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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 89, 01-05-10

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 5, No. 89, 10 May 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] EBRD TO EXPAND ACTIVITIES IN ARMENIA
  • [02] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT COMPARES ARMENIAN ARMED FORCES WITH NAZIS
  • [03] AZERBAIJAN AGAIN DISMISSES TURKMEN CASPIAN CLAIMS
  • [04] AZERBAIJAN TO RESCHEDULE GEORGIAN DEBT
  • [05] MISSING GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WAS ABDUCTED
  • [06] GEORGIAN POLICE DETAIN FIVE FOR ILLICIT ARMS DEALING
  • [07] ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES APPEAL TO RUSSIA
  • [08] IMF LAUDS MACROECONOMIC STABILIZATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [09] BUSH TELLS KOSTUNICA: COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE
  • [10] POWELL SAYS U.S. SUPPORT FOR DONORS CONFERENCE DEPENDS ON COOPERATION WITH HAGUE
  • [11] KOSTUNICA SEEKS U.S. AID FOR SERBIA
  • [12] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT IS STALLING
  • [13] MONTENEGRIN LEGISLATOR REBUFFS KOSTUNICA
  • [14] YUGOSLAVIA BACK IN WORLD BANK
  • [15] MACEDONIAN STALEMATE CONTINUES
  • [16] HAEKKERUP SAYS KOSOVA NEEDS SELF-GOVERNMENT
  • [17] SOCCER VIOLENCE LEAVES 130 INJURED IN CROATIA
  • [18] CROATIAN POLICE BREAK UP HUMAN TRAFFIC RING
  • [19] CROATIAN DAILY CLOSES
  • [20] PETRITSCH SUMMONS BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS
  • [21] OSCE'S VAN DER STOEL PAYS FAREWELL VISIT TO ROMANIA...
  • [22] ...AND ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PACE REPORT
  • [23] ILASCU MAKES DEBUT AS ROMANIAN SENATOR
  • [24] FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH TO BE GRANTED STATE RESIDENCE
  • [25] ROMANIAN COURT SETTLES PARTIES' DISPUTE
  • [26] ROMANIA TO CONDUCT CENSUS IN 2002
  • [27] MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER, MARK VICTORY DAY
  • [28] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WORLD BANK OFFICIAL...
  • [29] ...AND UNHCR OFFICIAL

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [30] RUSSIA: EKHO MOSKVY MAY BE NEXT IN LINE FOR GAZPROM TAKEOVER

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] EBRD TO EXPAND ACTIVITIES IN ARMENIA

    The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jean Lemiere, said in Yerevan on 7 May at the end of a two-day visit that despite the failure of three of its large-scale lending programs the bank intends to continue and expand its cooperation with Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Lemiere said that the EBRD will concentrate specifically on helping the development of small and medium businesses, an approach that President Robert Kocharian lauded during his talks with Lemiere earlier on 7 May. The EBRD president also said the bank is willing to acquire a 20 percent stake in four state-owned energy distribution networks to be offered for international tender a second time following the failure of the first tender last month. LF

    [02] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT COMPARES ARMENIAN ARMED FORCES WITH NAZIS

    Speaking in Baku on 9 May at a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War II, President Heidar Aliev compared the destruction of homes, hospitals, and monuments in occupied Azerbaijani territory by Armenian forces with the activities of Hitler's forces, Turan reported. In a reference to the ceremonies held the same day in Stepanakert, the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to mark the ninth anniversary of the liberation by Armenian forces of the neighboring town of Shusha, Aliev warned that "this is a temporary victory." LF

    [03] AZERBAIJAN AGAIN DISMISSES TURKMEN CASPIAN CLAIMS

    Turkmenistan's demands, contained in a Foreign Ministry note delivered to Baku last week, that Azerbaijan suspend exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons in Caspian deposits to which Turkmenistan claims ownership are devoid of any legal foundation in international law, Turan on 9 May quoted Azerbaijan's First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov as saying in Baku. Turkmenistan issued the protest after a sixth round of talks aimed at resolving the two countries' conflicting claims collapsed after only two days, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 8 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). LF

