|Wednesday, 29 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-03-12
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 AFGHANISTAN'S INTERIM PREMIER IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS ON AID...Hamid Karzai arrived in Moscow late on 11 March for talks with President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian officials. Karzai, who is in Moscow for a three-day visit, will meet with Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and parliamentary leaders to discuss economic aid to Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 12 March. Joint efforts to fight drug trafficking and terrorism are expected to dominate the talks. "We are satisfied with close contacts between Afghanistan's leadership and Russia that allow us to jointly solve the issues of rebuilding the Afghan state," AP quoted Ivanov as saying. Russia has already contributed $12 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko. BW
 ...AS DEFENSE MINISTER IS SKEPTICAL ABOUT AFGHAN WAR...Sergei Ivanov said on 12 March that "a large part of Afghanistan is not under anybody's control yet," and warned that the U.S.-led campaign there could last a long time, Interfax reported. Ivanov, who is in Washington for an official visit, said he has always "warned against being overly optimistic about the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan." He added: "It's very hard to fight in Afghanistan. Fighting an enemy whom you don't see, who doesn't seem to be organized but is actually very well organized, is difficult. It's impossible to fight without any losses at all. It's a myth. Fighting seriously to try to eradicate the main roots of fanaticism and extremism will take a long time." BW
 ...MEDIA CRITICIZES U.S. CAMPAIGN...Russian media on 12 March echoed Ivanov's views, and voiced criticism of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. "Izvestiya" predicted that "upon the withdrawal of the Americans and foreign peacekeepers, a multinational country will be in for either a new civil war or a break-up into several monoethnic states." "Rossiiskaya gazeta," meanwhile, criticized Washington's expansion of the antiterror war. "Yes, some or other bandits can be eliminated; yes, it is necessary to take up arms against those who do not want to agree to cooperation and compromise, who have turned terror into their means of subsistence and a way of life. However, is it worthwhile to take pride in limited victories?" the official government daily asked. "Is it not time to sort out most seriously the deep-lying conflict causes and try to understand why entire nations not only failed to sympathize with the Americans but actually perceived the bandit terrorist acts as retribution that they deserved?" BW
 ...AND MILITARY CALLS FOR GREATER MOSCOW VOICE IN NATORussia will seek a full say in NATO security matters, the first deputy chief of the armed forces' General Staff, Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, said in Washington on 12 March. "Russia should become an equal partner of NATO in matters concerning the formation of a new European security system," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. Baluevskii said Russia should have the "right of a full vote and not of a voice without a vote" on security issues. He added that Russia will "not scramble for NATO," and does not seek "to become a member of the alliance at any cost." BW
 APARTMENT BUILDING BOMB FILM SHOWN IN RUSSIAAttempting to spark an investigation into the September 1999 apartment building bombings that terrified Russia, a small liberal party showed a film on 12 March alleging that the country's security services were behind the blasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, 8, and 11 March 2002). "There are still very many questions to which society has not received answers," Sergei Yushenkov, a legislator from the Liberal Russia movement, said at the premiere, AP reported. "To this day, we don't know who committed these crimes." The bombings were blamed on Chechen rebels and helped catapult then-Prime Minister Putin into the presidency. The 40-minute film relies on circumstantial evidence that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the blasts, and raises questions as to how much Putin knew. It also mixes footage of grieving survivors of the apartment blasts with shots of Putin's inauguration ceremony in March 2000. BW
 FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER CANCELS ARAFAT MEETING...Sergei Mironov has cancelled a scheduled meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Interfax reported on 12 March. Mironov made his announcement after speaking to Israeli leaders the same day. "Today I am not ready to make this traditional polite gesture because I came to Israel at the invitation of parliament," said Mironov, who is in the country on an official visit. He added, however, that the cancellation does not mean that Russia is writing off the Palestinian leader. Mironov called Arafat "the person who embodies the right of Palestinians to self-determination, the leader with whom it is necessary to negotiate." Simultaneously, he voiced hope that he will have a chance to meet the Palestinian side and study its stance on all the details. BW
 ...AS DUMA LEADERS CRITICIZE THE MOVE...State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, as well as other Duma deputies, criticized Mironov's decision not to meet Arafat. "If I were there, I would go and meet with him," ITAR-TASS quoted Seleznev as saying on 12 March. Duma International Relations Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, for his part said that "Arafat is the only political figure in the Middle East who can really be a partner in the peace talks. The Sharon government's attempts to ostracize him are counterproductive as they play into the hands of Israeli extremist forces." The Russian Foreign Ministry the same day reiterated its stance that Arafat is "the recognized leader of the Palestinian people," Interfax reported. BW
 ...AND RUSSIAN MEDIA DECRIES LACK OF PROGRESS TOWARD PEACEWith Federation Council Speaker Mironov in Israel, Russian media were full of skeptical reporting on 12 March about the prospects for peace. "It became clear directly after Mironov made his first statements at the airport that the speaker had brought no peacemaking proposals," wrote "Izvestiya." The daily also bemoaned the slow progress on a Saudi-sponsored peace proposal, saying, "this initiative that originally evoked everybody's interest and approval (except for the Arab radicals) has since been more and more emasculated with every passing day." "Trud," meanwhile, bemoaned the waning influence of Israeli leaders who are ready for peace talks. "In actual fact, only one person has held out in the Israeli elite who thinks it possible -- and that with great reservations -- to hold talks with Arafat. That person is Shimon Peres, the country's vice premier and foreign minister," the daily wrote. "But even his viewpoint is made ever more vulnerable by every new act of terror, every new fatality." BW
 MUSCOVITES HUNT FOR CHICKEN AS U.S. IMPORTS WANE...As stockpiles of U.S. poultry vanish from store shelves, Moscow retailers worried that consumers wouldn't buy more expensive Russian chicken, "The Moscow Times" reported on 11 March. Russian poultry costs about 30 percent more than the U.S. imports, which in 2001 accounted for 70 percent of Russia's chicken market. "We don't know if the consumers of cheap American chicken are ready to consume more expensive Russian chicken or whether they will now completely refuse to eat it altogether," Sergei Lepkovich, the general director of the Pyatyorochka discount food chain, told the daily. "We also don't know whether local poultry producers will be able to meet our new needs," he said. Meanwhile, 12 U.S. officials were negotiating with the Agriculture Ministry on 11 March over Moscow's decision to stop issuing import licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 4, 6, 8, and 10 March 2002). After the meeting, First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Dankvert said the ban could be lifted in as soon as 60 days, Interfax reported. BW
 ...AND POLITICIANS CALL FOR BOOSTING RUSSIAN AGRICULTUREMoscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 11 March that the poultry ban is an important step toward weaning Russia off food imports. "The United States played an important role in providing Russia with this very important product," Luzhkov told Interfax. However, Russia is now "close to providing for itself," he said. "We must support Russian producers, whose production, by the way, is of a better quality than that of imports," he added. Nikolai Kharitonov, the head of the Agrarian-Industrial bloc in the State Duma, said the ban should spur the Russian government to do more to assist the country's farmers. "If [Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister] Aleksei Gordeev ends up having enough political clout to stand up for Russian poultry farmers, then Russia could cover that enormous supply from the United States within 1 1/2 years," Kharitonov told NTV television. BW
