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RFE/RL Newsline, 02-01-09

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

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <>


9 January 2002 RUSSIA PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE SEARCHES OFFICES OF GAZPROM SUBSIDIARY Officers from the Prosecutor-General's Office searched the premises and seized documents of the petrochemical company Sibur, a subsidiary of Gazprom, in Moscow on 8 January, Russian agencies reported. Three people, including Sibur President Yakob Goldovskii and CEO Vyacheslav Sheremet, have been arrested. According to a member of the investigating team, the search came as the result of a scandal surrounding Sibur following the company's failure to make good on promissory notes worth some $120 million. However, "Kommersant-Daily" commented the same day that the company, which has estimated annual revenues of approximately $1.2 billion, is at the center of a struggle between the new and old guard within Gazprom, and that the Prosecutor-General's Office is acting as a tool in the fight against the proteges of former Gazprom President Rem Vyakhirev. VY 'GOLDEN ADA' EMBEZZLER RELEASED FROM MOSCOW PRISON Andrei Kozlyonok, one of the diamond traders who was convicted last year of embezzling Russian government funds through the San Francisco-based Golden ADA front company in the early 1990's, was freed from a Moscow prison on 8 January, Russian news services reported. Kozlyonok was sentenced last year to six years in prison for his role in embezzling $187 million worth of state funds via the diamond- and gold-trading company in a high-profile trial that implicated several top officials from the Yeltsin administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). However, Kozlyonok's sentence was reduced in November 2001 to four years, and he was released because his time spent in pretrial detention was subtracted from the prison term. VY MOSCOW COURT REFUSES TO ORDER PROBE INTO THEFT OF NEARLY 6 BILLION RUBLES The Moscow City Court has thrown out as illegal the verdict of a court of lower instance to further investigate the fate of 5.8 billion rubles ($160 million) that disappeared from the assets of the Central Bank, reported on 8 January. As a result of the decision, the criminal case against Aleksandr Alekseev, the head of the Moscow branch of the Central Bank who was accused of siphoning funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001), has been suspended. According to the news website, the Moscow court found no crime in Alekseev's actions, only negligence. VY EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA WOULD FOLLOW SUIT IF U.S. RESUMED NUCLEAR TESTING Mark Urnov, the head of the Center for Political Technologies and known for his close ties with the Kremlin, said that Russia would not object if the U.S. were to resume nuclear weapons testing but continue dialogue with Russia on the reduction of strategic weapons, reported on 8 January. He also said that reducing the countries' nuclear arsenals to the proposed level of 1,500-2,000 warheads would require an analysis of the reliability and safety of the remaining nuclear munitions. Thus, if the United States were to conduct nuclear testing, Russia would likely do the same, according to Urnov. In any event, the resumption of nuclear testing would not cause any international complications because such testing is the subject of bilateral agreements between the two counties and is not subject to consent by any third parties, he said. VY RUSSIAN PREMIER TAKES STEPS TO REDUCE LIABILITY ON SOVIET DEBT Mikhail Kasyanov on December 29 signed a directive introducing a new regulation concerning Soviet foreign debts to commercial creditors united in the London Club, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 January. According to the new regulations, all Soviet debts to the foreign credit institution will be transferred into Russian Eurobonds on 10- to 30-year terms. However, the Russian government will no longer honor debts resulting from contracts for goods and services to the Soviet Union if those deals were inked without a direct guarantee from the Soviet government. VY PUTIN TELEPHONES RUSSIAN EXPLORERS IN ANTARCTICA President Vladimir Putin telephoned a group of Russian explorers on 8 January upon their successful trek to the South Pole to congratulate them on their achievement, RIA-Novosti reported. Artur Chilingarov, a deputy speaker of the State Duma, and a Hero of the Soviet Union who led the polar expedition, told the president during their conversation that the goal of the journey was "to stress the Russian presence in Antarctica." In the past few months, Russia has made significant political and public relations efforts to emphasize its claims on resource-rich regions of the Arctic and Antarctic. VY FSB DISRUPTS ILLEGAL SALE OF RARE STRATEGIC METAL Officers of the Moscow branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) have detained five individuals who tried to sell six grams of the rare strategic metal osmium for $800,000, RosBalt reported on 8 January. Osmium is a metal in the platinum group that is used in nuclear weapons production as well as in the aerospace industry. Because of its extremely high market price (up to $600 thousand per gram) and lack of radioactivity, it is also used as a reserve asset in the banking sector. According to an FSB spokesman, there is only one osmium ore deposit on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and an investigation has been launched to determine how the metal was brought to Moscow. VY TAX POLICE: 60 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN BUSINESS ENTITIES FAIL TO PAY TAXES Viktor Vasiliev, the head of the Moscow office of the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP), told RosBalt on 8 January that 60 percent of Russian enterprises, companies, and institutions do not pay taxes or other obligatory duties, and thus constitute a "shadow segment of the national economy." In some sectors, such as automobile servicing, for example, the level of the illegal revenues exceeds 80 percent. Vasiliev told the online news agency that through research and practical experience the FSNP has found that most tax crimes are committed in the energy sector, credit and financial institutions, real estate, consumer trade, and export-import operations. VY LAWYERS DEMAND SUTYAGIN'S RELEASE FROM CUSTODY... The lawyers of Igor Sutyagin, the researcher from the Institute of USA and Canada who has been accused of espionage for "a NATO country" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001, and 4 January 2002) have appealed the verdict of a Kaluga court that decided to further investigate the case, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. In the appeal, the lawyers requested Sutyagin's release from custody during the period of investigation on