    [04] AZERBAIJAN TO RESCHEDULE GEORGIAN DEBT

    The Georgian Finance Ministry has reached agreement with the Azerbaijani government on rescheduling payment of Tbilisi's $16 million debt to Baku, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May. Three days earlier, Turan reported that an official visit to Azerbaijan by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, originally scheduled for late May, has been postponed. LF

    [05] MISSING GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WAS ABDUCTED

    Petre Tsiskarishvili and his fiancee, who were reported missing in eastern Georgia late on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001), are alive and are being held by their kidnappers in the Pankisi gorge in northeastern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May, citing local police officials. President Shevardnadze has taken personal control of the hunt for the kidnappers. LF

    [06] GEORGIAN POLICE DETAIN FIVE FOR ILLICIT ARMS DEALING

    The Georgian Military Prosecutor's Office has brought criminal charges against five people arrested in Gori on 9 May on charges of illegal possession of and trade in arms, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The five are members of the joint peacekeeping force deployed in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. They were in possession of 10 portable missile systems, nine grenade launchers, and several thousand cartridges. LF

    [07] ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES APPEAL TO RUSSIA

    Abkhaz parliament deputies have addressed an appeal to the Russian State Duma condemning "permanent terrorist acts" by Georgian guerrillas who infiltrate Abkhaz territory, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May, quoting Apsni Press. The appeal said those attacks endanger the "fragile peace" established by Russian peacekeeping forces, and calls on the international community to help "establish peace in the region." LF

    [08] IMF LAUDS MACROECONOMIC STABILIZATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

    IMF official Tapio Savolainen told journalists in Bishkek on 7 May following two weeks of talks in the Kyrgyz capital that the Kyrgyz government has successfully implemented the macroeconomic measures it pledged to take four months ago, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The fund noted that GDP growth during the first quarter amounted to 5.6 percent, while inflation during that period was 2.8 percent, compared with 9.6 percent in 2000. Savolainen said the fund's board will decide in June on the release of a new $13 million loan tranche. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [09] BUSH TELLS KOSTUNICA: COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE

    President George W. Bush joined a meeting of Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and visiting Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica for about 10 minutes on 9 May, VOA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Bush called on Kostunica to take "concrete steps" to cooperate with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, which wants to bring former President Slobodan Milosevic to trial there. Bush did not offer specifics, but State Department officials said that Washington would like Belgrade to set a date for the extradition. PM

    [10] POWELL SAYS U.S. SUPPORT FOR DONORS CONFERENCE DEPENDS ON COOPERATION WITH HAGUE

    Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington on 9 May that he told Kostunica in a "good, candid talk...to keep moving in the direction of democracy and economic freedom. [I] indicated to him that he would continue to enjoy the strong support of the United States [if he does so]... He received similar assurances from President Bush and Vice President Cheney and Dr. Rice earlier today," Reuters reported. Powell stressed, however, that Washington's support for a donors conference for Serbia will depend on Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague: "I look forward to seeing what else Yugoslavia will be doing in the weeks ahead that will allow me to make a judgment with respect to releasing that condition." PM

    [11] KOSTUNICA SEEKS U.S. AID FOR SERBIA

    The Yugoslav leader said in Washington on 9 May that his government wants "a shot of economic adrenaline" from the U.S., "The New York Times" reported. He also sought U.S. support for the donors conference. But White House spokeswoman Mary Countryman stressed that the "U.S. ability to assist Yugoslavia depends on Belgrade's relations with the tribunal" in The Hague, Reuters reported. Some observers have suggested that the key Western role in Serbia might be played by the EU, given Brussels's desire to manage European problems by itself and the high level of anti-American feeling in Serbia, including that of Kostunica himself (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000 and 5 January 2001). PM