 OPEC KEEPS UP THE PRESSURE ON MOSCOWVenezuelan Energy Minister Alvaro Silva Calderon is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart Igor Yusufov in Moscow on 12 March to reiterate OPEC's request that Russia extend curbs on oil output past March, AFP reported. Calderon "will request Russia's cooperation in stabilizing world oil prices," said Eric Marquez, a spokesman for the Venezuelan Embassy. Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil is also in Moscow and met Yusufov on 11 March. Venezuela and Algeria are both members of the 11-country cartel. OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez visited Moscow last week to ask Russia to maintain restrictions on oil exports to boost the world oil market. Under pressure from the cartel, Russia, one of the largest non-OPEC oil exporters, reluctantly agreed to an export cut from 1 January to 31 March. Russian officials have refused to commit themselves beyond those dates. BW
 AVTOVAZ AIMS TO HIKE AUTO EXPORTS TO EUROPEThe joint venture GM-AvtoVAZ will seek to export as many as 30,000 cars to Western Europe beginning in 2005, General Motors Vice President for Russia and the CIS David Herman said on 12 March, Interfax reported. GM-AvtoVAZ plans to use the marketing network of the South Korean company Daewoo, after that company is acquired by GM, Herman said. The GM-AvtoVAZ joint venture was created by AvtoVAZ, GM, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development last summer. It plans to launch its first Chevy Niva on 23 September 2002. The venture plans to produce 450 cars in Russia in 2002 and 35,000 by 2003. BW
 ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS PROTEST CREEPING CATHOLICISMOrthodox Christians in Novosibirsk protested what they consider an increasingly expansionist Vatican policy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The demonstration, attended by about 250 people, took place outside the cathedral in central Novosibirsk where the apostolic administration of Catholics of the Asian part of Russia is housed. The demonstrators said Orthodox Christians were insulted by the Vatican's decisions to change the church's structure in Russia from so-called "apostolic administrations" to full-fledged dioceses. The group also objected to Catholics proselytizing in Russia. Pope John Paul II led prayers in six cities, including Moscow, via a satellite television link-up on 2 March, a move Patriarch of All Russia and Moscow Aleksii II called an "invasion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). BW
 BUSH TO VISIT PUTIN'S HOMETOWN...U.S. President George W. Bush will pay an official visit to Russia from 23 to 26 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March, citing the Russian presidential press service. Presidents Putin and Bush will hold a series of talks in Moscow and then meet in a more informal setting in St. Petersburg. Also on 11 March, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters that he is bringing a message to Bush from Putin that he will deliver during his talks in Washington, D.C., this week. Ivanov is expected to meet with his U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell along with U.S. intelligence officials, according to Interfax. JAC
 ...AS ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURGER IS PLUCKED FROM OBSCURITYMeanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 March that the former head of the St. Petersburg-based BaltOneksimbank, Fedor Andreev, has been tapped as first vice president of the diamond manufacturing company Alrosa. Andreev will oversee all large investment programs connected with the development of new diamond deposits in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. Unidentified sources said that Andreev's candidacy was actively supported by the Finance Ministry headed by Aleksei Kudrin. JAC
 INTERIOR MINISTER'S PROFILE DOESN'T INCLUDE REAL POWERIn a profile of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on Ren-TV on 10 March, Aleksei Mukhin, the head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information, said that the real power at the ministry is held by Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev, "who handles all professional aspects of [Gryzlov's] job." Vasiliev had earlier left the ministry after being ousted by his rival, Former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo (see "RFE/RL Security Watch," 9 April 2001). According to Mukhin, Gryzlov's appointment was a "political" one intended to shake up the ministry and make it subordinate to President Putin. The station also interviewed analyst Yurii Ovchinnikov, who said he does not think Gryzlov will still be heading the ministry in two years' time. JAC
 IS A GRACHEV COMEBACK IMMINENT?Former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who in recent years has served as an adviser to the management of Rosoboroneksport and its predecessor Rosvooruzhenie (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 1998), has been named chairman of a General Staff commission charged with inspecting the 106th Tula Airborne Division, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 March. The paper predicted that Grachev may be in line for the post of head of the Main Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, which is to be re-established. LF
 ANOTHER REGIONAL JOURNALIST KILLEDA journalist with the Taganrog-based "Nashe Vremya" newspaper, Natalya Skryl, has died as the result of massive head injuries, Russian agencies reported on 11 March. Local police have ruled out robbery as a possible motive, since a large amount of cash and gold jewelry were not taken, according to ITAR-TASS. "Nashe Vremya" Editor in Chief Vera Yuzhanskaya believes Skryl's murder was related to her professional activities. She was recently working on a story about the struggle for control of one of Rostov Oblast's largest enterprises, according to RIA-Novosti. JAC
 THEATERS, ORCHESTRAS ON THE RISE...In his interview with RTR television's "Zerkalo" program on 9 March, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said Russian citizens' interest in culture remains keen. According to Shvydkoi, the number of theaters in Russia has doubled lately, while the number of orchestras in Moscow has quadrupled, ITAR-TASS reported without providing a precise time period. Shvydkoi also commented that a very strong argument was made at a recent meeting of the presidential council on culture that Russian folk culture needs to be revived and that Russia "needs a national hero -- a good, decent, honest, and noble man." JAC
 ...AS RUSSIAN BOOKS SAVED FROM BONFIRE IN WASHINGTONYevgenii Kuzmin, the director of the libraries department of the Culture Ministry, told Interfax on 11 March that rumors about the "burning of Russian books" in the U.S. are products of "hysteria, initiated by 'The Washington Post,'" and fanned by the Russian mass media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). According to Kuzmin, the Victor Kamkin Bookstores branch in Rockville, Maryland, is only one of 1,000 stores that sell Russian-language books in the United States, and increased interest in such books has led to tight competition there. The same day, Aleksandr Markovich, the general director of Victor Kamkin Inc., told Ekho Moskvy that the store has been given a three-week reprieve and the remaining books that are not sold will be given to the Library of Congress or to Russian and Jewish communities in the United States. JAC
 DUMA LEADER SUGGESTS THAT FEDERAL CENTER GIVE DONOR REGIONS MORE DISCRETION OVER FINANCIAL FLOWSIn an interview published in "Respublika Tatarstan" on 7 March, the leader of the State Duma's Russian Regions faction, Oleg Morozov, said Moscow is taking more and more powers and taxes from the regions but that the responsibility for the execution of those powers -- including financial ones -- still remains with the regions, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 March. Morozov said the process of strengthening the federal legal system has disrupted the economic relations between Moscow and the regions. He suggested that donor regions should pay Moscow a fixed sum and be allowed to keep any extrabudgetary funds they have above this fixed level. In addition, according to Morozov, donor regions could also aid regions that require subsidies from the federal government by investing in such regions with the money they don't send to Moscow. JAC