the grounds that the court itself found procedural and legal violations on the part of investigators. VY ...AS ACTIVISTS ACROSS RUSSIA PROTEST PASKO CASE Following a demonstration in Lyubyanka Square in central Moscow the previous day, around 30 activists in Nizhnii Novgorod picketed the local office of the FSB on 8 January to protest the recent conviction of former military journalist Grigorii Pasko for espionage, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). Similar actions were held in other Russian cities, including Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Murmansk, Chelyabinsk, Birobidzhan, Volgodonsk, Novocherkassk, Rostov-na-Donu, and Yaroslavl, according to Askhat Kayumov, the chairman of Nizhnii Novgorod's ecological center "Dront." JAC RUSSIAN TELEVISION GOING DOWN THE TUBE? Writing in on 8 January, mass communications expert Aleksandr Kustarev said that Russian television is showing a clear trend of disrespect for its audience and is degrading itself. One example he sites is the habit of inviting celebrities into the studio as "experts" on various issues, even when they are completely incompetent in the subject matter they are asked to discuss. Another sign, Kustarev said, is the obsession of television directors with the idea that the level of expertise and intellectual skill of television personalities should not exceed that of the general audience. In doing, he said, those directors are showing that they feel the general public is not worthy of hearing what it doesn't already know. VY TV-6 HEAD SAYS CHANNEL WILLING TO COMPROMISE Media magnate Boris Berezovsky denied on 8 January a report that appeared the previous day in the "Financial Times" that he is planning to sell his package of shares in TV-6, Interfax reported. According to the daily, Berezovsky is conducting negotiations with TPG Aurora for the sale of his 75 percent stake in the company for $140 million. Berezovsky said the "Financial Times" report and others claiming that he seeking a buyer are "provocations" designed to create the impression that he has changed his stance on the channel. Meanwhile, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev told Ekho Moskvy radio the same day that he does not consider his channel to be "such an oppositional channel," and that he and his team "are prepared for a compromise with authorities; however, no one has yet suggested a compromise." JAC TV AND RADIO BLACKOUTS IN REGIONS TO BE THING OF THE PAST... As of 1 January, the federal government assumed financial responsibility for the distribution of national television and radio channels to cities with fewer than 200,000 people, Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting System General Director Gennadii Sklyar told ITAR-TASS on 8 January. According to Sklyar, such a move was necessary because local authorities have often been unable to pay for the services of transmission centers, which belong to various regional structures and private telecommunication entities. Some regions in the Far East, such as Kamchatka and Khabarovsk, have been plagued by the stopping of radio and television broadcasts as a result of increased debt arrears (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). In addition, fees for signal distribution are among the largest expenses for Russian broadcasters. JAC ...AS FEDERAL AUTHORITIES TO RETAKE CONTROL OF TV AND RADIO TOWERS Sklyar also said that his company has other long-term plans regarding the reconsolidation of regional TV and radio transmission centers, "which during past years were illegally handed over to authorities and private communications businesses." Sklyar's company was set up by presidential decree last August. Under that decree, all the property of transmission facilities of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) must be transferred to Sklyar's company, including property that is now rented to private companies (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 12 September 2001). JAC NEWER SENATORS SHUT OUT OF LEADERSHIP POSTS... At a 25 January session, members of the Federation Council are expected to confirm the selection of three deputies for Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, as well as the heads of profile committees, reported on 8 January, citing Uralinformbyuro. According to the website, Sverdlovsk Oblast's senators, Valerii Trushnikov and Andrei Shmelev, who were only appointed as of 1 January 2002, lack any committee leadership assignments because the bargaining over which senators will get which committees has already been concluded. For the entire Urals region, of which Sverdlovsk Oblast is a part, Kurgan Oblast Senator Andrei Vikharev has the highest post, that of chairman of the Committee on Social Questions, according to the website. JAC ...AS ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURGER HEADS FOR UPPER HOUSE Meanwhile, new senators continue to be named. Krasnoyarsk Krai's legislature will be represented by Konstantin Meremyanin, the Prosecutor-General Office's envoy to the Federal Assembly, reported on 8 January. In addition, Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin announced that he is sending Dmitrii Mezentsev, the president of the Center for Strategic Research, reported. Mezentsev was born in St. Petersburg, and he later he worked in the mayoral office there from 1991-96, overlapping President Putin's time in that office. JAC ONE VOTE, ONE VOLGA The mayor of Yakutsk plans to hold a lottery during the second round of presidential elections in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, the main prize for which will be a Volga automobile, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 8 January. During the election's first round last month, Yakutsk authorities were offering residents who voted in presidential elections there a 100 ruble ($3.30) rebate on their monthly housing payments, as well as a reduction in their arrears on electricity payments. However, the local election commission ruled that the offer seemed too similar to a bribe, and city authorities were forced to extend the offer to all residents regardless of whether or not they voted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001). This time around, Yakutsk's mayoral administration says that the lottery will be conducted in legally correct fashion. Alrosa President Vyacheslav Shtyrov will compete against SAPI industrial group head Fedot Tumusov on 13 January. JAC RUSSIAN TROOPS PULL OUT OF ARGUN... Russian military units began withdrawing on 8 January from the town of Argun east of Grozny where they began an operation five days earlier to detain Chechen militants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 January 2002), Russian agencies reported. A military spokesman admitted that the remaining Chechen fighters had succeeded in escaping from the town. Thirteen residents detained in the course of the operation have not yet been released. LF ...AS LOCAL RESIDENTS STAGE PROTEST Also on 8 January, several hundred residents of Argun gathered in front of the local administration building to demand that the Russian troops end their search (the fifth in six months, according to "Izvestiya" on 8 January) and withdraw, and than the ban on transportation to and from the town be lifted. Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov said the same day that no violations of the law took place during the six-day security sweep, which Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov argued was necessary because Chechen gunmen "constantly shoot at military and civilian convoys and at cars belonging both to officials and civilians." LF TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SUMS UP 2001... Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on 8 January held his traditional annual press conference to review the major foreign policy developments of the previous 12 months, Armenian agencies cited by Grong reported. Oskanian admitted that no improvement was registered in Armenian-Turkish relations despite Yerevan's repeated calls to establish diplomatic relations with no preconditions. He said Turkey's policy toward Armenia has a negative impact on the South Caucasus as a whole. But at the same time Oskanian described the situation in the region as relatively stable, noting the importance to that stability of Armenian-Georgian relations. He also expressed appreciation of Iran's "balanced" policy in the South Caucasus, Noyan Tapan reported. LF ...CAUTIOUS OVER PROSPECTS FOR KARABAKH SETTLEMENT Oskanian said it is "difficult" to predict how the search for a solution of the Karabakh conflict will develop in 2002, according to Armenpress, as quoted by Groong. Oskanian described the two meetings last year between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, and the OSCE-mediated talks in Florida in April, as having given rise to the temporary hope that a mutually acceptable peace would soon be achieved. Oskanian again argued that Azerbaijan has no historical, moral, or legal right to claim that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is part of Azerbaijani territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November and 5 December 2001). LF IRANIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER CONTINUES TALKS IN AZERBAIJAN Following his talks in Nakhichevan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002), Mehdi Safari traveled on 8 January to Baku for the second time within one month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001), to discuss with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov preparations for Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's upcoming official visit to Iran, bilateral ties, and the legal status of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. Aliev's long-postponed visit is now scheduled for before the end of March 2002, according to Interfax on 4 January. LF AZERBAIJANI SENTENCED FOR SPYING FOR IRAN Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes sentenced Telman Ismailov on 8 January to 11 years imprisonment on charges of passing to Iran information on the location of Azerbaijani military units, Reuters and Interfax reported. Ismailov was arrested in July 2001 trying to cross from Azerbaijan into Iran. LF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER NOT PUBLISHED The state publishing house refused to print the most recent issue of the newspaper "Mukhalifat" (Opposition) because its editors refused to comply with a demand that they substitute for a recent photograph of President Heidar Aliev one taken 10-15 years ago, Turan reported on 8 January. LF EXPORTS OF AZERBAIJANI OIL RISE BY OVER 50 PERCENT Azerbaijan exported a total of 8.44 million tons of crude oil in 2001, 55 percent more than the previous year, Interfax reported on 8 January. The lion's share of that amount (over 5.9 million tons) was produced and exported by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company that is developing three offshore Caspian oil fields. LF AZERBAIJANI-GEORGIAN-TURKISH SECURITY SESSION POSTPONED A meeting of security experts from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey scheduled to take place in Ankara on 7-8 January has been postponed indefinitely due to inclement weather conditions, Caucasus Press reported on 8 January. The three sides were to have signed a trilateral agreement on security cooperation proposed in October 2001 by Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. LF GEORGIA'S AFGHAN WAR VETS PROTEST ABDUCTION OF HERMIT MONK Some 50 members of Georgia's Union of Veterans of the War in Afghanistan congregated late on 7 January in the village of Matani, which is close to the mouth of the Pankisi Gorge, to demand the immediate release of an Azerbaijani and of a Georgian hermit monk taken hostage in the gorge in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 30 November 2001). As of early on 9 January, their numbers had swelled to 100. The unknown abductors of Father Basil have demanded a $1 million ransom. National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania on 4 January asked 15 Georgian clergymen who began a similar protest near the gorge three days earlier to disperse lest they "destabilize the situation" in the district. LF FORMER KAZAKH GOVERNOR PREVENTED FROM HOLDING MASS MEETING The Pavlodar City administration has turned down a 27 December request by former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov to hold a mass gathering in the city on 12 January to demand the immediate release of two of Zhaqiyanov's former deputies who were detained recently by local police and accused of abuse of power and financial mismanagement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 8 January. Zhaqiyanov was dismissed as governor in November by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev after he cofounded the new opposition political movement Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). LF KAZAKHOIL DENIES OWNING SHARES IN ODESSA-BRODY OIL PIPELINE PROJECT KazakhOil spokeswoman Umitkhan Baltayeva has rejected as untrue Kazakh media reports of the company's alleged involvement in Ukraine's Odessa-Brody oil pipeline project, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 8 January. LF CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST DETAINED KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY... Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov on 8 January formally charged detained parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov with abuse of his official position and detaining persons who were innocent of any crime, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Those charges derive from a murder in Toktogul in February 1995 following which Beknazarov temporarily took into custody several persons, including relatives of the victim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). LF ...AS STORM OF PROTEST GROWS Also on 8 January, some 20 people including several prominent human rights activists picketed the office in Bishkek of Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev. Some of them were allowed to meet with Abyshkaev and handed him a petition protesting that Beknazarov's detention was politically motivated and demanding his release. Abyshkaev told them that a local investigator in Djalalabad took the decision to take Beknazarov into custody and that no government official has sanctioned his arrest. A similar picket was held in Djalalabad, where 3,000 people have signed a petition calling for Beknazarov's release. Several committees in defense of Beknazarov have been formed. The New York-based International League for Human Rights has written to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev expressing concern over Beknazarov's arrest and pleading with Akaev to "stop persecuting the political opposition and other persons disagreeing with your policies." LF KYRGYZ PREMIER SEEKS TO STRENGTHEN DISCIPLINE WITHIN GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY Before departing on 31 December on a three-week vacation, Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree under which all new government employees will be required to sign a declaration pledging not to violate the law, and acknowledging their personal responsibility for all office property issued to them, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 8 January, quoting the governmental press service. Some 25 percent of the country's workforce is employed in the government bureaucracy. LF KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SAYS U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE WILL NOT BE PERMANENT The military presence in Kyrgyzstan of the U.S. and its allies in the antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan will be "lengthy but not permanent," parliament Information Committee Chairman Kabai Karabekov told ITAR-TASS on 8 January. He predicted that "the guerrilla war in Afghanistan will continue for a long time." Karabekov stressed that the Kyrgyz parliament has not given permission for a permanent U.S. military presence in the country, and will not do so without prior consultations with Russia, China, and fellow signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Russian observers have expressed concern that Washington may adduce the Afghan situation as the rationale for establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in Central Asia. LF FRENCH MILITARY EXPERTS ASSESS TAJIK INFRASTRUCTURE A group of French military experts arrived in Dushanbe on 8 January to inspect together with Tajik Defense Ministry personnel the Aini military air base located some 15 kilometers southwest of Dushanbe, Russian agencies reported. Also on 8 January, a contingent of French troops who arrived in Dushanbe the previous day were airlifted to the Bagram air base near Kabul. They are to serve as part of the UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. LF RUSSIAN, UN OFFICIALS DISCUSS TAJIK PEACE PROCESS Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov met in Dushanbe on 8 January with Ivo Petrov, who is the UN secretary-general's special representative in Tajikistan, to discuss mobilizing further international support for the present leadership and for measures to stabilize the post-civil war situation in Tajikistan and restore the social and economic infrastructure, Russian agencies reported. They focused specifically on the need for continued UN participation in those processes. The UN scaled down its representation in Tajikistan following the presidential elections in November 1999 and the parliamentary ballot in early 2000. LF CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE MINSK TRACTOR FACTORY DIRECTOR ARRESTED The Prosecutor-General's Office on 8 January announced that law enforcement officers have detained Mikhail Lyavonau, the director of the Minsk Tractor Factory, Belapan reported. Lyavonau is suspected of having caused "particularly large damage" to the economy through abuse of office and negligence. Lyavonau is the third major business executive arrested in Belarus recently. In November, prosecutors arrested Belarusian Railways chief Viktar Rakhmanko and Minsk Refrigerator Plant Director Leanid Kaluhin, also on charges of abuse of office. JM UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES BILLS ON COMPULSORY TV DEBATES, LOCAL ELECTIONS... Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a bill obliging all candidates in presidential and parliamentary elections to take part in televised debates and requiring that television companies, independently of their form of ownership, broadcast such debates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001), Interfax reported on 8 January. Kuchma also vetoed a bill on local elections that stipulated a mixed system in elections to oblast-level councils and a majority system in elections to lower-level councils. JM ...URGES PARLIAMENT TO PASS CD COPYRIGHT LAW Deputy parliamentary speaker Stepan Havrysh said on 8 January that President Kuchma has urged the parliament to pass a bill on compact disc production to potentially soften the impact of U.S. trade sanctions imposed for Ukraine's failure to fight CD piracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001), Interfax and AP reported. Premier Anatoliy Kinakh has sent a similar appeal to the parliament. JM ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT RESIGNS Fulfilling the pledge made in December, Prime Minister Mart Laar handed the resignation of his government to President Arnold Ruutel on 8 January, ETA reported. Ruutel has two weeks to name a candidate for prime minister, who in turn has two weeks to present a cabinet to the parliament for approval. It was expected that the new government would be formed with a coalition of the Center Party and Reform Party as its core, but in a surprise move Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar invited the leaders of the People's Union and the Moderates for consultation the next day on forming a new coalition. Moderates Secretary-General Tonu Koiv has said his party will not cooperate with the Center Party as long as it is led by Savisaar, but the party's board will meet on 10 January to discuss the proposal. Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas, who is considered to be the most likely next premier, said he was surprised by Savisaar's offer to the other parties, but even though the three parties have similar world outlooks their coalition would mean too abrupt a turn to the left. SG ESTONIA CANCELS PRIVATIZATION OF NARVA POWER PLANTS The government canceled the agreement with the U.S. firm NRG Energy on the privatization of the Narva Elektrijaamad (Narva Power Plants) because it failed to sign a loan agreement for 285 million euros ($258 million) for renovating the power stations by the 31 December 2001 deadline, ETA reported. Premier Laar said that the six-year negotiations with NRG Energy had actually benefited Estonia, as it had facilitated the drafting of the energy sector's development plan. The Economy Ministry has been given three months to submit alternate proposals for the plants' renovation. SG NEW LATVIAN-ESTONIAN TAX AGREEMENT ENDORSED The Estonian government on 8 January endorsed the Latvian-Estonian agreement on preventing double taxation and tax evasion, BNS reported. The agreement replaces a similar 1993 agreement that Latvia decided to ignore last year after Estonia abolished its corporate income tax on reinvested profits. Latvia started taxing Estonian companies doing business in Latvia with local taxes beginning on 1 June 2001. In December 2001 the Latvian government approved the new agreement, which the two countries agreed to apply beginning on 1 January 2002. SG AMENDMENTS TO LITHUANIAN HIGHER EDUCATION LAW SIGNED On 8 January, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas signed the amendments to the Higher Education Law approved by the parliament in December, ELTA reported. The previous day, President Valdas Adamkus asserted that the amendments contained evident flaws but decided not to veto them because such a move would have led to confrontation in the parliament. The amendments, which will go into effect beginning in January 2003, introduce a uniform tuition fee of 500 litas ($125) per semester. As defined by the amendments, half of the daytime and one-third of evening students receiving the highest grades will be exempt from paying tuition, while others will be entitled to low-interest loans with 15- to 20-year payment plans. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas expressed doubts as to whether the funds required by the amendments will be found, as the real costs for each student is about 5,000 litas per year, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 9 January. SG POLISH CABINET PRESSES CENTRAL BANK TO CUT INTEREST RATES Representatives of Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet and the Monetary Policy Council, which supervises the activities of Poland's National Bank, are to meet on 9 January to discuss the government-postulated "significant reduction" in interest rates in order to stimulate the economy, Polish media reported on 8 January. Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski told Polish Radio on 9 January that if there is no reduction in interest rates within the next three months to a level "similar to that of other countries," Poland will face a crisis. "We would like to shield Poland from such consequences as Argentina has met, since there too the peso was very strong, equal to the dollar. Our zloty is also very strong and ever stronger, but this strength does not after all transpire from the state of the economy, but...precisely from the fact that we have high interest rates, the highest in Europe," Kalinowski noted. JM CZECH TROOPS NOT TO TAKE PART IN AFGHAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE Czech units numbering up to 350 soldiers approved by parliament for peacekeeping in Afghanistan will not be needed by the international force there, the Defense Ministry said on 8 January, CTK reported. Deputy Defense Minister Stefan Fuele told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" that Britain, which heads the security force in Kabul, informed Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 8 January that the Afghans were requesting a 3,000-strong force, not a 5,000-strong force as previously. "We were not delighted by the news but respect the limit set by Kabul," Fuele said. Tvrdik told TV Nova on 9 January that a chemical defense unit will still be sent to Kuwait in early March as part of the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign. DW CZECH INDUSTRY MINISTER'S RESIGNATION REJECTED BY PREMIER Prime Minister Milos Zeman refused the resignation formally offered to him on 8 January by Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr, CTK reported. Gregr said he was offering his resignation in compliance with a promise he made 18 months earlier to resign if the test preparations of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant's second reactor were not ready by the end of 2001. Zeman called Gregr one of government's most successful ministers, adding, "Since none of the ministers who delayed Temelin's construction by more than seven years have resigned, I don't consider it as necessary to accept the resignation." The opposition and environmentalists have called Gregr's move a political farce. DW CZECH CABINET UNWILLING TO PAY TO TAKE PAPER TO COURT IN SLANDER CASE According to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 9 January, to date none of the ministers of Premier Zeman's cabinet have followed through on threats to file civil suits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001) against the weekly "Respekt" for libel. The daily adds that the court fee of 400,000 crowns ($11,000) has put them off. The government did file a criminal complaint against "Respekt" on 22 November, and "Respekt" Editor in Chief Petr Holub has filed a countersuit against Zeman. DW SLOVAK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES FOREIGN MINISTER OVER HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW Rudolf Schuster on 8 January criticized the approach of Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan toward the Hungarian Status Law, TASR-Slovakia reported. Schuster expressed regret that Kukan had not involved himself more actively in the negotiations between the two countries. He also warned against the possibility of serious bilateral conflict, as Hungary is a strategic partner of Slovakia in the EU accession process. "Nothing has ever been solved by emotions," Schuster said. In a press conference later the same day, Kukan said that negotiations with Hungary over the implementation of the Status Law, which came into effect on 1 January, should be handled in a civilized fashion, without emotions or hysteria. Responding to Schuster's criticism, he added that of the 10 implementation rules, the Hungarian side has to date clarified only four to Slovakia. The deputy foreign minister and ministerial-level negotiations cannot resume until all implementation rules are clarified, Kukan said. DW SLOVAK STOCK EXCHANGE FREEZES SALE OF STEELMAKING GROUP SHARES The Bratislava Stock Exchange (BCPB) on 9 January suspended the sale of shares in Slovakia's VSZ former steelmaking group by the state-owned Transpetrol, TASR-Slovakia reported. The Financial Market Office issued a 30-day injunction against the sale of the 21.24 percent stake to the Central