|Saturday, 14 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-01-08
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 'SHANGHAI SIX' ADOPTS COMMUNIQUE ON SITUATION IN AFGHANISTANForeign ministers from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization published a joint statement following the completion of their extraordinary meeting in Beijing on 7 January in which they pledged to expand their role in the international antiterrorist coalition led by the United States, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. The members of the organization, which is made up of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, said that they will contribute on national, regional, and global levels to help prevent any terrorism, extremism, separatism, and drug trafficking that might originate from Afghanistan. At the same time, the statement opposed "any efforts to impose political order in Afghanistan from the outside." The group also called for the quick adoption of an international agreement on the prevention of acts of nuclear terrorism. VY
 ...WHILE RUSSIA AND CHINA APPEAL TO INDIA AND PAKISTAN TO REACH SETTLEMENTIn a joint statement issued in Beijing on 7 January by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan, the two expressed their concern over the conflict between India and Pakistan and called on them "to halt the further escalation of tension, and guarantee peace and stability in South Asia," Interfax reported. The statement also said that a political solution to the crisis between India and Pakistan would also contribute to the successful development of a postconflict settlement in Afghanistan. VY
 RUSSIAN SPECIAL ENVOY MEETS ARAFATAndrei Vdovin, a special envoy of the Russian Foreign Ministry who is currently visiting the Middle East, met in Ramallah on 7 January with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and handed him a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin, RIA-Novosti reported. Vdovin also called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to lift restrictions on Arafat's movements. Meanwhile in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said Vdovin's mission is being closely coordinated with U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni and EU and UN representatives Miguel Moratinos and Terje Larsen, who are currently visiting Israel. VY
 PASKO DEFENDERS DEMONSTRATE ON LUBYANKA SQUARE...A group of the human rights activists demonstrated on Lubyanka Square in Moscow on 7 January near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in defense of military journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was sentenced in December to four years imprisonment for publicizing materials on the dumping of nuclear waste by the Pacific Fleet, Western news services reported. Sergei Kovalev, a veteran of Russia's democratic movement, told the crowd of some 20 demonstrators that in backing the persecution of Pasko the FSB "is undermining the prestige of the country and conception of the strengthening of the state institutions." Kovalev called on the authorities to overturn the espionage charges against the journalist. "The case of Pasko will be won if not in Russia, then in the European Court in Strasbourg," he said. VY
 ...RESULTING IN ARRESTSIn an interview with RFE/RL on 8 January, journalist Aleksandr Misailov said that during the demonstration Moscow police arrested four demonstrators and detained them for a few hours. The detained activists received court summons for 9 January, Interfax reported on 8 January. According to Interfax, the 30-minute unauthorized rally featured protestors holding barbed wire, scribbling "ecology" in the snow, and carrying a sign that read "Pasko Named a Spy. Who's Next?" The International Social-Environmental Union, the Eco-Protection Center for Developing Democracy and Human Rights, Greenpeace Rossii, and the Yabloko Party supported the protest, Interfax reported, quoting rally organizer Viktoria Kolesnikova. VC
 PUTIN VISITS OLD RUSSIAN CITIES, TAKES PART IN CHRISTMAS LITURGYPresident Putin spent his three-day vacation over the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday visiting three ancient cities in the Golden Ring -- Pereslavl-Zalesskii, Gus-Khrustalnii, and Vladimir, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 January. Putin completed his pilgrimage by attending the Christmas liturgy at Uspensk Cathedral in Vladimir, one of the oldest in Russia. VY
 RUSSIA ARMY TO BUY MORE ARMS, BUT HAS NO FUNDS FOR COMBAT TRAININGState Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev said on 7 January that Russia will spend much more this year on purchasing weapon systems and on research and development projects for the defense industry, the Military News Agency reported. He said the military budget for 2002 also includes a considerable increase in expenditures for military logistics. However, as was the case last year, the Russian army will not have enough funds for combat training. "We won't be able to ensure for our pilots the necessary number of flight hours, and most of the warships will remain anchored," he said. As for social programs, including housing, medical insurance, and transportation, Nikolaev complained that the budget will meet just "50 percent of their real needs." VY
 RUSSIA BOASTS NEARLY 1 MILLION PRISON INMATESAccording to statistics released by the Justice Ministry, the Russian prison population in 2001 reached 980,000 people, including 744,000 convicts and 216,700 inmates whose cases were in the process of investigation, Interfax reported on 5 January. Included in this figure are 19,000 minors and 50,000 women. Russia's prison inmates work for 750 penitentiary enterprises. According to the statistics, the Russian penitentiary system also includes 660,300 people who were convicted but released on probation. VY
 RUSSIA MODERNIZING SU-25 GROUND ATTACK PLANEVladimir Babak, a spokesman for the Sukhoi aircraft company, announced on 7 January that Sukhoi is finalizing the upgrades of the first 100 Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft within the framework of modernizing the Russian air force, which is to be completed by 2008. In addition to its contract with the Russian air force, Sukhoi is modernizing nearly the same number of planes for foreign customers, according to Babak. VY