 IS BASHKORTOSTAN'S PRESIDENT GROOMING A SUCCESSOR?Rumors are circulating in Bashkortostan's capital, Ufa, about a new successor to republican President Murtaza Rakhimov, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 11 March. According to Ufa sources, the newly appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the fuel and energy sector, former republican Tax Police head Lieutenant General Engels Kulmukhametov, is likely to succeed Rakhimov, to whom he is reportedly close. Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov has also been named among the potential presidential candidates. Meanwhile, the most recent issue of the Bashkortostan supplement to "Argumenty i fakty" speculated that a recent call by republican Election Commission head Baryi Kinzyagulov to postpone presidential elections until December 2003 indicates that Rakhimov will not run for a third term and needs additional time to promote a successor. JAC
 CITIZENS WANT ENVOYS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT HOUSING, LAW ENFORCEMENTThe office of presidential envoy to the Urals federal district Petr Latyshev received more than 2,400 written and verbal appeals from Russian citizens during the first two months of 2002, while another 800 citizens showed up personally at Latyshev's headquarters in Yekaterinburg, rosbalt.ru reported on 11 March. According to the agency, most petitioners had questions about housing or the provision of public utilities, the work of local judicial or law enforcement bodies, the competence of local prosecutors, and the social needs of the population. Last December, the office of presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko reported that Kirienko had received 5,843 written appeals since the office opened in July 2000. It also reported that more than one-fourth of the letters were about the works of the courts, prosecutors, and the police; and another 24 percent was about housing (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 December 2001). JAC
 REINDEER BREEDING HITS 96-YEAR LOWThe president of Russia's Union of Reindeer Breeders said the number of reindeer born in Russia has decreased to its lowest level in nearly a century, and has called on the government to reverse the "tragic" trend. "Never since 1906 has the reindeer number dropped to such a low level, about 1.5 million head," Dmitrii Khorol said, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. Khorol made his comments at a reindeer breeders congress that opened in Salekhard in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug the same day. Delegates of the congress said reindeer breeding cannot improve without state support. They called on President Putin to address the issue. BW
 RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS CHECHEN CONTACT WITH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL PROSECUTORThe Hague-based international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte's meeting with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev was "incompatible with [Del Ponte's] status and mandate," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said in Moscow on 11 March, Russian agencies reported. "This meeting between a prosecutor for tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, set up by the UN Security Council, with an envoy of Maskhadov, is for us bewildering to say the least," Reuters quoted Yakovenko as saying. Following their meeting on 7 March, Zakaev called for the creation of a tribunal to prosecute Russian soldiers for alleged atrocities in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002 and 11 March 2002). LF/BW
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA, SYRIA TO EXPAND TRANSPORT COOPERATION?Briefing journalists in Yerevan on 12 March on his recently concluded visit to Syria, Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian said that he discussed with Syrian President Bashar Assad the possibility of Armenia transporting freight to the Mediterranean via Turkey and Syria, Noyan Tapan reported. Assad undertook to try to secure such transportation within the framework of Syria's increasingly cordial relations with Turkey. The Armenian delegation also discussed with Syrian government representatives the prospects for expanding bilateral trade and economic relations in general. LF
 MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS MEET WITH KARABAKH PRESIDENT...Following talks in Stepanakert on 10 March with the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Arkadii Ghukasian, who is president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, praised the mediators' "constructive" work, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But at the same time Ghukasian said the co-chairs should make a greater effort to persuade Baku to modify its "unconstructive" position, according to Arminfo on 11 March, as cited by Groong. The co-chairs for their part stressed that they regard the Karabakh leadership as a key player that should be represented in the peace talks, and that seeking to exclude Stepanakert from negotiations may delay a settlement to the conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. "We will not take any steps without consulting with Nagorno-Karabakh," French co-Chairman Philippe de Sureman said. LF
 ...AS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SLAMS OSCE APPROACH TO RESOLVING CONFLICTAzerbaijan National Independence Party Deputy Chairman Ilgar Mammadov commented on the Minsk Group co-chairs' latest visit to Azerbaijan and Armenia that "the OSCE has been dancing to the Armenian's tune [for 10 years] and is not going to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem on the principle of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity," according to Bilik Dunyasi on 11 March, as cited by Groong. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Deputy Chairman Alimammad Nuriev accused the Minsk Group co-chairs of systematically ignoring what he termed the most important aspect of the conflict, namely liberating the Azerbaijani territory currently occupied by Armenian forces. He argued that the composition of the Minsk Group should be altered to exclude any states with political interests in the South Caucasus. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH IRANIAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION...Heidar Aliev met on 11 March with an Iranian parliament delegation that includes an unspecified number of Iranian Azerbaijanis, Turan reported. Delegation head Ali Asker Sherdust stressed that there are no disagreements within the Iranian leadership over the need to expand relations with Azerbaijan. He expressed the hope that outstanding problems in bilateral relations will be resolved during Aliev's upcoming visit to Tehran, which Aliev said can take place at any mutually convenient time. Aliev also said he hopes the visiting parliamentarians are aware how "respectful, deferential, and warm" Azerbaijanis' attitude is toward Iran. LF
 ...WHO PROPOSE THAT IRAN MEDIATE IN KARABAKH CONFLICTMeeting on 11 March with deputies to the Azerbaijani parliament, Sherdust said that Iran "always backs Azerbaijan's position," and is willing to "render assistance" in resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to MPA News Agency, as cited by Groong. But Sherdust stressed that Baku must formally request such assistance from Iran, which cannot "interfere" in the situation of its own volition. On a visit to Baku last summer, Iranian National Security Council Secretary Hasan Rowhani had similarly assured Azerbaijani leaders of Tehran's support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and of its readiness to contribute to a solution to the Karabakh conflict with the aim of promoting peace and stability in the South Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2001). LF
 CHECHEN REFUGEES ACCUSE UNHCR'S BAKU OFFICE OF DEMANDING BRIBES...Representatives of the estimated 8,000 Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan have addressed an appeal to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers asking him to take action against the staff of his organization's Baku office, Turan reported on 11 March. According to the appeal, UNHCR personnel regularly demand a bribe equal to 20-25 percent of the $80-$100 to which refugees are entitled. As a result, only 400-500 refugees receive such payments, the appeal said. The independent daily "Ekho" reported on 16 February that Azerbaijani State Committee for Refugees Chairman Ali Hasanov rejected a request by Ali Asaev, Chechnya's representative in Azerbaijan, to provide assistance for Chechen refugees. Hasanov claimed that the Chechens entered Azerbaijan illegally and therefore could not be formally registered as refugees. LF
 ...AS AZERBAIJAN BARS ACCESS TO CHECHEN WEBSITESThe Azerbaijani authorities have ordered all of Azerbaijan's Internet providers to close access to any Chechen websites, Turan reported on 11 March, quoting a statement released by the editors of the Chechen Internet periodical "Kavkazskii vestnik." The editors added that they plan to seek political asylum in any country that guarantees freedom of speech and the rights and safety of Chechen journalists. LF
