340 members of that force sentenced for their participation in what the Azerbaijani leadership claims was part of a bid to overthrow President Aliev remain in prison, Turan reported. LF
 AZERBAIJAN'S FORMER MILITARY PROSECUTOR MURDEREDRovshan Aliev, who served as military prosecutor in 1992-1993 and then as head of the administrative division within the Prosecutor-General's Office, was gunned down on the street outside his Baku apartment on 13 March, Turan and AP reported. Investigators believe the shooting may have been a contract killing. Aliev had the reputation of a highly skilled and experienced specialist. Cases he handled included the 1997 murder of historian Zia Buniatov. LF
 PROVISIONAL DATE SET FOR POPE'S VISIT TO AZERBAIJANPope John Paul II will visit Baku from 22-26 May, Interfax reported on 13 March, quoting Azerbaijani diplomatic sources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2001 and 5 February 2002). LF
 RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS TERRORISTS IN GEORGIA PLANNING NEW ATTACKS...Speaking in Washington on 13 March after talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Minister Ivanov said that "the connection between the militants who trained on the territory of Afghanistan and those who fought and are still fighting in Chechnya is unquestionable," an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. Ivanov claimed that those fighters are planning new terrorist attacks, and that Russia cannot remain indifferent to a threat located so close to its borders. He said that "the closest cooperation" between Russia and the U.S. is necessary to enable Georgia to mount a successful operation against those fighters. LF
 ...AS U.S. DENIES PLANS FOR PERMANENT MILITARY PRESENCE IN GEORGIAU.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 12 March that while the U.S. is willing to provide assistance to the Georgian government in combating militants with links to Al-Qaeda, it has no plans either to station troops permanently in Georgia or to establish a military base there, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DISCOUNT POSSIBILITY OF RUSSIAN ATTACK ON PANKISISpeaking separately in Tbilisi on 13 March, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili both said they consider a Russian attack on the Pankisi Gorge unlikely, Caucasus Press reported. Any such attack, they both reasoned, would be perceived by the international community as an act of "open aggression" against Georgia. LF
 GEORGIAN, TURKISH OFFICIALS REFUTE REPORTS ON IMMINENT TURKISH INTERVENTION IN SOUTHGeorgian Foreign Minister Menagharishvili on 13 March also dismissed as an attempt to undermine Georgian-Turkish relations reports that Turkey plans to foment unrest in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Djavakheti in a bid to exacerbate Georgia's relations with both Armenia and Russia, and to simultaneously increase its political and military influence in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. "Dilis gazeti" on 14 March similarly quoted Turkey's ambassador to Tbilisi, Burak Gursel, as dismissing the media reports as "groundless," Caucasus Press reported. LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION FACTION ENDS BOYCOTT OF PARLIAMENT SESSIONSThe opposition "New Right Wing" faction on 13 March ended its three-month boycott of plenary parliament sessions, Caucasus Press reported. The faction announced the boycott in mid-December in protest against the appointment of parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze's husband Badri Bitsadze as deputy prosecutor-general (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). LF
 NEW GROUP IN KAZAKHSTAN TO CAMPAIGN FOR ELECTION OF OBLAST GOVERNORSMembers of the Initiative Group for the Election of Regional Governors held a press conference in Almaty on 13 March at which they criticized as politically motivated the Kazakh authorities' refusal to register the group, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. While the Kazakh opposition is unanimous that oblast governors should be elected, not appointed by the president, some of its representatives object that the leadership is at present in a position to control the outcome of such elections (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). LF
 KYRGYZ POLICE DISPERSE PICKETS IN SUPPORT OF BEKNAZAROVPolice in Bishkek and Toktogul on 13 March dispersed separate pickets to support arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The police detained some 20 of the 50 picket participants in Toktogul, where Beknazarov's trial is taking place, and six of the 20 participants in the capital. All were subsequently released. Several picketers in Toktogul told RFE/RL that Djaparaly Kamchybekov, who appeared at the trial as a witness the previous day, had clearly been beaten while in custody. Beknazarov is accused of failing to bring murder charges against Kamchybekov in 1995 after the latter killed a man in self-defense. Two Kyrgyz parliament deputies, including Communist Party leader Absamat Masaliev, left Bishkek for Toktogul on 13 March to attend the ongoing trial. LF
 OFFICE OF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT CLOSEDRepresentatives of Kyrgyzstan's Agriculture and Water Resources Ministry have closed the room in the ministry building that the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan rents as an office, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 13 March. The movement's chairman, Tursunbek Akunov, is currently in Toktogul attending Beknazarov's trial. LF
 TAJIKISTAN, RUSSIA REVIEW ECONOMIC, ENERGY SECTOR COOPERATIONRussian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is also co-chairman of the Russian-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, met in Dushanbe on 13 March with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss ways to expand cooperation in the economic and energy sectors, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Shoigu told journalists the same day that Russia's top priority is to help Dushanbe restore power lines that will enable it to supply electricity to Afghanistan, which he said should be feasible "within weeks," according to ITAR-TASS. Russia will also help to complete construction of the Rogun and Sang Tuda hydroelectric power stations. LF