    [12] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT IS STALLING

    Richard Dicker, who heads Human Rights Watch's international justice program, said in Washington on 9 May that Kostunica is using legal arguments to justify not sending Milosevic to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Dicker stressed that the Yugoslav president is "trying to immunize himself from complying with the outstanding obligation to surrender to the war-crimes tribunal all those indicted for genocidal crimes against humanity," AP reported. Dicker pointed out that Belgrade has done nothing for over a month to show that it is sincere about working with the tribunal. PM

    [13] MONTENEGRIN LEGISLATOR REBUFFS KOSTUNICA

    In New York on 8 May and in Washington the following day, Kostunica repeated his view that maintaining the unity of Serbia and Montenegro is essential for Balkan stability (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 April 2001). Ranko Krivokapic, a Social Democratic member of the Montenegrin parliament, said in Podgorica that Kostunica's idea of "normal" relations with Montenegro are relations in which Montenegro does not exist as a full- fledged partner, "Pobjeda" reported on 10 May. Krivokapic charged that Kostunica's legalism is a sham because the basis of his "legal" arguments is legislation introduced by Milosevic without Montenegrin approval. PM

    [14] YUGOSLAVIA BACK IN WORLD BANK

    World Bank Director Christiaan Poortman said in Washington on 8 May that "the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has fully satisfied the requirements for bank membership. We look forward to working together on reviving the country's economy and improving living conditions for all the people of Yugoslavia," Reuters reported. In other news, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said in Belgrade that the cash-strapped government will soon close 11 embassies in South America, Africa, and the Far East in order to save $1.5 million this year, AP reported. She did not elaborate. PM

    [15] MACEDONIAN STALEMATE CONTINUES

    The opposition ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) continues to hold up plans to set up a grand coalition government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). PPD officials said that they will announce their decision in the afternoon of 10 May, Reuters reported from Skopje. PPD officials argue that they want a cease-fire in place before they will agree to joining the coalition. But Deutsche Welle suggested that the real reason for the delay is that many in the PPD leadership feel that joining the coalition is not in the party's interest if it wants to win votes from supporters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in the general elections expected later in the year. Macedonia's Western backers want the coalition in place as soon as possible as a first step toward ending the crisis. Meanwhile, northeast of Skopje, the army continued bombarding UCK positions on 9 and 10 May. The VOA reported that the rebels have established control over a strip of territory between Kosova and the greater Skopje area. PM

    [16] HAEKKERUP SAYS KOSOVA NEEDS SELF-GOVERNMENT

    Hans Haekkerup, the UN's chief administrator for Kosova, told a press conference in New York on 9 May that it is important to hold general elections and establish self-government there: "What we're doing is not discussing the final political settlement. That's left for the future. What we are discussing is provisional self-government under [UN Security Council resolution] 1244... Those who want to start the discussion about the final political settlement [should know that] that's not in my mandate" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001). He added that "the international community does not want any referendum clause in the legal framework," which the Albanians demand. Haekkerup also called for firm measures to combat crime: "What is important is that if we don't take the necessary steps now, we will not in the future be able to combat terrorism and organized crime." He noted that Albanians and Serbs are unlikely to reach full agreement on Kosova's future legal framework. "They are not yet ready [to reach a] consensus, but we came pretty close" in recent talks with both sides, RFE/RL reported. PM

    [17] SOCCER VIOLENCE LEAVES 130 INJURED IN CROATIA

    Rioting by fans of Split's Hajduk team on 9 May resulted in 130 injured, including 30 policemen. Some 90 persons were arrested, AP reported. The fans went amok shortly before the end of a match in which visiting arch- rivals Dinamo of Zagreb were ahead 2-0. Play resumed after police restored order, enabling Dinamo to clinch its victory. Rioting spread to other parts of the city in some of the worst soccer violence that Croatia has known. Hajduk fans have a long-standing reputation for rowdiness. In the former Yugoslavia, they were the arch-rivals of a Belgrade team. Meanwhile, in the Serbian capital, six policemen and 11 fans were injured in soccer violence stemming from a match between Belgrade's two teams, Reuters reported on 9 May. PM