 EQUIPMENT BEING TESTED AT CHEMICAL WEAPONS LIQUIDATION SITEThe first Russian plant for chemical weapons liquidation, which is located at the Gornii settlement of the Saratov Oblast, has begun trial tests, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 January. In addition, a sub-project, which is partly financed by the international TACIS program, will monitor the ecological situation in the territory adjacent to the installation. The plant is to be commissioned in July 2002, RIA-Novosti added. VC
 RUSSIA CONSIDERS BUILDING A RAILWAY LINE FROM EURASIAN CONTINENT TO SAKHALIN ISLANDFar Eastern Railways head Alexander Strelnik told RIA-Novosti on 8 January that the Russian government is considering three projects for constructing a railway line and a bridge linking the continent to Sakhalin. Construction is expected to begin this year after the government approves the final project by the end of January, RIA-Novosti added. The projects are designed to continue the development of one of the largest railroads of the sector, which links the center of Russia with the Far East and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region -- Japan, China, and North and South Korea. Economic and Trade Minister German Gref said last fall that he is not sure that the time has come to build such a bridge, but that it will do eventually (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). VC
 INTOURIST HOTEL TO BE DISMANTLED IN MOSCOW...The last guests of Moscow's Intourist hotel, which is located on Tverskaya Street near the Kremlin, left on 7 January, Russian agencies reported. First Deputy Moscow Mayor Vladimir Resin told RIA-Novosti on 8 January that the dismantling of the hotel will begin in March 2002. In its place, a new Hilton hotel with 12 floors and 400 rooms is expected to be constructed by the end of 2004. The overall project, including the dismantling of the old building and the construction of a lower but larger one, is budgeted at no less than $130 million, according to the news agency. VC
 ...AS MOSCOW TO HELP BUILD NEW RESIDENTIAL AREA IN ULAN-BATOROn 8 January, the mayors of Ulan-Bator and Moscow agreed to build a residential area in the Mongolian capital in 2002, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Ulan-Bator City Hall, a Moscow delegation of designers, city planners, economists, and builders will arrive in Mongolia in late January to choose an appropriate site for the new residential area. The city district is to be constructed by Mongolia's Ros-Zarubezh-Stroi construction company with full funding from the Moscow municipal government, RIA-Novosti quoted Ulan-Bator officials as saying. VC
 INCUMBENT UNSEATED IN SIBERIAN REGION...As expected, Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin won in the second round of the presidential election in the Altai Republic held on 6 January. According to preliminary results, Lapshin polled 68.15 percent of the vote compared with 22.98 percent for incumbent President Semen Zubakin. According to Interfax, Lapshin, who is currently a State Duma deputy in the Fatherland-All Russia faction, had the support of the All-Russia party of Unity and Fatherland, while Zubakin was supported by the Union of Rightist Forces. Upon learning of his victory, Lapshin told voters about his future plans for the region: "Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] particularly wanted to say that the republic of Altai is an ideal place for the development of winter skiing," according to ntvru.com. JAC
 ...AS VICTOR SAYS HE IS WAITING FOR KREMLIN'S CHOICES FOR UPPER LEGISLATIVE HOUSELapshin added that he also intends to work for the renewal of the republic's agricultural sector. Meanwhile, TV-6 reported that Lapshin is waiting for the presidential administration to put forth nominations for the republic's representative to the Federation Council. According to the station, Lapshin said that as a head of a republic, he does not wish to complicate relations with Moscow. JAC
 DUMA TO TAKE UP ISSUE OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY...The State Duma will examine in its second reading four laws on intellectual property during the first quarter of 2002, Interfax reported on 7 January. The legislation would amend Russian laws on patents and trademarks, among others. According to experts on the Duma's Economic Policy Committee, the bills, if enacted, would define more precisely the legal status of participants in the buying and selling of intellectual property, and of inventors, patent holders, and other interested third parties, and provide them with the maximum defense of their rights. JAC
 ...AS KREMLIN TO SEEK MORE REFORMS OF LEGAL, PENSION SYSTEMSUnion of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov said that during the next session his faction will seek to introduce two bills, one establishing elections to the Federation Council and another providing protection for local self-rule, "Vremya novostei" reported on 28 December. For its part, Yabloko plans to seek more amendments to the Labor Code and to pension and taxation legislation. According to "Izvestiya" the same day, the presidential administration plans to seek passage of more legislation reforming the legal system and the pension system. The Duma is also expected to consider a law on alternative military service and on the buying and selling of agricultural property. JAC
 RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT CRITICIZES ABOLITION OF FEDERATION MINISTRY?Vasilii Likhachev, Russia's diplomatic envoy to the EU and a former speaker of Tatarstan's legislature, has called for Russian regions to more actively develop direct ties with European countries, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 7 January, quoting an interview he made with "Respublika Tatarstan." Likhachev also spoke approvingly of the Russian regions' power-sharing treaties, calling them a legal institution provided for in the Russian Constitution, and said that as a model of treaty-based relations they meet with the general European trend in regional policies. Regarding President Putin's recent appointment of Vladimir Zorin as a minister without portfolio overseeing nationality issues in the Russian federal government, Likhachev said the appointment "begs numerous questions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001). According to Likhachev, interethnic relations need to become a permanent concern for the president, the presidential administration, and the federal parliament. JAC
 CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS FOR NEXT YEAROn 7 January, RIA-Novosti asked a few local personalities in Velikii Novgorod about the most memorable Christmas presents of their childhood. For Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak, mandarin oranges were the most memorable, while Archbishop for Novgorod and Staraya Rus Lev remembered most vividly the "gift" of a birch switch, which was intended to inspire better behavior from him in the following year. JAC
 FIGHTING CONTINUES IN ARGUNFighting in Argun east of Grozny intensified on 7 January after Chechen militants attacked a column of Russian army and Interior Ministry troops, Interfax and Reuters reported. ORT television reported that at least two Russian servicemen were killed and four wounded, and that the Chechens retreated from their position only after the Russian side called in military helicopters. Russian troops resumed combing the town on 8 January, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 CHECHEN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S BODYGUARDS INJURED BY CAR BOMBSix police officers assigned to protect Chechnya's prosecutor-general, Vsevolod Chernov, were hospitalized with concussions on 7 January after the automobile in which they were traveling hit a remote-controlled mine in Grozny, Interfax reported. LF
 SECOND PRINTING PRESS BEGINS OPERATION IN CHECHNYAA printing house with a capacity of 35,000 pages of print per hour began operation on 7 January in the town of Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Beginning next month, it will publish the combined 110,000 print run of newspapers published in Chechnya. It will also produce school textbooks. A mobile printing press began operation last summer in Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARD PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN CAFE DEATH CASEThe trial on charges of manslaughter began in a Yerevan district court on 7 January of Aghamal Harutiunian, one of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguards, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Harutiunian is accused of causing the death of Georgian citizen Poghos Poghosian in a Yerevan cafe last September. Witnesses at the trial, including Poghosian's friend Stepan Nalbandian, say Poghosian was beaten to death by several members of Kocharian's bodyguard after he hailed the president with the words "Hi Rob." The official investigation maintained that Poghosian made "obscene remarks" to Kocharian and died as a result of a fall during a subsequent fistfight with several bodyguards. Nalbandian told the court on 7 January that he saw Poghosian being attacked by several men, but that he could not say definitively that Harutiunian was one of them. Harutiunian has pleaded not guilty. LF
 DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES ARMENIA HAS WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTIONTurkish Army chief of General Staff General Huseyin Kivrikoglu's statement that Armenia has weapons of mass destruction is an "absurd" attempt to compromise Armenia in the eyes of the international community, Armenian Defense Ministry press spokesman Seyran Shahsuvarian told Arminfo on 7 January, as quoted by Groong. Kivrikoglu made that claim last month in an address to the U.S. administration, in which he included Armenia in a list of countries with nuclear weapons and argued that the same sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq should be extended to Armenia. LF
 IRANIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS NAKHICHEVANMehdi Safari held talks in Nakhichevan on 7 January with the chairman of the Azerbaijani exclave's Supreme Council, Vasif Talibov, on bilateral economic relations, in particular the construction of a 36-kilometer gas pipeline from Khoi to the Azerbaijani border town of Djulfa, Turan reported. Discussions on building such a pipeline began in 1994, but no final agreement has been reached, primarily because the price Iran insists on charging for gas to be supplied via that pipeline is almost double that which Nakhichevan would have to pay for gas from Russia and Turkmenistan ($80 per thousand cubic meters as compared with $40-$50 per thousand cubic meters). Nakhichevan cannot, however, currently receive gas from either country as all existing pipeline networks transit Armenian territory. The estimated cost of the Khoi-Djulfa pipeline is $40 million. LF
 GEORGIAN CURRENCY HITS ALL-TIME LOW AGAINST DOLLARThe Georgian lari traded on 8 January at 2.215 to the U.S. dollar, down five tetris from 2.165 on 4 January, Caucasus Press reported. The previous lowest rate recorded was on 13-17 December 2001, when the rate stood at 2.179 to the dollar, after which the lari recovered to 2.07 to the dollar. Between February-September 2001, the lari traded at between 2.03 and 2.07 to the dollar, but lost in value during and after the political upheavals last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2001). LF
 DEPUTIES CALL FOR EMERGENCY SESSION OF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT...The "Kyrgyzstan" and Communist factions in the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 6 January demanded that an emergency parliament session be convened on 10 January to discuss the case of parliament committee Chairman Azimbek Beknazararov, who was arrested on 5 January on charges of professional misconduct while serving as an investigator in Djalalabad Oblast in 1995-96 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002), RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The two factions further demanded that President Askar Akaev (to whom they have already addressed an appeal for Beknazarov's release) and Prosecutor Chubak Abyshkaev attend the session. Parliament deputies Ishenbai Kadyrbekov and Dooronbek Sadyrbaev have offered to post bail for Beknazarov. LF
