|Thursday, 22 October 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-07-17
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 OPINIONS SPLIT ON MEANING OF EURO'S RISERussian officials were uncertain as to what the surging euro, which reached parity with the U.S. dollar this week, means for Russia, strana.ru reported on 17 July. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin urged citizens not to take any drastic actions, but conceded that the situation caused by the falling dollar requires serious and thorough analysis. "I keep my own small savings in rubles," Kudrin was quoted as saying. Yevgenii Yasin, head of the Russian Academy of Science's Higher Economics School, emphasized the macroeconomic difficulties arising from the situation. "If you look at the short term, of course, Russia is losing in this situation because all foreign debts owed to us are in dollars, while our debts to European countries are, as you know, significant," Yasin told the website. However, he added that he believes in the resilience of the U.S. economy and said, "For average [Russians], the present variations in the euro-dollar exchange rate do not have any meaningful significance." RC
 FOREIGN MINISTER REPEATS STAND ON ARAFAT...Igor Ivanov returned to Moscow on 17 July following four-party talks in New York the day before on the Middle East crisis, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Ivanov stressed that the group -- made up of representatives of Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations -- did not discuss the future of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, but he added that all the participants except the United States believe that the Palestinians should be able to choose their own leaders. Ivanov said the next meeting of the quartet will take place in September in New York. RC
 ...AND URGES RATIFICATION OF LITHUANIAN BORDER TREATY...Speaking to reporters in New York, Ivanov pressed the Duma to ratify the pending border treaty between Russia and Lithuania as soon as possible, ITAR-TASS reported. Some lawmakers have been urging delaying the treaty, which was signed in 1997, until the dispute over access to Kaliningrad following expected EU expansion in 2004 is settled. "With the European Union, we are building relations of strategic partnership for the long term in the widest areas of cooperation. It would be very inappropriate to return to Cold War rhetoric," Ivanov was quoted as saying. He added that talks between Russia and the European Union on Kaliningrad will open in Brussels on 23 July, to be followed by four-party talks including Poland and Lithuania. RC
 ...AS RUSSIA CONTINUES TO INSISTS ON VISA-FREE PASSAGE FOR KALININGRADERSIn an interview with "Izvestiya" on16 July, Dmitrii Rogozin, the new presidential envoy for Kaliningrad, said that he does not exclude the possibility of a gradual easing of the entry regime to the EU for all Russian citizens and not just those who reside in Kaliningrad. He said he considers it "necessary to set a deadline by which we will create a single, visa-free European area with Russia a part of that area." He added that he believes the Kaliningrad problem "goes beyond the competence of the Foreign Ministry." Also on 16 July, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev suggested in Kaliningrad that rather than issuing visas, Lithuanian border guards could simply stamp passports of those Russians traveling in either direction across the territory of Lithuania, RosBalt reported. Otherwise, he said, Lithuanian consular services "might be overwhelmed by visa applications from residents of Kaliningrad and other parts of Russia," receiving up to 1,200 visa applications a day. However, the EU published a report on Kaliningrad on 15 July, which, according to polit.ru, rules out any solution other than the issuance of visas. JAC
 PUTIN, DEFENSE MINISTER REITERATE POSITION ON IRAQPresident Vladimir Putin on 16 July sent a cable to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on the occasion of an Iraqi national holiday pledging to help prevent U.S. military intervention in Iraq and to push for "a political solution," dpa reported, citing the official Iraqi News Agency. "I would like to assure you anew that Russia is determined to continue its active work with a view of reaching a comprehensive solution to the Iraqi issue through diplomatic and political means only," Putin wrote. Meanwhile, speaking to journalists in St. Petersburg on 16 July, Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov said that "news of [U.S.] preparations of military action against Iraq worries us," according to Reuters. "Iraq is our longstanding partner and debtor, so we cannot stand aside from events there," Ivanov added. RC
 CHRISTMAS ISLAND COSMODROME MOVES ONE STEP FORWARDRussia and Australia have agreed on basic principles for the construction and operation of a Russian cosmodrome on Australia's Christmas Island, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 July. After three days of talks, the parties reached understanding in principle on all outstanding issues concerning the project, including measures to protect Russian technologies. Officials on both sides are now working on a final agreement. Under the project, which is the largest trade and investment deal ever between the two countries, Russia will use its "Avrora" launcher to put satellites into orbit. The first launch is expected in 2004. RC
 NEW OPERATION TARGETS ROMAPolice in Moscow and Leningrad oblasts on 16 July began Operation Tabor, targeted against unregistered ethnic Roma, izvestia.ru and lenta.ru reported on 17 July. Under the program, police at train stations will stop everyone who appears to be Roma and check their documents to make sure they are legally registered. Those who are found not to be registered will be entered into a special database, have their fingerprints taken, and then be escorted outside the territory of the oblast, lenta.ru reported. The program, which is intended to cut down on drug trafficking, has provoked bitter criticism among Romany activists. "Can one really look for criminals among a specific nationality? A nation cannot be criminal," said Georgii Yanko, president of the Roma cultural-development foundation, according to lenta.ru. Activists confirmed that they have written to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and President Putin to protest the operation. They added that they will also appeal to international human rights organizations. RC
 NEW CHARGES POSSIBLE AGAINST AVANT-GARDE WRITER...Moscow prosecutors are now looking into a second novel by writer Vladimir Sorokin and may file additional pornography charges against him, Ekho Moskvy and Interfax reported on 17 July. Interfax reported that an unidentified source in the city prosecutor's office said that investigators are currently studying Sorokin's novel "Led" ("Ice") in response to a complaint from readers. If prosecutors determine that the novel is indeed pornographic, additional charges will be filed. Prosecutors filed pornography charges against Sorokin on 11 July over his novel "Goluboye Salo" ("Blue Lard"), which depicts a sexual act between former Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. RC
 ...WHO TAKES THE OFFENSIVEMeanwhile, Sorokin and his publisher, Ad Marginem, have decided to file a lawsuit against the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together for distributing pornography, Interfax and sobkor.ru reported on 17 July. According to Sorokin's lawyer Aleksandr Lushenkov, the group distributed excerpts from several of Sorokin's novels during a demonstration earlier this year in Moscow. "Fragments from Sorokin's novels viewed within the context of the novels themselves are not pornography. Taken separately, fragments from the novels may well be perceived as [pornographic]," Lushenkov said. He said that the suit will be filed on 18 July in Moscow's Taganskii Municipal Court. RC
 U.S. DENIES REFUSING ZHIRINOVSKII'S VISAAn unidentified source at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow denied recent reports that the embassy refused to issue a visa to Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002), Ekho Moskvy reported on 17 July, citing Interfax. "Zhirinovskii has not applied for a visa recently," the source was quoted as saying. The source added that the last time Zhirinovskii applied for a visa was in November, and that visa was issued. RC
 PUTIN SIDES WITH SHOIGU IN INTRAGOVERNMENTAL SPATAfter meeting with Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu on 16 July, President Putin criticized the State Construction Committee, or Gosstroi, Russian news agencies reported. Putin said he is surprised that Gosstroi offered the same cost estimates for reconstructing houses in cities as in rural areas, ITAR-TASS reported. Shoigu charged that the real cost of building a house for a family of five is "not more than 100,000 rubles [$3,000]" and not 600,000 as Gosstroi alleged. According to polit.ru, Shoigu and Gosstroi head Anvar Shamuzafarov exchanged harsh criticism of each other's work at a cabinet meeting the previous day. JAC