    [18] CROATIAN POLICE BREAK UP HUMAN TRAFFIC RING

    Croatian police on 8 May broke up a criminal gang suspected of smuggling at least 1,500 Romanians into Western Europe over the past year and a half, AP reported from Zagreb. Two Croats and a Romanian are under arrest, while two additional Romanians are on the run. PM

    [19] CROATIAN DAILY CLOSES

    The new independent daily "Republika" published its last issue on 9 May, citing low circulation figures and mounting debt. PM

    [20] PETRITSCH SUMMONS BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS

    Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 9 May that High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch asked top Bosnian Serb officials for a meeting on 10 May to discuss recent anti-Muslim violence in Trebinje and Banja Luka, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). In Sarajevo, the federal parliament's House of Nations passed a resolution calling for the banning of the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party of Radovan Karadzic, which many believe was responsible for the violence, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

    [21] OSCE'S VAN DER STOEL PAYS FAREWELL VISIT TO ROMANIA...

    OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel, who is ending his mandate on 1 June, told Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 9 May that the recently passed Law on Local Public Administration can "serve as an example to [other] states wishing to solve the problem of the minorities' linguistic rights." The commissioner also said that the strategy recently approved by the Romanian government for solving the problems of the Romany community is "a step in the right direction," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Van der Stoel said the "Status Bill" under debate in Hungary must be worked out in consultation with those neighboring countries that have Hungarian minorities on their territories. MS

    [22] ...AND ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PACE REPORT

    Iliescu used the occasion of his meeting with van der Stoel to criticize a Finnish report currently under debate in the Cultural Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that deals with the situation of the Csango minority in Romania. This minority regards itself as being of Hungarian origin, while most Romanians believe the Csangos are Magyarized Romanians. Iliescu said the report is "obviously inspired" by "some [Hungarian] influences." The Csangos live in the eastern Romanian province of Moldavia. According to a 10 May Mediafax report citing the Hungarian MTI agency, the private university with classes taught in the Hungarian language will open in the Transylvanian towns of Miercurea Ciuc and Targu Mures as of next autumn. The agency cited Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Deputy Ferenc Asztalos as saying the National Council of Academic Evaluation has recently approved several faculties of the "Partium University" in the two towns. MS

    [23] ILASCU MAKES DEBUT AS ROMANIAN SENATOR

    Addressing the Senate on 9 May, Ilie Ilascu, who was freed last week from a nine-year detention in Tiraspol, thanked his colleagues for having supported him while in jail, and added that he regards that support as being "not one for myself, but for all Romanians in Bessarabia [the traditional Romanian designation of what is today Moldova] and in the Transdniester." Ilascu's presence was hailed by both Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor and by Party of Social Democracy in Romania Senator Adrian Paunescu with the traditional Easter greeting of "Christ is Resurrected!" Paunescu also read aloud a poem written for the occasion. Both he and Tudor are former "Ceausescu court poets." On 10 May, Iliescu was to decorate Ilascu with one of Romania's highest national orders. MS

    [24] FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH TO BE GRANTED STATE RESIDENCE

    The Senate's Judicial Commission on 9 May approved a bill on the rights of former Romanian heads of state. The bill, which must yet be approved by the plenum, grants former presidents and former monarch King Michael I the right to an official residence and a monthly allowance of 50 percent of the incumbent president's wages. Speaking on the private Antena 1 television channel on 9 May, Iliescu said that King Michael wants his next visit of Romania, scheduled to begin on 18 May, to have a "private character" and has explicitly refused to be officially greeted upon his arrival. MS