 POWER STATION IN TAJIKISTAN THREATENED BY LANDSLIDETajik and Russian experts have been working for days to prevent a massive landslide from damming the Vakhsh River, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 March. The landslide was caused by a minor earthquake on 3 March. Should the mass of earth and rubble dam the river, the Baipaza hydroelectric station could be totally flooded. LF
 RAIL TRAFFIC BETWEEN TAJIKISTAN, RUSSIA AGAIN SUSPENDEDRussia has again suspended rail communication between Tajikistan and Astrakhan, this time because the Tajik rolling stock does not meet Russian technical and sanitary requirements, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 13 March. But Tajik Deputy Railways Minister Saidullo Rakhimov expressed optimism that it will prove possible to resume the twice-weekly service soon. He said a second route, from Khudjand to Novorossiisk, is also being discussed. Train communication was halted at least twice last year, stranding many Tajiks who had traveled to Russia seeking seasonal employment. LF
 TURKMENISTAN, TURKEY DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATIONTurkish armed forces Chief of General Staff General Huseyn Kivrikoglu met in Ashgabat on 12 March with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss bilateral cooperation, Turan and turkmenistan.ru reported. Kivrikoglu reaffirmed Turkey's readiness to implement an earlier agreement on training Turkmen military personnel. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN KGB LEADER WARNS AGAINST NEW 'INFORMATION ATTACK'Addressing a news conference on 13 March, Major General Stsyapan Sukharenka, the first deputy chief of the Belarusian KGB, denied that Belarus has traded in weapons and military equipment bypassing UN sanctions, Belapan reported. Sukharenka noted that recent accusations against Belarus of illegal arms trade were a "well-planned campaign" aimed at "breaking the Belarusian leadership's will to pursue independent foreign and home policies." He said Belarus's KGB had asked for corroboration of those accusations from "various international organizations and the media outlets that spread those rumors, and even from the CIA," adding that "nobody could say anything intelligible." Sukharenka predicted to journalists that the "next information attack against Belarus will be charging our country with drug transit into Europe," and said that preparations for this "attack" have already begun. JM
 TWO SUSPECTED KIDNAPPERS OF BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST SENTENCED FOR LIFEA panel of Minsk Oblast Court judges sentenced Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, two suspected kidnappers of Belarusian journalists Dzmitry Zavadski, to life imprisonment on 14 March, Belapan reported. Apart from the abduction of Zavadski, the court found Ihnatovich and Malik, former members of Belarus's elite Almaz police unit, guilty on one count of murder and several counts of armed assault and robbery. Two more defendants, Alyaksey Huz and Syarhey Savushkin, were found guilty of complicity in the crimes of Ihnatovich and Malik and sentenced to 25 and 12 years respectively. The trial, which was held behind closed doors, did not give any clue as to what happened to Zavadski after he disappeared. JM
 COMMUNIST LEADER WARNS AGAINST PROLONGATION OF KUCHMA'S PRESIDENCY, DIVISION OF UKRAINE...In an election campaign broadcast on Ukrainian Radio on 13 March, Communist Party head Petro Symonenko told viewers that that authorities want to create a pro-presidential majority of at least 300 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada by using administrative resources and vote rigging in the 31 March ballot. This majority, according to Symonenko, is expected to amend the constitution in order to allow President Leonid Kuchma to remain in office for a third term, "or perhaps for a lifetime." Symonenko also suggested the existence of a sinister plan under which Ukraine is to be divided into three parts "in line with [former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew] Brzezinski's instructions": right-bank Ukraine run by Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, left-bank Ukraine "influenced" by the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine bloc, and Crimea. Symonenko did not divulge who would run Crimea, but added that "extremist-minded elements in Crimea among the Crimean Tatar population are being used by Our Ukraine to stir up society." JM
 ...WHILE ANOTHER LEADER ACCUSES OPPOSITION, U.S. OF PREPARING 'YUGOSLAV SCENARIO' COUPBohdan Boyko, the head of the Popular Movement of Ukraine election bloc, has claimed that the opposition -- Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party -- is planning, with U.S. assistance, to stage a coup according to the "Yugoslav scenario," Inter Television reported on 12 March. Boyko told journalists that the opposition is going to declare the official results of the 31 March election falsified and create a separate parliament based on an alternative vote calculation. According to Boyko, a key role in this plan will be played by the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies, which he claimed is run by sociologists trained in U.S. military institutions. "We have not planned a joint participation in exit polls on the day of the election," Razumkov Center Director Anatoliy Hrytsenko commented. Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party have formerly declared their intention to organize an alternative vote count in the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). Yushchenko said Boyko's allegations are "paranoid," adding that "there have to be fools in the world, otherwise the clever will not stand out." JM
 UKRAINIAN PATRIARCH SEES COMMUNIST PLOT BEHIND MOVE AGAINST HIS CHURCHThe Prosecutor-General's Office has said the registration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) in 1992 was illegitimate, Ukrainian media reported on 13 March. The decision followed a motion of 65 lawmakers who accused the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) led by Patriarch Filaret of illicitly appropriating property from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Meanwhile, the State Committee for Religious Affairs confirmed the same day that the registration was legitimate. New Channel Television suggested that the Prosecutor-General's Office's move is political revenge on Filaret, who has repeatedly voiced his support for Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. Filaret openly blamed the Communist Party for his troubles. "[The communist deputies] came forward with their protest aimed to abolish the Kiev Patriarchate or, if not abolish, then deliver a blow that would knock the Kiev Patriarchate out of existence and thereby help the Communist Party to win over voters who side with the Moscow Patriarchate," Filaret told New Channel Television. JM