 LIBERAL RUSSIA GIVEN CHOICE BETWEEN BEREZOVSKII OR ELECTIONS...In accordance with the law on political parties that went into force about a year ago, 10 political organizations, including Boris Berezovskii's Liberal Russia, have been denied party status, precluding them from taking part in the next parliamentary elections. While Justice Ministry officials have asserted that these rejections were based on purely formal or legal grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 July 2002), one of Liberal Russia's co-chairmen, State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin, said on 16 July that "political bargaining" is being conducted with the party's leadership, nns.ru reported. According to Pokhmelkin, Liberal Russia is being offered party status on the condition that it abandons its harsh opposition to the president and remove oligarch Boris Berezovskii as co-chairman. However, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika reiterated on 16 July that the ministry's decision is not political, saying Liberal Russia still has a chance to be registered if it makes the necessary changes to its charter. MD
 ...AS JUSTICE MINISTRY ACCUSED OF BIASIn an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 16 July, deputy head of Yabloko's State Duma faction Sergei Mitrokhin said that while "Liberal Russia's charter contains some imperfections, [similar deficiencies] abound in the documents of many already registered parties." Mitrokhin was optimistic that the party will be registered, adding that the controversy gives the party additional publicity. MD
 SELEZNEV AIMS TO START NEW SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC PARTYState Duma speaker Seleznev announced on 16 July that he intends to set up a new social-democratic party on the basis of his Rossiya movement, ITAR-TASS reported. The new party will have a new name, which will most likely be the Rossiya Socialist Party. According to Seleznev, the new party will hold its first congress on 7 September. The same day, political analyst Aleksandr Tsipko suggested in an article in "Komsomolskaya pravda" that Seleznev has committed "political suicide." "Not one country of the Byzantine Orthodox culture has succeeded in transforming a former communist party into a modern social-democratic one," he wrote. "What is possible in Poland and Hungary is impossible in Russia. Unfortunately, Gennadii Seleznev does not realize this." Tsipko concluded that Seleznev's career is heading the way of former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin toward "political nonexistence." JAC
 WEEKLY MULLS CHANGES IN ST. PETERSBURG..."Moskovskiye novosti," No. 27, reported on the variety of theories explaining the replacement last week of the head of St. Petersburg's police force, Major General Venyamin Petukhov, with Major General Mikhail Vanichkin, who previously headed Russia's Interpol bureau. According to the weekly, there are at least five theories: one, that Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov plans to run for governor of the city and needs a loyal person as head of the local police force; two, Petukhov offended one of Gryzlov's friends, head of the raion's Internal Affairs Department Andrei Novikov; three, Petukhov lacked connections with either the Kremlin or the Federal Security Service (FSB); four, Petukhov "paid the price" for his neutrality in the "hunt" for criminal evidence against St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's deputies; and five, Petukhov was sacked because of the St. Petersburg police's poor record investigating crimes. (The fourth theory was proffered by sources close to the city administration.) Officially, Petukhov was transferred because he was reaching retirement age. JAC
 ...AS YAKOVLEV'S FUTURE REMAINS UNCLEARFor his part, Vanichkin announced that his first steps as new police chief will depend on the results of an inspection being undertaken by Major General Vasilii Yurchenko and 100 Interior Ministry officers from Moscow who are thoroughly examining all of the city's local police departments. Meanwhile, VolgaInform reported on 16 July that it is not completely clear that the city charter (Chapter 6, Article 41, Point 5) forbids Governor Yakovlev from seeking a third term, although most Moscow-based newspapers have suggested that the regulation can be read only one way. It also reported that there is no unified opinion in the central media over who controls the city's legislature, which would play a key role in changing the charter if that were deemed necessary. JAC
 MOSCOW RANKED WORLD'S SECOND-MOST-EXPENSIVE CITYAccording to an annual survey by the Geneva-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting, published on 8 July, Moscow is the most expensive European city and the second-most-expensive city in the world, nns.ru reported on July 16, citing "Nezavisimaya gazeta." The survey placed Moscow even above Tokyo, which was considered the world's most expensive city last year. This year Russia's capital placed second to Hong Kong. However, an article in "The Moscow Times" published on 10 July, claimed the survey contains a certain bias as it evaluates Moscow's expenditures and prices based on the perspective of a Western expatriate. According to the survey, the least expensive, unfurnished, one-bedroom apartment in Moscow costs $1,900 a month, while the cheapest adult's casual shirt costs $115.80, "The Moscow Times" reported. The survey also ranked Russia's northern capital of St. Petersburg higher than London -- one of Europe's most expensive cities. MD
 KRASNOYARSK NOT LIKELY TO ELECT ANOTHER LEBED...Despite the predictions of many Moscow-based political analysts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002), Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature speaker Aleksandr Uss continues to lead in opinion polls on the 8 September gubernatorial elections, VolgaInform reported on 15 July. According to the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), Uss has 26.6 percent support compared with 16.3 percent for Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, 15.3 percent for Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov, and 14.4 percent for Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed. Lebed and Uss are the best known among voters and also have the strongest negative ratings. More than 38 percent of those polled by VTsIOM said that they would definitely not vote for the late governor's younger brother, Aleksei Lebed. As of 16 July, the krai's election commission reported that 29 persons have expressed their intention to run. JAC
 ...AS UNPAID WORKERS THREATEN TO BOYCOTT ELECTIONSMeanwhile, around 1,200 medical workers in the krai, including 200 in the city Krasnoyarsk, participated on 16 July in a four-hour work stoppage to protest the backlog of unpaid wages, Interfax-Eurasia and RIA-Novosti reported. The workers are owed some 160 million rubles ($5.1 million) and are threatening to boycott the elections, according to RIA-Novosti. JAC
 SOME MUSCOVITES RALLY FOR LEGALIZATION OF POTA street rally calling for the legalization of "soft" or recreational drugs, such as marijuana, took place in downtown Moscow on 16 July. Activists from the Transnational Radical Party, which organized the rally, are seeking to legalize hemp and its derivatives -- marijuana and hashish -- claiming these drugs are less harmful than tobacco and alcohol according to the World Health Organization, ntvru.com reported. Despite this, "such drugs remain under the control of mafia structures and bring them tremendous profits," Interfax quoted the Moscow head of the party Anatolii Khramov as saying. Rally participants invited all passers-by to express their opinion on the issue by casting a special ballot. According to Khramov, of the 221 persons -- mostly younger people -- who took part in the poll, 64 percent approved of the idea, while 36 percent were opposed, Interfax reported. However, an express opinion poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy the same day showed that 76 percent of the 2,226 respondents objected to the legalization of soft drugs, while only 24 percent were in favor, ntvru.com reported. MD