 ...AS EVIDENCE SUGGESTS CASE AGAINST DISSIDENT DEPUTY WAS FABRICATEDZootbek Kudaibergenov, who is the prosecutor of Djalalabad Oblast, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau by telephone on 7 January that the case against Beknazarov is not politically motivated. Beknazarov is accused of failing to bring criminal charges against student Djaparaly Kamychbekov in connection with the death in February 1995 in the town of Toktogul of Djolchu Bukeev. Kamychbekov reportedly killed Bukeev in self-defense after the latter assaulted him. Kamychbekov subsequently graduated from the Bishkek police college and worked for several years in the police force. In November 2001, after the prosecutor-general began a concerted search for any material that could be used to incriminate Beknazarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001), Bukeev's relatives appealed to prosecutors to reopen the case of his death, and on 2 January they demanded that Beknazarov be punished for his alleged negligence. LF
 U.S. SENATORS VISIT TAJIKISTANA bipartisan U.S. Senate delegation held talks in Dushanbe on 7 January with President Imomali Rakhmonov on bilateral cooperation both during and after the ongoing antiterrorism operation in neighboring Afghanistan and on ways to stabilize the situation in that country, AP and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Senator Joseph Liebermann (D-Connecticut) told journalists after those talks that Washington is grateful for Rakhmonov's "principled" stance following the 11 September attacks on the U.S. and for Tajikistan's logistical support during the ensuing antiterrorist operation. He pledged continued long-term support for the Central Asian states, prompting Rakhmonov to request that such support take the form not of humanitarian aid but of "fundamental trade and economic relations," according to AP. LF
 TURKMENISTAN REJECTS GERMAN REQUEST FOR USE OF AIRFIELDSMeeting on 7 January with German Ambassador Hans-Guenther Mattern, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov rejected a request by the German government to allow German military aircraft providing support for the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan to use Turkmen airbases, Reuters and turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov said Turkmenistan's neutral status precludes "support for any military forces in the region," but that Ashgabat will continue to make its territory and air space available for the transportation of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VOWS PROXIMITY TO BIBLICAL COMMANDMENTSPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 7 January attended a church service in Minsk to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka was one hour late for the service but well on time to make a speech to believers in the church as has been his custom in past years. "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, love thy neighbor -- all these and other holy precepts are so close to our thoughts today," Lukashenka said. JM
 LOTS DRAWN TO FORM DISTRICT ELECTION COMMISSIONS IN UKRAINEThe Central Election Commission drew lots on 7 January to complete the formation of 225 district election commissions in Ukraine, New Channel Television reported. Under the election law, the district election commissions will obligatorily include members of the parties that won no less than 4 percent of the vote in the 1998 election or have their own caucuses in the current parliament (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 January 2002). There are currently 17 such parties. The representation of other parties in the district election commissions (which are to consist of 12-20 people) was determined by drawing lots. New Channel Television reported that former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn's For a United Ukraine electoral blocs got most seats on these commissions. JM
 ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS 2002 STATE BUDGET BILLArnold Ruutel signed the controversial 2002 state budget bill on 7 January, ETA reported. The budget of 33.13 billion kroons ($1.9 billion) approved by the parliament on 19 December, is 11.2 percent greater than the 2001 budget, but foresees lower allocations for local governments. Ruutel said he signed the bill with a heavy heart for this reason, but expressed the hope that the government will work together with local municipalities to address the interests of Estonian regions. After a meeting with Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas, Moderates Chairman Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Coalition Council Chairman Andres Tarand that day, Prime Minister Mart Laar confirmed that the three-party coalition could not be restored and that he will present his formal resignation on 8 January. SG
 SPLIT EMERGES IN LATVIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC WORKERS PARTYLatvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) faction Chairman Egils Baldzens and deputies Risards Labanovskis, Janis Leja, Peteris Salkazanovs, and Imants Burvis announced on 7 January that they are leaving the LSDSP and forming a new faction, LETA reported. Baldzens told a press conference that they will form a new party, which will be called the Social Democratic Union. One of the main factors influencing their decision was their dissatisfaction with increasing cooperation between the LSDSP and the leftist For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL), whose leaders, they said, "deny democracy, the national state, and the Latvian nation." Baldzens asserted that the dissenters hope the views of most LSDSP members on state language, citizenship, education, voting rights to noncitizens, and NATO membership are absolutely different from those of the PCTVL. It seems likely that the New Faction will form a coalition in the parliament with the future party. SG
 INDEPENDENT FACTION CREATED IN LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTFormer Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and nine other deputies from the Liberal Union completed the process begun in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001) by announcing their decision on 7 January to create a new faction to be called Independent, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the following day. Former Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis was elected chairman of the new faction with former Environment Minister Henrikas Zukauskas as his deputy. Deputy Juozas Raistenskis, who had also declared he was leaving the Liberal Union, decided to join the ruling Social Democratic Party. SG