 OSCE LEADER TORN ON UPCOMING UKRAINIAN BALLOTOn 13 March in Kyiv, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin said he believes that the 31 March parliamentary election will produce "a strong parliament devoted to the support of necessary reforms...and devoted to the country's integration into European values and structures," Reuters reported. "[I believe that] this parliament will be able to structure itself into a strong majority supporting reformist governmental policy and a strong opposition to draw the attention of the government to its mistakes," Severing told journalists, summing up his three-day visit to Ukraine. He admitted, however, that he is also concerned about "a relatively high level of mistrust in the electoral process among certain candidates, and about the general skepticism...over the possibility of these elections being truly free and fair." JM
 ESTONIA, HUNGARY CONCLUDE READMISSION AGREEMENTHungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi began a two-day official visit to Tallinn on 13 March by meeting with his Estonian counterpart Kristiina Ojuland, ETA reported. The ministers discussed the need to conclude agreements on tourism, avoiding double taxation, protection of classified information, and on the expansion of educational cooperation. Martonyi noted that Estonia has one of the best prepared NATO applications, and should not have any problems in gaining admission to the alliance. He also mentioned the need to increase commercial and economic ties between the two countries, which should be helped by the upcoming appointment of an attache for economic affairs in the Hungarian Embassy in Tallinn. The ministers also stressed the advantages of working together in their efforts to join the EU, and spoke about the Convention on the Future of Europe, to which Martonyi is one of the three Hungarian representatives. Martonyi was scheduled to meet with President Arnold Ruutel and parliament Chairman Toomas Savi on 14 March. SG
 BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS RECEIVE COMPLIMENTS ON NATO PREPARATION IN WASHINGTONDeputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage told defense ministers Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), Sven Mikser (Estonia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) in Washington on 13 March that the Baltic states have made great progress in military reforms and have implemented their NATO Membership Action Plans well, BNS reported. He praised the Baltic states for allocating 2 percent of their GDP for defense needs, and thanked them for agreeing to send troops to Kyrgyzstan as part of the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign. They also discussed the development of NATO relations with Russia. Armitage said he plans to participate in the meeting of the prime ministers of the 10 "Vilnius group" NATO candidate countries in Bucharest on 25-26 March. Kristovskis also held talks the same day with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (Dem.). LETA reported. SG
 LITHUANIA, EU SIGN MEMORANDUM ON REGIONAL WASTE-MANAGEMENT PROJECTThe Finance Ministry and the European Union signed a memorandum in Vilnius on 13 March on cofinancing an environmental project in the Alytus region in southern Lithuania, ELTA reported. The project, which is estimated to cost 7.8 million euros ($6.9 million), calls for the better collection and transportation of waste from the cities of Alytus, Druskininkai, and Birstonas, as well as the closing Alytus's old dump site and opening a new one. The EU will supply 3.9 million euros from its Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) program, while Lithuania's share will come from private investments (1.8 million euros), state budget funds (1.5 million euros), and loans. SG
 POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES POLICY STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENTForeign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Sejm on 14 March that Poland's main foreign policy goal is to join the European Union in 2004 "under favorable conditions," Polish Radio reported. Cimoszewicz said the forthcoming six months will be crucial since Poland must complete EU membership talks during this period in order to be accepted into the EU in the first round of expansion. Cimoszewicz also spoke in favor of cooperation between the EU and Poland's neighbors: Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. He also said Warsaw expects that Ukraine will be invited to participate in the NATO summit in Prague in November. JM
 POLISH BIG BROTHER FINED FOR VIOLENCE AND SEXNational Radio and Television Broadcasting Council head Juliusz Braun has imposed a fine of 300,000 zlotys ($72,200) on the TVN private television network for showing violent and erotic scenes before 11 p.m. local time on its "Big Brother" program, PAP reported on 13 March. "The program constitutes promotion of violence. The concept of the program is a ruthless battle, including violence... Not only does the program show erotic scenes, but also commentaries that indicate that such behavior is correct and normal," Braun said in justifying the punishment. JM
 STATUE OF UKRAINIAN NATIONAL POET UNVEILED IN WARSAWThe heads of the foreign ministries of Poland and Ukraine, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Anatoliy Zlenko, unveiled a statue of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Warsaw on 13 March, PAP reported. The statue by Ukrainian sculptor Anatoliy Kushcha stands on the square bearing the poet's name near the former presidential Belweder Palace. A metal plaque on the plinth carries a line from Shevchenko in both Polish and Ukrainian: "Pole, brother, give me your hand, give me a place in your heart, and we will regain our happiness, in the name of Christ, a quiet Eden!" JM