 U.S. PRESIDENT AMBIGUOUS ON POSSIBLE ANTITERROR STRIKE IN GEORGIA...In his 11 March address in New York, U.S. President George W. Bush vowed that while the international antiterrorism coalition will expand its operations to hit at terrorists outside Afghanistan, the U.S. military will not necessarily participate directly in all such combat operations, Reuters reported. "We will not send American troops to every battle, but America will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead," Bush said. In Georgia, he said, "terrorists working closely with Al-Qaeda operate in the Pankisi Gorge near the Russian border," and Washington is planning to send up to 150 military trainers to prepare Georgian troops to re-establish control. In an interview with the independent TV station Rustavi-2 on 7 March, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze had said a joint Georgian-U.S. military operation in Pankisi remains an option. Parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze similarly said on 12 March that the U.S. instructors should be prepared to participate in an operation in Pankisi "in the event of a provocation," Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...AS U.S. SPOKESMAN FAILS TO CONFIRM GEORGIAN ALLEGATIONS OF ABKHAZ, AL-QAEDA NEXUSCaucasus Press on 12 March quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Boucher as saying that Washington has no evidence to substantiate claims by Georgian officials, including Baramidze and State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania, that Al-Qaeda guerrillas are in Abkhazia. Abkhaz government in exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili claimed in an interview published in "Alia" on 12 March to have lists of names of 120 Al-Qaeda guerrillas who underwent terrorism training in Abkhazia as did, he claimed, Osama bin Laden. Nadareishvili also claimed that 20 Al-Qaeda guerrillas are currently in the village of Avadkhara and another 40 in the village of Tsimuri, Caucasus Press reported on 11 March. LF
 GEORGIAN CURRENCY HITS NEW LOW AGAINST U.S. DOLLARThe Georgian lari fell on 11 March to 2.35 to the U.S. dollar, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2002). LF
 TRIAL OF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY RESUMESThe trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov resumed on 11 March after a one-month interval in the town of Toktogul, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002). Beknazarov is accused of dereliction of duty in failing to bring charges of manslaughter in 1995 against an investigator who killed a man in self-defense. Some 250 people attended the court proceedings on 11 March, including an OSCE representative and Kyrgyz Institute for Human Rights Chairman Topchubek Turgunaliev. Hundreds of people continue to participate in pickets and demonstrations across the country to demand Beknazarov's release. LF
 PARIS CLUB RESCHEDULES KYRGYZSTAN'S FOREIGN DEBTThe Paris Club has restructured $94.5 million of the total $101 million that Kyrgyzstan should have repaid during the period 2002-2004, Russian agencies and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 11 March. The Kyrgyz government may now repay that sum over a period of 20 years, Finance Minister Bolot Abildaev told journalists. Kyrgyzstan's total state debt as of 1 November 2001 was $1.5 billion, of which $449.7 million was owed to Paris Club countries. LF
 TURKMEN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DETAILS CHARGES AGAINST FORMER DEPUTY PREMIERThe Prosecutor-General's Office has made public the details of its criminal case against former Central Bank Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Khudaiberdy Orazov, turkmenistan.ru reported on 12 March. Orazov announced last month that he has left Turkmenistan and joined the opposition to President Saparmurat Niyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). Orazov is accused of embezzling credits from Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank worth $120 million made available to the agricultural sector in 1997. Orazov is also accused of leaving Turkmenistan illegally in April 2001. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 WHERE HAS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT GONE?Presidential spokeswoman Nataliya Pyatkevich told an RFE/RL's Belarusian Service correspondent in Minsk on 11 March that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has taken leave from 10-17 March. Pyatkevich did not disclose where the president is taking his leave, but denied rumors that the leave is connected to health problems. "I can tell you with absolute certainty that he has not gone for treatment, he is healthy as usual, he has simply taken a few days' rest. He will spend his leave actively as usual, doing sports," Pyatkevich said. Quoting "unofficial sources," the correspondent reported that Lukashenka may have traveled to a clinic in Germany or Austria for medical examinations in connection with the severe headaches he allegedly suffers from. JM
 BELARUS'S FORMER HEAD OF STATE SUES GOVERNMENT FOR PENSIONFormer Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, the first head of state of independent Belarus, has sued the Labor and Social Security Ministry demanding a pension equal to 75 percent of the salary of a parliamentary speaker or head of state, as stipulated by a law on pensions for top-ranking officials, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 11 March. "In 1996, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued an edict granting me a monthly pension equal to $200, but deliberately ignored a provision about inflation," Shushkevich told Belapan last week. "The depreciation of our national currency has turned [that pension] into the equivalent of about $2, and I can now enter the Guinness Book of [World] Records as the poorest former head of state," said Shushkevich, who remains in opposition to Lukashenka. "It is a [political] revenge and lawlessness," commented Mechyslau Hryb, another former Supreme Soviet chairman, to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO REFORM GRAIN MARKETLeonid Kuchma promised on 11 March that the state will form a "civilized" grain market in Ukraine by this summer, Inter Television reported. Ukrainian grain producers complain that the intermediaries who sell grain domestically and internationally were buying grain from Ukrainian farmers at artificially lowered prices last autumn. "This situation was created deliberately. Deliberately! Why have we earned almost nothing from the exports that equaled 7 million tons?" Kuchma asked, promising that the government will monitor the grain market through the Khlib Ukrayiny (Bread of Ukraine) state company to keep prices at the international level. The government also plans to introduce high duties on imports of food products in cases where similar products are made in Ukraine. Last year, Ukrainian farms harvested 36 million tons of grain -- the best crop in the past 10 years -- but on the whole, the money they earned sufficed only to repay loans and prepare the sowing campaign. JM
 COMMISSION IN KYIV LEAVES CRIMEAN SPEAKER IN ELECTION RACEThe Central Election Commission on 11 March rejected a motion by election candidate Tetyana Korobova to annul the registration of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach as a candidate to the Verkhovna Rada on the list of the Communist Party in the 31 March ballot, UNIAN reported. Korobova argued that Hrach violated Ukrainian legislation by providing false information about his property and income as well as by using his position as Crimean speaker to promote his election bid. Last month, a court in Simferopol disqualified Hrach as a candidate to Crimea's Supreme Council by saying he committed exactly the same offenses. The commission in Kyiv ruled, however, that Hrach did not misinform it about his possessions and income, and did not take advantage of his official post for election campaign purposes. JM
 ESTONIA EXPECTS TO CLOSE FOUR EU CHAPTERS IN MARCHEstonia's chief negotiator with the European Union, Deputy Chancellor of the Foreign Ministry Alar Streimann, told a news conference on 11 March that he expects to close by the end of the month the chapters on customs union, transport policy, free movement of persons, and justice and home affairs in the ongoing EU accession talks, ETA reported. He said the chapters of energy, regional policy, and taxation will be addressed in April, so that Estonia will have completed all seven chapters during Spain's presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of the year. Streimann noted that the taxation chapter has only been discussed in general terms, and that Estonia's policy of exempting companies' reinvested profits from income tax, which European Commission President Romano Prodi recently mentioned as a potential sticking point (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002), has not been brought up. Estonia has already completed 20 of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. SG