 POLAND PLEDGES TO STICK TO NATO GOALS...Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 7 January that Poland has not backed away from the fulfillment of the tasks set for the armed forces and agreed upon with NATO, PAP reported. "It is not true that Poland has ever, especially in the NATO headquarters, resigned from the realization of 17 priorities," Szmajdzinski said in denouncing a report to this effect carried by "Rzeczpospolita" the same day. JM
 ...PONDERS SECOND-HAND GERMAN MIG, TANK OFFERSzmajdzinski also said Poland will decide within days whether to accept a German offer of second-hand MiG-29 jet fighters and Leopard tanks to help upgrade the Polish armed forces, Reuters reported. Poland's new leftist government has revived interest in long-standing German offers of 130 mothballed Leopard II tanks and a squadron of Soviet-built MiG-29s adapted for NATO operations. The cost of the tanks would be limited to de-mothballing them, while Berlin wants to offload the 22 MiGs, which were inherited from East Germany after the country was unified in 1990, free of charge. JM
 POLAND'S LEPPER CALLS ON WORKERS TO DEFEND THEIR RIGHTSSelf-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper told several hundred workers of the bankrupt Daewoo Lublin plant on 7 January to fight for their rights, PAP reported. "Organize yourselves, demand [what you are entitled to], and defend yourselves," Lepper said. More than 3,000 former or still-employed workers of the plant have not received their overdue wages and layoff payments. Meanwhile, the CBOS polling center found in a poll in mid-December that the firebrand populist Lepper is losing public support: 40 percent of respondents said Lepper and his party do not serve Polish farmers well, while 57 percent claimed Leper is harming democracy in the country. JM
 WARSAW REPORTS READINESS FOR ACTION IN AFGHANISTANForeign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz has notified U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell of the full readiness of a 300-strong Polish contingent to join an international U.S.-led antiterrorist action "in Afghanistan and outside," PAP reported on 8 January. Cimoszewicz said in his letter that the soldiers have been thoroughly selected and prepared in accordance with the requirements included in a U.S. application for assistance signed by Powell. JM
 CZECH PARLIAMENT LEADER DEFENDS COMMERCIAL APPEARANCEParliament speaker and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus responded to mounting criticism for plugging German-made skis by saying on 7 January that he thought he was promoting a restaurant that belongs to friends, CTK reported. Klaus and the promoter have insisted the avid skier and 60-year-old leader of the opposition Civic Democratic Party was not paid for the spot. But the timing of the billboards, six months ahead of national elections, has prompted political rivals to accuse him of flouting conflict-of-interest legislation. The billboards urge readers to "Vote" followed by the ski maker's logo. On 8 January, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" called Klaus the first Czech politician to "knowingly and willingly" peddle a product while in office, pointing out that such a move is rare, at best, in the West. A number of other politicians, including some within his own party, have dismissed the move as in poor taste but not illegal. AH
 CZECH PRESIDENT HEADS TO CANARY ISLANDS TO CONVALESCEVaclav Havel departed for Lanzarote Island in the Canaries on 8 January, where he will convalesce following a bout of pneumonia in late December, his spokesman told CTK. Havel is expected to spend about two weeks at the island residence of Spanish King Juan Carlos. AH
 SLOVAK PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON FIRST-EVER OMBUDSMAN IN MID-FEBRUARYDeputies in the Slovak lower house have scheduled a vote to name an ombudsman on 19 February, a move prompted by the passage late last year of a law establishing the office, TASR-Slovakia reported on 7 January. Parliament Chairman Jozef Migas said candidates may be proposed until 8 February, after which the chamber's Human and Minority Rights Committee will assess their qualifications. The law states that the position should not be filled by a member of any political party. Banska Bystrica Regional Court Chairwoman Jana Dubovcova, Confederation of Labor Unions Vice President Igor Lensky, and writer Ladislav Tazky have thus far been nominated by political parties, while Tibor Loran is the official candidate of the Slovak Roma Parliament. AH
 HUNGARY, U.S. BEEF UP INTELLIGENCE EFFORTSHungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi met in Budapest on 6 January with U.S. Democratic Senator Ernest Hollings, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Commerce Committee; Republican Richard Shelby, deputy chairman of the Senate's intelligence committee; and Republican congressman Robin Cramer to discuss ways to combat international terrorism, Hungarian media reported. Martonyi told reporters that the U.S. might request the help of Hungarian linguistic and other experts for its operations in Afghanistan, but said no such request has been received to date. Martonyi also remarked that cooperation between the two countries' secret services has become intense and very successful. The three U.S. politicians also met with Hungarian Secret Services Minister Ervin Demeter and conferred with officials at the U.S. Embassy. MSZ
 EXTREMISTS TAKE REFUGE AT YUGOSLAV ARMY BASE IN MONTENEGROMontenegrin police have arrested 16 pro-Belgrade activists of the Serbian Orthodox Church who attacked supporters of the rival Montenegrin Orthodox Church in Berane during Orthodox Christmas celebrations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). Ten of the suspects fled to a Yugoslav army base before police could arrest them. The army refused to hand them over to the police. The arrests took place later, when police found the suspects in nearby Crni Vrh. The Montenegrin Helsinki Committee said in a statement that the extremists' attack on their rivals amounted to a "flagrant violation of human rights." PM
 SERBIAN MOB ATTACKS UN POLICE IN KOSOVAAfter NATO peacekeepers arrested a Serbian nationalist activist in a bar in Mitrovica on 7 January, a crowd attacked four UN police, stoned their cars, burned tires, and attacked the homes of several UN police, AP reported from Prishtina. Calm returned late in the evening after additional NATO troops were deployed. PM