    [25] ROMANIAN COURT SETTLES PARTIES' DISPUTE

    Virgil Magureanu, leader of the extraparliamentary National Alliance, said on 9 May on Romanian Radio that the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal has rejected a request by of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) to restore that formation. The PUNR and Magureanu's own Romanian National Party set up the National Alliance before the 2000 elections, but the alliance failed to gain parliamentary representation. The former PUNR leadership later announced it is leaving the National Alliance and will restore the party under its former name. MS

    [26] ROMANIA TO CONDUCT CENSUS IN 2002

    The government on 9 May decided that the next Romanian census will be conducted in March 2002, Mediafax reported the next day. The last census was conducted in 1992. MS

    [27] MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER, MARK VICTORY DAY

    Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, in a speech delivered in Chisinau at the monument of Moldovan prince Stephen the Great on 9 May, said that he is committed to rewarding the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and that the parliament will soon examine legislation to compensate the veterans and their families. Voronin spoke in both "Moldovan" and Russian and emphasized that no differentiation should be made between veterans who served in the Romanian army and those who fought on the opposite Soviet side, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Unlike in previous years, when veterans carried Soviet flags, the carefully orchestrated ceremony took place this year under Moldovan national banners alone. In Tiraspol, separatist leader Igor Smirnov told an audience marking the day that "the heroism of Soviet soldiers in World War II has served as inspiration for the [Transdniester] fighters that defended independence during the 1992 Moldovan aggression," BASA-press reported. MS

    [28] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WORLD BANK OFFICIAL...

    Voronin told visiting World Bank Regional Director Roger Grawe on 8 May that Moldova's new administration is interested in continuing cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF, but that the priorities in using the assistance offered by the two international lending institutions must be revised, Flux reported. Voronin said Moldovans have "run out of patience" in face of the negative results of the country's economic performance over the past decade and that a state committee will be appointed to analyze the causes of the economic crisis. Grawe told Voronin that the World Bank is ready to support reforms in public administration and the industrial and agricultural sectors, in an effort to reduce poverty and solve the country's economic crisis. MS

    [29] ...AND UNHCR OFFICIAL

    Oldrich Andryisek, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Moldova, on 8 May urged Voronin to accelerate the ratification of the U.N. Convention on Refugees by the Moldovan parliament, Flux reported. Andryisek also said Moldova must urgently approve a bill on the status of refugees. He said Moldova is the only European country that has failed to pass such a bill and is among the few that did not ratify the convention. As a result, no records on refugees are kept, and the UNHCR can offer no assistance in line with international norms. He said the UNHCR is ready to help Moldova improve border security and set up a system for refugees' record-keeping. Voronin said legislation related to refugees will be adjusted to reflect European standards and that the convention will be ratified, adding that the failure to do so until now has been due to "technical reasons." MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [30] RUSSIA: EKHO MOSKVY MAY BE NEXT IN LINE FOR GAZPROM TAKEOVER

    By Sophie Lambroschini and Francesca Mereu

    Last month, Russia's state-backed Gazprom gas monopoly succeeded in its takeover bid of NTV television, the crown jewel in Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST empire. Since then, the gas giant has chipped away at more of Gusinsky's media businesses, shutting down the opposition "Segodnya" daily and firing the staff of the "Itogi" political weekly.

    Of Media-MOST's most prominent news organizations, only one remains untouched -- radio station Ekho Moskvy. But a court decision last week, which handed shares in a number of Media-MOST outlets to Gazprom and granted it majority control of Ekho Moskvy, has put the popular and outspoken station's future in doubt.

    The first radio station in Russia to adopt a "talk radio" format, Ekho Moskvy is the country's largest private, information-based station, with its programs rebroadcast throughout the country by over 70 regional stations.

    In Moscow, independent monitors rank the station fifth in listenership, after two powerful state-controlled stations and two music-based stations. Eight percent of Muscovites tune in daily to Ekho Moskvy's famous jingles.