 BRITISH AMBASSADOR FORESEES STRONGER SUPPORT FOR LATVIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIPAt his 11 March farewell meeting after three years of service as the British ambassador to Latvia, Stephen Nash told Prime Minister Andris Berzins that Latvia has made great progress in its bid for NATO membership over the past year and has a good chance of being invited to join the alliance in November in Prague, BNS reported. Other factors Nash mentioned as making such an invitation more likely are the 11 September terrorist attack on the United States, and that country's increasing cooperation with Russia. They also discussed Berzins' upcoming visit to London, during which he and the other two Baltic prime ministers are scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 14 March. SG
 LITHUANIA CELEBRATES 12 YEARS OF RESTORED INDEPENDENCEThe parliament briefly mentioned the declaration of the restoration of Lithuania's independence on 11 March 1990 at the first meeting of its spring session on 10 March, ELTA reported. There was no formal meeting of the parliament on 11 March, and members' seats were taken by young people who were born on that day in 1990. Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas told the young people, who were given copies of the Declaration of Independence Act and a book about its signatories, that they should seek higher education and knowledge. The chairman of the parliament in 1990, Vytautas Landsbergis, also expressed his wish for the 12-year-olds to be energetic, diligent, and just, in order for them to be happy in a free Lithuania. He noted that the 150 children born that day in Lithuania is only slightly larger than the 141 deputies in the parliament. Various Independence Day commemorations and religious services were held throughout the country. SG
 POLISH PRESIDENT URGES NATO EXPANSIONAleksander Kwasniewski said on 11 March that the more states that join NATO, the safer Europe will become, Polish Television reported. According to Kwasniewski, skeptics' concerns that expansion would weaken the alliance have not proved true. "Poland expects that decisions concerning this issue -- inviting all candidates who fulfill the membership criteria to NATO -- will be made unequivocally at the NATO summit in Prague this year," Kwasniewski said. JM
 YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER IN WARSAWGoran Svilanovic paid a one-day official visit to Warsaw on 11 March and met with his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, President Kwasniewski, and the speakers of both houses of the Polish parliament. Svilanovic told Tanjug that Poland is ready to allocate to Yugoslavia a credit of $50 million, most of which will be spent in the energy and agricultural sectors. JM
 PROSECUTOR WANTS SUSPENDED JAIL SENTENCE FOR POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADERA prosecutor on 11 March demanded a 18-month jail sentence to be suspended for four years for Andrzej Lepper, the head of the Self-Defense radical farmers' union, for organizing an illegal blockade of the border checkpoint in Swiecko in January 1999, PAP reported. A verdict of the district court in Slubice is expected later this week. JM
 CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER THREATENS LEGAL ACTIONStanislav Gross threatened on 11 March to sue the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" for libel if it continues to publish "false or half-truth information" about the business activities of his wife, CTK reported. Gross said the allegations are part of a campaign against him. The daily wrote the same day that Gross's wife received an Audi automobile for her personal use at a time when her husband was convincing the government to purchase Audis for ministers. Gross said the decision of the government was "under preparation" before he joined it in April 2000, and that the car was given by Audi to Starka Grossova "for just a few days," and not for several months as is alleged. Last week, the daily reported that Grossova had business links to an agency that raised funds for the ruling Social Democratic Party at the same time it was bidding in privatization tenders. MS
 RACIALLY MOTIVATED CRIME ON THE RISE IN THE CZECH REPUBLICRacially motivated crime rose by some 25 percent last year as compared to 2000, the daily "Pravo" reported on 11 March, citing an Interior Ministry spokeswoman. A total of 402 such crimes were investigated by police, as opposed to 311 in 2000. MS
 CZECH SPLINTER COMMUNISTS WILL NOT RUN IN ELECTIONSThe Executive Board of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC) on 9 March decided that the KSC will not compete in the June parliamentary elections, CTK reported. KSC leader Miroslav Stepan said the decision is due to the fact that the ballot will "unfortunately not promote the improvement of the situation in the Czech Republic, but rather strengthen the counter-revolutionary establishment." The KSC was set up in 1995, splitting from the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia. Stepan, who was leader of the Prague Communist Party branch before 1989, served a one-year sentence for abuse of power in the attempt to quash the anticommunist demonstrations of 1989. The KSC has some 19,000 members. MS
 CZECH REPUBLIC RETURNS RADIOACTIVE CARGO TO SLOVAKIAA carriage carrying scrap iron dispatched by a firm in Zilina to the Nova Hut metallurgical works in Ostrava, northern Moravia, was sent back to the unnamed firm after radiation was detected in the cargo, CTK reported on 11 March, citing Slovak radio. The Slovak authorities said the radiation was not life threatening. MS
 SLOVAK EXTREMIST LASHES OUT AT ETHNIC HUNGARIANSReal Slovak National Party (PSNS) Chairman Jan Slota said on 11 March that if he were premier he would "revive the Benes Decrees" and do his best to have those ethnic Hungarians who want ID cards under the provisions of the Status Law get "Hungarian passports" instead, forcing them to leave the country, CTK reported. Slota said Hungary is becoming "increasingly arrogant and impertinent" over the decrees, and that President Rudolf Schuster and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan should demand that Budapest issue an official apology for the hundreds of years of the "assimilation genocide" carried out against Slovaks. MS
 'LITTLE DANUBE SUMMIT' SAYS BENES DECREES HAVE NO PLACE IN EULeaders participating in the third so-called "Little Danube Summit" met in Esztergom, Hungary, on 11 March and agreed that the Benes Decrees should be abolished, although they stopped short of demanding that the decrees be annulled prior to EU expansion, Hungarian and international media reported. The summit was hosted by Premier Viktor Orban and attended by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel; the premier of the German state of Baden-Wuerttenberg, Erwin Teufel; and by Bavarian State Minister Erwin Huber. The first "Little Danube Summit" was held in Ulm, Germany, in February 2001. MS
 HUNGARIAN RIVALS CONTINUE TO 'DEBATE OVER THE DEBATE'Peter Medgyessy, the Socialist Party's (MSZP) candidate for premiership, said on 11 March that he is willing to debate Premier Orban on any date except Orban's proposed 5 and 19 April, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy said he accepts Orban's proposal that the televised debate be held at the University of Economics, provided that the encounter is televised not only by the state-run MTV television, but also by commercial stations. The ruling FIDESZ continues to insist on the dates proposed by Orban. MS
 HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS' LEADER CALLS FIDESZ A 'PARTY OF TRAITORS AND THIEVES'Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan told an electoral forum in Budapest on 11 March that FIDESZ has "stabbed so many knives in my back that it ought to call itself the 'party of traitors' or 'the party of thieves,'" Hungarian media reported. Asked whether he is willing to enter a coalition with the MSZP, Torgyan replied: "I lived all my life in a struggle against that party's legal predecessor, and that fact cannot be ignored." MS