 PUTIN CALLS FOR MORE CARTOONSPresident Putin has asked Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi to look into ways to increase the production of films, especially cartoons, for children, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 July. At a meeting between the two officials on 16 July, Putin stressed that formerly the country produced large quantities of high-quality cartoons and that the country still has rich resources of talent in this area that need to be more actively exploited. Putin's call comes despite, or perhaps because of, the popularity of "Beavis and Butthead" among Russian youth and the country's intelligentsia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1999). RC
 'TERRORIST' APPREHENDED IN GEORGIA NOT LINKED WITH CHECHEN FIGHTERS?Adam Dongushev (or Dakkushev), whom Georgian security officials apprehended on 14 July in the Black Sea village of Ureki, has no ties with fighters loyal to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Caucasus Press quoted Maskhadov's representative in Tbilisi Khizri Aldamov as saying on 16 July. Interfax the same day quoted officials from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office as saying that Dongushev has been extradited to Moscow and is giving evidence in connection with the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. The Georgian paper "Khvalindeli dghe" on 17 July quoted Georgian Caucasus expert Mamuka Areshidze as saying that Dongushev was apprehended in a joint Russian-Georgian operation at Russia's request after the United States advised the Georgian government to improve its relations with Moscow. Also on 17 July, Caucasus Press reported that Giorgi Tsurtsumia, one of the founders of the Chechen-Caucasus Committee, has been found stabbed to death in his Tbilisi apartment. LF
 FORMER FSB OFFICER CLAIMS NEW INFORMATION ON 1999 BOMBINGSFormer FSB Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who lives in exile in London, announced on 16 July that he has new information about the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities that he intends to present to a special commission headed by Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev on 25 July, Russian news agencies reported on 17 July. Litvenenko, who was convicted of treason in absentia by a Moscow court on 25 June, said that he had been in contact with Achimez Gochiyaev, who is regarded by the FSB as one of the organizers of the explosions, and that Gochiyaev provided him with crucial information. RC
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA BEGIN 'FINAL' DEBT TALKSRussian Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology Ilya Klebanov arrived in Yerevan on 16 July where he is expected to sign the long-awaited "enterprises for debts" deal under which Moscow will write off Armenia's entire $98 million debt in exchange for controlling stakes in the Hrazdan thermal-power plant, the "Mars" electronics factory, and two research institutes, Armenian news agencies and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March, 14 May and 21 June 2002). Klebanov met on 16 July with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to discuss the final version of the agreement and other aspects of bilateral economic cooperation, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF TRYING TO SPLIT COMMUNIST PARTYSpeaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 16 July, Communist Party of Armenia (HKK) First Secretary Vladimir Darpinian criticized President Kocharian for meeting five days earlier with members of the Renewed Communist Party of Armenia, whose members were expelled last year from the HKK for advocating cooperation with the present leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Darpinian accused Kocharian of attempting to split the HKK and to "disorient" its supporters in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. He said the HKK is currently holding talks with other opposition parties, including Hanrapetutiun, Artashes Geghamian's National Accord Party, and the People's Party of Armenia, on cooperation and even a possible election alliance. He said the HKK will decide at a congress this fall whether to nominate a candidate in the March 2003 presidential elections, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. LF
 REVIEW COURT REDUCES FORMER ARMENIAN PENAL SYSTEM HEAD'S SENTENCEArmenia's Review Court on 16 July upheld the verdict handed down by a lower court in May on Mushegh Saghatelian, former head of Armenia's prison system, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2002). Saghatelian was found guilty of abuse of power, fraud, and attempting to procure false testimony implicating President Kocharian in the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings. In response to an appeal by Saghatelian's lawyer Robert Grigorian, the Review Court reduced his sentence from seven to six years' imprisonment. Grigorian said he will now take the case to the Court of Appeal. LF
 SENIOR COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL VISITS AZERBAIJANLuxembourg's Foreign Minister Lydie Polfer, who chairs the Council of Europe's Council of Ministers, held talks in Baku on 16 July with Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev and President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. The agency quoted Polfer as telling Aliev that Azerbaijan still has a long way to go to reach European standards, to which Aliev reportedly replied that one cannot expect of Azerbaijan the same level of democracy as elsewhere in Europe, given that country became independent only 10 years ago. Asked whether Azerbaijan would agree to a territorial exchange to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Aliev said, "If Armenia wants to exchange the Meghri region, it can raise the issue and we will discuss it." Polfer also met on 16 July with parliament deputies to discuss political prisoners and the planned referendum on constitutional amendments. LF
 RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER DISCUSSES CASPIAN DEMARCATION WITH AZERBAIJANOn a one-day visit to Baku on 16 July, Viktor Khristenko met with President Aliev to discuss bilateral economic cooperation, Turan and Russian news agencies reported. Khristenko told journalists after that one-hour meeting that the two countries "are drawing nearer to a resolution...of the problem of the status of the Caspian Sea," AP reported. He said no disputes remain over the planned agreement on demarcating the Russian and Azerbaijani sectors of the seabed, but that talks are continuing on the precise legal wording. Khristenko had given the same explanation last month for the failure to sign that document during a visit by President Aliev to St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2002). LF
 GEORGIAN 'YOUNG REFORMER' PLANS MASS PROTESTS WITH PARTY REPRESENTING DISPLACED PERSONS...Opposition National Movement-Democratic Front leader Mikhail Saakashvili plans to stage mass protest demonstrations this fall together with Tamaz Nadareishvili, the former KGB general who heads the Abkhaz government in exile and the Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia (AGP), Caucasus Press reported on 11 July, quoting the daily "Akhali taoba." The same paper on 12 July quoted Nadareishvili as saying the AGP has not yet decided whether to contest the parliamentary elections in the fall of 2003 independently or forge an election alliance with another party. The AGP ran in tandem with the then ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia in the 1999 parliamentary election. LF
 ...BUT FAILS TO CO-OPT WAR VETERANS"Rezonansi" on 16 July published a statement by Georgia's Union of War Veterans saying that they rejected an offer by Saakashvili and former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania of 5 million laris ($2.36 million) for their support, Caucasus Press reported. They said that offer was doubled, to 10 million laris, and again rejected. In an allusion to the violent ouster by paramilitaries in late 1991 of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the war veterans said they will not be party to political destabilization or "another coup." LF
 RUSSIAN, SOUTH CAUCASUS PARLIAMENT CHAIRS MEETThe speakers of the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian parliaments and Russia's Federation Council met in St. Petersburg on 15 July, Caucasus Press reported. Armenia's Armen Hachatrian and Azerbaijan's Murtuz Alesqerov discussed the Karabakh conflict, while Georgia's Nino Burdjanadze discussed with Sergei Mironov ways to overcome the tensions in Georgian-Russian relations, which she termed a "cold war." A further such meeting will take place in October in Tbilisi. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S GOVERNMENT REVIEWS SIX MONTHS' ACHIEVEMENTSAltai Tleuberdin, who heads the prime minister's staff, on 16 July reviewed the work of the Kazakh government during the first six months of 2002, Interfax reported. He noted that Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov, who was named prime minister in late January, has traveled to each of the country's 14 oblasts. The government has reviewed 302 parliamentary enquiries and over 2,000 letters from citizens, 139 of which were addressed directly to the prime minister. Tleuberdin said GDP increased during the first half of the year by 9.6 percent, industrial production by 8.7 percent, and agricultural output by 5.1 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2001. He said that although world oil prices remain above the $9 per barrel on which the 2002 budget is calculated, it is not planned at present to revise budget targets. LF