 EXPERTS CLEAR NUCLEAR FUEL LOADING AT CONTROVERSIAL CZECH NUCLEAR PLANTExperts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said they found "no problem" after inspecting the loading of 163 nuclear fuel rods at the second reactor at the Temelin nuclear power plant, AP reported on 12 March. The IAEA inspectors plan to return to the plant to seal the second reactor after workers close it and carry out compression tests. The controversial power plant also carried out an emergency drill simulating a nuclear disaster on 13 March, Radio Praha reported. The drill, designed to test the readiness of the plant's staff and local emergency services, was the first of six scheduled for this year. It will also include tests of safety systems on the plant's two reactors. MS/BW
 CZECH LOWER HOUSE OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO...The Chamber of Deputies on 12 March overrode President Vaclav Havel's veto on a law on the institutional protective care of children, CTK reported. The Roman Catholic Church had also objected to the law, which stipulates that children who are ordered by courts to institutional education may be placed in the care of foster families instead of living in children's home. Havel vetoed the law first approved by the chamber in February, saying that the legislation could be abused to violate the rights of children, who may now be placed in the care of foster families on a contractual basis and without an earlier court inspection. But the Fund for Children at Risk said the legislation is a big step forward, Radio Praha reported. MS/BW
 ...AND PASSES CIVIL SERVICE REFORM BILLThe Chamber of Deputies passed a long-awaited bill on 12 March reforming the country's civil service, Radio Praha reported on 13 March. According to the bill, civil servants will be required to take an oath of allegiance and their work will be periodically reviewed and evaluated. They will also receive benefits including five months of severance pay and an extra week per year of vacation. The bill, supported by the governing Social Democrats with support from the right-of-center Two Party Coalition, must still be approved by the Senate and signed by President Havel to become law. BW
 CZECHS UNDECIDED ABOUT SUBMITTING ANTI-CUBAN RESOLUTIONThe Foreign Ministry will decide by the end of next week whether to submit this year to the UN Commission on Human Rights a draft resolution criticizing infringements on human rights in Cuba, CTK reported on 13 March, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." In the past three years, the Czech Republic has annually submitted such a draft, and the commission always approved it. Last year, the resolution also included criticism of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said that a resolution is "one of several possible steps under consideration," and that Prague is consulting "with our partners" on further steps. Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Vosalik said that if a draft resolution is submitted, it will be based on last year's draft. Vosalik recently headed a delegation to Latin American countries, but Pospisil declined to say whether the envisaged draft was on his trip's agenda. MS
 IMF WARNS AND PRAISES SLOVAK GOVERNMENT...The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has criticized the Slovak government for lagging behind on economic reforms, "Sme" reported on 14 March. According to an IMF report cited by the daily, the government has not done enough to promote foreign investment and reduce its deficit. The IMF has advised the government to reduce government spending in order to curb its growing deficit. Unless fiscal policy is tightened, the central bank will be forced to introduce tougher monetary policy, the IMF warned. The IMF, however, also praised Slovakia for its progress in privatization and for reforms in its financial and energy markets. The government agreed with the IMF assessment, according to Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos. "The government's view is basically the same as that of the IMF," he said. BW
 ...AS GOVERNMENT DENIES ECONOMIC CRISIS IS ON HORIZONMiklos, meanwhile, called those who are saying Slovakia is headed for an economic crisis "incompetent," "Narodna Obroda" reported on 14 March. "It is nonsense and could cause panic among less-informed citizens," he told the daily. According to Miklos, Slovakia's large foreign trade deficit for 2001 was partly the result of temporary factors. BW
 SLOVAK OPPOSITION LEADER PREPARES FOR U.S. VISITVladimir Meciar, leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, and Robert Fico, head of Smer, are both planning visits to the United States, "Sme" reported on 14 March. But the daily added that while the U.S. Embassy in Slovakia is assisting with preparations for Fico's visit, they are not extending the same courtesy to Meciar. Fico is scheduled to meet with members of the U.S. Congress, the National Security Agency, and the State Department. But Meciar has not been able to arrange such high-level meetings, the daily reported. BW
 HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS BENES DECREES ARE NOW 'EUROPEAN ISSUE'...In his weekly interview on Hungarian radio, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 13 March that the controversy surrounding the Benes Decrees has as of late acquired a "European dimension," the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Orban said the need to abolish the decrees was discussed at the recent "Little Danube Summit" by "four leading politicians," and added that Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel can afford to strike a harder tone in dealing with the issue because his country is a EU member, "while Hungary cannot dictate accession terms to anybody from outside the EU" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). MS
 ...LAUGHS OFF OPPOSITION APPREHENSIONS ON MEMORANDUM WITH ROMANIAIn the same interview, Orban said that in the past two months only one application has been received from Romania for a work permit in line with the December 2001 memorandum signed with Bucharest on the implementation of the Status Law. He commented that "the left-wing opposition warned that Romanians would thunder across the border by millions," adding sarcastically, "by the way, I also heard that a waiter [from Romania] is challenging the Hungarian labor market." MS