 SERB'S DEATH IN KOSOVA WAS ACCIDENTUN police have determined that a Serbian bakery owner was killed in Kamenica recently when he mishandled his own grenade and not when he tripped on a booby-trap, as was first thought, AP reported from Prishtina on 8 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). The man's death led to protests by local Serbian politicians and the Belgrade authorities. PM
 YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT VISITS CHINAVojislav Kostunica was to begin a three-day visit to China on 8 January, his first trip to that country and his first journey abroad in 2002. ITAR-TASS reported from Belgrade: "The Yugoslav presidential foreign policy adviser Predrag Simic...told reporters China is important to Yugoslavia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as an old-time partner. He recalled that during the period of unfair economic sanctions [editor's note: Belgrade's term for the sanctions against the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic] China did a great deal to ease the position of Yugoslav people and extended $800 million worth of aid to Yugoslavia. Simic also said that during his talks in Beijing, President Kostunica will discuss a number of issues concerning the internal political situation in Yugoslavia, its international position, and some world problems, including the struggle against terrorism." Also on the agenda is Belgrade's $200 million debt to Beijing, and 40 economists are included in the Serbian delegation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
 SERBIAN BANK EMPLOYEES TAKE TO THE STREETSSome 100 employees of four defunct banks brought traffic to a halt in central Belgrade on 8 January, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 January 2002). Police diverted traffic to other streets. Leaders of the bank employees' union said that protests will continue, including an ongoing lockout in the bank buildings. The employees want a restructuring in place of a shutdown. The authorities say that the banks are beyond saving. PM
 FIVE DEAD IN SERBIAN BAR EXPLOSIONAn unidentified man threw a grenade in a bar in Novi Kenzevac in Vojvodina on 7 January, killing himself and four other bar patrons, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The bar was crowded because of Orthodox Christmas celebrations and a card game. It is unclear why the man threw the grenade. Police are investigating. PM
 CROATIAN CAPITAL'S MAYOR TO DISCUSS DRUNK-DRIVING INCIDENTMilan Bandic said in Zagreb on 7 January that he "regrets" his "mistake" and "stupid thing" in driving drunk and hitting another car, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). He denied, however, that he fled the scene and forced police to give chase, calling the incident a "minor misunderstanding." He agreed to pay $900 in damages but rejected calls by the opposition Croatian Democratic Community to resign. Prime Minister Ivica Racan, who heads the Social Democratic Party to which Bandic belongs, said that the mayor will issue a definitive statement at a press conference on 8 January, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM
 SERBIAN CHURCH SERVICE ON CROATIAN TELEVISIONFor the first time since independence in 1991, Croatian state-run television broadcast a Serbian Orthodox Christmas service from Zagreb on 7 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Metropolitan Jovan Pavlovic officiated and later extended thanks to those who sent greetings, especially President Stipe Mesic, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM
 SLOVENIA: ST. NICHOLAS, ANGEL, AND DEVIL IN THE DOCKA St. Nicholas' Eve party gone bad has resulted in criminal charges, the daily "Delo" reported on 5 January. Teachers had organized the visit from St. Nicholas for elementary school pupils attending a weeklong retreat near Fara, on the Croatian border, on 5 December. An angel and a devil -- who are popularly believed to chain up and carry away bad children -- traditionally accompany St. Nicholas, who distributes presents to good children. After a parent reported that his son had been beaten, police from the nearby town of Kocevje and criminal investigators from Ljubljana looked into the incident. They established that St. Nicholas and the angel had mistreated the children in a "violent and ugly manner" with the bishop's staff and devil's chain. They also determined that the devil had fondled an underage girl. The district state prosecutor has filed charges of hooliganism against the 29-year-old St. Nicholas and 40-year-old angel, and charges of sexual assault of a minor against the 27-year-old devil. DR
 BOMB TOSSED AT BOSNIAN MUSLIM'S HOMEUnidentified persons threw an explosive device at the home of a Muslim who recently returned to Trebinje in eastern Herzegovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 January. UN police spokesman Stefo Lehmann said the door and windows of the home were damaged. Police are investigating. The Trebinje area has long been known as a center of Serbian nationalism and was subjected to extensive ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 conflict. There have been several nationalist-inspired incidents in recent years. PM
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT GRANTS PARDONS -- THEN REVOKES ONEIon Iliescu on 7 January announced he revoked the pardoning of George Tanase, a former auditor convicted in 1998 for having taken bribes, Romanian media reported. On 28 December, Iliescu pardoned several convicts due to their serious health conditions. The media criticized the move, arguing that three of the pardoned persons were convicted for taking bribes, a serious act of corruption. The media argued that the move contradicted Iliescu's harsh stance in past weeks against corruption. Iliescu blamed the pardoning of Tanase on his legal adviser's "superficiality." Premier Adrian Nastase also criticized the move, although he himself also signed the document. It is the first time Iliescu has revoked a decision following media protests. ZsM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS MODIFICATIONS TO CONSTITUTION POSSIBLE...Premier and ruling Social-Democratic Party (PSD) Chairman Nastase announced on 7 January the probable revision of the country's constitution, Romanian Radio reported. Nastase said the constitution is to be modified by the end of the year and should be approved by referendum in the first half of 2003. He added the PSD will consult with other political parties on the issue, and said the law on political parties should also be modified. According to Nastase, there is a "dominant" view within the PSD that parliament's upper house, the Senate, should be elected by direct voting, and not by party lists. ZsM