 U.S. TO EXPAND DEFENSE COOPERATION WITH KAZAKHSTANDuring talks in Washington on 10 July, agreement was reached that the United States will supply Kazakhstan with unspecified advanced military technology and help to develop its rapid-reaction forces, according to ITAR-TASS on 16 July. The United States will also train Kazakh officers, beginning in 2003. LF
 DISGRACED KYRGYZ OFFICIAL NAMED AMBASSADOR TO TURKEYPresident Askar Akaev has named former presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov Kyrgyz ambassador to Turkey, replacing Medetkan Sherimkulov, who occupied that post since November 1999, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 16 July. Karypkulov resigned on 22 May after the government commission created to investigate the clashes in March in Aksy in which five people died identified him as one of the officials who contributed to rising tensions between district officials in Aksy and demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2002). LF
 TAJIK PRESIDENT, IMF DISCUSS POSSIBLE NEW LOAN PROGRAMImomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 16 July with visiting IMF official Rupert Christiansen to discuss whether the fund will provide a new three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Tajikistan failed to comply with the conditions for receiving the final tranche of an earlier PRGF loan program that expired last year, and incurred criticism from the fund in February 2002 for having misreported its external debts at the time when three tranches were disbursed in 2000-01 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 21 February 2002). Christiansen noted that Tajikistan has made progress in implementing short-term measures worked out together with the fund last fall, and which have contributed to an increase in GDP of over 8 percent during the first six months of 2002. LF
 TAJIKISTAN MULLS PARIS CLUB MEMBERSHIPTajikistan is considering joining the Paris Club in a bid to resolve its foreign debt problems through restructuring, Presidential adviser Faizullo Kholboboev told journalists in Dushanbe on 16 July, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Christiansen estimated the country's total foreign debt at $1 billion. LF
 TAJIK GOVERNMENT ENDORSES NEW NATIONAL EDUCATION CONCEPTThe government has approved a new national education concept aimed at ending the chronic shortages of skilled specialists in all areas of the economy, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 July. That problem is reportedly exacerbated by a shortage of trained teachers in secondary schools and in of teachers of science in higher-education establishments. LF
 ANOTHER WOMAN ISLAMIST GIVEN SUSPENDED SENTENCE IN UZBEKISTANA court in Tashkent on 16 July handed down a two-year suspended sentence on 38-year-old Musharaf Usmanova, whom it found guilty of providing support to the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamic organization, AP reported. Usmanova's first husband died in custody in 1999 after being detained on suspicion of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir; her second husband and son-in-law are serving prison sentences for their affiliation with the organization. Four women Islamist sympathizers likewise received suspended sentences in a similar trial in Tashkent two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2002). LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ELECTED HEAD OF BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS...An expanded meeting of Belarus's Federation of Trade Unions held in Minsk on 16 July elected Leonid Kozik to head the organization, Belapan reported the same day. Kozik, deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration, was elected by a vote of 238 to 10, with eight abstentions. Nikolai Belanovski, chairman of the Minsk Association of Trade Unions, said that Belarus's trade unions "have been able to overcome the deadlock [between the unions and authorities] lately." He added that Kozik "will ensure constructive relations with the authorities." After his election, Kozik said: "We do not need to fight a war [with the authorities] for the sake of the war itself. Our purpose is to arrange for the authorities to work for the trade unions, and I know how to do that." Kozik added that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka shares his opinion. CB
 ...RECEIVES BADGE OF HONOR FROM PRESIDENTPresident Lukashenka has awarded Kozik a Badge of Honor "for fruitful service with governmental agencies and for active public work," Belapan reported on 16 July, citing the presidential press service. CB
 WILDFIRES BURNING IN CHORNOBYL-AFFECTED REGIONS OF BELARUSA number of wildfires are burning in the Homel and Brest regions of Belarus that were worst affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster in neighboring Ukraine, resulting in higher radiation levels in the area, AP reported the same day, citing officials from Belarus's Emergency Situations Ministry. The ministry said that at least 30 peat fires and 11 forest fires are burning in the regions. Belarusian Emergency Situations Minister Valery Astapov said radiation levels have increased in the fire zones, though he did not reveal any specific figures. CB
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS MASS AMNESTYPresident Lukashenka ordered the release of hundreds of state prisoners on a wide-ranging amnesty on 16 July, Belapan and Interfax reported the same day. Under the order, 1,900 prisoners were released from state penitentiaries, while another 3,000 had their sentences reduced by one-third and 25,000 had their sentences reduced by a year. Repeat offenders and those convicted of committing violent crimes were not affected by the amnesty. Lukashenka ordered the amnesty in order to reduce government expenditures, Interfax reported. CB
 BELARUSIAN SUPREME COURT DISMISSES APPEAL FROM FAMILY OF MISSING CAMERAMANThe collegium of the Supreme Court of Belarus dismissed on 16 July an appeal filed by the family of Dzmitry Zavadski, a cameraman for Russia's ORT television who disappeared in July 2000, Belapan reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). In March, the Minsk Oblast Court sentenced Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik to life in prison for kidnapping Zavadski. Two more defendants, Alyaksey Huz and Syarhey Savushkin, were sentenced to 25 and 12 years, respectively, for being accomplices in the crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). Zavadski's family, however, asked the Supreme Court to reinvestigate the case, claiming the guilt of the accused was never proven and that the evidence against them was obtained illegally. The court also dismissed appeals filed by the four men convicted of the crime. CB
 POSSIBLE SOVIET-ERA MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED AT UKRAINIAN MONASTERYConstruction workers at a monastery in western Ukraine have uncovered about 130 skeletons that officials believe may have been victims of a post-World War II massacre of members of the Greek Catholic Church, Reuters reported on 16 July. The agency added that the remains, some of which are those of children, were found under the floor of a facility that once housed a Greek Catholic Church, which was banned by Joseph Stalin in 1946. "These people were buried so secretly that even the locals did not know they were in the monastery. It looks like entire families were killed here," Reuters quoted Evhen Yanushevych, deputy head of the Zhovka regional administration, as saying. "We presume they could have been killed by the NKVD [Soviet secret police], but we need to carry out more tests." AH
 UNPAID UKRAINIAN COAL MINERS DEMONSTRATE IN KYIVAn estimated 650 marchers gathered in the capital on 16 July to protest months of unpaid wages for coal miners and other grievances, dpa reported. The miners gathered in front of the Energy Ministry, where police monitored the peaceful proceedings, and called for payment of back wages, higher wages, and increased state subsidies to the industry, the agency added. About two-thirds of the country's 209 mines are state-run, dpa reported. Repeated calls for closures and layoffs have been countered by fears of social fallout over the fates of the 600,000 people who work in the sector. AH
 ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES EMPLOYMENT PLAN FOR 2003The cabinet endorsed on 17 July the employment program for 2003, a document that describes the current situation in the Estonian labor market and outlines the policies required to improve the situation, BNS reported. The program drawn up by the Social Affairs Ministry includes measures to help young and long-time unemployed find jobs, to maintain the competitiveness of the aging labor market, and to develop vocational education, as well as measures to increase the efficiency of state-labor markets and to employ more handicapped people. The plan envisions using funds from the European Social Foundation to finance some of the program. Estonia had 577,700 employees and 83,100 unemployed people in 2001. The unemployment rate, which reached a peak of 14.6 percent in 2000, dropped to 11.2 percent in the first quarter of 2002. SG
 LATVIAN FARMERS DEMAND OPTIONS FOR SELLING GRAINAbout 100 farmers staged a protest in front of the Cabinet of Ministers building in Riga on 17 July demanding that they be guaranteed options for selling this year's grain harvest, LETA reported. Indulis Jansons, the director of the Vidzeme Agricultural-Economic Cooperative Society, noted that farmers growing rye are concerned that Riga Bestsprit Ltd., the operator of the Kalsnava alcohol plant, has suspended its operations due to a tax dispute with the State Revenue Service. The plant had in the past agreed to purchase rye even if it was not properly dried as is required with grain for other products. Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris talked to the protesters and pledged to find a way how farmers could sell their rye. SG
 GAZPROM SOLE BIDDER FOR STAKE IN LITHUANIAN GASRussian gas giant Gazprom together with its local strategic partner Dujotekana Co. on 17 July submitted the only application to the State Property Fund for purchasing the 34 percent share in the natural-gas utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) earmarked for a gas supplier, ELTA reported. Gazprom intends to purchase 25 percent of the shares and Dujotekana 9 percent. In June the German energy companies Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie purchased a similar 34 percent share of the utility as a strategic investor by transferring 116 million litas ($32.5 million) to the Lithuanian Privatization Fund and 34 million litas to an escrow account with Vereins-und Westbank AG. The price of the gas-supplier's stake has not yet been decided, but Aleksandr Ryazanov, the deputy chairman of Gazprom's executive board, said last week that the new purchaser, which will have to guarantee natural-gas supplies for at least 10 years, will seek to pay only 81 million litas, or 70 percent of what the German companies actually paid for the strategic-investor stake. SG
 POLISH FINANCE MINISTER PROMISES DISCIPLINE, BUT ALSO MORE JOBSPolish Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko promised on 16 July to stick to the "financial discipline" of his predecessor, as well as to reduce the public budget deficit and revive business confidence, AP reported the same day. Kolodko's first statements on his intentions follow more than a week of nervousness on currency markets and among investors since his appointment to replace Marek Belka on 5 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 July 2002). He also said the government will prepare a special "anti-crisis package to protect the market and jobs," in order to stop by November the growth of unemployment, currently at 17.8 percent. Kolodko's statement seemed to calm fears about the zloty, which rose to 4.14 to the dollar soon afterward. DW
 CZECH PRESIDENT CUTS SHORT FRENCH VISIT FOR HEALTH REASONSPresident Vaclav Havel cut short a visit to France and was hospitalized immediately upon his return to Prague on 17 July, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel developed bronchial problems during the night and his personal physician recommended that he return to Prague. Spacek also announced that Havel will soon leave on vacation. Havel has suffered from chronic bronchitis for a number of years, following his 1996 surgery when doctors removed half of his right lung to extract a small malignant tumor. Havel met in Paris on 16 July with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac and with Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Havel then traveled to Avignon, where he was to attend a theater festival that scheduled several of his plays. MS
 CZECH CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES HAS COMMUNIST DEPUTY SPEAKERThe Chamber of Deputies on 16 July elected Vojtech Filip as one of its deputy speakers in a secret ballot, CTK reported. This is the first time following the 1989 change of regime that a Communist deputy has been elected to an official parliamentary position. Filip was endorsed by 105 votes, four more than the minimum 101 majority needed. Also elected as deputy speakers were Ivan Langer of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), who received 161 votes, and Hana Marvanova of the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, who garnered 102 votes in a second round after falling short of a majority with 93 votes in the first round. ODS parliamentary deputy Miroslava Nemcova again failed, as on 11 July, to garner the minimum endorsement, receiving 61 in the second round after getting 69 votes in the first. The ODS said it will again submit Nemcova's candidacy on 19 July. MS
 CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS ELECT NEW PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADERFormer Culture Minister Jaromir Talir was unanimously elected on 16 July as the next leader of the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. Talir replaces Jan Kasal, who last week was elected one of the six deputy speakers of the chamber. Also on 16 July, the US-DEU parliamentary group re-elected Karel Kuehnl as its head. MS
 CZECH PREMIER TO KEEP CONTROL OF BISPrime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Czech television on 16 July that he does not intend to relinquish control of the Security Information Service (BIS), of which he was in charge in the previous government as a deputy premier, CTK reported. MS
 KLAUS WILL NOT JOIN ODS SHADOW CABINETODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus, in an interview with the daily "Lidove noviny" on 17 July, said he does not intend to be a member of the new ODS shadow cabinet, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). At the same time, Klaus said he does not rule out running for president when President Havel's mandate expires early next year. Klaus said that his decision not to head the shadow cabinet should be read as "a signal" about "a search for change in the ODS." But he also said that the previous ODS shadow cabinet "has not produced any remarkable personalities," with the possible exception of Jan Zahradil (foreign affairs), Martin Riman (transport) and Petr Necas (defense). MS
 CZECH CENSUS SHOWS SLIGHT DROP IN POPULATIONThe final results of last year's census were released on 16 July and show that the Czech Republic's population has declined in the last decade, CTK and dpa reported. The 1 March 2001 census produced a figure of 10,230,060 people, which is 72,155 fewer than the 1991 headcount. The Czech Statistics Office (CSU) said that the country's birthrate has fallen to a "critically low" figure of nine births per 1,000 residents. About half of all Czechs are employed, 16 percent are under the age of 15, 7 percent are university graduates, and 65 percent said they adhere to no religion. Women outnumber men by some 200,000 and make up two-thirds of the 1 million Czechs who are aged 70 and more. Regarding ethnicity, 90.4 percent said they are Czech. While 12,000 said their nationality is Romany, twice as many declared Romany their native language. MS
 SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES PLANS FOR ARMY PROFESSIONALIZATIONDefense Minister Jozef Stank told journalists on 16 July that nearly all of the current officers in the Slovak Army will be released from service by 2006, CTK reported. He said 15,500 officers and civilian personnel will have to leave the army as part of its transformation into a professional corps, and that in the next five years some 3,000 officers now having the rank of captain, major, and lieutenant colonel will be released every year. Stank said the backbone of Slovakia's professional army will consist of noncommissioned officers, of whom 11,500 will be recruited and undergo training in the next few years. The Slovak Army will have 3,599 officers at the beginning of 2007, according to Stank, who said the largest layoffs will come from among the ranks of civilian military personnel, of whom 8,000 will have to leave and only 4,000 will continue to be employed by the Defense Ministry. MS
 HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES GOVERNMENT'S BUDGET AMENDMENTS...With a vote of 339 in favor, 17 abstentions, and none against, parliament on 16 July approved the government-proposed amendments to the 2002 budget, Hungarian media reported. The abstentions were by Hungarian Democratic Forum members, while the main opposition FIDESZ supported the amendments. Reacting to the FIDESZ support, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said, "I believe that opponents should be forced to think, rather than to kneel down." As a result of the amendment, the lives of 4 million people will be improved, according to the prime minister. He also said the government has now managed to meet the targets of its 100-day program in only 50 days, but in order to "remain accountable" before the legislature, the cabinet will launch a new 100-day program before the end of the year. MS
 ...AMENDMENTS TO NATIONAL BANK LAW...Also on 16 July, parliament approved amendments to the National Bank Law providing for the setting up of a six-member supervisory board, Hungarian media reported. The Finance Ministry is to delegate two of the board's members, and the four parliamentary parties will each appoint one member. The amendment stipulates that the supervisory board may control the operations of the National Bank of Hungary (MNB), but cannot influence its monetary policies. In addition, the exchange-rate policy will now be the joint responsibility of the government and the MNB, although no decision can be made to compromise the MNB's inflation target -- a restriction included due to pressure from the European Central Bank. MS
 ...AND LAND FUND LAW AMENDMENTSThe parliament also approved amendments to the National Land Fund, increasing the area controlled by the fund from 370,000 hectares to more than 1.5 million, Hungarian media reported. A five-member panel set up by the parliament's Agriculture Commission will control the activities of the Land Fund. Agricultural organizations, regional alliances, and the Agricultural Chamber may nominate candidates to the panel, and local control will be exercised by local land-use councils. The use and sale of property held by the fund will be announced by public tender instead of inviting bids. In addition, pensioners will be able to sell their land to the fund in exchange for annuities. MS
 'MEDGYESSY COMMISSION' STARTS WORKING IN HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTThe ad hoc parliamentary commission set up to investigate Prime Minister Medgyessy's past links with the communist secret services began its work on 16 July, but the commission's members disagree on general procedural issues and especially on which documents should be placed at the commission's disposal, Hungarian media reported. The Socialist members of the commission insist that it should adhere to the guidelines set by parliament, which restrict examination to documents provided by the Interior Ministry, the Records Office, and the national security services. Opposition members of the commission, however, insist that documents from other state bodies should also be made available. Members also disagree on procedures to be used to hear testimony from witnesses. Commission Chairman Laszlo Balogh said he has asked Prime Minister Medgyessy to make himself available to testify before the commission at an early stage of its work. MS
 HUNGARIAN TELEVISION PRESIDENT TO RESIGNHungarian Television (MTV) President Karoly Mendreczky told the network's board of trustees on 16 July that he plans to resign, citing increasing criticism from pro-government circles as the reason for his decision, Hungarian media reported. He said he does not want such criticism to further weaken MTV's already precarious financial situation. The board now has 15 days to appoint a new president. Meanwhile, it decided to entrust recently appointed MTV Deputy President Imre Regacs with running the network temporarily. Governing coalition parliamentary deputies welcomed Mendreczky's resignation, saying that during his tenure of office the network displayed bias in favor of the previous government and that he should have quit right after the elections. MS
 ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER URGES HUNGARY, OTHER CANDIDATES TO COMPROMISE...EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in a speech at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 16 July that candidate EU countries should show flexibility in the final negotiations over the terms of their admission and warned that the room for maneuver is limited, Hungarian media and Reuters reported. He said that the enlargement opportunity might be missed if no readiness to compromise is shown. "The room to maneuver in the negotiations is certainly very, very limited," Verheugen said. "The window of opportunity [for enlargement] is open now, and we must not miss this opportunity, because I do not know when it will -- and whether it will -- come again." He noted that candidate countries fear that restrictions on agricultural subsidies will make them second-class members, but none of the candidates is paying much attention to the fact that the EU has agreed to transition periods concerning the union's environmental standards. MS
 ...AND HEARS FROM ORBAN ABOUT 'GATHERING CLOUDS'Earlier on 16 July, Verheugen met with former Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and told them that the EU has not forgotten the accession efforts Hungary made under the previous government, Hungarian media reported. Orban said accession is a national issue that requires the support of all parties, adding that FIDESZ is willing to continue cooperating with the new cabinet. At the same time, the former prime minister warned that there are "storm clouds gathering," mentioning the government's moves to encroach on the independence of the MNB and its support of large agricultural trusts (see above). MS
 DEL PONTE: I KNOW WHERE MLADIC ISCarla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, said in Rome on 16 July that she knows "exactly" where General Ratko Mladic is in Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She added that she will ask the authorities in Belgrade to arrest him immediately when she arrives in the Serbian capital on 19 July. Del Ponte did not say where she believes the general is. In related news, the Yugoslav government's commission on cooperation with the tribunal recommended on 16 July that former Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic be exempted from his legal obligation to keep state secrets so that he can testify against former President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). PM
 KOSTUNICA'S ADVISERS DENY GENERALS' CHARGESIn Belgrade on 16 July, Ljiljana Nedeljkovic, who heads Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's office, and Gradimir Nalic, the president's human rights adviser, denied recent charges by four retired generals that the two wanted the army to enter the offices of the Serbian government's communications department during the night of 7-8 June 2001, Beta reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). Kostunica told the newspaper "Cacanski glas" that the generals' remarks were those of pensioners at the end of their careers. PM
 DJINDJIC CALLS ON DEPUTIES TO PASS CRIME BILLSerbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic told the Serbian parliament on 17 July that time is running out for them to pass legislation combating organized crime, AP reported. He argued that "our country is under threat of organized crime, and we have inadequate means to defend it." Djindjic reminded the parliament that "there is one basic human right we must keep in mind, and that is the right of an individual to sleep peacefully in his home," adding that he wants to "make criminals avoid Serbia." He called the proposed legislation "a legitimate request to make this country functional, to provide it with the legal tools to fight this growing evil." PM
 MONTENEGRO'S NEW POLITICAL ALLIES WANT CHANGES IN MEDIA AND ELECTION LAWSMontenegro's strange political bedfellows -- the pro-independence Liberal Alliance (LSCG) and the pro-Belgrade Together for Yugoslavia coalition -- agreed in a parliamentary working group to call for legal changes in anticipation of early parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 June 2002). The allies want a shortening of the pre-election media blackout, as well as the possibility to replace chief editors in the state-run media by a simple parliamentary majority vote in place of the current two-thirds majority rule. The LSCG and the coalition also demand that state and private media report only on the foreign policy activities of incumbents, not their domestic activities. Representatives of President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists walked out of the session, while the Social Democrats voted against the proposed changes. Ethnic Albanian legislators were absent. Representatives of the Council of Europe and independent electronic media journalists objected to the changes, noting that the LSCG had previously sought to bring Montenegrin media legislation in line with European standards instead. PM