 FIDESZ, SOCIALISTS, FREE DEMOCRATS MAKING MOST OF THE ELECTORAL RUNThe FIDESZ-Forum Alliance, the MSZP, and the Free Democratic Party (SZDSZ) have fielded the maximum possible number of 20 regional lists, Hungarian media reported on 11 March, citing the National Election Office. Under Hungary's complicated electoral system, a party may field a regional list if it has submitted candidates in one-fourth of the single constituencies in a county. Parties may also submit national lists if they have fielded at least seven regional lists. FIDESZ-Forum has fielded the maximum of 176 possible single-constituency candidates, as did the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party. They are followed by the MSZP (170), the SZDSZ (172), the far-left Workers' Party (135), and the FKGP (123). Only FIDESZ-Forum, the MSZP, the Workers' Party, and the SZDSZ have national lists, but since the FKGP has 15 regional lists, it is also eligible to field a national one. MS
 HUNGARY, YUGOSLAVIA SIGN 'ASYMMETRICAL' FREE-TRADE AGREEMENTVisiting Yugoslav Deputy Premier Mirolub Labus and Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi signed a free-trade agreement in Budapest on 8 March, giving Yugoslavia greater access to Hungarian markets than that received in return by Hungary, international agencies reported. Martonyi said it marks "the first time Hungary has accepted an agreement including asymmetric elements favoring the other party." The agreement allows Hungary duty-free exports to Yugoslavia for 80 to 85 percent of its industrial production, while giving Yugoslavia a 90 percent quota. The agreement goes into effect on 1 July and will be valid until Hungary joins the EU. MS
 KOSOVAR SERBS REJECT BELGRADE'S CANDIDATE OVER DRUG LINKSerbian members of the Kosova parliament have turned down the nominee of Serbian Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic for the agriculture portfolio in the government, which is the cabinet post given to the Serbian minority, "Vesti" reported on 12 March. Rada Trajkovic, who heads the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition's group in the legislature, said that Goran Markovic is a "dubious personality" who has been "involved with drugs." She added that she had the "unpleasant duty" to inform Michael Steiner, the head of the UN civilian authority in Kosova (UNMIK), that Markovic is not acceptable. Trajkovic's statement comes less than a week after Steiner warned Covic that Belgrade must not meddle in Kosova's affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). Covic previously claimed the right to speak and decide for Povratak. PM
 KOSOVAR PRIME MINISTER READY TO VISIT SERBIAN ENCLAVESBajram Rexhepi told Tanjug on 8 March that he regards himself as the prime minister of all of Kosova's inhabitants, including the Serbian minority. He added that he is willing to visit the Serbian enclaves, and called on the Serbs to respect Kosova's new institutions. PM
 BAD GRADES FOR KOSOVA'S MEDIAProvisional Media Commissioner Anna Di Lellio said in Prishtina that objective and independent coverage remains a distant goal in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 March. She noted that the print media often run stories that sharply criticize individuals without offering proof. Di Lellio made her remarks just prior to her commission's handing over its work to a new Independent Media Commission, which will be run by local people. PM
 ALBANIANS FREED IN MACEDONIAN AMNESTY"Dozens" of ethnic Albanian ex-rebels were freed from Macedonian prisons on 11 March under the provisions of the new amnesty law, Reuters reported from Skopje on 11 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Many regard the amnesty as a cornerstone of the August 2001 peace agreement. In related news, police in Tetovo lifted a nighttime curfew that has been in effect there for about one year, dpa reported. PM
 SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN TALKS CONTINUEYugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica discussed the EU's plan to keep Serbia and Montenegro together with his Montenegrin counterpart, Milo Djukanovic, in Belgrade on 11 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2002). The meeting did not yield any concrete results. Other participants included federal Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, and Montenegrin Finance Minister Miroslav Ivanisevic. Belgrade and Podgorica are under heavy pressure from the EU and its security policy chief, Javier Solana, to preserve a joint state, but both Kostunica and Djukanovic have strong objections to various parts of the plan. PM
 SERBIA 'SCARES' INVESTORSMany potential investors fear putting their money into Serbia for reasons that go beyond its well-known crime and corruption, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 12 March. One man told the news agency: "What happens the day after we buy a company? The day after we walk in, the utility and electrical companies are going to suddenly send us a huge bill or disconnect us in 10 days if we don't pay [the firm's old debts]. The employees are going to ask for a 25 percent raise, the customers are going to ask for more credit because we are wealthy." Another financial adviser added, "It's kind of: 'rich Westerner walks into the company and the feeding frenzy begins.' Like fish that have not eaten for days, all of a sudden everyone jumps in and tries to suck you dry. But investors would have to factor that in." But Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic stressed that "Serbia wants to have its fair share of foreign residents in the region. We want to add some fiscal charm." One consultant noted that Serbia has put some of its best firms up for sale, not "rubbish." PM
 NO SERBIAN LIVE TV TIME FOR MILOSEVICState-run television has stopped its live broadcasts of the trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic because the project is too expensive to continue, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 March. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia has protested the decision, saying that the government is trying to prevent Milosevic from reaching the Serbian public with his message. Recent polls suggest that most Serbs agree with his position that the Western countries are aggressors and Serbia is a victim. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB PARTY NAMES SUCCESSOR TO KARADZICThe Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) has replaced indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic as its president, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 11 March. His successor is Dragan Kalinic, whose deputy will be Dragan Cavic. Kalinic said: "After 10 years, we turned a new political page. It took courage to make a new beginning." The delegates expressed opposition to unspecified attempts to strengthen Bosnia's central structures at the expense of the two entities. The delegates warned that such attempts could lead to a resumption of fighting. Igor Radojicic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats told Reuters that the SDS at the grassroots level remains "a very conservative, arrogant, and rigid party." PM
 TWO HERZEGOVIAN CROATS TURN THEMSELVES INPetar Matic and Ante Kresic, both Croats from Stolac, turned themselves in to a court in Mostar on 11 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Local prosecutors -- with the approval of The Hague-based tribunal -- have charged them with committing atrocities against Muslim prisoners in 1993. PM
 CROATIAN WEEKLY FEARS CLOSUREVictor Ivancic, who is deputy editor in chief of the independent weekly "Feral Tribune," told dpa in Zagreb on 12 March that his journalists are working without pay and face an uncertain future following the weekly's loss of two lawsuits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2002). "Feral," as it is known, has to pay $25,000 in damages after losing both cases, which were in the courts for several years. Although it is no longer exclusively a satirical publication, "Feral" is best known for its merciless satirical writing during the administration of the late President Franjo Tudjman, who died at the end of 1999. PM
 LABOR UNREST IN ROMANIAThe number of employees of the Slatina-based Rulmentul ball-bearing manufacturer who are on hunger strike has risen to 85, Romanian radio reported on 12 March. The previous day, 35 people joined the protest action started by 50 employees of the company last week. The protest is directed against planned layoffs of 600 out of the plant's 649 employees ahead of its privatization, for which no bids have yet been made. Meanwhile in Resita, Romanian radio reported that workers at the CSR steelmaker are marching on the town's water reservoir, with the intention of cutting supplies. The CSR workers are protesting having not received salaries for more than 300 days as the result of the still unresolved conflict with the U.S.-based Noble Ventures company, which owns the steelmaker. MS