 ...CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO CONTROVERSIAL BUSINESSMAN'S ACTIVITIESAlso on 7 January, Nastase called on the Interior Ministry to investigate controversial businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu's businesses, Romanian media reported. He said the scandal surrounding Vantu "creates a great problem for Romania, both on the internal and international level," and added that "it is necessary for the state's institutions to get involved." Romanian media have accused Vantu of masterminding and benefiting from the collapse of the National Investment Fund, of threatening to murder former business partners, and of taking advantage of his personal contacts with politicians and the Romanian intelligence services. Vantu gave an exclusive interview on 7 January to the private Antena 1 television station, denying all allegations and presenting himself as a law-abiding businessman. Although he had previously promised to reveal his relationship with politicians and said his declarations would shake the foundations of the entire Romanian political system, he said nothing to that effect in the interview. ZsM
 BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SEAT ON UN SECURITY COUNCIL STRENGTHENS COUNTRY'S POSITION -- IN LIBYAThe authority Bulgaria has gained by taking a seat on the UN Security Council will help solve the country's most problematic international issues, including the case of the Bulgarian medical doctors in Libya, standartnews.com quoted Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi as saying on 7 January. The medics are accused of having deliberately infected Libyan children with the HIV virus. Pasi added that Bulgaria will not use its position as deputy chair of the sanctioning commission for Libya to influence the trial. Pasi underscored that he does not doubt the independence of the Libyan courts. UB
 BLOCK OF BULGARIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT SHUT DOWNDue to an oil leak, the second block of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down on 7 January, BTA reported. As a plant spokesman explained, the damage occurred outside the radioactive section of the plant, and radiation remained at its usual levels. The remaining five blocks are operating normally. The Kozloduy power plant produces almost half of Bulgaria's electricity, and although it is widely regarded as outdated it remains one of the major energy producers in the southern Balkans. According to a recent analysis in "Balkan Times," Bulgaria last year exported electricity to Yugoslavia, Turkey, and Greece worth more than $150 million. UB
 BULGARIANS PREFER TWO-CHILD FAMILYAccording to a recent poll conducted by the Bulgarian National Statistics Institute, about two-thirds of respondents said they would prefer a family with two children, news.bg reported on 7 January. One-fifth of the respondents said they would prefer to have one child, and about 14 percent said that they would like to have three or more children. Among the various ethnic minorities in the country, only Romany respondents show different figures, while the responses of the Turkish minority resemble the overall results. Among the Roma, about one-third of the families said they would prefer to have three or more children. UB
 UKRAINE BEGINS LOOKING TO THE POST-KUCHMA ERABy Taras Kuzio
Ukraine is experiencing a "crisis of power," popular former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko recently said, and nowhere is this more evident than in how Ukraine's elites are already thinking of how the post-Kuchma era, which begins in November 2004, will look like and what their role in it will be. The oligarchs are conscious of the fact that President Leonid Kuchma's power has declined since 2000 and that their positions and often ill-gotten gains may not be secure in the post-Kuchma era. As the respected weekly "Zerkalo Nedeli/Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" wrote on 29 December, far fewer businessmen and politicians are "willing to get closer to him," while many of them "are trying to play it safe" by "diversifying their political stakes like they diversify business investments."
There are growing signs that businessmen, such as Zaporizhzhia governor and former head of Intergaz Oleksiy Kucherenko, are tacitly or covertly supporting Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. Those members of Ukraine's elites, such as former Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, who are unhappy with Kuchma now have in Yushchenko a strong alternative candidate who is patriotic, reformist, and moderate. Yushchenko is always diplomatic in his interviews when referring to Kuchma or Ukraine's other oligarchs, except when referring to former first deputy parliament speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, whom he does not see as working for the "good of the state." The only oligarch group that is irrevocably hostile to Yushchenko is the Social Democratic Party-United (SDPU-O).
Although it is frequently assumed that the executive and oligarchs are allies, the reality is more complex. While the two sides need each other, the relationship is characterized more by distrust and instability. Since 1997, Kuchma's mistrust of all outsiders apart from his family has grown, a pattern similar to the situation late in Boris Yeltsin's presidential era in Russia. During the Kuchmagate scandal, President Kuchma complained that none of Ukraine's elite groups supported him during the five months (November 2000-March 2001) when his position was in danger. Although no oligarch group has ever been accused of backing what Kuchma describes as this "provocation," only an oligarch group could have had the resources and motives to undertake such action, possibly with the external support of Russia. Of Ukraine's oligarch groups, the finger has been increasingly pointed at the SDPU-O.