 REVOLT IN THE CROATIAN SOCIAL LIBERAL PARTYThe statutory commission of the Koprivnica branch of Drazen Budisa's Social Liberals (HSLS) voted to reject his demand that legislator Mladen Godek be expelled from the party, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Godek was one of six HSLS legislators who backed Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan in a recent parliamentary vote against Budisa's orders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002). The six have set up their own parliamentary club following Budisa's demand that they be expelled from the party. PM
 BOSNIANS PREPARE ROUGH WELCOME FOR KUCANAn unspecified number of Bosnian citizens plan to blockade the Slovenian Embassy in Sarajevo on 18 July when President Milan Kucan arrives for a visit, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 17 July. The protesters want to draw attention to the fact that Slovenia has not returned their deposits with the Ljubljanska Banka dating to before the 1992-95 Bosnian war. PM
 NEW ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICAL PARTY OPENS BRANCH IN MACEDONIAN CAPITALThe Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- a political party founded in Tetovo early June by members of the disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) -- has founded a branch in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). In a speech before party members, Deputy Chairwoman Teuta Arifi described last year's "common struggle" -- which resulted in constitutional changes -- and its democratic character as the two main pillars of the BDI's activity. She also called for equal opportunity in the fields of education. "Once and for all, we want to put an end to the prejudice that our people are backward. This people, which has given the world two Nobel Prize winners, seeks education, values peace, and respects the culture," Arifi said. UB
 WILD WEST DAYS FOR MACEDONIAN ELITE POLICEThe authorities have arrested nine members of the elite police unit known as the Tigers following a recent cafe shoot-out in the eastern Macedonian village of Vinica that left one person dead, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Skopje on 16 July. In Tetovo, a member of the elite police unit known as the Lions shot dead a young woman in her father's home. No further details are available (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June 2001). PM
 ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS ELECTORATE POLITICALLY CONFUSED...Fifty-five percent of Romanians said they would vote for President Ion Iliescu if elections were held now, Mediafax reported, citing a public opinion poll conducted by the IMAS polling institute. The incumbent president, however, cannot run for another term. Only 52 percent of those questioned specified a candidate for whom they would vote, with 38 percent being undecided, and 8 percent saying they would not vote at all. In second place is Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor (18 percent), followed by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase (17 percent), Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, and National Liberal Party (PNL) National Council Chairman Theodor Stolojan (both with 3 percent). Of the 51 percent who replied to the question about which party they would vote for in parliamentary elections, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was mentioned by 55 percent, PRM by 17 percent, the Democratic Party by 12, and the PNL and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) by 5 percent each. Despite the large PSD lead, 53 percent said corruption has increased under the current PSD government, and 29 percent said it remained the same as before. MS
 ...BUT BACKS ELECTORAL REFORMNearly half (46 percent) of those surveyed by IMAS are in favor of replacing the current bicameral parliament with a single chamber, while 40 percent favor the present system, Mediafax reported. Despite this difference, no less than 84 percent said the current number of parliamentarians is "too large," and only 8 percent would keep that number the same. Sixty percent are in favor of replacing the voting for party lists with a single-mandate system in which voters would directly endorse particular candidates, 29 percent would maintain the current system, and 11 percent said they did not know which system they prefer. Nearly three in four Romanian (72 percent) said they are unable to remember the name of a single member of the parliament. MS
 ROMANIANS WANT EU MEMBERSHIP...More than three-quarters of those questioned in the same IMAS poll (76 percent) would vote in favor of Romania's accession to the EU in a referendum, Mediafax reported. Ten percent replied they would not participate in the voting, 9 percent said they did not know how they would vote, and only 4 percent said they would oppose membership. MS
 ...BUT DO NOT WANT ROMANY NEIGHBORSMore than two in five Romanians (41 percent) interviewed by IMAS said they would object to having a Rom as a neighbor, according to a "Roma News" dispatch. Fifteen percent would oppose having an ethnic Hungarian as neighbor, and 7 percent would not want to be the neighbor of a Jew. MS
 HUNGARIAN LEADER IN ROMANIA WARNS AGAINST DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINEUDMR Chairman Bela Marko said the Hungarian government needs to take measures to stop the migration to Hungary of young ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries, Mediafax reported. He called for a strategy to help encourage young ethnic Hungarians to stay in their towns and villages and to safeguard the long-term survival of the Hungarian community abroad. Marko said that recent Romanian census data show that the country's ethnic Hungarian population has dropped by 12 percent in the last decade, while the countrywide population decline was just 5 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Marko said the problem was one faced by all ethnic Hungarian communities in the Carpathian region and that he intends to raise it at the Permanent Hungarian Forum -- a meeting of organizations representing ethnic Hungarians abroad -- which opens on 17 July in Budapest. MS
 U.S. HAS NO OFFICIAL POSITION ON OSCE MOLDOVAN PROPOSALSteven Pifer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said on 15 July in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova service that, as of now, Washington has "no formal position" on the recently submitted draft proposed by the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) for resolving the Transdniester problem. He added, "We appreciate the very hard work" of the OSCE and "our understanding is that this plan is getting a very serious look in both Chisinau and Tiraspol." At the same time, Pifer said the United States is backing Moldova's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" and that any solution must reflect "the idea of a single Moldova." Pifer also said relations between Moldova and the United States are "in quite good order" and that the authorities in Chisinau have "in general made the right decisions in terms of both democratic and economic reforms." He stressed that President Vladimir Voronin and the Moldovan government did not use force to disperse the protest demonstrations earlier this year. However, the U.S. diplomat added, some "question marks" have been raised as to the government's economic policies. MS
 MOLDOVAN POLITICIANS MEET COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERALLeaders of the three parliamentary groups represented in the Moldovan parliament met separately on 16 July in Strasbourg with Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer ahead of a debate that will review the implementation of the 24 April Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution on Moldova, Flux reported. Victor Stepaniuc (Party of Moldovan Communists), Dumitru Braghis (Braghis Alliance), and Iurie Rosca (Popular Party Christian Democratic) all said they were satisfied with the results of the meeting. Stepaniuc told Schwimmer Moldova was grateful for the fact that the council displays an "understanding posture" toward the protests in Moldova early this year and shows a "special interest" in the search for a solution to the Transdniester conflict. He hinted that Schwimmer backs the recent OSCE plan for Moldova's federalization. Rosca told Schwimmer the authorities in Chisinau are procrastinating in the implementation of the PACE resolution and harshly criticized the OSCE plan, saying it is bound to bring about Moldova's dismemberment. MS