European Brokerage Company (SMD), BCPB Director Maria Hurajova said. The deal was criticized as disadvantageous for the state by government members, VSZ, and U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel, which in 2000 took over VSZ's steelworks in Kosice, owns 24.5 percent of VSZ and was a bidder for the Transpetrol stake. Economy Minister Lubomir Harach said recently that if the deal proves flawed, he is ready to shoulder responsibility and even resign. DW HUNGARY'S MEDGYESSY OUTLINES ELECTION PROGRAM The opposition Socialist Party's candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, outlined his election program at the Pilvax Cafe in downtown Budapest on 8 January, saying a future Socialist-led cabinet would represent the political center and advocate a program that promotes the general welfare, security, and progress, Hungarian media reported. Regarding the economy, Medgyessy said his "In Consensus with the Nation" program will include tax cuts, lower inflation, encouragement for Hungarian entrepreneurs, and the allocation of government subsidies "based on performance rather than personal friendships." He promised that if elected his government would be "fiscally prudent, not wasteful," and work to strengthen local governments. The Socialists would also seek to establish a bicameral parliament in which the representation of ethnic minorities would be assured, Medgyessy concluded. MSZ HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DECREE ON STATUS LAW The cabinet passed an implementation decree on the Status Law on 8 January that also includes a provision for educational and cultural subsidies to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai told reporters. He said the educational subsidies will be provided to parents with Hungarian nationality certificates who have at least two children in local Hungarian-language schools. The subsidy will include 20,000 forints ($72) annually per child, plus expenses for textbooks and stationery. In other news, Wilfried Martens, the chairman of the European People's Party, issued a statement in Brussels on 8 January saying that Hungary's Socialists are "playing with fire when they whip up nationalist feelings over the memorandum of understanding" reached between Hungary and Romania on the Hungarian Status Law. Martens said, "This is unworthy of a democratic party, even in the heat of the election campaign," Hungarian media reported. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MAYOR OF CROATIAN CAPITAL OFFERS TENTATIVE RESIGNATION Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic told a press conference on 8 January that he is "placing his mandate at the disposition" of the City Council following his involvement in a drunken hit-and-run accident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 January 2002). The council will meet on 31 January to consider his offer to resign. The Croatian People's Party (HNS), which governs in Zagreb in a coalition with Bandic's Social Democrats, said in a statement that the accident is a personal matter and need not affect his status as mayor. The party added, however, that Bandic must either resign or stay in office, and that there is no legal provision for asking for a vote of confidence from the council. PM CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER SETS PRIORITIES Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 8 January that he has set two priorities for immediate attention, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The first is the construction of a major highway linking Zagreb and Split. The second is a program aimed at providing employment for young people seeking their first job. He added that he will announce a third, unspecified priority project in the near future. PM CROATIA SAYS TIME TO SETTLE PREVLAKA DISPUTE UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the Security Council to extend the mandate for UN monitors on Croatia's Prevlaka Peninsula for a further six months, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2001). Prevlaka is Croatian territory that controls access to Kotor Bay in Montenegro, home of Yugoslavia's only deepwater port and naval base. UN monitors have been stationed in the area for several years. Croatian officials recently said they want this extension of the monitors' mandate to be the last one because Prevlaka is no longer a potential regional security problem. Belgrade has welcomed the extension of the mandate, Reuters reported from New York. Montenegro has sought to negotiate with Croatia directly as a way of affirming its sovereignty as a state. Croatia has maintained contacts with both Belgrade and Podgorica about Prevlaka. PM CROATIAN COURT FREES MOBSTERS FOR 'LACK OF EVIDENCE' The Zagreb county court has freed Nikica Jelavic and four other alleged underworld kingpins, saying there is not enough evidence to proceed on any of the charges against them, dpa reported on 9 January. The news agency added that the charges included "murder, attempted murder, extortion, money laundering, drug abuse, kidnapping, and association with a criminal organization." The trial began in October 2000 and has been called the "trial of the century" because of the high visibility of some of the men's businesses and their social contacts with celebrities. PM ATTACKS ON RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT IN MONTENEGRO Unknown persons "demolished" the automobile of Sead Sadikovic on 7 January and attempted to break into his flat the following day, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sadikovic has reported from the Berane area in recent days about attacks by pro-Belgrade extremists on Orthodox Christmas celebrations by members of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 January 2002). Berane Mayor Sveto Mitrovic blames the Montenegrin government and police for the tensions. PM REPUBLIKA SRPSKA MARKS 10TH ANNIVERSARY Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 8 January that "we accept Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state. We have accepted it because we got the Republika Srpska [as part of the 1995 Dayton agreement]. The interests of the Serbian people [have been satisfied] through Dayton, [by creating] a functional and decentralized state" consisting of the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim federation, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He added: "Looking back, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Our way was the right way, and we would do it the same way if we had to again." Sarovic stressed that "we must turn to real patriotism to avoid future problems stemming from the abuse of power by aggressive patriotism." The Republika Srpska marks the anniversary of its founding on 9 January 1992 as an official holiday. PM PETRITSCH WARNS AGAINST RETURN OF HALILOVIC TO BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT The office of Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, announced in Sarajevo on 8 January that he is opposed to the proposed return of Sefer Halilovic to the cabinet of the Muslim-Croat federation as minister of refugee and social affairs. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal freed the Muslim ex-general in December pending his trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). Petritsch's office said that one must take into account the feelings of the families of Halilovic's alleged victims, and until his name is cleared, he should not return to the government. PM UN SACKS MORE POLICE IN BOSNIA UN police (IPTF) spokesman Stefo Lehmann said in Sarajevo on 8 January that the IPTF has fired nine police for involvement in a variety of crimes or otherwise unacceptable behavior, AP reported. The IPTF has periodically sacked wrongdoers in its ranks, but critics charge that much remains to be done (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). PM FORMER SERBIAN STRONGMAN IN THE DOCK IN THE HAGUE Slobodan Milosevic made his final pretrial appearance in a Hague courtroom on 9 January, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). His trial for crimes against humanity in Kosova is scheduled to open on 12 February. PM HEAVY SNOWS PLAGUE ALBANIA The government declared a state of emergency in much of northern Albania after continued heavy snowfalls left 100,000 villagers isolated in their communities, AP reported from Tirana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002). The regions affected most severely are Lezha and Shkodra in the northwest, and Kukes and Peshkopi in the northeast. There have not been any reports of deaths so far. NATO troops from neighboring Kosova recently helped the Albanian army deliver food to those parts of the affected area in the northeast, which is cut off from the rest of Albania by high mountains. PM ROMANIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES ANTICORRUPTION CAMPAIGN WITHIN THE INTERIOR MINISTRY... Adrian Nastase said on 8 January that the fight against corruption has to be based on "sound institutions" and improved "legal framework," Romanian Radio reported. He said the government will support the ministry in combating corruption, most importantly within the Interior Ministry itself. Nastase and Interior Minister Ioan Rus analyzed the ministry's activities over the past year as well as its plans for 2002. At the end of 2001, Nastase launched a campaign focusing on eliminating corruption from the justice and financial-banking systems (see RFE/RL's "Newsline," 28 December 2001). ZsM ...DENIES POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT IN INVESTIGATION OF CONTROVERSIAL BUSINESSMAN'S COMPANIES... Meanwhile, Nastase denied any political involvement in the investigation of the companies of Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, who has been accused by media outlets of financial engineering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002), Mediafax reported. In a television interview broadcast on 7 January, Vantu accused Premier Nastase of ordering the investigation of his businesses as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party. Vantu went on to say that politicians should not interfere with his businesses, and that the role of state institutions should be to ensure the transparency of the capital and financial-banking markets. Nastase said in response at a press conference following his meeting with the Interior Ministry staff that he ordered the inquiry in his capacity as prime minister, and denied any business relationships with Vantu. In addition, he said he does not know of any involvement by his cabinet members in business relationships with Vantu. ZsM ...WHILE SCANDAL SURROUNDING VANTU UNFOLDS On 8 January, Romanian Information Service Director (SRI) Radu Timofte called Mihai Iacob, who is in open conflict with Vantu, a "crook" and said he should be arrested, Romanian media reported. In response, Iacob sued Timofte the same day for insult and libel. Iacob had previously accused Vantu of having strong links with secret service leaders and of having made a proposal to him to become an undercover officer. Timofte called on the SRI to turn over to him "all data related to this miserable situation." Meanwhile, Ion Stan, the chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the SRI, has asked Timofte to hand over all data related to Vantu's businesses and to tell whether the SRI has informed state authorities of the matter. Vantu has previously admitted to his friendship with Timofte. ZsM TURKISH PARTY IN BULGARIA DEMANDS COALITION COUNCIL The junior coalition partner of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's National Movement Simeon II, the chiefly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is demanding the introduction of a coalition council, the daily "Dnevnik" reported on 9 January. The council would be intended to improve the coordination between the coalition partners. The DPS is also demanding leading positions for party members in state enterprises such as Bulgartabak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002). As Economic Minister Nikolay Vasilev thus far refused such demands, the DPS is now considering pressing for Vasilev's resignation. UB U.S. COMPANY TO HELP DESTROY BULGARIAN SS-23? Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on Bulgarian National Radio that a U.S. group specialized in the destruction of Scud and SS-23 missiles will arrive in Bulgaria next month to hold talks with the Bulgarian government, "Monitor" reported on 9 January. Svinarov did not specify the name of the company, but added that he is confident that the October 2002 deadline for the missile destruction posed by the parliament can be met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001). In the meantime, Bozhidar Dimitrov, the director of the Military Historical Museum, has asked the Bulgarian government for a SS-23 missile-launcher to be exhibited in the museum because of its "historical importance." Svinarov said he does not see any problem in fulfilling this request. UB BULGARIA TO REOPEN EMBASSY IN KABUL Bulgaria will reestablish its diplomatic relations with Afghanistan and reopen its embassy in Kabul, the country's future ambassador announced, reported on 8 January. Angel Urbetsov, who will head the diplomatic mission, said Bulgaria will help reconstruct Afghanistan and support humanitarian efforts. Bulgaria will also participate in the international UN protection force. UB BULGARIAN CHAMBERS DISCUSS CURRENCY BOARD Following the devaluation of the Argentinian peso, discussions are continuing in Bulgaria about the currency board, which was introduced by the International Monetary Fund in 1997. Yosif Avramov, the deputy chairman of the Bulgarian Entrepreneurs and Handicrafts Chamber, said the currency board has