 WOULD-BE HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST MINISTERS CHALLENGE INCUMBENTS TO DEBATEFive members of the Socialist Party's shadow cabinet on 13 March challenged their respective counterparts in the current government to public debates ahead of next month's elections, Hungarian media reported. In his regular weekly interview on Hungarian radio (see above), Premier Orban said: "I am not giving any instructions on this to any minister; if they see a need for such debates, let them go ahead and do it." Orban also claimed that the question of the debates between himself and his Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy "has been decided," as he has accepted Medgyessy's challenge and expects him to show up at the University of Economics on 5 and 12 April. Medgyessy has thus far ruled out 5 April as a suitable day for debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). MS
 HUNGARIAN NATIONAL ELECTION OFFICE REJECTS SZDSZ COMPLAINTThe National Election Office (OVB) on 13 March rejected the complaint of the Free Democratic Party (SZDSZ) against the state-television MTV network's blueprint for covering the electoral campaign, saying that the decision on how to cover the campaign is beyond the OVB's prerogatives, Hungarian media reported. The Socialist's representative in the OVB, Gyorgy Szoboszlai, supported the SZDSZ, saying that coverage must be based on the principle of "equal opportunity to all," and that MTV's plan is "obviously in breach of the law." Opponents of the blueprint were outvoted, however, by the other parties' representatives in the OVB. MTV and Hungarian Radio executives were invited to the OVB meeting, but did not attend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). MS
 SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO REACH DEAL ON JOINT STATE...The leaders of Serbia, Montenegro, and the federal Yugoslav government signed an "agreement in principle" in Belgrade on 14 March to continue a joint state under the name of Serbia and Montenegro, which was agreed late the previous night, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. EU security policy chief Javier Solana was present at the signing, which comes after months of EU pressure on Montenegro not to claim its right to independence. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica remains president of the joint state, which will have one seat in the UN. He said the state "will be neither a federation nor a confederation, but rather something new" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). A new constitution will be drafted and parliamentary elections will be held in the fall. Montenegro will not hold a referendum on independence "for now," Montenegrin President Djukanovic said. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic added that "we accept reality as it is." PM
 ...WHILE THREE BIG QUESTIONS REMAINTerms of the economic relations between Serbia and Montenegro -- which have been a major stumbling block so far -- will be worked out in the course of the next 12 months, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). Djindjic said the two republics will have common foreign and defense policies but separate economies, currencies, and customs, AP reported. It remains to be seen whether a mutually acceptable, viable framework can be found. A second issue involves the future of Montenegrin internal politics, since, as Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service put it, Djukanovic "will have some explaining to do" to his coalition partners and allies. A third question is Kosova, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service noted. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 specifies that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia, but that state will soon cease to exist. Even if the new entity claims all rights of succession to the rump Yugoslav state set up by former President Slobodan Milosevic in 1992, Kosova's ethnic Albanian political leaders are certain to challenge that claim and argue that Kosova is now independent. PM
 SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN ATTEMPT TO SQUARE THE POLITICAL CIRCLEAP reported from Belgrade on 14 March that the agreement aims to give Montenegro a greater role in the joint state than has been the case. Membership in the single legislative chamber will be weighted in favor of Montenegro's 650,000 people relative to Serbia's 10 million. The parliament will elect a president and a five-member cabinet to deal with foreign affairs, defense, international economic relations, internal economic relations, and protection of minorities and human rights. Some ministries and other institutions will move from Belgrade to Podgorica. Soldiers will serve in their home republic under the command of a council consisting of the joint, Serbian, and Montenegrin presidents. Serbian and Montenegrin diplomats will take turns occupying the joint seat in the UN. Both republics will have the right to hold a referendum on independence after three years. PM
 SERBS AND MONTENEGRINS AWAIT THEIR 'REWARD' FROM THE EUDjindjic said in Belgrade that he hopes the agreement will lead to "special treatment" for the joint state by the EU, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported on 14 March. Belgrade's leaders are clearly hoping for quicker integration into the EU as a quid pro quo for accepting Brussels' demands that they preserve a joint state, the BBC's Serbian Service added. PM
 KOSTUNICA AND DJUKANOVIC HAIL SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN AGREEMENT...Kostunica said in Belgrade that "this is a new beginning in relations between Serbia and Montenegro. We have reached an agreement that is acceptable for both Serbia and Montenegro," AP reported on 14 March. In a message that seemed designed for the EU's ears, he added: "Amid the threat of disintegration in the Balkans, we are moving toward integration and peace and stability in the region." Djukanovic said: "I think the political public in Montenegro has every reason to be satisfied with what we have achieved with this agreement, most importantly all results of economic reforms that Montenegro has achieved over the past year have been preserved," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2002). PM