 CONTROVERSIAL ROMANIAN BANK CEASES ACTIVITYAn extraordinary meeting of shareholders in the controversial Bank for Investment and Development (BID) decided on 11 March to halt the bank's activity, Romanian radio reported the next day. Last week, the National Bank ordered that withdrawals and deposits at the bank be suspended because of the "risky policies" of the bank's management and losses of two-thirds of its capital. Ninety percent of the shares in the bank are owned by businessman Sorin Victor Vantu, who is under investigation on suspicion of having caused the collapse of the Romanian Bank of Loans and the National Investment Fund. The National Bank has thus far refused to approve the BID's request to dissolve the bank, saying its management has failed to produce the necessary documentation. MS
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ORDINANCE ON LAND RESTITUTIONThe Chamber of Deputies on 11 March approved a government ordinance issued in early 2001 that modified the previous land restitution law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the new version of the law, land restitution must not necessarily encompass the same plots as those previously owned. The legislation makes it possible to substitute other plots for those confiscated. Restitution claims must be based on documentation attesting to ownership. The version of the previous law made restitution possible if two witnesses testified on behalf of the claimant. The Senate has already approved the amended law, which was criticized by members of the former ruling coalition both because it allows state agricultural cooperatives to keep the best plots, and because much of the ownership documentation was destroyed by the communist regime. MS
 ROMANIA, PAKISTAN TO EQUIP AFGHAN ARMY?Pakistan has proposed joint cooperation with Romania in supplying military equipment to the future Afghan army, Romanian television and Mediafax reported on 11 March. Defense Ministry State Secretary General Decebal Dobrina, who recently visited Islamabad, said Pakistan is also interested in purchasing bombs for its air force as well as tank ammunition from Romania. MS
 ROMANIAN RULING PARTY REJECTS UDMR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROPOSALSocial Democratic Party (PSD) Secretary-General Cozmin Gusa and the party's deputy chairman, Viorel Hrebenciuc, said separately on 11 March that the PSD will not agree to the proposal of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania to strike from the constitution the definition of Romania as a "national state," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and Mediafax reported. MS
 CHISINAU MAYOR MEETS ROMANIAN PREMIER, PRESIDENTSerafim Urechean said after meeting in Bucharest with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase that the issue of "Romanian interference in Moldova's internal affairs" was not discussed because "I am not aware of any such interference," Romanian radio reported. Urechean said he is visiting at the invitation of Romanian Public Administration Minister Octavian Cozmanca, with whom he has discussed matters pertaining to local administration. The mayor was also received by President Ion Iliescu and said after the meeting that they spoke about "the evolution of the situation in Chisinau and the concerns produced by developments that are less than positive." He said the current situation in the Moldovan capital city is "an internal affair that we must solve by ourselves," and that "social unrest is not uncommon elsewhere either." MS
 MOLDOVAN JUSTICE MINISTER ATTACKS BESSARABIAN CHURCHIon Morei said on 11 March that the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church is "the religious arm" of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) and has the same objectives as that party, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said both the PPCD, which is organizing the ongoing demonstrations in Chisinau, and the Bucharest-subordinated Bessarabian Church "are opposed to Moldova's statehood, infringe the law and defy democratic norms." On 11 March, the PPCD announced a three-day suspension of the demonstrations. MS
 PROTESTING JOURNALISTS AT TELERADIO MOLDOVA SANCTIONED BY MANAGEMENTThe Teleradio Moldova Management has suspended journalist Dinu Rusnac from presenting the daily Russian-language newscast on television on grounds that the television's "artistic council" has not approved him for that position, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rusnac, who is a member of the striking committee at Teleradio Moldova, had presented the news in Russian for 1 1/2 years with no prior objection from the council. Journalist Larisa Manole, a leading member of the striking committee, was sanctioned with a "stern warning" for an alleged "technical fault," and dismissed as head of the announcers' pool. MS
 CHISINAU JUDGE ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR KIDNAPPED GAGAUZ-YERI OFFICIALA judge in Chisinau issued an arrest warrant on 11 March for Ivan Burgudji, a Gagauz-Yeri official kidnapped in Comrat last week, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Judge Viktor Kuznetsov said the charges against Burgudji are "secret." The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 27 February that it launched criminal proceedings against Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Region Governor Dumitru Croitor, Popular Assembly Chairman Mikhail Kendigelean, and Burgudji on charges of having thwarted the 24 February referendum on the governor's dismissal. MS
 BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT...The leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), Sergey Stanishev, said on 11 March that his party will adopt a more critical line toward the government, news.bg reported. Stanishev said in the Black Sea port of Burgas that the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) does not keep its electoral promises, as it is conducting a conservative policy and is losing voter confidence because of its incompetence. Stanishev did not rule out the possibility of early parliamentary elections. Formally, the BSP is in the opposition. At the same time, one of the ministers in Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's cabinet comes from the BSP. UB
 ...AND OFFER COOPERATION WITH UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCESMeanwhile, Stanishev congratulated the newly elected president of the opposition United Democratic Forces (SDS), Nadezhda Mihailova, "Dnevnik" reported on 11 March. Stanishev suggested an exchange of opinions between the two parties on an expert level pertaining to political issues, such as the privatization of the State Tobacco Company Bulgartabak and the Kremikovtsi steel mill. Stanishev's move was somewhat surprising, as the post-communist BSP and the anticommunist SDS were political rivals until the June 2001 parliamentary elections. UB
 BULGARIAN PATRIARCH URGES PRESIDENT, PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER FOR LEGITIMIZATIONBulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maksim has urged the country's political leadership to draft a new law on religious communities. On 11 March, Maksim met Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski and parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov to ask them to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, "Standart" reported on 12 March. Maksim reminded Saxecoburggotski of his promise to help resolve the division in the Orthodox Church. The split occurred in 1992, when the State Directorate for Religious Communities registered a counter-Holy Synod headed by Bishop Pimen. Though not legally recognized, Maksim is regarded as the legitimate head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Maksim hopes that a draft law on religious communities will help to overcome the split and solve unresolved questions of church property. UB
 BULGARIAN-GREEK OLYMPIC INFORMATION CENTER TO OPEN IN SOFIAVasil Ivanov, the chairman of the State Agency for Youth and Sports, told BTA that a Bulgarian-Greek Olympic Information Center will open in Sofia in April. The center will provide information about the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Bulgaria will offer pre-Olympics training facilities for athletes from all over the world. Ivanov said Bulgaria will be able to accommodate up to 3,000 athletes. The Cuban boxing team has already expressed interest. Bulgaria expects to receive some 60 million euros ($52.4 million) under the Greek plan for Balkan reconstruction. The country will need some $2 million for the reconstruction of the Olympic training facilities. UB
 CZECH LEADER DECRIES 'ARTIFICIAL EUROISM'Translated by Andy Heil
(The following is an edited transcript of an interview given by Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus (Civic Democratic Party) to Radio Svobodna Evropa (RSE), formerly the Czech Service of RFE/RL. The theme of the interview broadcast on 3 February was Euro-American relations and the interviewer was RSE's Jan Jun.)