to remain in office until Bulgaria enters the EU, reported on 8 January. Avramov's statement comes after Ivan Angelov of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences demanded the dissolution of the currency board. According to Avramov, the Argentine currency board failed because the peso was pegged to the U.S. dollar at an unfavorable rate. According to Dikran Tebeyan, the deputy chairman of the Economic Chamber, criticism of the board is not unfounded. Since its introduction, Bulgaria has experience some 47 percent inflation and Bulgarian exports have lost their competitiveness, which he said could lead to a worsening of the country's balance of payments. UB END NOTE KOSOVA: A THANKLESS -- AND NECESSARY -- JOB By Patrick Moore Hans Haekkerup resigned his post as head of the UN's civilian administrator in Kosova (UNMIK) just before Christmas, after barely a year on the job. His successor will have to break some unpleasant truths to many people. The task will not be easy, but it must be done sooner rather than later if Kosova is to have a stable and prosperous future. Haekkerup's resignation came as a surprise to many -- but was not unwelcome to Albanian leaders and to many of the international staff members. The leading candidate to replace him is reportedly Germany's knowledgeable but abrasive Michael Steiner. The new UN chief administrator in Kosova will have to break some unpleasant truths to many people. The task will not be easy, but it must be done sooner rather than later if Kosova is to have a stable and prosperous future. It is possible that Steiner could alienate local leaders just as Haekkerup did. After all, the history of the international community's involvement in the former Yugoslavia in the past decade or so is filled with the names of self-confident Western politicians and technocrats who never seemed to understand the political culture of the Balkans. Even Haekkerup realized early on that the Balkan attitude toward compromise is quite different from that of his native Scandinavia, but that insight did not help him much in developing a working relationship with leaders of the 90 percent Albanian majority. But perhaps just the right touch of steeliness is what is required. This is because the new head of UNMIK faces at least three daunting tasks that involve telling many people things that they may not want to hear. He will have the same formidable powers as Haekkerup but will need to use them more effectively than did the former Danish defense minister. The first task is to make it crystal clear to the Albanians that they stand no chance of achieving their goal of independence unless they show that they can manage their own affairs. The main reason for the foreign presence in the Balkans to begin with is that most of the local groups and their leaders proved unable to rise to the task of dealing with the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, a process set off by the policies of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The foreigners are unlikely to approve any new status for Kosova that seems likely to lead to fresh trouble. The Albanians will first have to show that they are capable of forming and maintaining a stable government backed by a working majority in the parliament. As it stands, Ibrahim Rugova, whose Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) has the largest single bloc of seats, has failed to persuade either of the two next-largest Albanian parties to join him. These are Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). Unless these three leaders can show more talent for practical politics, they will find few people abroad who will take their demand for independence seriously even if it is based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. One strong argument for Kosovar independence is that there will not be stability in the region until the status of the province is clarified. But there will not be stability, in any event, unless the Albanians show that they can control the crime and corruption in their midst. By cleaning up their own community's affairs, the Albanians can demonstrate that they are serious candidates for more than just home rule. If they fail to weed out their own mafia-like structures, they will give credence to those who argue that Kosova can only be ruled with a firm Serbian hand. Besides setting up a stable government and combating crime, the Albanians will also need to show that they are capable of treating Kosova's minorities according to European standards. This means first and foremost the Serbs, but also the Turks, Roma, Bosnian Muslims, and others as well. The Albanians' record to date has been far from encouraging, and they will need to improve if they want to convince the world that they are ready for independence. The second task for the new head of UNMIK will be to point out to the local Serbs that their future is most likely that of a minority and not as masters. The quicker the Serbs recognize that Serbian forces are unlikely to return to Kosova at any time in the conceivable future, the sooner they will be able to adjust to new realities. The fact that they voted in large numbers in the November election and sent 22 deputies to the parliament suggests that many already realize that their future will be determined in Prishtina and not in Belgrade. The new head of UNMIK will also have to remind some of the leaders in the Serbian capital of a few unpleasant truths. Perhaps Haekkerup's greatest disservice to the stability of the region was to enter into a pact with the Belgrade authorities to give them a voice in the affairs of the province. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosova specifies that the province remains part of Yugoslavia, but it is equally clear that this link is a paper one without any real authority. By giving Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic a pre-election document to justify a role for Belgrade in post-1999 Kosova, Haekkerup seemed to ignore what to the Albanians is the basic political fact of life in Kosova: that the repression and war of 1998-1999 cost Serbia and Yugoslavia any claim on the Albanians' allegiances or loyalties. The new head of UNMIK -- and perhaps others in the international community -- may seek early on to suggest to Belgrade that its energies are better spent on ending the poverty and corruption that plague Serbia than on trying to recover lost territories. The third task facing the new head of UNMIK is to bring home to the leaders of the international community that they should not forget about Kosova's affairs or lose sight of what they intend to accomplish in the province. Without constant assessment and review, the international community could find itself with yet another expensive and messy international protectorate, with no end to that status in sight.
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