 EXPELLED SUSPECTED TERRORIST RETURNS TO MOLDOVAFormer Lebanese Honorary Consul Mahmud Ahmad Hammud, who was expelled from Moldova in October 2001 on suspicion of being engaged in terrorist activities, recently returned to Moldova, where he spent three months liquidating his former businesses, Flux reported on 16 July. The agency cited Hammud's lawyer as confirming his client's visit and as saying Hammud has since left again. The lawyer dismissed reports that Hammud entered the country illegally using a passport with a different name and said Hammud had received an official visa with the personal approval of President Voronin and the Moldovan Security Services. The lawyer said Hammud left on 9 July and there is no ban on him entering or leaving the country. MS
 BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DOWNPLAYS PROBLEMS IN BULGARTABAC PRIVATIZATION...Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 16 July called for a more rational approach to the planned Bulgartabac privatization deal, BTA reported. Speaking to journalists, he said he does not know why recent Russian claims on parts of Bulgartabac's property in Russia have been "magnified." Saxecoburggotski called the recent Russian claims a "technical problem," adding that there is "too much speculation." He underscored that he is confident the privatization will not be endangered by the Russian claims. "The Bulgartabac issue is very important. This is not about a simple privatization deal, but about hundreds of thousands of jobs, which matters more than the price alone," Saxecoburggotski said. UB
 ...WHILE JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER IS CONCERNED ABOUT PRIVATIZATION OUTCOMEEconomy Minister Nikolay Vasilev on 16 July informed lawmakers of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) about the current state of the privatization process, "Standart" reported. The DPS is especially concerned about the Bulgartabac privatization, as most tobacco farmers are ethnic Turks. DPS lawmakers told journalists that should the privatization deal fail, there will be unrest among the tobacco farmers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). UB
 FORMER BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SETS UP NGOAccording to information provided by his press secretary on 16 July, former President Petar Stoyanov has founded a noncommercial organization called the Center for Political Dialogue Petar Stoyanov, "Dnevnik" reported. The new center aims at promoting liberal democracy, a market economy, and civil society. It is to help prepare Bulgaria for NATO and EU membership, as well as to build confidence among states and citizens throughout Southeastern Europe. Stoyanov follows the example of his predecessor in office, Zhelyu Zhelev, who also chairs an NGO -- the Zhelev Foundation. UB
 A SAD ENDING FOR THE NIZHNII NOVGOROD EXPERIMENT?By Oleg Rodin
The new draft law on alternative civil service that was approved by the Federation Council on 10 July and is currently awaiting President Vladimir Putin's signature does not recognize the legality of Nizhnii Novgorod's experimental alternative-service program, under which young men were given the option of foregoing military service by instead serving three years in the emergency room of a local hospital.
Last year, local human rights activists convinced city officials to make the right to perform alternative service granted by Article 59 of the Russian Constitution a reality for citizens of Nizhnii Novgorod. Initiated in October by Mayor Yurii Lebedev, the experiment was officially launched on 4 January 2002, when, after being approved by the local draft board for three years of alternative service, 20 young men reported for work at a city hospital and began performing tasks formerly carried out by patients' relatives, nurses, and sometimes even doctors.
Upon hearing that the program was not recognized in the new law, the 20 men stopped working just six months into their term at the hospital, which suffers from personnel shortages. Valerii Lipatov, the chief doctor of the hospital, said, "When it became known that the youngsters would leave, many of my colleagues and patients simply wept."
Aleksei Volkov, the director of the military commissariat of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, said the efforts of several officials and public activists had failed to change the situation. "The law has been adopted. Therefore each of the young men performing alternative service [alternativshchiki] will be called up for regular service," he said. "If they continue to work in the hospital, that is their own personal matter."
Several local analysts predicted that the experimental program would bring the mayor big political dividends, culminating in his re-election on 15 September. However, at the federal level Lebedev's initiative was perceived negatively. President Putin sharply criticized the Nizhnii Novgorod experiment in March, saying he believes the program was organized exclusively to help Lebedev, "who has a very low rating and zero chance of being re-elected." Meanwhile, officials at the Defense Ministry and other state entities sent signals that Lebedev would not be allowed to encroach on their prerogatives.
However, despite the initial setback, the young men have since returned to work after receiving the support of Lebedev and human rights organizations.
"The young men can work in the hospital without worrying that anyone will call them into the army," Lebedev declared. In the mayor's opinion, the alternativshchiki are still performing their alternative service legally, in full accord with the constitution and federal law. "Neither the prosecutor, nor the residents of the city have questioned the legality of the decision adopted by the [local draft board to allow alternative service]. Everything remains in accord with existing legislation," he said.
General Lev Pavlov, chairman of the Committee for Military Service Affairs in Nizhnii Novgorod's administration, said that the local draft board adopted its decision and only a court can overrule it. Courts have twice confirmed the legality of the draft board's action; therefore, none of the alternativshchiki in the pilot program can be called to serve in the military. Nevertheless, the alternativshchiki are themselves planning to ask a court once again to confirm their participation in the program as alternative civil service.
Meanwhile, the hospital's Lipatov is still evaluating the complex situation. "But if it becomes necessary, I will insist on the interests of the alternativshchiki," he said.
If signed into law by the president as expected, the new law on alternative will come into effect at the federal level at the beginning of 2004, at which time the youths' conventional military service would already have ended. Under the draft law, the length of alternative service would be 3 1/2 years at a civilian facility or three years at a military facility, while those with higher-education degrees would serve 22 months at a civilian facility or 18 months at a military facility. Terms for conventional military service range from two to three years.
State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Kotyusov (Union of Rightist Forces), who represents Nizhnii Novgorod, explained that the federal government introduced numerous amendments before the law's final reading in the Duma to make its conditions stricter. A majority in the Federation Council supported the Kremlin's approach, agreeing to the law's harsher provisions. It is considered virtually a certainty that the president will sign the bill.
Lebedev believes that the conditions of the new law will result in a higher number of persons seeking to avoid military and alternative service. In addition, others have objected to the possible dangers of having alternativshchiki conduct their alternative service at military bases alongside conventional soldiers. One of the alternative-service pioneers at the hospital, Ivan Matlakhov, called the conditions of alternative service under the adopted law "slave labor," while one of his co-workers, Andrei Zakolodkin, figures that he and his colleagues at the hospital would be subject to particularly severe hazing in the military due to their past alternative service.
Yabloko party leader Grigoriii Yavlinskii has said that draft law has sent a message to youths that they should gather up their things and leave the country. But the 20 young men awaiting their fate in Nizhnii Novgorod are holding out hope for another option: that they will be allowed the opportunity to perform their alternative service under humane conditions.
Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Nizhnii Novgorod.