    Founded more than 10 years ago, the station is older than most of its fellow Media-MOST outlets. Aleksei Venediktov, the station's current editor in chief, remembers how in 1990 a group of young journalists from the state- owned station Golos Rossii, or Voice of Russia, tired of government restrictions and decided to open the country's first private radio service.

    "[One of the founders,] Sergei Korsun -- fed up with working for the government radio, with its atmosphere of censorship, propaganda, and lies, was able to register Ekho Moskvy and then to get [radio] license No. 1 in Moscow. So out came Ekho Moskvy. It first began to broadcast on the 22nd of August, 1990."

    On its first day on the air, Ekho Moskvy broadcast news, a conversation with perestroika-era politician Sergei Stankevich, and the Beatles hit "All My Loving." The station soon became an open forum for political debate, airing different points of view and offering an alternative voice in a country where radio broadcasting, to this day, is dominated by state-owned stations.

    Venediktov says that from the very beginning, Ekho Moskvy's journalists distinguished themselves by reporting on the top news events as Russia struggled to break with its communist past:

    "It was in September 1990 when the military maneuvers first started around Moscow and the army turned against [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev. We were the first -- and only -- ones to report on it. Then, in 1991, we had the Vilnius [independence demonstrations], and we turned into a European and internationally known small radio station."

    The station now combines strong news reporting with lighter informational fare. Twice daily -- in the morning and early evening -- Ekho Moskvy broadcasts "information blocks" featuring general news, business and finance updates, and press reviews. The station's commercially sponsored daily programs include everything from gardening tips to Moscow medical care to helping listeners untangle the grammatical complexities of the Russian language.

    For several years, one of Ekho Moskvy's trademark shows -- sponsored by the Council of Europe -- aired news on European affairs and held a daily call-in game show on Europe. A separate program invited listeners to call in and voice their opinion on daily news issues ranging from the economy to Chechnya.

    But perhaps the station's greatest claim to fame -- and what has made it an indispensable source for Russia-watchers -- are its live interviews with prominent Russians and foreigners.

    Ekho Moskvy is the only private radio station in Russia to have hosted heads of state. Its guests have included U.S. President Bill Clinton, who visited the station during his visit to Moscow last year, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who answered radio listeners' questions live during his two-day summit last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Russian on-air guests have included former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, pop superstar Alla Pugacheva, and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin.

    Unlike most other Media-MOST outlets, Ekho Moskvy was not the brainchild of magnate Vladimir Gusinsky. Ekho Moskvy had spent four years building its reputation as a reliable source of news and information before joining Media-MOST in 1994, when a ruble depreciation forced the advertising- dependent station to sell some of its stakes to Gusinsky.

    Gusinsky currently holds a 38 percent stake in the station, with station journalists holding 33 percent and Gazprom holding 25. But on 4 May, in the latest round of ongoing litigation over Gusinsky's outstanding debt to the gas giant, a Moscow court ruled that an additional 25 percent of many Media- MOST outlets, including Ekho Moskvy, be handed to Gazprom. If the court decision holds, Gazprom will hold a controlling stake -- 50 percent, plus one share -- in the radio station.

    While Media-MOST considers an appeal, journalists at Ekho Moskvy are fighting to keep the station under their own control, saying they are negotiating with Gazprom to buy back the 25-percent stake -- something that Venediktov doubts they can persuade the gas giant to allow.

    While Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh has repeatedly said that the company is acting out of purely financial concerns as a creditor, Venediktov argues that Ekho Moskvy's news format means high costs and low revenues -- "not exactly what a businessman would be looking for." According to Venediktov, the station's real worth can be found in its political value, and he fears that if Gazprom does gain majority control of Ekho Moskvy, it will mark the end of the station's independence.

    "If Gazprom succeeds in taking the majority of the shares, we will soon be a government station, even if not from a formal [point of view]," Venediktov said. "Then I think that I, as the editor in chief, and most journalists who came here after they left state radio, will have to leave this radio station. There will be only an 'echo' left of Ekho."

    10-05-01


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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