 ...AS DOES EUSolana said in Belgrade on 14 March that Montenegro and Serbia "should have no doubt" about the EU's support, AP reported. He added that "this is an important day and a step toward stability in the region and in Europe. This is not the end of anything, but a beginning of a new chapter that will bring you closer to the European Union." In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said: "This is good news for Europe and the future of the western Balkans on the road to the European Union," Reuters reported. PM
 TUDJMAN'S SON SLAMS NEW BOSNIAN ADMINISTRATOR IN BOOKIn Zagreb on 13 March, Miroslav Tudjman presented to the public his new book, "The Story About Paddy Ashdown," who will soon become the international community's "high representative" in Bosnia, AP reported. The younger Tudjman, who has made his career in intelligence work and a think tank, contests Ashdown's now-famous account of a 1995 dinner with former President Franjo Tudjman, who allegedly drew a map on a napkin to indicate how he intended to partition Bosnia. The map has widely been regarded as proof that Tudjman had tried to make a deal with Milosevic at the expense of the Muslims. The younger Tudjman now claims that the map represented his father's view of how the Balkans would be divided into NATO and Russian spheres of influence in the future. Observers note that those who have seen the map, which has been reproduced in the press and in books, are unlikely to find the younger Tudjman's claims convincing. PM
 NATO TELLS BOSNIA TO END CULTURE OF DEPENDENCENATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told the three members of the Bosnian joint presidency in Brussels on 13 March that their country must learn to stand on its own feet, AP reported. "The clear message was that Bosnia Herzegovina has to take ownership of its own future to break the cycle of dependence and to let the country take its place in the European family of nations," Robertson stressed. He added that he is "optimistic that eventually we will have strong enough central institutions so that there will only need to be one president." NATO ambassadors and the Bosnian leaders discussed the security situation in that country, as well as the need to shrink and integrate its two armies. Robertson again told Bosnia that it must have a unified army if it wants to join the Partnership for Peace Program. In related news, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 14 March that unnamed experts from Bosnia blame the international community, its aid programs, and the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia's failure to become a viable state. PM
 MACEDONIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ANNOUNCES NEW CENSUS LAWJustice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti announced that his ministry will soon present a revised law for conducting a census, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 13 March. Mehmeti said that the long-overdue census is not connected with the coming parliamentary elections and should not be carried out during the election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). The revised law regulates the use of languages during the next census -- it will be conducted in both Macedonian and Albanian. As provided for by recent amendments to the constitution, the new law states that all ethnic communities will be proportionally represented at all levels of the census administration. The draft law also provides for some changes in taking count of Macedonian citizens living abroad. UB
 MULTIETHNIC MACEDONIAN POLICE ENTER FORMER GUERRILLA STRONGHOLDPolice entered Radusa near Skopje on 14 March without incident, dpa reported. Police have now returned to about 60 of the 120 villages formerly held by the National Liberation Army (UCK). The recent passage of an amnesty law is expected to strengthen the confidence of the ethnic Albanians in the peace settlement, and hence in the return of the police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 March 2002). PM
 SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT WANTS SLOVENE-OWNED BANKSMilan Kucan told the "Financial Times" on 14 March that he would rather not see foreign investors acquire majority shares in the state-owned banks Nova Ljubljanska Banka and Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor, which are slated for privatization. He said he wants the banks to be partly foreign and partly domestically owned, and that "the question is the ratio" between the two. Privatization of state-owned banks has often been cited by Brussels as a remaining obstacle to Slovenia's membership in the EU. But Kucan noted that few EU member states have banks dominated by foreign capital because the respective governments realize the need for banking to remain in "friendly" hands. In most other post-communist countries, foreign investors have bought up banks, bringing in capital and expertise as well as control. Slovenia was the most economically advanced of the former Yugoslav republics. PM
 ROMANIAN TRADE UNION TO SUE IMFThe National Syndicate Bloc (BNS), one of Romania's main trade union federations, on 13 March announced it will sue the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Romanian media reported. BNS Chairman Dumitru Costin said the financing agreement between the Romanian government and the IMF brought about unemployment and a fall in living standards in the country. BNS leaders accused Premier Adrian Nastase's cabinet of letting the IMF and the World Bank rule "from behind." Trade unions are asking for a minimal salary of 100 euros ($86), a tax cut, and salary raises every time the energy price increases. The BNS also warned that it will initiate a general strike if its demands are not met. ZsM