RSE: What does the term "Euro-Atlanticism" mean to you?
VACLAV KLAUS: Like any word, it's a certain shortcut, it's a certain label. I really wouldn't overestimate it. But for me it represents a very analogous civilization that is connected by an emphasis on one type of values, one type of view of the individual within society -- a view that prefers that person to some sort of undefined whole. And I consider these values fundamental. And it also seems to me that mankind, human society, has moved further along [under those values] in comparison with other, alternative systems.
I have always praised, promoted, and defended the phrase "Euro-Atlanticism." I didn't become a Euro-Atlanticist, like many others, on 11 September 2001 -- all of a sudden, flag-wavers started waving flags, and I think that's bad. It is not and it should not be flag-waving. It's something far deeper in me. Some people have it under their skin -- I have a feeling I'm like that -- and some have borrowed it because they believe it helps to make nice speeches...since 11 September.
I have always stressed the ties between America and Europe in "Euro-Atlanticism." I have stressed it in part authentically -- I think subconsciously and as something I don't have to force. But I must admit that in time I have started to stress it consciously and intentionally, as well -- the moment we were pushed into an artificial "Euroism." That seems bad to me, that seems useless to me, that seems unnecessary to me. Because I don't see a continental kinship in Europe -- or rather I see it and don't have anything against it, but there's nothing to add to it or to analyze: It just is, whether someone likes it or not.
But "Euroism" or "Europeanism" -- that starts to be a certain religion, a certain ideology, and I don't share in it. As opposed to the ideology of Euro-Atlanticism, which I share and to which I profess.
But in part -- and I stress in part -- I view the problem of today's European unification and "Euroism" or "Europeism" as a conscious attempt by Europe to disengage from America -- to place emphasis on different things, behave differently, form a different societal system, a different societal mechanism. And I thus reject that adjective.
I really think that in capitalism -- parliamentary democracy, market economy, and so on -- I don't have to add any other qualifying adjective. And if I wanted to create some specific "Europeism," then it's entirely evident that I would have to add that adjective and I would have to start to differentiate myself from America. The debate here is not over quantitative differences -- that we have different levels of state participation in gross domestic product, a different level of redistribution, a different type of social payments. That's no small difference -- and I don't think it's for the better -- but in any case I wouldn't see it as a distinctness in civilizations. What some "Europistes" are aiming for is an attempt to create [such] a barrier between civilizations. That [approach] gets primarily into the civic area, a great deal into the cultural [area] -- that's behind the "French culture" versus "American culture" [debate]. That is something that I consider dangerous...
RSE: Has America changed, in your opinion, in the year that President [George W.] Bush has been in office or as a result of 11 September, and how would you evaluate President Bush in the short time that he's been in office?
VACLAV KLAUS: I'm a right-leaning economist who would despair at a victory by Al Gore, and I wanted very much for Bush to win -- I'm very pleased that happened. And I think that his behavior in the role of president has been far better than the left-leaning media in the United States, and in our country, prepared their readers for. That's my political position.
I think he has managed the events of 11 September and subsequently very well. But the analyst in me knows, of course, that politicians can perform more easily in moments of crisis than in relatively neutral [ones]. Political speeches are terribly easy in dramatic situations. I know that myself. People applaud him madly -- and I wish that on him -- but I wouldn't say it out loud...
Regarding American society, I'd say two things have happened. One is a change in atmosphere -- for the economy, people's feelings, [and] the [overall] climate... [These] are terribly important and positive things. I'd say that with Bush's entry, the atmosphere changed -- and certainly for the better. I think that that progress is absolutely irrefutable. And that atmosphere has a great influence on people's feelings and their behavior. So I think that effect is clear.
On the other hand, the economist, the analyst -- "Mr. Professor" in me -- knows that the essence of the American system is so stable, so unchangeable -- it's an established, very stabilized system that is not strikingly changed by new elections. In the Czech Republic, it's different. We're a far more fragile system where a Zeman/Spidla government will make a major turn to the left in the country -- and let's hope that...someone else [steers it] to the right. In America, there is enormous stability. The shift there is within the framework of 1 percent to the left or to the right, and the system remains alterable in its essence very, very little. Nonetheless, the atmosphere [in America] is different.
RSE: Here in the Czech Republic, as elsewhere in Europe, there is anti-Americanism -- maybe 11 September changed that to a certain extent -- but how do you view that phenomenon here?
VACLAV KLAUS: In the Czech Republic, there is a mix. There is infinite, uncritical -- and in that sense, like everything uncritical, a little cheap and false -- admiration that stems from [the experience] under communism when, logically enough, everything American was considered by those who didn't like communism -- as something terribly fantastic. Coca-Cola and Texans were practically considered symbols that "I'm not for communism." That element still exists, of course, and we won't easily rid ourselves of it.
On the other hand, I think [there is also] criticism of the American societal and cultural system -- the idea that America is a consumer society; America has a spiritless, uncultured society. America has Hollywood and we have...the most emblematic of 'serious things'; [that] Americans don't have serious things. That cliche exists here and I think it's fairly intensive in our cultural sphere. And when I start to analyze the opinions of the 66 signatories of the petition against Vaclav Klaus [a public appeal in February by notable cultural figures], I am almost afraid that we would truly find many "anti-Americanists." But I'm not looking closely into that.