An example of the instability of the current system is how oligarch groups are used and then discarded by the executive if they outlive their usefulness. Two recent examples are the destruction of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's Hramada in 1998-1999 and the recent falling out of favor of the SDPU-O. All centrist oligarch parties are top-down ideologically amorphous structures that are interwoven with the state apparatus in different regions of Ukraine. They maintain a low profile except during elections and as parliamentary factions. The only exception to this rule is the SDPU-O whose leaders have -- so far unsuccessfully -- attempted to legitimize themselves as a bona fide social democratic party both domestically and with the Socialist International. The SDPU-O was the only oligarch party to support changing the election law to increase the proportion of seats elected by party lists (oligarchs tend to favor one-seat constituencies). The SDPU-O's growing strength as a party with nationwide membership and local branches, its likely involvement in Kuchmagate and the widely held perception that its members control too many sectors (such as energy and the media) may have led Kuchma to regard it as a threat.
The SDPU-O is fearful of the authorities now turning against it. (Kuchma made anti-Semitic comments about SDPU-O leader Hryhorii Surkis on the Kuchmagate tapes.) Moreover, the SDPU-O's access to "administrative resources" (which helped them reach a 4.01 percent vote in the 1998 elections) may now be in jeopardy as SDPU-O governors are being removed and campaigns have started against Medvedchuk's brother, Serhiy, who heads the Lviv Oblast Tax Administration; former Ukrainian President and SDPU-O member Leonid Kravchuk's son, Oleksandr, over corruption charges; and the state prosecutor has opened a case against SDPU-O supporter and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk over allegations that he was involved in the illegal export of arms in the early 1990s. The party therefore seeks a role for domestic election monitors who would publicize attempts to falsify the outcome of the upcoming ballot by understating the number of votes cast for it.
High-ranking representatives from Labor Ukraine, based in Kuchma's home city of Dnipropetrovsk, have begun sounding out reaction to Labor Ukraine's proposals to legitimize the gains made by oligarch groups, declare an amnesty for corrupt activities and shadow capital, and to start business dealings on a more legal and equal footing. The fact that Labor Ukraine is putting out feelers on this sensitive question testifies to its wariness as to what will happen in Ukraine -- first after the March 2002 elections when parliament may increase its powers, and then two years later when their protector, Kuchma, ends his second term.
Kuchma's tactics in the run-up to the March election are to provide "administrative resources" for the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine (ZYU), to ignore the SDPU-O and Our Ukraine, and to obstruct the Socialists and former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, thereby ensuring no group gains a majority while possibly even blocking his vociferous opponents from entering parliament. But although ZYU members will gain from the lack of executive support for the SDPU-O, they also know that the same could happen to them if they fall out of favor with Kuchma. For that reason, the ZYU now appears more inclined toward changing the current unpredictable system that relies on "kompromat" to ensure loyalty. That system has been described by Keith Darden, writing about Ukraine recently in "East European Constitutional Review," as the "blackmail state."
Disgruntlement within Ukraine's elites with the country's current political course was reflected in the initial failure of pro-Kuchma parties to cobble together a unified bloc, as the Party of Regions of Ukraine (PRU), the Donbas party of power led by Tax Administration head Nikolai Azarov, had argued that it could easily go it alone. The ultimate emergence of ZYU was only made possible by Kuchma naming the one person he fully trusts outside his family, Volodymyr Lytvyn, the head of the presidential administration, to lead it. Yushchenko too had made overtures to the Donbas business elites, many of whom support his attempts at creating a transparent, stable, and predictable business climate, but Kuchma was able to cajole and bribe them to instead join ZYU. But Kuchma was unable to impose his will on the youth wing of the PRU, which has decided to back Our Ukraine -- not ZYU.
Vitaly Hayduk, a founder of the Industrial Union of the Donbas, Ukraine's largest regional and business elite, was appointed Fuel and Energy Minister on 20 November 2001. Hayduk was a former Donetsk Oblast governor and is now a leading member of PRU. Increased spending on the Donbas coal mines and the creation of a fuel-energy company combining electricity and coal-metallurgical companies, a move opposed by the Yushchenko government, are two further concessions to the Donbas elites to induce them to back ZYU. The Donbas elites feel slighted at the domination of the Dnipropetrovsk clan in central politics since Kuchma first came to power in 1994, and possess a strong regional "patriotism." Their loyalty is not necessarily to Kuchma and they are not hostile to pro-business Yushchenko.
The People's Democrats (NDPU) and Agrarians (APU) are similarly uncomfortable as members of ZYU as many of their members openly sympathize with Yushchenko. Ivan Plyushch, parliamentary speaker and a member of NDPU, was instrumental in helping to block the SDPU-O from using the language card to obtain votes from Russian-speakers in the elections. Interviewed by the parliamentary newspaper "Holos Ukrayiny" on 27 December, Plyushch admitted that although he is a member of ZYU his sympathies lie with Our Ukraine. Like many members of the NDPU, he sees it as having become "obsolete" under Kuchma ally and former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko. Plyushch hopes that a "pro-statehood democratic faction" and majority can be created in the next parliament on the basis of Our Ukraine -- not ZYU. Our Ukraine is therefore likely to gain many defectors from ZYU in the next parliament.
Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.