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SETS UP AGENCY FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENTThe Romanian cabinet decided on 13 March to create the Romanian Agency for Foreign Investments (ARIS), Mediafax reported. The agency is to centrally coordinate and organize the promotion of foreign investments in Romania in order to increase such investment. ARIS is to develop promotional strategies, policies, and action plans for attracting direct foreign investment. It can also propose legislative measures for harmonizing and simplifying procedures and eliminating red tape. ZsM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OF INTERFERING IN MOLDOVAN POLITICS...Ion Iliescu on 13 March rejected Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's earlier accusations of Romanian interference in Moldovan internal affairs, Romanian TV reported. Iliescu called the accusations "unfair, unreal, and unjust." Earlier the same day, Voronin had also directly blamed Iliescu for the worsening bilateral relations. Iliescu said in response that the current accusations reflect the Moldovan authorities' "inability" to deal with the "serious problems" it faces. ZsM
 ...AS CHISINAU AND BUCHAREST EXPEL DIPLOMATSMoldovan-Romanian relations worsened even more on 13 March as Chisinau and Bucharest decided to reciprocally expel diplomats, Romanian media reported. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry decided to declare Romanian military attache Ion Ungureanu "persona non grata," and asked him to leave the country within 10 days. In return, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana decided the same day to declare Moldovan Embassy Counselor Iacob Popovici "persona non grata." Geoana said Chisinau's decision represents an "unfriendly, unjustified" act that is "counterproductive" to bilateral relations. ZsM
 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT WORRIED ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS IN MOLDOVAEuropean Popular Party (EPP) Chairman Wilfrid Martens said on 13 March that he is worried about human rights abuses in Moldova, the BBC reported. Martens said the Party of Moldovan Communists, although democratically elected, wants to impose a totalitarian regime. The EPP, the largest group in the European Parliament, has proposed a draft resolution criticizing human rights abuses in Moldova that was to be discussed on 14 March. Swedish EPP Deputy Lennart Sacredius said that in the event that Moldovan authorities ignore the European Parliament's concerns, they will have to be warned that the European Union does not want Moldova to become "Europe's Zimbabwe." ZsM
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO BECOME 'NUMBER 1 GAGAUZ'During a visit to the autonomous Gagauz-Yeri region, President Voronin said he will become the "No. 1 Gagauz" should such support be needed to defend that nation's interests, Flux reported. He added that he support's the region's autonomy, and will adopt constitutional modifications aimed at harmonizing the Moldovan Constitution with the law on the Gagauz-Yeri region's special juridical status. Voronin said the region's problems should only be solved through legal means. ZsM
 TRANSDNIESTER PROHIBITS ACCESS FOR MOLDOVAN OFFICERSTransdniester "State Security Minister" Vladimir Antyufeyev said on 12 March that the authorities in Tiraspol have banned entry into the Transdniester territory of officers serving in the Moldova's Defense and Interior ministries, as well as the Information and Security Service and "other paramilitary structures," ITAR-TASS reported. Antyufeyev said the measures were taken to "increase border security" and border customs controls, and were prompted by last week's kidnapping of Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly official Ivan Burgudji by Moldovan police in Comrat. ZsM
 BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON PRIVATIZATION...With the votes of the ruling coalition between the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the parliament overrode President Georgi Parvanov's veto against the new privatization law, "Dnevnik" reported. Parvanov had argued that the law would increase social tension in the country. UB
 ...AND RATIFIES FOREIGN DEBT AGREEMENTThe parliament also ratified an agreement between Bulgaria and several international banking houses, BTA reported. The bill is to restructure Bulgaria's foreign debt by exchanging Brady bonds with new Euro bonds, which would decrease the nominal value of the debt. Both the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and the Socialist Party (BSP) asked to postpone the vote, arguing that they had not received the text of the agreement on time. After the government refused to call off the vote, the opposition left the plenary session. UB
 BULGARIA AND MACEDONIA TO SOLVE RESTITUTION QUESTION?The Bulgarian cabinet is preparing an agreement with Macedonia that will regulate open restitution issues, "Dnevnik" reported on 13 March. According to the newspaper, the agreement foresees financial compensation for Bulgarian citizens whose property in Macedonia was nationalized after World War II. So far, Macedonian law bars foreign citizens from restitution claims for nationalized property. However, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski during a visit to Bulgaria in September 2001 signaled that his government is willing to revise the relevant law (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 September 2001). UB
 RENEWED ROMANY PROTESTS IN PLOVDIV"Monitor" on 14 March reported that some 2,000 Roma again took to the streets to protest the limitation of the electricity supply to the Stolipinovo neighborhood (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2002). The Roma also staged protests in February, when the state electricity company Elektrorazpredelenie cut off supplies altogether because of unpaid bills. The community had subsequently reached a compromise that allowed electricity supplies for at least some hours each day. According to some speakers at the protest, Elektrorazpredelenie did not abide by the agreement -- instead of the agreed upon four hours of electricity per day, the company provided only one. UB
 BULGARIA'S RULING NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II IN TROUBLEBy Ulrich Buechsenschuetz
Even before the parliamentary elections of June 2001, many observers did not believe that the newly founded National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) would survive the following six months. The NDSV owed much of its popularity of its leader, former King Simeon II. But the movement itself seemed to be too heterogeneous, too unclear in its political profile, and too inexperienced in its leadership -- leading some analysts to predict its end as early as the fall of 2001.
The first surprise came when the NDSV gained 120 out of the 240 seats in the parliamentary elections. Unique in the former Soviet bloc, a former monarch became the prime minister, now under his civilian name Simeon Saxecoburggotski. In spite of having the opportunity to form a government based solely on the parliamentary group of the NDSV, Saxecoburggotski signed a coalition agreement with the primarily ethnic minority-led Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).
The second surprise came when Saxecoburggotski decided to cooperate with the ex-communist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The former monarch managed to draw the socialists into the government without signing a formal coalition agreement. Saxecoburggotski granted the former mayor of Blagoevgrad, Kostadin Paskalev, the posts of deputy prime minister and minister for regional development.
In defiance of all speculations about an early end to Saxecoburggotski's experiment, the movement survived the crucial first winter in office. But now it seems that the centrifugal forces within the NDSV are becoming ever stronger. There are signs that the initial pessimistic predictions that the movement would not survive might come true.
Following its first unpopular steps as a ruling party, the public support for the NDSV rapidly fell. But it seemed as if at least the NDSV's parliamentary faction remained stable.
A first major setback was the abortive attempt on 26 January to hold a convention at which the movement was to be transformed into a political party. Saxecoburggotski decided at the last minute not to go ahead with the plan for reasons that remain unclear and which gave rise to speculation.
A central figure in the speculations was Stoyan Ganev, the then-head of the prime minister's office. In the communist era, Ganev was an officer of the notorious Bulgarian State Security (DS), but immediately after the fall of communism he changed sides and joined the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). He later became foreign minister in the first non-communist cabinet headed by Filip Dimitrov, but had to resign from all government and party positions after internal squabbles with his fellow ministers.
After he left Bulgarian politics in 1992, Ganev went to the U.S. and embarked on an academic career. Ganev is said to be the coauthor of the NDSV's populist economic program, which he reportedly drafted with his Russian colleague Vladimir Kvint from the University of Bridgeport.
After the abortive convention, newspapers quickly found a scapegoat in Ganev, who was responsible for the organization of the convention and was therefore held responsible for its failure. This view was supported by the fact that only two weeks later, Saxecoburggotski sacked Ganev from his position. But rumors also surfaced that Ganev had to resign because of corruption charges.
According to most Bulgarian media, Ganev also orchestrated what was to become the next scandal within the ruling NDSV. Some members of the NDSV parliamentary group started to send open letters to their fellow legislators as well as to the prime minister, reminding Saxecoburggotski of his electoral promises in the fields of economic and social politics. They also complained about the lack of democracy and transparency within the NDSV parliamentary faction.
Saxecoburggotski's initial reaction was to call for unity within the faction. But on 8 March, he forced two of the initiators of the open letters -- Stela Bankova and Elka Anastasova -- to resign. Bankova and Anastasova held positions on different parliamentary commissions. Another three legislators -- political nobodies -- followed them more or less voluntarily. All five deputies had close links with Ganev.
While media speculation about further resignations persists -- some newspapers name up to 40 members -- it is doubtful whether Ganev's influence is the only source of dissent within the NDSV's parliamentary group. If one takes a closer look at the faction's composition, it soon becomes clear that it is composed of too many different groups to be able to cooperate constructively. Apart from the so-called "Ganevists," there are conservatives and leftists, members of business lobbies, and professional economists, lawyers, medics, models, and artists.
This diversity led one commentator to the conclusion that the parliamentary group does not conduct a single policy, but various policies. And Georgi Karasimeonov, who heads the Sofia Institute for Political Science, predicted in an interview with "Standart" that the inconsistencies in NDSV policy may contribute to the loss of international support for Saxecoburggotski's government.
With a crumbling majority, the NDSV will have to look for other coalition partners; but so far, it is not clear whether it wants to cooperate with the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) or the BSP. At the very moment the NDSV leadership decides which path to follow, it will face the danger of another split. Whether its planned transformation into a political party can hinder this development, however, is doubtful.